A Different World

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Pretty skies over central and western Montana last week

I had an extended drive home to Montana from Bismarck, North Dakota last week which provided an opportunity to reflect on these past ten years since we moved to Seeley Lake.

There isn’t much about our worlds that has stayed the same. Other than the fact Alistair spends half his time in Bismarck and I primarily live in Seeley Lake, most aspects of our worlds are completely different now.

While Alistair still runs an urgent care, Walk In clinic in downtown Bismarck, he now works for Sanford Health, not MedCenter One and he’s in a different building than he was in 10 years ago.

As far as careers go, I was working 3 days a week in Missoula and 2 days here in Seeley Lake and I hadn’t leapt into opening my own clinic yet.

 

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Cute little clinic I eventually opened.

Alistair and I spent Christmas apart that very first winter and we hadn’t even taken possession of our beautiful mountain home yet.

I was still skating well and able to land double jumps because I had been coaching regularly while working part time at a veterinary clinic before we came to Montana. I managed to skate in Missoula a few days a week the first year and even guest skated in the club’s year-end ice show.

 

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Missoula skating club program. I loved that dress!

 

While I had a blast returning to the ice in Canada to coach this past summer, there’s no way I’d be able to curve around the ice in a pretty spread eagle and then 3-turn into a double loop like I could in Bismarck 10 years ago.

In fact, I could barely get up after kneeling to line up a putt after the first week of high level choreography, power skating, stroking and general coaching.

Speaking of lining up putts, I would have laughed hysterically if you had told me, 10 years ago, that Alistair and I would be addicted to golf now.

 

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Seeley Swan Veterinary golf team members…. the first round of golf for us together!

 

What began as a whimsical day of laughter and drinks as we swung and missed and broke golf clubs at the local pond hockey fundraiser has turned into an obsession. One that we’re both jonesen’ for now that both of our courses have closed for the season.

We have a course in Washburn, North Dakota we enjoy playing on and one here in Seeley Lake. Both are often pretty quiet so we can play “Fyfe Golf” and shamelessly hunt for balls to keep the cheap Doukhobor and the even cheaper Scotsman happy. And both courses are beautiful, as well, each with its own unique quirks and challenges.

 

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Playing at Painted Woods in ND this summer.

We take our clubs with us everywhere, even on flights and we’ve been able to enjoy rounds in Vancouver, Saskatoon, Regina, a teensy town outside of Regina, Kenmare, Medora, Fernie, Whitefish, Missoula, Helena, and all over Kauai, the Big Island and Maui. We’ve both improved immensely and we can’t wait to get back out there!

We even made time to hit the indoor driving range when I was back in Bismarck last week. We both got the Big Bucket and hit balls until our shoulders sagged and our thighs were sore. And we loved it!

 

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At the indoor driving range last week!

And I’m reminded of another change right now as the house is full of the unmistakable smell of yummy food that’s been simmering away for hours. While I was a good cook 10 years ago its as though my culinary skills are now on steroids since I won a Rouxbe online cooking course earlier this year.

Its a win-win for everyone who visits because of the cool things I’ve learned and the things I’ve tried. Steamed chicken? Who knew? The ridiculously challenging Pasta Boscaiola full of creamy mushrooms and diced prosciutto- Wow!

 

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Steamed lemon-garlic chicken I tried for the first time a few nights ago.

I’m learning the how’s and why’s of things and creating flavors and flavor profiles that I never understood before. I could follow a recipe just fine but now I actually get the order of things and how to maybe make something better. I usually only do the online lessons when Alistair isn’t here and it has been a fun addition to my life. Right now I’m simmering my own chicken stock (I just added the Bouqet Garni) that I’m making using chicken bones & bits I normally would have thrown out from roasted chickens that I never used to make but we just love to eat now!

 

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Simmer away, my pretty! (pre bouquet garni.)

I’ve also re-invented myself in that I took the time when I closed my clinic to live the childhood dream and write a book. Then I learned all about self publishing and since I began I have created a series of 3 upbeat, light-hearted, won’t-make-you-question-life-God-or-the-world, teen fiction books that are loved by people of all ages.

Lost and Found in Missing Lake, the first book, was a dream come true, even if it was pretty frightening putting myself and my imagination out there. The covers for the 2nd and 3rd books are fabulous works of art done by our friend, Ben Brick who is a graphics artist and this winter I’m focusing on trying to get the books some more attention.

 

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My 3rd book, published this spring! 

