Rinkside Reports from 1998 US Nationals

This page contains my reports from the 1998 US Figure Skating Championships.

Monday's report

Yes, I have arrived in Philadelphia, and it's time for the first of my reports from US Nationals.

I spent the bulk of today watching the two senior men's practices. The short program practice was held around noon at the competition arena.

Dan Hollander seems to be trying hard to do triple axel/triple loop, but if he landed any cleanly I missed them. He is doing an awful lot of turning out of the triple axel and then muscling a cheated double loop. I have also seen him landing several double axel/triple loops. Dan was also having some trouble in this practice with his lutz coming out as a double instead of a triple. Scott Davis is trying triple axel/triple toe but in his runthrough he had such a drastic tilt to his axel he was lucky not to splat on it. Michael Chack landed a clean triple axel/double toe combination in his program runthrough but fell on the lutz, ughh. Todd Eldredge almost ran into the boards on his triple axel/triple toe and then doubled the lutz. Michael Weiss had another horribly tilted triple axel which he managed to save, and got the triple lutz, which probably gave him the best overall short program of the day. Tim Goebel seems to have taken the triple axel out of his short program and still wasn't able to land anything, plus it looked like he was hurting. He was not at the afternoon practice and there's speculation that he may scratch.

The afternoon practice belonged to Michael Chack. He was the only one of the guys to skate anything like a clean runthrough -- the only fault was a slight 2-foot on the second triple axel. The axel is the jump that has always given him fits but he didn't miss one in either practice today. I observed that he is doing a straighter entry to it than he had been attempting last year, and at Skate America; when I talked to him later he said the entrance was quicker rather than straighter, but it amounts to the same thing: the edge isn't curving around so much, and he isn't getting so overrotated before he takes off as he was before. Plus he said that he now has the confidence that he can do the jump that he didn't have at Skate America. All in all, he seemed very relaxed and says he's thoroughly enjoying Nationals for the first time in years.

I didn't take complete notes on any of the other guys. Scott Davis did a Russian-style partial runthrough, taking a nasty fall on a triple axel/triple toe that didn't quite work and popping the second axel before finishing strong. Dan Hollander continued to have problems with his triple axel combination. No quad from Todd Eldredge, only a triple axel/double toe instead of his usual triple/triple, and a pop for the second axel. Shep Clark skated his program all the way through but without any jumps, which may have been a smart thing to do because it made everyone talk about what a nice program he has this year. Michael Weiss again had one of the better runthroughs. His attempt at the quad lutz got him about 3.5 rotations, and in a gutsy moved he put his *second* triple axel in combination with a triple toe.

An amusing incident in the morning practice: the Zamboni ran out of gas in the middle of the ice. And there was some sort of problem with the ice in the afternoon practice that required a bunch of guys to go out and hack on it with shovels and blast it with a fire extinguisher.

After dinner, it was time for the junior ladies short program. I don't have too much to add to the results which you ought to be able to find elsewhere; Sarah Hughes did a triple loop/double toe combination but has weak carriage and presentation, while Naomi Nari Nam did an easier triple toe/double toe but has superior spins and an engaging sense of style. She is still small but looks a looks a lot more mature than she did last year. Perhaps the most amazing feat was accomplished by Susan Ng in her spiral sequence: a back spiral where she pulled her free leg straight up in front of her, and then leaned backwards into a layover position. My mouth was hanging open in astonishment....

I also caught the final group of the senior ladies' practice at the convention center but was not really giving the skating my full attention. Nicole Bobek and Angela Nikodinov were supposed to be in that group but neither were present yet. Sydne Vogel was there and seemed to be having a decent practice.

Tuesday's report

My day started out with the senior pairs short program practice at the convention center. Most of the pairs were only doing partial runthroughs and my notes are somewhat sketchy, but.... Lyons & Wells hit their triple salchows in the program runthrough but seemed somewhat tentative through the parts of the program they skated. Vlandis & Guzman are trying triple loops but Jered either doubled or fell out of all the ones I saw. Everything else in their program seemed fine to me and they seemed to be attacking much more than Lyons & Wells. Someone other than his mother is coaching them here. I think Handy & Binnebose are the surprise contenders this year; their twist lift is gigantic, their triple toes in their runthrough were perfectly executed and with perfect unison, and they also had an excellent lift. Ina & Dungjen have abandoned their "Zorba" program and gone back to the Kodo program from last year, thank goodness. The Hartsells had a dreadful runthrough with Steve falling on his toe loop and then both of them collapsing in a heap on their final pair spin. The Stieglers don't yet have the technical skills to be competitive at the senior level since they are doing only double axels, a fairly simple lift, and their twist is not very big. Meno & Sand did their runthrough without the jumps but I did see each of them land a triple toe separately in the warmup.

