Saturday, February 2, 2008
Signing off from St. Paul

I just posted the last photo. I don’t even want to guess how many I took over the course of the nine days. When I left St. Paul, I had under 3 GB left on my laptop. I pulled the majority of the bad ones and still have 10,000. How is that even possible? I foresee a lot of DVD burning in my imminent future.

While I was pulling the last of the blooper photos, I had the exhibitions on TV. Even though I saw it live, I like to hear what commentators say (well, sometimes) and what kind of backstage fluff they air. I really would have preferred seeing more exhibitions and no rehash of the tie heard round the world, but a big kudos to not talking through the routines. If only they did the same for competition!

Less than a week after getting home, I think has everything up that it is expecting. That’s pretty amazing. Almost finished with Canadians, too, with only one report left that Mel is working on. Definitely challenging for her to juggle school and freelance work. We got a little behind once Daphne and I got to Minnesota, because Canadians wasn’t the only event anymore. Plus we had multiple people working on U.S. nationals, and Mel was flying solo in Vancouver. She rocks!

Every nationals leaves lasting memories. When I think back to St. Paul, I’ll remember:

1. The weather! Or specifically, the temperature. Lillehammer in February and Moscow in March were just trumped by Minneapolis in January. I’m not complaining, though! I love the cold.

2. Not being in the hotel. This is my first nationals that I didn’t stay in a hotel. For the Lillehammer Olympics, I stayed in someone’s home in Hamar that was walking distance to Northern Lights Hall. For Skate America ’94 in Pittsburgh, I lived in the city, so I slept in my own apartment. For World Pro/Landover in ’94, I stayed with someone I met at Skate America at her apartment in Arlington. Hmm. All 1994. Chez Karen ’08, however, tops them all. I am so grateful to our wonderful hostess for welcoming us into her home. For a long time. With lots of luggage and camera equipment. And although we didn’t get peanut brittle on our pillows at turndown like in the Davenport in Spokane, we had goodie bags and homemade chocolate chip cookies that stayed soft for days. Yum!

3. New responsibilities and expanded coverage. I wore a few more hats than usual in St. Paul. Copy editing everything and trying to make it all match IDC’s Style Guide was a new challenge. Reports have one set of rules, blogs another. With the blogs, making sure to keep the author’s voice even after I edit it. We certainly had a lot of different voices this year! I’m very proud of that. We all had different levels of experience, both in blogging and in being at nationals. I’ve blogged nationals in the past for USFS. Daphne has blogged for IDC. We add Katie and Karen, who are both attending their first nationals as spectators. Karen is a professional writer; Katie is not. Travis gave us the insight into a competitor’s first Big Nationals, and Jim talked about the experience of a parent’s first time at Big Nationals. We have multiple photos of every single dancer in every single event, plus practices and medal ceremonies. Photos of every participant in the exhibition Sunday night. Plus over 100 bloopers for your enjoyment. When we’d get tired or frustrated, it helped to step back and go–Wow! We rock.

4. The skating! So many programs and moments to remember. Only two made me cry: Johnny and Kimmie’s free skates. Obviously, they were for opposite ends of the spectrum. Of course The Tie will be one of the most memorable–and talked about–competitions in recent history. The ice dance events on all three levels were exciting and unpredictable. The U.S. now has an obscene about of depth and talent in ice dancing. The movement in the standings throughout the novice and junior competitions was wild, with nearly every team standing in a different spot at each phase of the competition. Even though the top three senior teams didn’t move, the TES/PCS scores revealed that no one is “safe” anymore.

A big THANK YOU to everyone (including Huckleberry, who has forgiven me for leaving him), especially those who emailed, texted, and called when I needed a boost. I hope to see you all in Cleveland next year. And hey, only six months ’til Placid!
posted by IDC Staff at 12:19 AM 

Sunday, January 27, 2008

In my 13 years of attending the U.S. Nationals, I don’t remember a competition on Sunday. (Of course, I may have forgotten one.) It just doesn’t feel quite right to realize on Sunday morning that one of the disciplines still has to compete. Plus, I felt bad for the senior men, because the competitors’ party was last night.

The men’s free skate was wild. I need to ask George Rossano what the odds are on getting a tie like we had between Johnny & Evan. I don’t agree with the final outcome, and from the sounds coming from the audience, I’m not the only one. But we’re not the ones sitting behind the touch screens, so it really doesn’t matter what we think, does it?

