Sunday, January 20, 2008
It was time to start the medal ceremonies…
As I raced downstairs at 8:27 in hopes that the 8:25 shuttle hadn’t left yet, I was glad that I’d eaten something on Saturday night, pizza at 2 a.m. or not. It was going to be a long day.
For anyone reading this that hasn’t followed the broadcasting woes of figure skating in Canada, here’s a brief summary: CTV held the rights to Canadian skating for years, but in the decline of ratings over the past few years, the guard has changed to CBC. CBC does a great job showing all skaters, between the top groups on their main network, and the rest of the skaters on a subscription-based digital channel, but one of the stipulations in their contract was that they would broadcast the free programs live. This is a programming nightmare when the event takes place in Pacific Time, and when Canada spans six different time zones. This is also a programming nightmare when the most desirable time slot, Saturday night, has been firmly held by “Hockey Night in Canada” on CBC for years. Can you imagine all of Canada’s hockey fans settling down at the sports bar with a beer and turning on the TV, only to realize that CBC was instead chronicling Jeff Buttle and Patrick Chan’s fight for the figure skating title?
So the schedule in Vancouver was a little strange, and the oddest choice of all was to have the senior ladies begin their free program at 8:45 on Sunday morning. I made the shuttle and zipped through the arena to my spot in the 11th row. The first group was warming up. The women behind me were grumbling about missing church. My headache was grumbling about missing Starbucks.
After a lackluster short program, Lesley Hawker was, most surprisingly, skating in the penultimate group. Since I am part of the media now, I’d been watching much of the action this week in a considerably more detached state of emotion than I have in the past. I was there to do a job, and I tried to remind myself of this as Lesley took the ice. Sometimes, exceptions have to be made, though, and after Lesley landed her first triple flip, less than a minute into her program, I was definitely attached. At the end of her program, when the audience stood before she finished her final spin, I leapt to my feet along with everyone else.
Between groups, I ran downstairs and dumped my memory card, and when I got back to my seat, my friends were waiting for me–with a grande peppermint mocha from Starbucks. I really have the best friends in the world.
Lesley’s effort ended up being enough for second in the free, but she was just a few points shy of the podium. Although Cynthia Phaneuf and Mira Leung had some mistakes, they were able to hang on to their positions. But even when Joannie Rochette won her fourth title, I thought the performance of the morning still belonged to Lesley.
After the ladies’ event was over, my friends and I were chatting on the concourse while Lesley wrapped up a conversation nearby with her husband and someone from the team. As soon as she finished, she turned to us, a grin spreading across her face, her arms outstretched. “Come here, girls!” she exclaimed, hugging each of us as we congratulated her. “Wish it had worked out even better,” she said, referring to the margin that kept her off of the podium, “but what can you do?” I’m sure she’ll be back again to fight next year.
With emotions still running fairly high, the crowd began to trickle back into the stands for the ceremonies. At the Canadian Championships, medals are not awarded at the end of each day, but in an extended ceremony on Sunday afternoon, before the Parade of Champions. There is usually a Hall of Fame induction at that time, and this year Skate Canada was finally inducting Jamie Sale & David Pelletier.
In order to explain what that meant to me, I need to fill in the back story. I’ve been watching skating since the 1992 Olympics, but between 1998 and 2002, I kind of took a break. I usually managed to watch a day or two of Worlds and Nationals, but I was busy graduating from high school and moving away to college, so I wasn’t too actively invested in the sport. After the 2002 Olympics, though, I was hooked on skating once again. In January 2003, an online friend of mine that I’d met because of our shared love for skating asked if she could give my screen name to another friend of hers. She thought we’d get along well.
So five years ago, almost to the day, Jules and I talked online for the first time. Our first conversation lasted more than five hours. We met for the first time five months later, and went on our first skating-related road trip two months after that. Through Jules and through various online skating-related communities, I made a lot of friends during 2003 and 2004. We came from all over the continent, and there were different reasons that brought us to skating, but we can all trace the fact that we met each other to two people: Jamie & David.
Seven of us were together in Vancouver, and as Jamie & David walked out onto the ice for their induction, Jules, who has become my best friend in the five years that we have known each other, handed me a tissue. Seconds later, I was already using it, and I wasn’t the only one. Members of the audience all around me were dabbing at their eyes, and Jamie had a tissue in her hand as well.
