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'Don't Cheat': An Obvious Olympic Lesson, But Not The Only One Aspiring LA Ice Skaters Are Learning

An adult dressed in black holds the hands of a young girl dressed in pink as they practice skating on an ice rink.
Coach Mary Casale and one of the youngest students on the rink— if you can walk, you can skate!
(Mariana Dale
/
LAist)
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You can close the distance between Beijing and Los Angeles with a trip to the local ice rink, where Olympic dreams have long served as an inspiration to aspiring skaters.

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'Don't Cheat': An Obvious Olympic Lesson, But Not The Only One Aspiring LA Ice Skaters Are Learning

On Wednesday, 8-year-old Anaya Gamiño refined her technique for gliding backward on one foot at Burbank’s L.A. Kings Ice at Pickwick Gardens.

This year’s games are a window into the future she hopes for.

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“I can see people that are older than me, but did great,” Gamiño said. “So I think I'll do great as well.”

For many skaters and fans (seasonal and diehard) competition is marred by the news that a 15-year-old Russian skater tested positive for a banned drug in the months leading up to the Olympics. After a judicial process that I’m not sure we all entirely understand, Kamila Valieva, the gold medal favorite, was cleared to perform in the women’s single skating competition.

(Don’t worry, no spoilers about who came out on top — we’re waiting for tonight’s primetime showing too!)

“I think it's unfair to the other skaters, but it'll be ending her skating career really early at the age of 15,” Gamiño said.

There are so many lessons to learn in skating outside of just the technique that you need to be able to balance on a blade.
— Ben Blandford, director, Pickwick Ice

While there were parents at the rink who said the topic hadn’t come up, I wasn’t surprised by Gamiño’s clear-eyed analysis. Kids get stuff, often a lot more than adults give them credit for.

Anaya’s coach Mary Casale said she’s heard all kinds of opinions about the scandal from young skaters.

“Everybody feels the same way that, you know, she's so talented. She didn't need it. And it's sad,” Casale said.

Casale’s been coaching “a very long time,” but demurred to count the years, saying “if I told you that, then you would know my age.”

“I would never allow any kind of abuse,” Casale said. “I'm obligated to report anything like that.”

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Two sets of legs are visible skating together on an ice rink. Pictures of hearts and footballs decorate the ice.
Casale's doodles help the kids practice their swizzles— and celebrate the Rams' Super Bowl victory.
(Mariana Dale
/
LAist)

This year's Olympics figure skating competition is renewing conversations about fairness, responsibility and the consequences (or lack thereof) for breaking the rules.

“There are so many lessons to learn in skating outside of just the technique that you need to be able to balance on a blade,” said Pickwick Skating Director Ben Blandford.

So in the true spirit of sport, here are a few of the lessons we learned hanging around the rink.

Trying Tough Stuff

“I'm experiencing that I can do stuff no matter how easy it is or how hard it is,” Gamiño told me.

Her advice for skating backward on one foot seems simple— balance your weight, don’t jam the serrated ridge at the front of your skate into the ice.

Also, don’t look at your feet. “You’ll be fine,” Anaya said.

I don’t know about you dear reader, but I’m still not feeling super confident about my prospects.

So I asked her for some more general advice. What are tips for someone that’s doing something hard?

“For them, I would go start with the basics again,” Gamiño said.

Stacks of plastic blue seals that people can use to help their balance.
The adorable, but also kind of spooky, seal helpers.
(Mariana Dale
/
LAist)

If you don’t have any “basics” to fall back on, Pickwick employs a fleet of plastic blue seals to help you balance as you make your way around the rink for the first time.

Learning To Fall

Maria Goco Reyes greeted her 7-year-old daughter Emelie with a high-ten after her lesson. Reyes said she started out skating afraid to fall.

“I always tell her ‘falling is part of learning. So you just have to learn how to get up,’” Reyes said.

Turns out there is a coach-approved method for tumbles, trips and spills, no matter how old you are.

First, try to prevent falling in the first place — putting your hands on your knees can help and stop skaters from leaning backwards, Coach Casale said.

If a wipeout is imminent, try to topple over sidewards. Your bum is where the most padding is.

And keep your head up! But, not just in a metaphorical way — literally, you don’t want your noggin to smack into the frozen surface.

A kid in a blue-green helmet falls while ice skating.
Falling technique in action!
(Mariana Dale
/
LAist)

As Emelie took off her skates, I asked if she’d fallen down that day.

“Umm, a little bit,” she said.

Then what happened afterward?

“I stand right up,” Emelie said.

Lessons In Losing

The skating contests we see during the Olympics are marked by dizzying spins and gravity-defying jumps.

But there’s a whole world of recreational competitions. Coach Casale said the youngest skaters might show off their skills marching across the ice, even falling.

Casale encourages her students to compete from the earliest ages because it teaches the kids to set goals.

“Even when you lose, you learn lessons, life lessons,” Casale said. “If you're always winning, you don't learn anything.”

What questions do you have about early childhood education and development? What do you want to know about kids ages 0-5 and those who care for them in Southern California?
Decades of research indicates early childhood education significantly boosts children’s readiness to learn. Mariana Dale wants families, caregivers and educators to have the information they need to help children 0-5 grow and thrive by identifying what’s working and what’s not in California’s early childhood system.

Corrected February 18, 2022 at 8:36 AM PST
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Emelie's name.