U-M freshman Emily Samuelson was in the checkout line at Kroger when the person behind her shyly asked, “Aren’t you the girl going to the Olympics? I saw you on TV.”

“It’s strange to be recognized,” muses Samuelson, nineteen, an ice dancer who trains at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube with partner Evan Bates. They finished third in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Spokane in January–earning them a place at the 2010 Olympics this month in Vancouver.

Samuelson, from Livonia, and Bates, raised in Ann Arbor and a Huron High grad, have been spinning toward this moment since they were kids of nine and ten (see “Olympic Dreams,” January). The wholesome looking duo are “down-to-earth” kids, says Diane Wilson, manager of the Cube. Bates rooms with three other male ice dancers–including Charlie White, who, along with partner Meryl Davis, took first place in the U.S. competition. White and Bates are long-time friends.

“There aren’t that many ice dancers,” explains Bates, “especially who have similar instruments.” Besides, he adds, “We’re both big Detroit sport fans.

“The competitiveness is always there. [But] I think both of us would say figure skating is not the only thing we want to do with our lives. It’s not a life-or-death situation.”

Such good feeling is not the norm–in fact, Bates and White shocked the person organizing housing at Vancouver’s Olympic Village by asking to room together. “He said never in all his years had he ever put people to room together in the same discipline,” says Evan’s mom, Nancy Bates.

After their winning performance in Spokane, White and Davis have a good shot at a medal in Vancouver. Expectations for Samuelson and Bates are more modest: Bates says they hope to make it into the top ten–then practice to perfection for four more years and go for gold in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia.

Meanwhile, they’re enjoying the Olympic-year attention. After years when no one noticed them practicing at the Cube, visitors are starting to show up to watch them. That’s fine with the modest but ambitious couple. “Practicing every day can be a bit mundane,” says Bates. “To have fans watching you makes it more interesting.”