The induction was a bigger production than it has been in years past. I remember Louis Stong’s induction in 2005. A montage of his greatest moments in coaching was played, and he said a few words. They gave him a large frame, he posed for some pictures, and that was that. For Jamie & Dave, though, always Canada’s sweethearts, they brought out the big guns.
Skate Canada had made a video that ran for about fifteen minutes that chronicled their whirlwind amateur career. It included clips from Lori Nichol, Jan Ullmark, and ranking members of Skate Canada. It was touching, it was funny, it was definitely tear-inducing. It was perfect. Jamie & David watched it from the ice, alternating between laughing and wiping away tears, and when it was over, they began an extended series of thank yous. I think my favorite moment was when Jamie, having “finished” her thank yous, interrupted her husband to say, “We haven’t even had a chance to thank each other yet.”
Without missing a beat, David quipped, “No, Jamie. I have thanked you, but you have not thanked me yet.”
They finally thanked each other, more tears were shed, another standing ovation was given, and then it was time to start the medal ceremonies. For the first time, Skate Canada used alumni instead of officials to hand out the medals. Jamie & David were the obvious choice to give out the medals for pairs, and since Shae-Lynn Bourne & Victor Kraatz were the honorary chairs, I wasn’t surprised when they doled out the dance medals. That was a great moment, since they each coach one of the couples. I think that if I won a medal at Nationals, I’d want my coach to put it around my neck. In ladies, 1940 Canadian Champion Norah McCarthy and World and Canadian Champion Karen Magnussen participated in the ceremony, and World and Canadian Champions Kurt Browning and Brian Orser were on hand to give medals to the men.
After the medals were over, a quick flood took place, and while I was still downstairs, eating a brownie for “lunch,” the music to introduce the Parade of Champions started playing. I looked around frantically. No one else was moving, but I didn’t want to miss any of the event, so I took off. I ran up the stairs and around the corner to my section. And as I scrambled into my seat, I looked up, and Shae-Lynn & Victor were Riverdancing down the ice. Literally, Riverdancing. I wondered how many people in the media room were kicking themselves for missing that.
The honorary chairs did a fantastic job with the Parade of Champions, which has not had an emcee in the past. Although their jokes were fairly corny, the audience enjoyed it, and it was nice to see them interacting with the current generation of competitors. I was surprised at how many skaters performed one of their competitive programs — three of the four junior champions did, as did Meagan Duhamel & Craig Buntin and Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje. It was easy to see which skaters feel comfortable performing in a show setting with spotlights, and I always appreciate seeing show programs that look polished. Standouts from the gala for me were Elladj Balde (the new junior champion with a lot of pizzazz), Shawn Sawyer, Jeff Buttle, Joannie Rochette, Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir, and Patrick Chan, whose exhibition to “Yesterday” was a tribute to his longtime coach, Osborne Colson, who passed away in 2006.
However, the real moment of the evening was Shae-Lynn & Victor skating, even if it was only a couple of minutes. It wasn’t a full program, but it was obvious that they’d prepared it, which, for the record, I called at least a month ago. After Jamie & David skated, David took the microphone and pretended to “coerce” Shae & Vic to skate, but they didn’t put up enough of a fight for it to be anything but staged. For an appreciative crowd, they did some of their trademark moves, including backwards hydroblading and the “Crusher” hydroblade. While fans are still hoping for more from them, it was enough for now. They both looked radiant the whole time, and embraced for a long time when they finished. I just have this feeling that we’ll be seeing more of them in the future.
For the first time all week, we left the arena before it was pitch black outside. The sadness that always comes after an event like Canadians was starting to settle in, but I knew that it would be at least a week before the memories started to fade. At least, I sure hoped so. I knew that it would be at least a week before I could get caught up on all of my photos, blogs, and reports.
Saturday, January 18, 2008
A look of horror beginning to spread across my face…
I knew that once the weekend rolled around, I would get unbelievably behind. I was right. The schedule for Saturday was intense, and although Sunday was a little lighter, I knew that I would want to spend time with my friends on our last night in the city. So I apologize for the delay in the blogs from the last couple of days of the event, but it’s better late than never, right?
Personally, I think it’s a little cruel that the senior pairs had to skate their short on Friday night and their free early on Saturday morning, but CBC’s broadcast schedule was running the show this year. Despite the short amount of time between events, the senior pairs put on a fantastic show for the fans that braved the 9 a.m. start time. In the press conference that followed, Craig Buntin pointed out that any of the top three free skates had the potential of being top ten in the world, and all of the skaters congratulated their competitors on the depth that exists in Canadian pairs right now.
