Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sarah Meier: "I can be aggressive on ice".

After her practice before the last "Art on Ice" show in Zurich, Sarah Meier was able to spare a few minutes to talk to me about her health, her near and distant future plans, her programs and about the last European championship which she was, unfortunately, only watching on the TV.

Good evening, Sarah, thank you for agreeing to meet me. The first question would be of course about your health. How are you now? How is it going with your injury?
It’s Ok. Now it is not getting worse which is already a good sign.

The problem was with your spine, right?
No, actually the problem is in my right hip. First doctors thought that it’s in my back, but now they are sure that it’s in the hip.

I also heard that you might need a surgery...
Yes, maybe. But we’ll really try to avoid this if it’s possible.

So how do you train with this injury? Do you train less? Do you train at all?
I didn’t skate for two and a half months at all, and now I started to skate a bit, for shows. In general it’s going Ok, but jumps are very problematic and when I jump I start feeling the pain in my hip again. So in shows I’m doing only few jumps and only doubles.

So, if you didn’t train it means you suddenly have a lot of free time?
Not really, I spent lots of time in treatments, visiting doctors. I need to do some therapy, to go to my doctor which is two hours ride from my home.

I see. And in general, when you have time off, what do you usually do?
If it’s a day off after a busy competition or a show I prefer just to relax, to have a rest, to spend time with my friends.

I’ve been in Switzerland twice and I am totally in love with this beautiful country. Do you have a chance to travel here? Hiking on mountains, going to different places?
Not much. Only when some of my friends are coming from abroad to visit me, so I travel with them. But this is a really beautiful country, I agree. It has these mountains and valleys. Maybe it would be nice to have a sea here, and warmer weather… And I also like Zurich very much; it is a very good and convenient place to live in.

Full article.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Double success for American ice dancers

In an evening of great performances, Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein were the best of the best, winning the free dance and taking the world junior ice dance title by more then ten points.

The U.S. junior champions, who train in Canton, Mich., in Igor Shpilband and Marina Zueva's school, performed a dynamic program to music from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera. All of their elements were cleanly performed, with five gaining Level 4 from the technical panel. Their lifts and twizzles were especially impressive, many judges awarded +2's for grades of execution.

"We had a very good performance and are overwhelmed. It feels so good, we've worked so hard," Chock said.

"The free dance is definitely our best of all the segments. We just felt we connected well with each other and the audience. Igor and Marina are wonderful coaches. They push us on and off the ice."

Chock and Zuerlein, who also won the Junior Grand Prix Final in December 2008, placed first in all three phases of the competition. They ended the event with 172.55 points.

Their training mates in Canton, Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, moved up from fourth after the original dance to grab the silver medal with an elegant performance that gained second place in the free dance.

Despite their young ages of 14 and 17 years, respectively, the siblings skated with style and assurance, earning the highest technical scores of the night.

"We are excited that we are so successful in our first international junior season. This was a big step for us," Maia said.

"It is fun to train with so many good couples in Canton. We motivate each other. Next season we will stay in juniors because we I am too young to go to senior worlds or Olympics."

This double success for the Shpilband/Zueva school proves yet again that it is currently the world's best training ground for young ice dancers. It has produced one successful couple after another for more than ten years, among them five different junior world champions; several world medalists; Olympic silver medalists (Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto); and more than hundred medalists at other international competitions.

The bronze went to Russia's Ekaterina Riazanova and Jonathan Guerreiro, who train in Moscow under Guerreiro's mother, Svetlana Liapina, who won two world junior ice dance medals with Gorsha Sur (Guerreiro, who was born in Australia, has dual Russian/Australian citizenship. His father is Portuguese).

Riazanova and Guerreiro performed a speedy free dance to a James Bond medley, placing third in the free and third overall with 161.80 points.

"Overall we did a good job although we had two minor mistakes," Guerreiro said.

Madison Hubbell and Keiffer Hubbell, who placed fourth at the 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships, also performed a good free dance, but several of their elements appeared a bit laboured. The Ann Arbor, Mich.-based siblings placed fourth in the free and fourth overall, missing the bronze medal by less than half a point.

Canadians Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill from the Scarborough school near Montreal landed in fifth position after placing fifth in the free dance. They earned 152.76 points.

Rippon routs men for junior world title

Sofia, Bulgaria, may just have become Adam Rippon's new favorite city.

Rippon defended his 2008 World Junior men's title, winning in a commanding fashion -- by 17 points -- and grabbing a season-best free skate and overall score.

The 19-year-old skater showed a steady free program with eight triple jumps, including two Axels. The components in his program set to "Send in the Clowns," went up to an average of 7.0. He also excelled with an elegant style and interesting step-sequence between his elements.

"I feel really good about everything," said Rippon. "I am very happy to defend the junior world title. Mentally and physically I was in really good shape going into the long program. I'm really happy with myself that I could put together this program. A really rewarding experience. So far it's the best I've skated in competition. When I saw that Michal [Brezina] did two clean triple Axels, I knew that I had to do them as well. My competitive nature took over. It was no doubt that I would try two triple Axels because I will need them in my senior career anyway."

Brezina's program had two Axels, good speed and flow, and was enough to secure him the silver. Earlier this season, he won two Junior Grand Prix events, but a knee injury kept him out of the JGP Final. He commented: "I have to thank my doctors that me knee is OK again."

Russian skater Artem Grigoriev won the bronze medal thanks to good presentation and an almost clean program. He executed six triple jumps, but no Axel.

"This medal is a good present for my birthday which is tomorrow," said Grigoriev. "I had hoped to be in the top six, so I am very happy. I did not try a triple Axel or quad today because I have problems with my foot. My final goal is to win a medal at the Olympics in five years."

Denis Ten of Kazakhstan was fourth, his highlight was a combination triple Axel and triple toeloop. Curran Oi of Boston, was fifth. He executed six clean triples, including an Axel, but fell on his second Lutz -- which was downgraded. However, he did get good components scores for his dynamic style. The second Boston skater, Ross Miner ended up tenth. Four of his triple jumps were clean, but he fell on three other elements.

