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Page last updated at 15:47 GMT, Saturday, 20 March 2010

Mark Hanretty dreams of Olympic gold medal in 2018

Sinead and John Kerr
Sinead and John Kerr have been an inspiration to Mark Hanretty

By Fraser Gibson

Scottish ice dancer Mark Hanretty doesn't just share a birthday with partner Christina Chitwood - they have a gold medal vision in common.

Hanretty, 24, switched from single skating to his current discipline and will compete in the world championships in Turin, beginning on Monday, 22 March.

This will be the pair's biggest event to date, American-born Chitwood having failed to get a British passport to take part in the Vancouver Olympics.

Henretty will celebrate his birthday alongside his partner on Sunday before continuing their mission to be crowned Olympic champions in 2018.

"I started skating in Paisley ice rink just after Torvill and Dean had returned to compete in the Olympics in 1994 and then I trained in and around Scotland at various different ice rinks when I was a single skater," Hanretty told BBC Radio Scotland's Sports Weekly programme.

"I trained at Prestwick in the Centrum then East Kilbride and then made the decision - following an injury in my single skating - to switch to ice dance and had to move south for the right facilities.

Unfortunately, because Chrissy's so young - still only 19 - I think that was the major reasoning behind her not getting a passport

Mark Hanretty

"I've had two partners. The first partner, I competed with at junior level and, since then, I've teamed up with Christina Chitwood.

"She and I have been together for four competitive seasons and next week we'll be competing in the world championships, which is the biggest thing that we've done to date."

Hanretty's career had all been based in Britain, but the international nature of the sport means that the net can be cast wide when looking for potential partners.

That was certainly the case when Chitwood performed a triple Salchow across the Atlantic and into the arms of the Scot.

However, dreams of an Olympic debut with Hanretty in the 2010 Winter Olympics were dashed after Chitwood failed to gain a British passport.

"It's a long story how I met Christina," he said. "The coach I was working with in Sheffield, Jimmy Young, had worked with Christina's coach, Sandy Hess, in Denver.

"Ice dance is quite an international sport and a lot of partners team up across the globe.

"When Jimmy knew I was looking for a partner, he contacted Sandy and it seemed it wasn't a big problem to have an ocean in-between and somehow we ended up skating together.

"She came over for a try-out period at Christmas time and we skated at Murrayfield and we decided that was that. Now Chrissy has moved over and we live and train in Sheffield.

"Chrissy moved over here four years this summer and the only way for her to stay in the country really on a visa was to go through education. She got a degree in performing arts and that kept her here.

"Last year, she married an English guy and we were hoping that, as a result of being in the country for that length of time and having studied here and being married to a Brit, that her passport would arrive in time to grant us the chance to compete at the Olympics.

Mark Hanretty and Christina Chitwood
Hanretty and Chitwood are hoping to impress in Turin

"But, unfortunately, because Chrissy's so young, still only 19, I think that was the major reasoning behind her not getting a passport.

"It was obviously sad because we'd had a successful season abroad and we had to watch the Olympics on the TV, but we're committed to competing together until the 2018 Olympics. Our plan is to win gold there."

Hanretty could take over from John and Sinead Kerr as Scotland's most high-profile skater as the pair's career at the top level begins to wind down over the next few years.

The rising star says the siblings have been inspirational as he plans his route to the top.

"John and Sinead Kerr did extremely well at the Olympics in Vancouver and they've been a big help to me switching over to ice dance," he said. "They're fantastic ambassadors for British skating."

Hanretty's first taste of the elite level of the sport will be in Italy at the world championships and he's looking forward to the challenge, with a quiet celebration with Chitwood to come before they compete.

"That's one of the odd synchronicities we've got, we share a birthday," he said.

"We travel out and will be in Turin to celebrate our birthday, so that's quite exciting. However, I won't be able to eat the usual goodies and birthday cake the day before the world championships start!

"Because it's our first world championships, the major thing for us is to make a name for ourselves as potential medallists. Results-based, I think top 20 would be good as that qualifies you for the final section.

"But the main thing for us is to make a name for ourselves and set tongues wagging about the new British couple for the future."

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see also
How the Scots did in Vancouver
26 Feb 10 |  Vancouver 2010
Kerrs' skating medal hopes fade
22 Feb 10 |  Figure skating
Kerrs miss out on medal at Euros
23 Jan 10 |  Figure skating
Ice dancers Christina and Mark
27 Nov 09 |  People and Places