Friday, December 30, 2011

U.S. Nationals Nostalgia: Los Angeles 2002

2002 Nationals gave me my first chance to visit California, and I didn't want to leave the sunshine and clear blue skies. Since it was an Olympic year, there was a "do-or-die" feeling to the competition that I hadn't felt in Boston the previous year. I was happy with some of the Olympic team members but heartbroken for some of the athletes who didn't make it. More on that in a bit . . .

My sister and I couldn't go to L.A. without sightseeing, so we took the subway to Hollywood Boulevard to see the Walk of Fame. When we got there, we saw the area around the Kodak Theatre roped off and lots of media setting up. We found out Muhammad Ali was getting his star on the Walk of Fame that morning, so we parked ourselves along the barricade and had a great view of the ceremony. The movie Ali was out at the time, so we were hoping Will Smith would make an appearance, but that didn't happen. After the ceremony, we ate at the Hollywood & Highland mall next door to the theater. I remember sitting outside in the perfect weather and understanding why so many people flock to southern California.

We wanted to see Beverly Hills, too, so one afternoon we were adventurous and took a city bus from downtown to Rodeo Drive. The bus ride took us through some interesting parts of town, and we got to see the two extremes of the city. Rodeo was very pretty, but I enjoyed seeing the Beverly Hills residential neighborhoods more. Everything just looked so perfect.

One of the practice rinks for the event was the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, which required a bit of a long trip on the shuttle bus, so we only went out there once for ladies' practice. I think that rink was even colder than the Skating Club of Boston. We stuck with going to the Staples Center for practices after that. Security was tight at Staples in the wake of September 11, so half of the arena was blocked off to spectators during practices, making autograph-seeking impossible. I did get one of my most treasured autographs that year, though, when Kristi Yamaguchi sat in my section during one of the events.

On the ice, my favorite performances of the week were Matt Savoie's "Passion and Power" short program, Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" free skate, and Michelle Kwan's "Scheherazade" free skate. There wasn't a person who wasn't on their feet after Michelle's skate.

The ladies, pairs, and men's events all had me experiencing some disappointment. I wanted Matt Savoie to grab the third spot on the Olympic team; same with Angela Nikodinov. And in the pairs, I had high hopes for Stephanie Kalesavich and Aaron Parchem. Their "Les Miserables" free skate was one of my favorite programs of the year, and I thought they had such a beautiful look together. But it was not meant to be . . .

Next up is 2003 Nationals in Dallas - touring the site of JFK's assassination, the men's free skate from Hell, and an almost-upset in ice dance.

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.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Grand Prix Final Wrap-Up

I'm over a week late, but I wanted to post some parting thoughts on the Grand Prix Final. I wish North America held this event more often because I think it is the perfect competition to attend. Since each discipline has only six skaters, each event only lasts an hour, saving spectators from the "arena cramped leg syndrome" that occurs during four-hour marathon competitions. Plus, the roster of skaters is comprised of the best in the world, so the quality of skating is guaranteed to be high. A win-win all the way around!

Quebec City was a beautiful host city for the event. It looked like Christmas blew up all over the city. You couldn't walk two feet without seeing Christmas decorations. The official hotel, the Chateau Frontenac, was gorgeous and so charming. It's now second on my list to the Davenport in Spokane, my favorite of all the host hotels at which I've stayed. The only drawback to the hotel was its restaurants were too expensive, but we found some great options nearby.

Next door to the Frontenac was a wonderful restaurant, Le Petit Chateau, where I had a couple of delicious crepes. I highly recommend the chocolate hazelnut crepe for dessert! In Basse-Ville (Lower Town), we ate at Le Cochon Dingue, which had some of the best french fries I've ever tasted. So thin and crispy! The vegetable sandwich there was also yummy.

