Alex Gamelin, an ice dancer who grew up in North Merrick and trained in Bellmore, has dreamed of competing in the Winter Olympics since he and his sister, Danielle, first strapped on skates at age 7, according to his father, Lee.
“We have spent the majority of our lives supporting this effort,” Lee said last week, “and believe me, it’s been a chore at times. The financial sacrifices are enormous, supporting an aspiring Olympian.”
Alex and Danielle, longtime ice dancing partners, trained for years under Long Island-based Ukrainian national champion Alexander Esman, among others, and earned many gold, silver and bronze medals at regional and national ice dancing competitions. Danielle retired nearly three years ago, but her brother will fulfill his dream when he competes in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Alex will represent the Republic of South Korea alongside his partner since 2015, Yura Min, who was born in South Korea but now lives in Michigan, where they train.
According to Alex, because of differences in International Skating Union laws and requirements at the Olympics, in order for the pair to compete in Pyeongchang, he needed to become naturalized as a South Korean citizen, which he did in 2016. Alex and Min had already represented the country in a number of international competitions, and are two-time South Korean national ice dancing champions.
Arrangements like theirs are common in ice dancing, he said, adding that six or seven of the pairs competing in the Olympics are of mixed nationality.
“My Olympic dream took its first steps in Merrick,” Alex said, “and although I’ve moved away since then, I still want to make Merrick and Long Island proud when I compete at the Olympics.”
The Gamelins moved to North Merrick in 1998, where Alex and Danielle attended Park Avenue Elementary and Grand Avenue Middle School and began training at the Newbridge Arena in Bellmore. In 2003, they started taking private ice dancing lessons from Esman and his wife, Marina Koulbitskaya, who “really got us off on the right foot,” Alex said.
As early as 2008, Esman told the Herald that he believed the Gamelins had the right stuff to make the U.S. Olympic team.
“You have to have a package in ice dancing,” he said. “These guys have everything. They’re working hard. They understand what they have to do. In skating, you have to spend a lot of time on the ice. For them, it’s six days a week. It’s your job.”
Under Esman’s coaching, Alex and Danielle had regional and national success, moving twice more before settling in Novi, Mich., to train with a coaching team led by world-renowned ice dancing coach Igor Shpilband. In April 2015, Danielle left the sport, and Alex shifted his focus to studying linguistics and foreign languages at Oakland Community College, in Michigan.
“I had skated with my sister for almost 13 years,” he said. “After she stopped skating, I kind of thought, because I had been skating with her for so long, I might be done, too.”
But a month after the pair’s retirement, Alex got a call from Min, who had trained alongside him for years under Shpilband.
“She kind of like nonchalantly suggested that we skate together,” he said. “At first I thought it was a joke, so I kind of blew it off a bit, and kind of kept working on my school. Then she called me again . . .”
According to Alex, his parents and sister had a “secret meeting” without him, and encouraged him to partner with Min. By June 2015, they were competing together, representing her home country in a number of international events. They eventually qualified for Pyeongchang at the 2017 Nebelhorn Trophy international figure skating competition in Oberstdorf, Germany.
With his new dual citizenship, Alex was ready to compete on the world stage with Min. “I started my Olympic journey with Danielle, and now I’m continuing it with Yura, representing South Korea, and I couldn’t be happier,” Alex said, adding, “Of course, Danielle is our number one fan.”
Alex said that he and Min are thrilled just to be a part of the event, and they are keeping their expectations in check. “We’re a new team, so we’re not really aiming for a gold medal,” he said. “It’d be amazing, but . . . a lot of people assume in going to the Olympics, we’d be disappointed in anything other than gold, but we’re really just skating to get ourselves out there and show that we can compete with bigger teams. We just want to get out there and do out best and make Korea and our families proud.”
And proud Alex’s parents Lee and Donna are, even though they will not be in Pyeongchang when their son competes, but rather watching from home in Lancaster, Pa. “There’s a problem with that, anyways because we would never really see him,” Lee said. “We’d see him perform, but he’s inaccessible when he’s there.”
Rather, the whole family plans to take a vacation — perhaps a Caribbean cruise — when Alex returns.
“After that, I’m sure he’s going to have a well-deserved break,” Lee said.
“I could not possibly imagine when I first laced up skates on my duo, anticipating a summer fun post-kindergarten activity, where that would take Alex and our family for the past 18 years,” said Donna. “What a journey!”
Alex left on Monday for Pyeongchang, and he said that he is still processing the situation.
“It’s been hitting me gradually,” he said. “It hadn’t really hit me until we were at a competition last week in Taipei, our last event, and when that was over, I realized, like, ‘Whoa, the next thing is the Olympics. We’re leaving Monday.’
“I’ve been dreaming about this for my entire life . . . now it’s a reality.”