A little girl glides around the arena in a white flowing dress. She makes circles around a poster with a pink ribbon – the symbol of breast cancer awareness. The girl’s name is Lily Carone, and she is competing in the event called Drama/Entertainment.
Most children looked sweet on ice. Even minor glitches like not sufficient toe pointing or a slightly bent leg add to the overall impression of cuteness. This isn’t the case with Lily. Though only ten years old, she looks polished and mature. Lily skates with her arms in ballet positions and her free leg beautifully extended. But what is even more important is her ability to feel and interpret the music. Her rendition of the song “Angel by My Side” is so passionate and sincere that it brings tears to your eyes.
Lily began to skate when she was four years old. She liked the sensation of gliding over the rink the moment her feet touched the ice. Now Lily practices five times a week, and she takes skating lessons every day. Lily is currently in Freestyle 6, a difficult stage in an athlete’s life. At this point, young skaters make a transition from single to double jumps. Reaching this level means practicing the axel jump, which is the key to the subsequent doubles. Falls from the axel are quite common, especially during competitions. Earlier in the day, Lily competed in a freestyle event, where she did two axels and a double salchow in her program. Her axels weren’t merely clean, though that alone would have been a huge achievement. The amazing thing is that Lily manages to get a lot of height on her axel; she finishes the rotation way before she lands. This is a marking of good technique. Lily is currently working on double jumps, and she finds the double lutz the most challenging.
Like most good skaters, Lily wears many hats. In addition to skating, she goes to school full time, plays the trumpet and the piano. Though in fifth grade, she is doing sixth grade math and dreams of becoming a lawyer. Very, very impressive! When I asked Lily when she did her homework, she simply said, “In the car.” Somehow she finds time for music practice too.
As I watched Lily skate her program in a freestyle event, I like the look of joy in her face. The statement “I had fun out there” has long become a cliché, but Lily really looked as though she was having the time of her life. She made difficult spins: the camel spin, the sit spin and the pancake spin appear easy, and she practically danced through the footwork section.
“How do you handle nerves?” I asked. Almost all skaters confess to having competition jitters that often affect their performance in a negative way. It’s always interesting to find out what young athletes do to overcome fear. Lily’s answer was simple, “I don’t have nerves.” It was quite a statement, especially considering the fact that Lily isn’t exactly a girl who likes daredevil things. During her trip to Disney World, she preferred the ride “It’s a Small World’ to big roller coasters. At the same time, Lily isn’t intimidated by judges. During the competition in Delmont, Lily got quite a handful of medals including the gold in freestyle and the bronze in a dancing competition, where she performed the dynamic Fourteen Step.
A special bond that exists between Lily and her mother is a big asset, of course. Lily’s mother was a figure skater too. It was she who first brought Lily to the rink, and she is always there for her daughter with good advice, just like the angel in the song.
Dear Lily, keep having fun on ice! I wish you many more victories!
Noah Lafornara’s favorite jumps are the axel and the double flip. The prodigious eight-year old tries all double jumps, and he lands them successfully most of the time. In his mind, however, he is working towards his quads.
I met Noah at Skaneateles Annual Competition, where he competed in No-Test events. When you watch lower-level skaters, you have to expect them to look somewhat awkward. Younger kids may land single jumps and do basic spins, but their skating skills are usually undeveloped. Shallow edges and toe scraping are quite common. So that’s what I was prepared for until a curly-haired boy stepped onto the ice – the only male skater among girls. Very soon I realized that I was in for a pleasant surprise. Noah took the ice with the confidence of a champion. His posture was perfect: his back straight, his chin up. When he stroked, he demonstrated perfect knee bend, and his crossovers were fast and flowing. When Noah kicked for a waltz jump, his free leg was perfectly straight and extended. At the same time, Noah didn’t look like a skating machine: it was clear that he enjoyed what he was doing .Skating to the music from “The Pirates of the Caribbean,” he glided across the arena like a brave pirate cruising deep waters. Even a fall from a salchow didn’t destroy Noah’s confidence. I believed the judges would place him high, and that’s what happened. Noah came in first in his jumping event. In his freestyle, he shared the second and the third places with another competitor.
It’s very refreshing to see a child who skates not because his parents put pressure on him, but because he likes it. Noah has two older brothers, who are 10 and 12. The ten-year-old plays hockey, but Noah doesn’t care much for hockey; he likes jumping on ice. Noah’s mother is a figure skating coach. When her younger son was a toddler, she didn’t have a babysitter to take care of him during her work hours. That’s why she would take Noah to the rink and stick him into every group lesson she could. At that point, she didn’t expect the boy to get serious about figure skating. Yet at the age of seven, Noah suddenly declared that he wanted to become a figure skater. Soon he started taking private lessons. Now he skates five times a week.
At Skate Detroit, Noah got to meet Jeremy Abbot. He liked the champion skater’s quad toe loop and set the goal of landing one too. Noah also saw Gracie Gold, who quickly became his favorite skater.
Noah is a member of the Amherst Figure Skating Club. He is a second-grade student, and his favorite subject is English. Noah enjoys writing poems and dreams of becoming a writer when he grows up. When I asked him what he was going to write about, Noah’s answer was quite predictable “skating.”
Noah is a fighter. The day before the event, he had come down with a nasty cold that kept him up the whole night. Yet even a fall in both programs didn’t put a damper on his overall performance. I couldn’t help asking Noah how he dealt with the pressure of competitions and the disappointments of not doing everything right. Noah said that if he felt scared of falling, he focused on his music and tried to picture himself in the middle of the sea with the sun in his face.
