`I didn't believe it,' says a national champion, 12

PLAYING AROUND

Howard At Play

December 19, 2004|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

NOT MANY 12-year-olds are entitled to write "national champion" on their resumes, even if they, indeed, have need for a resume.

But Gabrielle Friedenberg, who lives in the River's Edge community just south of Columbia, became one of the few exceptions this month, along with partner Brett Dunie-Neustadt, 13, of Potomac.

The young duo took first place in juvenile pairs competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Association's 2005 Junior Championships in Jamestown, N.Y.

They beat out 36 other pairs from across the nation with a new routine that drew the top-possible grade from seven of 10 judges.

Pairs skating means male and female partners performing in sync, or in complementary ways, while performing an exacting array of dance and athletic moves. It is considered more athletic than ice dancing, which also involves couples but requires different skills.

"Juvenile" in figure-skating parlance reflects both a mid-range mastery of the sport's innumerable skills and nuances, as well as age. But none of that is to diminish accomplishing a national championship.

Just ask most of the other 18 pairs who made it to the championship round against Gabrielle and her partner, who by luck of the draw performed early and then watched competitors try to better their score.

"I didn't believe it," said Gabrielle, when asked how she felt when the championship was clinched. "We'd been waiting about 2 1/2 hours."

Actually, the wait was much longer. This was the fourth try at nationals for Gabrielle and Brett .

"We finished seventh last year," said Gabrielle, the older of two sisters. "We weren't even ranked before that."

The difference this year, she said, was "we told ourselves we were going to get in the top four. We just worked much harder than in past years -- and it happened."

The work included new choreography by Genrikh Sretenski, a 1988 Olympian from Russia who is ice dance director at Gardens Ice House in Laurel, where Gabrielle and Brett do much of their training under coaches Julia Sretenski and Denis Petrov.

Gabrielle, who is homeschooled, began skating at age 4, she said, after seeing the "Wizard of Oz" on ice.

"I stood up and said, `I want to do that,' " she said.

She credits Pat Muth, her first coach and a longtime fixture at Columbia Ice Rink, with igniting her love for the sport, which includes ice shows. Gabrielle will perform today in two shows (4:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.) at the Columbia rink as the Snow Queen in the Columbia Figure Skating Club's Nutcracker.

"She's got crowd appeal," said Alicia Buckler-White, a longtime Columbia club leader.

Gabrielle and her pairs partner, put together by coaches, began competing four years ago. They compete for the Washington Figure Skating Club.

"Pairs is a team thing, and I like it a lot better than freestyle [skating alone]. You're not dependent on just yourself," said Gabrielle. "We're learning to do the things the grownups do."

At the senior level, couples typically include a petite female who often is sent soaring, spinning or diving by her taller, stronger partner, all while both zoom across the ice.

"We're not allowed to try those things on the ice yet," Gabrielle said. "But we do some off the ice."

Competitive skating means about three hours of practice on the ice and another hour off the ice five days a week, Gabrielle said. The off-ice work ranges from cardiovascular exercise to strength training. And she and her partner have ballet lessons tailored for skaters twice weekly.

Gabrielle comes by skating naturally, she said. Her father, Paul, coaches hockey for the Columbia Huskies and owns a skating shop in Burtonsville. Her mother, Annmarie, grew up in Michigan, where she began skating young.

Along the sidelines

CROSS-TRAINING: Clarksville's Judi Carbary, a national age-group competitor in duathlon (cycling and running), will conduct a two-stage training program for people interested in that sport and triathlon, which adds swimming, starting Jan. 10 at Columbia Gym in Clarksville.

Call the gym, 410-531-0800, or e-mail Carbary, who competes with the Ellicott City-based Du2R Multisport duathlon team, at jcarbary@hotmail.com for more information.

AND THEN: Merry Christmas, or happy whatever year-end tradition you observe.

Call the writer at 410-332-6515 or send e-mail to lowell.sunderland@baltsun.com.

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