Figure Skating: From the Boards

Paging Pittsburgh Dreamers! July 22, 2013

I’m a dreamer. I have the wildest imagination. I can create magical scenarios and storylines full of dreams come true. So, when I find other people with a passion for dreamers, I’m more than happy to throw a little support their way!

Once again, Parker Pennington and the Skate, Dance, Dream team are taking their creative show on the road, uniting dancers, skaters, and, of course, some pretty big dreamers. And, they’re coming to Pittsburgh this weekend.

You can read all about some past shows HERE and HERE.

Then, to get an idea of what you’ll see from stars like Ross Miner, Courtney Hicks, Comfort Fedoke, and more, check out this video:

Now, tell me you don’t want to be a part of stars giving kids the experience of a lifetime AND get a great show out of it!

Head over to http://www.skatedancedream.com for tickets for Saturday’s show and don’t forget to follow @SkateDanceDream on twitter for more!

 

Find a penny, pick it up … hope that it will change your luck. January 15, 2013

Last week, I was elated with word straight from the source: Alissa Czisny would be back in action in Omaha.

This week, I was heartbroken from more news, first, this time, from US Figure Skating. Then, confirmed by Jason Dungjen. Alissa’s Nationals hopes were dashed, yet again.

Czisny headline

Come on, now. Can a girl get a break?!

This poor woman has dealt with more ups and downs in her career than anyone should have to. After the years of struggling with confidence that caused her to miss the Olympic team, to a comeback season that led to one of the most magical Nationals moments of my time with the sport, to a crushing and frustrating battle with an unknown enemy — an injury that had the potential to cost her career — to, once again, build all the way back to the top of the mountain, just close enough to see sweet victory on the other side, only to be faced with another, potentially career-ending injury.

I can’t even imagine the emotional wreck I’d be if I was in her shoes (…or skates).

It makes you think, no? How much more can she, or will she, face before she decides life away from the drama of the ice is enticing enough to pursue?

Of course, selfishly I want her back on the ice as soon as possible. Somehow, that would make me feel better about her situation. I want her on the next Olympic team. I want her to have her moment at Worlds. I want one of the most gracious champions of our time to experience the reward for her patience and diligence and never-say-die attitude.

I want that for her. I think we all do.

But, who knows what she’ll do. In the meanwhile, though, here’s a little reminder of Alissa at full-strength. The grace, the passion, the charm … she’s the total package. And a champion of character, too.

Remember your successes, sweet Alissa. You’ve battled back before. Follow the desires of your heart; know the skating world will be anxiously awaiting your return! Rest up … you got this!

 

Grand Prix Rewind: The Dancers December 4, 2012

Ice dance has fast become one of my very favorite events. It’s the discipline that I think has benefited most from the Code of Points system because things are actually quantifiable now.

Of course, it helps to have a generation of dancers actively working to live up to the likes of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Meryl Davis and Charlie White who continue to lead the way.

The Grand Prix series this year gave a good indication of the progress some dance teams have made … perhaps none more notably than Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat.

Those two are always creative … sometimes distractingly so. But the technique often suffered in the past for the sake of creativity. Not so much this year. Theyr’e still not quite there yet, as far as Virtue/Moir or Davis/White standards, but if the top two don’t watch their backs and step up their own games, the Olympic year could be way more interesting than the last few have been.

It’s interesting, in that regard, how teams that have generally been very politically correct in answering questions about their competition goals who are suddenly voicing their determination to be THE best, both at Worlds this year and, more importantly, the Olympics. Pechalat and Bourzat are certainly a part of that new trend, early this season stating — quite emphatically — that they are right on track with their career goals that have them peaking in Sochi.

So far, they’ve skated accordingly.

Speaking of teams that have made marked improvements, Russians Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev are another such team. Personally, they’re not my cup of tea. But that’s the thing about ice dance (and skating in general) — it’s okay to not fall in love with every team or every performance, even if other skating fans do. And even if their basic skating has improved, I’m not in love with their programs, though I can respect their attempts at creativity.

Want to know what team I am impressed with, on a multitude of levels? Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte. They were adorable last year, with charming choreography and fresh exuberance. This year, they’ve conditioned themselves into legitimate competitors on the world scene. Maybe not World medal contenders, since the top three are on a whole other plane, but they’re nipping at their heals. That medal stand isn’t far off, for sure.

Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov also made the Final with a pair of silver medals. They did so relatively quietly, perhaps because they didn’t stand a chance against Virtue and Moir or Davis and White. But, I have to say, their programs — especially their free dance — don’t do them justice.

Side note: I’m super disappointed the reaction to Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje’s free dance wasn’t better from the judges. It’s beautiful and creative and original and magical and … yeah. Unfortunately, it didn’t lend itself to the complexity that the new system rewards. And as a result, they miss out on the Final. Sad day.

Now, for the top two teams.