Russians grab world junior pairs title

It wasn't perfect. But it was just enough.

Lubov Iliushechkina and Nodari Maisuradze of Russia are lucky they had a six-point cushion after winning the short program at the 2009 World Junior Figure Skating Championships.

They needed it.

Iliushechkina and Maisuradze's free skate was something of a disaster. Iliushechkina fell on a triple toeloop, stepped-out on the triple throw flip and touched down on a triple throw loop. Despite the miscues, a score of 89.20 was enough to grab them the top spot on the medal podium.

"We are certainly happy with our results, but not happy with the way we skated today," said Maisuradze. "My partner is so upset that she even does not want to talk."

Anastasia Martiusheva and Alexei Rogonov rebounded from a disappointing eleventh-place short program, winning the free skate and leapfrogging the field for the silver medal. Highlights of their "Nutcracker" program included a first class triple throw loop, two excellent lifts and clean double jumps.

Martiusheva said: "Today we were able to put together our thoughts, our hands and feet and to show a good program. For us the medal is not a big surprise, but the mistakes we made yesterday were a bad surprise."

Team USA's Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir from Boston, Mass., won the bronze medal. After grabbing second in the short program, they performed the fourth best free skate, and ended up third overall.

Castelli commented: "We skated the best we could have done and this was our best performance of the season. We are honored to be here and even more honored to be on the podium."

"I made a little mistake on a jump, but my partner landed the throws," explained Shnapir. "Next year we are planning for the senior level and are looking forward to new competitions."

Brynn Carman and Chris Knierim of Colorado Springs, Colo., ended up ninth after a relatively good free program. They began with an excellent triple twist, followed by two double throws. Carman fell on the double Lutz and Knierim singled the flip, but they shined on their other elements; both lifts got a Level 4.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sasha Cohen may take shot at 3rd Olympics

Two months ago, despairing of the prospects for U.S. women's figure skating at the 2010 Winter Olympics in terms of both medal chances and excitement, I wrote a Blog item beseeching Sasha Cohen to come back.

After talking with her last week, I get the feeling she will.

First of all, she is aware of the U.S. figure skating rule giving her a bye to the 2010 nationals, where the Olympic team will be selected, because she was a medalist at the last Winter Games.

Second, she is paying attention to results of competitions for the first time in three years.

Third, she has put thoughts of an acting career on hold to concentrate on her own skating.

For now that means touring with the Stars on Ice show that plays the Allstate Arena on Saturday night and doing as much training as she can in 45 minutes of practice time before each show.

Two-time Olympian and three-time U.S. champion Michael Weiss, also with Stars on Ice, is very impressed with what Cohen has shown in those practices.

"She's doing all the triple jumps and working on triple-triple combinations," Weiss said Tuesday.

"Even if she does only triple-doubles, she is pretty much a lock to make the Olympic team because her spins and footwork would be all top levels, and her component (artistic) scores would be so strong."

Cohen will decide about a comeback in June.

"As long as I can keep my body healthy and especially the way I've been skating lately, it feels like the right thing to do," she said. "Going to a third Olympics would be just incredible.

"I have the next 50 years of my life to have fun. Eventually I will have to move on, but I think I can do it again, and I need that purpose and challenge in my life right now."

Cohen, fourth at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, left competition after she followed a 2006 Olympic silver medal with a bronze at the worlds a month later.

In her last competition, she received levels 3 and 4—the top two grades—for all spins, spirals and footwork.

"I think I'm very close to where I was in 2006," Cohen said.

"Of course, I haven't been running through long programs recently, but I feel very strong."

Although she has been away from serious skating for three years, Cohen is only 24. Shizuka Arakawa of Japan was 24 when she won the 2006 Olympic gold in Turin, Italy.

What could be the biggest problem for Cohen is the U.S. likely will earn only two women's spots at the next Olympics.

"We have a lot of depth, but I can't say there are skaters who could definitely prevent Sasha from breaking into the top three," said 1984 Sarajevo Olympic champion and NBC commentator Scott Hamilton.

"She still has the flexibility and artistic ability. Yes, she is higher percentage artist than athlete—but that's what the sport needs right now."

Cohen, who never met a camera she didn't like, would revel at having that spotlight on her, especially with the Olympics in North America.

"You miss having all those eyes on you and that kind of world attention," she said.

Canada's Lacoste Makes Huge Comeback

Amélie Lacoste returned to skating after a long absence by winning the bronze medal in senior ladies at the 2009 Canadian Nationals.

"I knew it was possible to medal, but it wasn't my first idea," she said. "I just wanted to skate two good programs and make the National team."

After nationals, however, Lacoste became ill with a fever, sinus infection, and bronchitis. "The week after Nationals I didn't train on or off the ice," said the 20-year-old.

Back on the ice only four days before the Four Continents, Lacoste finished tenth, even after drawing to skate second in a field of 36 in the short program.

Nevertheless, she accomplished her goal of finishing in the top ten. "My technical score was good, but the second mark always depends on where you skate," she said.

"The crowd was unbelievable," Lacoste added. "After my first jump, I couldn't even hear my music anymore. It's my best performance of the year. My goal was to land five triples and I did it. I felt very calm and confident."

"It was a good experience competing against the best," said Lacoste of the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships. "Almost like being at the World Championships. It's good preparation for Worlds and the Olympics."

Lacoste's goal is now to make it to the Olympics.

"I have Olympic rings on my ceiling in my room," said the student from Quebec. "Every night I see it when I go to sleep. It's my dream and I will work hard to achieve it. Being back on the international scene gives me a lot of confidence."

Lacoste was flying high in 2006, placing fifth at Canadians and 11th at the Four Continents Championships, but then she suffered a career-threatening injury that cost her the 2006-07 season.

