Reed siblings go to Olympics in ice dancing

The Canadian Press Vancouver 2010

WARREN, N.J. - If the ice dancing teams from Japan and Georgia share the rink during Olympic warmups, watch out. Some fierce trash-talking is bound to break out.

The three Reed siblings burst into laughter at that image. Joking aside, they'll feel only pride when they finally appear on their sport's biggest stage.

Cathy, 22, and Chris, 20, will represent Japan in Vancouver; their mother is Japanese, and they have dual citizenship. Allison, 15, will skate for the former Soviet republic of Georgia, the home country of partner Otar Japaridze.

In all their years of ice dancing, the New Jersey natives have never before competed against each other.

"It's amazing how it all worked out," Cathy said.

When she was 13 and Chris was 11, they didn't seem destined for the Olympics. Both competed in singles figure skating and enjoyed the sport, but the Reeds were hardly prodigies — they never advanced beyond local events.

"My jumps, my spins were just not working," she said.

It might have ended there, except a coach suggested ice dancing. Cathy had done ballet growing up, but Chris had no background in dance; football and karate were his sports of choice.

"When I first saw it, it's two people just skating," he said.

"What is this?" he thought. "This is so easy."

Not really. Chris was much shorter than his older sister at the time, so their lifts were more like him briefly throwing her in the air.

But the sport certainly proved more natural to the Reeds than those jumps and spins, and before they knew it they were finishing 10th at junior national competitions in the United States.

Still, they were a long way from the sport's highest level.

In 2004, the pair just missed qualifying for the U.S. nationals, and their family had a decision to make. Should they go all in on this skating dream?

The chance to work with coaches Nikolai Morozov and Shae-Lynn Bourne of Chatham, Ont., meant the kids would have to be home-schooled. That was actually an appealing prospect to Cathy and Chris, who had moved around a lot as kids because of their father's job at a pharmaceutical firm before the family settled in Warren in 1998.

Their improvement was quick and dramatic under their new coaches: The Reeds won their division at the U.S. nationals in 2006. They had the right personalities for the sport, Morozov said.

"For ice dancing, you have to be very talented but it won't be enough," he said. "You have to work really, really hard and be really, really patient."

Even with their newfound success, the Reeds had little chance of competing internationally for the United States because of the country's depth in ice dancing. That's when the opportunity to skate for Japan arose.

Singles figure skating is very popular — and successful — there, but ice dancing isn't. The Reeds found themselves in the perfect middle ground at the time: good enough to almost immediately be the top team in Japan, yet not good enough that U.S. officials would try to block the move.

The family briefly lived in Japan before Allison was born and would visit relatives there every summer. Cathy and Chris are working to improve their Japanese, but it's easy to get rusty when they can't practise often in the U.S.

They hope to increase the popularity of ice dancing in Japan, where they are often asked in interviews which elements fans should pay attention to. They try to explain that there isn't really the equivalent of a jump or spin, that what's important is the overall impact of the performance.

Their original dance may help make that point: it's a Japanese folk dance complete with kimonos and fans.

But being the best team from Japan didn't guarantee a spot at the Olympics. The Reeds had to finish in the top 17 at last year's world championships for the country to earn a berth.

They took 16th.

Allison, the third Reed sibling competing in Vancouver, got a far earlier start in ice dancing than her brother and sister since she followed them into it. She was already an elite ice dancer by the age of 11, but had one problem: She didn't have a partner.

Her height — or lack thereof — had a lot to do with that. In a sport where the partners must look right together, she was just too short at four-foot-10. She tried about eight potential partners and none panned out.

Allison was training around many elite ice dancers, but essentially training by herself. There were a few lower-level individual competitions she could enter, but mostly all she could do was wait.

"It must have been so hard," Cathy said. "She had to be so patient, because she was so advanced for her age. But she was just so small."

Allison, who also had been home-schooled, returned to public school for most of eighth and ninth grades. She wasn't even skating that much for a while.

"It wasn't as motivational for me to keep doing ice dance because I had nowhere to go at that moment," she said. "It's really hard but I think it was worth it. Where I am now, I wouldn't take anything back."

Then Allison found out Japaridze, who also trained in New Jersey, was seeking a new partner. It's not unusual in ice dancing for a skater to team up with a partner from another country and compete for that nation.

Within days of the tryout, she was back to home-schooling. In September, the new pair went to an Olympic qualifying event in Germany that would determine the final five teams in Vancouver.

It was Allison's first international competition — and first with a partner. They won the fifth and final spot.

In less than a year, Allison went from not having a partner to going to the Olympics.

Like any fan of the Olympics, their mother, Noriko, has seen the symbol of the five rings countless times. The reality that her children were heading to Vancouver hit home when she returned from the European championships with Allison, and Cathy and Chris had received their official Japan Olympic gear.

"It just came out perfect," Noriko Reed said. "It's amazing how things can change in your life."