"Baldwin: Rena is my idol"

By Susanne Kempf
Photos by K. "bird" N.

Fresh fom finishing 2nd at Skate America and narrowly missing the bronze medal at the Trophy Eric Bompard, Rena Inoue and John Baldwin Jr. have had a great start into the season and look forward to competing at the US Nationals. The couple is well-known for attempting the spectacular throw triple axel and triple lutzes in their programs.

Q. Please tell us a bit about how your partnership started:

Baldwin: We started skating together in 2000. We met through a mutual friend in California who is a coach there. Both of us were reaching the end of your single career - Rena was on the Olympic team in 1992 and 1994 for Japan. So we just wanted to try pairs and it has worked out for us. (laughs) It clicked right away the first time we skated together so we didn't have many other try-outs. That was really nice.

Q: How did you come up with the idea to do the trow triple axel and the triple lutz in your free programs? Obviously that is quite a unique thing to do in pairs skatingÂ…

Baldwin: We know that we are both capable of doing it. We had started working on the triple axel last year but never had a chance to put it in the program. And this year it is just something that we want to do to make people remember us by.

Q: How do you find yourself coping with the new scoring system?

Inoue: Our coach Peter Oppegaard did both of our programs this year. The hardest part is basically trying to get the highest levels - we try to figure out what was wrong and what we are missing if we only get a "level 2" lift instead of a "level 3" or "level 4" lift. We find ourselves tweaking up bits here and there to get higher levels in everything. It's like doing maths and that's sometimes harder than doing the actual elements. (laughs)

Baldwin: I like the system because it is fun to look back at the competition and see what levels you got on your elements and see how many points you got – we have never had that in the past. So it's nice. I like it.

Inoue: For the technical side it is definitely more fair. It's good to see what we can do to make it better the next time. You know, I don't think judging will ever be 100% fair. People have to judge people so there is always something going on. (laughs)

Q: When did you come to the USA?

Inoue: It was 8 years ago. Until I met Johnny I was travelling back and forth between Japan and the USA. We now live in Santa Monica, Los Angeles.

Q: What are your plans after the Olympics, have you decided yet what you are going to do?

Baldwin: We are not planning on retiring yet. (laughing) We are just seeing it as it comes. After the season we will travel for a bit - we have a recreational vehicle and we will drive through the country with it.

Q: What do you think is possible for you at the Olympics?

Baldwin: First, we just want to do a clean program. If we show what we can in practice - the throw triple axel and the triple lutz – we are definitely contenders for a medal in Italy. Technically that mark would be one with the highest content in pairs skating but of course we still have to deal with the second mark. But whatever happens at the Olympics, it will be an accomplishment to be there, it's simply great to be a part of it and to compete against all the top couples - some who have been skating for a long time now.

Q: Here in practice in Paris I have seen Rena landing the triple axel a couple of times and your father told me that you hit the triple lutz all the time in practiceÂ….

Baldwin: Yeah, it's true. I have a problem landing it in competition. It would be a good time to finally hit it at the Olympics, wouldn't itÂ…? (laughs)

Q: Talking about the mental side in skatingÂ… In the pairs discipline it is of course important to relate to each other which makes it different and probably mentally more difficult in contrast to single skatingÂ…. How do you deal with that situation?

Baldwin: I kind of direct the pair when Rena and I skate but when it comes to the psychology and what you think about going into each element, it's good to have something in your head to distract any negative thoughts which are going on. I have had some negative thoughts about my triple lutz. I have something to do when I get back home, I will work together with a sport psychologist. Physically I can do the jumps but if you let any doubts get into your head, it gets difficult.

Q: Coming from your background, it really stands out that you were two independent single skaters - and even from two different cultures too - before skating pairs where you really have to become "one"on the ice..

Baldwin: Yes. We started out as two single skaters who skated in pairs but our comfort level has really come together over the last 5 years. Our coach has certainly had a big part in this! And now we skate like "one"... at least I hope! (laughs)

Inoue: Exactly. It's not like it happened over night, it slowly had to develop within time. We certainly needed time to get accustomed to each other: to get to know our personalities, our habits, etc. Our different nationalities didn't have an impact on your skating at all either.

Inoue: No, not at all.

Q. Who do you look up to as a pair, do you have any idols?

Inoue: No, not really. My focus goes straight into my own skating so generally we rather try to focus on our own skating and to constantly improve ourselves, doing the best that we can. We just want to show our side of skating. I know some people need to look up to somebody or have an idol but not me - it just works better for me this way. (smiles)

Baldwin: All I can say is, I respect Rena as the person and the skater she is. So if you are asking me about idols: I look up to her, I like how strong she is in competition and how focused and the way she deals with things. That's how I wanna be. You may think you have idols but if you think about it - you don't really know these people. But I know her...

Q: Thank you very much for the interview and good luck for the rest of the season!!

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