Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini – The Dynamic Duo on Ice

Sometimes in life things will just click. For pairs skaters Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini, when they were performing together on ice they were completely in sync.

As two-time Olympians, five-time Canadian champions, and seven-time world professional champions, Underhill and Martini combined to provide some breathtaking and memorable performances together.

Martini got involved in the sport of figure skating thanks to his mother being a huge fan of Barbara Ann Scott, one of Canada’s all-time figure skating greats. For Underhill, it was also her mother’s influence that got her interested in the sport, as her mother was a strong believer in the mantra, if you are a true Canadian, you need to learn how to skate.

When reflecting back on his figure skating career, Martini pointed out that he was particularly lucky to have only two coaches for his entire career.

“I was lucky to have two individuals that recognized the fact that you are going to put in a lot of time and along the way there is going to be a lot of hard work and you are going to miss out on a few things,” Martini said. “But they made it a fun and enjoyable experience when you are coming to the rink for practice, as opposed to turning you off and encouraging you to stick with it.”

Underhill and Martini skated with other partners and competed against each other at the junior level, with moderate success. Everything changed when they first skated together in the spring of 1977, when Martini was 16 and Underhill 14. From the start, their on-ice bond was undeniable.

“When Barb and I first got together, we both realized pretty quickly that there were certain elements that the two of us brought to the partnership that were going to be very critical in terms of having success,” Martini said. “There were certain technical things that we couldn’t do with our previous partners that suddenly we could do as a result of being together.”

Underhill and Martini won gold at the 1978 World Junior Championships in Megève, France, ahead of Jana Blahová and Ludek Feno of Czechoslovakia. Underhill and Martini finished fourth at the 1982 World Championships in Copenhagen, having placed fifth in the short program and fourth in the free skate.

The pair reached the podium at the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki. After placing third in both segments, they were awarded the bronze medal behind Elena Valova and Oleg Vasiliev of the Soviet Union and Sabine Baeß and Tassilo Thierbach of East Germany.

In February 1984, Underhill and Martini finished seventh at the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. In March, they competed at the 1984 World Championships in Ottawa. Ranked second to Olympic gold medalists Valova and Vasiliev after the short program, the Canadian pair finished first in the free skating, and won Canada’s first world figure skating title since Karen Magnussen in 1973.

As professionals, they continued their competitive success, winning the world professional figure skating championships seven times between 1984 and 1993, and dazzling crowds during showcases like Ice Capades and Stars on Ice.

Underhill attributed a big part of their success together to blending the music and choreography for a show-stopping performance on the ice.

“When we found a piece of music that really spoke to us, we felt like there were no limits or boundaries,” Underhill said. “It was amazing how a particular song could just bring out such creativity and uniqueness for us out on the ice.”

Martini said he hopes fans remember the pairs skaters for their longevity as they skated together, between their amateur and professional careers, for 20 years at a very high level. It is definitely not norm for skaters to be able to enjoy that length of a career.