The arena, the Pavillon de Jeunesse, didn't quite match the beauty of the city. I question why Skate Canada would choose such an old facility with limited amenities to host the GPF. Canadian fans I spoke to also had the same question. The arena has only two restrooms, both on one side of the building, so they set up a portable restroom outside. Running outside in freezing temps and then cramming into an "outhouse" with two stalls wasn't exactly ideal. The arena also had only two concession stands plus one selling just drinks. Lines were VERY long. If Canada hosts the GPF again, I hope they'll select a more comfortable venue.

Thanks to everyone who checked out my blog during the event! I really appreciate your interest and hope you'll continue to read! I'll be reporting from U.S. Nationals next month and Four Continents in February, but before that, I have some contests and giveaways planned in conjunction with the release of my book on January 5. More information coming soon!

I'll leave you with some photos I took around Quebec City:

2011 Grand Prix Final Scenery

Friday, December 16, 2011

LIFE ON THE EDGE Cover Reveal!

The release date for my book LIFE ON THE EDGE is getting closer, and I'm so excited to show you the cover! I just received the galley proof of the book and need to read through it as the final step before publication. I'm so looking forward to sharing this story with everyone and hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

GPF Sunday Events

Sunday began with yet another early morning ice dance practice. Most of the teams didn't expend much energy and some left shortly after their very light run-throughs.

After attending mass at Notre Dame Cathedral and then grabbing a quick lunch, it was back to the arena for the Free Dance. I'd been curious to see Ekaterina Bobrova/Dmitri Soloviev skate live because on TV their skating always looked herky-jerky and heavy to me. Seeing them in person didn't really change that. They have good speed, but there's an awkwardness about them that I can't get past. Their lifts often look labored and they don't have the smoothness that the other teams in the event had.

I was happy to see the crowd getting into Maia and Alex Shibutani's swing free dance and clapping along with the music. I think at Nationals it will get the home audience going even more. The Shibutanis are so light are on their feet and make it all look so easy. As my friend said, "Maia was born with grace."

Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje delivered the most emotional performance of the competition. They hit every nuance of the music and told the romantic story with their movement and their facial expressions. I enjoyed Nathalie Pechalat/Fabian Bourzat's Egyptian free dance at GPF more than I did at previous events, but the theme still isn't one I can totally get into.

I thought Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir skated their free dance better than they have all season, but that's another program I can't get on board with. The posing and the music bug me. If they were going to step out of the box, I'd prefer something like their Pink Floyd program. I think an edgy look would suit them better than the cutesy look.

Meryl Davis/Charlie White ended the event with another stunning performance of their "Die Fledermaus" program. It seemed to have more of a spark at Skate America, but I think that was because the crowd there was into the program from the first beat of the music and their energy built with the performance all the way through.

The Exhibition gave good closure to the event and let us get one more look at the top finishers from the competitions. My favorite performances were given by Meryl Davis/Charlie White, Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy, Yuzuru Hanyu (this kid can move!), and Daisuke Takahashi. I loved watching all the skaters try to do disco moves in the finale!

Here are my photos from all Sunday events and a few videos from the Exhibition:

2011 Grand Prix Final Sunday Events

Monday, December 12, 2011

GPF Saturday Events

I apologize for not blogging on Saturday or Sunday. Breaks between the events were too short to do anything constructive. This post will cover all the Saturday events and I'll follow later with a post on Sunday's happenings.

Saturday started with another dance practice. Each team obviously practiced their free dance since they competed the short dance on Friday. Meryl Davis brought out the light blue dress she'd worn at a Skate America practice, this time with a coordinating mask hair decoration with blue feathers. I can't recall anything else noteworthy from that practice.

After a lunch break, we returned to the arena for the Senior Ladies free skate. Akiko Suzuki was the highlight of the competition for me. She has beautiful flow across the ice with lovely musicality.

