Alabama figure skater-turned-coach back home after Olympic, World Championships run

Alabama figure skater-turned-coach back home after Olympic, World Championships run
John Zimmerman IV was back home in Homewood this month for a fundraiser for Homewood schools. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. / Alabama NewsCenter)

John Zimmerman IV says he wears his emotions on his sleeve. They were never more apparent than they were recently as he spoke at the Homewood Grown fundraiser for Homewood schools.

“There are certain trigger points that just overwhelm me,” the Homewood native said. “I hold dear to what people do, how they support you. I think about it as they do it and I appreciate it.

“Being in this environment, seeing all the great work teachers are doing, you are impacted by watching them touch lives.”

John Zimmerman IV talks ice skating, growing up in Homewood and how his bridge compares to other tributes from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The figure skater-turned-coach was most moved as he talked about former Homewood High School Principal Jack Farr, who adjusted Zimmerman’s curriculum to allow him to pursue his dream. He followed that dream, with skating partner Kyoko Ina, to a fifth-place finish in the 2002 Olympics in pairs figure skating and a third-place showing that year in the World Championships.

“I found a few old stories but the main impact was the vision the principal, Jack Farr, had for me in the mid-‘80s,” he said. “It wasn’t the norm, especially in the pre-Internet age, to have that vision.”

These days, Zimmerman lives in Wesley Chapel, Florida, which is part of the Tampa Bay metro area. He and his wife, Italian-American skater Silvia Fontana, have two daughters, Sofia and Eva, and a son, John Luther, who’s known to most as Jack.

The couple teach and coach figure skating in Wesley Chapel but Zimmerman’s coaching has taken him to the same heights he reached as a skater. He coached the French team of Morgan Ciprès and Vanessa James to a fifth-place showing in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Shortly thereafter, the coach and his skaters were getting set for the World Championships in Milan, Italy. Their preparation for that event was complicated by a commitment to skate in an exhibition in Grenoble, France, for the French Federation.

Their dream of earning a medal at the World Championships took a hit when Ciprès hurt his neck, which kept him from performing any of the lifts in their routine.

“(They did) just enough to get through the obligation they had to do in France,” Zimmerman said. “When they got back, there were 2½ weeks before we had to leave (for the World Championships). He couldn’t move at all. My sister’s a massage therapist and we had the Tampa Bay Lightning chiropractor working on him for about a week. They finally got enough movement going so he could do a few lifts right before we left.”

The pair wound up placing third at the World Championships, coincidentally matching what Zimmerman and Ina had done in their competitive days.

“Now they plan to stay for another year or two, as opposed to retiring as they thought they were going to do,” Zimmerman said. “They are finally feeling their groove and they’re going to stick with it for a while. Maybe we can get the world title.”

The coach is pleased to continue his work in Wesley Chapel. But there was talk of him coming home to Homewood.

“The to-be-continued thing would be if we could get an ice rink built in Homewood,” he said. “We joke about it in conversations on nights like this, but I think that would be interesting to talk about in the future.

“They joke about trying to get me back,” he continued. “They need to build an ice rink to get me back. I’d help them plan that out.”

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