September 19, 2013 Updated: September 19, 2013 at 6:50 pm
Conventional thinkers didn't believe ice dancers Tory Patsis and Joe Johnson would make a good pair.
"It is like eHarmony for figure skaters," Johnson said. "According to the statistics, we didn't work. I'm a ginger so my hair color doesn't go well with her blond hair and our heights are too similar."
But they soon proved traditional thinking wrong because of an important trait not found on stat sheets.
"I have never had a pair that was so different," coach Patti Gottwein said. "But what they have in common is they both just really want it. They are both willing to work hard."
It paid off quickly for a duo who first practiced in June 2012 and is just starting to realize their potential.
On Monday, the pair leaves for the International Skating Union Junior Grand Prix in Minsk, Belarus. It is their first international invitation, no doubt because of their silver medal at the 2013 U.S. national championships in the novice division.
They will prepare for that personal milestone at the Pikes Peak Classic this weekend at World Arena.
About 270 skaters will compete in the national solo dance championships and a mid-level meet for figure skating and ice dancing pairs. Admission is free for the event, which begins at about 6:45 p.m. Friday and lasts through noon Sunday.
"This is a good event to compete in before going to Minsk," Johnson, 19, said. "The judging will help us see where we stand."
Their first few dances together better resembled wrestling than ice dancing, said Patsis, 17, who is originally from Illinois. Despite that inauspicious start, she moved to Colorado Springs to train full time with Johnson, a Broadmoor Skating Club member from Fort Collins.
"We became comfortable with each other pretty quickly," Patsis said. "We are both willing to work hard and that allowed us to step up."
Their work ethic and willingness to adjust to the other has shown on and off the ice.
"They are mature enough to really accept each other," Gottwein said.
Both skaters said they benefit greatly from Gottwein's coaching, which has helped merge their contrasting skating styles, and the choreography of Colorado Springs resident Christopher Dean, one half of the legendary Torvill and Dean duo who recorded the highest figure skating score ever (six perfect 6.0 scores, six 5.9s) to win the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics.
Minsk is their first big test in juniors, a level when top performers emerge as contenders for future Olympics. That is definitely on their minds, Johnson said, but they also realize they have time to develop before focusing on 2018.
Those few years are important, Gottwein said.
"An international invitation is a big accomplishment," she said. "The judges see something appealing in the pair. At this point, they are just starting to get a glimpse of their potential. But there is a lot of work ahead."