Monday, January 23, 2012

Notes from Day 1 at the US Figure Skating Championships

For the next week I am the co-captain for the volunteers in the Media Room at the US Figure Skating Championships in San Jose. Well, really it’s the Media Room/Communications/Copy Center…but, that’s a mouthful…so, I’m sticking with just Media Room!
It was a tremendous honor to be asked by the amazing folks at the San Jose Sports Authority (Patricia Ernstrom, Dave Eadie, and Carrie Benjamin) to pitch in to help out in this capacity. They work tirelessly to bring sporting events to San Jose—in the next year alone, the city is hosting this event, the US Gymnastic Olympic Trials, and the first and second round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in 2013, among others.
I have been a figure skating fan (yes, I admit I like almost all sports) from early on. I remember watching film of Peggy Fleming skate at the Grenoble Olympics and think I was hooked from that moment. Her grace…her beauty…it all captured my imagination.
Ask me to name my top three favorite women’s skaters of all-time. Easy. Dorothy Hamill, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Peggy Fleming.
Of course, I cannot skate—I spent most of my youth on that frozen pond at the zoo not in an upright position. And, my brother spent hours every year trying to get me to stay up—I guess I wasn’t meant to skate. But, I have enjoyed watching all of it—men’s, women’s, pairs, and even ice dancing.
So, for this skating fan and blogger, it was a no-brainer for me to say yes, when asked to help this week.
My co-captain, Ginna Baldassarre (who is an amazing teammate), and I have been working to get our volunteer schedule set for the week, and are now settling in to getting folks trained up on their assignments and making sure everything is running smoothly from our end. And, as you can imagine, after a day of practice and the first day of competition, things are evolving at a fast pace…it’s a good thing I’m wearing my running shoes to keep up!
Sunday was mainly the novice group competing and a great way to ease into the event. A small, but appreciative crowd of nearly 300 (ok, that may be a bit generous) filled the seats and cheered and threw stuffed daisies onto the ice after the skaters finished. Most of those in the stands were friends and family and they were cheering for everyone. It was nice to see many of these first time competitors get so much love from the audience.
Quite a few local skaters competed…with Karen Chen standing out as the leader in the ladies novice. Karen is supported by Kristi Yamaguchi who was on hand afterwards to give some words of encouragement. Karen is one of the youngest competitors in her group. The youngest competitor on the men’s side is Vincent Zhou, another local skater. Vincent wowed the crowd with his spectacular skating and his personality. At 11 years old, he already knew how to answer the reporters…"I can only control what I do, not what other skaters do.”
Names to remember in the pairs are Danielle Viola and Alexander Johnson. They took fifth place in the short program, however they were flawless, strong, graceful, and breathtaking.
I spent a good portion of my day escorting the skaters from the “kiss and cry” area to the mix zone for interviews with the press and the locker rooms. One thing that struck me was that each one performed so beautifully—they are true athletes—and you forget for that moment in time that they are so young. Then, once they are off, they are talking about what any other 12 year old would be talking about. It’s fascinating to see that shift from competitor to kid. And, yes, I had one skater who cried. As one former skater told me today, you train so hard for that competition, and in one moment all it takes is one mistake.