For U. S. pairs skaters Naomi Nari Nam and Themistocles Leftheris, it has been a long, hard road to international success. The couple, which teamed up in the summer of 2005, earned their first senior international medal at Skate America in October when they took home the bronze, missing silver by less than a quarter of a point. Nam, now 21, was a phenom at 13 and considered washed up by the time she was 16, her singles career over. Leftheris, 23, endured almost a half dozen short-lived pairings before finally clicking with Nam. After taking fifth place in senior pairs at their first U. S. Nationals in 2006, the team is expected to challenge for the U. S. pairs crown and international medals this season.
Leftheris was inspired by watching the 1994 Olympics on television and wanted to try it. “I thought it looked like a lot of fun,” Leftheris said. “The pairs looked like the most fun with the throws and lifts.” Nam comes from a family of skaters, but in Korea, it is speed skating, not figure skating that is king. Her father and grandfather were both speed skaters, so it was natural for her grandfather to take the family for a day’s outing to a public ice skating session when she was five. She started lessons soon afterwards.
Both skaters competed initially in freestyle. Nam, who landed her first triple toe loop when she was 12, made the U. S. national team in every division except intermediates. She won the U. S. juvenile gold in 1995 and the novice title in 1997. She finished fourth in junior ladies in 1998, and then won the silver medal in her first year in seniors in 1999 at the tender age of 13. But her success was short-lived as she suffered a debilitating hip injury during the 2000-01 season that ended her singles career.
Leftheris was just beginning his singles career as Nam’s ended. “I started in a Learn to Skate program when I was 12,” he recalled. Within two years, he had landed his first triple, a salchow. He won the novice men’s competition at the 2000 North Atlantics and had hoped to qualify for Nationals in both novice men’s and pairs at the 2000 Easterns, but the schedule put him at a huge disadvantage, having to skate both short programs one day, then both long programs the next. “I wanted to win more in pairs, so I concentrated on that,” he stated. The personal highlight of his singles’ career was winning a pewter medal at the Middle Atlantic Regional Championships in 2003 after taking four years off from singles skating.
Leftheris started pairs when he was 15 and competed in novice pairs at Easterns in 1998 with Melissa Ralph, but the skaters had different goals and Ralph decided to switch to ice dancing. Next season, he skated with Sarah-Jo Damron-Brown, winning Easterns and finishing fourth at the U. S. Nationals. But the pair split and Leftheris moved to Florida to work with Jacqueline Jimenez. They won the silver medal at the U. S. novice pairs championship in 2001 and finished sixth in juniors in 2002. When that pairing dissolved, he moved to California where he first partnered Nicole Hartunian, who quit right before Nationals in 2003 and then Julian Burns, finishing 13th in seniors at Nationals in 2005.
The skaters first tried out in April 2005, after Nam had decided to give pairs skating a try. “I was really nervous during our tryout because I had heard many great things about Themi,” Nam said. “I wanted to skate well so he would want to skate with me. The tryout went great. It seemed like we were destined to skate together.”
After becoming partners, Nam left her long-time coaches, John Nicks, Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, to train with Leftheris’ coach Peter Oppegard. “I thought the change of coaches and being in a new environment would be the best for a new start in my career,” Nam stated. Both skaters enjoy the partnership involved in pairs. “I like jumping and I like the connection you have on the ice between you and your partner,” Leftheris said.
The skaters train at the East West Ice Palace in Artesia, California with Peter Oppegard and Karen Kwan Oppegard, working for 20 to 25 hours a week on the ice. Peter Oppegard choreographs their programs which included “Tango Jealousy” by Jacob Gade for the short and “Caravan” for the free skate. Leftheris has a musical background, which helps in interpreting their music. He was first chair on bass clarinet in the all-county orchestra in Florida and also plays the saxophone. His musical favorites include Bjork and Shakira, while Nam enjoys listening to Tactic and Corinne Baily Ray.
When he was younger, Leftheris played a lot of soccer, playing mid-center and left forward on a Florida league team that finished second in its district. He still likes all kinds of physical activities and volunteers with the Special Olympics. Leftheris enjoys going to action, comedy and horror movies or just hanging out with his friends. He also likes to play video games and chat with friends online. Leftheris also reads fantasy novels like the Harry Potter books. His favorite television show is Family Guy. “I have shot glasses and all the DVD’s, and Stewie is my ringbone on my phone,” he said.
Nam enjoys knitting, scrap booking, reading, shopping, attending concerts, and hanging out with her friends. She used to dance at high school pep rallies with a dance club when she was in high school and still loves to dance. Nam likes to watch TV soap operas like Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy and Entourage.
Both Nam and Leftheris have been coaching skating for six years to help pay the expenses of their training. Leftheris also works as a waiter in a Greek restaurant. Before his training schedule started taking up so much time, he was enrolled in a pre-medical magnet school in Florida. Now he is attending Long Beach Community College, where he is studying communications. Nam is a student Saddleback Community College.