I just love writing and creating characters and worlds and I’ve been able to combine my passion for veterinary medicine in this series and its been so well-received that this winter instead of getting going on book 4, I’ve decided to work with a media marketing group and try to grow my distribution.

I want to share more of Luke and Tabitha’s story with my fans but it would be even better if I could have way more fans to share it with.

I do get to write all year with this little blog thing I now do that I certainly didn’t do 10 years ago. Heck, I had no clue about social media 10 years ago and thought blogging was for people with nothing better to do.

 

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Me, writing last week’s blog.

No offense, Bloggers. I didn’t think much of golfers 10 years ago, either!

The blog has been great for my writing and for promoting my book and for connecting with individuals around the world. It has, most importantly for me, though, been an unexpected outlet for me to share my thoughts, fears and worries when I have to face choices and loss with our animal companions.

Sadly, 10 years ago we had 4 dogs and 11 cats (3 of them were barn kitties.) In the 10 years we grew to a family that included another dog, 2 guinea pigs and up to 3 ferrets at our peak.

 

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Cleo, Casey, UB and Harry… not all that long ago, really.

A blessing to closing my clinic was being able to spend such amazing quality time with all of these cool spirits and I’ve been sharing their stories with the blogosphere. It has been wonderful having you all get to know “the kids”

Phillipa, Calypso and Luigi were outstanding ferret ambassadors and I wish I could be singing Christmas carols on the Sing-Song Saddle with them to share with you all right now but, sadly, that’s not the case.

But I was able to write through my feelings and sort of sort them out through my fingers on this screen. 10 years ago I had my journal (which I still maintain) and now I have this platform as well.

 

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Do you know how hard it used to be to get them all facing the camera?

Our horse collection was a lot larger 10 years ago and included our gorgeous stallion, Dash, who we had to say goodbye to a couple of summers ago. The broodmares, Raven and Cocoa are now buried alongside my riding horse, Spyder, along with Flash and Brutus as these 10 years has taken its toll on the herd.

The remaining bunch are wintering again in North Dakota and their fuzzy hair coats are a sign that the cold weather is coming.

 

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Siblings, Fumie & Frankie just last week!

Its pretty mild in North Dakota so far this winter, though. I just got off the phone with Alistair and he was outside on the tractor moving hay from here to there for a large part of the day and never had to come inside or shove his toes into a heater to get warm.

I’ve strained my broth and have it cooling and its almost time to put the noodles into the crock pot. I had a brisk walk up the driveway with our one remaining pup, Cleo, who is 14 and also isn’t the same as she was 10 years ago.

She has a wicked heart murmur (not as loud as Loki’s was, mind you), she’s completely deaf and her back legs don’t do what they’re supposed to all of the time. We keep her on meds for arthritis and she’s inside most of the time and she seems content to just be with us.

 

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Miss Cleopatra last week in Bismarck

And we never used to go to Hawaii but that is a part of our world now and the Grand Prix final of figure skating happened this weekend and a good friend is there with his Canadian champ and I wear glasses to read and Alistair now makes me Caesars and he’s a martini-man instead of a scotch man and our Relaxation Grotto out back is finally coming together where 10 years ago it was a deck and I sleep better and more than I used to, give or take a random insomnia spell, and my hair is shorter than its been in years and I sling bling and I’m working on something else that is all a part of improving my marketability and I really, really want people to read my books!

A lot has happened in 10 years for the Fyfes and some of its been a wild ride and other times we’ve just coasted through the changes like pros, often not even aware changes were occurring.

Thankfully our love of big breakfasts and yummy meals with good coffee or a fine wine together hasn’t changed.

Neither has the ongoing crib match.

 

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Who ARE these people?

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My first book event in Bismarck!

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We love Aloha!

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2005 with a very young Cleopatra in Bismarck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Olympic Season Upon Us

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Savchenko & Massot of Germany en route to gold last weekend in Lake Placid. (None of these photos are mine except for the one that I am in below.)

I’m happy when I’m figure skating.

There is nothing like gliding on the ice with the cool breeze whooshing my hair from my face as I hear the edge of my blade rip into the ice or when I just know I’m going to nail a landing even when I’m rotating in the air on a jump.

I felt free and pretty when I skated well and the sport gave me confidence to address and attack all other aspects of my life.

As obvious as it seems, the sport taught me to get back up after each and every fall, no matter if it hurt my body or my dignity and no matter how many people were watching.