The senior men's free skate practice was next. This being competition day, none of the men attempted a full program runthrough, and several of them were practicing their short program elements and choreography instead. It's rather amusing seeing Scott Davis skating his short program choreography to his long program music. Once again, Michael Chack was "on", landing an effortless triple axel in his runthrough and a few others afterwards. He was without a coach on this practice as Frank Carroll was presumably with Michelle. Tim Goebel was a no-show again, as was Michael Weiss. I finally saw Dan Hollander land a clean triple axel/triple loop, but not in his program runthrough.

After a break to eat tasty Thai food, it was off to the competition arena. I got there at the tail end of the pairs practice, just as "Nessun Dorma" started.... Yup, Meno & Sand have ditched their wonderful, excellent Tchaikovsky program from NHK and are trotting out their old warhorse again. Why? Why??? I was told that at their first practice, there was a collective groan from the audience when their music began. I also observed that the Stieglers were having a horrible practice, and I was wondering if Naomi Grabow might be sick or something because she was looking so miserable. She had looked really out of it during the morning practice as well.

Next was the pre-competition warmup for the men. It started out with a big splat from Todd Eldredge on a triple axel, and then one where he dropped out on two feet, before he got on track. Tim Goebel appeared, ending speculation that he had withdrawn. Meanwhile, I started to get worried about Michael Chack, who, after landing a couple good triple axels, had a fall and then a pop before being chased off the ice at the end of the warmup without time to try again.

The opening ceremonies featured a reunion of the champions from 1968 Nationals who all skated around the rink. The highlight was definitely Judy Schwomyer & Jim Sladky, who skated a pattern of the Yankee Polka (a dance they invented!). There was also the usual production number featuring dozens of local skaters and a performance by a Mummer band, who were wearing costumes even more elaborate, glittery, and feather-laden than anything you'd see in skating.

After further delays, it was time for the men's short program. Shep Clark was the first skater and he did a pretty good job, the only problem being a messy landing on the double toe on the back half of his combination. He hung on for dear life and looked thrilled as he left the ice. I believe he got a deduction for recentering his spin combination on the change of feet.

Tim Goebel put his hands down on his triple flip out of footwork and somehow, amazingly, managed to save an incredibly off-balance triple axel and tack a triple toe onto it.

Matt Kessinger skated a clean program with triple axel/double toe and triple loop, but his spins were a little weak and the overall quality of his skating was pretty mediocre.

Michael Weiss started out with a great triple lutz, followed by an extremely tilted triple axel and triple toe which he had to hang on to for dear life. This is a very nice program.

Todd E. was his usual self -- triple axel/triple toe and a lutz that was low and tilted but nevertheless cleanly landed without a struggle. Great spins, as usual. I wish Todd would at least get a new costume if he's not going to get a new program!

Michael Chack was next. Ouch. I was right in sensing that he'd lost confidence in his axel between his noon practice and the competition; he opened with a clean double, and then rearranged his program to try the triple again and fell. And then, horror of horrors, he fell on the lutz, too. Ouch ouch ouch. The judges killed him on the required elements marks, and I think the presentation suffered too. He tried to improvise his program like this at Skate America and it didn't work there, either.

Derrick Delmore did a two-footed turnout in his triple axel combination. He's using a flip instead of a lutz as his jump out of footwork, probably because that's what the juniors are required to do this season. He had a wildly travelling camel spin that probably cost him a tenth or two.

Dan Hollander's program was pretty much a mess. He started with a way off-balance landing on his triple lutz, then did a very obviously cheated triple axel/double loop combination with a step out on the landing of the loop, and worst of all, he popped his double axel at the end of the program. He has certainly taken himself out of the running for the Olympics with this performance.

