Tuesday, December 27, 2011

U.S. Nationals Nostalgia: Boston 2001

With another U.S. Nationals approaching, I thought I'd look back on the past eleven Nationals that I've attended and reflect on some of the memorable moments. Between now and the start of the 2012 championships, I will be posting an entry for each year. Hope you enjoy this series and let me know some of your favorite memories from these events!

First up in the series is Boston 2001. Since this was my first Nationals, it will always hold a very special place in my heart. I'm hoping Boston will win the bid for the 2014 National Championships because the city was a terrific host in 2001.

My trip to Boston started off a little rocky as my connecting flight out of Atlanta was cancelled, and I had to get on stand-by for a later flight. I asked the man sitting next to me on the plane for the quickest way to get to the Marriott Copley Place from the airport, and he gave me directions for the T, Boston's subway system. Seemed easy enough, but when I exited street-level, I had no idea where I was. Thankfully, I soon spotted the entrance to the Copley Place mall and navigated through the large shopping/hotels complex.

As soon as I checked in at the Marriott in Boston, I had to hurry over to the Sheraton to catch the bus to the Fleet Center for the Pairs Short Program and the Original Dance. The Sheraton was the skaters' hotel, and I remember entering a stairwell, crossing paths with Igor Shpilband and Tim Goebel, and thinking, "OMG!!!!" The experience kept getting cooler as I got on the bus and sat across from Stephanie Kalesavich. There were skaters everywhere. Then the Boston Police motorcycles turned on their sirens and escorted us to the arena. By the time we reached the Fleet Center, I was hopping with excitement.

The next morning, my friend and I went to see our first practice. The pairs were practicing at the Skating Club of Boston (see photo above), so we took the event shuttle bus out to the legendary rink. We froze our butts off watching the practice in the frigid building, but I loved every minute of it. I'd been to Champions On Ice and Stars On Ice, but I'd never sat that close to the ice or saw elite skaters doing their thing that close up. One of the things that struck me was how hard the impact sounded when the skaters jumped and landed on the ice. It made me appreciate how punishing the sport is on the body.

We attended ladies' practice that afternoon at the Fleet Center, and I got my first lesson in obtaining autographs. I laugh now at how clueless I was on securing the right spot next to the Kiss & Cry. But I learned quickly and used that knowledge the next afternoon at Matthews Arena, where the men were practicing. One of the moments I'll always remember is asking Trifun Zivanovic for a picture and having him ask me to retake it because he thought he'd closed his eyes. Back then, I only had a disposable camera, so I couldn't confirm his suspicion, but I was happy to oblige. Another memorable moment was Michael Weiss's wife Lisa handing out pre-autographed photos of Mike. They came prepared!

The ladies' competition was such a highlight that year with the brilliance of Michelle Kwan's "East of Eden" short program and Angela Nikodinov's gorgeous "Sleeping Beauty" free skate. Back when Michelle was competing, there was an incredible buzz in the arena whenever the final flight of ladies took the ice on Saturday night. It was an EVENT. The Fleet Center was packed for the ladies' free skate with 15,000+ in the seats. I miss that build-up of energy and hope the ladies' event can have that special quality again one day.

The event shuttle usually took the same route from the hotel to the Fleet Center, and it brought us past Boston Common and Frog Pond. I wish I'd had more time to venture out and do some sight-seeing. The Frog Pond ice rink looked beautiful through the bus window. I remember a lot of the trees along the route had little twinkling lights in them, and it made the snow-covered city look even more enchanting. That was when I first fell in love with Boston, and I've only loved it more every time I've returned!

Next up in the series will be 2002 Nationals in Los Angeles - Hollywood sight-seeing, a chance encounter with Muhammed Ali, and some ecstatic and heartbreaking moments on the ice.

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