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Cal High Grad Ready For National Figure Skating Championships

San Ramon native Craig Norris will compete with partner AnneMarie Pearce in U.S. Figure Skating Championships next month at HP Pavilion in San Jose

Most people remember the 1994 Winter Olympic figuring skating competition for the drama between Nancy Kerrigan and her nemesis Tonya Harding.

Craig Norris was four years old. The media frenzy around Nancy and Tonya wasn't a concern. He just enjoyed watching the skaters landing salchow and axel jumps.

At one point, while watching the skating the coverage, Norris pointed at the television and said, "I want to do that."

So his dad took him to the rink. Norris held his dad's hand for the first lap around the oval, then let go and skated around the ice himself. At the age of four, Norris had found what he loved.

Norris, a San Ramon native and 2008 Cal High grad, will compete with his pairs partner AnneMarie Pearce in U.S. Figure Skating Championships next month at HP Pavilion in San Jose.

This is the second consecutive year Norris and Pearce have qualified for the national championships. Last year, they finished ninth in the novice division after just practicing together for a couple months. This year, after finishing second in the sectional championships, the pair is competing in the junior division (the second highest division).

"The goal is finish in the top six," Norris said. "But the ultimate goal is to just put together two solid, fun performances."

The road Norris has taken from being enamored with the sport as a child to being one of the top figure skaters in the country as an adult wouldn't have been possible without dedication, perseverance and sacrifice.

As one can imagine, being a little boy figure skater didn't always go over well with his classmates. Norris played other sports — soccer, track, baseball, lacrosse — but figure skating was his passion and wasn't terribly concerned what others thought.

"I got made fun of a lot," Norris said. "Figuring skating isn't viewed as the most masculine sport, but by the time I was in eight grade and people knew I was really serious about it and I started qualifying for national competitions, people started thinking it was cool."

He worked hard at it. Practicing for hours nearly every day while at Cal High and qualified for the national championships. He said being able to skate at the highest level wouldn't have been possible if it wasn't for Cal High principal Mark Corti allowing him to take some independent study courses.

But Norris faced a obstacle as a skater that he had no control over.

"I kept getting bigger and it started taking a toll on my body," said Norris who stands 6-feet tall in a sport in which being small is usually an advantage.

"It got to a point where I had reached my goals in skating and college was coming up and I was just going to focus on school."

Then came a phone call. Coaches Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, who won three national championships in pair skating, called Norris' coach and said they thought he would make a great pair figure skater and asked if he was willing to go Southern California to give it a shot.

"I always wanted to do pairs but there were never any girls in the area," Norris said. "In pairs, everyone is friendly and supportive of each other. I liked that and wanted to be part of it."

He started pairs skating in 2008, but it didn't go smoothly. His first couple partners weren't the best matches, but after returning to San Ramon he found an old friend who turned out to be a perfect partner.

Norris and Pearce, who is from Orinda, have known each other since the two were kids and practicing in Dublin. She had a skating career of her own, but wanted to try pairs and asked Norris to help her.

"I started teaching her some basic pair things and she kept developing from there," Norris said. "She was picking it up quick and we had an official tryout and it went great."

They've now been training together for almost a year and a half in Southern California. They're on the ice for about five hours a day, five days a week and a couple hours of physical training after every practice.

"He's a very easy going but he takes skating really seriously and is passionate about it," Pearce said. "We do spend a lot of time together but it's just like having an older brother."

Their long program routine for the championships is a cowboy-themed hoedown, which Norris said the two enjoy performing. The short program will be danced to the song Malagueña, which figure skaters Sasha Cohen and Kristi Yamaguchi have also used.

"Last year was a big learning experience," Norris said.

"We've since gone back to the basics and started meshing as a pair and developed our skills. We've come a long way and I'm really excited about competing at the junior level at nationals."

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