Figure Skating: From the Boards

National Treasures: Ave Maria + Eleanor Rigby January 31, 2013

The men’s event in Omaha was truly inspiring to watch as it unfolded, from the short programs all the way through the free skates. Certainly, there were the more obvious highlights. There was magic built on quadruple jumps; there were dreams come true in National-Title form. But, there were moments of a lifetime created long before the NBC broadcast kicked in.

Early in the afternoon, the first groups of men took to the ice. Now, these weren’t the medal contenders, per se. There wouldn’t be the same tension as would fill the building later, as Jeremy Abbott tried to fend off his challengers. But, no one told the skaters that.

See, once again the beauty of the U.S. Championships was on display, as one by one, men took to the ice with only one thing to prove: they could live up to their own childhood dreams. These guys may not have the international experience, or, in some cases, the technical difficulty to rank them near the top of the leader board. But, their dreams are just as big, their determination just as strong as any one else in the field.

And the crowd at the CenturyLink Center that had been admirably supportive all week was given a few more magical moments to tuck away in their memories from Omaha.

Allow me to back track for a moment… Practice Ice

I had the privilege of seeing a number of practice sessions throughout the week. The interesting thing about attending practices is that you see these skaters in a very different light that you do on competition day. They’re in control. They’re in their element. Their triple jumps are routine, the footwork is simply muscle-memory. It’s easy to see the raw talent on a practice session, because even with people watching, this is the world they live in every day. Training. Repetition. Perfecting each moment. But, all too often, that comfort you see on the practice ice, stays on the practice ice.

Sometimes, though, the lights come on, the opening pose is struck, and the practice success is history, because magic happens in the moment.

Wesley Campbell, skating in his fourth U.S. Championships, stopped at center ice, took a breath, and for the next four and a half minutes, it was as if he was painting the perfect picture to compliment each note of Ave Maria as it filled the arena. It was as if no one dared breath, for fear of breaking the spell. No one dared blink, for fear of missing a second of the magic.

He checked off triple jumps like they were as natural as breathing. He drew on the years of training to move without thinking. Instead, he appeared to be thinking only of the story he was telling on the ice.

That’s when you know it’s good — when the technique kicks in and makes the physically exhausting look easy, so that the artistry, the unique element of the sport, can shine.

It was a moment so brilliant it brought the crowd to its feet. Everyone in the building knew they had witnessed the fulfilling of a dream. Medals and scores were irrelevant. The satisfaction of living up to the potential of the moment was more than enough. (more…)

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National Treasures: Davis and White January 29, 2013

What an incredible week it has been. I was so thrilled to have the opportunity to be in Omaha with the Icenetwork team, but I was even more thrilled to have the chance to witness the magic that is the U.S. Championships.

There’s something so very special about Nationals; something that can’t be replicated. The week provides moments that you can’t find anywhere else. There is magic in the air from the very first day, and it continues on through the moments the skaters create — both for themselves, and for those of us fortunate enough to witness them.

As I think back on this week, there are several such memories that I will treasure, and I will, no doubt, recount many of them here. But the moment that stands out most — more than the Gracie Gold comeback, or the Max Aaron shocker, more than the unpredictable or the dramatic — is, perhaps, the most predictable moment of all.

DSCN0171When Meryl Davis and Charlie White took to the ice for their Free Dance on Saturday, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that they were about to earn their fifth straight U.S. title.

No doubt. Not even a glimmer. The rest of the final group, though exceptional in their own right, didn’t stand a chance. Not for gold, anyway.

Meryl and Charlie could have bought into that; they could have gone through the motions, saving their energy and effort for their World Championship skate. They still would have been great. They still would have won. But that afternoon, we witnessed what makes great skaters great champions.

This Notre Dame de Paris program was a bit of a risk, taking the teammates — talented as anyone in the world — across uncharted waters emotionally. “They don’t evoke any romance,” the doubters said. “There’s no connection between the two of them, no chemistry.”

I beg to differ. (more…)

 

And then there was Chan January 23, 2012

Have I mentioned that I *love* National championships? Yes, US Nationals because, well, I live here. But Nationals in general bring such a tension, such a pride, and such a sense of accomplishment that I can’t help but be invested, no matter what nation it is. A national title is a fulfillment of every skater’s dream, and the moments that bring us to our feat or tears to our eyes are magical here in a way nothing else is.

