Hello From Hartford, Part 1

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

(10/23/06) - Michelle Wojdyla is back for U.S. Figure Skating Online to provide a behind-the-scenes look at her time at 2006 Skate America ... from leaving home, to first practice, all the way to Sunday's exhibition. Remember, this isn't news, it's supposed to be fun, and Michelle's opinions are always her own.

Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov were two of the only skaters to be at Tuesday's practice sessions.

Tuesday 10:00 a.m.
My friend Dawn and I are on our way to Hartford but stuck in traffic en route to the New Jersey Turnpike. I look over to the right and see Lenscrafters and realize that I left my glasses at home. Contact lenses are fairly uncomfortable to me, so I only wear them if I'm taking photos. Knowing I would be going right to practice upon arrival in Hartford, I put in lenses and left my glasses on my desk. Ugh. We take the next exit and head back to my house. At least I realized before I got to Connecticut. However, my cat, Huckleberry, is confused that I'm back so soon and makes me feel guilty (again) about abandoning him. Even if it is abandoning him with my mom, the expensive cat food and a pile of comforters on my bed for him to nest in.

1:21 p.m.
Still on the road to Hartford. Well, we think we are. Mapquest put I-95 in two different locations, creating an impossible route. Suddenly, we see a large advertisement of Evan Lysacek's legs and skates. Wheee! I may not get lost after all!

3:30 ish
We get our credentials (I was on the list this time!) and head over to check out the rink. It's fairly abandoned, with more arena employees that skating people. Dawn and I meet up with Lindsay DeWall (U.S. Figure Skating's director of media relations) who says that the legs in the poster are not Evan's. Hmm. This is now a mystery I must solve.

We meet the volunteer ice monitors who have had a very light day in terms of traffic. One Canadian, Christopher Mabee, was the only one to show up out of the 12 men scheduled to compete, and Naomi Nari Nam and Themi Leftheris were the only pairs team.

After countless competitions where we both worked but never had the chance to talk, I finally had the opportunity to chat with Amy Stetson, who works for ESPN. Amy's job entails getting the information from and about the skaters that will be used on the broadcast. Although Dick Button, Peggy Fleming, Susie Wynne, Peter Carruthers and Terry Gannon do watch practices, Amy gets the scoop that the commentators don't have the opportunity to get. (Editor's note: Amy was a skater herself – helping make Dartmouth College's figure skating team one of the most successful ever.)

It's time for dance and the only skaters are Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov. Even though no one is on the ice for the group before them, they are not allowed to get on before the scheduled practice session. One of the team leaders for the Americans is Danielle Hartsell-Minnis. Random Skate America trivia: Danielle and Steve Hartsell placed two spots ahead of Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin in the short program at 1999 Skate America in Colorado Springs.

The small group of us waiting (for the non-skaters to “finish” their practice session) chat about various things. Danielle is almost three months pregnant, and her face lights up when she tells people. She admits to having the trite craving of pickles. All the talk about pregnancy seems to freak out Melissa, which seems to amuse her husband.

Finally it's time for Melissa and Denis to take the ice. They run through the Westminster Waltz many times before opting to practice their other dance routines. Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre arrive, too late to practice, but they are able to check things out and talk to Melissa and Denis about the rink. Melissa says the ice is great, which makes the ice monitor volunteers laugh. Even if no one practices, they still resurfaced the ice.

One of the ice monitors notices that Melissa and Denis have on traditional blades instead of the Freedom Blades they used to wear. I asked Melissa why the change, and she said that their new coaches, Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karpanosov, would only allow them to use the regular blades.

After dance finishes, Dawn and I try to decide if we should wait for the ladies. We didn't see any of them stretching. Finally we decide to head back to the hotel.

8:00 p.m.
Just realized I'm able to catch “Dancing with the Stars.” Dawn compares it to the version she gets in England and says Bruno is the mean judge. She is shocked by him being the nice judge in the U.S. version.

11:00 p.m.
Time for sleep. Practice at 7:30 tomorrow morning, and I want to believe that people will actually show up!