Skater Hoping To Figure In Medals
Illawara Mercury
18 February 1998

A trip to Nagano will have special significance for one family, writes SAM NORTH .

FOR Alan Carter, sitting beside his wife Carol at the ice rink in Lausanne, Switzerland back in March, there were two choices.

He could either break down and weep, or get up and run.

The businessman from West Pennant Hills decided on the latter and raced from his seat, through the stands, down the stairs to be there to greet their daughter Joanne, their only child, as she came off the ice ... triumphant!

It was the World Figure Skating Championships and the then 16-year-old had shocked herself, her coach, her parents and the skating world, by finishing in 11th place - well inside the magical top 16 which was necessary to guarantee automatic selection for the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, next year.

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

Six weeks later, Joanne Carter, now 17, is still trying to come to terms with having achieved the Olympic goal she set herself about seven years ago. Ask her how it feels and the words tumble out: "It's amazing, I still can't believe it. It's just a big thrill, it's my whole dream and goal, and everything has just come at once - I still can't believe it."

The long journey that leads to Nagano began on a sweltering Sydney day when Carter was around 4 1/2 years old. Her mother decided to take her to Blacktown ice rink, where she strapped on the bulky hired blades and took her first tentative steps into the strange white world that was to be her future.

And she loved it.

"Even when she fell over and hurt herself, she didn't cry," Carol Carter recalls. "She just went back out and had another go. She used to always say when she finished: 'Can we go tomorrow?' "

From there, it was coaching - including one selfless mentor who told the Carters that their daughter had such great potential that she really should be taught by John Carlow at the Macquarie rink.

Carlow looked after Carter for around six years and, apart from teaching the technical proficiency which enabled her to become an institution on the winner's dais at State and National age championships, instilled in her the urgency of not getting stuck in the backwater of Australian skating.

Now coached by former Russian skater Andrei Pachin, who, she says, has lifted her performance to another level, Carter went to Switzerland with stars in her eyes and doubts in her mind.

"I was really intimidated at first," she says of the few days practice that led up to the world championships, "seeing all these people that I'd seen on TV. But after you get past that, it's very motivating to see them.

"I think I looked at them (in practice), thinking 'I'll never be able to do that, maybe I'll never be able to get there.' But my coach was saying things and I was thinking 'Yes, well I can do that' and gradually as the week went on I thought 'Well, I got my way here, so I might as well make the most of it.' "

That ability to focus has been honed by regular sessions with leading sports psychologist John Crampton at the NSW Institute of Sport, where Carter also receives sports science and nutrition advice.

She has also spent the past couple of weeks working with Tom Dixon, an American who has been brought to Australia specially to choreograph a new long routine for Carter to take to the Olympics.

Her current training regime involves 4.30 am starts six mornings a week, hitting the ice at the Macquarie rink around 5.45 am for a session that ends at 8 am. Then its off to school - yes, folks, she is in the middle of Year 12 at the "incredibly supportive" Mount St Benedict College - before another two-hour session beginning at 4 pm, four afternoons a week.

"Before the Worlds (World Championships) my dream was to get to the Olympics. That was just everything, that was the only thing, that was my biggest goal. Now, after the Worlds, now that I'm there, I want to do well in the Olympics - I still can't believe that I'm getting there, so the Olympics is still my biggest thing," she says.

If possible, it may be an even bigger thing for her father. His dream was also to see his daughter skate at the Olympics but most of the pundits predicted 2002 as the most realistic Games for Joanne.

That might have proved a bit of a problem for Alan Carter. "I never thought I'd see it," he says with the sort of honesty reserved for those who have some inkling of mortality. Just over three years ago, desperately ill, he received a heart transplant. He has been in good health since, "but its a bit of a toss-up if I'll be here", he says of 2002. When Nagano became a reality, the only toss-up was to cry or run.

He did both.

NAGANO, Japan.- Australian figure skater Jo Carter has looked so good in training during the last two weeks that coach Andrei Pachin's only minor worry is that she may have peaked too soon for the competition at the Winter Olympics.

Pachin, a former Russian nicknamed "The Bear" who is notoriously difficult to please, took Carter to Moscow for three weeks' intensive training in January.

Since arriving in Nagano early this month, Carter, 17, has been showing the benefits of the stint during twice daily sessions and even earned the praise of Pachin.

Her big combination jump is a triple lutz-double toe which she has consistently landed cleanly in practice, although she struggled with the lutz yesterday.

The women's figure skating is one of the blue ribbon events of a Winter Games, and the Americans are getting especially excited this time with three gold medal contenders in reigning world champion Tara Lipinksi, her predecessor Michelle Kwan and Nicole Bobek.

Other medal chances include Russians Maria Butryskaya and Irina Slutskaya and China's Lu Chen.

One potential contender Carter won't have to face is German Tanja Szewczenko, who was forced to withdraw on Sunday because of a virus.

Carter, who is remarkably composed despite being the baby of the 24-strong Australian team at 17, is not worried about what her opponents are doing.

"I'm not interested in watching the other skaters, I'm more concerned with myself," she said. "If I don't watch them, I don't know what they're doing and that suits me fine."

Carter's best finish in her short international career was 11th at the 1997 world championships in Lausanne and a similar finish here would be a terrific result.