2008 Skate Canada – Mel’s Live from Ottawa

Friday, November 7, 2008
What a weekend!

MH-DW-782318I’ve been home for four days, and I’m still reliving all of the fantastic moments. I’ve also been living the life of a grad student, since I had a lit paper due last night, so I apologize for the delay in posting my final thoughts on Skate Canada.

I think that Skate Canada lucked out with one of the most enjoyable dance rosters on the Grand Prix. I was excited to see every single team on the roster, and overall, they really didn’t disappoint. I wish that there had been three Canadian entries and that all ten spots on the roster had been filled, but I suppose the arrangements for substitutes are difficult to make at the last minute. For those wondering, Tessa Virtue is still recovering, but according to what I heard in Ottawa, she should be back on the ice by the middle of the month, and they have not yet ruled out going to NHK.

In the absence of Virtue & Moir, their training mates, Meryl Davis & Charlie White, vaulted past the competition to win the gold medal, besting the rest of the field by more than 16 points. Although Davis & White certainly benefited from the withdrawal of the world silver medalists, I think they skated gold-medal-worthy performances in Ottawa. Their original dance was entertaining, light, and everything you would expect from a ’20s program, and their free dance was seamless and captivating. Overall, it was an impressive season debut, and I am looking forward to seeing how they compare to the field at Cup of Russia.

In just one of the surprise podium finishes from the weekend, Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier came from behind in the free dance to take the silver medal. They skated last in the first group, and while they performed beautifully and scored well, I wasn’t sure that their mark would hold up through the second group. It did, though, and the world junior silver medalists leapt into the senior ranks with a silver medal at their first Grand Prix event. While it’s not likely that they’ll challenge Virtue & Moir in Canada this year, they’ve made their case as contenders for the world team — which is what I’ve been telling people since I saw them in Lake Placid this year.

Unfortunately, Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat did not have their feet under them at this event, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t entertaining. I thoroughly enjoyed their exuberant take on their free dance, and I hope they can perform it with more accuracy without having to strip it of all of the interesting choreography. It was hard for me to identify any big changes since their move to Moscow, but I suppose that is because their programs were done before they made the coaching switch. They seemed really disappointed during the medal ceremony and the press conference that followed, admitting that it was hard for them to smile about receiving their medals when they knew that they did not skate their best. So I was relieved to see them perform so enthusiastically in the gala a couple of hours later and wish them the best at their next event.

Kristina Gorshkova & Vitali Butikov also had an impressive Grand Prix debut. They’ve been skating together for almost ten years, and the ease of their partnership showed. Moving past Bobrova & Soloviev was a big step for them, and it makes the battle for the third spot on the Russian world team quite interesting. I was pleasantly surprised by the maturity that they brought to their Godfather free dance and thought that the style suited them well.

It was also a disappointing event for Kim Navarro & Brent Bommentre, who went into the event with hopes of a medal. Things looked good after the compulsory, and they even held onto third place after a mistake in the OD, but they didn’t seem to have it together in their free dance. I was really looking forward to seeing how they brought Fatboy Slim to the ice, but it was lacking in the authentic excitement that I expect from them. In addition, they also got dinged for low levels on some of the elements, and overall, the dance seemed a lot simpler than their competitors’ programs. Plus, part of me wonders if four consecutive years of skating to “popular” music has been the best strategy, as much as I like seeing that side of their skating. On the other hand, I really liked their original dance.

Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev really surprised me. I hadn’t expected them to skate with so much charisma in the original dance or to have such an entertaining take on music from Romeo + Juliet! They were a lot of fun to watch, and I think they also suffered from some low levels. I thought they were very close to Gorshkova & Butikov overall, and in another competition, the results could certainly go the other way. Russia is lucky to have both of these young, talented teams with well-developed partnerships.

I had heard that Jennifer Wester was ill before the competition, but I had no idea that she was still struggling until someone told me well after the OD that she’d gone to the hospital for chest x-rays. That was how well they performed their original dance! I’m so glad that she and Daniil were able to perform their free dance, and they skated with such determination and passion. Oh, and her OD dress? Fabulous. One of my favourites of the whole event.