Matt Savoie, last year's junior champion, did a two-footed step-out on his triple lutz, but landed a clean triple axel/double toe. His presentation is slightly improved over last year but still needs a lot of work. What I find most distracting about it is that his arms tend to flop around awkwardly when he's not performing specifically choreographed movements. If I were his coach, I think I would have him work on stroking or MITF exercises, which ought to be easy for a skater at his level, while paying particular attention to the carriage of his arms and shoulders, until it becomes automatic in all of his in-between skating.

Ryan Jahnke provided one of the highlights of the competition for me. He skated a totally wonderful program to "The Moldau", with not so much technical difficulty -- a step out of his triple lutz and a triple flip/triple toe with a slight two-foot on the second jump -- but wonderful flow and musicality and just the most brilliant smile on his face after he got through the combination. Ryan also had a very noisy cheering section! This is his first year as a senior after making I think 3 or 4 unsuccessful attempts at the junior title, and he obviously belongs at this level in spite of the problems with his jumps. I believe he does have a triple axel planned in his long, or at least he has been practicing them and even landing one now and then.

This didn't seem to be a good night for lutzes as Scott Davis popped his after landing a solid triple toe/double toe. There was a very loud groan of dismay from the crowd; he was certainly an audience favorite. Judging from his marks, I am pretty sure that he would have wound up behind Michael Weiss even if he had hit the lutz.

Jere Michael did the same program as last year although not quite as cleanly. He's still doing only triple lutz/double toe as his combination, and thenn he put a hand down on the triple flip out of footwork. Still, he did not seem displeased with the way he skated.

Trifun Zivanovic, amazingly, skated a clean program with a triple flip and a triple axel/double toe. So he wound up as the surprise skater to sneak into the final group.

Wednesday's report

This morning started out for me at the junior men's short program. I only stayed to watch the first group skate. They were pretty unimpressive. I was told the second group was even worse -- nobody skated a clean program, and everyone I asked about it was complaining about the poor quality of the spins as well as the jumps in this field. This doesn't seem to be a good year for junior men.

I left the junior men's competition early because I wanted to see the morning senior men's practice in the other arena. After a lunch break, the men had another practice in the convention center, and the two kind of ran together in my mind. Many of the men didn't do complete program runthroughs in either practice and many left the ice early, while Goebel, Weiss, and Hollander all skipped the afternoon session entirely.

Michael Chack had a respectable morning practice, landing a perfect triple axel/triple toe, among many other things. But his afternoon practice was not so great, with many popped axels and more trouble with the lutz as well. Todd Eldredge also had a lot of problems in the afternoon practice. I was wondering if maybe the condition of the practice ice in the convention center was giving the skaters trouble. It was very wet today, with a couple puddles that never froze at all between resurfacings.

At the afternoon practice, I introduced myself to Diana Ronayne (did I spell that right?) and complimented her on her pupil Ryan Jahnke. She, in turn, introduced me to Ryan's parents, and I spoke to them a bit about how Ryan is balancing skating with college, since he's a freshman at Wayne State University this year (majoring in pre-law). Meanwhile, Ryan was getting mobbed by autograph-seekers before he disappeared to take off his skates, so I did not talk to him directly.

Some of the men, including Jere Michael and John Baldwin, were wearing what appeared to be their competition outfits for the morning practice in the arena. Michael Chack, ever well-dressed, chose a tight black short-sleeved shirt with a burgundy collar and vertical stripe down the front. Ryan was wearing a sharp black practice suit with lime green accents. Todd, as usual, was wearing grunge attire, and many of the other men seem to be adopting his casual approach to practice costuming. What a pity.

The practices in the convention center were running way behind schedule so I didn't see any of the ladies before heading over to the arena for the pairs short program. I did, however, see Tonia Kwiatkowski's short program runthrough in the practice just before the men started. She always has great practices. Michelle Kwan was also in that group but I came in just as her music was ending and didn't see how she skated.

Meanwhile, I missed the senior compulsory dances and the junior ladies final, which were going on in parallel at the two competition arenas in the afternoon. I was told that the junior ladies skated much better than the men and that there were several very good performances. Sarah Hughes even landed a triple flutz, which is better than any of the men managed.

The featured competitive event of the day was the pairs short program. The evening began with the introduction of Ottavio Cinquanta over the PA system. Most people in the audience applauded politely while I booed. The Speedskater spent the evening sitting between Morry Stillwell and Claire Ferguson, which I guess shows the kind of company they've been keeping lately. Horrors. Be afraid, folks, be very afraid.