Fortunately for skating fans, there is plenty of Nationals buzz to go around this week. While the novice and junior skaters kick things off at US Nationals, I thought I’d take a moment to highlight our friends to the north and the moments they created.

So, basically, I wanted to talk about Patrick Chan.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. There was Tessa and Scott, and perhaps more notably, Meagan and Eric.

These two gave me that “THIS is what it’s all about” moment that Nationals is all about. I’ve loved their laser focus all season long, especially Meagan’s immense knowledge and understanding of the scoring system. They have such specific goals, and it seems they’re just checking them off, one at a time.

I’ll never forget their Kiss and Cry moment at Trophee Eric Bompard when Meagan realized that had, in fact, earned the necessary score to make the Grand Prix Final.

Here, the reaction to their near-flawless free skate, was even better. Seriously, if you haven’t seen the skate or the reaction, it’s a must. And to think, they both nearly gave up on the sport a couple seasons back! They’ve been a joy to watch, and I can’t wait to see what’s next. (more…)

 

This one’s for the boys… September 6, 2010

Happy Labor Day to those who have so kindly chosen to follow FromTheBoards (the few, the proud…the skating fans!). Labor Day is an interesting holiday, don’t you think? I was curious enough, in fact, to look up the origin of the day. Apparently (correct me if I’m wrong, here!) a kid named Peter McGuire was inspired by a workers strike where employees were demanding a decrease in the hours of their long work days. Ultimately, McGuire helped for a workers union and the Labor Movement began. These workers then decided that they wanted a holiday halfway between Independence Day and Thanksgiving, thus the first Monday in September. It appears it used to be celebrated more heartily – parades, feasts, etc. Now it’s basically the last day of summer (sad day!) and sometimes a day for picnics.

So there you have it. Your random fact for the day. Now on to the good stuff – the skating!

First things first, I wanted to share a bit of news for you who may  not have heard. It seems Yu-Na Kim has decided to move to Los Angeles and train at the Kwan’s rink, East West Ice Palace, in Artesia. She will temporarily be coached by former ladies and pairs skater, Naomi Nari Nam (love her!) in an arrangement that is suspected to become more permanent if it seems to work. Good for Yu-Na to quickly move on from the train wreck with Brian Orser. I hope she’s happy with Nam (who is fluent in Korean) and that, should she decide to pursue her competitive career for years to come, she is able to find the passion and joy that once brought her to tears as she spoke of fulfilling her dream of skating to Olympic glory. (Check out the story at BlazingBlades.com, direct link here)

Back to business – the men, of course! And let me just say, this may be the most exciting discipline in the sport right now. The ladies long held that crown, but even with the great Yu-Na in the mix, it’s just not the same as it once was. The men’s competition, however…talk about drama! So once again, we look at the top 20, according to the World Rankings posted at icenetwork.com. Let’s dive in!

The American Olympic champ, Evan Lysacek, holds the top spot, which makes perfect sense. I mean, he is the Olympic champ. But with his recent decision to sit out the Grand Prix series and take a “wait-and-see” approach to Nationals, there will be some open space at the top, at least at the beginning of the year. Evan pushed himself to the brink last season, so he certainly deserves some time off. The question will be, can he get back into the kind of shape he’ll demand from himself? Also, will skating competitively remain his passion despite the other offers he’s getting? Even with Sochi 2014 “on his radar,” Evan’s certainly non-committal at this point regarding any future plans.

So, who’s the #2 who gets bumped to #1 by default? That would be World Champ Daisuke Takahashi. The Japanese champion stood up on a quad flip at Worlds in March, so look for him to push the envelope technically this year. But don’t let the technical side throw you – this kid’s a performer. He’s got a Mambo short program in the works, and I’ve seen portions of it. One word? Magic. I’m really looking forward to seeing his progression this year. A lot of people thought he deserved silver in Vancouver, so he may feel he has a little something to prove.

