Loundagin and Abel Win First Championship Pairs Event

by Troy Schwindt
Choeleen Loundagin and William Abel won gold in the first championships pairs competition at the U.S. Adult Championships.
Photo by Digital Specialties

2007 U.S. Adult Championships Results and Photos

(4/13/07) - A Christmas ice show just five months ago in Santa Rosa, Calif., brought together this year's championship pairs winners Choeleen Loundagin and William Abel (Santa Rosa FSC).

“They asked if we would do a little number, so we did some spins and started playing around and trying more things,” Abel said. “I competed in pairs, and 16 years ago was my last competition. Choeleen has never done pairs.”

On Friday night at the 13th annual U.S. Adult Championships in Bensenville, Ill., it looked like Loundagin, 39, and Abel, 40, had been together for years. Their speed and daring elements fired up the crowd, which gave the pair a standing ovation.

“I've never had a standing ovation,” Loundagin said. “It was special.”

They finished in front of silver medalists Kimberly Sailer and David Garber of Pittsburgh and bronze medalists Judy Sargent and Paul Mata of Michigan.

Their program to music from the “Cutthroat Island” soundtrack featured an overhead press lift with one arm, split double twist, throw double toe and throw double Salchow. They did have to abandon one lift.

The duo skates five days a week in Santa Rosa and was prepared coming into the competition, they said.

Abel coaches and is the choreographer for the team. The title served as validation for Loundagin, who is a sports psychology consultant and author of the book “The Inner Champion.”

“It's a good way to practice what I preach,” she said. “That was part of my motivation. It's been 22 years since I competed. I figured it would be a great way to see if I could do what I've been teaching everybody.”

Making the moment even more special, Loundaign's childhood coach, Candy Aylor, was on hand to watch her skate.

“I've always been inspired by her and it was really special to have her here,” Loundagin said.

Abel is a landscape designer in Sonoma County in California and recently started teaching ice skating.

“The only reason we did this was to challenge ourselves to see if we could do it, so I don't know what the next step will be,” Abel said.

Sailer (Wheeling FSC) and Garber (Wheeling FSC) turned in a powerful and entertaining program to music from “Chicago.”

Garber, built like a linebacker, displayed great strength and agility in lifting his partner of two-and-a-half years effortlessly over his head. A huge throw Axel and throw loop blended with great footwork and side-by-side spins won the hearts of the fans and respect from the judges.

The impressive lifts, Garber said, are the result of a lot of hard work off the ice.

“I think it's really important to really stay in shape, and I concentrate a lot on off-ice training to be able to do this because we have such limited time on the ice. I do a lot of cardio and things off the ice to make sure I'm ready once we get there.”

Sailer, 38, and Garber, 35, live outside Pittsburg and get together oftentimes in the spur of the moment because of Garber's job. He's a physician's assistant in the open heart surgery ward and doesn't usually know his schedule.

Sailer, who runs a vending business with her husband, said she and Garber are “the king and queen of text messages.”

The duo's performance on Friday night marked the third time that they had competed their “Chicago” program. The program came about without the early support of their coach Elena Valova.

“It's funny, when we gave it to our coach – she's a little Russian woman – and she was like, ‘I hate it, I hate it,'” said Sailer in her best Russian accent. “She was like, ‘we'll do it any how,' so she choreographed it and about a month later she was like, ‘this is really good for you. I like this program,'”

Sailer and Garber were introduced by Les Ascher and Ellen Zurfluh, who are also pairs skaters and serve on the local organizing committee for this year's event.

“We met during Skate America when it was in Pittsburgh,” Sailer said. “It was the night when Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin had their bad fall. Actually, when that happened we both kind of looked at each other and said, ‘let's just not talk or do anything for a while.'”

Sargent and Mata (Onyx-Suburban Skating Academy), who have been a team for five years, demonstrated great ice presence and solid elements. Their lifts and unison stood out to the appreciative crowd.

The Detroit-area skaters, both 39, practice together three days a week. Sargent also spends substantial time practicing her singles skills.

She's a doctoral student at the University of Michigan in the nursing PhD program, while Mata is the lead anesthesia technician at the University of Michigan children hospital.

They met by chance at the campus ice arena.

“I was taking a study break and that was the only time I'd been out skating all year, and my mom was in town and I only had 20 minutes,” Sargent said. “My mom asked if I could do it another day and I said, ‘no, I promised myself after finals I was going to go skate,' and that's when I bumped into Paul.”