Bloomfield Hills — They are the moments of the competition Isabelle Goldstein said she enjoys most.
The lights are low. The music for the short program in pairs figure skating is yet to begin.
She stands on the ice, in the arms of her partner, Keyton Bearinger.
“I like it when we have a moment when we can collect our thoughts, and then we begin,” said Goldstein, 15, who attends Bloomfield Hills High.
Goldstein and Bearinger are the Midwestern Regional Pairs Champions in U.S. Figure Skating. They will compete for the national championship beginning Friday at the Detroit Skating Club.
“I like the beginning of the program because we are both together,” Goldstein said. “He is holding me and we can kind of talk within each other and be, like, ‘OK, we got this. Think of this. Breathe!’
“Those moments in the program I find really impactful.”
The big names of competitive figure skating will be in town next week for the senior levels of women’s (ladies, so-called), men’s, pairs and ice dancing in the first U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit since 1994.
But, unlike the Olympics and the annual World Championships, the nationals feature a huge undercard.
A few hundred young athletes skate beginning Friday in the novice, intermediate and juvenile competitions at the historic Detroit Skating Club.
Of them, 13 skaters officially list hometowns in Michigan.
Experience at the lower levels advance skaters up the classifications, eventually to senior figure skating, sometimes called the “championship” class.
There, the World Championships and the Olympics beckon.
“They are a very talented,” Goldstein and Bearinger's coach Zuzanna Parchem said. “They are very lucky because they have been skating together for four years.
“This year, I think they have a very good chance of being on top of the novice teams. They could potentially be a junior team.
“But the coaching goal for them was that they would be very good at novice, so the junior category would be easy for them.”
Bearinger sounded confident after a practice Wednesday at the club.
“I had a couple of partners previously,” Bearinger, 19, said. “But with Izzy, it’s like we’ve just taken off and we’ve grown so much. It’s really been a great experience.”
Bearinger is Goldstein’s first partner.
They both talk about how their relationship, on and off the ice, is as important to their performance and technique and skating skills.
In fact, it might be more important.
“Everybody says that the tricks will come,” Bearinger said. “But, it is usual in skating that the connection between us is really what separates different teams from others.”
For pairs, four years is a long run together, before a senior career. Parchem said that is Goldstein and Bearinger’s advantage.
“For them, it is a unique and very special element that they have stuck together, and they are still skating together. Not many teams do that,” said Parchem, who is originally from Poland and has been coaching in Michigan for 21 years.
“It really takes a lot of hard work, and people get discouraged. So, besides the fact that you see just the pure result of their hard work, it takes a lot of perseverance to do this for a long time.”
Kristina Bland and Gabriel Francis, of Southfield, will compete for the national championship in the intermediate ice dance.
A year ago they began training with the Olympics and World Championship coach Igor Shpilband, whose move to Metro Detroit from Russia in the 1990s, along with the coach and choreographer Marina Zoueva, helped establish southeastern Michigan as an international hub for ice dancing.
“I look up to the older skaters at our rink and Olympians, to see how far they went and how far I can go,” Francis said.
Bland, 14, and Francis, 15, train at both the Detroit Skating Club and the Novi Ice Arena. They began at the DSC in a synchronized skating program when their interest in the sport spiked.
Working with the accomplished, internationally-acclaimed Shpilband can be daunting.
“It was a bit a bit of a challenge at first because we didn’t know what we were getting into,” said Bland, who attends the Detroit Edison Public School Academy. “And we were both kind of nervous skating with him for the first time.
“But as we skated with him more and more, he kept pushing us, and we were pushing ourselves. And now, I feel like we are skating more up to our potential.”
In addition to coaches, behind every young figure skater is a family that's driving to practices, making financial ends meet and cheering them on.
“He knew from the start that he pretty much had to give up everything if he wanted to make the commitment,” said Marla Bearinger, Keyton’s mom. “For a kid that’s only been skating for seven years, he’s done a great job. He’s totally dedicated to the sport.
“He’s given up everything, which most kids do, who compete at that level in sport. And, yes, it is very expensive! I’m a single mom trying to keep things going.
“We do what we’ve got to do...But, he’s an amazing kid. He’s a very strong kid. And this is what he wants to do.”
U.S. Figure Skating Championships
When: Friday through Sunday, Jan. 27
Where: Detroit Skating Club and Little Caesars Arena
Tickets: Call (313) 471-7000 or visit 2019uschampionships.com
AT DETROIT SKATING CLUB
►Friday through Tuesday, Jan. 22: Juvenile, intermediate and novice competitions.
AT LITTLE CAESARS ARENA
►Tuesday, Jan. 22: Junior ladies and men’s short programs, 5:30 p.m.
►Wednesday, Jan. 23: Junior pairs short program, 10:30 a.m.; junior rhythm dance, 2:45 p.m.; junior ladies and men’s free skate, 5:30 p.m.
►Thursday, Jan. 24: Junior pairs free skate, 11:45 a.m.; championship pairs short program, 4:30 p.m.; championship ladies short program, 8 p.m.
►Friday, Jan. 25: Junior free dance, noon; championship rhythm dance, 3:45 p.m.; opening ceremonies and championship ladies free skate, 6:30 p.m.
►Saturday, Jan. 26: Championship pairs free skate and championship men’s short program, 9:25 a.m. and 1:15 p.m.; championship free dance, 6:30 p.m.
►Sunday, Jan. 27: Championship men’s free skate, 2 p.m.; skating spectacular, 8 p.m.