Hello From Hartford, Part 6

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

A view of the fire engines after the 6 a.m. wake-up call - and there really was a fire.

(10/28/06) - As has been reported elsewhere, residents of the Hilton had a rude awakening at 6:00 a.m. Those who cover skating events on a regular basis have experienced this over and over, as fire alarms are a frequent occurrence at the official hotels. Usually the alarm stops quickly. This morning, however, it did not happen. Aside from the annoyance factor of the sound and the robotic words telling us that a fire alarm had been activated in the building, (because the first 50 times didn't make the point clear) I had a dilemma—I am unable to walk down all those flights of stairs. Now the decision becomes whether to risk taking the elevator (if they haven't shut it off) or wait it out in the room.

Daphne asked me what I wanted to do, and I asked her if she would be OK with going down without me, and if it turns out there is a huge fire, please let someone know I am still inside. Our fifth story room overlooked the fire engines below, and I could see that only one had their hose out and it wasn't even turned on or inside the building, so Daphne took her cell phone and headed down. I took some bathroom towels and soaked them in water and put them up against the door and put water in the bathtub. I got dressed and sat by the window, eyeing what I could possibly throw against it if I needed to break it.

Out the window I could see the flashing lights blurred by the rain, and I still didn't see any action at the fire trucks. Still no hoses running and the occasional firefighter I did see was calmly walking around. This made me feel better, and Daphne would text message me or send photos via our cell phones what she could see going on. Eventually the alarm stopped and everyone was let back in. It was only after we got over to the arena that we learned there was a real fire, although it was very small and contained.

When I got over to the arena, the first group of free dancers were wrapping up their practice session. Victor Kraatz was in his same spot as Thursday morning. He came over to me and wanted to make sure I was OK because he was worried about me being trapped in the hotel. Although I've covered skating for years, I don't really “know” Victor and have had very limited contact with him through questions at press conferences and our exchange at Thursday's practice. For him to worry about me like that was pretty amazing and actually made me cry. I think the realization of it having been a real fire and the delayed fear and lack of sleep were all a bit too much.

By the final flight of dancers, I had my mind in the game again and was working on my blog. With my peripheral vision I could see two teams heading for each other. Suddenly there was a pile up, with Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski colliding with Sinead and John Kerr. It seemed like forever before they stood up, and it was clear that this was a painful crash. Soon I could see blood on Albena's leg, and couldn't help but think back to the horrific crash she had with Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev during the free dance practice at the 2000 World Championships. Obviously this time was much less disastrous, but I had to put on my reporter hat and head over to the skaters' entrance to get some statements about what happened.

ESPN didn't have any cameras rolling during practice, so Amy Stetson was looking for any footage of the crash. I showed her what I had, but I was late in taking photos because I didn't have my camera unpacked yet. I went back to the media room to put together an account of the accident and the quotes from the four skaters involved, plus pull the photos I did have.

Back in the rink, I watched ladies practice. Miki Ando continued to look strong, and I wished I had put into writing my prediction from Wednesday that she would win. Actually, at Campbell's I thought Miki would do it, but since I didn't put it on the record, you'll have to take my word for it.

I missed pairs practice because I was elsewhere in the arena. At one point a Japanese reporter from Nagoya interviewed me about his city and the image it has around the world and how it has produced Japan's best figure skaters. I have limited knowledge in this area, never having been to Nagoya, only Tokyo and Nagano. Still, it was interesting to be on the other side of an interview.

One of the things I like best about competitions is getting to meet the reporters and photographers who don't usually cover the figure skating beat. I had fun looking through the “newbies'” photos from the week. Most of the time I am so busy during an event that I don't have the time to do much more than my own work, so I do enjoy the chance to take 15 minutes away from my own responsibilities.

Once again the competition flew by and once again I spent it backstage, mostly in the mixed zone. Occasionally I would wander to the area where the skaters warm up or watch the live feed and results on the monitor. Pretty soon the night was over. It seemed like only minutes had gone by instead of the18 hours since I was woken by the alarm.