Laura Handy was scowling as she left Staples Center ice Wednesday night. Her partner, Jonathon Hunt, had taken a hard fall when the figure skating pair tried their side-by-side triple toe loop jumps. Hunt got up, chased Handy down and the performance continued. A few moments later, Handy two-footed her landing on the throw triple salchow move.
There was triumph in the completion of the program, victory in the getting up. Handy and Hunt are still learning about each other, figuring out when to turn left, when to spin right, how far to jump, how long to reach. They have skated together less than two years and that is two years longer than Handy once thought she'd be skating.
They are in sixth place after the short program at the 2002 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
Leading, as expected, are two-time defending champions Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman, who skated the 2-minute, 40-second program which counts for one-third the final score, to a raucous selection of music from Pink Floyd.
On Sept. 29, 1999, Handy and Paul Binnebose were a promising, young American pair. They finished second in the 1999 world junior championship and third at their first U.S. senior nationals.
In practice that day, at a Delaware rink, Binnebose lifted Handy above his head with one hand. The move is called a star lift. It is not easy but it is not an extraordinary move. But Binnebose had been having back trouble and when Handy was high in the air, Binnebose's back went into a spasm. As Binnebose fell, he tried his best to break Handy's fall. And he did. But in doing so, Binnebose cracked his skull on the ice. His coma lasted a month. Twice he stopped breathing.
That Binnebose recovered is amazing. That he is teaching skating in Pennsylvania is uplifting. That Handy is championships with a serious hope of qualifying for the Olympics is a triumph of another kind.
"I almost quit," Handy said Wednesday night. "I didn't know if I wanted to do this. I didn't think I could find another partner. I just wasn't sure of myself."
For several months after the accident, Handy spent nights crying herself to sleep. And after she fell asleep, Handy would wake up screaming. The memories of the fall broke her heart and scared her awake.
She blamed herself. Was she too heavy? Had she made life too difficult for her partner?
And in the guilt was hesitancy to move on. Handy told Binnebose she wouldn't skate again until he could. Binnebose encouraged Handy to find someone else because Handy was too talented to sit and wait, maybe forever. So Handy, 21, found Hunt, 20, in her rink.
"It was like starting all over," Handy said. "Everything you did before with someone else, it's all different. The style, the timing. All of it."
Handy and Hunt finished sixth last year at their first senior nationals and were eighth at Skate America last fall.
"It was nerves for me tonight, definitely," Hunt said.
"I wasn't nervous," Handy said. "I just think I tried too hard."
All the early skaters had trouble. Tiffany and Johnnie Stiegler, the sister and brother duo from Manhattan Beach, skated first and fell hardest.