Episode #72: 2014 US Nationals

January 2014
A compilation of short, live, off-the-cuff interviews with whomever I encountered at the 2014 United States Figure Skating Championships in Boston, MA. Interviews include choreographer and coach Doug Mattis, Peter Biver, Dick Button, Hayes Jenkins, David Jenkins and Carol Heiss, Jirina Ribbins, the mother/son team of Stan and Fran, some local fans and arena staff, Snowplow Sam (the mascot!) and more.  31 minutes, 53 seconds.


With Dick Button and Doug Wilson

With Dick Button and Doug Wilson

With Carol Heiss and Hayes Jenkins

With Carol Heiss and Hayes Jenkins


OTHOS: The Original Talking Heads of Figure Skating

OTHOS: The Original Talking Heads of Figure Skating


Thanks to Fiona McQuarrie for transcribing these interview highlights:


Doug Mattis (coach/choreographer): I’m having a great time. I was so happy for Simon [Shnapir] and Marissa [Castelli] tonight. I’ve come to teach a number of times in Boston this year, and have forged a little bit of a friendship with all the Boston pairs. So I was really delighted to see them skate so well, and what an exciting #BestNationalsEver [laughs].

[The skater I’m coaching] is a great guy, he’s like the next door neighbor you always want to have. He’s polite, he’s loyal, he’s genuine. His name is Robbie Przepioski, it is a high-speed accident of consonants. Smith is the new name that I asked him to change it to [laughs]. He’s a great kid, he didn’t start skating until later in life, when he was 17. He played catch-up for a while, and he has learned all kinds of new jumps and spins and also about things like stroking and movement and positions. He’s come a long way. I’ve been working with him for 18 months and the goal was to get him to Nationals, and voila, he’s here. So we’re delighted.

I think I’ve had a hand in four or five [programs at this Nationals], but completely two from beginning to end. I started off this season with about 74 programs and I had about 64 left after the initial round at Regionals. But each one was the same amount of importance to me, I love each of those little kids, they’re all on their own journey, and I really truly enjoy our experiences with our students regardless of what the results are.

I actually got teased by Jackie Wong from the Examiner [website] about how I was putting up too many selfies [on social media] to actually be watching the competition. So I might be backing off a little, but I do want to give a shout-out from the kiss-and-cry after Robbie skates his short to all the Twitter fans because they’ve been so supportive not only of Robbie but of all the skaters this year. I think there really is a movement toward positivity and I really want to support that. So if you happen to be listening to this and you’re a Twitter fan, thank you so much for everything you do for all the skaters.

Shaun (waiter at Legends restaurant): We get fans from both the Bruins and Celtics here. So in order of rowdiness I would have to say the highest would be the Bruins fans. Celtics fans are pretty quiet, and then ice skating fans, they’re definitely very well mannered. No fights, which was good. I haven’t been out in the arena yet, though. No booing, booing is not allowed [laughs]. No, they’re great fans. And they’re good tippers. You guys are great.

Pete Biver (coach and adult pair skater): I met Mr. Dick Button today. I got his autograph, and you know, he’s got Push Dick’s Button, and I want to turn the page and find out what happens next. Just a super exciting day watching the senior pairs short and the senior ladies long. Lots of surprises, and just super excited for the long program. I’m not competing this year because my partner’s in law school, so we’ll just have some fun and maybe do some shows this year, but it’s always inspiring in the Olympic year. It gives you motivation to get out there and work hard and have fun and perform. I’m always inspired by it, and it brings out the best in everybody. I was impressed with so many of the teams, it’s like DeeDee [Leng] and Tim [LeDuc], they just electrified the crowd. They worked so hard and it’s so great to see them performing out there at their best.

[After having met Dick Button] I don’t think I’m going to sleep tonight, I’m just going to dream with his book in my hands [laughs]. It’s amazing, he’s a legend and I’ve always wanted to meet him. It’s a dream come true. I know it’s a cliché, but it is.

