COLUMBIA — Twelve-year-old Emma Trent laces up her roller skates for a Thursday practice, but this practice won’t be typical. She skates out to the floor, tracing the small loops on the floor for the first time. Junior World Class skater Charlie Manchee shows her some of his training techniques, such as sprinkling Comet bathroom cleanser on the wooden floor to provide more traction.
Manchee, a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis, has been traveling to Columbia every Thursday for the last month to train at Empire Roller Rink. He is preparing for the World Figure Skating Championships later this month in Australia. He said he is trying to get in as much practice time as he can before the competition and can only get so much rink time in St. Louis. Getting rink time isn’t much of a problem for Emma, because her parents, Lisa and Willy Trent, own Empire. Charlie said Empire offers him more rink time and that they’re really nice about it.
“We are very excited to have a Junior World Class skater at our rink to train,” said Lisa Trent, who is a coach for beginning roller figure skaters. “It allows our skaters to see the best.”
Trent has been coaching for more than three years. Currently, she coaches about a dozen skaters. Two of the skaters, Emma Trent and Sonya Stark, compete in the USA Roller Sports North Central Region and went on to the National Championships in Omaha, Neb., that was held in July.
Empire’s floor doesn’t have the plastic coating generally found where roller figure skaters compete. In addition to providing additional traction, plastic protects the underlying wooden floor. The Trents plan to apply a plastic coating, but in the meantime, the Comet helps.
“It felt much better, because it was gripping to my wheels, so I wouldn’t slip and fall,” said Emma.
Manchee suggested another technique: skating loops while holding a broomstick to help keep her body in the right frame and arms out.
“I don’t like the broomstick, because it makes me feel off-balance,” said Emma.
Manchee said he likes being able to pass on what he has learned over the past 15 years. He said he likes meeting new people and helping them out. It’s his last year in the junior division, and he said he really wants a medal. Manchee took ninth last year at the World Figure Skating Championships.
“There’s the whole pressure of representing the U.S. on your back, so there’s a lot of stress involved,” Manchee said.
Roller figure skating, also known as artistic roller skating, is similar to figure skating on ice.
“Anybody who has watched figure skating on ice on television should have a good reference point for our artistic skating,” said John Cawly, a St. Louis biology professor and World Figure Skating Championships judge.
Roller figure skaters compete in the categories of freestyle, dance, singles, and precision or synchronized skating. Emma’s specialty is figures, in which the skater traces a series of patterns painted on the skating surface. According to USA Roller Sports, judges in figures competitions evaluate skaters based on artistic and technical merits: Skaters are judged on accuracy in tracing figures as well as posture and the execution of turns and takeoffs.
According to the National Museum of Roller Skating Web site, figure roller skating took time to develop, but roller skaters eventually created an itinerary of more than 40 figures of jumps, turns and spins.
“Basically, the outline is three-eighths of an inch wide and you live or die by being on or off that line,” said Ken Watts, a coach for advanced skaters in St. Louis.
To prepare for the National Championships in Omaha last July, Emma trained at least three times a week for three to five hours at a time. Once a week, she traveled to St. Louis for advanced training with Watts, who has also coached a Columbia roller derby team called the Destruction Junction. Now, she travels once a month to Chicago for lessons with world-class coach John Peck.
When Emma competed at the nationals in Omaha, she was mainly nervous about skating on an unfamiliar surface.
“I wasn’t sure where the bumps were, wood changes or anything like that,” she said.
But Emma said her parents were more nervous than she was.
“When she went into eliminations with all three judges placing her first, I just was so excited and nervous for her,” said Lisa Trent. “At finals, her last figure was the most difficult. I had to leave the arena and not watch. I know she needed to focus on her skating and not me.”
When Emma heard her name called as the first-place skater in Elementary Level C Girls Figures, she could hardly contain her excitement.
“A smile was just beaming on my face,” she said.
Emma plans to compete in the 2008 National Championships and hopes to one day skate in the World Figure Skating Championships. She has already started training for this year’s season.
As her mother notes, “It’s not a sport you can do half way.”