Ice Network

The Inside Edge: 'Game of Thrones' comforts Weir

Abbott dons new beard; Castelli to face former partner Shnapir in Boston
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Christina Gao and Johnny Weir pose together at the reception after the 'An Evening with Champions' benefit show. -Sarah S. Brannen

We always have such a good time attending An Evening with Champions at Harvard University, which benefits the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's Jimmy Fund. This year, the cast was spectacular: Larger than previous years and packed with exciting, big names.

The show is completely run by Harvard students; skater and student Christina Gao was on the committee, and we wondered if she had wheedled some of her friends to come and skate -- not that they would need wheedling! Everyone seemed very happy to participate.

"This is my fourth time in the show," Joshua Farris said backstage. "I was thrilled to be asked again."

After each show, sponsors that donated at various levels are able to attend a reception with the cast. It's a nice, friendly way for fans to get to know their favorite skaters, and, frankly, it's always a fun party. Another highlight for the skaters is the Kids' Skate, when, on the afternoon before the Saturday show, they take to the ice with young cancer survivors and patients 

Dragons

In 2001, a 17-year-old Johnny Weir skated early in the first half of the show. Last weekend, Weir was the closing act, greeted with fervent screams from his devoted fans. Afterward, he wasn't even able to get through the door at the reception -- fans swarmed him on the terrace outside and he didn't move for an hour and a half, patiently signing autographs and posing for pictures.

Weir wore a black-and-gold costume for the opening number, a gift from his Chinese fan club.

"Johnny's Pandas actually got together and designed and created this costume for me," Weir said at intermission. "I've been having kind of a rough time personally lately, and I got a lot of strength from Khaleesi in Game of Thrones. She's the 'Mother of Dragons,' so dragons have taken on kind of a new meaning for me. They made me a very classic Chinese dragon costume, and it's really cool."

At the reception, Weir was ethereal in a sparkly gold shirt, draped sheer white cardigan, cropped white warmup pants and black and gold sneakers.

Beard

Jeremy Abbott is now wearing a short, tidy beard. He says it will be part of his look all season, and as far as he knows, the reviews have been positive.

"I mean, I don't think anyone would walk up to me and be like, 'That's hideous, get rid of it!'" he said. "I've gotten very positive feedback, which is shocking, because it's very patchy and weird. It started off as my 'playoff beard.' I kind of had to cultivate it and work at it, and I was like, 'This is a lot of work, I think I'm going to keep it!' I have such a baby face, and since I am so much older than everyone I'm competing against, I would like to at least look like a man when I'm out on the ice, instead of a little boy."

Abbott told us he brought his Olympic bronze medal to the Kids' Skate, in case the youngsters wanted to see it, and he had it with him at the reception Friday night as well.

"I usually don't bring it anywhere, but since we were doing the Kids' Skate, I just thought it would be a nice thing to show them," he said. "It was so funny, I was like, 'Do you guys want to wear it?' And they were like, 'Nooooo.'

"Since I already had it, I thought: Well, I'll bring it to the reception last night. There were a lot fewer people, so I just passed it around and said, 'Enjoy!'"

French

Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran have been dividing their time between Montreal and Boston, spending all but one week per month in Canada. The Rhode Island born-and-bred Castelli is still adjusting to life in Francophone Quebec.

"It's very different from Boston!" Castelli said. "Obviously, they speak French. It took me a long time to figure out exactly what grocery store to go to, and where to go to the gym, but now I'm finally getting that under control and figuring that out more. I can understand some words, but I don't really speak French."

On his part, Tran is learning how to cope with the notorious Boston drivers.

"Boston is a beautiful city. Every time I come here I'm learning more and more about it," he said. "And being able to drive on my own now, I don't have to call for help."

Castelli and Tran will compete at the Boston Open from Sept. 26-28 in what will be their first direct matchup with Castelli's former partner, Simon Shnapir, and his new partner, DeeDee Leng. Julie Marcotte choreographed Castelli and Tran's free skate, but other than it being a tango, neither skater could identify the music. We'll try to go Saturday and check it out in person.

Hahvahd Yahd

Three current Harvard students skated in An Evening with Champions: Gao, Yasmin Siraj and Maria Kalina. Siraj, a freshman, is thriving.

"I'm loving Harvard so much -- I love a busy schedule, and that's what it is here," she said. "I'm taking a biochemistry class, a psychology class, expository writing and archeology. I have one roommate; her name's Melody, she's so sweet. We have a giant room -- we don't know what to do with all the space."

Ashley Cain was very taken with the Harvard experience.

"Shotaro [Omori] and Courtney [Hicks] and Nathan [Chen] and I, we've been roaming around Harvard Square, getting to see as much as we can," Cain said. "We've been trying to eat at as many places as we can, because the food here is so good! And it's so different, especially from Texas, where I'm from. After being here for a few days, I would love to come [to Harvard] or go to college in general, to get the whole experience."

Cain said that although her post-competition plans are focused on coaching and choreography, she is very interested in nutrition. She said she could see herself working with athletes, as a nutritionist.

Alissa Czisny is already living the post-competition, post-college life. She has been coaching for the past few months.

"This summer, I spent about 12-14 hours a day at the rink, between skating myself and then coaching the rest of the day, but I enjoy it," she said. "I started coaching in the spring. I'm coaching under Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen, I'm not the head coach of anybody. I'm working with everyone from Elladj [Baldé] to the little ones. I'm just seeing where life takes me right now."

Winners

In the weeks leading up to the show, the organizers run a contest for local skaters, "Skating with Champions." Whoever raises the most money for the cause gets to skate in the show. This year, a new novice pairs team, Alexandra Iovanna and Matthew Rouris, won the competition, and they skated well, looking right at home in the show.

Back

Alexandria Shaughnessy, still recovering from a badly broken jaw, was at the show to support her partner, Jimmy Morgan. (Morgan skated with the Theatre On Ice team Act I of Boston.) Although her jaw is still wired shut, Shaughnessy can talk, and she said she has been skating a little, just stroking and working on element entrances and exits.

"I can do a waltz jump!" she said. There is still no timetable for when she'll be able to return to full training.

World junior bronze medalist Omori missed most of last season with an ankle injury, but he is coming back into form and skated a very nice program in the show.

"It took a few months [to recover]," he said. "It was really taxing and frustrating, but after going to a lot of therapy sessions, and trying to get my physical body and my mental body together, I think I'm where I want to be. Right now, practice is going really well. I just want to show people that I'm still here. I believe that I'm a great skater, and I just want to show it."

Thanks to the An Evening with Champions committee for all their help with our coverage. Bravi!

Sarah and Drew
Follow us on Twitter for extra photos: @SarahandDrew

Lizzie Alwan contributed to this story.