J. Barry Mittan, the Electronic Photojournalist

A Passion to Skate by J. Barry Mittan (1995, updated 1998)

Italy's Sylvia Fontana impressed a lot of people at the 1996 Worlds, not because of her placement, but because she obviously enjoyed her skating. After nailing a double axel in the short program, Fontana screamed in delight, making thousands of fans. "That year I did not train well in the summer. My father died and I really wanted to skate well for him. I was really nervous for the short, but I skated very well. Unfortunately, I put everything into the short and had nothing left for the long. I needed another two days, "Sylvia explained.

Fontana started skating at 4; only in the summer since Rome had no facilities. She began competing at 12 and has been working with coach Evelyn Kramer since 1990. In 1996, she also began working with Frank Carroll at Lake Arrowhead. "It's the most supportive place I've skated. Since I've been there I've enjoyed skating even more than before," Sylvia gushes, "I can watch the best skaters do good things and learn from them."

Since her loss in the Italian championships last season, Fontana has become really focused on her skating according to coach Kramer. She is now landing all the triples except the axel consistently and uses them all in her long, including the triple toe loop/double toe loop combination that she uses in the short. She considers the triple toe loop to be her best jump and hopes to have a triple salchow/double toe loop combination soon. Sylvia's off ice training is limited to cardiovascular conditioning and ballet. She doesn't cross train. "Enough is enough," she says.

Fontana is a very passionate skater. "I'm very emotional when I skate, " she says. Many of the more emotional skaters are dancers, but Sylvia explains that when she was young, "I could not find any guys that would skate with me, especially since I'm a counter-clockwise skater." This is particularly hard to believe since Fontana is so gorgeous that well-known skaters such as Ilia Kulik watch her practice. (Sorry guys, Sylvia has a boyfriend -- U. S. pairs skater John Zimmerman.) But it worked out for the best Sylvia feels: " By myself I can skate with the music and not have to share anything."

Off ice, Fontana is studying full time for a degree in sociology and communications , commuting to the University of Rome from California to take her tests. Her grades are so good that her professors have recommended she continue on for a doctorate in psychology, her best subject, but she is planning for a career in journalism. Television reporting is her dream job, but she also likes social work and working with people.

For relaxation, Sylvia listens to music, mostly disco or classical. "Classical music makes me feel calm," she says. Tchaikovsky is her favorite composer. Fontana selects her own music for her skating. Last year, she used Carmen for her free skate. "I've seen the ballet Carmen many times," says Fontana, who took ballet for several years. "It's very good music for skaters, great timing. I could do several programs with different parts of Carmen. It's hard to pick the best one." Fontana has seen Katarina Witt's and Debbie Thomas' Battle of the Carmens from the 1988 Olympics, but didn't imitate them.

This year, Fontana is using a medley of Italian songs for her long program including "O Solo Mio." For her technical program, Sylvia plans to continue using Earth Tribe Rhythm. It's essentially jungle music, with a lot of percussion. Coach Kramer found it at the San Diego Zoo on vacation. "I like something different," Fontana explains. "A long time ago I did a program to jungle music and liked it."

Fontana's goals for this season are to regain the Italian ladies championship that she lost to Tony Sabrina Bombardieri last season, then improve her showing at Europeans and Worlds. She has already won the Bolsano Cup, which qualified her to compete in the Vienna Cup for an Olympic berth for Italy. Her seventh place finish there earned her a spot in Nagano. The placement was a jump from 1996, when she finished 13th at the Vienna Cup, moving up from 21st with a 9th in the free skate after landing her first triple flip in competition.

But placements are not the most important thing for Fontana. "Skating is not just doing one element after another. That's not the kind of skating I like. I'm trying for a balanced program. I love to interpret the music." That's what you'd expect from a woman with a passion to skate.

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