Lyons & Wells were the first pair to skate, doing their "El Condor Pasa" program. Brian popped his triple salchow. Their twist was mediocre and their lift was a simple back press lift with a flip-over dismount.

Meno & Sand were next, and they skated clean -- yes, Todd landed a triple toe. Their twist was again not very high, and they did the stag lift with the swoopy dismount. The main problem with their skate was that they were just not very fast; especially noticible in their footwork sequence.

The next pair was Handy & Binnebose, my pick for the team most likely to sneak in to the final group, and they did not disappoint, with the second-best twist of the night, easy triple toe loops, and a lift that began in the same stag position as Meno & Sand's but that changed into a one-arm split. They also had one of the best spiral sequences of the night; Paul has the strongest spiral of any of the men, I believe, so there was a better sense of balance between them instead of the woman doing all the spirals while the man mostly just pulls her around, as many of the pairs are wont to do. On the down side, their footwork was pretty simple and they are lacking a bit in presentation. Their marks put them way behind Lyons & Wells and I was wondering if we are going to see a repeat of what happened in 1994 with the judges rewarding the team who had been together for a few years instead of the team who did the best skating....

The Hartsells were next, and I think the judges were probably leaving room for them in front of H&B too, except that Steven couldn't hang on to the landing of his triple toe. Their spins got a little out of unison and their lift was a simple back press lift with a particularly ugly position. There is a rumor going around that they are going to break up after this season and that Danielle will try to skate singles since she has grown and is obviously a much stronger skater than he is.

Ina & Dungjen have gone back to their Kodo program in the black and purple costumes, and it was spectacular. They skated very fast, with a huge twist, clean triple toes, and a very elaborate lift with many changes of grip and position. (In the Zorba program they used at Skate America, they were using a very simple back press lift and I am sure that cost them points compared to what the Russians were doing.) They got the standing ovation Meno & Sand did not, and the judges saw it the same way. It has to be disheartening to the M&S camp to have Todd finally land the triple toe and for them to place second anyway.

Grabow & Oberman continued to have the problems I had noted in their practices, with Naomi making a major splat on her double axel, and a weak pair spin on top of that. If you like purple, you'd love their costumes.

The Stieglers skated a mostly clean program, with double axels and a good twist. Again, we saw a simple back press lift, executed without much speed across the ice, and their pair spins were a little bit off. Their costumes were simple white with a red sash. Incidentally, the Lipinski camp ought to look at Tiffany's costume for hints on how to create an illusion of a bustline where there really isn't one; it had a sort of a ruffle or swag across her chest.

Vlandis & Guzman had probably the best put-together program of the night, but they both totally blew their planned triple loops. Their lift was great, their spins were great, and their spiral sequence was very clever. Their costumes were more than a little over-done in white and gold; he was wearing a matador jacket with humungous epaulettes, while her costume was laden with excessive ruffles.

Thursday's report

I spent all day today at the competition arena, watching the senior ladies short program, original dance, and men's free skate. You will probably have seen all of these on TV by now so I will skip the blow-by-blow accounts and stick with personal observations of things that probably escaped the TV broadcast.

Tonia Kwiatkowski was the first skater up in the ladies short program, and imagine my surprise to find her riding the same *spectator's* bus from the hotel to the arena as I was. I can't imagine any of the other medal contenders doing anything quite that plebian. Tonia looked very, very serious through her program until she landed her double axel, at which point she broke into a big smile. (I found that my seat is close enough to the ice to give me an excellent view of the look of utter terror on most skaters' faces as they approach their jumps.) A very nice program and skate for Tonia, although I am sure she got a deduction for two-footing her flip. She was also skating somewhat slowly and deliberately.

I thought Angela Nikodinov would have placed above Tonia had she not dropped out of her flip, mainly because of the speed issue. Where she ended up seemed right to me, but OTOH I am not sure why Sydne Vogel placed as low as she did.

Not having seen the broadcast yet, I'm not sure if Dick Button complained about Nicole Bobek's layback spin, but it deserved to be complained about. Nicole used to have a gorgeous layback spin with the free leg held straight, and now she is doing this thing where she is just lifting the leg from the knee and it looks awful. Shudder.

