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Pair hope to keep Oldsmar on skating map

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

When Brandi Seabol of Clearwater and Cheyne Coppage of Groveland won the novice pairs title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January 1996, many in the figure skating world were shocked that a pair of ice champions could come from Florida.

The triumph helped put their training facility, Tampa Bay Skating Academy in Oldsmar, on the map and meant a promising future for the duo _ until Cheyne quit just weeks before last year's regional competition. Without a partner, it seemed that Brandi's hopes to compete in a world championship would never come to fruition.

Then, 10 weeks ago, Jason Robertson, 21, glided into her life. The two will have the chance to test their on-ice chemistry at the 1998 Qualifying South Atlantic Regional Championships that begin today and continue through Saturday at the Tampa Bay Skating Academy. The competition will feature almost 400 skaters from 20 states.

"I think we skate well together," said Robertson, who recently moved to Dunedin from Huntsville, Ala. "We are well-matched, we have strong programs, and we both handle pressure well."

"Jason is a good motivator," said Seabol, now a 14-year-old freshman at Countryside High School.

"He makes it enjoyable, he makes me laugh," she said with a grin. "But it's not all fun. We do work hard. We have goals. We don't expect to win nationals, but we hope to achieve national ranking. This is kind of a test run."

The two will be skating at the junior pairs level, which is a step below the senior level, the top category. They have been training hard, skating at 6 a.m. and another couple of hours after Seabol gets out of school. They also practice individually.

Unlike Seabol, who has been skating since she was 6, Robertson has been involved with the sport only since he was 16.

"I watched the 1992 Olympics on TV," he said. "I watched the tapes over and over and decided that's what I wanted to do."

There was one small problem.

Robertson lived in a small town, Iuka, Miss. The nearest ice rink was two hours away. But he didn't let that detail melt his dreams.

"I learned my single and double jumps on the living room floor," he said. "I practiced my spins _ like the camel _ on the kitchen floor with my socks on. Of course, you don't go very fast on a kitchen floor, but at least you get the basic idea."

Then Robertson got the ice he needed. His parents moved to Huntsville, which had a training rink nearby. He started skating in public sessions and was soon able to master most of his single jumps. A coach saw his talent, and soon he was taking private lessons. He moved up the skating ladder, competing last year at the novice pairs level at the nationals.

Besides pairs, divisions at the regional competition include singles and dance. Those who place in the top four of their divisions will advance to the Eastern Sectional Competition in Simsbury, Conn., in December.

Top skaters will then advance to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Philadelphia in January and ultimately compete for a spot on the 1998 U.S. Olympic Team.

For information, call the Tampa Bay Skating Academy at 854-4010, ext. 202.

If you go

Almost 400 figure skaters from 20 states will compete this week in Oldsmar at the 1998 Qualifying South Atlantic Regional Championships. Spectators are welcome to observe the competition at the Tampa Bay Skating Academy, 251 Lakeview Drive, Oldsmar. Ticket prices at the door are $5 today and Wednesday, and $8 Thursday through Saturday; a pass good for all days is $30. Hours of competition are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. today, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday.