National Recaps

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America’s Alysa Liu, senior ladies 2019 national champion! (not my photo)

It is the time of year when I set the timer to record certain programs and then enjoy them shamelessly with glasses of red wine on the couch beneath my Siamese companion at night often with tears of joy on my cheeks.

And while the Canadian national figure skating championships were not televised in the States I was still able to keep up with the scores from last weekend thanks to the Internet.

Its the heart of figure skating season and I’m all over it!

Two nights ago (with wine, tears, and said cat) I watched American history being made as a diminutive 13-year old phenom triple-axeled her way to the top step of the podium.

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13 year-old Alysa Liu (none of these today are my photos)

Alysa Liu was bursting with joy after she placed 2nd after a strong short program behind last year’s champion, Bradie Tennell. And then Friday night she lit up the arena in  Detroit again when she skated her heart out and won the entire event!

Television cameras captured her overwhelming emotions when they showed her crying afterwards. Tears of pure joy and wonderment poured down her face which reminded me of how young she really is. Her bio says she enjoys riding her bike. Pretty sure that’s not on Bradie’s or Amber Glen’s bios.

Alysa is now the youngest women’s champion in American history, a fact not lost on one of the commentators, Tara Lipinski. Tara, however, had to bail out of the sport after her trademark triple-loop-triple-loop combo eventually required her to have hip surgery.

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Alysa en route to her first senior national title!

Which is why I have to pause in my excitement about this musical little skater being hailed as the “future of women’s skating in America”- I am worried about her own future.

The media is focusing on how Alysa could have 3 Olympic cycles in her lifetime but is there a coach out there who believes that? I don’t. Her body won’t hold up, just like Lipinski’s didn’t.

We see this every cycle with the Russians, who are hell-bent on pumping out jumping bean after jumping bean. They are generally pre-pubescent, super skinny, and have abundant energy. They win non-stop for a couple of years, including the Olympics, and then when they grow or develop hips the Russian federation tosses them to the side.

“Dasve-danya.”

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Julia Lipnitskaya back in the day

Just ask Julia (or, Yulia) Lipnitskaya, the Russian darling who stole everyone’s heart as a teensy dynamo in Sochi in 2014. She could leap, spin, bend and grin with the best of them and one could arguably say she was one of the media faces of those Olympics. Sadly, after all of that attention and pressure and after her body finally started to grow she became anorexic. She faced those demons and publicly admitted it and sought therapy in Europe and retired from skating altogether.

Puberty is not kind in general to skaters and we have to endure it in spandex. The country and the world watch and coaches and parents hold their collective breath while changes happen to these young women.

What we should be doing is supporting them through it and encouraging them to come out of it as true women skaters. I love Kaetlyn Osmond and Carolina Kostner because they are real women who skate and do amazing tricks. I respect them maybe even a bit more because its harder to get longer bodies with longer, heavier limbs up into the air to spin around 2 or 3 times and land on one foot looking fabulous the entire time!

(If you’d like to know the difference even 5lbs makes, next time you are grocery shopping, grab a 5lb bag of potatoes and wing it in the air above your head in a few circles.)

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Fabulous Kaetlyn Osmond!

I worry about comments like Terry Gannon’s after Alysa won the title- he said something like “get every TV camera in her face” and I don’t think that’s a very good idea.

She is 13 years old and she just needs to ride her bike. She doesn’t need to be a national TV star who is told she is the future of our sport. Skaters like Gracie Gold and Gabby Daleman have been there and both of those skaters have admitted to struggling with depression and anxiety. Daleman took months off of training to take care of herself and get some therapy. She won the short program at Canadian Nationals recently but then blew the long and landed in 5th place. She said she is worried about where this will put her and confidence. I hope the media gets out of her face so she can disappear and take more time to work on that.

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Americans Hubbell and Donohue

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is nothing like a jolt of confidence when you’re an athlete. American ice dancers Hubbell and Donohue have been getting rewarded by the judges the last 2 years and wow, does it look great on them! I enjoy watching this couple (again, it helps that she is a real woman out there) because they are dramatic, sexy and strong and they aren’t apologetic about it.

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Canadian champs, Weaver and Poje

Same with Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Canada. While she could use a sandwich they are incredible on the ice and their chemistry knows no bounds. It helps that most of the ice dancers are the Beautiful People as well.

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European champs, Gabriella Papadakis and Guilliam Cizeron… more Beautiful People

No surprise who stood on top of the European ice dance podium this weekend. They rock their knees, their lyrical body movement, their chemistry, strength, speed and drama and damn, they look good doing it.

Papadakis and Cizeron are the reigning world champions and I would be surprised if they don’t take the title again this year in Japan. They are utterly ethereal when they skate. They don’t look like they are pushing when they glide across the ice and every turn of the head and every bend of the wrist has a purpose. They are continuing to skate to create programs that audiences will never forget. They are true artists as well as amazing athletes.

They train in Montreal with legendary Canadian skaters, Marie France Dubreil and Patrice Lauzon, who were equally ethereal and ground-breaking when they competed. They have quite the training stable out east as all 3 podium finishers in the US train there, too.

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More sexiness from Hubbell & Donohue

I won’t recap the US men’s event because there aren’t any shockers (Nathan Chen won, of course) other than the fact Jason Brown finally got rid of the goofy pony-tail (thank you, Brian Orser!) (Jason was 3rd.)

And I won’t touch the US Pairs because I’m really not sure what is going on with that discipline in this country. American pairs skaters have always been weaker when compared to the rest of the world and I have no explanation why.

The top 2 teams both had lifts that didn’t go up. Seriously. Woman goes towards man with some form of connecting steps and intricate hand holds, man goes towards woman and bends knees, gets beneath her, woman leaps into the air and their bodies just go nowhere other than to sort of collide into one another awkwardly. The Knierems had that happen twice! So Cain & Leduc stood on the top spot of this year’s podium (rightly so) and the US will once again struggle to get a grip on its pairs program.

I am excited about the future of all aspects of skating, including the women’s event and it was pretty fun watching young Liu do her thing even if there are some concerns about how to handle her future. Here’s to Four Continents first and then the world championships next!

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European pairs champions from France, Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres! Ironically, they train with American coaches and have become a force to be reckoned with since making that change a few years ago.

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Canadian pairs champs Kristin Moore-Towers & Michael Marinaro

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this year’s Canadian champion, Alaine Chartrand (Osmand took the year off). Hopefully this will be her year to shine!

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Bradie Tennell, silver medalist in the US this year will represent us again at World’s because Alysa Liu is too young. I love watching this young woman skate!

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The National Championships!

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Skater-Me… about 20 years ago

Many of you know the early part of my life.

Long before I was a wife, a stepmother, a pet-Mummy, a veterinarian, a writer, a blogger, a bling-slinger and a wanna-be golfer I was a competitive and then professional figure skater.

What a fun world it was.

And what fun for me this weekend with both the US and Canadian national championships being contested at the same time!

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My former coach/mentor, the late Dr.Hellmut May.

Full disclosure on my part: I never made it to the Canadian National Championships. Hell, I never made it to Western Canadians.

But I competed at a national level and I tried my best and that was back in the 6.0 judging system and I was fairly well-known and respected.

And I passed every Gold test I tried and I guest-skated and I traveled twice to Japan with the Beautiful People to perform in professional ice shows.

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My first tour in southern Japan… can you spot one of Gracie Gold’s main people in this picture?

And I stay connected through friends I trained & competed with, my former students, former coaches of my own and colleagues and its wonderful when the National Championships roll around!

I am thrilled that Gracie Gold reclaimed her US National Title.

The girl is amazing. She oozes talent, finesse, class and style. She is young and bright and cheery and yet can fight through the fact she singled her opening triple lutz in the short program putting her in 2nd place to skate lights-out in her long program and win the gold.

Firebird, indeed.

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Canada’s former national champion, Kaetlyn Osmond (not my photo)

And I’m bummed that the lovely young Kaetlyn Osmond once again is not Canada’s national champion. She is a maritime girl who trains in Alberta under one of my dearest skating friends growing up, Ravi Walia. She has sass and spunk and fabulous technique and is a presence on the ice.

But it wasn’t her year.

She did place 3rd, however…good enough for a trip to Four Continents and the back-up spot on the World’s team.

While I haven’t watched the Canadian programs yet, I am intrigued by the situation in the pairs discipline.

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Duhamel & Radford on their way to another National title and hopefully another World one, too! (not my photo)

Meghan (the vegan) Duhamel and Eric Radford are Canada’s national champs once again. They are both veterans of the sport. Definitely “getting up there.”

Particularly when you consider that he is a giant and she is a midget and he tosses her on incredible throw quads and they can still somehow manage side by side triple lutzes. Their arsenal is amazing.

Part of their secret is the fact they have been together for so long.

Too may pair and ice dance teams break up without fighting through difficult or non-gold-medal times. Longevity yields trust, unison and greatness.

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Ilyushechkina & Moscovitch, bronze medalists for Canada this year! (I LOVE that dress!) (not my picture)

Part of the drama on the Canadian pairs scene involves the 3rd place team of Dylan Moscovitch and Lubov Ilyushechkina.

Dylan and Kristin Moore-Towers were national champs and placed 4th in the World two years running. They were fabulous and had such fun programs and obviously some world level cred.

Following the last Olympic year, though, Kristin called it quits, saying she wanted someone committed to 2 more Olympic cycles. Dylan, himself is no spring chicken and was only up for 1 more cycle. Kristin found a new partner in a high ranking Canuck (whose current partner was too tall) and Dylan went on the hunt. He was considered the sad sack in this case, being older and dumped but there are always 2 sides to every story and more than one reason Kristin moved on.

Regardless, Dylan teamed up with Lubov, who loves Canada but hadn’t competed for Russia since her parter, Nodari dumped her a couple of years prior. Russia released her to represent Canada and damned if they aren’t beating Kristin and her partner now! They are off to the World Championships, even!