I found that my seat also gave me an excellent view of the VIP seating area. Ottavio Cinquanta was there again today, and I'm sure you all will be delighted to know that while everyone else in the arena was on their feet cheering wildly for Nicole, The Speedskater was just sitting there looking bored and not even bothering to clap. On the other hand, he *did* clap for Tara, who gave a less than impressive performance: her layback spin travelled at least 10 feet across the ice, she had an awful flutz, and her flip was a no-way kind of thing.

Andrea Gardiner surprised me. I hadn't seen her skate at all since last year's nationals, and I saw basically no ladies's practices before the short, and I wasn't real impressed with the messy flutz at the beginning of her program, but by the end of the program she was skating with a real strength and confidence. She landed a lovely triple loop and double axel. On The Speedskater's scoring scale, this performance merited a conversation with Morry and Claire. Perhaps he was asking them why Andrea wasn't at world juniors.

Michelle's short was wonderful. There was a certain tentativeness about the entrances to all her jumps but all of them were securely landed and it was great to see her back. In the kiss & cry afterwards, it looked like Frank Carroll was trying very hard not to break out into an ear-to-ear grin. The Speedskater clapped politely about twice before lapsing into his normal expression of boredom.

I don't really have much to say about the original dance. I'm not a real dance expert and I never know what to take notes about, so I usually don't. About the only observation I have to make is that I do think both Lang & Tchernyshev and Joseph & Butler deserved to be placed ahead of Chalom & Gates simply because the latter couple seemed to lack the speed of the others.

The men's free skate started about 20 minutes later than the announced time. The audience was getting very restless and started doing the wave while Dick & co were taping some blabbering up in the broadcast booth. We were entertained when Frank Carroll and several of the skaters standing around in the skaters' entrance joined in.

Michael Chack was the first competitor of interest to skate. I was expecting that he would either skate brilliantly or bomb as badly as he did in the short, and instead he surprised me by skating a respectable but not stellar performance. He landed a triple axel with a hand down, triple lutz/triple toe, doubled the flip, an intentional double axel, doubled the second axel, triple loop, triple lutz, and triple salchow/double toe. I thought he looked somewhat dazed throughout the entire performance and didn't perform the choreography with his usual conviction. On the positive side, he landed one of only three triple/triples in the competition (the others belonging to Todd Eldredge and Michael Weiss), and he came a lot closer to landing his triple axel than Scott Davis did. The judges marked him very conservatively; I'm sure he would have gotten another tenth or two in both marks, and placed somewhat higher, if he had not had to skate in the first group. Anyway, as if you needed any more evidence that he has absolutely no taste, The Speedskater was not even present when Michael skated.

Dan Hollander competed the way he had practiced all week, with many small errors adding up to an overall sloppy performance. One thing I will say for Dan's coaching change, his spins have improved greatly since I last saw him skate in person. He used to have such a weak camel spin that I cringed every time I saw it, but this time he pulled off a couple of very nice ones, even an outside-edge camel.

John Baldwin was an utter horror. His music starts out with these train noises before switching to something that sounds like it was probably his father's program music in 1971. His costume had these yellow and orange stripes and fringy things running up and down the sides of his pants. I think John's train got derailed, though, as I think he only landed a triple salchow cleanly while doubling almost all of the rest of his jumps. Meanwhile, The Speedskater was scratching his head in befuddlement while Claire Ferguson appeared to be laughing hysterically.

Derrick Delmore had a respectable skate, but I have to say that his program and choreography does nothing at all for me. The music just doesn't seem very skateable, and the cuts don't mesh well into a coherent whole. Technically, I think some of Derrick's problems landing his jumps are probably the result of an excessive leg wrap.

Ryan Jahnke, the young up-and-comer, skated next. The more I see of this kid, the more I like him. No "look of terror" from him -- he had a huge smile even before he started to skate. Ryan doesn't really have a triple axel yet -- it's still underrotated by maybe a quarter of a turn -- but he landed a nice lutz, loop, salchow, and two toe loops, and just put his hands down on the flip. He's been practicing a triple loop/triple loop combination but it didn't happen in his program. Ryan has spins and carriage that make my little heart go pitty-patter, and I guess he had that effect on the judges too as he consistently scored about 0.3 higher for presentation than technical merit, giving him an 8th-place finish overall in his first year as a senior.