"I hurt my right foot while I was practicing my triple Lutz in a practice in the Czech Republic for the Junior Grand Prix and had to withdraw," Lacoste recounted. "I didn't skate for five months, then tried to skate again but the pain was still bad. I saw lots of doctors but they didn't know what I had. Eventually I saw a surgeon in Atlanta who found that I had a fracture on my talus bone."

Full article.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Alban Preaubert: “I skate for my own pleasure, not for the results”

He had two clean programs in Helsinki at the Europeans, but he finished only fifth. After the final pose of his long program he shouted for joy, but he quickly came back to the real, cruel world after seeing his score. Anyway, Alban Preaubert is satisfied with his own performance and although he doesn’t understand why he got such a low score he says, he couldn’t have done better.

Are you satisfied with your performances in Helsinki?

Yes I am, and I’m very proud of myself. It wasn’t easy - there was a lot of pressure. I knew I could get a medal. I had one of the top scores in the European field, so I expected many things from this competition. My goal was to skate very well, and in this way I have nothing to regret, because that’s what I did. I skated very clean in the short program. I skated clean in the free program. I did the quad, seven triples, I couldn’t do much more. So I’m very happy about my performance, but I’m very frustrated because of the result. I thought this would be enough for a medal, but it wasn’t.

What do you think might have been the problem with the judges? It isn’t the only competition when it seemed your score was too low.

I don’t know, I don’t understand. My components used to be quite low compared with my opponents’, but it was fair back then, because I used to be a very good, consistent jumper, but not a very artistic skater. However, I worked a lot on this aspect of my skating and I skate better now, I have better edges, better posture, everybody told me that – but anyway, my components are even lower than before, so I’m quite surprised about that. I think with such low components it’s impossible to medal, even though I skated my best. I don’t understand this but I don’t regret anything because I did the best I can.

Full article.

Stéphane Lambiel: "I’m a little bit crazy"

Four months ago, on the 16th of October, two-time World champion Stéphane Lambiel called a press-conference and announced his retirement from the eligible sport. He explained that his health doesn’t allow him to train and use his body 100%, so it’s impossible to think about winning the third world title or Olympic gold.
Season 2008/09 started without him. The Swiss skater’s name was erased from the lists of Grand prix participants. Only banners from his fans (who continued to come to the competitions) and the other Swiss team members reminded us of the brightest figure skating star of the last few years.
But figure skating is his life, he remains on the ice, he participates in shows. During the rehearsal of the one of them, the Swiss show "Art on Ice", we had a chance to talk to him about his life now, four months after such a hard decision.

Stéphane, what is the state of your health? How are you feeling right now?
It’s better, still not 100% to be able to compete, but enough to participate in the shows. I love to think about the ideas of new programs, the audience. I love shows. Competitions and shows are very different. During the competition you’re on your own, you’re concentrating on your individual goal. There is no social life during the competitions; you cannot talk to other skaters. During the shows it’s more like family, there is a balance between skaters and I like such an atmosphere.

But you loved competitions…
I had a really nice time during the competitions, but now it’s over.

It is so sad to hear that…
But it’s so.

You once said that after your decision you were sad for two weeks. You should know that there are lots of people who are still sad, who miss you during every competition, every Grand Prix event…
It’s sad, it’s a sad situation, because the skating world, the competition world is a little bit sick right now… because of the new system, which is very weird. It was a hard decision to retire, because I loved to compete, it was always my passion, but now I understand how I can challenge myself in the shows. I won’t disappear, I will always skate, and I skate for myself; and in the shows I skate for the crowd. It’s so nice to not have judges and not have rules, to just be free.

Full interview.

Bold Considerations for an Aberrant System

Realizing that is useless to be nostalgic about the old judging system, and considering the deficiencies and structural faults of the new one, the necessary alternative would be: either to conceive and elaborate the structure of another judging system, or to restructure the present system keeping only rational criteria for evaluation of technical and artistic levels adapted to each specific discipline.

To be totally honest, it is necessary to evoke the reasons which led to the elaboration of the present judging system.

The "Salt Lake City scandal" was the last straw of a series of mini scandals which stemmed from pre-determined decisions due to ideological-political reasons more than the direct consequence of incompetent judging under an imperfect system. In spite of and considering all sides of the question, these "deals" or errors have never had a lasting or serious effect on the overall results and fairness in the competitive field. The commercial and hyper media coverage of the Salt Lake City "case" promoted the theory that this episode would endanger the possibility of figure skating participating in the Olympics – a totally hypocritical and unfounded story when one knows all the incredible turpitudes and compromises which occur in the sphere of the Olympic Committee – it then became necessary to set up a parade, "an ice parade", which would provide total guarantee and security against any possible deals or pre-judging decisions against the athletes. It was at this point that a fundamentally short-sighed narrow-minded fatal intellectual decision was committed.

This error which condemned in the long term the existing judging system is problematic in itself since the fundamental question was the security control in the judging system and not a problem related to the judging technique which needed to be redesigned to make it more pertinent and viable.

Clearly to keep figure skating in the Olympic sphere, one had simply reduced to zero the possibility and use of individual judgment. As if figure skating, an entertainment sport could be defined by using quantitative and arithmetic criteria, devoid of any aspect of quality which calls for reflected appreciation.

Since the quantitative creates the problem, let us isolate and analyze the parameters of it.

This dialectic jump from quantitative to qualitative which is used to bear out theories in the areas of genetics, chemistry or the changes in historic sociology becomes in this case complete loss of reason. The consequences of this deviation are overwhelming. The analysis of this is as follows:

Since it is necessary to eliminate rumors due to subjective judging interpretations which are by necessity divergent, thus a factor of "chaos", let us first limit the decision given by the subject, "the judge" by subjecting them to an electronic box where the decision will follow the orders of a supreme jury which sits to the right of "Truth" and which rules through successive prejudgments established during official training sessions and defines the value of the executed elements of each competitor based on the average of levels obtained in other competitions.

Full article.

