SAN JOSE -- It starts with a child. At 20 months, Polina Edmunds glides across the ice as naturally as a free-flowing brook.
"It was like it wasn't even ice," recalled Marina Klimova, a three-time Olympic medalist for the former Soviet Union. "It's not slippery for her."
It continues with a mother who taught ice skating in Russia before emigrating to the United States in 1995. Nina Edmunds had a plan at Sharks Ice at San Jose for her middle child.
"Sports for Polina was always like a real job," she said. "We never asked her if she wanted to go. You never ask kids if they want to go to school or not. We just take her and no questions."
It leads to a coach who grew up in Cupertino idolizing Bay Area gold medalists Brian Boitano and Kristi Yamaguchi. Bellarmine College Prep alum David Glynn found his calling in teaching youngsters how to perform acrobatic jumps.
"I thought it was the neatest thing to take it one step at a time through a jump takeoff and repeat it the next day and the next day and eventually see those exercises build into a single Axel," Glynn said.
Along the way, the team grows: Klimova became the skater's choreographer; Dance Theatre International of San Jose her foundation on body movement. The Edmundses eventually add a San Francisco dressmaker.
In the early days, they would joke about Team Polina.
"As much as it was a joke, it's exactly what we are," Glynn said.
In her first senior-level competition last month, Edmunds stunned the skating world by taking second at the national championships to earn an Olympic spot ahead of more experienced performers.
As Edmunds, an Archbishop Mitty High sophomore, enters the white-hot cauldron of the Sochi Games, she carries the backing of a Bay Area support system that has contributed in no small part to the success.
Team Polina underscores what it takes to reach the highest level of the Winter Olympics' marquee sport, where the slightest slip becomes frozen in time.
The Axel jump is one of the most difficult maneuvers in figure skating. Norwegian Axel Paulsen first accomplished it in the late 19th century, taking off from the left forward edge of the blade and landing on the right outside edge. It has an extra half of a rotation.
At 10, Polina Edmunds was ready to learn a double Axel, 2½ rotations that leads to triple jumps and serious competition. The benchmark stunt did not come quickly. Day by day, Edmunds returned to the rink to try again. The effort took almost a year. The girl did not budge. When Edmunds finally mastered the double Axel she could see the future.
"From then everything was becoming real," she said.
Now 15, her skating career has unfolded like a gleaming sheet of ice. The San Jose teen will make her senior international debut at the Sochi Games.
She carries the history of others in her skating boots. In 1998, 15-year-old Tara Lipinski stunned Michelle Kwan to win the gold medal in Nagano, Japan. Four years later, it was Sarah Hughes, 16, who snatched the Olympic title from Kwan.
"No matter what anyone says, it all comes down to the 2½ or 4½ minutes on the ice," she said recently in a quiet moment at the rink. "That's all I can put out there."
Edmunds also is a student of the Bay Area's skating heritage with such luminaries as Boitano, Peggy Fleming, Debi Thomas, Charlie Tickner and Yamaguchi.
Edmunds is the next one the local community has been waiting two decades to surface.
She is glad to stay at Sharks Ice instead of relocating to Los Angeles or somewhere else to train with a nationally known coach.
"It shows if you are working hard and training right and have a good team you can do everything," she said.
Nina Edmunds' dad loved to play hockey in Tver, Russia, a city north of Moscow. He introduced skating to his kids and Nina also loved it. The girl never realized her potential because of the lack of good coaching. She eventually studied at a sports academy in St. Petersburg and launched a coaching career in Tver.
Edmunds spent the next six years teaching 100 kids at a time. But her life was about to change.
Edmunds' mother, Irina, was taking an English class from American teachers representing Global Frontiers. "Nina, go and see American people," the mom suggested.
She didn't want to at first but eventually enrolled. The Bay Area's John Edmunds was teaching business classes as a volunteer when he met the Russian.
Nina came to San Jose after marrying Edmunds, now chief financial officer of software company Inphi. It didn't take Nina long to find Sharks Ice. She introduced her sons James, 17, and Daniel, 11, to hockey. She put skates on Polina at 20 months, and has been coaching her since.
Edmunds, though, knew her strengths were organizing the team around her daughter. She liked the way Glynn treated his students, and how he taught them the same methods.
Edmunds enrolled her daughter with Glynn at age 4.
Boitano's gold medal performance at the 1988 Olympics mesmerized a young Cupertino skater. David Glynn watched Boitano's feat so many times he wore out his VHS tape.
Glynn is a link to the Bay Area's skating history, having trained at Sharks Ice at San Jose next to Rudy Galindo and worked with Yamaguchi's coach Christy Ness.
Glynn began skating at 11 at Vallco Ice Chalet in Cupertino. He qualified for national championships as a novice in 1996 and as a junior in 2000. Along the way he spent two seasons in Lake Arrowhead training under Frank Carroll and watching Hall of Fame performer Kwan in her prime.
