Ice Network

Carmen's last stand: Cesario says adiós to program

Long Island skater determined to redeem herself at Four Continents
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The passion that Samantha Cesario projects during her 'Carmen' free skate can be felt throughout an arena. -Jay Adeff

If someone had told Samantha Cesario before the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships that she would finish fifth and be named an alternate for the Four Continents Championships, she probably would have expressed some disappointment.

After all, the 21-year-old had been hoping for a spot on the podium and, as a result, the world team.

But considering what Cesario went through to get that placement -- she was wallowing in 11th after the short -- she was more than thrilled to finish where she did and get the nod to compete this week in Seoul, South Korea. More than anything, Cesario was excited to perform such a strong free skate, which enabled her to make one of the biggest moves in that portion of the competition.

Cesario has made a habit of vaulting up the leaderboard at the U.S. championships: This was the second year in a row in which she rose from 11th to fifth.

"It was definitely a roller coaster for her," said Mary Lynn Gelderman, who has coached Cesario for 13 years, dating back to when the skater was 8. "After the free skate, I told Mitch Moyer (U.S. Figure Skating's senior director of athlete high performance) that going from 11th to fifth for the second year in a row should be a medal in and of itself.

"When she took the ice in the long program, she knew she could not miss a single step. I have great admiration for her and how she handled it all."

Cesario admitted that the 11th-place result after the short program was disappointing this time around. Her main flaw was having her triple loop-triple loop combination downgraded to a triple-double. That, combined with the high-level of skating from many of her main competitors, left her without a shot at the podium.

The fans at the Greensboro Coliseum booed Cesario's score of 59.21 points -- oddly, her personal best for the short program. When Cesario returned home to New York, she heard from other frustrated fans as well, some of whom happened to be skaters she coaches.

"People asked me, 'That must make you feel good that they booed, right?' " Cesario said. "I told them that it does feel good to have the crowd on your side. Sometimes, that is the way it is. It's figure skating."

"The fact that the crowd was booing showed that the crowd was involved in her skating," said Gelderman, who was most bewildered that Cesario did not receive higher interpretation and performance marks as part of her component scores. "It told me that the audience was involved in what they were watching. They might not have understood how the scoring works, but the whole system is so hard to explain to the people who are in it. They reacted to her overall placement."

And the crowd reacted with cheers when she performed her free skate, a dramatic version of Carmen that has pulled in audiences -- a feat in of itself, since the music has been used so often in skating.

"When I picked this music, people would always say things to me, like, 'Oh, Debi Thomas did it' or so-and-so did it, and I hoped people weren't like, 'Oh, here we go again,'" Cesario said. "But when it came together, I really felt it was me. I have never felt so comfortable skating a program as I have this one.

"It will be hard, almost painful, for me to let this program go, for sure," added Cesario, who has skated to Carmen the last two seasons.

Even before Cesario left Greensboro, she got word that she would indeed be going to South Korea for Four Continents. Ashley Wagner, fresh off her third U.S. title, decided to forego the event in order to focus on the world championships in March, and that's when Cesario got the call. Cesario will be joined in Korea by Gracie Gold and Polina Edmunds, both of whom competed in the Sochi Olympic Winter Games exactly a year ago.

"I haven't spoken with Ashley yet, but we are friends and it was really nice of her to do that so quickly," said Cesario, who has been training at Twin Rinks Ice Center at Eisenhower Park in New York. "And I am really excited to go to Four Continents. It should be really cool. I've never been to Korea before."

Because of the quick turnaround, Gelderman said there will be no major changes to Cesario's programs.

"There's no time to come down and build back up again," Gelderman said. "My goals aren't about how she does placement-wise -- they are about how she does performance-wise. This is one of those opportunities to go out there and show off your stuff. I want her to give 100 percent to the performance.

"And then we will let the judges do their job...and, hopefully, they'll do it well."

Gelderman admitted that it is difficult for a skater to go from the pressure cooker that is the U.S. championships to another major competition. Working against Cesario, too, is that she had been battling a head cold the last few days, but Gelderman is confident that her student will put plenty of effort and drama into her programs -- especially Carmen.

"She is thrilled to go to Four Continents," Gelderman said. "It was a reward, and she felt good about it. It was bittersweet because she wanted to do better in the short."

Cesario has battled more than her share of injuries throughout her career -- mainly related to extreme pronation of her knees -- and was hit with a bout of mononucleosis back in May.

She says that she has given her future in the sport a lot of thought. 

"During the season, as well as after U.S. championships, I have definitely had a rough road in terms of injuries and setbacks," Cesario said. "At the same time, [skating] is what I love, and I think being in a position where you have the power to inspire people is amazing, so to give that up would be very difficult for me.

"So there's definitely a lot for me to weigh out, and at the end of the season, that's what I plan to do."

Gelderman, who obviously has become attached to Cesario both as a skater and a person during their years together, isn't making any wagers.

"But," Gelderman said, "if I were a betting woman, I would think that she would want just one season, just one, where she was healthy the whole time and to see what she could do. So, we'll see."