Anyway, instead of rehashing what was an incredible afternoon of exciting skating, I’ve created a men’s medal ceremony photo gallery of what happened after the results were announced. I hadn’t planned on shooting the men’s event, so I didn’t have the best location or the proper camera equipment, so I apologize in advance for the quality of the photos.
posted by IDC Staff at 5:20 PM

Katrina & Kimmie

I wish I had blogged last week about my prediction that Katrina Hacker would be a surprise contender in the ladies event. Becoming :thisclose: to making the world team? Good for her on a great debut as a senior at Nationals. I had the privilege of photographing Katrina a few years ago for a catalog for Tania Bass. Katrina rocks. She’s smart and funny and a joy to work with. She also has the most perfectly centered spins of anyone I’ve ever seen.

The split ladies competition was interesting. Usually I miss the first two groups because I’m wrapping up whatever I’ve been working on for the event before them. This year I tried to watch it online while getting ready, but was only able to get audio. I heard a decent-sized crowd attended. That’s great, because I was worried that those two groups would have to skate in an empty arena.

Going from dance right into ladies without any break was kind of jarring. Daphne went down to the press conference for the dance, but found out there wasn’t going to be one. I don’t think it hit us that ladies was starting immediately. As in “Meryl & Charlie get off the ice so group 3 can have their six-minute warm-up.”

Probably what I’ll remember most about this year’s ladies competition is Kimmie’s skate. Actually, that’s not completely accurate. I’ll remember how the crowd reacted. No one’s program has brought me to tears this year. Until last night. After opening with three hard falls, the crowd became one giant swell of support. The cheers got louder and louder, and you could feel everyone reaching out and trying to help. No longer was Kimmie just some skater having a bad day. She was this wonderful athlete who has used her name for tons of charity work, never gotten arrested for a DUI or caught in some drunken stupor by paparazzi’s video. She was in trouble and we could only offer our voices and our applause to try to lift her up and know we wanted to make it better. Whether or not you are a fan of Kimmie’s skating, seeing anyone in trouble like that tears at your heart. Sometimes world champion jocks remind us that they are just teenagers living their worst nightmare in front of millions of viewers on live television. When Kimmie sat in the kiss and cry, tears in her eyes, and mouthed “thank you (for the support)” to the crowd, it was completely heartbreaking.

I need to get ready to go to the Xcel for one final day. Not sure when I’ll post again, but I promise to do a wrap-up blog at some point.
posted by IDC Staff at 9:34 AM

Saturday, January 26, 2008
“If you want something done…”

“If you want something done, give it to a busy person.”

Although this quote annoys me when I am the aforementioned “busy person,” I do find it pretty accurate. You just get in the zone, all adrenaline rushing and brain circuits firing.

Yesterday, as you probably already know, had no dance competition. It was also the day I got the least amount done. I was parked in the last row of the media section for 14 hours, and I don’t think I got up even once. Granted, it was great to be able to watch the competitions like a regular spectator rather than through a camera lens. I did a bunch of proof reading and started deleting photos and pulling bloopers for the IDC photo gallery. I do not want to run out of hard drive space at an inopportune time. I didn’t get very far, but I’m up to 24 GB free, so I should be OK.

Pairs just wrapped up. The 1-10 ladies have their warm ups now (no music, just time to skate around a bit). Katie and Daphne ran off to the cat show that’s also in this complex, and I’m guarding the stuff until they return. Then it’s time to try to snag a photo position for the free dance. People are starting to trickle in, so I guess they’re finished clearing and cleaning. They’ve been letting people stay inside, unlike past years where they’ve had to go stand out in the cold. Today is a head wave: 25 degrees when we passed an outdoor thermometer. A 40-degree jump from one week ago. Wild.

One of the best parts about long skating competitions is having the opportunity to sit and chat with people you don’t normally see. During practice last week, I had a long conversation with Shannon Wingle about injuries and how they affect you more than just physically. I’ve never really spoken with Shannon, so to have a deep discussion was very cool. It’s difficult for people who’ve never had an injury that has totally turned your life upside down to understand how hard it is when the work you identify as part of who you are as a person is taken from you to some degree. You lose part of who you are. It’s scary and depressing and incredibly frustrating.

When I wasn’t part of the impromptu kiss & cry during that practice session, I was trying out the equipment Canon loaned me to try. The one lens is the 28-300/3.5-5.6. The weirdest part for me is that it is a push-pull lens, and not one that rotates to zoom. It’s also very heavy. Because it’s a slow lens, it is not a great choice for shooting skating. As different people came over to our section, some of them wanted to try the lens out. One of my favorite parts about photography is sharing knowledge and equipment and getting to try new things.