I learned to take responsibility for my actions through skating. It was nobody else’s fault when I singled a lutz or dropped my shoulder on a take-off.

 

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Returning to the ice as a coach this summer in Manitoba.

I so enjoy the smile on a student’s face when they try something I’ve suggested and it actually works.

Or when one of my former students shares photos of their own children now wearing ice skates. One of my main goals as a coach is to instill the love I have of the sport onto my skaters. If they love it enough to put their own kids into the sport then I’ve done something right, regardless of how many gold tests they pass or gold medals they win.

 

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Canadians Meghan and Eric at Skate Canada last month

And I absolutely love watching great skaters enjoying themselves as they perform to the best of their abilities. Its fun watching people have fun!

Which is why I was able to cap off this season’s Grand Prix last weekend with a smile on my face, a Caesar  in my hand, a cat or two in my lap and hubby on the couch next to me.

Last weekend was Skate America, held in Lake Placid, NY, home of lots of historic on-ice memories for figure skating and hockey fans. The international skaters competed over 3 days and on top of the usual drama this sport provides, there were some absolutely bizarre events that took place.

Like the last group of the men’s free program.

 

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Daniel Samohin, lopsided arms and all.

It started with a hard fall on a quad for Israel’s Daniel Samohin. The guy is a powerhouse and he’s well known for some wonky air positions and hard-ass body slams but this time his off-kilter, under rotated body came crashing down onto his shoulder. You could almost see it pop out.

He immediately threw his left arm out erratically in font of him, trying to get the clearly dislocated shoulder back into place. He called out for them to kill the music (which seemed to take forever) and for some medical assistance (which never came) and gingerly made his way off the ice.

I’ve got to say, that was a first for me as a viewer and judging from the horrified, tear-streaked faces among the audience, I’m not alone there.

 

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Adam Rippon, drama king

Next up we had American, Adam Rippon, who has a flare for drama and a penchant for full-body spandex. There was a bit of a delay as the referee had him attend to errant sequins all over the ice (not sure if they were from his own body bling or not) so he got to regroup with his coach before eventually starting his program.

Which led to a missed quad lutz and then another weird fall which caused him to get up and just stand there with a dazed look on his face. As his music continued he sort of rubbed his shoulder, the crowd groaned and then he took off to complete the rest of his program perfectly. Rightly so, he earned the silver medal behind countryman, Nathen Chen.

 

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Nathan Chen, gold medalist

But even Nathan’s routine was strange because the Quad King, who was the first man to ever land 5 quadruple jumps in one program last season, who was a dancer before a he committed full time to skating and actually has artistry to back up the jumps, and who rarely ever misses a jump, kind of bombed on a few elements. He looked as confused as everyone else but he had racked up enough points in the short and with the jumping passes he nailed to take the gold medal.

And there was a weird 15-minute delay during the final group due to a computer glitch for the judging panel.

The next day, the ladies provided some surprises as well as a sort of surprise. Sort-of. Kind of, in a way, not really, though, but I’ll explain.

 

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Bradie Tennell

Bradie Tennell was my favorite surprise of the entire event. Who is she,  you ask? (Everyone was asking that question!) Bradie happens to be the bronze medalist at Skate America who is competing for the first time as a senior lady who only got one international assignment this season. She was fabulous!

Lyrical, graceful, charming, Bradie has it all,  not to mention a full arsenal of triple jumps that are fully rotated and as strong on the landing as they are when she takes off. I was tickled watching her because the States is in a bit of a quandary without an Ice Princess right now.

The states is known for having elite female figure skaters. Jill Trenary, Caryn Kadavy, Elaine Zayak, Michelle Kwan, Nancy Kerrigan, Kristi Yamaguchi, Tara Lipinski, Sasha Cohen…. these ladies were sparkly wonders who claimed top podium positions over the last 20 years.

 

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Ah, Sasha Cohen!

 

But this year? With the Olympics (provided Trump doesn’t piss North Korea off anymore) just a couple of months away? Nobody?

Sadly, if you are wondering about Gracie Gold, the much hyped former US champ who oozed class, talent and style a few years ago, is sitting the season out.

 

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Gracie Gold, in better times.

Gracie announced she was skipping the Grand Prix season due to treatment for depression and an eating disorder. You may be surprised that this isn’t more common in a sport where we go through puberty in spandex in front of the entire world.

