Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Book Challenge: Spring Recap

I still have a few more skating posts to finish (insert your "yay!" or "boo!" here), but I figured I better update this little project in the meantime since I am old and forgetful.

12. Knit Two by Kate Jacobs

13. Perfect Fifths by Megan McCafferty
14. Dreams From My Father by President Barack Obama
15. Angels & Demons by Dan Brown

16. Gossip Girl by Cecily Von Ziegesar
17. You Know You Love Me by Cecily Von Ziegesar
18. Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
19. The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory
20. The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
21. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfield

With half a year to go I am slightly less than halfway towards meeting the challenge. I think the remainder of the Gossip Girl series will help me make up some lost ground. ;-)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Not All Of Them Are Gay

If you haven't guessed yet, this post is mostly about the men's competition. Without fail, almost every non-skating fan I talk to about ice skating asks me at some point whether all of the guys in the sport are gay. Some of them are, but, no, they all aren't. Even if they are wearing sequins. And does it really matter? I've never quite understood why this question gets asked so much. So let's move on.

See all these Canadians that were sitting across from us at the arena?
I couldn't escape them all week. They were staying with a tour group in my hotel, crowding the bar and the elevators. They even followed me to Panini Cafe one morning for breakfast. This lone CA(lifornia) girl sitting on the side patio was forgotten about as the CA(nadian) mob overtook the front of the restaurant. The food at Panini Cafe was okay: good mimosa, good bacon, good bread, good coffee. But my eggs were overdone. Blech. I hate overcooked eggs.
Lunch later on that day at The Farm was a lot better. The fact that we waited twenty minutes for a table while standing shoulder to shoulder with the legendary Dorothy Hamill and current U.S. ladies' silver medalist Rachael Flatt had nothing to do with it. ;-) I swear, those twenty minutes were the most quiet we had been all week. We were desperately hoping to overhear some hot (or cool?) skating gossip. After we were seated I ordered ahi tuna, served three ways.
I also mooched off of V's cheese platter.
The men's short program had more interesting audio moments than visual moments. Did you know techno music is just not for raves? It seems the be the go-to music for most men.
The U.S. men's champion, Evan Lysacek, bucked the trend, but by skating to Bolero. For those of you not as obsessed as I am, Bolero is the iconic ice dancing piece skated by Torvill and Dean at the 1984 Olympics. Their performance revolutionized ice dance. Those two pretty much owned that piece of music for almost two decades. No one else dared to skate to it because how could one possibly live up to the expectations? Over the last five years though, Bolero has snuck back into the repertoire of skating music. I still raise my eyebrow when I hear someone skating to it; I expect them to bring it. Despite his excessive arm flailing, Evan brought it.
Evan's primary compeition was French skater Brian Joubert. Brian opted for a lively techno number, that seemed more like a piece for show skating. Much to the delight of tweens and cougars, he worked in some Chippendale-esque hip thrusts into his routine.
We ended up back at the Yard House that night. From left to right: R, Me, C, A, A's Fabulous Mom, V and L. L is the woman responsible for having brought most of us together. Back in 2002, when we were still all strangers on FSU, L arranged a block of group seating for FSUers for the '02 U.S. Nationals, which were also held at Staples Center. The area has changed quite a bit since then -- all for the better! C befriended us at the '06 U.S. Nationals in St. Louis. Having been seated in the row in front of us, he overheard all our snark and couldn't stay away. We were thankful we didn't scare him away with our chatter. We met A and her mom at Worlds, although A already seemed to familiar through her posts on the board.
The (over)use of techno made an appearance in the men's long program too. I forgave this guy for it as he was vastly entertaining, channeling his inner Mr. Roboto.
The other crowd pleaser of the evening was Italian skater Samuel Contesti. He skated a program with a spaghetti western theme. Plus he's easy on the eyes.
This is the joy of victory. Evan Lysacek skated a stellar long program to Rhapsody in Blue.
This is the agony of defeat. Brian Joubert skated a sloppy program to the soundtrack of The Matrix (for like the third season in a row). He broke the cardinal rule of being a good competitor and tried to change his program elements as he skated. That's a big no-no, since muscle memory is a vital part of being a good skater. Changing elements mid-program also shifts your mental focus. If it works out, then it's great. But more often than not it results in silly mistakes, as Brian learned the hard way, falling on what should have been an easy double axel.
The final standings. The pleasant suprise was the silver-place finish by Canadian skater Patrick Chan. He and Brian Joubert had quite the war of words in the press regarding the necessity of doing quadruple jumps. Patrick = no quad. Brian = quad. On this night, the quad lost. It was the first time a U.S. man has won the gold at Worlds since Todd Eldredge's win in 1996.
I only took this picture because Dr. Debi Thomas and Tiffany Chin were presenting the medals to the men. Those two were my idols when I skated as a kid. I still have some of Debi's performances on VHS.
The guys had to do a lot of posing for the media.