When Noah isn’t busy practicing, he enjoys playing video games on his iPad and having fun with his friends, Samantha and Matthew.
Dear Noah, I wish you many quad jumps in the future, and I hope to see you at the Nationals and the Olympics one day!
Big international competitions are nothing like small events that we usually attend. The moment you walk through the doors, excitement overwhelms you. It almost feels as though there is electricity in the air. Time flies by and before you know it, everything is over. You have to wait another year.
This year, Skate Canada International took place in Windsor, Ontario, a city that is across the river from Detroit. The city greeted us with warm weather (79 degrees on the first day), bright foliage and a wonderful view of downtown Detroit. We could see the tall building even from our hotel window. That was a very inspiring sight.
On Thursday morning, we got to the rink early to watch the practices. For me, this whole experience was almost more exciting than seeing the competitors skate their programs. I especially like the first few minutes of their warm up: they do simple things, but with such perfection that you wonder whether they are real. My overall impression of the practices was extremely positive. Everybody looked consistent; multi-revolution jumps appeared easy; and I knew we were in for an exciting show.
However, this year’s Skate Canada brought us a few surprises. In lady’s singles, the victory went to the Canadian Katelyn Osmond, a seventeen-year-old that had seemingly come from nowhere. Truly, Katelyn had won a gold medal at Nebelhorn Trophy a month before, but most people thought it was just a fluke. However, Katelyn skated a dynamic freestyle program choreographed to Carmen music and scored 176.45 points overall. It was enough to secure the gold medal. Honestly, I didn’t quite understand the judges’ decision: personally, I liked Akiko Suzuki performance better. The Japanese skater was much more graceful; her jumps were higher; and she appeared much more polished. However, a few mistakes in the short program left Akiko in fifth place, and even though she won the free skate, she had to settle for the silver. Figure skating is a challenging and unforgiving sport: make a few mistakes, and the skater behind you will grab the coveted spot.
Perhaps, most of the people didn’t expect any surprises in men’s singles. With Patrick Chan on the Canadian team, everybody thought his victory would almost automatically go to the reigning world champion. In the past, Patrick had won many times even after a couple of falls. I sort of understand the judges: Patrick’s skating skills are simply not of this world. The charming Canadian skates like a dancer: bent knees, deep edges, perfect posture. People who skate understand that moving the way Patrick does requires a whole lot more effort. This year, during men’s practice, I chose a spot far in the stands because I wanted to have a picture of the whole rink. It was too far to recognize the guys’ faces from that distance; yet I had no problem picking out Patrick from among the pack. And still the victory went to Javier Fernandez, both in the short and free. How could that happen?
First of all, Javier is an outstanding athlete. He attempted two different quad jumps in his programs: a quad toe loop and a quad salchow. On top of that, the handsome Spaniard is quite a performer. Despite the incredibly demanding free program, he somehow managed to portray a perfect image of Charlie Chaplin. But even that isn’t the most important thing. What truly sets Javier aside is his determination. In practice, no other skater fell as many times as Javier, and those were hard falls. And yet each time he would get up and keep going, nonchalantly, as though nothing had happened. The athlete who doesn’t give up always wins.
When it came to ice dancing, the audience was in for a surprise too. After the short dance, the Italian Anna Capellini and Luca Lanotte were only one hundredth of a point behind the reigning Olympic gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. The situation was most unusual because the top Canadian dancers always lead by a wide margin; other teams never have even a modicum of success. Meryl Davis and Charlie White are the only exception, but as they weren’t competing at Skate Canada, the audience expected Virtue and Moir to win the short dance in a landslide.
So the following night the anticipation was almost palpable. What put the audience even more on edge was the fact that both top teams – the Canadians and the Italians – were going to skate to the same music: Carmen. It looked as though we were in for another “Battle of the Carmens” – think of the famous contest between the German Katarina Witt and the American Debi Tomas at the1988 Olympics!
The performance of the top dancing teams left me thinking how differently you can perform to the same piece of music. While the Italians showed a more traditional version of Carmen’s story, with Carmen dying from the hand of her jealous lover, the Canadians came up with something completely unique. Their program was more like a display of passion than Carmen’s story, and at the end Tessa prevailed over Scott. The Olympic champions ended up ahead of the Italians by almost ten points.
In the pairs’ competition, the German Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy easily defeated their opponents in spite of a few mistakes. They showed a lot of creativity both in their choreography and in their costumes.
And at the end, we all enjoyed the exhibition gala, with spotlights and a lot of funky numbers. I especially liked the performance of Elladj Balde, who even did a backflip – an incredibly dangerous maneuver. Elladj is definitely a rising star in Canadian skating and I hope he will do well at the nationals and make it to the world’s team.
A nice touch that everybody enjoyed was the commentary from Debbi Wilkes and Liz Manley. Their style was informal and their comments were extremely positive. They never put down any skater; instead they emphasized the competitors’ strengths. Debbie and Liz did a great job keeping the audience amused as we waited for the skaters’ marks.
And as I always say, the very fact of being at the competition was a blessing. Canada has the best skating fans, and I was happy to see some people I have met before. I’m posting a few pictures so everybody can see how dedicated people can be to their favorite sport.
