I was privileged to be able to attend all the Senior events last weekend in Boston. To see our Olympic team get chosen was a thrill, and the skaters for the most part delivered fantastic performances: there were very few splatfests or meltdowns. I got three full-length interviews, saw countless friends, watched amazing skating and finally crossed paths with Dorothy Hamill for the first time. And who couldn’t love seeing Dick Button and Doug Wilson signing autographs every day! Rusty the in-arena host kept us all entertained, and I loved how the tweets from the audience were up on the jumbotron. What a great way to include the audience via social media! I was thinking on the plane ride home about all my favorite moments of the event. Here were my top 20 best things about the 2014 US Figure Skating Championships. These are in no particular order:
1. Jim Peterson’s reaction in the Kiss & Cry:
Some coaches are stoic (Yuka Sato, Frank Carroll). Some coaches are spaztacular (Brian Orser). Some are just plain TMI (Robin Wagner). Then there’s the adorable Jim Peterson. He’s the . . . did I mention adorable? . . . coach of many skaters, but most notably at this championships of the Senior Pair team of Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay. When their scores were announced (see 8:10 into the video), Peterson jumps up and down and then has to walk behind to contain his emotions as he realizes what just happened. It was genuine, sweet, and you can’t help but love the guy.
2. Keegan Messing demonstrating his mastery of a yo-yo:
After Keegan Messing’s free skate, he headed over to the Kiss & Cry, as all skaters do. Then very calmly his coach Ralph Burghart hands him a yo-yo. What happened next was hilarious: as the crowd and Keegan waited for his scores, he proceeded to entertain everyone with an incredible display of tricks with a yo-yo. He’s VERY good.
3. Doug Razzano’s Long Program:
I admit I’m very biased towards Doug Razzano. I saw him in at the 2011 Championships in Greensboro, NC, and was impressed with his programs. Then I ran into him at the hotel lobby, and even interviewed him and his mom for my 2011 Live at Nationals podcast. Fast forward to the 2013 US Adult Figure Skating Championships hosted at his home rink in Scottsdale, AZ, where I met him again and got to know him even better. In short: I love this guy. His Long Program in Boston to Nessum Dorma was wonderful, almost perfect, and I was thrilled for him that he did so well. Gauging by his overwhelmed reaction, so was he.
4. Jeremy Abbott’s Short Program:
What can one say about this performance? Perfection. Sublime. Athletic. Masterful. Artistic. Different. Unique. And it shattered a World record. And I got to witness it in person. From the front row. I’m a lucky girl indeed.
5. Jeremy Abbott’s Long Program:
Continuing with the Abbott love . . . even though I’m a hard-core fan of skating, I’ve never really been a über-fan of any one skater. And then Jeremy came along. I don’t collapse into tears at the sight of him as some fans do with their idols, but I prize his skating above all current mens skaters and am heavily invested in the outcomes of any competition he enters. It was no different this time, but I got to share much of the experience with his family. As his mother Allison calls it, I’m a “fran,” which is short for a fan who becomes a friend. Allison has a few of these, and I’m proud to be one. I got to sit with them for Jeremy’s Long Program, celebrate with drinks afterwards, and watch as she and the family got to fulfill their dreams for Jeremy. Experiencing that extraordinary performance live and in person was one thing. To do with with Jeremy’s family made it that much more extraordinary.
6. Jason Brown’s Long Program:
It was so good it was featured on Mashable, Buzzfeed, has over 1.5 million YouTube views, and has therefore transcended the regular figure skating circles. Jason gave the performance of a lifetime . . . though might I add he’s done this before? He also got a standing ovation a few years earlier at the 2011 Championships in Greensboro for a similarly spectacular performance. This kid’s talent blows my mind. And Rohene Ward‘s choreography was genius.
7. Meryl Davis and Charlie White’s Free Dance:
Despite the screechy music at the beginning (which was mainly the speaker volume in the arena), this dance was perfection. While the other dancers . . . all supremely talented of course . . . skated their programs, you would occasionally see an awkward split-second of a moment here or there, maybe in the transition of a move, or trying to get a better hold with their partner. Not so with Davis and White. There wasn’t a fingernail out of place. From start to finish they had command of the ice surface, their bodies, their blades, and the audience. Impressive doesn’t describe it.
8. Talking with Michelle Kwan about wardrobe deductions in the men’s crotch area:
Yes, I had this conversation with Michelle Kwan. It started as we were discussing Jeremy’s close-call with getting disqualified by not hitting his starting position on time. Then the conversation segued to deductions and disqualifications of other types. Then it morphed into deductions for men’s dance belts. All in the course of about 90 seconds. And somehow, I found myself talking about male pair skater’s “assets” being a little too out there with Michelle Kwan. It was hilarious, and certainly not at all predictable. As I walked away, all I could think to myself was: “well, THAT just happened.”
