Memo to Chamber of Commerce: Call Johnnie Bevan. He might be a better sell for Spokane than Near Nature, Near Perfect. The one-time world-class skater has name recognition.
He has been around, competing in eight U.S. Figure Skating Championships and World Championships in South Korea and Hungry.
And he lived away, in Los Angeles for six years, as his career ended and he began coaching.
But three years ago the former Mead Panther (Class of ’95) and short-time Eastern Washington Eagle returned to Spokane with his wife Kathy (Larsen), a Shadle Park grad.
“We wanted to start a family and we thought Spokane was a better place to do it than Los Angeles,” he said.
In addition to that personal sales pitch, Bevan, 32, has one other attribute – he’s available.
At the moment he is doing some construction work with his dad and coaching, but said he is basically Mr. Mom for Kendall, 14 months, and 2-week-old Drew.
He has an ambitious goal of changing what he considers a Spokane mind-set.
“There have been a couple of skaters that have done very well out of Spokane, me being one of them,” he said. “I’m very proud of what I did out of Spokane and I think it can be done again. (But) what I’ve found was people here are (easily) satisfied.”
He wasn’t. After beating West Side skaters he conquered West Coast skaters. Then it was East Coast skaters.
“I was always looking for somebody better to beat,” he said. “I was never afraid to lose, which is what I see up here. People are afraid to lose so they don’t test themselves. After I beat the kids on the East Coast I set my sights on the kids from Russia.”
Bevan was a national champion as a novice and one of the top junior skaters in the world. Among those he beat were 1998 Olympic gold medalist Ilia Kulik and 2002 winner Alexei Yagudin.
“It’s easy to sit in a comfort zone but I pushed to beat them,” Bevan said. “Obviously, they passed me up.”
After two years at the senior level and an uninspired season skating pairs, Bevan retired from competition at the age of 25.
“It had just kind of run its course,” he said. “I felt I had gone as far as I was going to. It was time to move on with life.”
In hindsight, he has several regrets.
“I worked pretty hard as a kid but now I know I could have been more focused instead of focusing on girls,” he said. “I wish I would have gone down to California earlier.”
Bevan had the same coach as eight-time national champion Michelle Kwan and other world-class skaters at the rink. “It’s easier to put in extra effort when you see others doing it,” he said. “Motivation is easier to come by when you’re in that environment.”
Injuries also played a role.
“I wish I could have stayed healthier,” he said. “That is one of the biggest things with any athlete that doesn’t achieve their ultimate goal, even athletes that do achieve their ultimate goal. But to do a sport at a world-class level is very taxing on your body.
“I’m thoroughly convinced that the human body wasn’t made to jump 3 feet into the air, spin around four times and land on a quarter-inch of steel.”
But that is what he is trying to teach others to do since his initial endeavor in Spokane came to an end.
“First, we tried to open a (sandwich shop),” he said. “That was an eye-opening experience. We sold that a year ago and basically I’m licking my wounds from that.”
Bevan shares two Portland skaters with Tonya Harding’s old coach, including one who has qualified for nationals in Cleveland next week. They come for lessons, along with a couple of former students from L.A.
“I’m getting back into skating,” he said. “There are wonderful opportunities here.”
The new recreation center at EWU, which includes an ice surface, amazes Bevan, and he can’t say enough good things about the management at Eagles Ice-A-Rena.
He is confident in his coaching skills. His first year out, 2003, he had a pupil in the Senior Ladies last warmup.
“I remember thinking this is amazing,” he said. “In U.S. figuring skating that is almost the pinnacle, other than winning. In Spokane that will be tougher.”
It could also be special, with nationals returning here next January
“I went to nationals eight times and after I retire they’re here twice,” Bevan said, wondering how he might have done had he slept in his own bed.
“I had my high school friends and I had my skating friends. That would have been a clash of my two worlds that I didn’t think would ever come together.”