It actually is common, you just don’t hear about it. The powers-that-be have always tried to hide eating disorders under the rug so that parents will continue to put their kids into skating. I’m sure gymnastics is the same way.

Tai Babalonia of the US, who skated pairs with Randy Gardener was the first popular skater to address eating disorders but many have been quiet about the subject ever since. I lost a skating colleague, Barb Phipps due to organ failure from her bulimia back in the 80’s. And Russia’s Olympic darling, the expressive, determined, bendable Julia Lipnitskia has retired just this season admittedly to seek treatment for her own eating disorder.

 

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Lipnitskia, helping Russia win the Team Event in Sochi.

Figure skating isn’t without its demons but I’ll leave that for another time because we need to get another Ice Princess for this country so that every little girl and her parents can watch the Olympics and want to be just like her!

I hope its Bradie Tennell who stands on top of our national podium in January. I think it needs to be gold for USFS to name her to the Olympic team, though, because she’s unchallenged but she’s the only one of our top ladies who has sparkled and shone this season so far.

 

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Ashley Wagner, short program, Skate America

Try as I might, I just can’t bring myself to love Ashley Wagner. Its not that I don’t like her. Heck, I don’t know her personally. But I find myself rolling my eyes whenever she talks about being the “underdog” or when she reminds everyone of her “determination.” She won bronze at Skate Canada this fall with 2 so-so programs and lot of under-rotations because the other women didn’t skate up to their standards.

She came into the long program in Lake Placid needing to be determined because her short program kind of sucked.

It fell apart in dramatic fashion, though, after a missed opening triple-triple and a landed jump combination. She did a spin and then just stopped. Not quite like her training-mate, Adam Rippon. It was different. She had a poopy-pants look on her face and she stopped and stood there before eventually going over to her coach.

 

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AshWags. Standing there (that dress, though!)

Raf, her coach, gestured at her to go & talk to the referee and just like that she withdrew.

To media she has implied that this event wasn’t important enough for her to continue to skate with an apparent skin infection on her ankle. Personally, if I hadn’t been training well and my skin was sore in my boot, I would have withdrawn ahead of time and allowed another skater to participate.

So my hopes aren’t super high for Ashley, nor are they high for our current national champ, Karen Chen, who has changed both of her programs a couple of times already this season. (She bombed at Skate America). Mirai Nagasu is a dark horse and she has landed triple axels this year but she’s a headcase with no transitions and pleasing choreography.

 

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Mirai Nagasu last season. When she’s on she can be very good!

The American team will be strong in Ice Dance, at least and I’m once again so happy to see the Shibutanis having a successful season so far.

The Shib-sibs have returned to Coldplay to weave a fabulous tale with their free dance. I enjoyed watching them skate because they looked like they were having the time of their lives at Skate America.

 

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The Shibutanis. Coldplay. Gold medals. Boom.

They’ll have to face the glorious French ice dancers as well as the Italians, all of the Russians and the beloved Canadians, Tessa and Scott at the Olympics, though, not to mention the other strong American teams and I’ll admit to hoping the Canadians come out on top.

 

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Tessa & Scott’s edgy, latin-themed short dance.

Their short dance this season combines latin themes with the set-pattern-dance, the Rhumba (all of the teams have the same short dance theme, which means many of us will be needing a smoke after the event is over.) Scott and Tessa ooze sex appeal and their chemistry on the ice is unrivaled.

Then there’s their free dance to Roxanne from Moulin Rouge (wiping more sweat from my brow.) Their knee bend is phenominal, their moves are incredible, and the choreography is outstanding. I want to be like them when I grow up!

 

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From Skate Canada earlier this season en route to another gold medal.

In pairs right now everything is up in the air (see what I did just there?)

France has the sexy Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres. Canada’s former world champs, Duhamel and Radford won Skate Canada but they are veterans whose bodies might not be able to hold those triple lutz landings. American pairs teams haven’t produced an ounce of excitement this season so far and tend to not fare well internationally anyhow.

Russia’s Evgenia Tarasova & Vladamir Morozov (the tallest figure skating red head I’ve ever seen) are a threat for the podium thanks to their consistency and what seems like a really sweet connection to one another but China has Sui and Han, the current world champs and I don’t know if anyone can beat the diminutive dynamos.

 

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Tarasova & Morozov in France last month, heading for gold.

The Chinese team has grown up and matured on the global stage and despite his stature, they really whip out the tricks. Their quad split-twist is a thing of beauty and they even go for a throw quad now and then. Its really fun watching them have fun especially now that they’ve learned to relate to one another on the ice.