Andrea Chong & Guillaume Gfeller have progressed so much since I saw them at Lake Placid in August, particularly with their free dance. I saw the potential for it in Lake Placid, but thought that they hadn’t had enough time with it to really be able to perform it. I still don’t think they’re quite there, but they’re building, and I think it’s going to be wonderful if they skate it well at Canadians. I’ve often said that Julie Marcotte is one of the most underrated choreographers in figure skating, and this free dance is another example of her beautiful work. It was a treat to see them in Ottawa, and I love how much they have grown together as a team over the past year.

So really … one of the most enjoyable dance events I’ve attended, from start to finish. I wish there had been less mistakes, but it’s early in the season, and there is time to iron everything out.


There were plenty of highlights in the other disciplines, and although I was most focused on getting dance photos up first, I was excited to photograph and watch all of the other events.

Joannie Rochette had one of the biggest moments of Saturday night with her winning free skate. Not only did she break her international personal best, but she also beat the Canadian record that she set at the 2005 Canadian Championships. And while “Aranjuez” is one overused piece of music, I have to give Joannie (and Lori Nichol) credit for her program. I think I might like the music if it weren’t used so often, and Joannie interpreted the music like I’ve always wanted to see it done. Unfortunately, her performance prompted Liz Manley’s ten-minute introduction in the gala, in which she prematurely called her the next Olympic champion. I think that’s a little too much pressure for Jo, so I hope she doesn’t take that too seriously. Right now, it’s just wonderful to see her skating so well, and I hope she can follow this up with another great performance in Paris.

It was also great to see Fumie Suguri have a strong event, after a few years of struggling. In the press conference after the short program, she talked about how changing her jump technique has made her sacrifice a couple of seasons, but that she is still on track for her ultimate goal, which is qualifying for another Olympic Games. After last season, I was ready to write Fumie off, but if she continues improving this season, she could be back in the mix, especially since she has been known in the past to skate well when others around her do not.

And speaking of comebacks, welcome back, Alissa Czisny! After her Nebelhorn win, I was excited to see her in Ottawa, but cautiously so. After a rough short, she fought back and landed on the podium, and looked absolutely thrilled to be there. But… really? “Man of La Mancha” for her exhibition program? Again? I can’t tell you exactly how long she’s had that program, but I can tell you that I saw her skate it at a show in 2006. I guess the good news is that it doesn’t fit into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame theme for U.S. Nationals, so she’ll need to work on a new program before Cleveland, and I hope that she places well enough in Cleveland to participate in the gala!

In the men’s event, how about Ryan Bradley beating Evan Lysacek? This isn’t the first time this has happened, but it’s been years. Almost 7 years, in fact. At the 2002 U.S. Championships, Ryan was seventh to Evan’s 12th. Of course, Evan did get hit for downgraded jumps, so it wasn’t as though both were clean, technically. Still, I think it does say that Ryan has really improved his skating in the past couple of years. It was so much fun to watch him in Ottawa, and it seems like he’s finally learned how to compete and perform at the same time.

Of course, neither American could steal the show from Patrick Chan. In the wake of Jeff Buttle’s retirement, the Canadian crowd has truly embraced Patrick — literally. I spotted many women desperate to hug him throughout the weekend. It’s with good reason, though. I first saw Patrick in 2005, and he has improved every single year in terms of artistry, which was already wonderful. Even with mistakes in his free program, he easily brought the audience to its feet with a passionate performance. I hope to see him skate that program clean sometime!

I have to mention Shawn Sawyer, who won the free skate without a triple Axel or quad. The quality of his skating is astounding — he didn’t get a single negative GOE mark on any element besides the downgraded and two-footed triple Axel. And the program is just sublime. After the men’s event, I overheard him talking to someone downstairs who jokingly said, “What do you have to do to win the whole event?” Shawn replied, “Win the short, too!” Very true, Shawn. And keeping working on that Axel.

MH-feet-765638The press conference after the men’s free skate was one of my favourite off-ice moments of the weekend. They arrived late, since the medal ceremonies had taken longer than anticipated, and I guess the guys had been rushed to the media room. They started answering questions about their performances, and I noticed that Evan looked absolutely ill. I wondered if he was all right, and then I can’t remember if someone asked him what was wrong, or if he just volunteered the information, but he pointed below the table and said, “I’m sorry, but Patrick doesn’t have shoes on.” I practically watched the smell waft towards Ryan a few moments later and he reacted, exclaiming that he smelled it too. Patrick lifted up his foot for everyone to see, bringing it closer to Evan’s face, which got everyone laughing. Boys will be boys!

