SOCHI, Russia — Twenty-five years ago, Adrienne Lenda graduated from Williamsville East High School and went out to pursue a career in the highly competitive world of figure skating.
Lenda, who competed for the Amherst Skating Club as a girl, went to the University of Delaware, which had a top figure skating program at the time. Upon graduation, she moved to West Chester, Pa., where she opened a rink and started her own Learn To Skate program.
Two years later, Lenda moved to Michigan, which had become a prime national figure skating destination. That was largely because of Igor Shpilband, a Russian ice dancer who had emigrated to the United States shortly after the fall of Communism to teach the sport.
Lenda’s background had always been in traditional figure skating. She had competed in pairs and singles. Then she fell in love with Shpilband. Eventually, she fell in love with ice dancing as well.
Until 2008, Lenda taught pairs and singles. But in 2006, the international federation had changed the rules for ice dancing after a judging scandal, making it more of an athletic and technical sport. It was also the year she and Shpilband got engaged.
“I competed and taught in pairs and singles, which is more throws, jumps, spins, lifts,” Lenda said Wednesday. “Dance became more like pairs skating when the new system came in 2006, with more difficult lifts and spins, so this is where my knowledge came in to help him.”
By that time, Shpilband was the most famed ice dancing coach in the country, and suburban Detroit the sport’s American mecca. Shpilband and been joined by another Russia coach, Marina Zoueva, at the Arctic Edge, a training facility in Canton, just west of Detroit.
Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, the 2006 Olympic silver medalists, trained under Shpilband and Zoueva. Two years later, Lenda began helping Shpilband coach and taking on some of her own dancers.
By 2012, Shpilband and Zoueva coached the top two ice dancing teams in the world: Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, and Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the U.S. The Canadians won the gold medal in Vancouver, Davis and White the silver.
Later that year, Shpilband was ousted as dance director at Arctic Edge. Zoueva replaced him and became sole coach of the two best ice dancing teams in the world. Zoueva was the focus of media attention here this week when Davis and White won the gold, Virtue and Moir the silver.
Shpilband and Lenda took their talent to the Novi Ice Arena, about 20 miles away from Zoueva and began their own ice dancing empire.
They’ve done quite well for themselves. Shpilband had five ice dancing teams in Sochi; Lenda assisted with three of them. They didn’t bask in the glow of Davis-White vs. Virtue-Moir, as Zoueva has, but they had a memorable Games, nonetheless.
Lenda and Shpilband coached the French national champions, Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, who finished fourth; Italy’s Anna Cappellini and Lanotte, who came in sixth; and Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who came in eighth in ice dancing.
They also handled the Lithuania national champions Isabella Tobias and Deividas Stagniunas, who were 17th, and Julia Zlobina and Alexei Sitnikov of Azerbaijan, who came in 14th.
“She’s a hard worker, on the ice at 6 and not home until after 7. I’m very proud of her,” said her mother, Joyce, who still lives in Williamsville with her husband, Don.
“Yeah, it definitely makes you work a little more at your job,” Adrienne said about coaching all those teams. “It’s hard. It keeps you going. It’s usually a 12-hour day.”
It’s a labor of love at an Olympics. This is Lenda’s first time at the Games.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “I’m loving it. We just came back from a hockey game, and we’re about to go to another hockey game and watch women’s skating.”
Lenda said Shpilband has no hard feelings toward the top two ice dancing teams. They’re still friendly with White-Davis and Virtue-Moir. But she couldn’t hide her resentment toward Zoueva, the woman who usurped Shpilband’s position with the world’s top ice dancers.
“Did you see the articles today?” she aksed. “Virtue and Moir felt their coach, Marina, was not in their corner, and they didn’t feel she wasn’t putting in the same effort she did in Vancouver.
“It’s probably true, because she tends to gravitate toward the more winning team, for selfish reasons.”
Lenda, 42, said things look promising for her dancers. Chock and Bates won silver in the recent national championships. She expects White and Davis to retire, along with several other teams, opening the door for the younger ice dancers.
One pair is still single, by the way. Lenda and Shpilband haven’t gotten married after an eight-year engagement.
“It’s ongoing,” she said with a laugh. “We had a little fake marriage on Valentine’s Day. They put a little stage in the Olympic Park and have fake village marriages. It was kind of cute. I sent my mom a picture and she was like, ‘What?’ ”