Ice Network

The Inside Edge: Travel problems plague arrivals

Blackmer scopes the scene; Wyl-e provides security; Brown dishes on 'do
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Matt Blackmer, showing off his fauxhawk, is here in Boston to watch the skating and maybe, just maybe, find a new partner. -Sarah S. Brannen

Welcome to Boston! We always enjoy seeing new places at the Championships every year, but this year they're a home event, as Drew lived here for most of his life and Sarah still does. Massachusetts being what it is, things started off with freeeezing temperatures and more than a foot of snow Friday morning. A lot of skaters faced delays, but all the novice competitors got here, as far as we know!

It was so cold that a pipe burst at the official hotel and several rooms had to be evacuated. The travel delays continued Sunday, owing to a big storm and frigid temps in the Midwest. Coach Jenni Meno, for one, had to cope with a five-hour delay and didn't depart Los Angeles until 2:30 a.m. Sunday morning. Two of her students (with husband Todd Sand), novice pair Ai Setoyama and David Botero, also had all kinds of drama getting here. Setoyama's flight on Thursday was canceled, and she was told the next flight she could get on left Monday, which would have put her in Boston just after the end of her event. And junior pairs skater Chelsea Liu made it, but her skates didn't, at least so far. At the moment, the plan is to overnight the skates to Boston.

In any case, things have warmed up outside, and we hope there won't be any more travel problems the rest of the week.

Now that we're here, the first stop is credentialing. The organizers have come up with a new, streamlined system this year: Skaters emailed photos of themselves in advance, so their credentials were waiting and ready for them when they arrived at the hotel.

"It makes the process smoother," volunteer Susan Smith said.

It also means that skaters were able to send in attractive posed photos rather than the usual straight-off-the-plane shots. While we were chatting, Christina Gao arrived to pick up her credential. Everyone oohed and ahhed over her glamorous head shot.

After the skaters get their credential, they are presented with a nice heap of goodies: a lunch pack (in red or blue) containing gloves, a water bottle, a Starbucks refresher, an ice pack, a commemorative keychain, a T-shirt, and red, white and blue M&Ms emblazoned with "Boston 2014." They also got a pair of Rockerz, which they were able to pre-order in the colors of their choice.

Hair

Last year's junior pairs champion Matt Blackmer is here, wearing a new fierce fauxhawk in black and scoping out potential new partners.

"I wanted something dark and edgy, a little bit of a stronger look," Blackmer said about the 'do. "My boy days are behind me; I wanted something older and serious."

Blackmer says it's strange being at the Championships as a spectator.

"It feels just as stressful, which is weird. I'm on a tight schedule, because there are events I want to see, and I want to watch people I know practice. It's a completely different experience. I've made peace with the fact that I'm not competing. I've spoken with a lot of officials, getting feedback on what I should do. There's a lot of support from people who want to see me back on the ice."

Buddies

Tiny juvenile pairs skater Jade Esposito, 12, may not be the youngest competitor here, but she's one of the smallest, at about four-and-a-half-feet tall. U.S. Figure Skating has a "buddy system" for its juvenile competitors, teaming them up with senior skaters for advice and moral support. There will be a reception later this week so the juveniles can meet their buddies, but Esposito won't need an introduction; her buddy is Gretchen Donlan, and they both train right here in the area.

What is Esposito most looking forward to this week?

"Everything!" she said, beaming.

Dog

We hadn't been here long before we saw a man carrying a tiny dog in a bag. Yep, it's figure skating! An early celebrity of the event is a member of the venue's security team, Wyl-e, a beautiful and well-behaved chocolate lab who is happy to pose for photos even while on the job.

"He's a good dog," said his trainer, Kevin Crowley.

Ice boys

Happy New Year, by the way! Drew started the year off in style, skating in an intermission at the Colorado Avalanche hockey game in Denver. He and Jason Brown, Jordan Moeller, Lukas Kaugars, Todd Gilles and Kelly Smith joined the "Ice Girls" for an up-tempo number to Fergie's "A Little Party."

Brown, Moeller and Kaugars all said it was nice to have a chance to walk through the tunnel into a major arena and skate in front of a big crowd, without any pressure. It was a good warm-up for the Championships.

Drew had a chat with Brown about his hair, of course! He said he started wearing a ponytail in middle school. It has become such a trademark look by now that the hashtag #ponytailpower, which we, ahem, coined, is taking on a life of its own.

"I used to always wear it down for school and pulled back for skating," Brown said. "One day a friend of mine saw me skate, and she said I should wear it in a ponytail at school, too. So I did, and no one said anything, and I've worn it like that ever since!"

We'll be here all week, posting this column daily and tweeting when possible. We're excited for all the drama, dish, fashion, and, oh yes, skating. Good luck to all the skaters, and check us out at @SarahandDrew!

Sarah and Drew