In pairs, Yuko Kawaguchi & Alexander Smirnov just edged out the home team, Jessica Dube & Bryce Davison, for the title, but it wasn’t until the gala that Kawaguchi & Smirnov really impacted me with a great performance. Their “Zorba the Greek” encore in the gala had the crowd absolutely leaping to its feet, after they skated with such energy and executed high-flying tricks. Dube & Davison, on the other hand, with the home team advantage, had the crowd in the palms of their hands every time they touched the ice. After a less-than-perfect outing in the short, they came back strong in their Carmen free skate. They definitely earned bonus points from me for using lesser-known cuts of the popular opera, and I definitely saw the dance influence in their Dubreuil-and-Lauzon-choreographed program. I do think that they can put even more into the performance, and I hope I get to see a knockout free from them at Canadians.

Skate Canada really crammed a lot into two-and-a-half days of competition, so by Sunday, I was exhausted. I barely had a chance to speak with anyone the whole weekend, but I did run into Joannie on Sunday afternoon as I was racing between events. I never did catch up with Scott Moir again after I breezed by him in the hall on Friday, and although I saw Anabelle Langlois & Cody Hay across the arena, I didn’t get a chance to speak to them about her recovery, either. One of my friends did, though, and like Scott, they’re still hoping that they can make it to NHK.

MH-SLB-723693Shae-Lynn Bourne was in attendance as Joannie’s choreographer, and I ran into her on Saturday when I was heading to the judges’ stand to photograph the medal ceremonies. “I feel like I’ve seen you every week for the past month,” I said. “I promise I’m not stalking you!” We laughed, realized that it was actually 3 weekends in a row, and then she asked if I was coming to Las Vegas for Holiday Celebration on Ice. As much as I would love a trip to Vegas and a chance to see another show, I think that would do me in — financially, academically, and physically!

To close this blog, I’d like to thank the following:

– Skate Canada, for hosting a fantastic event;
– Jules, for driving very fast when needed;
– Kettleman’s, for making incredible bagels;
– the skaters, for making this an unforgettable event;
– Daphne, for the website that gives me the opportunity to cover events like this; and
– Michelle, for being on the receiving end of hundreds of emails over the past week and for editing and uploading my photos and blogs!



So with that, I’m wrapping up Skate Canada and taking a break from weekend travel and photography. For a few weeks, at least. (Unless someone wants to send me to Paris — just let me know.) I’ll be back again for the Skate Canada Challenges!



Sunday, November 2, 2008
Going to LPIDC makes you smarter

MH-CroPoMed-798777I’m not going to say I told you so, but…

Sunday, November 2, 2008
Belly flops and elbow bruises

So much has happened since the OD, but I wanted to write a few more of my thoughts about it. First of all, I really like this rhythm — much more than last year’s folk dances. It gives dance teams the opportunity to pick a dance that suits them, and no matter what they pick, it’s always something entertaining for the audience.

Meryl Davis & Charlie White took the OD, easily. Although they did make a small mistake, their program was crisp, polished, and full of flapper energy. They were in character from the moment that they stepped on the ice, and it was a perfect cap on the event.

MH-CroPoOD-785655The best-choreographed OD, in my opinion, was Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier’s. The IDC staff has been excited about it since Lake Placid, and I think the crowd at Scotiabank Place hopped on our bandwagon yesterday. They skated a charming rag, and if it hadn’t been for an unfortunate mistake on the twizzles, I think they would have moved up.

I hope that Nathalie Pechalat is back on track for the free dance after belly flopping on the footwork yesterday. She took a hard fall, but they got right back into the program and managed to stay in second place overall. Kim Navarro & Brent Bommentre had a close call with a mistake, but maintained their position as well. There was some discussion about Kim & Brent’s dance, and whether it meets the requirements for the rhythm. They were asked about it in the press conference, but they answered that nothing has been said to them, and they feel really confident about their dances, so nothing is going to change.