It seems like there has always been such a gap between the components scores that Langlois & Hay score nationally and the ones they receive from international judges, so it will be interesting to see if that changes, now that they are national champions. Before this event, I was not expecting Canada to hold onto three pairs spots for next year’s World Championships, not with the loss of Marcoux & Buntin in their roster, but after seeing what these pairs are capable of doing, I think that they have a shot.
By the time the pairs finished their press conference (which Langlois & Hay did not attend until the very end), the men’s free skate had already started. I zipped back upstairs to watch the rest of the first group, but I didn’t go back to the photographers’ row until the second group, since I didn’t want to disrupt the others sitting there. I then shot half of Marc-Andre Craig’s program on the wrong ISO. This would only be the first of several times that I did something like that on Saturday.
Kevin Reynolds was the final skater in group two, and although his performance was not perfect, he provided one of the most memorable moments of the event when he landed a quadruple toe-triple toe-triple loop combination. He did the jumps almost directly in front of me, and they were so gorgeous and so effortless that at first, I wasn’t sure that I’d counted the rotations correctly. Although he still has a long way to go in improving his presentation, he has said that he is actively addressing his weakness this year, and I think he will only get better in years to come.
While Shawn Sawyer & Jeff Buttle also receive honorable mentions for giving fantastic, podium-worthy performances in the free skate, the day belonged, unquestionably, to Patrick Chan. He was effortless, powerful, passionate, elegant, and without a doubt, the Canadian champion. He was more than seven points behind Buttle after the short program, but once Buttle made mistakes, the title belonged to Chan. He’s proven himself on the Grand Prix circuit this fall, and I can’t wait to see what happens at his first World Championships. Whatever happens, he’s already convinced me that he belongs there.
The men’s free marked the end of the first Saturday session, so I had some time to relax, eat a sandwich triangle and half a bowl of soup (a typical “meal” for me at a skating event), attend the press conference, and go for a few laps around the concourse. Despite my aversion to the thick layer of cheese that Skate Canada poured on during the floods between flights, I think they did a great job encouraging the fans to interact with skaters at the BMO Fan Centre. Most of the medalists, as well as notable alumni, did autograph signings there, a photo booth was set up in another part of the concourse, and there were plenty of drawings and offers from the sponsors. During this break on Saturday, the pairs medalists were in the BMO Fan Centre, so my friends and I walked by, took a few photos of the chaos, and then I went back downstairs for some more photo editing while they went on a dinner run.
Before long, it was almost time for the free dance to start. I’d made some tentative arrangements to interview Tarrah Harvey & Keith Gagnon sometime before or after the senior free dance, so I walked around the arena a few times, looking for them, but I didn’t have any luck. I figured I’d catch up with them later, so I got set up in lucky Seat #12, Row 11, Section I, and prepared for an incredible event of dancing.
During dance events, I take photos during the entire dance while I try to remember key things for my notes. Then I put my camera down as soon as they start bowing, scribble down my notes in my notebook, and try to pick my camera back up in time to snap some photos of the team chatting with their coaches or sitting in the kiss-and-cry. Sometimes, this plan works better than others. So just after Rebecca Fowler & Michael Olson, the second team to skate, finished, I wrote down a few notes, and set my notebook back on my camera bag in the seat next to me. I heard a weird clinking sound, so I glanced back at my notebook, feeling a look of horror beginning to spread across my face.
My pen was gone.
I have taken notes at skating events with this pen for two years. It’s not that great of a pen at first glance–yellow with “University of Windsor” printed on it in blue–you know, one of those cheap pens that they probably stockpile in coffee mugs in the admissions office? For some reason, though, the UW cheap pens surpass the cheap pens given at my school. It writes so smoothly, and we’ve been through so many events together. I was not about to let my lucky pen go without a fight.
I was sitting in the top row of the collapsible section of chairs, almost directly over the media room on the bottom concourse. I searched the metal bleachers and tried to peer through the cracks, but I couldn’t see a thing. I borrowed another pen for the remaining three teams, but it was so scratchy, and the ink started to die halfway through my furious scrawls for Lisa Johnson & Joseph Scott.
So as Christina Bourgeois & Jonathan Pelletier, the final team in the first group, skated off the ice, I set my camera down and took off for the media stairway. While I was downstairs, I plugged my memory card into the card reader in my computer and dashed back out of the media room, scanning the floor under the bleachers. Suddenly, a flash of yellow and navy caught my eye, and I jogged past a security guard, reaching for my pen. Clutching it triumphantly, I grabbed my memory card and dashed back upstairs with a minute to spare. Mission accomplished.
