By Jordan J. Michael
LAKE PLACID –– Ellen and Ben Harris, 15-year-old twins from Slingerlands, both skate on ice. Ellen carves figures with grace while Ben sprints with force.
Years ago, Ellen and Ben learned how to skate side by side. They chose different skating paths, but spent last weekend together in Lake Placid, competing in the Empire State Winter Games. Ben watched Ellen win a Gold in figure skating, and Ellen observed Ben win Bronze in short-track speed skating.
“Oh, yes, our relationship is wonderful,” Ellen exclaimed with a hint of sarcasm last Friday as Ben stood next to her. “We fight sometimes, like when he takes my headphones, but I love him.”
Ellen used those same headphones earlier in the day, listening to “The Swan,” her theme music, before skating her Gold medal performance at the 1932 Rink in Olympic Center. She skated with poise, nailing all her jumps, spins, and combos.
After completing her Pre-Juvenile Free Skate program, Ellen gave her coach, Maria Dollard, a triumphant high-five. She had the confidence of a winner.
“Skating makes me feel good, makes me feel pretty,” said Ellen, glitter sparkling off her cheeks with her blonde hair pulled back into a bun. “I don’t necessarily like all of the attention on me, but, when my program is over and everyone claps, it makes me feel pretty good.”
Ellen looked nervous before her routine, fidgeting her hands and shaking a little. She had practiced her program countless times, but said that her memory isn’t perfect.
“My hands were sweating, but that’s normal, it’s OK,” Ellen said after her skating was over. “I don’t want to mess up.”
Some figure skaters get anxious to the point of nausea, but Ellen has never dealt with that extreme. Her mother, Cathy Cenci, said she’s nervous whenever she watches Ellen skate.
“I give these skaters a lot of credit,” Cenci said. “I don’t know how they get out there in front of everyone.”
Cenci used the word “lovely” to describe how her daughter skates. Ellen flashed a huge smile and put her arm around her mother.
“She skated beautifully,” said Cenci. “She did so very well.”
Ellen was pleased with her performance, too. The previous day, during practice, she fell and hit her head and shoulder, but she said she was fine on Friday.
“The Swan” is a slow, graceful classical music number. Ellen doesn’t like to skate to fast, jittery music. “I like that slower style,” she said. “I like pretty music. I tried staking to fast music, but it doesn’t work.”
A group of younger girls also representing the Albany Figure Skating Club at the Games, came to greet Ellen after her winning program. They were really excited to see her, and she seemed like a star.
Ben Harris won Bronze in the Scholastic Men 500-meter short-track speed skating final inside Olympic Center over the weekend, but he was part of a snowy scene during the long-track races last Friday outside on the Olympic Oval.
It was bitterly cold, and heavy snow was starting to envelop the speed- skating oval. Ben had racing glasses, but it was still hard for him to see. He raced in 800, 500, and 100 preliminary heats.
During Ben’s 500-meter heat, he fell around the second turn. However, he finished the race with a smile. Ben prefers short-track, and this was just his second time competing in long-track.
“I was on my outside left edge and I was about to cross over,” said Ben after the race. He was using his short-track boots and blades. “I must have hit a dig in the ice,” he said. “Skating in the snow is pretty fun.”
It was a winter wonderland.
“You couldn’t really see anything, but this is Lake Placid and it’s snowing,” said Ben. “This is pretty cool.”
Ben’s name is on a plaque for Most Improved Skater from 2011. Win or lose, he’s forever engrained in Lake Placid.
Speed skating is all about technique, Ben said. “You can be the most physically fit man out there, but, if you don’t have the correct rock or bend in your boots or blades, it’s impossible to do well,” he said. “I have potential, so I’m pursuing this sport.”
Custom boots can cost upwards of $1,300, and custom blades up to $300. Ben got his blades from a friend who stopped skating, so they were relatively cheap. Ben sharpens his own blades.
“After this, I’m definitely going to sharpen them,” Ben said of preparing for his short-track races on Saturday. “The ice out here is grueling, gritty, and all screwed up.”
The long-track races continued despite the snowstorm, and Ellen, fresh off her Gold medal, stood outside in the frigid cold to cheer on her twin brother. But, Ellen did find time to take a shot at her brother.
“All you’re doing is skating in circles,” she said to Ben. “Figure skating isn’t as fast, but it takes a lot of control and skill.”
What if the twins switched skates?
“She’d be a lot better at speed skating then I would be at figure-skating,” Ben said. “It’s the blade difference; I just couldn’t do it. I’d be falling forward and backward.”
Also, Ben would have to dress fancy for figure-skating, which is something he would rather not do.
“I’d whup his butt in this,” Ellen said.
Ben Harris rolled his eyes and walked away. Ellen followed.
Figure skating results
Here are the results of local figure skaters who were representing the Albany Figure Skating Club at the Empire State Winter Games last weekend:
–– Clare Crosland, Delmar, second place, Beginner Free Skate;
–– Kate Molinsek, Delmar, third place, Beginner Free Skate;
–– Ryan Vis, Delmar, second place, Pre-Preliminary Boys Free Skate; and
–– Jing Jing Wu, Delmar, third place, Preliminary Well Balanced Free Skate.