Behind Smiles, Sequins, Nothing but Hard Work

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 20, 2008

It's 9 a.m. on a school day, and Kristine Musademba has been practicing at the Cabin John Ice Rink for more than two hours. At the moment, she's working on the first combination jump in the short program she'll perform at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in St. Paul, Minn., today, and she has hit a small glitch. She's not completing the rotation on her triple flip, and as a result, the transition into her double toe loop is more halting than fluid.

Without a word, she glides off the ice and takes a seat. She takes a sip of water, and she sits some more.

Nina Stark-Slapnik, the only coach Musademba has known since she first laced up skates at age 7, comes over to ask what her pupil needs. As is often the case with 15-year-olds, what she needs is a moment alone. So the coach gives her space.

In a few minutes, Musademba skates back onto the ice and picks up where she left off, without tears or histrionics.

Figure skating might land Silver Spring's Musademba a spot on the 2010 U.S. Olympic team. The Georgetown Day student is on track to blossom at 17, having successfully moved from the sport's novice to junior ranks last year.

But the challenge she has set for herself -- to be ranked among the top three American figure skaters in the next two years -- is extremely difficult. And should she fall short, Musademba also knows that the work she has devoted to the sport she loves so much will have served her well.

Her self-imposed timeout during last week's practice was a case in point.

"I was a little bit frustrated, and I didn't want to let the emotion wash over me," she explained afterward, "so I decided to take a pause and try and interrupt that cycle. My coach always tells me: 'When you're on the ice, don't let your emotions take over. As soon as you're off the ice, you can cry in the bathroom stall or do whatever you want.' I always think about these things being good life lessons."

She loved skating from the day she went with her best friend to a rink and tried it. She was gliding -- a singular feeling that remains, she says, unlike anything in the world.

Stark-Slapnik could see her potential even then.

"It was like when a sculptor looks at a stone and sees the final art piece," the coach recalled of Kristine at 7. "I just knew that she'd be able to do all these jumps later."

Indeed, Musademba, whose father is from Zimbabwe and mother from the Philippines, has grown into an impressive jumper. But what sets her apart among juniors is her artistry.

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