Flesher and Forsythe Mesh as Dancers

Sarah Flesher and Jamie Forsythe, both 21, were the newest dancers to compete in senior dance at Canadian Nationals in Saskatoon in January. The team's goal for the 2008-09 season was to make the top ten in senior dance at Nationals and they just missed, finishing 11th.

"My personal goal for this season was to simply skate and get noticed," Forsythe said. "I want to become known as Jamie Forsythe the ice dancer instead of 'that guy who switched and went to senior dance'."

Flesher is the more experienced ice dancer with five years more dance time than Forsythe. She reached as high as 13th in junior dance at Canadian Nationals with Yannicak Long-Dupont in 2006.

She started skating when she was six or seven. "My parents put me in a lot of sports when I was little but then I had to choose one and I like skating the best," she said. "I did gymnastics, ballet, and swimming. I never really started competing until I was ten."

From 1993 to 1999, Flesher was also a competitive swimmer, reaching the provincial level.

Although her parents were not athletes, all of her siblings took different athletic paths. "I have one sister who is on a track and field scholarship down in the United States, a second sister who is a ballet dancer and a brother who plays hockey," she noted.

Flesher initially competed in singles, reaching as high as fifth at the Alberta Sectionals in junior ladies, but switched to dance six years ago. "You get to be more creative and expressive on the ice," she said.

Full article.

Chinese figure skaters Zhang Dan/Zhang Hao eye on Winter Olympic gold

Chinese favorite figure skaters Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao are vying for winning a gold medal in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games despite injuries and unstable performance this season.

Zhang Dan/Zhang Hao, silver medalists in the Turin Olympics in the figure skating pairs, arrived in Harbin on Monday to gear up for the upcoming 24th Winter Universiade.

Talking about their performance this season, Zhang Dan felt a little bit upset because they won a bronze in the Four Continental Championships in Canada.

However, Zhang Hao regarded their downturn as a lesson from the life and still confident of making better performance in Vancouver next year.

"I believe we have the ability to win gold medal in Vancouver. There are ups and downs in life and I don't think any athlete can always be perfect in their competition," said the 24-year-old.

Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao are the most famous Chinese athletes for the Universiade as they are tipped to reap their third straight victory since 2005 during the winter’s sports gala in their home city.

"Winning three gold medals in a row will be very exciting, especially in my hometown. I hope we will win the gold medal to make a good start of this year. Maybe it will be a good sign for our preparation for the Olympics this year," said Zhang Hao.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pechalat, Bourzat ready for world championships

Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, the current French national champions, have come back to their Moscow training base after their impressive showing at the European Championships. The duo was of course disappointed to miss their first European medal by a narrow 0.36 points. They were ecstatic, however, to skate three perfect programs and win second place for their "Circus" free dance.

Pechalat took the time to talk about their new training methods and give her thoughts to, just one month before the 2009 World Championships.

How do you feel about your showing in Helsinki?

Really good. We had reviewed our choreography before and after skating at nationals. We wanted to polish our style again with our choreographers. Then, we spent lots of time working on our technical elements, so we were really ready. Actually, we feel we are building up: our season started rather low at Skate Canada [where the duo finished in a disappointing third place], then at NHK Trophy [where they won the silver medal], and now in Helsinki.

This was your first experience with your new coaches at an ISU championship. How did it go?

Excellent. Our coaches, Sasha Zhulin and Oleg Volkov, are very tough, yet they are also quite positive, and they give us trust and assurance. When we arrived at the competition, we felt that we had coaches who were there for us and were really ready to support us. They are available each time we needed them, and at the same time, they leave us space when we need to concentrate or reflect after a performance.

What about your programs?

They went really well. So many people came to us to thank us for our programs. Many coaches, skaters, fans, ISU officials came to congratulate us -- even some Italian spectators came to us. It was wonderful! Of course, it is rather frustrating to miss a medal. At times, we have the feeling that we just passed by something bigger. Yet we really did our job in Helsinki, which is important.

Full interview.

Weir to headline New York Fashion Week event

2006 Olympian and three-time U.S. champion Johnny Weir has been confirmed as the headliner at a New York Fashion Week party, "Ice Skating and Cocktails," sponsored by VMan Magazine, published by Visionaire, and Ford Models. The event will take place at the Pier 61 Ice Rink at Chelsea Piers on Thursday, February 19, from 9:00 p.m. - 12:00 a.m.

Weir will perform an exhibition number to Lady GaGa's "Poker Face" in front of an impressive celebrity crowd. Invited guests include Christina Aguilera, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Vera Wang and Richie Rich of Heatherette, as well as numerous fashion journalists, publicists and stylists. Weir, a veteran of New York Fashion Week, previously walked the runway for designer Heatherette.

"I am thrilled and honored to be asked to take part in New York's premier Fashion Week event," Weir said. "It is especially exciting for me as I am very interested in fashion, as many people know. It's always a treat when skating and fashion are combined in one setting."

Monday, February 16, 2009

With Olympic rings come wedding rings

One year after Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon started skating together in ice dancing competitions, the inevitable happened. They fell in love.

At first, they fought the unmistakable attraction, but it was a force as irresistible as a heavy duty magnet. The Montreal skaters became a couple, something they initially struggled to hide from their coach and the skating world alike.

Coaches generally don't like love affairs among ice dancing pairs for one simple reason: if the off-ice relationship founders, the on-ice performance tends to follow the same path.

Dubreuil found the initial attraction frustrating.

``It was like pushing away from something that was obviously going to happen, '' she said from Sacramento, Calif., where she and Lauzon were touring with Stars on Ice. ``Even people around us saw that we were made for each other, so one thing led to another and it happened.''

The pair - five-time national champions and two-time world silver medallists - admit there are advantages and disadvantages to being an Olympic couple.

The most obvious advantage is the passion they bring to their performances. They also share a knowledge and belief in a sport, as well as the same schedule.

``We're together 24 hours,'' said Dubreuil.

But that can also create challenges. The couple, who married last August, finds it difficult sometimes to separate their professional from their personal lives.

