Hello From Hartford, Part 3

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

(10/24/06) - 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.

Supplemental photos to this blog

THURSDAY MORNING

8:40 a.m.
Daphne, my wonderful roommate and colleague from the U.S. Championships, arrived last night. We wanted to get to practice for dance, but the 7 a.m. ladies practice did not happen. We stop at the display that has the mystery legs and skates. The shirt/top is not visible, but we are leaning toward Alexei Yagudin, possibly in his “Winter” outfit.

When we arrived in the arena, we passed Kimmie Meissner and Pam Gregory on their way back from practice. When Kimmie didn't practice yesterday I was worried that the last-second call to Alissa Czisny would be forthcoming. (Not that I don't love watching her skate and photographing her gorgeous positions.)

8:50 a.m.
The first group of ice dancers were waiting to take the ice. Sinead and John Kerr were wearing their “Last of the Mohicans” costumes for this practice session (compulsory dance and choice of OD/FD). Sinead quipped that she thought their outfits were perfect for the waltz.

8:52 a.m.
I make my way to the same location as yesterday. Victor Kraatz takes the spot to the left of me to coach Allie Hann-McCurdy and Michael Coreno. ESPN is still setting up various cables and cameras. On the floor in front of the boards is a black box. Victor looks at it, looks at me, and we have a brief discussion if it would be a bad thing to accidentally kick it. Given the large yellow sticker that says “Caution,” I'm thinking it might be something to avoid.

9:10 a.m.
Watanabe and Kido are running through their original dance today. They are wearing primarily black with red accents and crystals. As they stand at the boards talking to their coaches, I notice that Akiyuki's outfit in particular is very sparkly. Now, this is not a dig at all. I was just curious about something. When the skaters are under the lights and sailing around the ice, I can understand why the sparkle happens. But if someone is standing still, how is it that the sparkles flicker so much, like battery operated lights? I was fairly mesmerized by this and do not know the answer.

9:25 a.m.
The first group of dancers is finished, and even though it is still fairly early, the crowd was very appreciative. As Allie Hann-McCurdy skates over to Victor to grab her skate guards, she gushes, “We have fans in the stands!” She said it with such a thrilled whisper that I couldn't help but have my first “Awww” moment of the event.

9:27 a.m.
A large box about four feet tall is now in the passageway between the skaters' entrance and the kiss and cry. The volunteers are trying to figure out what it is there for. The top of the box has thick pile carpet on it, like some kind of bizarre cat-scratching post.

9:31 a.m.
I make my way over to the autograph corner to get a shot of the Kerrs. Evgeny Platov is with them, as is their team doctor. They are all about getting photos of the four of them, and Evgeny and the doctor continue to document the event from various angles and backdrops. Glad to know I'm not the only one who wanted a souvenir shot in the kiss and cry.

9:35 a.m.
I wander into the hallway where people are walking around and warming up and just doing whatever until they have to be elsewhere. I run into Michele Cantu, who talks about how thrilled she is to have been given the opportunity to compete at Skate America. I can't think of anyone I've ever met who is happier to be here. I have my “foot-in-mouth” moment when I introduce myself and say that I'm a “two-L” Michelle, too, which, of course, is the best way to spell it. Miss Cantu then informs me that she only spells her first name with one “L.” Oh. Excellent. I apologize and she accepts, especially because she is the happiest person at Skate America.

9:38 a.m.
The next skater I see is Sasha Zaretski. I met her and Roman years ago in Newington, Conn., at a show. I ask her if she's having a good time, and she confirms she's having fun. Roman comes over, and I take a cute photo of the two of them. (Later Roman came over to me to see, but I hadn't downloaded it yet.)

9:41 a.m.
Max Zavozin is the next skater I run into. We chatted about Moscow, which is my favorite place I've ever been to outside the U.S. Max and Morgan's next event is Cup of Russia, so he's looking forward to it. He said he's going to stay there for a week after the competition. I hope it is warmer than the -25 we had at Worlds last year. I went back to the ice to watch more practice. Too bad I didn't have my laptop with me, because I could have shown Max and Morgan the Halloween-appropriate photo I took of them in practice yesterday.

9:55 a.m.
I run into Mickey (from U.S. Figure Skating) and download his photos for him so he has room on his memory card to take more videos. I spend much of the next practice session working on photos and taking a break from shooting myself. Wait, that didn't sound right. I mean my photographing the skaters, not inflicting horrid harm to my body. Bad enough I crushed my knuckles in the hotel door on Tuesday night and have a lovely bruise and swelling to show for it.

10:21 a.m.
Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat now have skates! They were practicing their free dance to music called “Four Seasons,” but it is not the Vivaldi version. After much discussion with ISU media goddess Tatiana Flade, we determine that the top of Nathalie's dress and boot covers represent winter and her fire skirt is summer. Fabian has autumn leaves on his shirt and spring flowers down his pants. Very interesting!

...and Alexei after his skater lands a triple-triple combination.


Alexei before his skater jumps...


10:38 a.m.
Alexei Urmanov is standing in the corner watching Sergei Voronov practice. Alexei's facial expression does not change. Check out the photos to the right to see what I mean.

11:17 a.m.
A loud clanging rings out from the Japanese TV stand and the entire arena hears it. The cause? Kurt Browning went to greet Barbara Underhill and managed to take down the aluminum piping and black drapery that are around the broadcast booth. He puts it back together and receives acknowledgement from the crowd. Excellent moment. May actually top my accidentally insulting the lovely young skater from Mexico.

2:43 p.m.
At pairs practice, they introduce the senior Polish pairs team as Dorota Siudek and Mariusz Siudek. First time I've heard them introduced that way. And they have the biggest smiles on their faces!