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Sunday, 23 November 2014

Cumbrian figure skater set for Winter Olympics challenge

It’s the moment most athletes only dream of – but for Cumbrian skating star David King, it’s about to become a reality.

David King photo
David King

Together with his girlfriend and skating partner Stacey Kemp, 21, the 25-year-old athlete is making his final preparations for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The pair will become the first figure skaters to represent Britain in the contest since 1994.

While they put the finishing touches to their routines, David’s family in Curthwaite, near Carlisle, can only wait with baited breath. Mum Angela King is flying out to join her son today but has no plans to speak to him until the contest is underway.

She says: “I won’t interrupt him now, until we see him when we’re over there. They get very focused before a performance and I don’t want to break that.

"I’m very nervous for him though, so it’s hard to concentrate on anything. Years ago, when he started skating in Dumfries, people used to say ‘one day, he’ll be in the Olympics,’ and we just used to laugh because it seemed so impossible.”

Having flown out last week from their training base in Poland, the skaters are staying in the Olympic village just outside Vancouver. With them are competitors in 86 winter sports, from snowboarding to ski jumping, preparing to do battle over the next three weeks.

The Games will kick off with a spectacular opening ceremony on Friday evening, followed by a reception for the British team.

David and his fellow athletes will be joined by dignitaries including Princess Anne and Sir Clive Woodward.

Angela and her husband Mike have also been asked to attend, as well as Stacey’s mother, who is travelling with them.

Angela adds: “Stacey sent a text to her mum when she arrived in Vancouver, saying ‘I’ve been dreaming of this moment since I was six years old.’”

The couple started skating together eight years ago and their relationship blossomed over a rigorous training regime. David had already competed solo, but working with Stacey, from Leyland, Lancashire, made him realise he had the talent to become a professional.

“He started in pairs quite late,” says Angela. “But when you’re just doing it for yourself, I don’t think you work as hard.”

Training together six days a week, the dedicated pair relied on their families for £15,000 each a year in fees. A former professional gymnast, Angela was happy to support her son’s career and even took up skating herself with David in 1995.

She practices each week at Dumfries Ice Rink and has personal experience of the injuries skaters can risk.

She says: “Last week Stacey was doing a triple twist, where David throws her up in the air and she spins around three times. She didn’t tuck her elbow in time and she hit him on the side of the head and nearly knocked him out.”

Compared to ice dance, made famous by Torvill and Dean, figure skating is more acrobatic with an emphasis on lifts, throws and jumps. Competitors need extraordinary physical strength and are often in their thirties before reaching the top of their game.

Angela adds: “All the pair skaters that are winning the medals at the moment are in their thirties and David’s only 25. Working as a pair, it takes a long time to develop your relationship.”

But whether or not it’s David’s year, the family have been overwhelmed with calls and letters of support. Sadly, the eight-hour time difference between the UK and Canada means many will miss seeing the skaters live on TV.

Their two performances will be shown on BBC2 between 12.30am and 4am on Sunday, February 14 and between 11.20pm and 5am the next night.

“The one thing with training in Poland is that David doesn’t get home as much as he’d like to,” says Angela. “But he’s so proud to be representing his country. It really is a dream come true.”

Angela and Mike will be in Vancouver for the next two weeks to cheer their son on. They would have liked to stay even longer, but tickets for two events have cost them a total of £1,000.

Security concerns mean the only access to the competition venue, at nearby Whistler, is by public transport. And even for the families of the athletes, the Olympic village is strictly out of bounds.

Angela adds: “Security is so tight, there’s no way we’re going to be able to make contact with them at the actual village.

“We had to put our names on a waiting list for tickets last April, before we knew they would even be selected.”

The pair secured their place when they were crowned British champions for the fifth consecutive year in 2009. For David, a former pupil at Nelson Thomlinson School, it was the culmination of 15 years of hard work.

“The Winter Olympics is what makes it all worthwhile,” he says. “All of the hard work and sacrifice over so many years has paid off with our selection.

“I'm told competing will be a very special moment in our lives and we intend to enjoy it.”

When it comes to winning medals, though, he’s happy to wait until the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia. He’s confident he can hold his own, but he knows he’ll be up against the best in the world.

He adds: “That will only help us in our development.

“We then have four years to improve before the next Games in Sochi, when we hope to have a chance of a medal."

Training under Polish legends Mariusz and Dorota Siudek, the pair are in top form ahead of Vancouver. But an Olympic appearance has long been on the cards, since they opted out of the Turin games in 2006.

David still thinks they made the right decision, allowing them to grow as a duo away from the public gaze.

“It was frustrating, but we’re more prepared now and should gain qualification," says the skater, currently ranked 13th in the world.

“Watching at home was inspiring – and Vancouver looks an impressive venue. I’m sure we’ll get more of a taste of things to come in the next few days, but we’re confident of doing well.”

The pair had a major boost at last year’s European Championships in Estonia, where they set new personal bests in both their events and went on to finish 11th.

David says: “I missed an element in the short programme and if we had done it we could have been seventh. We will perform the same programme at the Winter Olympics, so it’s great that we are going into it having set personal bests.”

“We have put a lot into getting there so it is great we can have this moment.”

Lloyds TSB, partner of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and supporter of Team GB on their journey to Vancouver 2010, has more details on its website www.LloydsTSB.com/London2012.

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