 

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Wenjing Sui & Cong Han

Clearly I can talk about figure skating for hours. As I’ve said before, its my first language and I’m fluent in it.

And its sparkly and pretty and athletic and dynamic and musical and graceful and artistic all at the same time. Especially when its done right!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the state of figure skating if you have any and I’d be the first person to be thrilled if Ashley Wagner wins back her national title and skates her heart out in South Korea. Her work is cut out for her facing Russian phenom, Evgenia Medvedeva and Canadian, Katelyn Osmand but we’ll see.

You never know what will happen on the ice. Its slippery out there.

Which all adds to the drama that I love so much! And while I won’t go into the costumes this season, I’ll merely state that ombre is the new black.

 

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We miss you, Gracie. Get well!

 

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Pairs podium at Skate America last weekend.

 

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Canadian showgirl in Japan… strike a pose!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lets Talk Skating

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Javier Fernandez in his short program, heading towards a 5th European crown yesterday. (none of these photos are mine except for the very last one)

 

As busy as I like to be, always having a few things going on, when its championship skating season my world grinds to a bit of a halt. Especially now with icenetwork, which broadcasts international events live (for an annual fee, of course).

The Grand Prix series was going on before Christmas with events in the States, Canada, France, Japan, Russia and China. These events feature skaters who have qualified to be there based on the previous season’s results with a bonus entry for each host country. They are also a way for skaters to earn money during the season, which is necessary for equipment, ice time, coaching, living expenses and travel fees.

 

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Grand Prix Final podium, l-r, Satoko Miyahara, Evgenia Medvedeva, Anna Pogorilaya

The series culminates in a Final with the top 6 skaters in each event competing for the big bucks. It was wonderful watching how the series unfolded and which skaters most likely will be vying for World titles.

Following the series each country hosts their own national championship. You can imagine how hopped up I was when Canada and the US held theirs on the same weekend! (I’m sure Alistair was just thrilled).

I’m stoked that Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are back and wow, are they looking amazing. They haven’t competed since their silver medal at the Sochi Olympics but they aren’t showing any rust or lack of stamina.

 

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Tessa & Scott en route to gold at the GP Final

They have changed coaches and are now in Montreal training with the current world champions, Papadakis & Cizeron. While the skating world is cheering Virtue & Moir’s return, Papadakis & Cizeron might not be. They have been beaten by the older Canadians at every outing they’ve been matched against each other this year. The French are saying the right things like, “It makes us train harder” and “they inspire us” but I’m sure they’re pissed.

 

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Papadakis & Cizeron, this weekend at Europeans, which they won

A fun extension of the domestic championships last weekend was this current weekend’s European championships. Euros has been a very prestigious event for decades, often more important than the World championships many years ago. There is no continental equivalent although there used to be a North American championships long before the Grand Prix series evolved.

I loved watching what I could of Euros this year which were held in the Czech Republic. As keen as I am I wasn’t getting up at 5am to watch the early, less skilled and lesser-known skaters and I missed most of the short programs because of other things going on but I made a point to catch the final groups of the mens and ladies events.

 

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Carolina Kostner, back in action in the short program at Euros

First things first: Caro is back! Italy’s Carolina Kostner, at the age of 29, is back after a ridiculous ban that kept her off competitive ice for 2 years. Basically, she told officials who showed up at her house that her then-boyfriend, an Olympic speed walker who was being tested for drug use, wasn’t home. She didn’t know why he asked her to say that but she did. Love is like that.

Its also fickle because she kicked his ass to the curb when she (and the rest of the world) found out he was using performance-enhancing drugs (for speed walking… who knew?) and that her career was jeopardized because of that one little lie.

The moral here is don’t use drugs and don’t lie. The real story, though, is that most skaters with an incredible career like Kostner’s, including the bronze medal from Sochi, would have laid down and called it good. Toured in the ice shows. Rest on your laurels, that sort of thing.

Not Carolina. She kept herself in shape and she trains with grumpy Alexei Mishin and darn it all if she isn’t kicking some sparkly butt out there!

 

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Long program. Vivaldi. Ethereal.

Carolina is an artist as well as a skater and fans of the sport are so lucky she has the grit, strength and balls to come back. She was beautiful in simple colors and she brought her game to Ostrava and took home the bronze medal.

The gold was won by a skater 12 years younger than her. How do you like that?