Later, when we got back to Karen’s apartment, I downloaded the photos and realized I had no idea who shot what! I knew a few that I did not take, since I never went down into the seats. Other than that, they were a mystery. So if you were wondering why there are no photo credits in the practice photos–that would be why. It was a team effort.

Speaking of team efforts, our little media nook has been really great. Jayar from Goldenskate and Kelly Behning from “Blades on Ice” have been sitting by Daphne and me. Since we all need quotes from different things, we’ve had each other’s back, sharing tapes from press conferences and notes from mixed zones, plus confirming that we just saw what we think we saw. That kind of stuff. I love teamwork like that, because I think everyone benefits from it.

Final flight of ladies just took the ice for their warmup. Kimmie is wearing a new (?) dress that is silver shimmer. I love how it looks on her. Katrina Hacker is in black warm-ups, and Rachel Flatt is in black pants and a baby pink top. I’m not sure if Ashley and Mirai are wearing practice or competition dresses. Ashley’s in black and Mirai in baby blue and white.

After the junior free dance the other day, I had the chance to sit down with Keiffer Hubbell and meet his newest children. He had a bunch of digital photos of his snakes and other reptiles and things that kind of squick me out. He’s so passionate about them! I did learn that one of the snakes who is kind of a pale orangey-white will eventually become green over the course of all his skin sheddings. I don’t remember the name of the snake, though, so I guess I’m not a very good student. I’m just hoping that I never need to put this knowledge to use, actually. I would be happy if I never came face-to-face with a snake, even if it is non-poisonous.

Yesterday, Daphne had a mini-lesson for Katie on Dreamweaver software during one of the longer breaks in competition. Class size doubled when Jennifer Wester stopped by and wanted to learn, too. She then stayed to watch the men’s event. It’s always interesting to hear a skater’s opinions of competitions. She and Katie spoke Russian with each other. It was all kind of oddly surreal at times. Oh, and Jennifer is more beautiful than anyone should be allowed to be. You know how some people look pretty on TV or from a distance, but up close is not impressive? Not Mrs. Barantsev.

Ladies are almost finished, so I’m going to upload this and get psyched for the senior free dance. More later.
posted by IDC Staff at 4:29 PM

Thursday, January 24, 2008
Early Morning Practices & Rainbows

Today was our earliest day yet. First time we had to scrape Karen’s car, because the sun hadn’t melted the frost yet. It was also colder than it’s been the last few days, back into negative double-digits. Tomorrow is supposed to go up into the 30s. Very weird to have a forty-degree jump in temps like that. I can only imagine the fog we may face.

The early hour also meant we had to deal with rush hour traffic. We were going very slowly at one part and looked up at the sky. A rainbow was arched overhead! We could see the bottom of both sides, but the top section was obscured because the blinding sun was right in our way (hence the rainbow, I guess). We took it as a sign that it is going to be a spectacular day.

The fact that Karen nearly amputated two fingers on my right hand? I don’t know if that means the whole rainbow goodness hadn’t quite kicked in yet. Too bad it’s a late night tonight. No Chocolate Chip Guilt Cookies. I mean, it’s not like I need my fingers to take photos or anything. I don’t type during the day at all.

(OK, just kidding. The fingers aren’t that bad. Just a little bruise. They probably won’t fall off from gangrene or anything like that.)

Senior men’s group B practice is going on right now. I haven’t been completely watching, since I’m typing this. Lots of trouble with Jeremy Abbott’s music. Freaky fall by Eliot Halverson going into a camel spin. Stephen Carriere is going sleeveless. Guess he’s trying to bring sexy back to the men’s practice.

Speaking of “SexyBack,” I think I had Daphne going for a minute when I said Caroline Zhang is planning to skate to that at the exhibition gala.

Group C now taking the ice. Rohene is in this group so I see some local photographers and reporters buzzing around. Evan is also in this group. Guess what color he’s wearing?

It seems so weird to have a new kiss and cry set up. I’m so used to looking over and seeing the ABC or ESPN backdrops. This new one is cool. Very Lalique/Bompard-y-ish. Without the balloons.

Evan just started skating his short program. Opened with a big quad toe-triple toe into a triple Axel. Follows that up with a perfect triple Lutz. Very impressive. Straightline footwork has excellent speed. Some spin I missed because I was typing. Now he’s into his circular footwork, I think. It didn’t look anything like a circle (I’m sitting in row 23) but more like a capital D. Speed was way down compared to the straight-line. Few of the guys run their programs all the way through and include all the elements. It really was a spectacular showing, especially this early in the day.

Maybe it’s not early for Evan. Still pretty awesome to me.