As I prepare to write about Gracie Gold, I can’t help thinking that you can see what the person is like by the way she deals with disappointments. Skating is a difficult sport; and mistakes are common even at international competitions. It’s not unusual to see a skater get extremely upset after her dreams get crushed by harsh reality. Breaking into tears in the kiss-and-cry area (that’s how the name appeared) isn’t uncommon either.
Yet when the 2012 US junior champion and junior world silver medalist walked into the mix zone, I saw a disappointed, yet a very sweet and poised young girl.
The seventeen-year-old Gracie shone during her official practices at Skate Canada. Her triple jumps looked easy, and the blonde miniature girl seemed to be floating across the arena. In fact, several polls named Gracie one of the favorites to the podium. Unfortunately, the stellar predictions didn’t materialize.
Gracie took her opening posture for the short program with a smile. However, she was obviously nervous, and it showed when she doubled the second jump in her triple-flip-triple-toe loop combination, but still failed to hold on to the landing. She then aced her triple lutz but unfortunately, fell on her double axel.
After the score was posted – 52.19- Gracie said that tonight she definitely felt her lack of experience at big international competitions. The transition from juniors to senior may seem like a natural step, yet senior competitions are different from junior events. There are many more people at the arena; you feel the pressure of everybody’s eyes upon you; and suddenly even your programs appear unfamiliar. The jumps you normally do well don’t happen.
“My practices were fine, but it was difficult to skate today,” Gracie said.
After the short program, Gracie was in the ninth place. She still appeared optimistic about the rest of the season, although she admitted that making it to the Grand Prix Final might not happen.
“I wish I could make it to the top five here and at the Cup of Russia,” Gracie said.
“Gracie, what are you ways of dealing with pressure?” I asked.
“I try to keep my blinders on.” “Gracie sighed. “Now I see that I need to learn to trust myself more.”
“Do you have a role model in the skating world?”
Gracie thought for a moment. “I think I’d rather do my own things without trying to imitate anybody.”
Off ice, Gracie looks like a typical seventeen-year-old. She enjoys reading, spending time with friends and shopping downtown Chicago. When Gracie talks to reporters, she is sweet and humble, but you can tell that she is tough as nails. No matter what happens, she won’t give up.
The following day after the disappointing short program, Gracie pulled off a much better performance in the free skate. Her program wasn’t perfect: Gracie doubled her triple flip and triple loop, and popped her second triple Lutz into a single. Ironically, the triple lutz is Gracie’s favorite jump. But even the mistakes couldn’t hide the fact that there was very talented skater at the arena. There was everything a champion needs: grace, poise and speed. Gracie finished her first senior Grand Prix competition in seventh place.
Dear Gracie, I wish you to get comfortable at senior events soon. Keep striving! I know there will be a lot of gold in your life.
Lily Hoehl practically lives in the car. She eats there, does her homework, listens to music and even works on her voice exercises. That’s right: the second grader from Washington Figure Skating Club doesn’t only skate. She also learns to play the piano, does rhythmic gymnastics and sings. However, figure skating is her favorite activity. Lily loves being on ice so much that she skates seven times a week.
Lily began to skate when she was four years old. One day, she saw Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special on television. The show featured a few children skating on a frozen pond. Right away, Lily decided that was what she wanted to do and asked for lessons. The first time she stepped onto the ice, she wasn’t particularly excited. “It’s too slippery,” she said. And yet within a month, Lily could skate confidently around the rink. Soon she participated in her first competition.
Since her first, pre-alpha event, Lily has improved dramatically. She has passed her pre-preliminary and preliminary moves-in-the-field tests and she is getting ready to take her freestyle test. Lily’s showcase program, in which she used a rope, included a salchow, a flip-loop combination, a few split jumps, scratch spin and a sit spin. I was really impressed with Lily’s jumping rope on ice. The exercise may be easy for someone who does it on the floor, yet I wouldn’t recommend trying it on ice unless you know what you are doing. One slip off a toe pick will send you flying all across the rink.
Lily’s other event was the so-called Spooktacular Showcase. When I saw the sweet, blonde girl appear at the arena wearing a black-and-pink wig and black eye shadow, I didn’t even recognize her. But it was Lily all right; her jumps and spins were strong; and I enjoyed her extension on the spiral. Later, Lily’s mother explained to me that the number featured a zombie girl.
Lily’s hard work and discipline earn her straight A-s at school. She goes to a Catholic school, and when I wanted to know what her favorite subject was, the tiny skater didn’t hesitate even a second. “Religion,” she said.
However, Lily’s father shook his head. “This isn’t the impression I have. Whenever I ask Lily what they did at school, she always says, ‘stuff.’ So this is her favorite subject: stuff.”
It’s probably right: Lily can do a lot of stuff. In addition to skating, she competes in rhythmic gymnastics competitions. And a year ago, she skated to a piano piece that she had played herself. Very, very impressive!
Lily is a bright vivacious kid, who likes wearing pretty dresses and playing with her dolls. When she wasn’t busy competing at the South Atlantic Non-Qualifying Regionals, she pranced around carrying a toy cat, whom we had named Snowflake. Perhaps, Lily missed her pet, a male cat, whose name is Oliver.
“We had to leave him at home because he is mean,” Lily said.
Lily, I know that your dedication and hard work will take you far in life. So all the best to you, little charming skater! I wish you to enjoy everything you try.