Once my lucky pen was back, I was able to enjoy the free dance much more. I was so proud of the efforts made by Lauren Senft & Augie Hill and Siobhan Karam & Kevin O’Keefe. Both teams got a bit of a late start last spring, and they’ve come a long way since I saw them at Thornhill. Going into the final flight, I knew that Siobhan & Kevin had a chance to move into the top five, but with the gap between the second and third flights emphasized so much by an extended flood and the CBC broadcast, I knew that they would probably need some help from one of the teams ahead of them.
During the flood, I met my friends in the concourse to analyze the event so far, and just as we started chatting, I got the following text from Michelle, who was already in St. Paul for U.S. Nationals: “Just got out of practice. We know nothing (about Canadian results).” I started to text back, and then I realized that there was no way I could squash everything into 160 characters, so even though I was roaming in a foreign country, I decided to make a quick call.
While I was trying to fill her in, the giant BMO mascot–a royal blue bear–approached us and started imitating me on my cell phone. Everyone was turning and laughing, I could barely tell Michelle what was going on, and the BMO photographer is trying to get us to let him take our picture with the giant bear. We finally agreed (I’m still on the phone in the photo, so Michelle is in it, too), and he gave us a card with a bar code on it so we could pick it up on the website. Later, I found out that you have to provide a Canadian postal code to get the photo, so I had to make one up, but at least it worked. I’d hate for such a terrible picture of me to go unseen by the general public.By the time that was finished, the final group was warming up, so I ran back to my seat for the last five free dances. I always hate to see the end of a great dance event, and I’d been looking forward to this one for so long. Although Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir’s absolutely magical performance was the obvious highlight of the event, a close second goes to Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier. I’ve been so impressed with them over the past couple of years, and in Lake Placid, I remember telling Daphne that I thought they would have a chance at the podium at Canadians. They may not have quite done enough for the bronze medal, but their second-place free dance left them less than a point from third place, and they definitely made an impression. I’m usually quite opposed to first-year senior teams doing tango free dances, but theirs was fabulous.
After the event was over, I looked again for Tarrah & Keith, but since I didn’t see them, I headed downstairs to start going through photos while I waited for the press conference to get started. And of course, just as soon as it was about to start, I got a text from one of my friends telling me that Keith was on the concourse by the main doors. I wrote back, bribing one of them to find out if he could do a quick interview for me when I was done with the press conference, even though none of them had met him before. Jules lived up to the best friend billing and set up the interview. He even volunteered to track Tarrah down for me.
Allie Hann-McCurdy & Michael Coreno, moving from eighth last year to the podium this year, won the cute awards at the press conference. Michael said that the best part of their performance was looking around and seeing people in the audience standing when it was over, and the look on Allie’s face when she realized that they would have to update one of their long-term goals (currently listed in their bio as “Canadian Medalist”) was priceless. When they said that they’d love to see people stand for them again, Tessa Virtue, sitting next to them, stood in her seat and grinned at them.
After it was over, I had one more job to do before I could head back upstairs. Over the past month or so, we’ve (and when I say we, I mean mostly Michelle) have been putting together a style guide for IDC’s articles and blogs. While most of the components of our style guide are pretty standard, we’ve also been working on standardizing some things specific to dance–capitalizations and spellings of dances and proper names, and things like that. In mid-December, I brought up a question that has sent us on quite the wild good chase: Marina Zoueva or Marina Zueva?
Katie, our resident Russian expert, voted for Zueva, since the extra “o” doesn’t change the sound. USFS and Skate Canada tend to use Zoueva on their competitors’ biographies, but the ISU leans toward Zueva. Then again, Kristy & Kris Wirtz’s old ISU bio (found at http://www.isufs.org/bios/isufs00000271.htm) uses both spellings on the same page. Michelle and I have both always trended toward Zoueva in referencing her in articles. So we finally decided that I would just have to ask her in Vancouver.
I felt like an extreme power tool and I have always been intensely intimidated by Marina Z(o)ueva, so I disguised my real inquiry by asking her for a quote on Tessa & Scott’s performance. Then, I said that I wanted to check the spelling of her name for my article. “Do you prefer to spell your name with the ‘o’?” I asked.
“Yes, Zoueva,” she said. “Z-o-u-e-v-a.”
I thanked her, then texted Michelle with the breaking news.
