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USF St. Petersburg's Felicia Zhang heading to Sochi Olympics

ELLENTON — Time crawled when Felicia Zhang first skated on ice. Going in circles was boring to the little girl growing up in New Jersey. What good was this, she asked herself, being cold and bored?

But when she was 7, a friend invited her to a birthday party at an ice skating rink. Skating with friends, she found, was quite fun.

Fast-forward to today, after a dozen pairs of skates, a handful of coaches and hours upon hours on the ice, and Zhang is going to the Olympics. On Feb. 1, she and her figure skating partner, Nathan Bartholomay, will fly to Munich, Germany, then on to Sochi, Russia.

And so her time, now, belongs to training.

Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., she is at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex in Manatee County, adjacent to the outlet mall. She skates, she runs, she lifts weights and Bartholomay sometimes lifts her.

Zhang, 20, works as a sales associate at J. Crew in the outlet mall. She's also a part-time student at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, where she studies psychology. Zhang moved to Florida in 2011 for the training program her coach runs at Ellenton Ice.

This semester, she put her degree on hold and cut her hours at J. Crew. When you're bound for the Olympics, you had better be training.

But who is Zhang when she is not training?

"I think I'm just a very upbeat person in general," she said last week between a skating session and hitting the gym. "I like doing things. I don't like to sit at home too often. On Sundays I'll sit and relax for another training week ahead. I don't think I'm boring."

She laughs. "I don't know. I could be."

Her favorite color is red, but her favorite color to paint her nails is pink. Her favorite flavor ice cream is green tea.

Zhang does not date. However, her ideal man is tall, handsome and cute. Probably athletic, too. And funny.

She thinks it's funny when her pairs partner, known to her as Nate, tells reporters to call him Nathan. When the pair found out they had won the silver medal at the U.S. Championships, he cried more than she did.

Her biggest fear is spiders. She does not like how they crawl around on their unwieldy little legs. There is a web in the corner of the ceiling in her room that she cannot get to. She has not seen a spider there, but she watches for it.

She loves sweaters.

Her favorite beach is Anna Maria. She'd buy People to read on an airplane, but if someone intellectual was watching, she'd buy National Geographic.

Her role model is South Korean skater Kim Yuna, the 2010 Olympic singles champion, and a person she is nervous to meet.

She watches Friends every night.

At USF St. Petersburg she likes to sit by the water, doing her homework by the campus pier. She doesn't get much done, she admits. She watches the sailboats go by.

She cannot wait for the opening ceremonies of the Games, something she has watched on television since she was a little girl skating in those boring circles. She's excited to compete.

The U.S. figure skating pairs rarely medal at the Olympics, losing out to their international competitors. But even the chance to compete was far from a given for Zhang.

She and Bartholomay earned their spot on the team by placing second at the U.S. Championships this month. In the world of pair figure skating, this was an upset: the third-place team of Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, behind by 0.29 points, has much more international experience. Few would have been surprised if they bested Zhang and Bartholomay.

But they did not.

When it's over, and Zhang's time is hers again, there's one thing she wants to do for herself. She has lived in Florida for three years now, but she hasn't made it to Disney World.

She wants to ride the rollercoasters.

She wants to meet Mickey.

Contact Lisa Gartner at lgartner@tampabay.com. Follow her on Twitter @lgartner.

.Fast facts

Zhang at a glance

2014: Silver medalist at the U.S. Championships with partner Nathan Bartholomay; named to U.S. Olympic team for Sochi Games

2013: Bronze medalist at the U.S. Championships with Bartholomay; fourth at the international Four Continents Championship

2012: Eighth at the U.S. Championships with Bartholomay

2011: Sat out because of rib injuries

2010: Gold medalist at the U.S. Junior Championships; ninth at the World Junior Championships with partner Taylor Toth

USF St. Petersburg's Felicia Zhang heading to Sochi Olympics 01/25/14 [Last modified: Saturday, January 25, 2014 9:41pm]

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