Alexander Gamelin had spent hundreds of hours training at the Newbridge Arena in Bellmore and hundreds more at rinks around the Northeast, all in preparation for his first Olympic ice dancing appearance Sunday.
But the Long Island-raised skater and his partner, both representing South Korea, were nearly derailed by a flimsy dress hook.
Just seconds into their routine, the back of Yura Min’s red dress came unclasped and nearly slipped off during the fast-paced program.
“She wasn’t stopping, so I went with it. I was pulling it up as much as I could, when I could,” Gamelin said in a phone interview Monday. “It could have been a lot worse.”
Gamelin, 24, and Min, 22, were featured in stories by The New York Times, The Washington Post and a handful of other media outlets because of how the pair handled the near-disastrous sartorial mishap with poise. Min kept her shoulders raised to keep her sleeves from sliding down and paused during a twirling sequence to pull her costume back up.
The altered choreography cost them; they placed ninth in the team short dance event. But Gamelin’s already looking ahead to the rest of the competition, something he dreamed about as a young boy in North Merrick.
“My Olympic dream took its first steps in Merrick, and although I’ve moved away since then, I still want to make Merrick and Long Island proud when I compete at the Olympics,” Gamelin said.
Min, born in Torrance, California, holds dual South Korean and U.S. citizenship, and Gamelin became a dual citizen last year in order to compete for South Korea.
Gamelin and his twin sister, Danielle Gamelin, were born in Boston and moved to North Merrick in 1998. They skated for the first time two years later at a birthday party at the ice rink in Bellmore and became hooked, the twins’ father, Lee Gamelin said. Lessons followed and the twins quickly began competing as an ice dancing team.
They won regional contests together and in 2009 took gold at the U.S. Junior Figure Skating Championships in Lake Placid, New York.
The Gamelins left Long Island in 2010, moving first to Delaware, then Maryland and to Novi, Michigan, to train with a top ice dancing coach.
But in April 2015, Danielle Gamelin decided to retire from the sport, leaving her twin without a partner. Alexander Gamelin said he didn’t know if he’d skate competitively again.
“I remember thinking, ‘What am I doing with my life now?’ ” Alexander Gamelin said. “I called my dad and started bawling.”
After 15 years of competing with his sister, he began preparing for a life off the ice. He was mulling law school when he got a call from Min, who had also recently split with her ice dance partner.
The two began competing together in June 2015, quickly rising through the ranks to become the 2017 and 2018 South Korean champions. Suddenly, competing in the 2018 Olympics seemed within reach.
“Every little kid wants to go to the Olympics, but I didn’t think it was really a possibility until I started skating with Yura,” Alexander Gamelin said.
To earn South Korean citizenship, Gamelin, who still trains in Michigan, worked with an online tutor to learn the language, studied the culture and history of South Korea, and even memorized the country’s national anthem, which he was prepared to sing during the citizenship interview, Gamelin said.
Gamelin was granted citizenship in July 2017 shortly before he and Min qualified for the Olympics. He was one of 19 foreign athletes, including a German luger and hockey players from the United States and Canada, naturalized by the host nation to compete in the winter games, The New York Times reported.
Before he began the naturalization process, Gamelin said he spoke with his family to get their take. Lee Gamelin urged him on.
“I encouraged him to move forward because it was his childhood dream — the door opened for him to do that,” said Lee Gamelin, 72, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Gamelin said his Olympic dream, the one he envisioned as a boy skating in Bellmore, didn’t include him standing on the podium for South Korea, but he’s been overwhelmed by how welcoming his adopted country has been.
“This country has given me so much and I’m so grateful,” Gamelin said. “I just want to give everything back and skate my best.”