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My hob-nobbing brunch with a bunch of Olympians from the US and Canada in Salt Lake City, including Paige Lawrence & Rudi Sweigers and Dylan Moscovitch and Kristin Moore-Towers on my right. Special nod to Liam Firus on my left because….

The men’s event provided much less drama in Canada. Patrick Chan is back after 2 years of not-competing. Dude still has his quads and finesse but he’s an even more passionate performer, if you can believe it.

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P-Chiddy, mid air at Canadian Nationals this weekend. He’s baaaaaaaack! (not my picture)

With young guns like Javier Fernandez and Yuzuru Hanyu taking charge of the world a lot of people wondered about Chan coming back. Chan, who trains with a lesser known coach (who was the mom of his girlfriend, not sure if that’s the status these days) after dumping one of the top technicians in the US as a coach a few years ago most definitely can keep up on the ice and his maturity may take him back to the top of the World podium yet again.

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North Vancouver’s Lium Firus, 2nd in Canada!

I am so proud to see Liam Firus heading back to World’s as Canada’s #2 man. The fact he grew up in North Vancouver (where I lived when I trained there) is pretty special but its also neat that he was part of our SLC brunch crew a couple of years ago.

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Weaver & Poje… beautiful dancers! (not my picture)

No surprise when Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje took the National ice dance title in Canada again. They are just Beautiful. And Beautiful People. His mom is Beautiful. They dance Beautifully, wear Beautiful costumes and make you feel Beautiful watching them. No real drama there (they are a couple if you were wondering).

American ice dance, however was something different.

The Shibutanis are back on top! Its fabulous!

The once World bronze-medalists had been overshadowed by teammates Chock & Bates but they crushed it yesterday with their jaw-droppingly incredible Coldplay free dance. I had tears! I replayed it! I love it!

Maia and Alex Shibutani are siblings, which can get weird in the often love-inspired world of ice dance.

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My brother & I with our own ice dance finesse. Our red & black duds were perfect for the Fiesta Tango and, hey, we did actually win the bronze medal at the BC championships at the pre-novice level!

I love how the Shibs skate and how true they are to themselves. They have grown up in front of the figure skating world’s eyes and they looked so mature last night.

I’m not a huge Chock & Bates fan, though. She is way too over-dramatic (even for ice dance! Reminds me of Bestemianova in the 80s!) and he bugs me because he dumped Emily Samuelson after she waited a year for his broken ankle to heal. Break-ups and drama. It never seems to end in figure skating.

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Getting ready before a guest-skating appearance somewhere in the 90’s.

As for the US pairs teams, it was exciting to see the young Florida team nail everything in their program to take their first national title. They were fearless, landing a huge throw triple-flip near the end of the program and I see big things for Tarah Kayne and Daniel O’Shea.

They beat the former champs, Scimeca and Knierem, who are real-life couple. Alexa needs to eat, though. She looks way thinner this year and while it may be why they can do that huge quadruple split-twist (skate backwards, reach back and tap your toepick between his legs, he throws you up in the air, you split your legs then rotate horizontally and spin 4 times in the air and he catches you, preferably with both hands and not his head or chest and you smile all pretty) it still isn’t right.

Figure skating hasn’t come very far in the skinny-girl department.

Going through puberty in spandex doesn’t help.

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My first ice show in Japan!

I do think that Gracie, Polina Edmunds, Kaetlyn, Ashley Wagner and Meghan all have fabulous looks, though, and maybe they will be role models for younger girls who want to be skaters.

Like Katarina Witt and Midori Ito were for me.

The American men are competing today so I have nothing on that. I have my thoughts, though… Max Aaron has finally listened to his critics and worked on his artistry. I wish he would work on a new look as far as his skinny pants go but lets work on one thing at a time. Jason Brown isn’t in the mix due to injury. He brings an exuberant breath of fresh air to the scene but he will need a quad to remain competitive with the global boys. I’m not a huge fan of Adam Rippon’s hair style but he is a beautiful skater and I want him to live up to his potential.

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Synchro has come a long way since the Grand Forks Figure Skating Club’s precision team competed in the 80’s. (Me, front row, 2nd from the right)

The weekend of sparkle and drama and glitter and grit and cameras and triple axels and pair combination spins and Shibutani brilliance and seeing friends on TV was a lovely distraction from the fact we started little Loki on phenobarbital for her increasingly frequent and severe seizure activity.

Basically, she’s stoned.

And still blind.

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Loki & I this summer in Bismarck

The buzz will disappear over the next week but there is just something hilariously endearing about her licking Gampy’s foot intensely, slowly, lovingly for over 15 minutes and jonesen’ for the piece of sausage she knew was on my plate.

And sometime while I was writing this she took a shit in the hallway by the kitchen.

That part wasn’t so much hilarious as accepted.

I wish nothing but the best of luck to the Canadian and American teams heading to Boston in March for the World Championships! Stay tuned for more info, musings, results and glitz! (Is it any wonder I sling bling now?)

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Skating has always been a huge part of my life!

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The cast of my first ice show in Japan.

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The on-ice characters of the very first Raise The Roof in North Dakota!