After all the media shots were done, the skaters stuck around for their fans. Brian Joubert came over to our section. L hustled down to the front and returned with the most funny and bizarre story of the week. L always gets the best stories and gossip:
Apparently a middle-aged woman came rushing down the stairs toward Brian, holding an envelope. She shouted at him, "Brian I have something for you," while handing over the envelope. Then she insisted that he open it. Most people assumed it was perhaps a photo she wanted him to sign, or a racy photo of herself she wanted him to have. Instead it was a picture of her cat. A cat she named "Brian Joubert", because she is such a huge fan. Skater Joubert politely smiled, thanked her, then tried to return the photo of Cat Joubert. The woman, however, refused to take it back and said she printed that photo out especially for him.
And you all thought I'm a crazy skating fan ;-) ......

Monday, June 15, 2009

Let's Start At The Very Beginning

Because as Fraulein Maria sang in The Sound of Music, it's a very good place to start. When you read you may begin with A-B-C, but when you attend a skating competition you begin at the practice sessions. And this is exactly where I started my week at Worlds, watching the ladies take the practice ice at Staples on Monday night. As far as practice sessions go, it was fairly uneventful with the exception of being rather crowded for a practice session.

Even though she has not competed since 2005, Michelle Kwan still garnered one of the first posters put up in the arena. (Disclaimer for all photos: Click to enlarge and see details. Can you believe I didn't discover the manual zoom until 3 weeks after the event!?!)

The next morning I woke up early so I could leisurely stroll over to Staples, which would become my home away from home for the following five days. That was probably a good thing since I was woefully underwhelmed with my room at the Millenium Biltmore Hotel.

I actually bypassed the main arena so that I could meet up with my friend at the mens' practice session being held next door at the L.A. Convention Center. We were amazed that they built an ice surface so quickly after the Adult/Porn Expo that had concluded just two days earlier.

Brian Joubert of France seemed to be the most accessible top-level skater all week, both to the media and his fans.

Finally it was time to head back to Staples and find our seats. We were pleased to find out that we were seated just over the judges' shoulders.

Competition ice, ready to be skated on.
And we're off! The first skaters to take the ice were the ice dancers, skating this year's compulsory dance, the Paso Doble. In compulsory dance, the skaters do two rounds of the same exact pattern. They have a little bit of leeway at the start and the end to personalize it, but otherwise it is all exactly.the.same. In other words, it can get pretty damn boring quickly. The Paso Doble however, is probably the most exciting compulsory dance, so at least we had that to keep us going.

A lot of the guys seemed to be channeling Edward from Twilight. I'm not sure how or why vampires = Paso Doble. This guy took the award for most Edward-iest.
The Russian team of Domnina and Shabalin were the one of the favorites heading in to the competition. I thought their opening pose was pretty kick ass. I can't say I've ever rested my skate blade on someone's neck, but it sounds sort of cool. Hmmm, maybe this is where the Twilight connection comes in??
The top American ice dancers, Belbin and Agosto, took the ice shortly after their rivals. In a weird "only in ice skating" twist, both teams have the same coach and train at the same facility.
Another American team, Davis and White, also drew a lot of attention. They haven't been skating at the senior level very long, but they made a splashy debut last year and have been considered serious contenders ever since. One or two decades ago, it would have been impossible for such a young team to be ranked so highly. Figure skating judging may still have a long way to go, but it really has come a long way already.
After all the compulsory dances were over, we all walked over to L.A. Live for dinner. The "we" refers to some great people I met -- some years ago, some just this year -- through FSU. From left to right: A, her fabulous mom, C, V & R.
We were lured in by Yard House's 50% off happy hour drinks and appetizers. I've never been a huge fan of any of the entrees I've tried there previously, but the appetizers were surprisingly good.

Crab Cakes:

Seared Ahi:

Mango Martini:
After dinner we headed back to Staples for the Pairs' Short Program. Apparently I didn't take any photos during that segment. I think R and I were clutching each other in fear way too much. There wasn't much else one could do while watching many of the pair teams launch into throw jumps or rotating lifts. Thankfully there were no spectacular crashes.