"It gave me a warped perspective on what a trained athlete is," he said. "She was so perfect. Her demeanor on the ice every day was so professional. She was head and shoulders ahead of everybody as far as sticking to a daily plan and approaching the training every single day."
Glynn started coaching at 19 and never stopped. He attended West Valley College for three semesters, but school got in the way of a blooming career.
Galindo's 1996 national title continues to resonate because Glynn saw how hard the San Jose skater worked.
"Politics aside, reputation aside or previous competition aside, if you just skate your best you can do it," he said.
Glynn brings that message to every session with Edmunds.
He also is confident enough to seek help. Edmunds spent time in El Segundo last summer working with Carroll, one of the world's most respected coaches. Glynn also has been talking to Yamaguchi's coach about the logistics of an Olympics.
At a recent session two Peninsula Skating Club representatives attentively watched Edmunds and Glynn. Joan Morris is a former international skating judge while Joyce Burden is a national judge.
They have offered advice on how to create programs that judges like.
"David appreciates the feedback," Morris said.
His work-in-progress looks refined as Edmunds spins, twists and twirls with rubberband-like legs. But it took patience to get here.
"Polina has such a strong character," Glynn said. "She gets that from her mom: a committed, go-get-it attitude."
Like Edmunds, Glynn has not let the spotlight in the past month change him. Whatever happens in Sochi he doesn't expect life to look different in the coming years.
"Teaching kids is something I love to do," he said. "It's hard to be here at 6 in the morning, but when you watch a kid land a jump for the first time it's priceless."
Marina Klimova and ice dancing partner Sergei Ponomarenko settled in Morgan Hill in 2000 when the couple became teachers at Sharks Ice.
Klimova, who won bronze, silver and gold medals from 1988-1994, isn't interested in coaching the stars after spending much of her life on the road. She left her hometown of Sverdlovsk in eastern Ukraine at 12 to get better coaching in Moscow.
But Klimova was glad to help the Russian mom with the child skater. The Olympian has worked with Edmunds since age 8.
"Whatever comes to my head, she can do any imaginary move," Klimova said of how easy it has been to create programs for the budding star. "She got to the point where she could skate to every kind of music. She hears the beat."
Klimova brings an ice dancing mindset to the programs. Polina, the dancer, embraces it. But it didn't always go over with judges, as illustrated two years ago when Edmunds skated her short program to a Western-themed hoedown.
Regional judges told Nina it was too showy. The experience led Klimova to wonder whether Edmunds' senior national debut would be well received -- a feisty cha-cha short program and a romantic theme from the Norwegian play "Peer Gynt," for the free skate.
"It wasn't about having enough strength or technique," she said. "The question was whether Polina could handle pressure and whether the judges accept her."
THE DANCE INSTRUCTOR
Maggie Parungao-Ferla and Xavier Ferla, owners of Dance Theatre International of San Jose, huddled along the side of the rink one day as Edmunds went through her routine. Edmunds had absorbed instructions from her coach, her mom and her choreographer. As she finished an hourlong session the skater drifted over to the Ferlas for more advice.
She has attended DTI since age 8 to learn ballet, jazz, waltz and other dancing styles. Xavier is a graduate of the Bejart Ballet in Lausanne, Switzerland. He met his wife when they both performed for the Swiss company. Parungao-Ferla had joined the San Francisco Ballet at 16.
Their influence on Edmunds is evident when the student emotes with graceful arms fluttering like a delicate bird in flight.
"She knows how to perform," Parungao-Ferla said. "When you're performing your heart really shows."
Lilya Dukler, 47, emigrated to America two decades ago from Odessa, Ukraine. Yes, another Eastern European is part of Team Polina. But it's a happy coincidence.
Dukler, a technical designer for the Gap clothing company, studied set and theater design in Odessa.
"Figure skating is perfect for that," she said. "In two to four minutes they have to create this personality and story."
Nina Edmunds made Polina's costumes until last year when the family hired Dukler, who works out of her parents' San Francisco studio.
It took the seamstress a combined 80 hours to sew Edmunds' two gowns that she will wear in Sochi. That doesn't count the time consulting with Klimova and the Edmundses.
"I don't like the dress to overpower the person," Dukler said. "I'm looking for something bright and airy to support the character."
It also has to be functional. Dukler must factor in aerodynamics by layering and draping fabric just right.
"She's making the most complicated movements look effortless so I want the dress to look effortless," Dukler said.
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.
In a sequence of
11 photos by staff photographer Jim Gensheimer, Polina Edmunds performs a triple jump during practice at Sharks Ice in San Jose. Use the QR code for the stop action video.
Wednesday, Feb. 19
Short program, 7 p.m. Sochi time (can be viewed live at 7 a.m. on NBCSN or via NBC's apps); also shown at 8 p.m. on NBC's prime-time show
Thursday, Feb. 20
Free skate, 7 p.m. Sochi time (can be viewed live at 7 a.m. on NBCSN or via NBC's apps); also shown at 8 p.m. on NBC's prime-time show