Boardwalk Blog - Behind the Scenes at Smart Ones Skate America

by Michelle Wojdyla, Special to U.S. Figure Skating Online
Photo by Michelle Wojdyla

U.S. Figure Skating Online reporter Michelle Wojdyla gives an inside look at Smart Ones Skate America before the competition even begins.

Notes from Tuesday, Oct. 19

Atlantic City certainly gives a completely different look to Smart Ones Skate America. Driving in, seeing all the celebrities' names on billboards, all the giant ads for casinos and Donald Trump's face everywhere—it's a different world down here. And I'm from New Jersey!

I met up with photographer Leah Adams and we walked from the Sheraton to Boardwalk Hall. The Sheraton's public areas are a Miss America museum, as there are displays everywhere of dresses, shoes, products, advertising and other related memorabilia. At the end of the lobby, a small movie screen runs historical clips.

The changes to Atlantic City in the last decade are amazing. Instead of rundown areas midtown, there are now shops and high-end stores and restaurants. It was quite a sight, and the energy comes from everywhere.

Boardwalk Hall is very appropriately named, as it is literally on the boardwalk and practically an Orscher-Lucash throw triple flip away from the ocean. New Jersey is unseasonably warm right now, and people were taking advantage of the weather to enjoy being seaside.

Inside Boardwalk Hall, practice was taking place. We missed the first group of men but did see Timothy Goebel cooling down, stretching under the scaffolding that will be turned into the ABC broadcast platform. Dennis Phan looked thrilled to be a part of the event, and Evan Lysacek gave a quick wave on his way out of the building. China's Lun Song was the only man practicing in his group, and he was pretty much winding down.

Pairs were up next, and the first group included the Americans. Marcy Hinzmann & Aaron Parchem hadn't arrived yet, but Rena Inoue & John Baldwin, and Amanda Evora & Mark Ladwig were going full force. Evora and Ladwig's technical content had us saying “wow” more times than we could count. Literally it seemed like every element was preceded by and followed by something equally impressive. Then near the end of the practice, they ran sprints up and down the ice. Amanda commented after practice that they had just flown in and went right to the arena, so it was certainly a busy few hours.

Inoue and Baldwin landed a huge throw triple Axel that received loud applause from the few people watching practice. If they land it in competition, it will be the first one done ever. All their throws looked strong, and their footwork really stood out.

None of the skaters in the next practice group showed up, but the U.S. skaters were not allowed to stay into the next ice time. The final pairs group included 2004 Smart Ones Skate America champions Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang, and Canadians Elizabeth Putnam and Sean Wirtz. Putnam and Wirtz are coached by former U.S. ice dancing champion Peter Tchernyshev. The Canadians' elements were really crisp and they attacked the choreography, looking very well prepared for so early in the season.

As always, Bin Yao was with the Chinese team. Yao and the Zhangs spent a lot of their practice laughing and smiling. Not speaking Chinese, I don't know what they are saying, but it looked like a good time. It was nice to see the normally stoic coach so visibly happy.

Dance followed pairs, but only two teams came out of the 12. In the first group, Mexican skaters Laura Munana and Luka Munana practiced without their coach. Having just flown in from Vienna where they competed at the Karl Schafer Memorial, the Munanas came directly to Atlantic City and their coach, Marina Klimova, will be joining them tomorrow. The Munanas spent most of the practice working on the layout of the compulsory dance. The rink is only 25x60 meters, about 15 feet narrower than usual. This affects the way the Ravensburger Waltz must be positioned, although according to one of the judges watching practice, the referee establishes how far the pattern can cross the center axis without penalty. When the other sibling team, Germany's Christina Beier and William Beier, came to warm up for their practice, they went over to the Munanas and discussed the rink size.

Upon leaving Boardwalk Hall for the night, the Canadian contingency was on their way in to scope out the facility. And that wraps up my first day at 2005 Smart Ones Skate America.