``If we have a little fight on the ice, it's hard not to bring it home or vice versa,'' she said. ``It happens, just because we do a sport that is so perfectionist in the little details. You have to sometimes work six hours in a row and you get physically and mentally tired.''

It can be difficult, too, to see the one you love suffer in the sport. Lauzon was in that position when Dubreuil suffered a terrible fall in a final lift at the 2006 Turin Olympics. She had to be helped off the ice and they withdrew from the competition.

Full article.

Takahashi to resume training

OSAKA (Kyodo) Figure skater Daisuke Takahashi, who had right knee surgery in November, is expected to be back on the ice for basic training in March, his coach, Utako Nagamitsu, said Saturday.

"He's got a chance to rebuild muscles he had for figure skating use only," Nagamitsu said.

Our goal is to compete at the Olympics, so I hope that he regains physical strength without rushing so that he won't get injured again," Nagamitsu added.

Jumbotron Video Bloopers from IN

A cute vid of U.S. skaters messing up their lines for the videos that appear on the Jumbotron.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Princess of precision

The biggest night of Caroline Zhang's life was turning into one of the longest.

The clock in her room at the Hyatt Hotel read 3 a.m. Zhang stared blankly at the screen of her laptop computer. She was too tired to do any more homework, too wired on chocolate milk to sleep. She could, however, still dream.

With the 2010 Olympic Games one year and one week away, the Brea 15-year-old had come to the Games' host city determined to show she could hold her own against the world's top figure skaters. A little more than five hours earlier she had done just that, placing fourth at the Four Continents against an Olympic- and world championships-caliber field, delivering a breakthrough performance the sport and U.S. figure skating, in particular, had been waiting for, gliding through the program's closing moments with a beaming smile that just might steal America's heart in the coming year.

"I sort of thought I knew what I was going to see tonight, but she brought something else to the table," said four-time world champion Kurt Browning, now a television analyst. "I'm very impressed."

In four minutes on the same ice that will crown next year's Olympic champion, Zhang emerged from a pack of U.S. teenage wannabes as a legitimate Olympic medal contender, America's next ice princess.

"Caroline's the future of U.S. skating," said Irvine's Naomi Nari Nam, the 1999 U.S. runner-up. "Really the future of world skating."

Zhang's newfound status was confirmed when after more than an hour – and several chocolate milks – she finally emerged from drug testing at Four Continents to find a crowd of fans still waiting on a cold, wet British Columbia night to get her autograph.

Full article.

Alissa Czisny still battling nerves

It's not difficult for U.S. figure skating champion Alissa Czisny to perform two error-free programs -- when she's practicing.

When she's competing -- that's a different story.

Czisny, 21, skated an exceptionally good short program and less-than-sensational long program while winning her first U.S. title last month in Cleveland. She struggled in both programs last week at the Four Continents championships in Vancouver, Canada, site of the 2010 Olympics, where she finished ninth.

However, she said she learned from that experience and hoped to use that knowledge to improve her performance at the world championships next month in Los Angeles.

"Sometimes I start a little bit in competition with nerves," she said, "and that's what I've been working on all season and I hope I continue to improve that."

Not "staying in the moment" while preparing for jumps has been her downfall, she said. She has tried to improve her focus by working with a sports psychologist, and has added another advisor to the nearly dozen coaches, choreographers and other helpers who work with her.

"Right now I'm working with a performance coach, and that's really been helping me this year," she told reporters Wednesday during a conference call. "I've competed a lot this season to try to work on that problem and I think it's improved a lot and I'm going to continue to make that stronger."

Czisny also said she might tinker with her long program before the world championships to add more "content" that would enable her to earn a higher score. Every point will count: the placements at the world championships will determine the number of entries each country can send to the Vancouver Olympics.

"I think winning the nationals and having that title behind me should give me confidence going into worlds," she said.

Her top competitors at the world championships figure to be Kim Yu-Na of South Korea, winner of the Four Continents event, and Mao Asada of Japan, who finished third in that competition.

Czisny said she especially admires Kim because "her skating quality is lovely. Her jumps are good. I've been watching her through the years and her artistic [components], she's obviously worked a lot on that and improved. I've seen both of their jump qualities are very good, very consistent, something that I hope to have also."

Crone and Poirier Feel Up to Pre-Olympic Challenges

The pressure is on for Canadian ice dancers Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier, who won the silver medal in senior dance at the 2009 Canadian Nationals.

Along with Canada's world silver medalists, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the teenagers are responsible for placing high enough at the 2009 World Championships in Los Angeles in March to give Canada three dance teams for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada.

"Obviously, there will be a lot of pressure on us at Worlds," Crone stated, "but we'll just put ourselves out there and do what we can. If we make the top ten, that's great. Otherwise, we'll readjust and try to improve for next season."

Only 18 and 17 respectively, the dancers appear to be equal to the task. Already during the 2008-09 season, the couple won a silver medal in their very first ISU Grand Prix event at Skate Canada, then placed fourth at Trophée Eric Bompard in France, narrowly missing the ISU Grand Prix Final.

"We didn't have any expectations for this year," Poirier said. "We went into the Grand Prix season with an open mind set knowing we had the possibility to do well. To get a medal and then fourth in Paris was great. It really boosted our confidence knowing we could compete with the best."

"We knew at Canadians it would be a fair game if we skated well," Crone continued. "So we knew we had to work really hard to be ready."

"Our goal was to have some senior Worlds experience before the Olympics," Poirier added. "Being the second team in Canada puts us in a good position for the Olympic Games, but our main goal is just to have three good skates at Worlds."

Last season, the dancers, who have skated together for eight years, took second place at the World Junior Figure Skating Championships, so they are no strangers to high-level competition. Whether they compete in Vancouver or not, the dancers plan to go on until at least 2014.

Full article.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Inside Edge with Sarah and Drew's intrepid reporters, Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, write a Valentine's Day version of the Inside Edge.

