Ice Princess
AMANDA BUIVIDS, Sunday Herald Sun
3 August 1997

JOANNE Carter was 4 1/2 when her mother decided to take her to the ice rink on a scorching summer's day.

Wiping the sweat from her brow, Carol Carter helped her only daughter lace up chunky hired blades, then escorted her on to the ice.

It was on that shaved, slippery surface the child took her first steps into a new, exciting world which would become an important part of her life.

"It was purely by chance, it was a very warm day," Mrs Carter recalled of her first visit to the Blacktown ice rink in Sydney's west.

"I took Joanne to the rink and she loved it. I couldn't pull her away."

Those tentative, innocent and intrepid steps signalled the beginning of Joanne Carter's 13-year journey on the road to Nagano, Japan.

A decade of crawling out of bed at 4.30am and hitting the ice before and after school has its rewards.

Next February, Carter, 17, will represent Australia at the Winter Olympics in Japan after surprising herself, her coach, her parents and skating officials by finishing 11th at the world figure skating championships in Lausanne, Switzerland earlier this year.

It was the highest individual placing by an Australian woman in figure skating, and at her first senior world championships.

She finished 10th in the compulsory section, 10th in the short program and 11th in the long program.

Her top 16 placing guaranteed automatic Games selection.

No Australian woman had made the final at a world championships.

"When you look up at the board and see her position and she's lying 11th, it was so overwhelming," Mrs Carter said.

"There were a lot of tears, mostly shed by my husband.

"He had a heart transplant in 1993 and he never thought he would see it.

"He's so proud of Joanne. He just sort of thinks he's lucky still to be here and watching Joanne skate at an Olympics means so much to him."

On the winner's dais at national and state figure skating titles since she was 13, Carter said she had a long-time ambition to represent the green and gold at an Olympics.

But she admitted she was surprised to qualify for Nagano at this stage of her development.

"It's a dream come true," Carter said. "It's something I've worked hard for and dreamt for a long time.

"This year is a bonus. It was at the back of my mind to go to the Olympics next year, but my aim was for 2002.

"I'm feeling good about it, it's going to be a fantastic experience.

"I'm going out to do a personal best performance and find out where that puts me. If that's at the top, fine and well.

"I'm going there to be a competitor, not a spectator."

Coached for six years by John Carlow at the Macquarie rink in Ryde, a short drive from her family's West Pennant Hills home north of Sydney, Carter switched to former Russian pairs champion Andrei Pachin 18 months ago.

Touring with the Moscow On Ice show in 1992, Pachin stayed in Australia, first coaching in Victoria, then moving to Sydney.

Carter believes Pachin has lifted her performance to the elite level. He has exposed her to more international competition, taken her around the world - and taken her off the ice.

He has also organised a new program for his pupil who will skate to the Tango next year in Japan and at the world championships in Minneapolis, in the US, following the Winter Olympics.

"He has a very, very different outlook on the sport," Carter said.

"Beforehand everything was on ice, there was no emphasis off the ice.

"He believes to be able to do the things on the ice, you must be first able to do it off the ice.

"The things he has me doing can only lead to improvement."

Carter's training routine involves 4.30am starts six days a week, hitting the ice at 5.45am for a session ending at 8am. Then it is off to school at Mount St Benedict College where she is studying Year 12, before another two-hour session at 4pm four days a week.

She also does ballet, running, weights and strength work, and stretching. She combines her training with a disciplined diet, enabling her to keep her 53kg, 159cm frame in peak condition.

Wendy Langton, secretary of the Ice Skating Association of Australia, said: "To be a skater, you have to be made of cast-iron.

"Joanne is enthusiastic and loves having a go. She doesn't wimp out and she's very, very tough on herself.

"There is a saying in ice skating; it takes five years to learn it, and 10 years to perfect it ... and Joanne is still perfecting it."

A project manager with the Australian Olympic Committee and an administrator at two winter and three summer Olympiads, Langton believes Australia's best medal hopes lie outside the women's figure skating event in Nagano.

She believes Carter will graduate to a realistic medal hope at the 2002 Winter Olympics, using Japan as another stepping stone on the path to achieving international success.

"We are not putting her as a medal hope at this stage," Langton said.

"We consider her as an Olympic diploma - a paper medallist, a top eight finisher."

All eyes will be on Carter when she glides on to the ice in Sydney this week at the national figure skating titles and next year in Japan, none more eager than those of her parents, Carol and Alan.

The tears are expected to flow again for their little girl. A girl they say who has given so much.

"The best part about all this is she is making her mark," Mrs Carter said. "She is getting better and better.

"With all the effort she's put into the sport, she deserves to get just as much out of it."