Rohene’s up now, running through is long program to “Dragon.” He opened with a big quad toe (quick hand) double toe combo. He skated through his next two jumps (intentionally) and went into a fast spin. Now is the circular footwork that is so different from everyone else’s. He uses the ice on so many levels in this very Bourne & Kraatz hydroblade-style. Katie just asked me a question, so I missed a bunch of elements. Now it’s time for straight-line footwork. It’s not as spazzy as Evan’s, but I’m not sure if it’s a level 4, either.

Time to move over into my photo nook. More later!
posted by IDC Staff at 3:22 PM

Wednesday, January 23, 2008
I never really caught that second wind.

I never really caught that second wind. I’m having a pretty bad vertigo day, and the spiral ramp out of the RiverCentre parking lot kind of put me over the edge. (Not literally, obviously, or I wouldn’t be able to type this.) We get back to Karen’s and find that her cat, Mango, has barfed in my bed. Cats are fun that way, aren’t they? But I couldn’t be mad because I wanted to give him credit for the sympathetic queasiness.

It was early enough to catch “Project Runway” while uploading today’s early edition blogs. The room has stopped spinning for now, so I’m going to try to get some sleep in a few minutes. Lots of dance tomorrow, and it’s going to be very exciting. I really love this year’s original dance theme. I hope they bring it back into the rotation soon. From all the people I have talked to, nearly everyone loves it. Many of us were quite skeptical when the theme was originally announced, but the skaters seem to really be embracing the spirit. I could do without all the “Kalinkas” and “Dark Eyes,” but some of my favorite teams are using that music, so I’m trying to pretend I don’t dislike it. This stems greatly on whether or not they are wearing white while skating to it.

During the early part of the senior pairs short program, Adam Lieb, who coaches Chloe Katz & Joseph Lynch, sat down by us. I have found myself on flights with them multiple times, since they are New Yorkers who seem fond of Newark Airport. If I were a competitive skater, I think Adam Lieb would be an awesome coach to have. I just love his attitude. And he looks like Billy Joel and I like Billy Joel. Hmn… Come to think of it, I don’t think they’ve played any Billy Joel in the arena. If they are secretly tapping into my music mixes, they would have found a lot of him.

Guess I’ll have to listen tomorrow and see what they play.
posted by IDC Staff at 11:46 PM 

Today was an easy day for me…

I’ve come to grips with the fact that I will never be caught up. I now feel I can move forward, much like a straight-line step sequence under the International Judging System. You know, take a few steps, regress a bit, a few more steps, get a little off the path you had planned, stumble, recover, continue until you finally hit the wall.

Today was an easy day for me. The dance events started late, so Daphne, Karen, and I met up with Katie for breakfast at Baker’s Square and then actually made it to the arena early. Yes, me. Early.

First on the schedule: senior compulsory dance, so that meant it was Yankee Polka time!


Yes, it is perky and the costumes have the potential for some excellent material (no pun intended (OK, maybe a little)) for level 4 snarkage. I’m just happy when an outfit is not white. That’s my standard this season. Stop wearing white in competition. Please.

Anyway, the compulsories were about as exciting as one would expect. (Ambiguity there.) It’s not my favorite CD to photograph. In fact, it is my least favorite non-waltz. I shot backside, so that was even more limiting. However, I wanted to challenge myself to not shoot behind the judges for a change, so backside it was.

My favorite dance by far was Meryl and Charlie’s, and I was disappointed when they didn’t place first. They were so light and bouncy and polka-y, yet had gorgeous edges and never once made me feel like they were going to fall. Bonus points for neither wearing white.

Once the CDs were finished, I was off photo duty for the rest of the day. Sat at the media tables in the corner of the arena, pulled pictures, and Photoshopped them for Daphne to upload. I was able to keep an eye on the junior men and senior pairs. The junior men’s event is so deep with young talent. Adam Rippon rocked, and it was great to see his score hold up as skater after skater took the ice. I wish he left his hair curly, though. I really don’t understand people with gorgeous curly hair who straighten it. I would kill to have hair like Adam’s (well, except mine would be down to my waist and copper red).

As I’m typing this right now, Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig just rocked the house in the pairs short program. When the announcer introduced Mark as being from Minnesota, the crowd went nuts. They skated very well, making it into the final flight for the free program. I’m very happy for them. You’d be hard pressed to find two people more friendly and just genuinely nice to be around. In fact, they sat in the stands to watch the earlier flights and cheered on their competitors. Class act.

The last team just skated, so it’s time to pack up and head back to Karen’s. I’m hoping to get a second wind, so I can post more later.
posted by IDC Staff at 9:27 PM