Craziness at the Campbell's Cup

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

Check out photos from the Campbell's Cup

No, Rena Inoue and Utako Wakamatsu aren't covering the event for ESPN this weekend.

(10/15/06) - Non-skating people don't quite get that “first day of school” feeling that comes with the Campbell's Cup. Yes, I know the Junior Grand Prix has been in full swing for a couple months, and skaters across the U.S. are now in the regional championship mindset. I spent a week in Lake Placid in August for the ice dance championships. But even so, Campbell's is special. Maybe because it's the first event of the season that comes with the ABC trumpet music.

Friday night I flew into Cincinnati's Covington Airport and must say it was probably the most beautiful descent. The lights on the ground were beautiful silver and gold twinkles against an inky black background. I guess this means I'm over my fear of the Fisher Price planes that I first encountered en route to St. Louis for the 2006 U.S. Championships. When you fear for your life, you don't notice pretty lights.

One of my goals in life is to visit all 50 states. The Marshalls U.S. Figure Skating Challenge in April crossed off number 33 (South Carolina). My hotel this weekend is actually in Kentucky (34). Saturday morning I checked the map and made a quick 20 minute drive west to cross Indiana (35) off the list. The drive also marked the first time I passed a nuclear power plant. Is it wrong that my first thought was of “The Simpsons” rather than Three Mile Island?

And now, in “bloggish-type thing” format, let me be your eyes and ears behind the scenes at the U.S. Figure Skating Campbell's Cup. But first: the arrival.

3:15 p.m.
Did you know that while trying to find the parking garage closest to the U.S. Bank arena, one wrong turn and you are on a bridge to Kentucky? Boom. Like that. And the streets at the end of said bridge are mostly one way and very confusing if you don't know where you are going. I kept thinking “get back across the river” but that was easier said than done.

3:28 p.m.
Back in Ohio, circling around to find the East parking garage and trying to avoid the bridge to Kentucky.

3:32 p.m.
If I were on “The Amazing Race” right now, people at home would be screaming at their TVs that I am going to be Philiminated for my pathetic navigational skills. (And yes, I have four maps in the front seat.)

3:39 p.m.
I spot what looks like a road that will take me to something that might be the parking garage.

3:40 p.m.
Wow, this looks like I'm about to drive into the Ohio river.

3:40:20 p.m.

3:40:24 p.m.
That was not a road. That was a pedestrian pathway into the water!! Why is that not barricaded or guarded or SOMETHING that lets out-of-towners know DO NOT DRIVE HERE BECAUSE YOU WILL DRIVE RIGHT INTO THE OHIO RIVER!!

3:42 p.m.
OK. Back on, you know, an actual road. And I find a parking garage. And now it's time to get into the arena in time to watch the first practice group.

4:05 p.m.
I pass Rafael Arutunian on the way to the ice. For a few moments I forget that Michelle Kwan isn't here and I'm confused. Then I remember he is now coaching the Asada sisters.

The Japanese men are already on the ice. At the boards, I see someone who looks a lot like Takeshi Honda standing with Nikoli Morozov. Put the zoom lens on my camera. Yep. It's Takeshi.

Music wasn't registering with me yet. “Phantom of the Opera” plays and I think it is Daisuke Takahashi's music. If it isn't, then Daisuke is doing an awesome improvisation.

This is my first time seeing Nobunari Oda in person. He has such an energy that follows him. Maybe that's not the right term because I don't know which came first, his personality or the energy. Whichever it is, it very exciting.

Johnny Weir sports the Team USA look

The rink layout is a bit different for this event. The narrow end that the skaters enter from has no boards. It goes from ice to rubber mats. The ABC commentators' platform is to the one side of the opening. The other side will have the kiss and cry area. It's being put together throughout the day. Two large benches will allow each country's team to sit together to cheer their teammates. Giant flatscreen monitors are next to each bench. Behind this is a frame that will hold the flags. The various crew members are working on setting that up.

Johnny Weir comes over to say hello and, like always, checks out my latest hair color. I was hoping he wouldn't do it this time, since it needs some touching up. I apologize for the imbalance and explain that with Skate America just over a week away, I needed to peak for one event, and that would not be Campbell's. Johnny smiles; he knows a thing or two about peaking for a certain event.

4:40 p.m.
The Japanese ladies take the ice for their practice. This is also my first time for seeing Mao and Mai Asada in person. I can't figure out who the third lady is on the ice. Finally she skates closer and I realize it's Miki Ando. She has totally changed her body shape and looks like a completely different person. When she smiles, though, her face lights up, and that is unmistakably Miki.

