Ina, 29, and Zimmerman, who turns 28 Monday, have begun showing chemistry and consistency sorely lacking in the first three seasons of their partnership.
The result has been second places in all three Grand Prix appearances, a place in December’s Grand Prix final and a decent shot at an Olympic medal in February.
“They are not any longer two individuals showing themselves, but a pair team, one unit,” said their coach, Tamara Moskvina of Russia, whose skaters have won three gold and three silver medals in the last five Olympics. “The confidence they show is the result of all ingredients of their preparation coming together.”
With four of the six events completed in a generally lackluster Grand Prix season, pairs has been the one discipline marked by outstanding performances, especially those of Ina-Zimmerman and reigning world champions Jamie Sale-David Pelletier of Canada.
Pairs may be the most competitive event at the 2002 Olympics. The field should include three couples who have won world titles, including Moskvina’s other team, 1998 Olympic silver medalists Elena Bereznaia and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia, and five teams that have won world medals.
Ina and Zimmerman are challenging that elite group after the disappointment of finishing seventh at two straight world meets.
“The only time you want to duplicate something is if you’re first,” Zimmerman said Tuesday from New Jersey.
“We re-evaluated what we needed to do after worlds. I needed to get my jumps more consistent-you must stay upright-and we needed to get some chemistry on the ice.
“We’re two different people and two different skaters. She is the technician and I’m the artist. It has taken awhile to come together.”
In the past, the 5-foot Ina and the 6-foot Zimmerman skated like ships passing in the night-or, at times, ships crashing in the night, with frequent falls on the throws and side-by-side jumps that are the most demanding technical elements of pairs skating.
They had to adapt not only to each other but to Russian coaching methods.
“We found out practice doesn’t have to be blood, sweat and tears every day,” Zimmerman said. “We are used to doing repetition, repetition, repetition, without thinking of technique. Tamara and her husband, Igor Moskvin, take a more intellectual approach. It was hard to relinquish a lot of our old habits.”
Each had to relinquish the habit of being with an old partner. Ina left a message on an answering machine to tell Jason Dungjen their eight-year partnership was over two months after finishing fourth at the 1998 Olympics.
Zimmerman’s previous partner, Stephanie Stiegler, unexpectedly retired with a shoulder injury before the last Olympic season.
Up to speed: Good start for U.S. speedskater Jennifer Rodriguez on the World Cup circuit, with silver medals at 1,500 meters on consecutive weekends.
But her fiance, K.C. Boutiette, battling a cold after a solid ninth in his first race, has struggled since with an 18th, a 17th in a B race and a DQ.
Meanwhile, Derek Parra’s fourth at 1,500 meters last weekend in Austria allowed him to join Rodriguez as an automatic qualifier for the 2002 U.S. Olympic team.
As the long-track circuit moves to Austria this weekend, Germany’s Anni Friesinger tries to maintain her perfect record, having won both 1,500s and both 3,000s this season.
With her superstar teammate, Gunda Niemann Stirnemann, missing this season because she’s pregnant, Friesinger has rapidly established herself as an Olympic favorite at 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000.
Called off: Record warm weather and a lack of snow forced cancellation of the men’s downhill and super-giant slalom races scheduled Dec. 1-2 at Beaver Creek, Colo.
It was the only World Cup downhill race scheduled in the U.S. this season.