Jere Michael unfortunately did not have a very good skate. It looks to me like he's a little closer to landing his triple axel than he was last year, but he wasn't able to land either a lutz or a flip and both the technical content and presentation of his program suffered from the mistakes. I also think that his program was not as interesting as the one he had last year, the Fikret Amirov program that was so different than anything that any of the other men were doing and that really made me sit up and take notice of Jere. This year's program used various pieces of jazz music including an arrangement of the Rachmaninoff "Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini".

I was feeling a little punchy by the time the final group of men skated, plus I didn't really have any strong favorites among them, so I mostly just sat back and enjoyed the show. The Speedskater looked bemused in a bored kind of way by Shep Clark. During a good part of Trifun Zivanovic's skate, he was not even watching, but was engaged with a conversation with the person sitting next to him instead. Someone gave Trifun a silly hat which he wore in the kiss & cry, which finally got The Speedskater's attention as everyone in the VIP section was pointing at the big-screen monitor and laughing. He *was* paying attention to Todd Eldredge, but while everyone else was standing and applauding, he merely sat there, wiped his brow, and yawned. He had the identical reaction to Michael Weiss. And, oh horror, The Speedskater smiled when Scott Davis fell on his triple axel; this must have been very entertaining indeed.

Friday's report

The need for sleep has been catching up with me, so here is a late, brief report on Friday's doings in Philadelphia.

The first event of the day for me was the junior men's free skate. The winner was Scott Smith, who I'd just seen at Easterns last month. No triple lutz, but he did a flip, loop, two salchows, and came very close to landing a triple toe/triple toe. Good choreography, but a little stiff in his bearing, particularly his hands. Kurt Fromknecht had the only triple lutz of the competition and also did a really nice triple flip out of footwork and was looking like a winner until he came unglued in the third or so of his program, stumbling out of two triples and then waxeling twice in a row. In fact, he had popped the earlier attempt at a double axel as well. So he wound up third. The #2 spot was ably filled by Braden Overett, who has senior-level presentation abilities, but whose most difficult triple is the loop. He landed that and a toe loop, and the fact that he could place so high with so few jumps tells you something about how weak the rest of the field was. Don Baldwin, who was 2nd in the short and who is probably a better skater than his older brother, had a typical Baldwin kind of performance, starting out strong enough but with two very disruptive falls and a lot of doubled and popped jumps, so that by the end he had a "why am I bothering to do this?" look on his face, and disappeared immediately down the tunnel without waiting for his marks. He wound up 5th. The guy from Boston I've been keeping an eye on, Josh Figurido, did not land his triple lutz either and wound up 7th.

After this I skipped the junior free dance (having had more than my share of wretched latin dances last year), and went to watch the ladies practice at the convention center rink instead. Michelle, Tara, and Nicole all looked very good. Both Tara and Nicole were landing triple/triple combinations. Michelle has taken the triple toe out of her program and is plannning two triple loops instead. Angela did not look so great, and neither Tonia nor Amber attended this practice.

The pairs final was next. I am not sure how much of this will make the TV broadcast, but there were four pairs in a very tight battle for third place. The Hartsells skated a totally cliche'd program to "Samson & Delilah" with the only obvious error being a step-out on his double axel. The Stieglers skated probably the best performance of their young lives, with less technical difficulty (simpler lifts, only side-by-side double axels) but with a presence and musicality that transcended sport. Vlandis & Guzman, by contrast, are fast and immensely powerful, especially in the lifts, but they made a number of small mistakes including problems with unison and both popping their triple loops, so that their hardest side-by-side jumps were also double axels. And Handy & Binnebose skated an uninspired program to "Scheherezade" that included several big tricks and one or two small mistakes. (The man is definitely the stronger skater in this pair, BTW, which is pretty unusual for a US pair team.) Anyway, it turned out that Handy & Binnebose had more 3rd-place votes than anybody else, but not a majority, and all of the rest of their ordinals were for 5th and 6th places, so it went to the Hartsells, who had only two 3rd place ordinals but who were placed 4th by most of the other judges.

Meno & Sand appeared for the warmup but then it was announced that they had withdrawn. Ironic that after all the focus on Todd's back problems that it would be an injury to Jenni that would take them out. We at least got to see their new costumes; dark blue with the hem of her skirt and bottom of his shirt red. I suppose the other good thing about this is that we got all of the effect of "Nessun Dorma" without actually having to listen to that music again. I was told that at their first pratice, there was a definite groan of dismay from the audience when their music started and people realized they had gone back to their old program.