It’s interesting, the ice dance world. I can’t say I realized how drastic the difference of opinions is between Canadians and Americans until this season with Tessa and Scott’s “Carmen,” and Meryl and Charlie’s “Notre Dame de Paris” free dances.

I’ve heard opinions blasting Davis and White for goign away from the kind of character and passion they’re good at — the “at a distance” kind — while praising Virtue and Moir for trying something new and challenging. I’ve seen fans gush over the magical moment Meryl and Charlie create while recoiling in a flash from Tessa and Scott’s dark, seductive choreography.

If you want my opinion, I prefer Davis and White’s dances. I appreciate the way they’re trying to stretch themselves, and while some feel they don’t actually tell story of the hunchback and Esmeralda directly enough. However, I find myself memorized  by the picture they do create and yes, I do see improved connection and passion.

Now, I’m going to try not to contradict myself, so hear me out.

I do appreciate the attempt at something new for Virtue and Moir. I get where they’re trying to go. However, this team’s strength is, without a doubt, the way they can stretch each move, and wring out every drop of emotion from it. The romance they can create is second to none. They elegance is something that sets them apart. And their ability to tell a heartfelt story that captivates an audience with artistry and grace while performing technically brilliant and complicated choreography is what made them Olympic champions.

This modern dance version of Carmen? Not any of those things. Again, I understand where they’re trying to go. It’s different. It’s edgy. But while I feel Davis and White’s “different” stems from their strengths, I feel this “different” is an attempt to recreate the wheel. The super-seductive “passion,” cheapens the quality of their movement, and obstructs the flow and connection they have with one another and that their blades have with the ice.

To me, it doesn’t bring out their best qualities while making them more versatile.

And, if you really don’t care what I have to say or what my opinion is, I’ll just give you the facts: the judges like the American’s free dance better.

Exhibit A: the score breakdown from both teams’ first Grand Prix event, wherein Virtue and Moir edge Davis and White in TES, but Davis and White win the PCS mark and the total score.

Davis.White vs. Virtue.Moir GP1

And, exhibit B: the same comparison from both teams’ second events. This time around, the base value is identical, but Davis and White made marked improvement in the GOE category, as well as bumping up the PCS scores yet again.

Davis.White vs. Virtue.Moir GP2

Before you jump me for cross-event score comparisons, I know. It’s different. Judges are different. Pressures are different. All of the above, I know.But the point remains — the reaction to Davis and White has been better than the reaction to Virtue and Moir. Personal opinions on the choreography and interpretation aside, it ends up being a numbers game. So far, Davis and White are winning that game.

Will the trend continue? This weekend’s head-to-head will be quite telling!

 

So begins her happily ever after… September 12, 2012

Congratulations to my childhood hero, Michelle Kwan! (Who am I kidding, she’s still my hero!)

After accolades piled on top of other accolades, she now has one more thing to celebrate — she’s engaged. And the skating world couldn’t be happier for her.

The lucky guy (read: luckiest guy on the planet!) is Clay Pell — the grandson of the former Rhode Island senator Claiborne Pell who created the Pell Grants for college students.

Smart, successful, good-looking, and knee-deep in the inner-workings of Washington? It’s a match made in heaven.

Best wishes to Michelle and Clay as they begin this new chapter of their lives together!

Don’t forget to grab the issue of People magazine with details on the ring, and comments from Michelle herself.

But for now, here’s this.

 

 

… Okay, yes. That was an easy way to jump back into the skating scene. But for real, I’m back. And, conveniently, so is skating! Starting this weekend with the inaugural U.S. Skating Classic, to be held in Salt Lake City. For a full Icenetwork streaming schedule, check here.

Good luck to the competitors. Let’s get this thing going!

 

Vlog: The 4CC Breakdown — Pairs February 21, 2012

 

Vlog: Pairs and Men Make A World-Class Case January 31, 2012

 

A whole new world- Don’t you dare close your eyes! August 23, 2010

Now that you know when my skating saga began, I turn next to where my perspective was shaped – St. Louis, 2006.

Based on my newly found passion for figure skating, I was beyond thrilled to realize that by the time the 2006 U.S. National Championships came around, I would have moved from Utah to Iowa, and be a mere five hours from the best skaters in the nation. I determined then and there to be in attendance that week, whatever the cost.

Now, I’m not one to settle for less than the very best, and this was no exception. I didn’t just want tickets to the events. I wanted GOOD tickets. Not only that, but I didn’t just want tickets to the EVENTS, I wanted All-Event tickets, which included passes to every single practice session, too. (Try telling a 16-year-old dreamer something’s impossible…chances are, the kid will prove you wrong!)

So I spent the entire summer before my senior year in high school working almost 40 hours a week to pay for 2 sets of All-Event passes (I’d talked my daddy into going with me, but I had to buy!). Before the summer was through, I’d purchased the tickets that would change my skating experience forever.

Then, it was just a matter of waiting ’til January. Talk about waiting an eternity….I thought it would never come!

