Hello From Hartford, Part 5

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

Breakfast, lunch and dinner of champions, or at least reporters

(10/28/06) - Friday, 12:36 a.m.

If it's Friday, it must be men's free. Actually, it is technically Saturday, but minor detail. I'm back in my hotel room and have discovered that the city of Hartford is testing out free wireless internet for both residents and visitors. I just signed up and it's working great! I put the Hilton down as my address because, well, it is true.

I feel like every blog entry has been in a different format, and I'm wondering if not having some kind of standard template is a bad thing. Then I rationalized that every day is very different when covering a skating event. For example, one day someone might skate to “Carmen” and then the next… Oh. Um. Never mind. But anyway, while some things remain constant, at least for me this Skate America has been different.

First off, I would like to announce that I actually arrived at the arena *before* practice began this morning, thank-you-very-much. (“Before” meaning two minutes, but it's still before!) Because I have not yet recovered from the 50 something consecutive tango original dances I sat through in Lake Placid in August, I wanted to experience another dozen today.

Now that the practice sessions have the specific program (long, short, free dance or OD), the costumes match the rhythm. No longer do the American Indian costumes of the Kerrs make an appearance at an Argentine nightclub. (Although think about it—would make for an interesting evening on the town, no?) I don't photograph too much as I am wracked with guilt over not writing my Thursday blog last night and opting instead for much-needed sleep. So out comes my laptop and I just start writing.

Let me take this opportunity to note that I have never intentionally left someone out of my blogs as a way of inflicting neglect and/or pain. Most of the time I am writing pretty much stream of consciousness and whatever is floating at the top of my odd little brain is what spills out onto my keyboard. (Not literally, of course. One, because that's gross and two, because Daphne gave me this cover for my keyboard so stuff doesn't fall in between the keys.) If I'm using my notebook (like I did for Thursday's practices) I note the time and some keywords to help me remember what I wanted to write about. For blogs like Thursday night's, I just write about what I can remember while half asleep. It's basically as simple as that.

During the pairs practice, I was finishing up my Thursday night entry, when I hear my name being called. Seven years of covering figure skating has made me somewhat immune to hearing “Michelle!” screamed. In fact, one Canadian reporter referred to me as “NotKwan” in order to get my attention. However, today it was I whose attention was requested. Angelo Watler, who captured John and Rena's first triple Axel at Skate America last year in Atlantic City, had just gotten a good video clip of Tiffany Vise and Derek Trent's awesome throw quad Salchow.

He dropped the memory card down to me, and I moved the file onto my laptop and e-mailed it to Mickey to upload. I let coach Doug Ladret know I had the clip, so after Tiffany and Derek signed autographs for all the fans lining the stairs, they came over and watched the clip. I played it a few times and did frame by frame so they could see their technique. So here's a shout out to Angelo for once again being in the right place at the right time. (Even if I think Doug Ladret got a little freaked out by my having “sources” all around the arena, and he didn't even know about the text message I received earlier in the week about Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat's missing skates.)

I finished my blog and got it in the hands of someone who could upload it and went back to seeing what I could stick my nose into to provide everyone with some behind the scenes goodies. But first, however, I made a stop in the media workroom. Unlike the legendary catering provided by the Skating Club of Boston at 2001 U.S. Championships (any SCOB members reading this, I want you to know I still speak fondly of the breakfast buffet in the practice rink!), things were a little sparse today. Beverage included the standard coffee, Coke and Diet Coke and water. Once again, tea people like myself are the persecuted minority. It's truly sad. One of the arena workers surprised me by bringing me a large cup of tea. The woman is a goddess.

In addition to the liquid refreshment available to the hard working members of the media, a selection of food was available. Well, actually, it was pretzels and M&M's. The two basic food groups of salt and sugar. (Yesterday we also had chocolate doughnut holes!) I don't usually eat plain M&M's, just the peanut ones on occasion. But they were there and I needed a boost, so plain M&M's it was. And I was not alone. Many, many of my colleagues paid multiple visits to the trough of brightly colored chocolate circles. Did I say multiple? I mean gazillions.

I think I actually heard some of the photographers in the back row chanting something about “melts in your mouth, not in your hands.” And the issue with M&M binging is the inevitable sugar crash that soon follows. So what does one do? Simple. Eat more M&M's. It's not a pretty situation, I've got to say. Normally intelligent professionals reduced to quivering junkies looking for their fix. In one of my crashing moments, I swung by the table and got a cup of water and a cup of M&M's. (Yes, cups were the main method of transportation.) For a second, I actually considered if it would be considered soup if I mixed the brightly colored orbs with the water, and therefore would be considered an altogether different food. Fortunately, ladies practice was getting under way and I knew I would be a bad, bad person if I didn't take at least one photo of Kimmie Meissner at practice.

