Brotherly love a required element for some skaters

BY foxsports • February 22, 2010

Israeli ice dancer Roman Zaretsky knows exactly what people are thinking when they see him and his sister skating hand-in-hand or doing a seductive tango.

Double ick.

``The romance part, it's hard to show because it's programmed in your head this is your sister,'' he said. ``So it's hard to act.''

Anyone with a brother or sister knows there are times you don't even want to talk to them, let alone gaze into their eyes longingly and convince people you mean it.

For four of the 23 ice dance teams at the Vancouver Olympics, however, there's no choice.

Joining the Zaretskys - Roman and Alexandra - in Monday night's free dance are Britain's Sinead and John Kerr; Japan's Cathy and Chris Reed; and Germany's Christina and William Beier.

Brother-sister acts are nothing new in figure skating. French ice dancers Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay added the silver medal at the 1992 Albertville Games to the world title they had won a year earlier. American siblings Kitty and Peter Carruthers were silver medalists in pairs at the 1984 Olympics.

But when most fans think of pairs or dance, they like to imagine blissful love stories like 2002 Canadian pairs gold medalists Jamie Sale and David Pelletier or recent Vancouver pairs gold medalists Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo. The fact that they touch almost constantly when they're on the ice, often wear skimpy outfits that leave little to the imagination and skate to romantically themed music only adds to the illusion.

``You probably don't see so many brothers and sisters who hold hands every single day,'' said Cathy Reed, who has been skating with her brother for nine years.

But there is an upside for keeping it in the family.

One of the keys for a successful dance or pairs team is similar physical characteristics: body shape, lines, coloring. When you come from the same family, the odds are pretty good that's going to be there. Sinead and John Kerr hardly look like twins - she's blonde, he has dark hair. But their similar lean physiques and proportions make them a perfect fit.

And while fans might entertain themselves with an imagined love story for every couple, it's not always so harmonious behind the boards - siblings or otherwise.

As anyone who's been in a relationship knows, couples fight. Sometimes, they break up. Imagine having to go on the ice and present a pretty picture after a blowup over whose turn it was to clean the kitchen.

Siblings, however, can have raging fights without long-term consequences.

``We don't have to worry someone's going to do something stupid and leave each other,'' said Roman Zaretsky, who has skated with his sister since 1995.

It even helps with the day-to-day grind.

Champion pairs and dance teams spend most of their days together, whether it's skating or doing off-ice training. Spend that much time with any one person, and you're likely to get on each other's nerves. If you're working with a romantic partner or even just a friend, social etiquette prevents you from throwing a fit or giving him or her the cold shoulder.

You don't have to play nice with a sibling. Good days or bad days, you're still going to be related.

``We realize it's not personal if we go off the ice and we don't want to talk to each other,'' Sinead Kerr said. ``We've not fallen out, we just don't speak. Whereas sometimes when you're in a bit more of a relationship, you feel like you need to speak to them. With brother and sister, it's the relationship you've had forever. It doesn't really come into it.''

Yes, they still do get sick of each other. The Zaretskys and Kerrs both train in the United States, away from their families, so not only are they working together, they're also living together and sharing the same car.

``We do spend a lot of time with each other,'' John Kerr said, ``but it's good to have some apart time, as well, like going to see a movie with a friend or a girlfriend or boyfriend.''

As for that ick factor, the siblings all say they've learned to work around it.

For example, Sinead Kerr said she was working with her ``skating partner,'' not her little brother, when they finished Sunday night's original dance - intertwined, opposite each other and leaning back, with him straddling her torso and sitting on her thighs while she clutched his waist.

``On the ice, we don't think of each other as brother and sister,'' she said.

Staying away from romantic music or themes helps, too. The Kerrs' free dance is to a Linkin Park song. The Reeds are using music from the ``Angels and Demons'' soundtrack.

Sometimes, though, it's just plain tough to get around it. For example, the compulsory dance chosen for Vancouver was the tango romantica. It might not have been as sensual as a traditional tango, but it wasn't break dancing, either.

That's when all their make-believe skills really come into play.

``It's acting like a movie,'' Roman Zaretsky said. ``It's part of the show.''

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