Feeling pretty impressed with myself for answering our month-old question, I went upstairs and found my friends. Since I had a couple of interviews to do, I sent them back to the hotel and told them that I would take the shuttle when I was done and meet them there. I finally met up with Keith on the other side of the arena, where he was watching junior men. Although Tarrah had already left, I was able to get my interview with him done during the second warm-up group. He was a great sport about our slightly unorthodox method of scheduling the interview, and as I chatted with him, I became even more impressed about the improvements that he & Tarrah had made this season.
We wrapped up our interview when the first skater in the second group took the ice, and on my way back to my section, I ran into Megan Wing. I’d asked her the day before if I could get a few quotes from her & Aaron on Tarrah & Keith’s performance, but we hadn’t been able to schedule anything yet. Although Aaron was team leading for the junior men, she said that we could do a quick interview during the flood. I sat down and watched the next few guys with Sarah & Erica, two of my friends who were also with the media for the event, and then headed downstairs.
Talking to Keith about their progress had already impressed me, but it was also fantastic to see their coaches talk about them with such pride. Megan & Aaron were incredibly busy at this event–in addition to being Tarrah & Keith’s coaches, they were listed as coaches and/or choreographers for seven other competitors, and they were also team leading. Still, although I said I only need a couple of quick quotes and I only asked two short questions, they talked for about ten minutes about their students’ accomplishments this year.
As we wrapped things up and Aaron started to head back into the hall to find the BC competitors, I remembered that Michelle had asked me to look into the Killian/Kilian debate (see one of her blogs from Jan. 21: http://www.ice-dance.com/events-results/reports/usnationals08/reports/blog-mw/). Since I’d had such good luck resolving the Zoueva spelling issue, I decided to try to make it two-for-two on spelling resolutions.
“Hey Aaron,” I called. “Random question, really quick.”
He trotted back over to me and positioned his face right next to mine, as in, his nose was about half an inch from my cheek. I waited for him to move, but he wasn’t budging. “Your question?” he prompted me.
Megan looked over at us, laughing. I decided it was easier if I just played along. “Killian–one ‘L’ or two?”
“One,” he said without hesitation, and started to walk away.
“Are you sure?” I asked. “This is important.”
“100% positive–unless you’re drinking the beer.”
I thanked him, relayed the story to Michelle via email, and packed up my things. Although I was sure that the junior men would be a great event, it was past 10, I’d been there since 8 in the morning, and for some terrible reason related to CBC’s programming and Pacific Standard Time, the ladies’ free was scheduled to begin in less than 11 hours.
Wait, was she talking to me?
I finally took my first great split jump photo. I’ve been trying to capture split jumps for years, but with my old camera, I never got the timing quite right. Now, I have a camera that responds instantaneously, and thanks to Shawn Sawyer’s well-placed split leap near the end of his program, I felt like a true pro for a moment or two.
The men, as a whole, skated exceptionally well today. Jeff Buttle, Chris Mabee, and Fedor Andreev gave especially memorable performances, and many of the other men had great efforts as well. Ian Martinez won the crowd, as well as the hearts of a few screaming pre-adolescents, in an early group with his energetic mambo program.
More “Ultimate Fans” were chosen (see yesterday’s blog). Victor Kraatz leapt through the audience, over seats and spectators alike. I was not impressed with the girls dancing a few rows below me. After Brian Orser came over to dance with them, they admitted that they didn’t know who he was. I was speechless for a good five minutes after I heard that.
After the event finished, I was walking around the arena when I realized that Shae-Lynn Bourne was sitting in the BMO Fan Zone, poised to meet fans and sign autographs. I was crossing through the fan zone to grab an angle where I could get some good photos, when I heard her call, “Hey, if you want to do that interview now, I have some time!” I kept walking, wondering when it was going to be my turn to get my interview with her. We’d been trying to figure out when one would fit into her busy schedule for several days. Wait, was she talking to me?
I turned around and Shae-Lynn, someone from Skate Canada (the organization), and about six of the people who had staked out the Fan Center to be first in line where looking at me with great expectation. “Oh! Sure! Let’s do it!” As I sat down at the table next to her and set up my computer and voice recorder, I had a keen realization that I was about to do my first formal interview with a world champion. Oh dear.
Fortunately, our chat went incredibly smoothly. I may not be too sure of what I’m doing, but Shae-Lynn Bourne certainly does, and her composure and intense eye contact set me at ease. After the first question, it was more like a friendly chat than an interview. At one point, I glanced up, and another line had developed in the middle of the Fan Center. In addition to the autograph-seekers lined up on the side, fans were taking pictures of the two of us. I wonder how many times I’m going to be “that girl talking to Shae” in random photographs.