The Senior Men final was next, and the guys delivered their best stuff, for the most part. They threw down quads like they were easy triples. Yuzuru Hanyu, Daisuke Takahashi, and Jeremy Abbott gave my favorite performances of the night. I've always hated "Blues For Klook," but Dai could make me love it. He is like liquid moving over the ice. Hanyu is going to be a force to be reckoned with as we head toward Sochi. The kid has it all. Jeremy's free skate included some jump mishaps, but it was still breathtaking. I was so bummed he didn't finish at least fourth because I wanted to see his "Hometown Glory" exhibition.

The Junior Men free skate followed, and the top three were phenomenal. Josh Farris had a few jump issues, but he has incredible power and expression in his skating. His new Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 program highlights all his strengths. Han Yan of China has incredible jumping ability, and he he also has style between the jumps, something the Chinese men have often lacked. The gold medalist, Jason Brown, didn't have as high of a technical base value as Farris and Yan, but he performed every element perfectly and with a wonderful lyrical quality. He always looks so joyous when he skates, and he brings the crowd into his programs. The U.S. has two bright young stars in Jason and Josh!

The Senior Pairs free skate was the final competition of the long day. The quality of the skating was high across the board, but the top two teams took it to another level. Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy's free skate continues to amaze me with its intricacy and technical difficulty. They are so seasoned, and they used that experience to defeat Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, who are astounding for a relatively new team. They have great chemistry together. A few shaky moments prevented them from taking gold, and the audience booed the results, but considering Volosozhar/Trankov's mistakes, I thought Savchenko/Szolkowy clearly won. I am in love with both teams!

Here are the photos from all Saturday events:

2011 Grand Prix Final Saturday Events

Friday, December 9, 2011

GPF Senior Pairs SP & Senior Men SP

It's late, so just a few quick thoughts on the Senior Pairs and Senior Men short programs. Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov were awesome! This was my first time seeing them skate live. Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy had a small uncharacteristic mistake on the throw flip, so they're slightly behind V/T in the standings. These two teams have quite a lead on the rest of the field.

Aside from the top two performances, I also enjoyed Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran, another team I hadn't seen live before. They have some innovative transitions and choreography.

Senior Men was a little all over the place with some crazy stuff happening. The biggest "OMG did that just happen" moment was when Patrick Chan jumped into the boards doing a triple toe on the back end of his quad toe. BAM! One of the most insane things I've seen at a skating event in eleven years.

Daisuke Takahashi didn't do the second jump in his planned combination, another surprising turn of events. Jeremy Abbott also had combination issues but adjusted his program to take care of the problem. There were no perfectly clean programs in the event.

On to the photos from tonight!

2011 Grand Prix Final Sr Pairs SP & Sr Men SP

GPF Sr Ladies SP & Sr Short Dance

Not too much to say about the ladies' event. A couple of disappointing skates and nothing that really left a lasting impression on me. On to the dance event, which was much more entertaining!

Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje started off the short dance with very loud support from the crowd and they fed off the energy and then some. They put all they had into that program. Next was Nathalie Pechalat/Fabian Bourzat, who took the energy from their training mates and ran with it, skating their best short dance of the season. Ekaterina Bobrova/Dmitri Soloviev followed and skated great, also. So glad Bobrova ditched the Halloween dress.

Maia and Alex Shibutani were first to skate in the second group and they nailed everything. They're getting more and more in tune with the rhythm every time out. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir started off with lots of speed and excitement, but it got interrupted a bit when Scott fell during random choreography. Looked like his blade bumped into Tessa's, causing him to fall on his backside. They recovered quickly and did a good job selling the rest of the program.

Skating last were Meryl Davis/Charlie White, wearing the costumes from Rostelecom Cup. Charlie's goldish shirt looks better in person, but I still prefer the black one from Skate America. They attacked from the first beat of the music and hit every element with precision and flair, earning level fours across the board. The levels helped them earn the best short dance score ever and put them five points ahead of Virtue/Moir.