Jirina Ribbens (trustee of Ice Theatre of New York and of Brooklyn Ice): Brooklyn Ice is a wonderful organization that works with underserved children to skate. Unfortunately the rink in Prospect Park where they skated for the last three years has been under renovation, but fortunately it reopened just before Christmas this December. It’s called Lakeside, and it’s a beautiful facility. It’s an architectural wonder. I think they spent $78 million on re-landscaping the whole area plus the rink. It has one covered rink and one outdoor rink. Brooklyn Ice services about 40 to 50 children each year. They get skating instruction, and they also get tutoring, Pilates, off-ice instruction, all kinds of other stuff. And the organization has been in existence in eight years. In the last few years we were training in Bryant Park in the city and we had fewer children, but now it’s back up to the maximum. And two of our young girls are now headed to college. They’ve been with us from the beginning and they’re now aging out of the program. So that’s another thing that was offered through the organization – help with applying to college. So we’re very very proud that they’re going to college.

Brooklyn Ice is being presented with the Prudential Good Skate Award, and it is a grant from Prudential recognizing an organization. Prudential gave USFSA $25,000 and it’s being split between an existing organization and one that’s a start-up. So we’re getting one-half of it, and that’s wonderful because Lakeside is beautiful, but it is in New York City and they want a lot of money for ice rental [laughs]. So it is just starting us off, but we hope that it will help us fundraise for more money so we can continue to support the program. It has a lot of boys in it, which is great because it’s really hard to get the boys to skate [laughs], but we have a bunch of really wonderful kids. Lakeside is not on the fancy side of the park, it’s on the other side of the park, and 90% of the people who live within walking distance of the rink live below the poverty level. So it’s really servicing a community that needs help. They wouldn’t skate otherwise.

Dick Button: I’m having fun [signing Push Dick’s Button], and I have to tell you, if you buy the book, do not believe anything you hear or anything you read. It’s all fake, I didn’t really write it [laughs]. It’s a conversation. Come and sit with me on a couch and we shall all watch what’s going on together, if the dogs don’t push you off.

I’m very happy that people are enthused about reading it. I think it’s just an interesting thing that they may hear or think that it’s a long-standing history or something, and I hope they’re not disappointed. Because it’s not a biography, it’s not a history, it’s not a memoir. It’s a conversation, and it goes from whatever comes into your mind, just like in a conversation. You can bring up different kinds of subjects and then challenge those subjects. I think there’s a lot of things in there that are subjective, but it’s fun. And that’s what skating should be. Sometimes it gets a little overdone these days.

David Santee (coach, SkateRadio commentator, and technical specialist): I’m doing fine, although I could use a little more rest [laughs]. I’m leaving for the Olympics February 3rd and I’ll be there until the 22nd. I’m working all the figure skating events, that’s 13 days’ worth, so it should be a lot of fun. As a data or video operator, you don’t have to be at all the practices, so I think I’ll get a chance to go see speed skating and some of the other stuff. The outdoor events are two hours away, there’s actually separate Olympic villages. Sochi has a very mild climate, it’s in the 50s that time of the year, so that will be great.

I joked that [the SkateRadio commentary with his brother Jimmie Santee] was good because there were no fisticuffs, no punches were thrown, no negativity. We worked well together, I thought. It was more making my brother stay in line, which is usually a tough job [laughs].

Stan Kimmer (fan): We [he and his mother Fran] came from Raleigh, North Carolina. We went to nationals in Greensboro, that was easy, but I’ve also been to nationals in Spokane and San Jose and Omaha. It’s been wonderful here, especially the pairs short competition. The competitors were amazing and several raised their game to the next level. I was surprised at how well many of the teams have done. And then the women’s short, Gracie Gold was fantastic, and I’m so glad to see Mirai Nagasu come back. She’s such a determined young woman, I was so glad to see her do really well.

My two favorites in the men’s are Adam Rippon and Jason Brown, and I’m hoping they do really really well. But what I’m really hoping is that all the men perform their very best. It’s really exciting when you see each competitor go in and do the best they’ve ever done on the national stage in front of thousands of people. It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen, you don’t know who’s going to bring their A game. Is Max Aaron going to be able to step up and land his quads, how is Jeremy Abbott going to do. There’s others like Ross Miner who’s been injured much of the season, Ricky Dornbush can deliver any particular time. It’s going to be wild.