Before long, it was time to take a seat for the pairs. I passed my camera around to my friends, who enjoy the challenge of taking photos, but have all developed an appreciation for my arm strength. Who needs weight training when you have a zoom lens? Early on, Taylor Steele & Chris Richardson set a standard for a great program, but not all of the pairs followed suit. Mylene Brodeur & John Mattatall gave a great effort, since Mylene was fighting back after a bad fall in practice last night, but they still struggled, as did Rachel Kirkland & Eric Radford. In the penultimate group, Kyra & Dylan Moscovitch made it clear that theirs was the program to beat, and then the last group had some big surprises.
Meagan Duhamel & Craig Buntin had some minor problems, but look much improved since Skate Canada, having achieved more of a “pair” quality. Meagan is always a fighter, and Craig skates with renewed vigor. Jessica Miller & Ian Moram followed them, and once through the side-by-side jumps, their longtime nemeses, I was able to sit back and enjoy the program. They had a few small errors, but their program was still probably my favorite of the night, since they skated with such attack. I hope they get the quad tomorrow — they’ve landed some beautiful ones in practice this week. Anabelle Langlois & Cody Hay may have landed the elements, but their skating looked quite labored from where I was sitting in the 14th row. However, it was Jessica Dube & Bryce Davison who really gave the audience quite a shock. I hope they’re just getting this rough program out of their system once, before Worlds.
After the pairs short program, which was kind of a mess I have to admit, I took the opportunity to settle a bet. My friend Jules and I had noticed during last night’s original dance that Christina Bourgeois was wearing Megan Wing’s flamenco/tango dress from 2002 — while she skated to some of the same music. We mentioned it to a couple of people, who all said that they thought it was a similar dress, but not the same dress. So I bet someone $10 that it was actually the same dress, and resolved to get to the bottom of the issue. When I ran past Megan on one of my laps through the arena, I literally grabbed her arm and asked her to settle the burning question.
“Megan! Question. Christina Bourgeois … wearing your dress last night? Yes or no?”
Same dress. Don’t go up against Jules and me on costume recognition. Megan gave me the go-ahead to collect on my bet, although I promptly forgot to do so, since I was starting to get nervous for ladies, especially after what happened in pairs. The funny part was that it took Megan a few seconds to realize what I was talking about, since she doesn’t know Christina personally. Bourgeois & Pelletier are coached by Elise Hamel, who coached Wing & Lowe until 1999, so Elise had asked Megan if she’d agree to lend Christina her dress.
All burning dress questions settled, except why Tessa Virtue’s original dance practice dress isn’t also her competition dress, I sat down again to watch the ladies. Kristen Walker was the class of group one, and I admit that I have a soft spot for her. She was fantastic in Ottawa in 2006, finishing 9th on the senior level when she had been 19th on the junior level in 2005. However, it was Myriane Samson who stole the show with the best program of the night, in my opinion. She skates with such polish, and when she lands her jumps, she’s among the best in Canada. She often has trouble following a successful Lutz combination with the flip, but in tonight’s short program, she did both, and proceeded to beam through the rest of her program.
Those who have read my previous blogs may know that Lesley Hawker is one of my favorite people in skating, so I was so disappointed to see her miss the final group. Besides the doubled jump, she had a lovely performance, but when I saw the protocols later, I realized that it was the levels in her spins that had cost her. She’s been known to come back strong after disappointing short programs, especially at Canadians, so I still have high hopes for Sunday.
The big story is the distance, or lack thereof, between Mira Leung and Joannie Rochette. Since Joannie began dominating Canadian ladies in 2005, there has never been so narrow of a margin between her and her closest competitor. Although Joannie went for the triple-triple combination and I thought that it was rotated, the caller (who has considerably more experience than I do with the matter) decided otherwise. Even with the fall, though, I’m glad that she went for the combination. I know she has it in her to land consistently, and this is the time to do it. Leung delighted a supportive hometown audience with her clean short program, although I thought her triple Lutz was cheated. Again, though, the technical specialist did not agree.
In the press conference that followed, Joannie was positive about her effort, Mira was confident all the way through 2010, and Myriane looked like she’d just won the lottery. I was exhausted, though, as were the rest of the girls in my car pool, so we decided not to stay for dance practice, as previously planned. I heard rumors that many of the dance teams had also decided against the late night practice, which is understandable. I don’t care if you’re not competing in the morning. Midnight is far too late to be skating when the free dance is the following day.
