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Detroit Skating Club becomes mecca for American skaters

November 13, 1997

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. (AP) _ A look at the roster almost knocks you over, it’s so impressive. So is the lineup of coaches.

As for the facilities, if there are any better in the United States _ or the rest of the world, for that matter _ well, where are they?

The Detroit Skating Club in this affluent suburb boasts world champion Tara Lipinski, four-time U.S. champ and former world gold medalist Todd Eldredge, and four-time American dance champs Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow. They train at the DSC under an impressive group of coaches and choreographers, led by Richard Callaghan, Johnny Johns, Igor Shpilband and Elizabeth Coates.

It is the mecca of figure skating these days.

``After traveling to different rinks around the country and around the world, and then to come back to such a great facility, obviously that makes it easier,″ says Eldredge, who also has trained in Boston, Colorado Springs, Philadelphia and San Diego. ``You’ve got everything you need here for training.

``Whenever I need ice, I can pretty much get it with the three rinks. If I want an hour here or an hour there, it’s available. It was sometimes tough to get the ice time I needed in San Diego _ it was there on Saturday mornings, it was at 6:30 a.m., with cracks in the ice. That’s not exactly conducive to training.″

Callaghan, who also coached Nicole Bobek to a national title while representing the DSC, moved to Detroit for just that reason. He couldn’t subject world-class skaters to bad conditions.

``The reason I moved to Detroit was, No. 1, the facility,″ he says.

Punsalan and Swallow have trained for most of their careers at the club, but it didn’t become home to the stars until Eldredge arrived in 1992 and resurrected a floundering, injury-ravaged career.

``He came here as a former national champ and that was the year nationals were at Phoenix and they were a terrible competition for him,″ Callaghan says. ``And the people here encouraged him and told him to keep at it and helped him get on track.

``Once he did, and once Nicole ended up here _ for whatever reasons _ she was successful and he was also national champ in the same year. Once you have that success and have the building, it really opens the doors.″

Not to everyone, however. The club has reached its membership maximum and has a long list of youngsters seeking to join

``A world-class athlete or athletes and the coaching has obviously been of great benefit to the club,″ says DSC president David Robinson, whose daughter Kate is a world-class ice dancer. ``It brings the notoriety that caliber of a skater can and for a lot of the kids who are skating competitively, it is a role model to aspire to. It basically becomes the goal they all establish and they can actually see it living, see it is attainable, and it becomes an inspiration.″

Any day of the week, a developing skater might see Eldredge working on his quad on the Olympic-size rink, while Lipinski is practicing her trademark triple loop-triple loop combination on another surface and Punsalan-Swallow go through their steps on the third rink.

All 19 coaches have full schedules _ the club has tripled its number of competitive skaters since Callaghan came aboard in 1992 _ and they often consult one another.

They separate into groups of five teaching basic skills and five handling the less-developed skaters. Then there are five or six for the medium-range skaters and five or six for the high-range.

``They all have their own niche, they know their niche and are very busy in their niche,″ Callaghan says. ``A coach might come to me and say, `I am having trouble with this next jump’ or ask if a skater is good enough to go to the next level or not, or tell me they have an overactive parent and what do I do with those. I will give them the benefit of my experience.

``The idea is to work well together for a common cause, and it has worked.″

It’s worked so well that three of the four current U.S. champions train at the DSC. The Olympic team figures to be filled with club members, and other Olympic squads will have representatives who have worked out in Bloomfield Hills.

``The atmosphere is the difference, of course,″ Eldredge says. ``In San Diego, you might say I was the top dog. Here, you have Liz and Jerod and Tara, and Nicole before her. You have all these people who come in and out and I sort of fit in. You see good skating breeding good skating.

``If Michael Jordan plays basketball every day against a guy like me, he won’t get any better. But against guys at the top level, he rises above. That’s what the atmosphere brings here.″

End Adv for weekend editions, Nov. 15-16

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