Episode #53: 2012 US Nationals

Live from the 2012 US Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, California. In addition to capturing some sounds and flavors of the event. There are clips from both the Friday night and the Saturday on-ice event, with remarks from Brian Boitano, Pat St. Peter, and Dr. Lawrence Mondschein. There are interviews with: Rockne Brubaker, choreographer Robert Mauti, Allison Scott (Jeremy Abbott’s mom), Heather from the Michelle Kwan Forum, coaches Christy Krall, Karen Kwan, Peter Oppegard, and Tom Zakrajsek, The Boys Who Score, and a fan named Peggy who thought she’d see what a live skating event was all about. 42 minutes, 30 seconds.

Win two DVDs of your choice from Sk8Strong!
There is a contest running with this podcast: you can ‘create your own’ 2 DVD set from Sk8Strong, the complete off-ice training resource for figure skaters and coaches. Great for all the coaches out there! To enter, send me either through email. my Twitter or my Facebook page the answer to the following question: How many 6.0s did Michelle Kwan earn in her career?

All entries received between February 3 to February 29, 2012 are eligible. The winner will be picked at random from all correct entries sent. Click here to learn more about how to enter.

Thanks to Fiona McQuarrie for transcribing these interview highlights:

Heather (founder of MK Forum fan site): I started my Michelle Kwan fan page in 1997 so I think it was one of the first fan sites. I don’t even know why I started doing it, but I learned HTML and did it all by hand by myself for the first couple of years. And then Jenny who also had a Michelle Kwan site said, maybe we should get a forum. And then my other friend Grace who also had a site [joined in]. And we’ve been running it for all these years, we started in 1999.

There was well over 10,000 or 16,000 members at one point. Whenever there was a big competition it would crash, it got so crazy [laughs]. But it’s been fun, and I’ve met lifelong friends through it, which has been amazing. Michelle is such a wonderful person, I think wonderful people just gravitate toward her. And this event [reception for Kwan being inducted into USFS Hall of Fame] is great, not just to see Michelle but also to see each other which we haven’t for so long. It’s like no time has passed. I remember the first time that Michelle posted [on MK Forum] and I think we were all stunned. We still are every time she posts every year. We had a dinner and she sent us a note with champagne, so we had a little toast, and then she sent us a handwritten note and we all started crying [laughs]. She thanked us for everything. It was really nice. Every time that I’ve seen her, she recognizes me — the first time it was such a shock and I think it still is – but she’s so gracious with her fans and she really appreciates it. And you can tell it’s genuine. You can tell with some celebrities that it isn’t, but she really appreciates her fans. We appreciate her [laughs].

With the site, you know, it’s work behind the scenes, but if people weren’t there it wouldn’t be as big a deal. But when you go to competitions and you meet people and there’s a rapport, yeah, it’s really — it’s been a lot of work, but it’s completely worth it. I wouldn’t take any of it back. Even all those hours when I was in college and people would be partying and I’d be working on the site [laughs].

I knew she would be inducted, it was a foregone conclusion, but I said that when it happened I would come. And I’m from New Jersey so I flew out here for this, but I wouldn’t miss it for anything.

Rockne Brubaker (pairs skater): I volunteered this year for a program called Dream. It’s new, that the Athlete Advisory Committee put together, and it’s a mentoring program. I was selected as one of the candidates and I’ll be introduced today at the alumni reception. What do I miss from Chicago? Everything, but first and foremost my family. All my family still lives back there. The weather, I miss the seasons. I grew up on a pond and skating and playing hockey. I miss the sports teams, the Cubs and the Bears and the Blackhawks. The whole culture, it’s so different from anywhere else. There’s nothing like the Midwest.

Any time you have to start over [with a new partner], it’s frustrating. Where I came from, I won two titles with my previous partner, and it was a snowball effect. We missed the Olympics, lost our title, she retired, and I was left figuring out what I should do. When I started with Mary Beth [Marley], I noticed something special about her, her dedication, her desire, and I knew that it was going to be a process. But we had a goal, the 2014 Olympics, and with that in mind I knew we had a few seasons to get where we wanted to be. So when you take that approach, and you know it’s going to be one step at a time, it helps with the frustrating part of wanting to be back on top right away.

Peggy Meyers (fan in the stands): The ice dancing has been spectacular. I like the pairs too, but the ice dancing is just really special. No ice dance lessons, but I skated when I was probably ten, back in Wisconsin, because we had outdoor ice rinks. And I was on skates, rather unsteady ones, the old- fashioned ones with pom-poms at the top, but nothing recently. Not since I’ve been a grownup. I’m considering going back, but I’m at that age where I have to consider broken bones if I fall. Medicare better come in [laughs].

I admire all the skaters, and every year that I see them they seem to be getting younger and younger. But of course I’m getting older and older. But it’s just such a great sport, being classical as well as being exercise. It’s just so dramatic, also. I really enjoy it. This is the first time I’ve come to an actual competition. I’ve watched it on TV for years, but I really wanted to see the actual competition. So here I am, and I’ve loved every minute of it.

Robert Mauti (coach/choreographer): It’s very stressful and difficult but exciting at the same moment. But Aimee [Buchanan] was the alternate so she was prepared, she was training. It’s unfortunate that Samantha Cesario was unable to come, but Aimee was excited to compete as a senior lady. Her last nationals was in juvenile, and back in summer she didn’t even have a double axel. So she’s gotten a lot of elements between August and now.

