The first time Steven Cousins went ice skating, he never imagined he would eventually become a national champion figure skater and participate in the Olympics. But once he discovered a passion for the sport, he willingly practiced day after day, so he would become successful.
Today, the eight-time national champion of Britain skates in the famous traveling show Smucker's Stars on Ice alongside Olympic medalists and world champions.
As a boy, Mr. Cousins, who was born in Chester, England, enjoyed playing plenty of sports with his brother and their neighbors. One day, after Cousins's friends boasted to the two boys that they'd visited a skating rink, he and his brother pestered their parents to take themto one, too.
It wasn't nearly as much fun as Cousins had thought it would be. "I couldn't do it," he recalled in a phone interview. Instead, it was his brother who took to skating. Although Cousins didn't continue the sport then, he constantly had to go to the rink anyway, to watch his brother skate.
After a while, he decided to give skating another try. It beat waiting on the sidelines every day, he thought. This time, the sport grabbed him. Cousins discovered he actually enjoyed ice skating – and was pretty good at it, too.
When he was 9 years old, he began to train seriously, with a coach. For the first few years, he practiced for 1-1/2 hours every weekday. By the time he reached high school, he skated three hours a day and on weekends as well. On school days, he even occasionally skipped classes in order to practice – with his principal's permission, of course.
By the time he was 14, Cousins had won the British Primary Championships. At age 16, he took first place at the Junior Championships. As a 17-year-old, he became the youngest man in Britain's history to win the senior competition, which made him the national champion.
But performing well as a figure skater required more than just physical training or constant practice, Cousins says. A great deal of mental preparation was needed, too, especially as the crowds before which he performed grew larger and larger.
Large audiences can be scary, Cousins says. He remembers the first time he skated in front of 2,000 people, in Canada. It was intimidating.
But Cousins's coach helped him overcome his nervousness by sitting in the crowd. With his coach among the audience, Cousins realized that they were "regular" people – just like him. More than that, they were fans.
After he realized that, seeing the crowd gave him a "great feeling," because "there were so many people interested," he says.
Even though audiences in Britain tended to be smaller than they were in North America, performing in his home country was daunting, he found, because the fans were less friendly toward him.
The reason for this was that he spent most of his time in the US and Canada, where the pool of skaters, competition, and general interest were greater than in Britain. He usually returned home only to compete in the national tournament.
The British fans didn't like that. "It doesn't sit too well with them if you go abroad," Cousins explains.
But even while performing for sometimes-hostile crowds, he didn't let himself be scared. "I knew I had to be unbelievably prepared," he says. The strategy worked: Cousins won first place in the British National Championshipseight times.
The largest audience that ever watched him perform was at the Olympics, where billions of people around the world can tune in on TV. Cousins couldn't see them, but he could sense the excitement. He skated in the Winter Olympics of 1992, 1994, and 1998, where he placed 12th, ninth, and sixth, respectively.
After that, Cousins maintained a busy schedule of competitions and performances around the world, on TV, and even before Queen Elizabeth for her Golden Jubilee in 2002.
Seven years ago Cousins was invited to join the Stars on Ice tour. The opportunity is "amazing," he says. He considers his colleagues the "best skaters in the world."
They've included Scott Hamilton (four-time US men's champion and world champion, and first-place winner in the Winter Olympics of 1984); Todd Eldredge (world champion and six-time US national champion); Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman (world bronze medalists and three-time US national pair champions); and Michael Weiss (two-time world bronze medalist and three-time US national men's champion).
Despite their already high level of skills, the group still trains hard to wow their audiences. Cousins's sessions include a half-hour warm-up and 45 minutes to an hour on the ice practicing jumps and choreography. On most days, he spends additional time exercising or playing soccer.
Soccer is a favorite hobby, but Cousins enjoys playing golf and watching movies, too.
He also likes to spend time with friends and family, who, he says, have been "really supportive" of his career.
He firmly believes that the two key ingredients for success in any part of life – but especially in figure skating – are hard work and passion.
A love for skating allowed him to practice, train, and persevere as much as he has. "There is no shortcut to success," he says. "To become a good skater, you have to "work hard, play hard, and enjoy what you do."
How well do you know your figure-skating terminology? Test your trivia knowledge with this quiz. Match the descriptions on the left with the terms on the right. The answers are below.
1. The teeth at the front of a skate blade that assist a skater in jumps and spins.
2. Any movement in pairs skating where both partners perform the same steps at the same time, usually very close to each other.
3. A jump in which the skater takes off on the back outside edge of one skate blade and lands on the back outside edge of the other. The jump is named for its Austrian inventor, who first performed the movement in competition in 1913.
4. One of the most difficult jumps in figure skating in which the skater takes off from the forward outside edge of the skate and lands on the back outside edge of the opposite skate. A single jump of this type is 1-1/2 revolutions, a double is 2-1/2 revolutions, and a triple is 3-1/2 revolutions. The jump is named for its inventor, who first performed the movement in 1882, and is the only jump that takes off from a forward position.
5. For this ice-dancing routine, all the couples perform the same standardized steps and holds to music of a specified tempo.
6. This is the area at an ice rink where skaters wait for their marks to be announced after their performances in a competition.
7. This jump is a move where the skater glides backward on a back inside edge of the skate, "picks" (digs the front part of the skate into the ice) with the other skate, jumps a full revolution in the air, and lands on the back outside edge of the foot that picked.
8. A spin or spiral position in which the skater's free leg is held by one or both hands.
9. Fluid movement used to gain speed in which a skater pushes off back and forth from the inside edge of one skate to the inside edge of the other skate.
10. A lift in which the man raises his partner, by her hip, from his side up into the air. She is in the scissor position, with either one hand touching his shoulder or in a hands-free position.
11. A way of moving across the ice by pushing the feet outward from a 90-degree-angle "V" and then pulling them together again, forming an oval on the ice.
A. Kiss and cry
B. Toe pick
E. Axel jump
F. Compulsory dance
G. Jump flip [Editor's note: The original version incorrectly identified the name of the jump.]
H. Star lift
I. Unison skating
J. Swizzle or scissors
K. Lutz jump
1. B; 2. I; 3. K; 4. E; 5. F; 6. A; 7. G; 8. C; 9. D; 10. H; 11. J
Source: US Figure Skating website, www.usfigureskating.org.