Kamiak graduate pursuing Olympic skating dreams

Jean-Luc Baker and partner Hawayek vie for a spot on U.S. Ice Dancing team
By Marie Haaland | Sep 06, 2017
Courtesy of: Jean-Luc Baker and Kaitlin Hawayek Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker display the bronze medals they won at the NHK Trophy event in 2014.

The 2018 Winter Olympics begin in South Korea in just over five months, and Kamiak High School graduate Jean-Luc Baker and his skating partner Kaitlin Hawayek are working hard to secure one of three spots open to U.S. ice dancing pairs.

Baker was born in England – where both of his parents competed on the Great Britain National team – and moved to the Edmonds area when he was 4 years old. He attended Kamiak High School in Mukilteo and graduated in 2012.

Baker started skating when he was 2 years old, and immediately after high school graduation, he moved to Michigan to further pursue the sport. Baker moved because the facilities there are top-level and the coaches are strong.

“We didn’t really have an amazing training camp in Washington,” he said.

Hawayek is from Buffalo, New York, and began skating when she was 3 years old. She was already living in Michigan when Baker moved, and the pair began working together soon after. They now practice at the Detroit Skating Club.

“I’d known of Kaitlin and her skating,” Baker said. “I was interested in how she projected herself and her skating on the ice.”

The pair is striving to make a name for themselves in ice dancing. Ice dancing is a discipline of figure skating and has been an Olympic medal sport since 1976. Unlike in figure skating competitions, overhead lifts are not allowed in ice dancing, and dancers are not supposed to be separated by more than two arm-lengths during their routines. Ice dancing can be compared to ballroom dancing on ice.

Baker and Hawayek are beginning their sixth season together.

“We’ve had really quick success on the junior circuit,” Baker said, which he attributes to their unique style.

Baker and Hawayek were the 2014 NHK Trophy bronze medalists, the 2014 World Junior Champions and the 2014 U.S. Junior Champions.

The pair aged out of juniors, but are still quite young. Baker is currently 23 and Hawayek is only 20. Hawayek said many of their competitors are in their late 20s or early 30s.

“Having a youthfulness and a new perspective is an advantage,” Hawayek said. “It brings something new, a lightness, to our skating.”

Baker and Hawayek are looking to earn one of the three Olympic spots for 2018, but the three berths won’t be announced until after the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, which is a national competition.

Before that though, they have a busy schedule of other events.

“We have a competition in Salt Lake. It’s the International Classic,” Baker said. “We have two grand prix – that will be Skate Canada followed by Skate America. We may have one other competition before competing in nationals.”

The U.S. International Figure Skating Classic, Baker and Hawayek’s first competition for the season, will be in Salt Lake City in mid-September.

The Olympic selection committee’s decision is made after nationals but is not solely based on skaters’ performances at that competition.

“Olympic trials are not just based on nationals, but it’s a long process,” Baker said. “The selection committee watched last season and this season; selections are based on overall performances.”

Other than practicing and preparing for competitions, Hawayek said their lives consist of “a lot of rest and recovery.”

“Our lives aren’t as exciting as people think,” Baker said. “But we have an amazing opportunity, traveling as much as we do.”

The pair also coaches less-experienced skaters.

“We have a bunch of students aged 8 to 12, then some that are older or younger,” Baker said. “We’re very open in terms of coaching, we don’t restrict ourselves to a certain level or age … As long as they’re willing to learn, we’re willing to coach.”

The U.S. Championships takes place in January 2018, and Baker and Hawayek will learn if they have a spot in the Olympics soon after. If they are unable to secure a spot for 2018, the pair plans to keep skating and look to the future.

“We’re absolutely committed to another four years of competing and vying for a spot on the 2022 Olympic team in Beijing,” Baker said.

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