The top three teams also had the chance to comment on what it is like to choose a rhythm from an era that is 2-3 generations older than them. Fabian Bourzat pointed out that none of these rhythms are as old as waltz or polka, and Kim & Brent said that even though the rhythms vary, the story is still “man and woman.”

Jennifer Wester & Daniil Barantsev captured the “man and woman” dynamic well with a fun dance, and I had no idea until half an hour after the event that my co-IDC blogger for this event was struggling so much! I hope she got some rest and feels better for today’s free dance!

So I haven’t mentioned this yet, but I slammed my elbow in the car door on Friday morning, trying to jam five people and all of our luggage into the car. I now have a giant bruise on my arm, and it’s starting to get difficult to hold up my camera. My back is aching from the camera as well, and my left leg is stiff and bruised, too, and I can’t remember what I did to it. Wouldn’t it be great if Skate Canada provided complimentary massages for the photographers? Haha.

After the gala today, I have to drive back to Toronto, and then tomorrow I’m driving all the way back to Chicago, so I apologize in advance for the delay in posting the rest of my photos. Next time, I’ll work on getting a private jet chartered so I don’t have to do any of the multiple-day driving again.

[Editor Michelle’s note: I don’t think Daphne has that in the budget, so this may be the first time we are unable to “make it work” unless… perhaps HomeSense has one you can use if you promise to wear an advertising hoodie and boa?]


Saturday, November 1, 2008
Strange men

MH-Ten-761373So I got to do something new today. Skate Canada let the photographers shoot from the judges’ stand for the medal ceremonies! I stood behind Judge #1’s computer screen. Nothing interesting on it, of course, but it was still kind of cool. (Michelle tells me that this is the norm, but it wasn’t an option at Canadians, so it was a new thing for me.)

Strange men’s event overall. Hard to believe that Shawn Sawyer won the free, yet only managed to place fifth! But it’s not like it was a splatfest, either. There were a lot of enjoyable skates, and several standing ovations from the ever-supportive Canadian crowd.

Things are getting hectic in the media room. 10 minutes to have a press conference and get us all back in the rink for ladies. I think I can swing it.


Swinging fringe, dating Kim, booting Nathalie

MH-fringe-710526Brief notes from the original dance:
– Ice is slippery.
– Dance gets more difficult every year.
– The theme allows for much variety.
– Flying fringe makes everything more exciting.

Brief notes from the original dance press conference:
– Brent Bommentre says that he and Kim are excited to go out tomorrow . . . but just to skate.
– Nathalie Pechalat says, “Tomorrow is a new day,” and her partner agrees.
– But later, Fabian said that he might kick her out tonight, so I guess the new day doesn’t start until tomorrow.
– Charlie White twizzles pretty well . . . for a hockey player.

More thoughts to come!


Jem, CroPo, and a fleecy pink scarf

MH-1990-772196I’m checking in this morning after a great day of skating yesterday! I didn’t get a chance to write last night, since dinner was a priority when my friends and I finally got back to the hotel. Aside from a delicious chocolate chip bagel with hazelnut spread, I hadn’t eaten all day. Of course, it was Halloween, so some of us did a little light costuming. My costume was “me in 1990.” I wore a Jem & The Holograms t-shirt, tight-rolled my jeans, layered my socks, and rocked some blue eye shadow and bright pink blush. I also had a partial side ponytail. Granted, I wasn’t wearing makeup in 1990, and I grew out of my pink New Kids on the Block sweat suit ages ago, so it wasn’t completely accurate, but I guess it was close. Anyway, we went to Kelsey’s and had spinach dip, so it’s officially a trip to Canada for me now. Best spinach dip ever.

My last blog concluded after the ladies short, so the next event was the compulsory dance. Sasha, an IDC photographer who is working this weekend as a volunteer, sent me a text message and asked to use my extra lens to shoot the compulsory just as I was getting to my seat. So I told her to meet me in the media room, turned around, and started running back around the arena — we only had about 6 minutes before the event was supposed to start. Of course, the one time that I’m racing around the concourse, I run into someone I know. Scott Moir was standing in the hallway and said hi. I didn’t have time to stop, but I yelled at him over my shoulder that we’d talk later. I met Sasha downstairs, handed off the lens, and raced back. Scott was still standing there. I guess he wasn’t as excited about seeing every second of the Paso as I was.