 

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European ladies podium- Pogorilaya 3rd, Medvedeva 1st and Carolina beaming in 3rd

The ladies were lovely and Medvedeva seems unbeatable. I don’t necessarily like her program, which tells a story of a woman whose partner leaves for work on Sept.11th and then never comes home. Not really the fluff and stuff of normal skating routines but she commits to it and does a good job. The triple lutzes, triple-triple combos and amazing spins help, too.

 

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Papadakis & Cizeron on top at Europeans. Whew, no Tessa & Scott to contend with! Cute Italians in 2nd and Russians in 3rd.

Its a new world now since Tessa & Scott won Olympic gold on home turf in Vancouver in 2010. That basically ended the Russian dominance of the ice dance podium. And as much as I joke about the French team, they are absolutely fabulous and they totally deserved another European crown.

As much as I enjoy all events, this year the European men were probably my favorite to watch. Not just because it was really cool to see the 25 year old Spaniard, Javier Fernandez quad his way to his 5th title (its only ever been done at Euro’s once before, by Ondrej Nepala), but because there are some new names coming out of the woodwork who may be forces to reckon with.

For starters, men’s figure skating is an entirely different world from Kurt Browning & his Casablanca routines… pausing in the middle of the ice to fake pulling out a smoke… that sort of thing doesn’t get points in the new judging system nor will it garner any bonus Grades of Execution.

 

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A Canadian classic.

Yet it was what skating had more of in the 80s.. more individuality and more story-telling. I’ve been a bit leery of the potential for cookie cutter routines coming out because of the point system but I think men’s skating has started to combine the uniqueness that was present in the 80s with the jumping requirements of the Now.

I’m excited about new guys like the Latvian, Deniss Vasiljevs. I’ve never heard of him but what a great performance complete with the jumps. His edge control, flair, speed and musicality were magnificent and no shock seeing him with new coach, Stephane Lambiel.

 

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Vasiljevs… loving this guy!

18 year-old Ivan Pavlov from the Ukraine was sharp and has super springy knees. Italy’s Ivan Righini played the Zamboni on his quad and triple axel but nailed everything else with flair during his Elvis-themed routine. (There was that one awkward guitar-strumming moment, though… what is it about some Europeans who just can’t get the moves? Victor Petrenko comes to mind…)

I enjoyed the lanky 24 year-old German, Paul Fentz, who skated to Pink Floyd tunes. Who knew Brick in the Wall would work on the ice? The guy has some mad skills but needs to get some spin lessons under his belt but it was still so enjoyable watching another skater I had never heard of.

 

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Brezina at Rostelecom cup from a few years ago

Sadly, again, it wasn’t baby-faced Michal Brezina’s event. This kid burst onto the scene (much to the delight of female fans) years ago but has never captured the promise he brought with him. He has 2 quads. He can land them. He’s musical and flexible and he knows how to entertain. Maybe it will come together for him at World’s this spring.

Its exciting to see the quads incorporated into unique, exciting routines. The European men will need them when they face off against the Japanese, Chinese and now American threats. What’s that? A real American threat in men’s figure skating?

 

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Nathan Chen. Quad-meister at the Grand Prix Final.

Yeah. His name is Nathan Chen and you should remember it. His artistry isn’t where Yuzuru Hanyu’s or Patrick Chan’s are but its getting there. The kid does quads like you wouldn’t believe, 2 in the short and 4 in the long. Insane. Who has that strength and endurance? And he’s working at looking good while doing it.

Next up is Four Continents, in South Korea, Feb.14th-19th. Its a test event for the Olympic games next winter and features athletes from the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania. There are a lot of serious low-level skaters who represent under-represented countries but it is a taste of international exposure for these kids and they get to see the big names, like Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond and the American Shibutanis compete in person. US silver medalist, Ashley Wagner has chosen to skip the event and train for the last big hurrah, World’s, which will be March 29th- April 2nd in Helsinki, Finland.

 

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the Shibutani’s on their way to the gold medal at last week’s US Championships

I can only hope our local NBC affiliate and dish network decide to get along by then because not everything at the big events gets shown on icenetwork. Keep your fingers crossed for that!

I’m thankful to have my safe little addiction in going back to my roots in the ice rinks. I love sharing my love of the sport, too, and sometimes think I’ll coach again someday. Figure skating is a world of sparkly things, spandex and beautiful people wrapped up in music, toe picks, quads and death spirals. Its a lovely distraction from the real world.