The day that I left school early to hit the road for St. Louis, I couldn’t have been more excited. (Okay, I probably could have. I’d been devastated that my hero, Michelle Kwan, was injured and had to withdraw from Nationals, but even still, I was positively giddy!)

That night, as we walked into the arena for the pairs practice, I was floored. I couldn’t believe this was really happening. My mind was racing, but my heart was racing faster. I’d never been to an event so grand, much less an event that meant so much to me. As we walked toward the ice, my dad looked over at me and said, “Breathe, Tara. Breathe!” I guess my jittery excitement was rendering useless even the most involuntary functions…like breathing!

No worries, though. Clearly, I remembered how to breathe, and we headed down to the boards.

I couldn’t believe we were actually allowed to sit that close. I mean, our tickets for the events were good, but front row? Right behind the coaches? I could actually HEAR the conversations between Rena Inoue and John Baldwin as they chatted with their coach? Impossible.

But it was possible. And totally the coolest thing ever.

That week, I had up-close-and-personal interactions with some of my favorite athletes in the world. I had my picture taken with Evan Lysacek, got autographs from Michael Weiss and my boy, Timothy Goebel, along with Sasha Cohen, Emily Hughes, Alissa Czisny, and the legendary coach, Frank Carroll (who said, “You don’t want my autograph!” after I asked for it. Oh yes, Frank, I most certainly did!).

At one particular ice dance practice, I was fascinated by the intensity of Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto. Ben is hilarious off the ice, but he turns it on the second he steps out there, whether it’s to compete or to practice. Tanith is truly gorgeous, and she was matching Ben’s intensity, that’s for sure.

Funny story about them – they were practicing in their competition costumes, and Tanith’s dress was decked out with black feathers. Well, those feathers needed some work, because by the time the practice was over, nearly half of them had fallen off. As the couples were coming off the ice at the end of the session, a couple of the guys were talking – one coming off the ice, the other getting set to head out onto it. They were commenting about the quality of the ice and how good it felt out there, and one guy said, “Yeah, the ice is great, but half of Tanith’s dress is all over it!”

Here’s the feather dress: (Note: It was altered…i.e. featherless…by the Olympics!)

Here's Tanith's "Feather" Dress (It was altered - i.e. feather-less - for the Olympics!

While getting the autographs and photos is cool, it was these little moments that made me realize how different things were from the boards.

Another “from the boards” experience came at one of the men’s early morning practices. My dad and I had arrived at the arena a bit early to stake out our spot for the day. We’d decided that the best spot was right in front, just by the tunnel where the skaters come out. Not only for the sake of autographs was this the best, but for the experience of being at such close proximity to the skaters and their coaches as they headed out to the ice.

This particular morning, one skater came through the tunnel 15 minutes or so before they were opening the ice for the session. The skater was Jordan Wilson, a skater from Santa Rosa, CA. For the next 15 or 20 minutes, we chatted it up like we were besties, talking about how he wasn’t used to these early morning practices, what he was most excited about, how the ice was, and what he wanted to do beyond skating.

He may not have been the at the top of the pack competitively, but that morning, he became tops in my book, because I’d met him at the boards and realized how real his life was beyond skating.

From that same place at the boards, I saw Dick Button studying the competitors, I saw Coach Nicks talking Sasha Cohen through a cautious practice, and watched Johnny Weir interact with a, shall we say, “dedicated” fan who’d gotten his name tattooed on her ankle. It was all so different from this spot at the boards. But it wasn’t all smiles there, either.

I saw dance teams leave the ice in a huff after bombing an element three times in a row (literally, “bombing”…it was a lift and he basically dropped her on her face three times in a row. Bad day, anyone?). I saw big name skaters ignore little girls waiting for autographs, and I saw up-and-comers stressing over nailing a triple lutz.

But mostly, I saw a whole new world (Aladdin, anyone?) and I most certainly didn’t dare close my eyes. I wanted to see it all, take it all in, memorize it, remember it, treasure it. This wasn’t just a sport I’d see from a distance anymore. It was a sport filled with real people and real drama that I’d seen from the most real angle of all – from the boards. The same angle a coach sees it, the same way competitors see each other, and the only way to get a real sense of the personalities and the pressure of this beautiful, challenging, technical and magical sport.

When I saw Rena Inoue and John Baldwin land history’s first throw triple axel, the feeling was electric – not just because they’d come back from a frustrating short program to win a national title in record-breaking style. Not just because the entire arena felt the shock wave blast from the ice up into the nose-bleeds. But because I’d been there – I’d seen the doubt, the determination, and the danger all week as Rena soared through the air, working out all the bugs so they’d be ready on game day.

Now, as a new season rushes in, I still take every chance to see things “from the boards.” And while I may not be standing at the boards ever time, I most certainly look to them. Because it’s from there that my perspective changed, and it’s from there that the magic truly begins.

Until next time…

Pictures: follow me on Twitter for links to all my photos from Nationals in St. Louis – twitter.com/FromTheBoards