Ice Network

The Inside Edge: Koleto, Min feel love in Ukraine

Blackmer intent on competing for next four years; Berneck skates in silence
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Former world junior champion Greg Zuerlein (left) put Korean ice dancers Yura Min and Timothy Koleto on the ice at the 2013 Ukrainian Open in Kiev. -courtesy of Timothy Koleto

On the road

U.S. junior pairs champion Matt Blackmer called from the road Sunday, in the midst of a 24-hour drive to Detroit to spend time at home for the holiday.

"I just crossed the border from Nebraska into Iowa," he said.

Blackmer and his former partner, Britney Simpson, split up earlier this month. He says he wants to continue with skating for another four years. 

"I've had a great career, and I could go get a full-time job, but I'm not done yet," he said. "There's still so much more I want to accomplish in skating. I'm so lucky to be able to do what I'm doing every day. I've decided it's time to buckle down and find a partner."

Blackmer hasn't had any tryouts yet but says he is diligently looking for opportunities.

After Christmas, Blackmer will head to Boston to watch the U.S. championships.

"I'm going there to support all of my friends," he said. "Of course, I would have loved to compete, because it's the Olympic trials. I had no expectations of making the team, but it would have been an honor. But to cheer on my friends who have a real opportunity to go, I'll be way more nervous for them. I'm going to need some serious hugging!"

Dancing for Korea

Yura Min and Timothy Koleto competed at the recent Ukrainian Open in Kiev, their first international. Along with several other skaters, they were in search of the technical minimum scores required to compete at the major competitions of the season. They succeeded, and they hope to go to the 2014 Four Continents Championships.

"Because it's December, and everyone was trying to get minimum scores, there was a sense of urgency," Koleto said. "Several singles skaters were trying, and the Georgian team was trying to get their scores for worlds. It was a lot more intense."

Coach Igor Shpilband was not able to accompany the team, so 2009 world junior champion Greg Zuerlein put them on the ice in Ukraine.

"We work with Greg almost every day," Koleto said. "We love working with him. It's been so helpful; if I have any questions, Greg is so good at answering things because he's so recently retired."

Min and Koleto had good things to say about the crowds, and the food, in Ukraine.

"We felt so much support from the crowd," Koleto said. "The people who came to watch were so supportive and threw things on the ice for us, which we didn't expect. Walking into the competition rink for our first practice and seeing the Korean flag on the wall was the big moment for me. It was so special for us to be there in our first international together."

Min and Koleto's Ukrainian-Russian ballet teacher had told them to check out the local dumplings, called varenyky.

"We tried them the first day, and they pretty much became our main course for the rest of the trip," Koleto said.

Min and Koleto are the only senior dance team Korea has, and, as far as we can tell, are only the third Korean dance team ever. They'll be competing at the Korean championships in January, the first time that event has included dance since 2005.

"We definitely have a lot of supporters," Min said. "We hear people saying that it's great that Korea has a dance team and it looks great for the future; we're only hearing positive feedback. I'm pretty excited to meet Yu-Na [Kim]. I haven't met her before, but I'm a huge fan. Our event is right before hers."

"We're very excited for all that energy," Koleto added. "It's completely sold out, and it's going to be pretty crazy."

Don't stop the music

At the German championships earlier in December, senior man Christopher Berneck had one of those experiences you wouldn't wish on your biggest rival. Halfway through his Turandot short program, just before his combination jump, his CD started skipping and then stopped playing altogether.

"I tried to stay focused, but it was very difficult," Berneck told us. "I did the combination and kept going, hoping that the referee would blow the whistle. Even after they had completely turned off my music, no one tried to stop me."

If a skater stops during his or her program without the referee blowing the whistle, he or she can get a deduction, so Berneck didn't feel he could stop. He skated more than half of his program without music but not in silence; the crowd showed tremendous support, clapping rhythmically to try and give Berneck something to skate to.

(It was reminiscent of an event before our time, when Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev's music stopped during their free skate at the 1973 World Championships in Bratislava. There, as in Germany, the crowd clapped in rhythm until the program ended.)

"It was stressful," Berneck went on. "I was upset because I felt I had a disadvantage. How can you judge a performance without any music? However, the audience was so incredibly supportive. I felt very loved, and that's what got me through the rest of my program. It's definitely something I'll always remember."

Berneck's coach, Tugba Karademir, said she was proud of the way her student handled the mishap.

"I could hear the music skipping before his combination jump and assumed he would complete that jump and stop as he was already committed to the takeoff edge," she said. "I was listening for the referee to blow her whistle. I spoke with the referee after the short and asked why she didn't stop him and she said, 'I thought the audience was doing such a great job of supporting him that I didn't want to stop him in case it negatively affected his performance.' She then added that she wasn't sure he had an extra CD, so it was best to let him skate with no music."

Peter Liebers won the event and will compete in Sochi. Berneck is one of the alternates for Europeans and the Olympics. He finished seventh at the Ondrej Nepela Trophy last fall.

Designers on ice

We've been enjoying designer Nick Verreos' blogs about figure skating fashion this fall.

While we were talking to him about the newly revealed Team USA Olympic apparel, he told us he had nearly designed a costume for one of the U.S. ladies this season.

"It didn't pan out," he said with regret. "Of course, I'd love to. I've had experience and I know what it entails -- it has to move. At the same time, I don't know if I'd want that pressure. Watching my gowns on the red carpet, I'm always afraid something is going to rip!"

Verreos said that the skating fashion blog started because he spent so much time watching skating and talking about the costumes that his partner, David Paul, told him he was wasting his breath on the air in the living room and he should share his thoughts with the world.

"I'm a huge, huge fan of the sport," Verreos said. "I do my figure skating, but not like that. I'm in awe of the sport and the athletes. To me, the costumes add another layer to love."

Verreos just finished filming a new design competition show, Under the Gunn, with Tim Gunn. He'll be one of three judge/mentors, a la in The Voice. The show premieres Jan. 16, and we'll keep our fingers crossed for a skating costume challenge!

Happy holidays and Happy New Year, and we'll see you in Boston,

Sarah and Drew

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