Sneaking into the top three (perhaps thanks to Plushenko’s ban that stripped his ISU eligibility and, therefore, his right to be ranked) is another of Japan’s stars, Nobunari Oda. He’s had an interesting career thus far – National champion in 2008, but that was after sitting out the season before due to a suspension for driving under the influence of alcohol (driving his moped, by the way!). And the road back to glory hasn’t been easy. Yes, he won the Japanese national title in December of 2008, but since then it seems he makes a big statement, then collapses when it really counts. At the Olympics, he fell in his long program, broke a lace, restarted, finished…all to end up 7th. Then, he completely bombed at Worlds, landing only one single jump in his short, and not even qualifying to skate in the free program. I have a feeling he’ll be looking for a strong comeback, but sometimes I think he wants it TOO much. Keep an eye on him, but don’t hold your breath for a stellar, world title kind of year.

Number four in the world is currently the Frenchman, Brian Joubert. He’s an interesting story (far too long to discuss in this particular blog, but if you have thoughts on him, I’m curious to know!) I find myself with a soft spot for Brian…I feel like he’s just never really been able to find himself on the ice. He seems to always be trying to match someone, or skate like someone else. For years he was criticized for trying to be 2002 Olympic Champ Alexei Yagudin’s mini-me, and it’s almost like when he stopped trying to be Alexei, he didn’t know who to be. I think he’s finally getting there, but again, it hasn’t been easy. He’s faced some bizarre injuries (cutting his foot with the opposite blade on the landing of a jump?!?) and some tough competitions, but he keeps climbing back up. You know what they say, champions aren’t the ones winning all the time, but the ones who get back up every time they fall. Brian’s got a short program to “Malaguna” planned – a much more artistic piece of music for him – so maybe he, too, will come back with new focus and passion. I wish him well.

The American national champion Jeremy Abbott closes out the top five. Jeremy is such a talent – his edges cut the ice like butter, his choreography pours out of him as naturally as he breathes – yet there’s something that’s kept him from reaching the top. I think he battles nerves with the best of ’em, and half the time they get the best of him. If he can combine the technical demands with nerves of steel, the rest will be easy as taking candy from a baby (…so they say). He’s another wild card for me.

Patrick Chan from Canada takes the #6 spot. This kid has got “it.” Whatever “it” is…he’s got it. He has some of the softest knees since, I don’t know, Todd Eldridge or Brian Boitano. When he’s on, he’s magic. The problem is, he’s not always on. He needs to step up the consistency in the technical department and, well, that’s about it. He has some of the best footwork in the business, in my opinion, and apparently in the opinion of the judges. He won some competitions last year that even he was surprised (dare I say, embarrassed?) to win because he didn’t complete clean jumps. But his transitions and footwork held him in it. It will be interesting with the new rules about footwork and jumps (supposedly to make jumps more weighted) to see how he fares, and if he can get those HUGE jumps under control.

Takahiko Kozuka is the #7 man heading into the season. Japan’s contingent is so strong. Expect the same from these three this year. Kozuka hasn’t had a “big break,” so to speak, but he’s looking to change that. Will this be the season?

Two Czech men are 8th and 10th (we’ll get to 9 in a minute) – Tomas Verner and Michal Brezina. Tomas had some wins last year. He’s not a polished skater, but he’s got the big tricks. He did have more entertaining programs last year, but when it counted, he faced disaster in Vancouver. It will be interesting to see how he rebounds from that. Brezina skated his “American in Paris” program to a 4th place finish at Worlds in March, so he’s looking to keep the momentum up heading into this season.

Jump back to #9 for a second – American Johnny Weir. He was originally slated to compete in the Grand Prix, but shortly thereafter decided that he needed to sit out this season and determine whether he wanted to continue competing. Johnny’s been through a lot the last few years. He hasn’t quite been able to pull together his own ideas about what skating should be and what the rules say it has become. Within that struggle, he couldn’t quite seem to reach the level of technical difficulty necessary to compete internationally. But at least for this year, he doesn’t have to worry about it!

On to #11. Little Adam Rippon. I say little because he seems like such a youngster compared to many of those at the top of the sport, but boy is he a talent! His movements are so pure, his edges so deep and clean. If he gets a bit more comfortable in the senior ranks with his jumps, he will be right up there with some of the Patrick Chans of the skating world. (He also does a “Tano” jump with a hand over his head as well as his own variation with both hands over his head. Gotta love it!) His future excites me. I can’t wait to see his season. He’s skating to “Romeo and Juliet” and Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto #2″…familiar pieces, but I have no doubt that Adam will bring the intense beauty out of them. He’ll be ready to compete.