Midnight is also far too late for anyone to be at practice when the pairs are on at 9:00 the following morning. Here’s hoping all of the alarms I set go off.
I’m generally against things that involve embarrassing myself
Honorary chairs Shae-Lynn Bourne & Victor Kraatz each spoke to welcome the audience. When Victor spoke, he did his best sportscaster imitation, yelling things like, ‘Hellooooo Vancouver,” and encouraging the fans to cheer louder and louder. I know he hasn’t been in the public eye in the past few years, but I certainly never pegged him as a “raise-the-roof” kind of guy.
The fun was only just beginning, though. During ice resurfaces, various “audience participation” events took place. HomeSense passed out balls for fans to throw onto the ice. I didn’t really grasp the point of that one. There were the usual montages, which I always enjoy, although they have now added commercials to the jumbotron’s programming. A “hug and kiss cam” swept the audience, zooming in on couples and friends, who were urged to hug and kiss for the camera. I’d seen that before at baseball games, but never at a skating event. There was also a contest to find the “Ultimate Fan” while “Let’s Get Loud” blared and people danced in the crowd. A woman dancing in the aisle across from me was chosen, and her prize was a trip backstage with one of Skate Canada’s alumni.
I’m generally against things that involve embarrassing myself (intentionally) on a jumbotron, but if this is what the fans want, then Skate Canada is doing a great job. It seems, at the very least, that they are trying to actively promote their sport going into the 2010 Games. And skating definitely needs a boost, even in a country that loves its ice sports as much as Canada does.
Of course, this aversion to embarrassing myself might make it hard to find me in large crowds. I tend to shrink into the photographer row, and I just stay put until the event is over, when I head to the media room. This was the case last night. After the senior original dance, I went downstairs for the press conference, and after meeting with the Quebec team leader so I could arrange to interview Mylene & Liam afterwards, the event media coordinator approached me and handed me a slip of paper.
It read: “Melanie Hoyt, Ice Dance.com. Friend in section M to see you.”
Paula, the aforementioned media coordinator, said to me, “I know it’s probably too late, but I couldn’t find you earlier. But you had a friend to see you.”
I have no idea who that could have been. I hope it’s a secret admirer. I’ve always thought it would be kind of glamorous to have one of those.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Even with the strange scheduling, the junior dancers put on a great show in their free dance. Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill and Karen Routhier & Eric Saucke-Lacelle had already all but secured the top two spots, but in the close race for gold, Karen & Eric skated last, so it wasn’t over until it was over.
Although both of the top teams had great performances, it may have been Tarrah Harvey & Keith Gagnon who stole the show. Skating first in the last group, the hometown team gave a delightful performance and made a run at the podium. An appreciative crowd cheered for the only dance team in the event from British Columbia that has stayed here for their entire careers. Although their third-place free dance was not quite enough for a podium finish, Tarrah & Keith certainly won the most improved award. Before finishing fourth today, they had previously placed 13th – two years in a row.
The other bright spot of the morning went to Clara Gosselin & Sebastien Lapointe, whose free dance had caught my attention in practice on Tuesday. After an extremely rough original dance, they came back with a strong effort in the free dance, performing with accuracy and enthusiasm. I talked to Julie Marcotte later, and her whole face lit up when she talked about how proud she was of their performance today. I was being polite, so when she said something about their original dance, I replied, “Oh, yeah, it was a little rough.” To that, she gave me an extended mom-face of surprise and told me that they’d probably like me better as a coach, but she definitely wasn’t that easy on them. I laughed, but I’m sure she’s doing a great job with them – it certainly showed today.
After the junior free dance, I attended my first post-event press conference with the junior dance medalists, except for Asher Hill, who had to immediately begin warming up for his short program in the junior men’s event. As I tried to keep up with selecting photos to send in, Kharis Ralph joked with another reporter about her partner’s busy schedule. The medalists all chatted with a few other journalists, and their smiles really brightened the intense atmosphere in the media room.
Although it was a great event, I was sad to see the end of the junior dance competition. Over the course of this year, I have developed quite the appreciation for junior teams and the exuberance with which they skate. Although there is pressure, and competition for the top five spots that mean getting named to the national team, the juniors always skate with such a freedom. I’ve seen some of these teams three times this season, and it’s been fantastic to see how much they have improved in the past few months.
How much longer until Lake Placid?
