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Alicia Bertsch and Austin Hale won a pairs competition in a regional figure skating championship and will advance to nationals in January.

Pair dreams big as nationals loom

– It’s tough to speak to figure skaters without asking if they have Olympic aspirations. After all, every four years, the Olympic Games are what bring the sport into everyone’s living rooms.

So the question eventually comes to 12-year-old Alicia Bertsch and she says, yeah, the Olympics are out there as a goal for her and her skating partner, 16-year-old Austin Hale, who are based at Fort Wayne’s Lutheran Health SportsCenter, even if neither of them really calls Fort Wayne home.

“When we get to the senior level and get really good, we’ll have a chance to go to the Olympics,” Alicia said.

It’s interesting that she says when and not if – even as her father, Bob, chimes in that every year requires a particular commitment in pairs skaters – but if you’re going to dream, dream big.

“Each year, as they go, they’ve got to make that decision and have the dedication to take them through the next year and to the next level,” he said. “There’s four years difference between their ages, and Austin is going to be wanting to go to college before she’s even in high school. But I think it’s good they want to go (to great heights).”

Alicia lives in Ann Arbor, Mich., and comes to Fort Wayne to practice on the weekends. That’s in addition to spending weeks here over the summer and, of course, practicing at her home rink during the school year.

Hale is from Tri-Cities, Wash., and moved here along with his coaches, Alena and Alexander Lunin, with whom he lives. They were the ones who, a little over a year ago, decided to switch him from singles to pairs.

“When I first met Alicia, it was a random tryout,” he said. “And that’s pretty awkward at first.”

So what made them the right combination?

“Just the chemistry and the fact that our movements were the same and we got along,” Austin said, though Alicia also remarked that it was a relief to find a partner whose work ethic matched her own.

They won the intermediate pairs competition at the Midwestern Sectional Championships – they scored a 50.77 – to advance to the U.S. Figure Skating Nationals, which will be Jan. 19-27 at Omaha, Neb.

This is the second time they will be going to nationals as a tandem; they finished second at a lower level last year.

Fort Wayne’s Sasha Lunin will compete individually this year, too.

“The first time I went (as a singles skater), of course, I got really nervous,” Austin said. “But now, I’m used to it.”

Austin admitted that the road to move up in pairs skating is easier. But, he said, “it’s also a lot of fun to cooperate with your partner.”

Since last year, the improvement in the Hale-Bertsch combination has been evident.

“We think we’ve improved a ton,” Alicia said.