She did well, she’s got great spins and footwork and presentation, and she looks like a senior lady. So she has a lot of things in place already. Just gotta get those jumps [laughs].

Allison Scott (Jeremy Abbott’s mother): I almost don’t remember Jeremy’s short program, that’s the honest truth. I hadn’t seen it live for a while and it wasn’t anything like it was last night. Last night was very special. He was in a zone that I’ve never seen him in before. I did cotillion and all those things, and I danced him on my feet in the kitchen when he was a baby. But I think music is born in you, I don’t think it’s something you develop. You either feel it or you don’t. He’s taken that to a whole new level now that’s beyond my understanding, but he understands it and that’s what’s important. I’m so excited for the long program, because it’s very close to his heart. He picked the music and edited it with Yuka [Sato], and, and he and Yuka choreographed it, so I’m very excited to see it live. I saw it a little bit in practice today and I’m not going to lie, I was almost in tears.

The Boys Who Score (Billy, Enrico and David):

Billy: We started scoring in the 2002-2003 season with the 6.0 system, and then when the new judging system came in, we switched.

Enrico: When the new judging system came in, people were, oh, this is so difficult, we don’t understand, but we said, we can do it. And that made us learn the elements and we started doing it.

David: And that was great because we also wanted to see what our opinion was and how it compared to the actual judges. Where the differences were, whether it was on the technical side or on the component side.

Enrico: Before, we knew the jumps, but we didn’t know the different spins and the footwork and all that. And also it also made us focus on getting, like, the difference between the flip and the lutz, or the salchow and the loop. And now there are levels so it’s more complicated.

David: We all have some math background to a different degree. [In our jobs] we all use math every day.

Enrico: We have never calculated how accurate we are, but people around us always say, wow, you’re close. The score they display is the average of nine judges, so if you average our three scores, normally we’re very close.

Billy: But I think it’s important to note that we’re not trying to match the judges. We are trying to figure out what our personal opinions are. So sometimes we might be really different from the judges, but I still stand by my score.

David: We’ve developed our own favorites.

Enrico: But we all have a number one favorite and that’s Michelle. She’s the one that got us into the sport. We’re fans of Michelle and we watch her skate, but now we actually love the sport as well.

Tom Zakrajcek (coach): I have six students here. It works out, they’re always in different practice groups and they compete on different days. It sounds like a lot but it’s not when you break it down day by day. The most I’ve ever had a competition is 13 or 14. Becky Calvin is my right arm, she helps me tremendously, and then sometimes we have choreographers or other support coaches that attend to help.

Christy Krall (coach): Bertha and Beulah, the bad butt sisters. They keep your body standing up and you have to keep them together, that’s their role. You don’t want to sit on them, that’s a bad thing. It’s a good way of saying, keep your core tight.

I have four students here. Two senior ladies, Agnes Zawadzki and Angela Wang, and they both did very well. And then Armin Mahbanoozadeh and Josh Farris. I actually do a very corporate coaching, I’m the chief operating officer and then we have a chief executive officer for each one of these athletes. All of my athletes will appear with me and with another coach. I’m very fortunate, I get to train Patrick Chan, and I only travel with Patrick. So if these other athletes have to travel, they travel with their chief executive officer. It is exhausting, but these athletes are very well taken care of. If I’m not there, someone else is there for them. We just got back from [Canadian nationals in] Moncton with Patrick where he scored an unbelievable 300 points. We’re selling some of those points on eBay right now [laughs]. He’s very well deserving of those marks.

My role in this coaching world is to use the high speed video technology, and Dartfish takes all the guesswork out of coaching. It’s a visual game for the athletes because they can see what the world’s best are doing, and there’s very significant things that the world’s best do. And if you want to be on the top, you have to be doing these things. We’ve just exponentially changed the time it takes to learn something, it’s much quicker this way. And it’s interesting, even though people skated 30 or 40 years ago, the traits are still the same. If you’re going to be an athlete, you still have to learn a certain way.

Peter Oppegard (coach): We have to give credit where credit is due. The girls [daughters] only came in a few days ago, and we had family taking care of them until we got here.

Karen Kwan Oppegard (coach): Just shuttling them around and making sure they’re staying out of trouble. And I have nice comfortable high heels so I can run around and catch shuttle buses and so on.

Peter Oppegard: She only wears high heels. As a matter of fact, when she goes to the grocery store, she’s in high heels [laughs]. I think we’re just hitting our stride with managing everything. It’s taken us a few years to figure out how we’re going to do everything, but Karen has an athlete or two that’s her own, I have an athlete or two that’s my own, we share athletes, and I think we’ve come up with a nice balance of how to work things out in what’s best for the skater.

Karen Kwan Oppegard: And the ceremony for Michelle is just a bonus in all of this. We’re pretty much used to the chaos at Nationals, running around with our athletes, but just having Michelle around and my family around and Peter’s family around has just been really fun. I feel their support all the time.


About the Author
Yup, I’m a skating fan. But I’m a skater too. I compete nearly every year in the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships, and am always thrilled to see my other skating buddies there. In my real life I work in marketing for brands that make positive changes in the world, and a mom of two rambunctious boys.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *