There was no reason to think Stephanie Kalesavich and Aaron Parchem would be a dream pair.
Kalesavich was a tiny tot, barely 5 feet tall, a 15-year-old with a little voice and big dreams. Parchem was a 22-year-old college student, 5-10, a confident, outgoing adult.
There is no explaining what convinced the coaches at the Detroit Skating Club two years ago to pluck Kalesavich, with her bouncy blond ponytail, from one side of the ice and put her in the arms of Parchem, an African American who stands out in the crowd of skaters because of his race but fits in nicely because of his love of the cold, slippery surface.
It was just a feeling, said Mitch Moyer, one of the coaches. It was a sense that the little girl and grown man would teach each other something. And sometimes feelings are right.
Kalesavich, 17, and Parchem, 24, are the surprise second-place pair going into tonight's long program of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Their solid short program, free of major mistakes, left them behind two-time defending champions Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman.
After finishing fourth at last year's nationals, their first as a senior pair, Kalesavich, a senior in high school, and Parchem, who is finishing work on an economics degree at Detroit Mercy, are just ahead of Tiffany Scott and Philip Dulebohn, last year's runners-up. In fourth place are Detroit rinkmates Danielle and Steve Hartsell, who won the 1999 U.S. title but who have fought injuries the last two seasons. The U.S. can send two pairs to the Olympics.
"It is a relatively new development for us, thinking about [the Olympics]," Parchem said. "This is not something we are worried about. We need to come out and skate well for two programs."
Parchem, who grew up in Oak Park, Ill., played every sport imaginable. Soccer, baseball, basketball, football. His mother, Georga, took Parchem to a local ice rink when he was 12. This is a late start for a potential world-class skater, but Parchem wasn't thinking Olympics or national championships. He was thinking, "Wow, I really love to jump on the ice."
As he headed to high school, Parchem kept up with skating and soccer. "When I got to high school, I knew I had to pick one sport," Parchem said. "Everybody expected me to pick soccer. But I liked skating."
Kalesavich and Parchem had other partners. "But it wasn't working well for either of us," Parchem said.
In their short time together, Kalesavich and Parchem have finished fifth at Skate Canada and sixth at the 2001 Goodwill Games and NHK Trophy. "It's been kind of a fast progression," Parchem said. "Are we surprised? Yeah, probably."
Ina and Zimmerman, the big favorites, had a huge mistake in their short program when Zimmerman fell hard on his side-by-side triple toe-loop jump.
"I didn't have the confidence," Zimmerman said. "I didn't believe in myself when I went into it. But it's only one of eight elements, and you have to make the program come to life after that."
Zimmerman is skating with a splint on one finger. He sheepishly admitted Wednesday night after the short program that the finger was broken last month while he was tossing a football around. "I guess I'd better tell the truth now," Zimmerman said with a sidelong glance at Ina, a notorious taskmaster and hard-nosed competitor. Ina smiled. A little.
Scott and Dulebohn missed the entire Grand Prix season while Dulebohn recovered from a stress fracture in his back.