I sit in the bleachers watching a handful of girls warming up on the ice. They look small but skillful; they jump and spin; they cross the arena in high spirals – in other words, they are getting ready. But then music starts playing, the same music for all competitors. As though on clue, the girls begin to skate to the tune inventing moves as they go. This is an interpretative competition, one of the many events of Annual Skaneateles Invitational. If you participate in an interpretative event, you are supposed to make up your own program to a special tune after only hearing it once. It takes a lot of creativity, plus you need good skating skills to come up with a perfect routine without much practice.
As I keep following the girls rushed preparation for their impromptu performance, I notice one of the competitors, a delicate-looking girl in a purple dress. Unlike the rest of the skaters, she doesn’t jump or spin; she doesn’t try any footwork. Instead, she merely strokes around the rink appearing deep in thought. A few times, however, she makes a turn, gets on her left forward outside edge and tries an axel. The jumps are fully rotated, yet they are not perfect: you can see the free foot brushing the ice slightly. The girl seems completely unperturbed by her mistakes; she keeps stroking around the arena looking perfectly relaxed.
After the warm up, the girls are rushed off the ice and then they take turns to skate their new routines. When the girl in purple shows up, I feel a little uneasy. Will she be able to pull off a perfect performance?
As it turns out, my worries were completely unfounded. The girl skated with flare flying through her footwork, spinning like a top and – surprise – acing her axel!
On the last day of the competition, we get to talk. The girl’s name is Elissa Kempisty, and she is a preliminary-level skater from Skaneateles Figure Skating Club. Elissa started skating at the age of seven. Back then she took a ballet class, but one day a friend told her about skating, and Elissa decided to check it out. Even though she fell a lot the first time she stepped onto the ice, she fell in love with this beautiful sport instantly.
Now Elissa is a very dedicated skater, who takes freestyle and dance lessons and practices five times a week for an hour and a half. Sundays she also has synchro practices. Elissa is currently getting ready to move up to the pre-juvenile level. At 2011 Annual Skaneateles Invitational, Elissa competed in nine events: compulsory moves, freestyle, showcase, two dancing events – Tango and Rocker Foxtrot and, of course, interpretation. She also won quite a handful of medals.
Elissa’s favorite jump is, of course, the axel. Though it took her a whole year to learn it, the tough jump is now consistent. In addition to her interpretative routine, Elissa did two axels in her freestyle program, and they were impeccable.
“What do you do when you keep falling from the same jump?” I ask.
“I try it a few times, and if it doesn’t happen, I let it go. Next day it usually comes back.”
“I never do it.” She shrugs. “When I did interpretative for the first time, I kept watching one girl during warm up, and it didn’t work well. Perhaps, I don’t want to be influenced by others.” This is how it works. During warm up, Elissa goes over the new routine in her mind. When her turn comes, she skates the whole program from beginning to end. Very interesting! I am not even surprised to hear that Elissa does not particularly like compulsory moves but shines in freestyle – just like Cammie in Skateland series! Elissa has been skating to the same song for three years. Time has come to choreograph a new program, and Elissa says she will definitely have a big say in it. Elissa’s favorite skaters are Alissa Czisny, Sasha Cohen, Evan Lysacek and Meryl Davis and Charlie White.
Elissa goes to school full time. She is a six-grader at a Montessori school, which means she does not have assigned homework, though she may volunteer to do a certain amount of study at home. Her favorite subjects are math and English. In addition to skating, Elissa takes ballet, plays soccer and skies. She likes hanging out with her friends and doing art projects with her family. She likes pirogi and vanilla ice cream.
Elissa’s dreams include going to the Olympics one day and maybe landing a quad.
“I may never land it, of course.” She smiles. “But they say dream big, right?”
There is another thing Elissa dreams of, which is going to Disney World. She already visited the magical park when she was two, but of course, she does not remember much. So Elissa has set some money aside, which she calls Disney Fund. Now someone gives her money, she makes an addition to the fund, which brings her dream a little closer.
It is easy to dream of Disney and Olympics in Skaneateles, a truly a magical place that looks especially beautiful on winter nights. Snow muffles people’s steps and swirls in the lights of downtown lights. The lake freezes over and turns into a vast stretch of ice, which makes you think of skating – all the time.
Good skaters are well known and loved. But how many people realize that there also are great skating fans? The part they play in our sport is often underappreciated. Truly devoted fans don’t merely watch skating on television; they live and breathe skating – just like skaters themselves. They don’t only know everything about their idols; they consider skaters almost part of their immediate family. In fact, skaters and their fans coexist; they kind of feed off one another.
One of the greatest figure skating fans, if not the best, is the Canadian, Janet Neil. If there was such a thing as an official skating fan club, Janet would be the unopposed president. Every Canadian fan knows her, for whenever there is a competition sanctioned by Skate Canada, Janet is there. If she could, she would follow her beloved skaters all over the world.
Unfortunately, her salary as a library technician won’t let her do that, however, she did go
to 1995 Worlds in Birmingham England & to 2007 Worlds Tokyo Japan.
But you know what? Janet doesn’t only support Canadian skaters; her love for the sport knows no ethnic, national of geographical boundaries.
This year, Janet brought seven national flags to 2011 Skate Canada International competition. Whenever a skater finishes his or her routine, Janet waves their national flag as a sign of respect and recognition. After taking their bows, most skaters don’t proceed directly to the Kiss-and-Cry area. They skate up to Janet to receive their gifts – cute stuffed toys. Janet travels to competitions with an extra suitcase to accommodate those toys that she buys with her own money. She decides which of the toys suits this or that skater best. Sometimes Janet’s gifts turn out to be almost prophetic.