 

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Podium at the Grand Prix Final. Sorry, P&C!

 

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Javi, en route to his 5th title (spin photos always look a bit weird)

 

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Kurt Browning… Casablanca.

 

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BC Pre-Novice dance bronze medalists. Check out my groovy hair!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let the Grand Prix Begin!

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One of America’s Ice Princess, Ashley Wagner (not my photo)

Its that time of year when figure skating fans start to get a bit nutty. We are anxious to see the new routines of our favorite skaters and equally curious about who has done what over the summer months.

The Grand Prix series brings together top skaters from all International Skating Union (ISU) countries in a showcasing format of limited-entry competitions. Skaters earn the right to compete at these events (and the right to try and earn some much-needed prize money) based on how they fared internationally the year prior.

We begin the 2016-17 season tonight in Hoffman Estates, Illinois with Skate America. And so begins this year’s rivalry between our own Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold.

 

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The current US Ladies Champion, Gracie Gold! (not my photo)

While Gracie’s talent is incredible and her jumps are gorgeous she has some in the skating community holding their breath when she leaps from solid ground. Er, solid ice.

A lack of consistency knocked her off the top of the podium at this spring’s World Championship. Sitting in 1st place after the short program she faltered on a night when the other women brought the house down, including Ashley. Gracie ended up apologizing to the nation with tears in her eyes and a lump in her throat when she placed 4th.

Ashley and Gracie met up early in October at the Japan Open, an early-season event where professional athletes can compete against the amateurs. Ashley earned some of her highest points ever and skated lights-out after telling reporters that she had worked her butt off this summer to gain consistency and strength.

 

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Determined, strong and confidant Ashley Wagner. (not my photo)

Ashley Wagner is no stranger to the media. She is often out-spoken (at times annoyingly so) but she backed her words up earning the silver medal at Worlds last spring and is starting to look like she wants to kick some ass.

She is a military brat and most people would agree she doesn’t have the talent that oozes out of Gracie Gold. She has been criticized for being stiff at times and she often has point deductions for under-rotating her jumps. Her triple-triple combination (a necessity for the top women these days) usually is a hair short and hasn’t been consistent.

But maybe her hard work this summer and her commitment to pushing through to the next Olympics as well as her taste of silver medal glory at World’s will keep her hungry enough to bring the best Ashley Wagner to every competition.

 

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Another gorgeous dress from the Sochi Olympics for Ashley (not my photo)

I like that she’s gone back to her darker hair coloring this season. It is more her and more real and that’s what the judges need to see.

And hopefully we will see Gracie share in some of the limelight this year. I just feel that her heart was crushed at World’s and she felt like she let the country, her coaches, her family and herself down.

 

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Gracie having some fun (not my photo).

We don’t get to see her bubbly, playful side as much anymore and practice reports from Illinois reflect that. “Straight face” and “poker face” are what I have read although she apparently had a decent short program practice today.

I used to always tell my skaters that if they weren’t enjoying themselves out on the ice the audience and the judges could tell. Nobody enjoys watching a skater have a complete meltdown as they achieve human-Zamboni status during a bad skate (a la Carolina Kostner a few World’s ago… oh, man, that was rough).

 

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The impeccably dressed Carolina Kostner, Caro to her fans, NOT wiping out (not my photo).

 

(As an aside, I love 29 year-old Carolina, who is returning to the party this year after a ridiculous ban forced upon her because of actions and choices a former boyfriend made involving performance-enhancing substances. We are the lucky ones to be able to watch this gifted, amazingly styled, musical, mesmerizing skater yet again!)

 

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Yay! Caro’s coming back this season! (not my photo, this was at Sochi in 2014 where she earned the bronze medal).

I’m hoping to see Gracie have some fun again because when she is on her game its like watching her put on a jumping clinic. She floats effortlessly around the ice in shimmering Swarovski crystals, leaping into her triples with a lightness and grace that defy her height. I want to see happy Gracie tonight because that will bring the US crowd to their feet. Gracie took almost a full month off her training this summer (unheard of in the skating world) and we are all hoping it recharged her desire batteries.

But this isn’t a 2-horse race this weekend. There are some other tough competitors sharing the shiny, slippery surface with the Americans.