9. Mirai Nagasu’s Short Program:
Oh Mirai. How we’ve all followed her career the past 6 years, and occasionally seen the beauty of her skating sometimes take a nosedive. But not on the day of the Short Program. Mirai brought the goods to Boston. Her SP was by far the biggest surprise. But I think mainly the audience was so thrilled to see her have such a masterful performance after so many rough ones.
10. Ashley Cain’s Short Program:
Sometimes it’s okay to skate first, and Ashley certainly made the most of it. Her Short Program was so good she held on to first place through 12 more skaters. It was even more impressive considering she was recovering from the flu.
11. Interviewing Sjoukie Dijkstra:
I had no idea the 1964 Olympic Champion was going to be there. She came all the way from the Netherlands to be inducted into the World Hall of Fame. It’s long overdue considering she competed in three Olympics (and medaled twice), won three World titles, five European Championships, and was six-times the Dutch Champion. But now she’s a quiet grandmother, long removed from the past glory days and not as much involved in a lot of skating events. So at the very last minute a contact of mine was able to arrange an interview with Dijkstra just hours before she was leaving the USA to go back to Europe. I stayed up until 3 am preparing for the interview, and felt woefully underprepared. There isn’t a lot of information about her out there in english! But I managed. It’s not the perfect interview . . . with time I could have done more, and I keep thinking of questions I should have asked. But at least I got the rare opportunity to capture her voice and thoughts on tape to share with the world.
12. Rob Przepioski having a great Nationals:
Sure, he came in at the bottom of the pack. Sure, he’s not as refined as Abbott, nor does he have the quad jumps of Max Aaron. But consider this: Robert didn’t strap on a pair of ice skates until he was 17 years old. Seventeen! And he completed a fantastic Short and Long Programs at his first National Championships with several triple jumps. He was thrilled with his performance, just grinning in the Kiss & Cry. Standing ovations from me.
13. Deedee Leng and Timothy Leduc’s Short Program:
I’m a sucker for any music by Peter Gabriel. So I’m always interested in how skaters interpret “The Feeling Begins,” and Lang/Leduc didn’t disappoint. It was nearly flawless, and very moving. A highlight performance for me.
14. Samantha Cesario’s Long Program:
If you listen to my podcast at all, you know my feelings on using anything from Carmen. (don’t know my feelings? Please download my podcasts asap!) So I had to groan when Samantha’s music started. Then a funny thing happened: through her choreography, her attitude, and her flawless execution, I actually found myself LIKING a Carmen! Skating to overused music can be done well, but it’s risky. In this case, Samantha proved me wrong. Maybe it was her Tania Bass dress. But if she skates to Les Miserables or Phantom of the Opera next season, I may have to turn in my figure skating fan membership card.
15. Nate Bartholomay at the Skating Spectacular gala:
This alone was worth the price of admission: at the end of Zhang & Bartholomay’s exhibition, Nate fell. Then he posed on the ice for a while as he improvised the fall. Then he got up, leaned over dramatically, and wiped the ice off his butt in time to the music. It was hilarious. Well played Nate. Well played.
16. Dick Button:
Sigh. How I love Dick! It was fantastic to see him out there in the concourse, selling his book and signing autographs for hours on end, and obliging his fans with photo after photo. He was more accessible than we’ve ever seen him at Nationals, and the fans are grateful. We’ve interacted enough times now that he recognizes me. When he winked at me walking by, I had to feel like I’d arrived.
17. Watching a generation grow up:
Kiri Baga, Danny O’Shea, Jessica Calalang, and Jason Brown. All of them have shared countless freestyle sessions with me. I’ve watched them since they were peanuts in the Chicago area learning their double axels, and even shared a test session with Jason when we took our Junior Moves in the Field test together (he passed, I didn’t). Now years later, it’s so wonderful to see these aspiring young skaters with big dreams performing on the big stage. And it’s especially thrilling to see Jason make the Olympic Team! Oh how I remember you all when you were just little awkward children. What a privilege it’s been to see you develop as skaters over the years.
18. The Locals:
Whether it was the nice woman working at the food counter in the arena, to the old guy checking my ticket at the door, to the guy on the train who complimented my hair . . . the locals were wonderful. They were happy to have us skating fans invade their city for a week. Boston Strong, and Boston Nice.
19. The Boy Sweepers:
Well, it’s about time isn’t it to include the boys? Who couldn’t go “awwwww!” at the little boy sweepers in tuxedos. Whoever in the LOC thought of that is a genius. Please US Figure Skating . . . make this a regular thing.
20. Skaters with a different style:
I love watching a skater who really has their own style, and especially one who recognizes they can enhance it with an unusual music choice. They are neither a pretty princess type, nor are they going to do another recycled selection. So I appreciate those skaters who bring something different to the audience, and love it when the audience recognizes their uniqueness. Those who stood out for me this year were Phillip Warren and Sean Rabbit for the men, and the team of Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Guiletti-Schmitt in Dance. This is what is so great about figure skating: it doesn’t matter if you’re a new skater or established skater, top six or bottom six, young or old. We can all make our own contributions to skating, and that’s worth celebrating.