“I once gave Alban Preaubert a turtle.” Janet smiles. “And guess what? He skated to the piece called Turtle Shoes. It was very appropriate.”
At 2011 Skate Canada International, Janet gave Daisuke Takahashi a turtle wearing a graduation cap and holding a diploma, and that was the very toy he held in the Kiss-and-Cry area. The next day that particular toy was discussed on several skating forums. A British commentator called Janet a real skating fan.
Canada is a country of frozen ponds and hundreds of indoor rinks. All ice sports are greatly appreciated there; every Canadian child skates. Janet grew up in the small town of Lucan, ON, just 28.1. km north of London, Ont. From ages three to nineteen, she spent her leisure hours skating, just like everybody else. She never competed, but she enjoyed the feeling of gliding and turning. Her sisters skated too, and her older sister gave Janet lessons, which allowed her to participate in local carnivals every year. Even though Janet didn’t become a professional skater, she has carried her love for the sport throughout her entire life. In 1990 she went to her first world’s championship in Halifax. Since then she has attended every world’s competition that took place in Canada and most Canadian nationals. Skate Canada International is her favorite competition.
Skaters love Janet. She has received dozens of emails from many of them, including Fumie Suguri and Haruka Imai. If you want to see Janet, you can go on YouTube – she can be seen at the end of every skater’s performance! You will recognize her by the Canadian “fan sweater,” by flags and stuffed toys. For those who don’t know, the Canadian fan sweater is white with red maple leaves, and it is decorated with skating pins. And don’t forget Janet’s wonderful smile, the smile of a person whose love for skating is true and genuine.
So all the best to you, Janet! See you at the next competition!
Figure skating is like a roller coaster ride. One day you are on top of the world, flying through your jumps, soaring through every move of the program. And then comes the next day, when nothing works for you. And if this second phase falls on a competition day, you are in trouble.
Alena Leonova, 2009 junior world champion, a two-time Russian silver medalist, the girl who finished fourth at last year’s world championships, looked poised to medal at Skate Canada. In fact, she had never skated better. Her programs were beautifully choreographed; she looked fit; and even her hairstyle appeared more sophisticated. Alena hadn’t even taken a much-needed break after the last season – she had done everything to get ready for the upcoming season. Last summer, Alena moved from St. Petersburg to Moscow to work with a new coach, Nikolai Morozov. Nikolai is a talented coach and choreographer, a man who is known for his attention to detail and for his creative choreography. After just a few months together, Alena’s quality of skating has greatly improved. And yet competition is a tough thing: no matter how ready you are, there is no guarantee that you will win.
On Friday, Alena appeared on ice wearing leggings and a black vest over a white shirt. Set to the music from Pirates of the Caribbeans, the short program looked promising. Unfortunately, Alena’s performance was far from perfect. Alena two-footed the second jump in her triple-toe-triple-toe combination – the jumping pass she can do in her sleep – and singled her double axel. What made the situation even worse was the fact that it was a short program: a set of compulsory elements, where even a small glitch is severely penalized by the judges. The mistakes didn’t remain unnoticed: the judges only gave the skater 49.75 points, which immediately threw her down to the seventh place. Naturally, Alena was upset and so was her first coach, Alla Pyatova, who accompanied the skater to the competition. A medal no longer appeared within reach.
The following day, during the morning practice, the skater looked inconsistent. She kept trying her triple-triple combination, and each time she would two-foot the second jump. The very last attempt resulted in a failure, which isn’t a good sign. It is usually the last element that stays in the skater’s mind. If you have aced it, you feel confident believing that you will do everything beautifully when it counts. This time, it didn’t happen.
And yet Alena proved that she was not a quitter. She fought for every move and managed to skate an overall clean program with only a couple small mistakes. Immediately she moved up to the fourth place missing the bronze medal by just one spot. After her performance, we had an opportunity to talk. I met Alena in the mix zone, the place where reporters bombard skaters with questions the moment they leave the ice. The transition must be hard, for skating a long program takes a lot out of the skater. No wonder, Alena looked tired and somewhat wary, though obviously relieved.
O.J: Alena, are you happy with today’s performance?
A: Well, it’s definitely better than yesterday’s.
O.J: How did you manage to skate so well after what happened yesterday?
A: I made myself forget about the short and focus on the assignment at hand. It worked.
O.J: I saw you working on your triple-triple combination this morning, and you couldn’t do it right. What would you recommend young skaters who try a jump over and over and keep falling?
A: If you can’t land a jump for a long time, the best thing is to forget about it for a while. Then it will just happen.
O.J: How do you like your new program? The fans know you as a ‘naughty girl,’ and this time you skated to a serious piece of music.
A. It does seem unusual to me. But the more I skate this program the more I like it. I’m beginning to get used to the image of a serious skater. Besides, in my short program I still look mischievous.
O.J: Do you like your new image more? What will your future programs look like?
A: It’s hard to tell at this point. Time will show.
O.J: What kind of skater do your consider yourself? Are you more into technique or artistry?
A: It’s fifty-fifty for me, I would say. Of course, I like jumping most of all.
O.J: What’s your favorite jump?
A: The toe loop.
OJ: How about triple flip-triple-toe-loop combination? Are you planning to put it into the program?