Here are photos from the two events:

2011 Grand Prix Final Short Dance & Ladies SP

GPF Friday Dance Practice

Got to see everyone getting their shimmy on at early morning dance practice. Saw a few different costume looks from what the skaters have been wearing in competition this season - Tessa Virtue sported a pink dress with fringe. I like this dress much better than the blue one she's worn at the other GP events. Maia Shibutani added some splashes of pink to her black dress, making it pop a lot more. Ekaterina Bobrova wore a black and silver dress as opposed to the black and orange she's worn previously. Not sure if hers or Tessa's dresses were just practice ones.

Funny moment toward the end of practice - Scott Moir tripped and tumbled onto the ice but he got up and took a bow, spurring laughter and applause. Everyone looked solid, and the top two couples looked very relaxed and confident.

Photos from the action on the ice:

2011 Grand Prix Final Friday Dance Practice

Thursday, December 8, 2011

GPF Junior Dance SD & Junior Men SP

Back from the Junior Short Dance and Junior Men Short Program! Joshua Farris and Jason Brown were outstanding in finishing first and second. Other than a doubled back end of a combination, Josh was so solid technically, and his program to "Clair de Lune" is such a beautiful artistic piece. Jason brought the fire and attacked everything in his program. I love the energy with which he skates.

It was a big shock when one of the favorites, Han Yan, singled his planned triple axel. Will be interesting to see if he can fight his way back to the top in the free skate. Should be a great battle for the medals!

The Junior Short Dance was entertaining, although I didn't care for the Cha Cha pattern. The quick steps in part of the pattern make it look messy to me. The Latin music choices were pretty good. Thankfully, no one used "Mas Que Nada" or "Magalenha" - two songs I'd like to see banned from ice dance forever after this season of constant repeats.

The lighting in the arena is terrible for photographs, so when the skaters are moving with any sort of speed, blurriness usually occurs :(  Here's my batch from the events tonight:

2011 Grand Prix Final Junior Dance SD & Junior Men SP

Grand Prix Final Thursday Practice

Stopping in during a quick break between events! Just returned from Senior Dance and Senior Men's practices. Four out of the six dance teams practiced their free dance. Weaver/Poje and Pechalat/Bourzat practiced their short dance. There was a cute moment during Maia and Alex Shibutani's free dance run-through. As they were dancing to the swing music, Meryl Davis/Charlie White and Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir were also doing the dance steps behind them. I'm sure they're all very familiar with each other's programs! The Canton teams also ran through their short dance footwork and rhumba patterns.

Men's practice saw the usual amount of spills and popped jumps. Daisuke Takahashi didn't do any jumps in his run-through since he was up first. Everyone practiced their free skate. Jeremy Abbott had a few jump issues, but I think I saw him land a couple of quads. Patrick Chan really is a master of the blade. Jeremy's free skate is a masterpiece, and I hope he can nail it here.

Have to get ready for dinner and then back to the arena for the Junior Short Dance and Junior Men Short Program. Here are my photos from today's practices:

2011 GPF Thursday Practice

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Bonjour from Grand Prix Final!

After two delayed flights and some bumpy weather, I have settled into my cozy hotel room and am ready for some skating action tomorrow!

Saw some familiar faces on my flight from Newark, New Jersey to Quebec City, including Patrick Chan's coach, Christy Krall. I couldn't believe how quiet the Quebec airport was and how quickly we went through customs. After standing in line for thirty minutes in Vancouver and Montreal, waiting less than five minutes here was a treat. And the taxi was the nicest I've ever seen. It was like a town car with leather seats. Saw lots of beautiful Christmas lights and decorations on the ride from the airport to the hotel.

Speaking of the hotel, the Chateau Frontenac is gorgeous, but dining here requires very deep pockets. The breakfast buffet is almost $30! And the dinner menu in the signature restaurant doesn't have any items less than $40. Yikes. The bar menu is more reasonable but still on the pricey side. Will be looking elsewhere for food....

Tomorrow I will be attending the Senior Dance and Senior Men's practices in the afternoon and then a couple of Junior events in the evening. Look for photos to follow!