My mom knew about skating long ago and followed it casually, and I followed it casually, but I really got into it when Johnny Weir came on the scene. That is what turned me into a big fan. I saw him in his first competition on TV and said, he’s special, and then I decided, you know, when I retired from my day job I had the time to travel and go to the competitions. And it’s a whole different dynamic being there in person. It’s so electric, it’s so exciting. And one thing that is really a treat is that last year I went to the Finlandia Trophy, and there was only like six Americans in it, so I could throw animals to all the Americans, and they would pick them up and wave them at me. I had my bag of animals all ready [laughs]. I even posted a picture on Facebook of the animals in my hotel room and said hopefully they’re going to be adopted by several worthy skaters.

Also I’ve enjoyed the junior and novice programs. I’m here for the whole week, and it’s fun to see the up and coming skaters. So I encourage people to go and see the novice and junior skaters, because these are the people that are going to be the stars four or six years down the road.

Carol Heiss Jenkins: We’re enjoying Nationals very much. I don’t [show students the new spin positions], I just tell them what to do [laughs]. But some of the positions are very difficult. Physically, some of the skaters simply aren’t flexible enough to do them. But then if you’ve got someone who’s really flexible and can do contortion-like spins, it makes it very difficult for them to jump because they’re almost too flexible to be able to do the triple jumps and land them consistently. So there’s a happy medium. I do miss some of the nice, wonderful Scott Davis and Todd Eldredge spins where you just held it forever and went nice and fast. I do miss that. But the sport keeps changing. I’m in awe of all the quads, and the triple-triples that the girls keep doing. And it looks so easy for them. That’s such a remarkable thing in the sport now.

Hayes Alan Jenkins: It’s a real treat. Jeremy Abbott skated an exceptional program. This is what skating is all about. You hope to see that kind of event. And you know, it is fun to look back. Dick Button set the table, and then David and Carol and I came along on Dick’s heels, and it was fun to be part of that era of the sport. We were expanding what the sport was all about, and the nature of the jumping, and the dimensions of the sport. I’m not sure I could have done some of the spin positions now [laughs].

David Jenkins: I’m awfully glad they caught [his 1957 triple axel] on camera. There weren’t a whole lot of them [laughs]. But I think I would have enjoyed having a greater chance for freedom of expression as they have now. I think we were a little more confined in what we did, and I think they have a lot of ways now to express themselves.

Chris Garrison, from State College, Pennsylvania, of OTHOS (the Original Talking Heads of Skating) fan group: We all went to Nationals in 1994 in Detroit, and we were all in the same tour group, and for the most part none of us knew each other. And right after the infamous Tonya Harding incident occurred, we were all sitting there talking about it. And the next thing you know, we’re just bonded over figure skating. And we’ve been going to competitions and events for the last 20 years. We love sitting in the lutz corner.

Terese from Wayne, Pennsylvania, of OTHOS: We have a series of OTHOS-wear [laughs]. We have other things like competition wear that we all purchased together. If you’re sitting on the side, sometimes the corners get cut off, but in the lutz corner we can see the whole ice sheet.

Maria (Boston hotel maid; skating fans staying at the hotel found out that she wanted to see the event, and chipped in to buy tickets for her and her daughter): Oh my God. I’m so happy because my daughter (Alejandras) is so happy. She asked me a few months ago, Mommy, when is the skating champions show? And I said, I didn’t know. But two days ago she sees that Sunday is the last day. And I ask about the tickets, and Georgene says, yes, I can do something for you. And she found two tickets for me and for my daughter. And I’m working, and I’m coming just to see everything. Allison, this is my first time, and next time I’m here the first day [laughs]. I like everything. My daughter says it is too different to see things on the TV and then sitting here and seeing everything for real. Everything is beautiful and amazing and I can’t believe I’m here with my daughter.

“John Doe” (the man inside the Snowplow Sam mascot suit): What suit? It’s me [laughs]. No, it’s really hot in there, I was sweating a lot. I took an uncountable number of pictures this week [laughs]. I got the job through networking. I know people, and other people know other people, and they contacted me, and I said, sure, sounds like a good time. And it was. I was there from Thursday through Sunday. No secret alcohol flasks under the suit, absolutely not [laughs]


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.

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