Former MSA student set for Winter Games

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Bermuda Winter Olympic fans will have a chance to cheer on former Mount St. Agnes student Vanessa James who just qualified for next year's Games in Vancouver after she won the French National Championships in pairs with French star Yannick Bonheur.

James' father, Kevin, is Bermudian and she and twin sister Melyssa, who competes in the solo events, both attended Mount St. Agnes until they were 10 years-old.

"I still have a lot of friends in Bermuda – in fact Melyssa was there not long ago visiting – so I hope they will be cheering me on," said the new French National Champion yesterday.

  • Former Mount St. Agnes student Vanessa James seen with partner Yannick Bonheur. James, whose father is Bermudian Kevin James, just won the French National Championships in pairs and qualified to represent France at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver in February.

    Former Mount St. Agnes student Vanessa James seen with partner Yannick Bonheur. James, whose father is Bermudian Kevin James, just won the French National Championships in pairs and qualified to represent France at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver in February.


Bermuda Winter Olympic fans will have a chance to cheer on former Mount St. Agnes student Vanessa James who just qualified for next year's Games in Vancouver after she won the French National Championships in pairs with French star Yannick Bonheur.

James' father, Kevin, is Bermudian and she and twin sister Melyssa, who competes in the solo events, both attended Mount St. Agnes until they were 10 years-old.

"I still have a lot of friends in Bermuda – in fact Melyssa was there not long ago visiting – so I hope they will be cheering me on," said the new French National Champion yesterday.



"My sister was in Bermuda a few months ago seeing some of our old school friends. We keep in contact but I haven't been there in almost four years but I am going to try and make it down there after the Olympics.

"We try and keep in contact with our old friends as much as we can. Some are in Canada at college now and we let them know when we are coming to Bermuda."

And while she spends most of her time on the ice, James said she misses many aspects of Bermuda life.

"I miss the ocean a lot – it was so much fun," she said.

James, 22, was also proud to see how her Bermuda cousin Tyler Smith was doing in the tennis world.

The 13-year-old Smith was recently taken on board by the International Tennis Federation who picked her to take part in training camps and tournaments in South America early next year.

"I am happy she is doing so well. We are from an athletic family," said James who discovered last week that she had qualified for French nationality, allowing her to skate in the Olympics.

"We (partner Bonheur) are really happy. We won our first nationals and I just discovered that I had (gained) my French nationality just in time for the Olympics," she said, adding that it was not too much of a problem getting French nationality as she had an EU passport.

"It wasn't a problem. I have a EU passport so it wasn't difficult getting French nationality. I have been here for two years now," she said from her home outside of Paris.

James originally competed in the United States. In 2005, she switched to competing for Great Britain and the following year she was the 2006 British National Champion and the 2007 National silver medallist. She also competed for Britain at the Junior Grand Prix and at the World Junior Figure Skating Championships.

She then teamed up with French skater Yannick Bonheur two years' ago and began competing internationally with him in 2008.

At the 2009 World Championships in Los Angeles, Bonheur and James delivered a dynamic, nearly error-free free-skate which vaulted them from 17th to 12th place (11th place for the free skate). It resulted in one of only three standing ovations given during the pairs free skate with the others given to the highest finishing American team Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett and the eventual World Champions from Germany, Alona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy.

And while James has competed in the World Championships and European Championships with Bonheur, she said that qualifying for the Olympics was the ultimate.

Up until a couple of years ago James concentrated on her singles competition. But then she decided to try pairs.

"I picked up pairs very easily. The biggest adjustment was the lifts but I am a very good jumper and overall it was not that big of an adjustment for me," she said.

James' mother June, who lives in Maryland, US, said yesterday: "I am on cloud nine. Since we heard the word on Saturday that she will be going to the Olympics we have been planning our trip to Vancouver."

Next year's Winter Olympics will be held from February 12–28.

Mrs. James said that husband Kevin tries to get back to Bermuda regularly to see family and friends. "He went back this year and Vanessa and Melyssa try to get back whenever they can. They like to visit their friends from Mount St. Agnes – they keep in touch and that is nice – hopefully all her old friends will be cheering her on."

While Vanessa has booked her Olympic spot for 2010, her twin sister will be trying to qualify for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Mrs. James added: "While Vanessa is in pairs now, Melyssa is in dance. He goal now is to go to the 2014 Olympics. She represents the UK while Vanessa now represents France which is a bit strange for twins! Right now Melyssa is in Cyprus doing some shows and then she will be back on track working for 2014."

The twins were captivated by skating when they left Bermuda at age 10 for Virginia where the family settled.

"When they saw the 1998 Winter Olympics they wanted to learn how to skate. We took them at first to a public skating rink and then they wanted to take lessons. We put them in group lessons and they did well – they are pretty coordinated."

Then the twins got serious.

"They put together a small contract whereby they promised to get straight 'A's in school and if they did we would send them to private lessons at 6.00 in the morning," said Mrs. James.

"I thought that no rink opens at 6 a.m. – little did I know! We signed the contract and they got straight 'A's and started doing very well.

"The funny thing about it was that at 10 years-old they were the oldest (kids in the classes) – most kids start at two or three years old. But in a way it was a good thing they started later – they could focus on their own – it was their own motivation and not the parents' motivation. They also did not have the wear and tear on their bodies. So many kids get injuries after starting at a young age where they are jumping at six or seven years old."

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