Valentine's Day

As you may recall, we observed Friday the 13th with superstitions, Halloween with costumes, and New Year's Eve with resolutions. Despite some ribbing about whether our blog would be observing Groundhog Day (no), we simply cannot let Valentine's Day bear down upon us without mentioning it. In honor of the day of too many hearts and too much chocolate, and ignoring the fact that it's Friday the 13th again today, we asked some skaters who their dream valentines would be. Looks like Robert Pattinson and Jessica Alba could date the figure skater of their choice.

Skaters' Celebrity Crushes
Adam Rippon: Nastia Liukin.
Melissa Gregory: Patrick Swayze.
Denis Petukhov: Marilyn Monroe.
Keauna McLaughlin: Robert Pattinson.
Rockne Brubaker: Paz Vega. She is my number one choice.
Alexe Gilles: Chace Crawford.
Brandon Mroz: Jessica Alba. She is a babe.
Meryl Davis: Robert Pattinson. I loved him in Harry Potter and have already seen Twilight three times.
Charlie White: I would have to go with Jessica Alba. Among the obvious reasons, I like her because of how down to earth she is.
Caitlin Yankowskas, with a twofer: Robert Pattinson AND Chace Crawford.
John Coughlin: Rachel McAdams.
Ryan Bradley: Beyoncé.
Emily Samuelson: Currently James McAvoy, though Johnny Depp and Matthew Macfadyen are definitely still up there!
Evan Bates: I am not embarrassed to admit that I have a very big crush on Yu-Na Kim. I'm glad this will get publicized, as it will increase my chances.
Michael Chau: Keira Knightley.
• Laura Lepzinski: Mark-Paul Gosselaar, aka Zack Morris from Saved by the Bell. He's not my celeb crush in person, just in his role as Zack!
Jeremy Barrett: I would have to say Amanda Evora (because if I don't, I will be sleeping on the couch)!
Eliot Halverson: JK Rowling.
• Sarah: Not Robert Pattinson. Hugh Jackman.
• Drew: Michelle Kwan. Classic. Obvious. Inimitable.

Full article.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Nagasu drops out of junior worlds to heal ankle

Mirai Nagasu, the 2008 U.S. figure skating champion, withdrew Thursday from the World Junior Figure Skating Championships because of an ankle injury.

Katrina Hacker will replace her at the event, which runs Feb. 23 to March 1 in Sofia, Bulgaria. Hacker finished sixth at this year's national championships.

Nagasu has been bothered by a right ankle injury she suffered earlier in the season and has yet to fully recover. She finished a disappointing fifth while defending her title at the national championships in January.

"After the U.S. Championships, I met with my doctor and was advised to take some time off to heal," Nagasu said. "It was a very hard decision to make, but my doctor and I agreed that it was in my best interest.

"I haven't been on the ice since U.S. Championships. It's not bad, but I'm not going to step back on the ice until we're confident that my pain is gone."

Last season, Nagasu was 14 years and 9 months old when she became the second-youngest U.S. champion to Tara Lipinski (1997).

Earlier this season, Nagasu finished fifth at Skate America and eighth at the NHK Trophy.

"I am very excited and honored to have the opportunity to compete at junior worlds," the 18-year-old Hacker said. "I wish Mirai a speedy recovery, and I hope to represent the United States as well as she would have."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

An update with Adrian Schultheiss at Nordics 2009

He’s had surgery, been sick, pulled muscles and a few days ago he broke his skates and had to withdraw from the Nordics. The list of setbacks for Adrian this season is way too long and he’s pretty sick of it. The World Championships in Los Angeles are only a month and a half away and you’d think he’d be in a state of panic. But Adrian is always cool and in a pretty good mood too as we sit down for a chat. In spite of all the ordeals he laughs a lot.

Where will you buy your new skates from?

I order the boots from Canada, I’m keeping the blades. The boots cost a lot of money but I don’t have to pay for them myself, the Swedish Figure Skating Association does.

I’m switching from Graf Edmonton to Graf Washington since they have more padding around the ankle. My old boots were really hard and last summer after my foot surgery the other foot got inflamed.

You’ve had a tough season! At Nationals last December you withdrew after the short program, which you skated well!

Yes, but I was sick and it got worse, I was in bed for days afterwards. Looking back I probably shouldn’t have skated at all.

At Europeans you finished 18th

The short program was ok. Everything was kind of so, so since I hadn’t competed a lot during the season, I’d only done the two Grand Prix events, the rest of the time I was either sick or injured.

Was there anything positive about Europeans?

I don’t know... that I made it home again?

(This guy’s a gas! ) And what was not so good?

Hmm, that it was so cold in Finland.

Full interview.

An unlikely Olympic dream

Everything about figure skating and Mexico is improbable enough to be the stuff of the Latin American literary genre of magic realism.

There's this skating rink in Guadalajara where the ice heaves in the centre. The aged Zamboni has been fixed so many times with jury-rigged bits that it's scarcely a Zamboni at all.

Two, maybe three times a day, the Zamboni limps out and floods the pitted and pocked ice that's used mainly for public skating, but also for lessons.

It is the home rink of 25-year-old Humberto Contreras. He took up skating in Mexico City when he was 12 after watching the 1994 Winter Olympics on television. This is his rink. He coaches here and in his spare time nurtures his own Olympic dream.

He was, after all, the first Mexican to land a triple Salchow-triple loop combination in a competition. Three times, Contreras has been Mexico's men's figure skating champion before being upset by Luis Hernandez, who was born in Guadalajara but trains in San Diego.

This wonky Guadalajara arena only recently became the home rink of Elvis Stojko, Olympic silver medallist in 1994 and 1988, three-time world champion and seven-time Canadian men's champion. Three years before Contreras discovered figure skating, Stojko was the first skater to land a quadruple toe, double toe loop jump in competition.

After a lifetime on ice, Stojko quit skating entirely in August 2006. He spent most of the next two years working his land outside Guadalajara, dirt-biking, hiking and, well, living.