 

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Japan’s Mao Asada… another tough, well-established cookie! (not my photo)

The balletic, triple-axel-wielding Mao Asada is in Illinois and although she hasn’t performed her full arsenal in the early season, practice reports are looking good so far. Of course, its all about what happens that night, under the lights and pressure, with television cameras at every corner of the rink, the coaches lined up along the boards and an arena full of knowledgeable fans who want to see every single skater bring it.

Mao is older than many of the others but with age comes a maturity to her skating that I absolutely love. A confidence that women achieve only with age. The knowledge of our own bodies and how to hold ourselves shows strongly in this petite performer and much of what Mao puts out there is more of a show than a competition.

 

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Incredible Mao Asada. (not my photo).

She also has some of the most beautiful dresses I’ve seen on the ice and I can’t wait to see her programs this season.

Another skater to pay attention to is the young upstart from Canada, Gabby Daleman.

 

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Canada’s Daleman! (not my photo)

Daleman has been on the international scene for a couple of years and while she has enjoyed podium love in Canada I get the feeling she is ready for a real breakthrough. She’s tough, polished, stunning and fast. I love her speed and it allows her jumps to soar.

Canada needs their women to join every other discipline on the World stage. Pairs, men and ice dance all have Canadian global champs but its been a generation since we have had women at the top.

 

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Canada’s former champion, Katelyn Osmond (not my photo).

We thought we had the next big deal in Katelyn Osmond from the Maritimes (training now in Edmonton) but bizarre injuries plagued her for the last 2 seasons. This did allow Gabby to gain some confidence, though, which is why she has earned spots in this year’s Grand Prix.

 

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Gabrielle Daleman thanking the crowd. (not my photo).

And we can’t count out the experience of Japan’s Kanako Murakami. Kanako suffered the fate of rising to the top of her game in a country that was full of rising stars. Fumie Suguri, Mao Asada, Akiko Suzuki, and Miki Ando were tremendous skaters when Kanako was trying to claim her stake among Japan’s skating elite.

 

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Kanako Murikami of Japan (not my photo).

She can be a bit stiff with her skating but she definitely skates from the heart. Unfortunately, she is one of those skaters who “wraps” their freeleg while in the air during jumps. Its a technique that some skaters just naturally have but it can lead to slower rotations and its just plain unsightly.

The unsightly quality is a big deal in our International Judging System where the base points for a jump can be added to or subtracted from based on the Grade of Execution. If not a negative GoE, it certainly doesn’t gain positives.

 

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While she has worked on her wrap over the years its still there. Note- faces always look funny in jumps & spins. (not my photo)

But you can’t argue with the fact she is still committed to the sport and there is something to be said about experience.

The ladies short program will air on Ice Network (www.icenetwork.com) tonight if you have a membership. NBC will also show some of the event this weekend.

The ice dance event will be ground-breaking in that the short dance is combining the Blues set pattern dance with a hip-hop section. I have seen some of the programs and its going to be a blast. I won’t detail the event just yet but know that I’m hoping the American siblings, Maia and Alex Shibutani are on their game.

 

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Maia and Alex Shibutani. LOVE them! (not my photo).

 

The Shibutanis (Shib-Shibs to their fans) became cult favorites last year when they skated to Coldplay. No, wait, they made art to Coldplay. I just got shivers thinking about their routine from last year that earned them the World silver medal.

This year they are combining Sinatra and Jay-z. Yeah, that’s right. Remix that, Baby! I’m curious to see what the judges think. Figure skating judges have been known to be stuffy old farts wrapped in wool coats and fur hats who glare at skaters and drop marks when new boundaries are pushed. Just think of how long it took Canadians, Shae-Lyn Bourne & Victor Krantz to break through ice dance barriers long established by European skaters.

But they did and it paved the way for creative performers like the Shibutanis and it has moved ice dance into a new era.

Reports from Illinois say Maia’s outfit for this routine is as amazing as their skating skills and the routine are. I can’t wait.

 

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The Shibutanis with iconic coach, Marina Zoueva after their silver-medal winning performance at World’s in Boston earlier this year.

I love this time of year.

I love the Grand Prix of figure skating.

I hope you’ll be able to see some of the skating this weekend and feel free to share your comments or ask questions. Figure skating is my first language and I remain fluent in it. Next up on the circuit is Skate Canada in Missisauga, Ontario next weekend. I shall keep you all posted.

 

 

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Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloveev of Russia are back on the scene at Skate America this weekend (not my photo).

 

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Also competing in ice dance are the Americans, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue (obviously not my photo).

 

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Hoping to see happy Gracie after this weekend! (not my photo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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