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Golden Spin of Zagreb blog: Down the Rabbitt hole

U.S. competitor checks in from second international event of career
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Sean Rabbitt (pictured here with coach Tammy Gambill) experienced some culture shock in his first trip to Europe. -courtesy of Sean Rabbitt

Sean Rabbitt competed at the 2015 Golden Spin of Zagreb in Croatia. He detailed his experiences at the event in a blog.

Friday, Dec. 4: 

Yesterday's short program didn't go as planned. And to top it all off, jet lag, my new friend, kept me awake until 3 a.m. this morning. But it was a new day, and I was ready to wash my hands of the short program and start fresh.

What was so surprising to me about my morning was that even though I once again had a late-night date with jet lag, and only slept a few hours, I woke up I feeling fresh, like I'd slept for a year. Weird, isn't it?

Once I got to the arena, I was so anxious to get on the ice. I was fuming with anger over last night's performance and wanted my revenge. The morning of the free skate, you have one practice session where you can run your long program. I had a clean practice session...just like every other practice I had had prior to my short program. As good as it felt to skate so well in the practice, it made me that much madder about the night before.

After practice, I went to lunch at a traditional Croatian seafood restaurant with Caitlin Fields and Ernie Utah Stevens and their parents. It was quite enjoyable and, of course, comes with a funny story. I have a big blue jacket I have been wearing all week. At the restaurant, I hung it on a coat rack. The three skaters left, leaving the "adults" at the restaurant. When they saw a blue coat, they thought it was mine and took it. As they left the restaurant, coat in hand, they felt something in the pockets and looked inside. Lo and behold, there was a set of brass knuckles, a man's wallet and the owner's ID -- clearly, none of which were mine. The jacket was immediately returned and no one ever found out...until now.

Competition time

The pairs went out for their free skates and all had strong showings. Tarah [Kayne] and Danny [O'Shea] moved up in the rankings, winning the free skate and finishing third overall. 

Then it was time for the men. My coach and I entered the rink, and I immediately put my headphones on to start my off-ice warmups. At first, I felt completely sick to my stomach with nerves because I didn't want a repeat of the night before. This was, again, another feeling I had never really experienced in all my years of competing. The moment I stepped onto the ice for the six-minute warmup, I felt my legs working and my nerves gone, giving me a large boost of confidence. I felt like me again!

As they called my name, my coach, Tammy Gambill, gave me some final words. The moment my music started, I felt like how I normally do when I compete: in my element, in the moment -- and in control. I opened with a big triple lutz, and from that point on, I knew I had nothing to worry about. As my long went on, I gained momentum and confidence. The end of my program came, and I felt so triumphant. These are the moments I live for -- skating my best and feeling good about it. Unfortunately, due to the short program, my scores were not even close to what I have been getting all season, but at a time like this, a score doesn't matter. I learned so much in just a short 24 hours about competing, and about myself.

Alex [Johnson] and Adam [Rippon] were next to skate, and they, too, put on amazing performances. Team USA's free skates were all on fire. We all came and delivered. For some of us, it might not have been the score or placement we expected, but we all brought our A-games and were able to show what a strong country, and team, we are!

Saturday, Dec. 5

Today we (the men and the pairs) went into town and visited the famous Museum of Illusions, followed by a well-deserved burger at a local cafe. We then walked around in the freezing air and headed back to the hotel just in time to grab our badges and head over to watch Jean-Luc [Baker] and Kaitlin [Hawayek] in the free dance.

Now, as I finish writing, we are all packing our things so that we can head over to watch the ladies free skate, before grabbing some dinner and then dispersing to our different buses and flights back home.

This trip may not have been everything I wanted skating-wise, and came with a large disappointment. However, I will not let that affect my overall experience here in Zagreb. I had amazing practices and an amazing free skate. I learned that it's OK to have a bad day, and that jet lag can sometimes not be fun. I met many amazing people, and, best of all, was able to experience all of this with an amazing team of athletes, an ever-supportive coach and a super helpful team leaders. I am forever grateful for this trip and experience, and hope to build on it to be better prepared for the future. This was my second-ever international, first time overseas and first time in Europe, and I feel like it was an amazing, unforgettable trip!

Thanks for reading, everyone. Until next time!

Go Team USA!

Thursday, Dec. 3: Competition begins

After being exhausted from two days of getting hardly any sleep, I was finally able to get a full night's rest!

Today was a competition day, so after breakfast, the men all headed over for their practice ice. All three of the U.S. men seemed to be pleased with how their practice went. The ice was the best it's been all week, and the rink was warm.

After eating lunch, taking a nap and enjoying some down time, it was time for the competition to begin. Before the men's short program, Adam [Rippon] and I went to watch the first warmup of pairs. The weather outside has drastically changed, from Wednesday's sunny, cool temperatures to cold and fog. While walking from the hotel to the rink, which is a five-minute trek across a courtyard in front of the hotel, we turned around and could not see the hotel anymore. The fog was so thick! It's like nothing I have experienced in Orange County.

The "short" event was a "long" event

I was really excited to get out there and show what I could do. Of course, every competition comes with its own set of nerves, but I was feeling really good going into my short program. Alex Johnson was in an earlier warmup and put out a solid program. Adam and I were in warmup four out of five (there were 23 men in our event), and we skated first and second in our warmup.

My warmup began strong, but as I got further and further into it, my legs started to lock on me. Being the first skater, you have less time to warm up than you would in any other position, so the moment they called the one-minute warning, I had to stop my warmup and rest. That one minute flies sometimes, and in this case, it went fast.