Samuel Contesti of Italy is next at #12. This guy has an entertainment factor, for sure. He lacks a bit of content sometimes, and needs to work on fineness. He moved from 18th at the Olympics to 7th at Worlds, so he has the ability to compete. He just needs to put it all together.

Yannick Ponsero from France is the same way. He’s had some bright spots, showing potential, but he’s got to put it all together. He, Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, Alban Preaubert of France, and Sergei Voronov of Russia are all ranked for a reason – they’ve got the goods to compete. But this season they’ll all need to keep moving in the right direction. Often some of the potential greats don’t quite make it to great, so we’ll see which of these guys brings it this year.

I have to pause for a second to talk about number 17 – Florent Amodio. This kid from France was one of my highlights last year. He’s the 2010 French National Champ, and as per usual for French skaters, he’s got a personality the size of Europe! He’s adorable. I challenge you to watch him skate without smiling. (Seriously, the video below…watch it. This is my “you will smile” guarantee!)

I can’t wait to see what he comes up with this year.

Wrapping up the top 20, #18 is Kevin Van Der Perren from Belgium. He’s a skater that just keeps on keepin’ on, even without always seeing the results he’d like. He’s got some big tricks, he just doesn’t have the consistency to skate multiple clean programs.

Russian youngster Denis Ten is poised to make his presence known. He skated to an 11th place finish in Vancouver, and I expect more good things as he grows in the sport.

Finishing off today’s list is the Chinese junior champ, Nan Song. He finished 6th at Four Continents as a senior last season, and was second at the Junior World Championships. He’s a young one to watch as he comes on to the seen with the top dogs!

We made it! So, we’re through the men and the ladies. The competition will be fierce, that’s for sure! Some will step up, others will fall down. But that, my friends, is the beauty of sport. On to pairs!!

Until then…

(Find me on twitter @FromTheBoards or email me thoughts, questions, comments: fromtheboards@gmail.com)

 

Oh, the drama! August 26, 2010

So, I’m sitting here, sipping my morning cup of joe, flipping back and forth between the Today Show and “My Fair Wedding with David Tutera” (Don’t judge…) and checking up on the latest stats from this week in skating, and I’m realizing I may need more time.

What a week, eh?

If you haven’t heard all the news, no worries – I’m here to save the day! And if you have heard, well, get ready to “hear” again, and then chime in with your own thoughts. Sound good? Okay. Here we go.

Pre-season drama part 1:

*National Champs and Olympic team members Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett jump ship from the coaching staff of Jim Peterson, Lyndon Johnston and Alison Smith to train in Coral Springs, Fla. with U.S. Pairs champion John Zimmerman and his wife, Italian star Silvia Fontana.

This is very interesting to me, for a couple of reasons.

First, this could be a GREAT move for Caydee and Jeremy. I love John Zimmerman and have a feeling his creativity could be fantastic for the young national champs. He certainly knows how to train, and he knows what it’s like to be among the best in the world. Caydee and Jeremy need to step it up if they want to be the American team who breaks into the top tier of the international elite. This might just be their staircase.

Second, I’m curious about the reasons for changing. Back at Nationals and at the Olympics in Vancouver, this team seemed beyond happy with their situation, overly complimentary of their coaches, and so proud of their up-and-coming status that led them to the Games. Yet, they weren’t about to be content with the status quo…they want to be the best, and I think this move shows that. It’s still curious to me as I wonder what that final straw was that led to the change.

Third, there was always an interesting dynamic with the pairs teams under the tutelage of Peterson and crew: their other pairs team who skated to a spot on the Olympic team, Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig, has a unique connection to John Zimmerman’s new team. Amanda and Jeremy have been a couple for some time, even living together and, of course, training and competing together. Does this move say something about that relationship? If not, does it put strain on the two of them and, therefore, their competitive careers? (Okay, okay, maybe I’m meddling. But hey, a girl can’t help but wonder…)

Coaching changes are always intriguing to me as they seem to say a lot about the needs of the athlete and the underlying goals that lead to the switch. I hope this one for Caydee and Jeremy works out because they certainly have the momentum and the potential to be a longtime standard in U.S. pairs skating.