A: Perhaps. It needs to become more consistent.
O.J: Could you share more about your training with Nikolai Morozov? I know he spends a lot of time polishing his students’ skating skills. One skater even mentioned that Nikolai had changed his back stroking technique.
A: I don’t know about basic stroking; Nikolai hasn’t worked with me on that. However, I do feel that my skating skills have improved. I feel much more relaxed.
O.J: Does Nikolai give you private lessons?
A: No, that’s not the way he works. There are five skaters on ice during practice, and Nikolai works with all of us at the same time.
O.J: How about ice dancers?
A: They have their own ice time.
O.J: It must have been hard for you to move to Moscow and leave your family behind.
A: You can’t even imagine how hard it is. I don’t know what I would do without the Internet.
O.J: Are there any traditions in your family?
A: The only tradition I can think of is celebrating the New Year together. I am looking forward to it.
I’m sure there are a lot of articles about this wonderful competition. I’m going to share my personal impressions that go along with the mere joy of being part of the event. My husband and I attended this Grand Prix event as book vendors. In the meantime, we got to see everything, and I can’t help sharing the whole thing with my readers.
Watching a competition live is so much better than seeing your favorite skaters on television. When you sit at the arena, especially in the first or second row, it is almost like being on the ice yourself skating along with your idols. What you feel is absolute amazement, and you start asking yourself, “Is it even humanly possible to do those things?”
I enjoyed watching practices early in the morning. The lights are dimmed; the huge arena is still half asleep. Except for a handful of devoted fans, the stands are almost empty. Still people’s presence gives life to the arena, for you can hear a smattering of applause here and there. The electricians start testing their lights: a yellow beam crosses the rink; then the light turns blue. Most of the skaters wear their practice outfits, except for the dancers: those always look their best. They are probably right, because the judges are already there. The judges’ scrutinizing eyes, makes the tension almost palpable. The skaters absolutely have to skate great, because the judges opinions are formed right there, even before the competition begins. There are several competitors crossing the rink at the same time, so if one aces the jump his competitor just missed, everybody will notice.
On the ice, Kevin van der Perren tries to do his quad toe loop. The jump doesn’t happen; he looks worried. Now it is his time to skate his program: his music starts. Kevin soars in the air in a quad attempt and pops it. The skater’s posture telegraphs uncertainty. It is obvious that at this point, all he wants is to go back in time to the start of the program, even though it is a matter of only a few seconds. But the music won’t wait, so he goes through the rest of the moves. His triples look good, though he misses his axel. Once Kevin is done with his run through, he tries the illusive quad again. This time he lands it. Great! Good job!
Men’s practice turns into a jumping contest. Once the skaters are finished with their run- through, omitting the most difficult jumps, they get really serious. Patrick Chan glides across the rink in perfect crossovers, does a few turns and …there is his quad toe loop. He lands a triple axel next, and it looks almost effortless.
Kevin van der Perren launches into four triple toe loops in a row. He lands them all and then tries the quad again. He lands it. At that point, it is probably best to let your perfectly trained body send a message to your mind that this jump is not a problem for you. You can land it. The image of a perfect jump, the Gestalt is there, so don’t try to analyze it, don’t think too much!
In the meantime, Kevin falls from his quad again. He shakes his head in desperation. Skates to the boards, shuffles his feet then circles the arena again. He won’t give up. It is important to finish the practice on a high note. If the last thing you did ended in a disaster, this will be all you think about.
On the concourse, the Chinese pairs skaters Wenjing Sui and Cong Han do their off-ice workout. Their coach is with them. The skaters ignore the surrounding, the people walking back and forth, the curious looks, the distractions. They are perfectly focused. They have brought a few props that help them to tone their muscles, to come to the condition of complete rediness. One of the training devices looks like a rope ladder, and the skaters jump in and out. Then they do a few lifts and finally a throw jump.
The Chinese skaters are so tiny; looking at the girl, you might think she was ten years old. Yet Wenjing Sui is sixteen, and her partner is nineteen. They are famous for having landed a throw quad axel at a sanctioned competition. By the way, here, in Canada, they also performed beautifully winning silver. It shows that the wonderful tradition of Chinese pairs skating is alive!
The best in the field though were the Russians, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov. They were absolutely incredible as they skated to the soundtrack from the movie The Black Swan. The arrangement was quite unusual: I would never have imagined Tchaikovsky’s music sounding so macabre. Yet the skaters managed to share the whole story of a white swan turning into an evil black swan. Tatiana and Maxim skated clean, and their throw jump covered the area of almost twenty feet.
As you walk around the perimeter of the arena, you can see a few posters on the wall. Can you guess whom the audience loves the most? That’s right, the support for Japanese skaters is great, and of course, Daisuke Takahashi is one of the best skaters in the world.
And yet the victory went to Patrick Chan. It was to be expected, of course. No skater can even come close to Patrick when it comes to skating skills. On top of that, the reigning world champion has added a quad to his impressive repertoire of jumps. That made him practically unbeatable. And yet Patrick fell on his quad in the long program and made a few more mistakes. It looked like the two skaters who were ahead of him, Daisuke Takahashi and Javier Fernandez had a chance to keep their lead, although the short program results were very close. Sometimes the stigma that a certain skater can’t be beaten adds to pressure and robs other competitors of much-needed confidence. Besides, in the past, Patrick often won even after falling several times. It didn’t seem fair, so I really wanted other men to win. Javier Fernandez’s quad, the one he did in the short program, really looked the best in the field. Daisuke, too, looked very strong. And yet their nerves got to them: in the free program, both Javier and Daisuke made a few mistakes, which let Patrick Chan move up to the first place. Besides, Javier’s spins were slow, and he didn’t get a lot of revolutions on his camel spin – probably no more than five as compared to Patrick’s ten or twelve. I think top skaters should really take more time to work on their moves in the field and spins.
