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June 3, 2009 > Ricigliano and Keith: Fremont's own ice dancing dynasty

Ricigliano and Keith: Fremont's own ice dancing dynasty

By Gary van den Heuvel

When considering the contributions of the Bay Area to the world of figure skating, one might immediately think of Fremont's pride and joy, 1992 Olympic Gold Medalist Kristi Yamaguchi. Reach further into the memory bank and the legendary Peggy Fleming, the 1968 gold medalist from San Jose, might come to mind.

But currently, Fremont is the home of its own veritable dynasty in the world of ice dancing.

Mike Ricigliano and Julie Keith have been skating together for just over seven years, and from the results, it's been a very fruitful pairing: at the U.S. Adult National Ice Skating Championships in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in late April, Ricigliano and Keith won their seventh consecutive ice dancing championship in the Masters Open and Championship Adult divisions.

Mike, 48, and Julie, 45, met through various friends in the skating community. Mike had been looking for a new ice dancing partner when his previous partner decided to have children. His skating career started as a competitive roller skater in his youth. In 1980, Ricigliano took second place in the Roller Figure Skating National Championships. He switched to performing on ice in his early twenties.

As a child, Julie had been figure skating competitively in the Bay Area. She left skating for over 15 years, and returned to the sport after college, joining a local ice show in Santa Rosa as a solo skater. She explored the skating scene in San Jose and had heard about Mike. They finally met when Mike came up to Berkeley, where Julie skated regularly.

Ricigliano attributes their success to their approach to skating.

"We're so much alike," said Ricigliano. "We are incredibly hard workers. We have families and kids and mortgages and all this other stuff, and jobs, so we don't have a lot of time. When we go to the rink, every moment is vital. We just push ourselves; sometimes we get on each other's nerves and we have to say 'calm down, it's going to work.' We have an incredible work ethic. I'm drenched at the end of the session. We put ourselves out there more than 100 percent every time we skate. We're very passionate about it."

Fremont resident Ricigliano is the father of a 17-year-old daughter who is heavily into dance, and he works as a software engineering manager at Sun Microsystems. He also has been judging ice skating competitions for the past seven years.

Keith is a realtor for Coldwell Banker, a full-time mom and school volunteer. She and her husband of 20 years have two sons, ages 8 and 12. Julie describes her sons as "extremely athletic," but their sports of choice are youth football and soccer.

"I bring them on the ice," says Keith. "I did say, you know kids, I want you to know skating. You don't have to become a skater, but one day, if you ever go back as an adult, you'll have the basics."

Ricigliano and Keith's primary coach is John Dowding, a former Canadian champion and 1980 Olympian. Keith describes Dowding as an "excellent technician. He'll say 'check your shoulder, get your hip over, watch this or that.'" This year, the pair has also been working with Beata Handra, a 2002 Olympian who teaches out of Oakland.

"We are so blessed to have some phenomenal coaching," said Ricigliano.

Ricigliano and Keith also work with an iconic couple in ice dancing - the 1992 Olympic gold medalists (and married couple) Sergei Ponomarenko and Marina Klimova, who do choreography for them.

"Marina and Sergei, to me, are the be-all and end-all of ice dancing, because when they dance, they create such a unison and a story," said Keith. "They make everything look effortless. There are many others, but they are the classic. I couldn't even believe we were taking lessons from them."

After seven straight wins at the U.S. Adult Nationals, Ricigliano and Keith aren't sure if they will be there next year to try for an eighth title.

"We have to see," says Ricigliano. "Take it one year at a time. I can't even think bout it, honestly, because it really is a grind that lasts a couple of months before the competition. We'll have to see."

Keith wants to participate in some local events, but says, "Right now, there's nothing planned. I want to leave on a good note - a good edge, as they say."

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