Ice Network

The Inside Edge: Blackmer transitions to ice dance

Belmontes supports ALS with T-shirt; Razzano angles for best-dressed list
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Alexandra Aldridge and Matt Blackmer in the stands during the junior short dance. -Sarah S. Brannen

Now that we're into the middle of the week, most of the senior skaters have arrived, bringing their glamour and celebrity to the championships.

Reigning pairs champions Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim were on the concourse at the Xcel Energy Center during the junior men's short program, looking radiant. I asked them which was harder: earning their first national title or preparing to defend it?

"I'm less nervous this year than last year," Knierim said.

"Last year, I really wanted to win," the vivacious Scimeca said. "This year, I just want to skate really, really well."

Several senior dance teams attended the junior short dance Wednesday morning, presumably to cheer on training mates. The Shibutanis, looking like a fairy tale prince and princess, were all smiles on the bus over. Also watching the event were Colin McManus and fiancée Isabella Cannuscio, Alexandra Aldridge and Matt Blackmer, and Douglas Razzano.

Razzano is angling for the best-dressed coach award and promised great things by the weekend.

"I'm out for blood, baby," he said, looking as if he meant it.

Pair to dance

Aldridge and Blackmer teamed up last year, and former pairs skater Blackmer has thrown himself into the life of a dancer -- right down to growing a mane of ice dancer hair. Of course, there have been a lot of adjustments to make for the 2013 junior pairs champ (with Britney Simpson).

"We were doing choreography, and I could tell he was getting frustrated, so I asked him what was wrong," Aldridge said. "And he goes, 'Well, just so you know, I'm used to pump, pump, crossover, throw the girl in the air and hope I catch her. I'm not used to twizzle, choctaw, twizzle, change hold…

"'…Do a handstand, stand on your head, shake your bum,'" Blackmer went on, laughing. "It was definitely a struggle learning how to do ice dancing choreography."

Aldridge added that some elements that are hard for seasoned ice dancers come easily for Blackmer...but not all of them.

"Sit twizzles are very simple for me to do, because of sit spins, but the easy twizzle the other direction? Toughie," Blackmer said. "Some of the dance boys at the rink are like, can you help me with the back camel spin?"

Doughnuts

Junior men's competitor Chase Belmontes is wearing a "Stop ALS - Axels, Loops and Spins" shirt any time he's not actually in his skating costume.

"The shirt was given to my by my friend, because her father was diagnosed with ALS," he said. "And she organized a fundraiser for ALS research in April 2015. I want to help her in any way possible. I want to help spread the word any way I can."

Belmontes, known for his loopy and copious tweeting in the past, has kept a quieter profile on social media of late. 

"Tom [Zakrajsek] wanted me to stop tweeting about food so much, because skating is more important to me than food, and he wanted everyone to know that," Belmontes said. "Something really scary: I haven't eaten any pizza, doughnuts or ice cream since Thanksgiving."

The skinny 20-year-old may be focused on his skating, but he wears his love of food proudly.

"I have a lot of food accessories," he said, showing off his doughnut necklace.

He also listed cupcake mittens and a scarf, as well as a doughnut-decorated scarf, among his outerwear.

Most skaters dislike being photographed early in the day, before they put on hair product and war paint, but Belmontes was willing.

"I've moisturized!" he said.

First time

Even the last-place finisher in each event is a pretty extraordinary skater. Mark Sadusky was distraught after a rough free skate put him at the bottom of the standings in novice men's, but two days later the 17-year-old is having a wonderful time in Saint Paul, at his first U.S. championships ever.

"After my short, I was really happy with everything that happened, and going into the long, I was just like, you know what, let's just have fun," Sadusky said. "Even though I got last, and I wasn't the best, I'm just really happy to be here and know that I've made it. Hopefully, I can be here again next year."

Sadusky says he will be working on transitions and skating skills for next season, as well as a triple flip and triple axel. He plans to compete as a junior next season, and possibly try pairs.

"I'm pretty tall and pretty strong, so we're thinking about that as well," he said.

A lot of the juvenile, intermediate and novice skaters go home after the completion of their events, but Sadusky will be staying here for the entire week.

"It's my first nationals, so my dad was like, yeah, you can stay. I'm really excited (that) I get to see the rest of my friends compete. I'm having a great time. It's really exciting. It hasn't even really begun yet."

Eagles

Yes, everyone is still talking about the weather, and moisturizer continues to be a hot topic. One visitor has welcomed the cold, though: senior pairs skater Jessica Calalang's mother, Michelle. The LA resident is originally from Chicago.

"When I got off the plane, I could see my breath," she said. "It was actually quite refreshing!"

If you're out and about by the river that runs by the arena, keep your eyes open for bald eagles. A local friend says a pair is nesting on one of the islands and people see the mighty birds all the time, right in the heart of the city.

Follow The Inside Edge on Twitter at @SarahandDrew!