Lyons & Wells skated better than they did at Skate America, and in fact better than they did in the short program. They got the triple salchows but not the triple loops in this program, and skated with decent speed. There's absolutely no question that they were the "best of the rest".

Ina & Dungjen skated a clean program, with the only apparent error being that their triple toes were not executed in unison. Jason's costume is a big improvement over the one he had at Skate America -- the masses of gold sequins have been replaced by smaller areas of beading that are not nearly as gaudy -- but Kyoko has gone for the heavily beaded, bare-midriff look in pale green.

Saturday's report

One again, my report is late because I was too exhausted to write anything up last night. After the end of the competition the bus was stuck in a traffic jam for a while and then I spent perhaps another hour cruising around in the Marriott lobby admiring the scenery. Michelle Kwan made her grand entrance while I was standing around with Michael Chack so I got to witness a happy scene between them with many hugs being exchanged. Anyway, it was very late by the time I got back to my hotel. I think I got about 3 hours of sleep last night; thank goodness the week is over. The lack of sleep and stress and hectic schedule are hard to deal with, and a lot of people were getting sick by the end of the week.

Anyway, about the competition. I spent the entire day at the arena, starting with the junior pairs event. None of the pairs struck me as really being ready to move up to seniors yet although there were a couple of enjoyable performances, notably the one from Guild & Muldoon. What I observed was that all of the pairs seemed to have different strengths; some had a triple twist but had trouble with the throws, some had the throws but not particularly strong lifts, others had impressive lifts but trouble with the side-by-side elements, that sort of thing. There was a bit of drama in the competition as one pair had to interrupt their program when the girl seemed to have a cramp in her hip.

The free dance was next. I didn't take any notes at all on this event since I never know what to write down about any of the dances, and the results were not too surprising if you'd been listening to the buzz from people who pay more attention to dance than I do. With the exception of a few couples in the middle of the pack, the rationale for the judges' placements seemed pretty clear to me, at least.

The arena was packed to the rafters for the first time during the week for the ladies' free skate -- for all of the other events there were very few people in the upper level at all and whole sections of empty seats below. And, for once, the ladies' competition actually lived up to its reputation as the "big event" of the week.

This has all been on TV already so I won't give a blow-by-blow account, just some thoughts....

The only thing that would have made this a more perfect event would have been if Tonia had had a better skate, for her own peace of mind in knowing she'd tried her best even if she didn't make the Olympic team. As it is, we had four clean performances of high quality, a number of other very good ones, and there was absolutely no possible controversy about the placements and who to put on the Olympic team.

Being seated in a place where I had a very good view of the skaters' expressions, I was impressed by how deadly serious most of them seemed to be. Nicole seemed to be concentrating so hard on getting through her program that I thought she lacked much of her usual charisma. And Tonia appeared to have a look of acute distress on her face from the moment she stepped onto the ice, even before she began to make mistakes. The only time I saw her smile was when she landed the double axel. Only Michelle and Tara really showed much sign that they were actually enjoying themselves.

I must put in a word about costumes. I really like the fact that Michelle chose to compete in something that looks essentially like a practice dress. Its simplicity made the outfits the other girls (well, women, in the case of Tonia) were wearing look fussy and overdone. I think she might want to reconsider the color, though, because that shade of blue doesn't show up well against the ice. I decided that I prefer the original blue and pink dress Tara was wearing to one she has now, because she doesn't have enough muscular development in her back and shoulders for the backless cut to be really flattering to her. Amber Corwin's dress was a horror. The cut and color might have been OK by themselves, but those sparklies all over it were just tacky. I think my other favorite dress of the night was Sydne Vogel's. There certainly were a lot of ladies dressed in blue sparkly dresses, though.

Speaking of Sydne Vogel, I am just waiting for someone to start arguing about how her program was ruined because of the impromptu birthday celebration for Andrea Gardiner while Sydne was circling around getting ready to skate. :-P There was no cake as far as I could see, but people did sing "Happy Birthday" to her.

Finally, I have to apologize for being too distracted by the skating to take much notice of what was going on over in the VIP area, but I did observe The Speedskater scratching his head over Nicole's marks. When Michelle was through skating and everyone else was on their feet clapping and cheering, once again our illustrious leader just sat there doing nothing.

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