But one morning last year after 12 hours of dirt-biking across dried lakebeds in the Pacific Mexican state, Stojko woke up and felt a pull to the rink. After skating on that wretched ice, Stojko volunteered to help fix it, starting with the Zamboni. The conditioner had to be repaired and the blades sharpened. Stojko studded the tires himself.

Full article.

Chan looks to add quad to 2010 repertoire

You could argue Canadian figure skater Patrick Chan reached new heights with a brilliant victory at the Four Continents championships this weekend.

Chan, however, is looking to go higher.

The 18-year-old cruised to a gold medal at the International Skating Union competition at the Pacific Coliseum, leading a cavalry of strong Canadian results. But the skater from Toronto's Granite Club wasn't satisfied with an easy win over a world-class field at the Olympic test event.

Chan won without attempting a quadruple jump. Two skaters landed quads cleanly, and many contenders had the difficult leaps listed in their programs. That got Chan thinking about the 2010 Games, and what it will take to earn gold.

"Going into the Olympics, I want to do a quad and not go into a competition without a quad," the Canadian champion said. "Even here, it felt weird not doing a quad in practice when everyone else is doing it. It was uncomfortable because I kept wanting to do it. It was so hard to hold back and not try."

The Ottawa-born Chan bested three former Four Continents champions in winning Saturday. His short program last Thursday received the second highest score in the history of the ISU's new judging system, which replaced the 6.0 scoring system in 2004.

But to hear Chan and his competitors tell it, between now and next February, an arms race of quads is coming. That they will be part of the Olympic competition is unquestioned, but the next Vancouver podium could well be determined by which man has become most consistent at landing quads on the grandest stage.

Full article.

Orser glides into coaching, finding the perfect prodigy

Together, Brian Orser and Kim Yu-Na are the stuff of Olympic fable.

He is a Canadian figure-skating legend, a two-time Olympic silver medalist and an emerging coach at the age of 47. She is a legend in the making, a hit with Vancouver's South Korean community and a Toronto resident.

With an Olympic medal hanging in the balance, they would cut quite the delicious photo next February in the kiss-and-cry area. Already, at the Four Continents championships this week, her short-program routine - and his mannerisms while watching it - have been must-see TV.

On Wednesday, as Kim skated to the lead in the short program of this Olympic test event and world championship tune-up, cameras caught Orser mimicking her every glide, step and jump on the coach's side of the boards.

"I skate it with her during the training process," Orser said. "I know all the steps, so now when I'm standing on the side without any skates on, I kind of do the best I can.

"It's instinct. And I feel like there's a sense of energy I can help send out. Or maybe it just helps me. But it just feels good to do that. I just can't help it."

And Orser just couldn't help coaching this 18-year-old darling, something of a skating prodigy and already a superstar in her homeland. When Kim's camp first asked Orser, who won the silver medals at the Sarajevo Games in 1984 and again in Calgary four years later, he declined because he was still touring and skating exhibitions.

But one year later, in 2006, she asked again, and it changed Orser's life. Now, he tutors five skaters at the Cricket Skating & Curling Club in Toronto, including U.S. world junior champion Adam Rippon, who united with him in December, and he helps many other skaters at the club.

Full article.

Former Canadian star Stojko back on the ice and coaching in Mexico

There's just one tiny rink in Guadalajara, Mexico, a city packed with nearly six million people. The ice heaves at the centre and droops at the edges. There's one ancient Zamboni.

It's there in the most unlikely of places that former Canadian figure skating star Elvis Stojko is staging his comeback.

Shaken by the divorce of his parents, and disillusioned as his career wound down, Stojko moved to Guadalajara after he retired from competition in August 2006, leaving the spotlight and skating behind.

But the 36-year-old is back at the rink, preparing to launch a pro touring career. He's also coaching Mexican skater Humberto Contreras, who is competing at the ISU Four Continents figure skating championships this week at the Pacific Coliseum.

"I'm getting myself back in shape and getting on the ice," Stojko said. "It's been really nice, a purity of skating, a change in the way I approach it and the style - a new vision.

"I had to end it completely because if you sort of take a half step away, everyone still wants a piece of you because you're half in, half out. So that's why I ended it, I didn't know if I was going to come back. I'm back now."

The skater from Richmond Hill, Ont., won three world championships and a pair of Olympic silver medals, in 1994 in Lillehammer and '98 in Nagano. He skated his last show in August 2006 at the Mariposa skating club in Barrie, Ont.

"It seems like a lifetime because I've gone through a lot since then," Stojko said.

He largely remained out of the public eye - the three-time world champion did play himself in an episode of "The Simpsons" in December 2006. And last summer, he spoke at a rally outside the Ontario legislature protesting China's human rights record. He suggested athletes boycott the Beijing Games, prompting harsh words from Canadian kayaker Adam van Koeverden among others. Those remarks, Stojko says now, earned him as many enemies as supporters.

Full article.

Torvill & Dean: What really went on when the skates came off

The costumes, the flash of sequins under the lights, the hiss of steel blades on ice - how glamorous ice dancing looks to the audience.

Few people outside the world of skating fully appreciate that what they see on TV or at the rink is the culmination of years of physical and mental stress, of bodies being pushed to the limit, of determination, frustration and sheer elation.

So it was on Valentine's Day 1984 at Sarajevo Zetra ice stadium. And all because of a four-minute ice dance by a couple from Nottingham - an insurance clerk called Jayne Torvill and a policeman called Christopher Dean.

This was the Winter Olympics and 24million people had tuned in to watch the pair skate to the tune of Ravel's Bolero. Britain's hopes were pinned on them to go for gold.

They did not let us down, with the panel of nine judges awarding them top marks. So emotional was their performance that everyone assumed they were lovers - but they have always insisted they were just friends. 'It was always just acting,' says Jayne. Indeed, both are now married with their own families.

On that Valentine's Day, Torvill, then 26, and Dean, then 25, captured a moment that many still recall vividly. They were to skate around the world for many more years, becoming millionaires in the process, before announcing their retirement from a 23-year partnership in 1998.