And Kevin van der Perren, the one I rooted for so much, ended up in the eightth place with only 179.21 points as compared to Patrick Chan’s 253.74. The Belgian champion must have tried too hard or perhaps, he had done too many jumps and worn himself out.
In ladies competition, it was the young Russian prodigy, Elizaveta Tutkamisheva, who won the people’s hearts and the whole competition. The tiny fourteen-year-old not only landed all of her triples, including an incredibly difficult triple lutz- triple toe-loop combination, but skated with grace and maturity. She received a standing ovation, and it was her first international competition on the senior level.
Akiko Suzuki and Ashley Wagner were the second and the third. Both skated great with true femininity and elegance.
I felt sorry for Rachel Flat though. She started out so well, and she was in third place after the short program – only .17 behind Ashley Wagner, who was second. I’m sure everybody expected Rachel to at least hold on to a position on the podium. And yet she completely blew it falling from almost every jump. The result was abysmal: last place, with the total of only 128.22 points. Rachel can’t afford missing her jumps: they are her strength. Yet she needs to work more on her grace and presentation.
There were no surprises in the ice-dancing competition. The reigning Olympic champions, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were absolutely unbeatable. Their unison is amazing and they skate with such blinding speed that you can hardly notice the steps they do. It is impossible to imagine those two skaters ever making mistakes. They don’t, but the true beauty is in the details: perfect edges; noiseless turns, pointed toes. And of course, a lot of character. On top of everything else, Tessa and Scott look absolutely relaxed, they make their dance look easy.
Another Canadian couple, Kaitly Weaver and Andrew Poje took the silver, and the Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte came in third. A dancing event is always like a beautiful ball with nice music, beautiful costumes, grace and elegance.
And then came the exhibition gala. Again, almost the most interesting part was watching the skaters get ready for it. Just like on any other day, they went through their routine omitting difficult jumps. They did a few jumps later, but the tension that you could inevitably feel during pre-competition practices was now gone. They skaters obviously enjoyed themselves. The exception was Akiko Suzuki who popped her triple flip-triple toe combination several times. The second jump wasn’t a problem, but the triple flip would turn into a double or a single. Akiko went back to it trying it again and again, and finally, she landed it. Great! Congratulations!
And then the true fun began as the skaters started working on their final group routine. For that, they were coached by a middle-aged woman, who looked like a good skater. The routine included forward crossovers across the arena, a few toe steps, some jumps and spins and lifts for pairs and dancers. It was interesting to watch the skaters goof around. When their coach asked the men to do a jump, they all performed waltz jumps, which left me surprised. Come on, they can do better than that! But of course, during the actual exhibition, every man did a double axel. It was the same with the girls, who did a couple of elementary spins during practice. Yet when it was time to perform, they were wonderful. Another thing was shoot-the-ducks – an elementary move. The main emphasis, of course, was fun.
The final touch was Patrick Chan thanking the audience in English and in French. The guy is not only a great athlete, but he is smart too!
On the Concourse and in the Mix Zone
When you are at skate Canada, you don’t even have to be at the arena to enjoy yourself. The air bubbles with energy. Everywhere you go you see Canadian skating fans dressed for the occasion; white-and-red sweaters with Skate-Canada logo, hats, and skating pins. There are Canadian flags everywhere: here, in Canada, people know how to support their skaters.
This time I managed to interview a wonderful lady, who is truly the best fan in the world. You can read it below.
On the concourse, famous skaters rub shoulders with the rest of the people. I managed to get my picture taken with the two-times-US champion Alissa Czisny and also with the founder of Jackson skates Donald Jackson.
And what did I do in the mix zone? I interviewed the Russian skater Alena Leonova. It was for the first time I ever went down to the mix zone, the holy of holies of big competitions, the place where only skaters, coaches and media are allowed to go. I don’t represent any newspaper, but Skate Canada representatives allowed me to talk to a skater. Below is my interview with Alena.
Thanks to all the skaters and Skate Canada representatives! It was great to be there.
A woman involved in various activities is usually described as someone who wears many hats. Clarence Robinet fits the description perfectly. If she puts a skate on one foot and a ski boot on the other, she would need one more foot to accommodate her dancing boot. I am not kidding. Clarence is an Adult Masters and Senior-level figure skater, an experienced skier, and a competitive Country Western dancer. Now, if you are about to say wow, hold your horses: the story is not over! There is also a .22-caliber pistol in Clarence’s left hand. The petite blonde regularly competes in the USA shooting matches trying hard to get scores that would qualify her for bigger contests. Clarence’s aspirations are high: she hopes to go to the Olympics one day. And you now what? I wouldn’t be surprised if she really reached her goal.
I got to know Clarence as a figure skater first. We met at the Philadelphia Areas competition, where Clarence skated in Adult Gold and Masters categories. Soon afterwards, she moved up to Senior.