Today was one of the longest days in the rink, but it was also my favorite. Coincidence? Probably not. I wish that every morning including a compulsory dance incentive for getting out of bed early.
It took over an hour to get to the arena, thanks to morning traffic, but we’d given ourselves plenty of time. Yesterday, the people in the media room had told me that I would need to get a new and improved credential, so I headed downstairs and asked somone where registration was. They pointed me in the right direction, and off I went. On my way, I passed through a black curtain that was drawn across almost the entire hallway, but the volunteer who was working security just glanced at me, so I kept walking. Five minutes later, with my new credential, which looked exactly like my old one, only I now had the icon that permitted me to come downstairs, I reached the curtain from the other side.
“You don’t have the right pass to come through here,” the security person said.
“I’m a photographer,” I explained, gesturing to my pass. “I just came through here, since the media stairway is just around the corner. I had to get a new credential.” Silence. “I’m just trying to get upstairs.”
She pointed to my right. “There’s a stairway over there.
“I smiled and thanked her. I thought it was strange that I had access to the other side of that curtain, since the media room was there, and access on this side of the curtain, but not access through the curtain. However, I was not in a huge rush, so I was a good sport and I found the other staircase. Everything was going fine–until I reached the top. An elastic gate was tied across the stairs, from railing to railing. As I scrambled over it, a security guard–not a volunteer this time, but actual arena security–glared at me. There goes being professional on my first day.
I spent some time in the media room after the original dance, chatting with Michelle on GMail while I sent her photos to edit. She’d texted me in the morning to give me some tips for shooting in the overactive bright lights of the arena, so she was checking out my photos and deciding that the things we’d been trying had worked. When she explained a possible reason for the softness of some of my photos (using a zoom lens instead of a prime lens), I said, “Ohhhhh,” out loud as I typed it into the chat box.
I looked around. People were definitely turning around and looking at me. That has happened quite a few times this week, but I like to think it’s only because I look quite fantastic in my new red coat.
If the junior compulsory dance wasn’t enough, they packed in the senior compulsory dance on the same day. The first compulsory I ever saw live was the Yankee Polka, and it’s always held a special place in my heart. The seniors also had a great event — a lot of fun, a lot of bouncing, and a fairly high pigtails quotient. It’s too early to call anything, except that it’s going to be a fight for the medals, as well as for spots on the national team.
On our way out, we ran into Lauren Senft & Augie Hill. I made Lauren introduce me to Augie, so I could bond with him about being from Chicago. After a day that included climbing over stairwell gates and oh-ing out loud, it was actually one of my less dorky moments.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Day 3 finally meant my first day at the rink.
Seeing OD and FD in the same practice was interesting, and I enjoyed comparing teams and their dances. The junior dance event is going to be quite the close competition, and it’s clear that some teams excel at either the OD or FD. I’d seen many of the dances before, but most of those were at Lake Placid, so even the familiar programs have undergone some changes. A few of the new dances were real treats, including Clara Gosselin & Sebastien Lapointe’s disco free dance. Their coach and choreographer is Julie Marcotte, who is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated choreographers in Canada. She’s just fantastic. (Gosselin & Lapointe photo above by Melanie Hoyt.)
After the juniors finished, we watched the first group of the senior OD or FD practice. All of the teams in the first group chose to skate the free, though. By the end of the session, my fingers were completely numb, and the effects of the Diet Coke I’d had for breakfast had worn off. Since the seniors skated back-to-back practices, Jules and I decided to pay a visit to Starbucks. (By the way, I visited the first Starbucks ever in Seattle on Sunday. Then yesterday, I went to the first Canadian Starbucks.)
By the time we returned, fully caffeinated and mocha-ed to our hearts’ content, the senior dance practices were underway in the Pacific Coliseum, the main arena for the event. A nice BMO Fan Centre is set up just inside the main entrance with several costumes on display, including the ones from Sale & Pelletier’s “Love Story” program. This is probably where autograph sessions will also be held during the week.
At the second round of practice, we watched the compulsory and original dances. As the first strains of the Yankee Polka began, and it was the one that’s “O Susanna,” I turned to Jules and exclaimed, “This is my favorite Yankee Polka!” Does that make me a dork? I think it does.
I missed junior compulsory dance practice today, since that began at 5:40 in the morning, so the Cha Cha Congelado tomorrow morning is going to be even more exciting. I can’t wait, even though it means getting up at 6 a.m. What can I say? I go to great lengths for compulsories.