They were reunited three years ago for ITV's Dancing On Ice. And in April they will headline a four-week tour. Next week they will also appear in an ITV documentary about their Olympic triumphs, marking the 25th anniversary of Sarajevo.

One person who has more reason than most to remember that remarkable night is another champion ice skater, Dancing On Ice judge Nicky Slater, who was an international team-mate of Torvill and Dean for several years.

Full article

The Mystery - Kristoffer Berntsson

Kristoffer appeared to be quite shy and reserved off the ice. He spoke at an even, steady pace - you would never suspect this is the same extrovert, crazy guy one sees on the ice. When we approached him, Kristoffer was ready to talk only about skating. Skating, skating, skating, but we had questions not about Berntsson-the-skater but about Berntsson-the-person.

"You ask such hard questions just after the performance. Let`s talk tomorrow!"
No problem.
The next day we had cafè, tea and talks. First of all - about skating.

- What age did you begin to skate?
At age 5.

Do you remember that moment?
Oh, I just remember some parts of my first year, I started skating in Gothenburg and still skate at the same ice-rink.

Do you have friends who skated with you?
Of all of those who started, I think none of them are skating today. We rarely keep in touch with one another.

Who was your role-model in skating?
Well, I don`t really have many role-models. When I grew up I watched the videos of the best. For example Kurt Browning and Ilia Kulik.

Which program do you prefer the most - the short or the long one?
Oh, difficult question. They are so different. I like them both. I enjoy my short and also like my new free.

Do you have a favourite program from the past?
All of them are special, but looking back I should say - that`s my free from Tokyo. That was one of the greatest feelings in my skating career. And also skating in Gothenburg.

Did you feel any special pressure there?
I thought that I really-really wanted to do the best ever. You see - when you want something that much you use so much power.

What do you think is the marker of your skating?
I always make something new. I don`t want to do the same thing again. I think people see my efforts.

Full interview.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

2009 Four Continents Championships - Men's LP

Men - Long Program
  1. Patrick Chan (CAN) 160.29 pts
  2. Evan Lysacek (USA) 155.50 pts
  3. Nobunari Oda (JPN) 145.22 pts
  4. Takahiko Kozuka (JPN) 145.15 pts
  5. Vaughn Chipeur (CAN) 144.81 pts
  6. Jeremy Abbott (USA) 141.27 pts
Men - Final Result
  1. Patrick Chan (CAN) 249.19 pts
  2. Evan Lysacek (USA) 237.15 pts
  3. Takahiko Kozuka (JPN) 221.76 pts
  4. Nobunari Oda (JPN) 220.26 pts
  5. Jeremy Abbott (USA) 216.94 pts
  6. Vaughn Chipeur (CAN) 212.81 pts

2009 Four Continents Championships - Ladies' LP

Ladies - Long Program
  1. Mao Asada (JPN) 118.66 pts
  2. Joannie Rochette (CAN) 117.01 pts
  3. Yu-Na Kim (KOR) 116.83 pts
  4. Caroline Zhang (USA) 113.06 pts
  5. Cynthia Phaneuf (CAN) 108.43 pts
  6. Fumie Suguri (JPN) 107.56
Ladies - Final Result
  1. Yu-Na Kim (KOR) 189.07 pts
  2. Joannie Rochette (CAN) 183.91 pts
  3. Mao Asada (JPN) 176.52 pts
  4. Caroline Zhang (USA) 171.22 pts
  5. Cynthia Phaneuf (CAN) 169.41 pts
  6. Fumie Suguri (JPN) 167.74 pts

Friday, February 6, 2009

2009 Four Continents Championships - Free Dance

Ice Dance - Free Dance
  1. Meryl Davis & Charlie White (USA) 96.74 pts
  2. Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir (CAN) 94.51 pts
  3. Emily Samuelson & Evan Bates (USA) 89.90 pts
  4. Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier (CAN) 88.03 pts
  5. Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje (CAN) 84.81 pts
  6. Kimberly Navarro & Brent Bommentre (USA) 73.64 pts
Ice Dance - Final Result
  1. Meryl Davis & Charlie White (USA) 192.39 pts
  2. Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir (CAN) 191.81 pts
  3. Emily Samuelson & Evan Bates (USA) 180.79 pts
  4. Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier (CAN) 176.82 pts
  5. Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje (CAN) 168.76 pts
  6. Kimberly Navarro & Brent Bommentre (USA) 151.82 pts

2009 Four Continents Championships - Men's SP

Men - Short Program
  1. Patrick Chan (CAN) 88.90 pts
  2. Evan Lysacek (USA) 81.65 pts
  3. Takahiko Kozuka (JPN) 76.61 pts
  4. Jeremy Abbott (USA) 75.67 pts
  5. Brandon Mroz (USA) 75.05 pts
  6. Nobunari Oda (JPN) 75.04 pts

Thursday, February 5, 2009

2009 Four Continents Championships - Pairs' LP

Pairs - Long Program
  1. Qing Pang & Jian Tong (CHN) 129.34 pts
  2. Jessica Dubé & Bryce Davison (CAN) 121.26 pts
  3. Dan Zhang & Hao Zhang (CHN) 111.78
  4. Keauna McLaughlin & Rockne Brubaker (USA) 109.85 pts
  5. Caydee Denney & Jeremy Barrett (USA) 108.09 pts
  6. Meagan Duhamel & Craig Buntin (CAN) 106.35 pts
Pairs - Final Result
  1. Qing Pang & Jian Tong (CHN) 194.94 pts
  2. Jessica Dubé & Bryce Davison (CAN) 185.62
  3. Dan Zhang & Hao Zhang (CHN) 174.98 pts
  4. Meagan Duhamel & Craig Buntin (CAN) 168.43 pts
  5. Keauna McLaughlin & Rockne Brubaker (USA) 164.01 pts
  6. Caydee Denney & Jeremy Barrett (USA) 161.69 pts