Like Kensuke Nakaniwa and Daisuke, all three of the ladies are in black. As a photographer, I want black practice clothes banned. They make it too difficult to go through photos and know who is who quickly. No one should wear the same color as anyone else in the group. And because I'm sure the skaters couldn't care less what I think, I will probably see more black throughout the day.

5:20 p.m.
Time for the Zamboni to cruise around. It's also time for a production meeting. All the singles skaters (minus Emily Hughes) gather around the kiss and cry to learn about what is going to happen tomorrow. While people are getting situated, the monitor is running what looks like a “fluff piece” for tomorrow's broadcast. We can't hear sound, but the footage is of Emily Hughes and Michelle Kwan.

Finally everyone is ready.

Because this is a team event, coaches are not to be in the kiss and cry. This is about the skaters and their teammates. Of course coaches can talk to their skater(s) and put them on the ice, but that is it. The skaters are encouraged to wear their country's uniform. This is not a problem for Team Japan, as all six skaters are already wearing their black and gold team jackets. Team USA. is a bit of a hodge podge of jackets, with some wearing the new design, some an older one, and some Torino.

6:15 p.m.
U.S. men take the ice. Johnny is wearing a black one piece with aqua stripes down the front. On his right arm, something is written, but I can't make out what it says. He runs through his short program, which is more powerful that the past couple of seasons, but not in an overbearing way. Even though I didn't see him do a complete run-through, I love what I see.

With Priscilla Hill unable to make the trip to Cincinnati, Johnny is coached by his mom, Patti. Evan also has a substitute coach, as choreographer Lori Nichol sits at the boards. Mark Mitchell, however, is in the house for Scott Smith.

Evan is using his “Carmen” free skate again for this event. His practice seemed more broken up into detail work, and he went back to confer with Lori often. Evan also put on a USA jacket halfway into practice, which broke up all the black.

Scott Smith has the wonderful posture that I've come to expect from Mark Mitchell's skaters. I didn't see much of his program, unfortunately. I did recognize the music from the modern “William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet” (the Claire Danes/Leonardo DiCaprio version) and being that I love the soundtrack, am looking forward to watching Scott's interpretation uninterrupted.

6:55 p.m.
The men come off the ice and I asked Johnny what his arm says. He tells me it's his name in Hebrew. Last year it was in Russian, now Hebrew, and he's having a Japanese version made.

7:00 p.m.
Emily Hughes has arrived, so all three U.S. ladies are on the ice for practice. Kimmie is standing next to me and is holding two large white pads. One of the women asked her what they are, and Kimmie replies they are football pads she puts under her tights to protect her hips and rear end. “My butt pads” was the term Kimmie used.

Like with the other groups, each skater gets the chance to run through the music twice. Sasha is using her “Dark Eyes” program. Emily and Kimmie are both doing their new free skates. Sasha gets a special shout out for not wearing all black. She had a cherry- colored top with an interesting cutout design on the back.

It's all about the team for Kimmie Meissner and Scott Smith in Cincinnati.

After the run-throughs, the skaters still have time to work on whatever they want. I saw Kimmie put the butt pads in, which can only mean one thing: triple Axel time. Over the course of the session, Kimmie lands four of them. Emily has a new sit spin that's in a shoot-the-duck position. It's pretty wild looking.

7:50 p.m.
Over the next hour and a half, the pairs and dancers have practice plus their own meeting about how Sunday will go. The referee tells them that if anyone would like feedback on their programs, all they have to do is ask and the judges will literally have an open door for discussion.

The triple Axel watch continues with Rena Inoue and John Baldwin trying a few and landing at least one that I saw cleanly. Naomi Nari Nam and Themi Leftheris have huge throws that are spectacular. It hit me that both U.S. pair teams have the same coach, as do the Canadians Utako Wakamatsu and Jean-Sebastien Fecteau, and Valerie Marcoux and Craig Buntin, who are with Richard Gautier. The small world continues with Valerie's former partner, Bruno Marcotte, as the technical specialist.

2:08 a.m.
I find it very difficult to watch practices sometimes. It seems like so many people are flying all over the place. One of the ice monitors comments the same thing, - that for some reason, this evening seems especially wild. I didn't write down notes and by the time I got to the end of this bloggish-type thing, I realize how late it is and that is probably why my mind can't remember much about the end of the day. I don't mean to short the pairs and dancers, because they were all very good. I loved the light, romantic style of Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon's free dance, and was very impressed with the power and speed of Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov. And on the superficial hair alert, Ben's is now short again, Tanith's is more of a honey color, and Melissa's is a lighter brown with auburn highlights.

And with that, I must get some sleep. Sunday is a walk-a-thon throughout downtown Cincinnati, so I must anticipate more driving nightmares. The most important goal, however, is to avoid transforming my rental car into a rental submarine.