I tried to "reboot" my brain and refocus. My name and country were announced (still one of the coolest things ever to me, as I wrote about in my last blog from Canada), and I took my position. The music started, and I immediately felt my legs seize up on me. I fought my way through my program, but each jump came with a major mistake. It was far from my best short program, and it landed me in 15th place.

For me, this feeling of having basically no control over my legs was something that I'd never experienced. Our team leader, Kim [Heim], and my coach, Tammy Gambill, were really positive about the whole thing and told me I never gave up. It might not have been the perfect skate I dreamed of, but I didn't go down without a fight. 

As I type now, I am not going to lie that I am not happy about what happened tonight. However, tomorrow is a new day, with new opportunities. I can wake up tomorrow and start with a clean slate. What's done is done, and I have to accept that and move on.

The next time I talk to you, the ladies will have done their shorts, and the pairs and men will have finished their free skates.

Good night! :)

Wednesday, Dec. 2: Sleep, where art thou?

After traveling a total of 17 hours the day before, and only sleeping an hour of that time, I was exhausted and couldn't wait to go to bed...well, what a joke my body thought that was!

My first night in Zagreb was a sleepless one. I went to bed at 9 p.m. on the dot and slept like a baby. I woke up feeling good and ready to take on the world....only to find out it was 1 a.m.! After tossing and turning for a while, I finally was able to will myself back to sleep.

Once I woke up, I headed down to breakfast. It was really good. You have your eggs, oatmeal, fruit and other "typical" breakfast foods, but then you also have your European cheeses and cold cuts; that is what I was looking forward to. I loaded up on some meats and cheeses, and was really excited to taste them. The first one I tried was what looked like a piece of uncooked bacon; this, I thought, would be heaven in pork form. I ate the whole thing in one bite...wow, was that the wrong decision! I love food, and am far from a picky eater -- I will eat pretty much anything you put in front of me -- but whatever this meat was, I didn't like it. I had the whole table laughing because of the size of the bite I took, followed by the assortment of faces I made.

When we finished eating, a group of us went out to explore the city of Zagreb. It was beautiful! There were many striking buildings and churches to be seen. We first visited a giant Catholic cathedral that is a major centerpiece of Croatia. Inside, there were high ceilings and stained-glass windows.

After grabbing lunch, we all went to get some coffee. CULTURE SHOCK! I know espresso shots are small, but in the U.S., we are used to larger-sized cups of coffee and cappuccinos. So, I ordered a cappuccino thinking it would be 6 to 8 ounces...once again, I was very, very wrong. I got a little cup that was maybe 3 ounces. But in this case, size didn't matter -- it was tiny and strong, and was the best cappuccino I have ever tasted!

After lots of exploring and naps, the guys headed over for practice. Adam [Rippon], Alex [Johnson] and I were all on the same practice ice together, and the three of us ran our longs. The arena is big and has seating all around. The ice is nice and springy, and the acoustics in the building are really nice, too. I felt really good about my first practice and was really happy with myself.

I headed back to the hotel, and went with Adam and Alex to grab some dinner. Tonight's dinner for me was lasagna...yum!

We capped off the evening with Marissa [Castelli] showing off her eyebrow-plucking skills on many of the guys on Team USA. She might have a future in that field (if there is such a thing)!

In the last few days, I have only slept maybe eight or nine hours total, so I am off to bed. I feel like tonight's the night I get a full night's sleep!

Doviđenja! (Bye!)

Tuesday, Dec. 1: Hello, Europe, nice to meet you!

Pozdrav iz Hrvatske! (Hello from Croatia!)

Sean Rabbitt here, your official insider to the 48th annual Golden Spin of Zagreb, all the way from Zagreb, Croatia! This is my first trip to Europe, so I am looking forward to sharing my new adventures with everyone!

The trip to Europe was long but comfortable, and it seemed like it went quickly. From Los Angeles, Karen Chen, Adam Rippon and I flew to Munich, a good 11-hour flight. The flight wasn't completely empty, but it wasn't completely full either. Karen had two seats next to the window, and Adam and I shared three seats in the middle of the plane, giving us lots of space to spread out and be comfortable. Karen slept a good majority of the flight, Adam slept a few hours and watched his favorite show "Scandal," and I didn't sleep at all, instead catching up on some movies. (I did give it a solid effort...oh, and our flight was a red-eye, leaving at 5 p.m., so...) 

Upon arriving in Germany, we had about two hours until our connecting flight (nothing too exciting happened here), and then it was just a short one-hour flight to Zagreb.

Once we arrived at our hotel, we were immediately greeted by our team leader, Kim Heim. Adam and I headed upstairs to our rooms to drop off our things. Finding out who your "surprise" roommate is, is very much like a game show: "Who's behind door 214? It's Ernie Utah Stevens!" I saw Ernie's stuff and was happy to see he is very organized...and then I experienced the first of many culture shocks on this trip. The beds are so tiny! At home I sleep on a twin; however, in a hotel I am used to seeing full-size, queens or kings...but to walk in and see two twin beds, it was something I was not prepared for. Lucky for me, I'm used to it.

We had a quick team meeting and then went off to the pizzeria across the street. It was fun for everyone to get together in one spot for dinner and have the chance to either catch up with old friends or get acquainted with some new folks. After dinner, a few of us went to the grocery store to get some water, and then we were off to bed.