So it's back to the ice for the ladies. I now feel my cutout section of the boards is my little home (despite Denis Petukhov's attempt at marking the territory with his own blood in the OD warmup.) The coach next to me today is Bonni Retzkin. I do briefly talk to her to make sure she knows I'm not there to make her or Emily uncomfortable; I'm just taking photos. For the next half hour or so I do just that.

Later I have my educational portion of the day, thanks to the audio engineers from ESPN. I learned that there are over a dozen microphones around the ice surface, including many below the ice. The mics are there to pick up the sounds of the blades on the ice, whether skating across or jumping. Using microphones above ice sometimes have the disadvantage of getting the music echo, which muddies the overall audio. A sound mixer works on adjusting which of the mics should be the primary one based on the skater's location around the rink. The music is fed directly to the sound mixer. They do not pick it up from the air like a spectator in the arena would hear it. Over the course of Skate America, the temperature of the ice changed one degree, and just that small difference affected the microphones.

Once practices were over, there was a short break to catch up on downloading photos and resizing them for the web. I brought the somewhat healthier dinner alternative of Nature Valley's new cashew granola bar. I highly recommend it.

For the competition, I was primarily on mixed zone and press conference photo duty. I am not a fan of being in the middle of a crush of people, so I got very uncomfortable during the mad rush of Japanese media during the singles events. It's wonderful how popular the sport is there right now, and the skaters are incredible with all the reporters and photographers. I just needed to be outside the mixed zone, so tucked myself in a different corner that actually gave a decent camera angle.

The three events went by in a blur. Highlights for me included Kimmie's response to a Japanese reporter's comment that she (Kimmie) made mistakes and Miki and Mao did not, so Kimmie is a non-threat (and that is my paraphrase). You could practically hear the “oooh!” from the press corps when the translator said it in English. Kimmie just calmly explained that the free program offers a lot more opportunities to score points, and with the international judging system, no one should be counted out. Go, Kimmie! And my random Kimmie comment is that she has a really cool suitcase that's a fun shade of blue that's not too girly but stands out.

My first unusual mixed zone of the night came from Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviyski. I don't know how many press conferences of theirs I have been to over the years, but whatever the sum of words uttered by Maxim is, he surpassed it in tonight's mixed zone. He had a lot of talking stored up! I didn't even have time to take in what was being said because it came out in a flood of words. One question I asked the two of them was if they, as World champions, received an 8.25 for interpretation, what does it take to get in the 9-10 range? Albena said they were truly happy to receive such a high score this early in the season. I don't know. Seems like something wonky goes on with the PCS at times.

Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre rocked the mixed zone and probably entertained me the most of anyone all week. Brent came first and told us we should watch Max & Morgan on the monitor before talking to him and Kim. He also told us to talk to Kim more because he tends to hog the conversation. I've got to say it was cute how he was taking command of the situation.

Really, it's my fault, I swear! I did it!

(He and Kim talked about their OD being from “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and how getting into character of assassin types was a bit different than preparing for a waltz or a Beatles medley. They joked around a lot about mentally preparing for a violent-type program and after a lot of very open talking, Brent stepped back and noted that all their quotes would look very odd in print. He's right. So in the hopes of not embarrassing them with outtakes out of context, I just wanted to pass along that the two of them are total rock stars and anyone who has the fortune to spend time with them is a very, very lucky person.

I must give a shout out to Emily Hughes for making it through her mixed zone without once using her self-proclaimed “go to phrase” of “I just want to skate my best and have fun.” At Campbell's Emily quipped that she's going to make use of all those SAT words she's been learning. She aced it.

Ice dancers Chantal Lefebvre and Arseni Markov came back to meet with the Canadian press. Markov wasted no time in announcing “my fault!” regarding the big error in their OD.

Laura Fawcett received an e-mail from French ice dancer Fabian Bourzat's father, who is currently in Somalia and has limited ability to contact his son at times. Dr. Bourzat checked out U.S. Figure Skating's coverage of Skate America, so I passed along his greeting to Fabian and Nathalie. I just wanted to say thank you, Dr. Bourzat, for taking the time to write, and know your son and his lovely partner are thinking of you. I also learned from Fabian that he spent much of his childhood growing up in Africa, not something most figure skaters can say.

The night ended for me with a trip through the walkways that connect the arena to the Hilton. Daphne and I spot a bunch of young kids in the middle of the floor and can't figure what they are doing up so late. As we walk past we see the familiar black and gold jacket in the middle: Nobunari Oda is signing autographs!