Pre-season drama part 2:

*2006 Olympic champ and reigning Olympic silver medalist Evgeyni Plushenko IS, in fact, stripped of ISU eligibility due to participation in unapproved exhibition shows after pulling out of the post-Olympics World Championships. This means, he is no longer free to continue competing, therefore eliminating his proposed run at the 2014 games in Sochi.

Something about this seems pretty fishy.

First, these elite level skaters are aware of the rules – perhaps they don’t always think, “Hmm, if I do this, that could happen because the rule says such-and-such.” However, it’s not a secret that certain shows are off limits, especially after withdrawing from a sanctioned competitive event. Plushy should have known that, and if not, his “people” should have warned him. For that reason, I wonder how unaware he really was. Now, I don’t know the guy, but this seems weird. He has struggled with knee injuries since 2006, and the likelihood of his body actually holding up through 2014 is slim to none, in my opinion. And they way the pieces all fell apart here leads me to wonder if he realized he was talking too big for reality.

Second, he had a chance to appeal and he didn’t. Why? If he really wanted to compete, he had the means to make his argument and keep the Sochi dream alive. He didn’t. So, game over. He doesn’t have to make a big announcement of his retirement due to injury, nor does he have to deal with the fact that he left Vancouver talking smack and now doesn’t have the ability to back it up. Like I said, I don’t know Plushy personally, so all of this is purely speculation.

Regardless of his reasoning, it makes the next few seasons either a bit more interesting, or I suppose, a bit less interesting. But it certainly gives some other guys the chance to jump (or spin, glid, and step-sequence) their way into the spotlight!

Pre-Season drama part 3:

*Olympic Champ Yu-Na Kim and miracle-working coach Brian Orser split in soap-opera fashion, leaving Orser without the world’s #1, and Kim fighting for not only the motivation to continue competing, but also for the character of her own mother.

To me, this is just totally unfortunate.

First, Brian and Yu-Na made magic. Simple as that. What he was able to do with, perhaps, the most raw talent in the entire world was remarkable. Yu-Na soaked it all in and blossomed under Brian’s instruction, and maintained a sense of normalcy thanks to his protection. We will likely never know what the reason was for the Kims’ decision to leave Orser, but no matter the reason, I’m still sad to see them split. As Melissa Bulanhagui “tweeted” the other day, it’s like Brad Pitt and Jen Aniston all over again!

Second, the mudslinging has gotten out of hand. I don’t care who knew what, or if mama Kim overstepped her bounds, or if Brian stuck his story out there to save face…the media circus makes the sad feeling of seeing the news of the split about a  million times worse. I feel badly for both “sides” of the story. Yu-Na wrote a letter to her fans, expressing her pain because of Brian’s comments, and because of her frustration in needing to defend her decision and her mother’s character. That’s not something she should have had to do, yet she did. And unfortunately, it’s not helping. The media are running with all of it, no matter how small, and turning it into a zoo.

Again, coaching changes/splits are always interesting to me, but it’s sad when such a magical combination of skills is destroyed by one thing, then exaggerated by harsh comments and disappointed slams.

I wish the best for both parties, and hope to see Yu-Na skate again at Worlds.

Speaking of seeing Yu-Na skate…

She will be skating in LA a few months from now, and the legend, Michelle Kwan, will be co-staring in the show – her first on-ice appearance in the U.S. since the end of the Champions on Ice tour after her devastating injury in 2006. Now, Michelle Kwan is my hero. I’d give, well, a lot to be there in LA for this performance, but I’m not sure the likelihood of that happening is in my favor right now. So, if any of you are planning to be there, let me know! I’d love to post your review of the event, or possibly get some photos from you to share here as well…so if anyone wants to be a part of From the Boards for a day, get in touch.

In other news, the Junior Grand Prix season began today. The ladies have skated the short program, and Yretha Silete of France is in 1st, followed by Polina Shelepen from Russia and Nina Jiang from the USA.

It’s underway, folks!

Let the drama continue.

Until then…

 

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