Watching adult skaters compete is always fun. I could roughly divide them into two groups. People of the first group put on skates in their twenties, thirties or even later in life for the first time. For adult beginners, every simple move is a challenge. They have to fight their not-quite-so-limber bodies, creeping fear, and the disappointment of not progressing fast enough. The second group consists of individuals who skated in their childhood, hung up their skates as teenagers or young adults and returned to their favorite sport later in life. When on ice, adult skaters with years of childhood experience look much better than most of the skating newbies their age. They have higher speed, better posture and cleaner lines. However as they reminisce about their skating past, they usually sigh ruefully. They can’t forget the glorious days, when they were younger, skated faster, jumped higher and had no fear. The sad truth is that skaters who have returned to the sport usually skate worse than they used to in their childhood or young adulthood.
Clarence Robinet breaks the mold. In her thirties, she skates better than she did in her youth. For this reason, it’s hard to think of her as an adult skater. In fact, it’s impossible to place her within any category. Clarence stands out so much that even before I asked her if she had ever tried pairs skating or ice dancing. I already knew the answer, which was no. An independent woman like Clarence could only be a singles skater. When she is at the arena, she owns the ice; she is the true queen of the rink. Even when she walks around the lobby, her posture is perfect: back straight, chin up, you can’t help noticing her. Clarence is very friendly; she always smiles; and she will eagerly talk to you. Still you can tell that on the inside, she is hard as steel. Or perhaps, steel isn’t the right word: Clarence prefers a different metal: the gold, of course. It is woven through the fabric of her life showing itself in the color of her blades (gold plated), her hair (golden blond), her dresses ( a lot of them are gold), and of course, the medals– usually gold.
Clarence was born in France. Her father was very fond of skating and skiing and even landed a few jumps on ice. He put his daughter on figure skates when she was two-and-a-half years old, and since then she has never taken them off. As a child, Clarence pushed herself hard, competed regularly and even medaled at French Regionals. Years passed, and she is still there, still competing, still trying new things, still learning and most of all, still improving. Her recent achievement is the Double Axel – a killer jump with a forward entrance and two-and-a-half revolutions that requires tremendous height and speed and takes a lot out of the skater. Now she is working on her Triple Salchow and Triple Loop.
Clarence is a perfectionist, who doesn’t want to settle for anything less than gold. If we picture her competitive record as a target practice sheet, we will clearly see that the young woman hits the bullseye almost every time. Some of Clarence’s results posted on her website include the following:
*2009 Oklahoma Governor Proclamation Recipient: 30 July ’09 proclaimed as “Clarence Robinet Day” in OK
*2011 U.S. Olympic Games of America Masters Champion
*2011 South Atlantic Regionals Champion
*2010, 2009, 2008, 2007 Sooner State Games Champion
*2009 U.S. Olympic Games of America .22 Pistol Women’s Champion
*2011, 2010, 2009, 2008 Sooner State Games .22 & 9mm Pistol Women’s Champion
*2011 Country Dance/Line Dance World Vice-Champion
Clarence’s last achievement is three gold medals at 2012 South Atlantic Non-Qualifying Regional Championships. Her extremely challenging freestyle program included an axel and five double jumps. When she competed in a Senior spinning event, she executed a camel spin, a death drop and a hair-cutter spin. Clarence has great technique: deep edges, beautiful extension, breathtaking speed and good height on jumps. In addition, Clarence has something extra that separates a true performer from someone who merely goes through the motions. Good technique is important, but a really good skater makes the audience hold their breath, stand still and watch. When Clarence glides across the rink in a perfect spiral position, you can’t take your eyes off of her. A spark in her eyes, a smile –perfect joy, true happiness. You can tell that she is excited to be out there.
Something funny happened during Clarence’s artistic competition. She had just completed her Ave Maria program, when the announcer suddenly told her to approach the judges’ table. It was a shocker: judges normally don’t talk to skaters during competitions. When a slightly ruffled Clarence stepped off the ice, she explained to me that the judges had politely rebuked her for skipping the warm-up.
“But I don’t need to warm up before an artistic program!” Clarence shrugs. “I really don’t!”
Clarence currently lives and works in Oklahoma City teaching French and coaching skaters of all ages and levels. As for her own training, she spends up to an hour-and-a-half on ice every day.
“But you know what? Sometimes even forty-five minutes are enough,” she says. “It’s all about quality.”
Clarence feels that people of Oklahoma need to learn more about figure skating. Traditionally, it’s hard for people to think of gliding on ice in a state where the temperature reaches 114 degrees in summer time.
“So what? There are two rinks in Oklahoma City,” Clarence happily says.
When Clarence was a teenager growing up in France, one of her dreams was to join the Armed Forces. She sent in an application in the French Air Force and was turned down. Why?
“I don’t know. They never give you the reason,” Clarence says.
She didn’t give up her dream that easily. She moved to the United States and joined the US Army for almost a year. It was there that she fell in love with target shooting as a sport. She also owns a few titles in Pistol Shooting that she earned with her .22 and her 9mm Pistols.
Clarence became a proud U.S. Citizen in March 2006 and she has a Master’s degree in German and an Associate’s in English. Clarence is fluent in French, English, German and Italian. Her Spanish is also good, and she knows some beginning Russian. Unfortunately, she doesn’t get to practice those languages very often, and when you don’t use a language, you tend to forget it. However, Clarence didn’t because she found a solution: she uses different languages to talk to her dog. By the way, her Yorkie has a very big part in Clarence’s life: he travels to all competitions with her.