I did make it back in time, and the Paso did not disappoint! After seeing it competed so many times in Lake Placid (senior, junior, novice, and open!), I wasn’t thrilled about seeing it again, but I knew it was still better than a waltz. It ended up being a lot of fun, especially since it was only eight teams.

I agreed that Meryl Davis & Charlie White had the strongest dance, but actually thought that Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier’s Paso was the second-best. They were sharp, fierce, and definitely not last year’s junior team anymore! The rest of the teams all performed really well, but since Crone & Poirier skated early, I kept comparing everyone to them, and just didn’t see quite the same crispness in Pechalat & Bourzat or Navarro & Bommentre, for example.

The thing about the dance event is that every team here is a great team. This is such a strong event, and after the well-skated compulsory dance, I am so excited to see what happens in the original dance. I think it’s going to be a close race.

There was only enough time for a quick Zamboni between dance and men, so I dumped photos downstairs, caught up with some friends to discuss dance, and went back to my seat for the men’s event. On my way down to my seat, I walked by Vanessa & Paul (a.k.a. “CroPo”), sitting with their families, so I stopped to congratulate them and say hi. I did a photoshoot with them in Lake Placid, so it was fun to see them again, especially since they looked so happy with how the dance went.

The men’s event was interesting — so many problems on footwork, but some really entertaining programs, too. The highlight in the first group was, of course, Ryan Bradley. I’ve wanted to see him skate like that since I fell for his charming smile in 2000. I know he’s had some great performances recently, but I’ve only seen him compete live once, at the 2004 Four Continents Championships. He’s such a great performer and when he can perform well with jump content that includes a quad toe and a triple Axel, I am a happy little photographer.

I am also a happy little photographer when Patrick Chan has a great performance. Even with a couple of small mistakes, his program was such a joy to watch. It’s hard to believe that he’s improved drastically on his presentation from last season, but I think that he has. He had so much stretch and dramatic elegance.

Yannick Ponsero was another highlight with a clean program that was weird, but fun. I really enjoy his skating, but I know how rare it is for him to pair two strong performances at the same competition. I hope he can do it today. Shawn Sawyer’s program was dramatic and polished, but an underrotated triple Axel and a Lutz popped into a double really hurt his score, keeping him out of the final flight. And although I’m not wild about Evan Lysacek’s “Bolero” (either the music choice or the program itself), it is so strange to see him in fourth. He didn’t get credit at all for the second jump of his combination, since he took too many steps between the jumps, which was devastating to his TES. But any of the top five are in contention to win today, so it will be an exciting event.

And after the men’s event was over, I discovered that my lens cap had vanished into thin air. One wild goose chase later, I still hadn’t found it, so I’m hoping that someone picked it up and it turns up today. Until then, my fleecy pink scarf is on duty to protect my lens from the elements at Scotiabank Place, just as it protects my neck from the elements during blustery days by the Chicago lakefront.


Friday, October 31, 2008

Twittering update #1, Friday 7:30 p.m.

*Compulsories + a hazelnut/chocolate chip bagel. I couldn’t be happier. 37 minutes ago.

*One of the journalists here is getting a comprehensive Code of Points lesson from
Norm Proft. about 3 hours ago

*Even with a fall, BeBe’s short is one of my absolute favourites! about 5 hours ago

*Bryce Davison on adding their triple twist for this competition: “It’s there to
stay.” about 6 hours ago

*My computer is downloading photos as slowly as possible right now, and I’m not
sure why. about 7 hours ago

*Pairs’ short was a good event! I loved Dube & Davison’s new program. Chilling in
the media room, waiting for the press conference. about 7 hours ago

*Dong & Wu only clean program in 1st group but only a slim lead. Group 2
warming up now! about 8 hour ago

*Made it to my seat with 3 mins to spare! about 8 hours ago

*Snow again as we get closer to Ottawa. So strange to see. about 8 hours ago

*With Starbucks, packed in the car, and leaving the Greater Toronto area.
about 11 hours ago

*I’m in Canada! Let the weekend begin! about 17 hours ago

*My friend Jules’ car was just hit by a flying construction barrel. Seriously,
London hates us. about 20 hours ago

*We just rolled into London and there is SNOW on the ground. about 20 hours ago