Minnesota morsels: Gold engages in witty reparteeEllenton pairs benefit from Moskvina's visit; Hochstein relates to 'Les Miz'
When Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner go triple-to-triple on the ice, it's usually a close contest. But judging by this week at the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Gold may start to give the ever-quotable Wagner a run for her money word-for-word.
After popping a triple lutz into a single in her short program Thursday, Gold relived the mistake for reporters.
"I just wasn't present in the moment," she explained. "I was just flummoxed. It's really, really unfortunate."
The skater's use of the verb "flummoxed" -- defined by Merriam-Webster's as bewildered or perplexed -- left reporters gobsmacked. Many featured it in articles and tweets. This must have pleased Gold, who used the verb again in the mixed zone after her winning free skate.
"I give all credit to my mother (Denise) on that one," Gold said. "Everyone loves reading in my family, but especially my mom. She uses words like 'flummoxed' and 'kyped' (to commit a minor theft). She was particularly proud I used the word flummoxed, and that it left some reporters flummoxed."
Gold also stepped up her game in the post-event press conference. When a reporter asked if this could be the season U.S. ladies break a nine-year world medal drought, the skater's answer was pure gold.
"Well, I can only be held responsible for three of those years," she said, sending reporters into a paroxysm of giggles.
Asked whether she will adopt a new bantering attitude with the media, Gold pondered a bit.
"It's better to take your time with the media, so everyone knows you have the right intentions, so things can be construed in a positive light," she said.
"I do like to clarify when some things I feel do come off unfair. Saying, 'Oh, Gracie, it's been nine years' (since a ladies world medal) when in fact I have been to only three worlds. The first one (2013), it was unrealistic in that field for me to achieve a medal. The last two years, I definitely could have. Hopefully, it won't be three in a row. But the other seven, really, I have no accountability."
- Lynn Rutherford
Moskvina worked some magic in Florida
Jim Peterson can't get the vision of a tiny woman with a pixie haircut, gesturing in front of a mirror, out of his mind.
"Tamara Moskvina visited our rink for three days in June, and she's been in my head all year," he said.
Peterson, along with coaches Amanda Evora and Lyndon Johnston, had a big week in Saint Paul: Pairs from the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex in South Florida won novice, junior and senior pairs titles. It's the latest in a string of U.S. championships success stories that includes sending a combined three pairs to the last two Olympic Games.
"All of the skaters and coaches work as a team," Peterson said. "We have a lot of simulated competitions, and we have a supportive community that comes and watches them. Ellenton has a great staff; they look at the entire package. We have an in-house seamstress."
This season, "Team Florida" has a secret weapon: the memory of sessions with the legendary Moskvina, coach of Russian Olympic and world champions too numerous to mention.
"The work we did with her this summer changed our approach to training smart and being more efficient with the body," Peterson said. "We would stand in front of the mirror with all of the teams and do crossovers on the floor -- the floor! She would watch. Are the heads in alignment? Are the fingers in the same stretch? Are the legs moving together?"
Moskvina also gave novice through senior teams lifting exercises, and practiced the catches of twists. But for Daniel O'Shea, tips and tricks weren't her most important message.
"She gave us the mentality of 'every little thing counts,'" said O'Shea, who won the U.S. title with Tarah Kayne on Saturday. "It's not just about skating your three sessions on the ice -- it's about getting in front of the mirror and nitpicking and finding little things that you can improve.
"Mr. Peterson always says nationals can be won by pair spins and solo spins, the 'GOE elements' as he calls them, and we've worked really hard on not giving points away," O'Shea said.
"Tamara is such a little woman, but she is so strong and powerful," Kayne said. "Being around her, I really tried to embody that in myself. I tried to take charge of every element of my skating."
Each Ellenton coach brings something different to the table. Peterson is in charge of the pair's overall look on the ice, and occasionally gives the skaters what Kayne called a "push." Johnston, the 1989 world pairs silver medalist with Cindy Landry, helps Peterson set the team's technical elements. Evora, a 2010 Olympian with Mark Ladwig, keeps everything in balance.
"Amanda is a very calming presence," Kayne said. "She has been through everything. She knows how the stress feels. She knows at the end of the day everything is going to be OK."
"Sometimes, I do feel like the glue that keeps people together," Evora said, laughing. "Jim leads the team, and whenever I can keep them moving on the right path, I do it."
Evora coached Elli Kopmar and Jonah Barrett to two straight U.S. titles, including the novice gold medal in Saint Paul.
"I express to the girls how important it is to be a leading lady," she said. "You have to let a lady be a lady, and a man be a man, and there are certain times each role is played."
Peterson, Evora and Johnston have decades of combined experience, yet they -- as well as Kayne and O'Shea -- are counting the days until Moskvina returns to Ellenton.
"I love being taught for a change, to sit back and listen to a master like Tamara," Peterson said. "It really does change and inspire me. I heard she is coming back next year, because she liked Florida. I hope to spend more time with her. A week would be nice."
- Lynn Rutherford
Taking nothing for Grant-ed
Grant Hochstein skated a passionate free skate to a collection of music from Les Misérables, which his coach, Peter Oppegard, said matured him. The routine earned him a fourth-place finish, his best placement at the U.S. championships at the senior level since he made his debut in 2010.
His performance engaged the audience so much that he received a standing ovation and several fans high-fived him as he skated off the ice. Although his quad toe attempt did not receive full credit and he popped his triple flip late in the program, he had excellent spin positions and artstry.
"I skated the program a little better at NHK, but nationals is such a difficult beast," Hochstein said. "I've always loved this program, and I really wanted it to reach a larger audience."
Not only has Hochstein seen the stage production and the movie of the famous musical, but he also has read the classic book by Victor Hugo. He is hoping to make a trip to London to see it on stage there.
"This program and my experiences this year have helped me grow up as a man," he said.
In addition to training, he spent much of the past year helping his girlfriend, competitive skater Caroline Zhang, recuperate from major hip surgery. Zhang suffers from congenital hip dysplasia.
"I found out what it means to be selfless," Hochstein said.
The story of Les Miz is also about being selfless, a message not lost on Hochstein.
"I wanted to make this program a real journey," he said.
The music, which features cuts from the original musical, orchestral pieces and even a karaoke version, was edited by Zhang.
- Amy Rosewater
Entering the free skate in second place, Ross Miner was hoping to celebrate his 25th birthday by earning a spot on the world team.
With the world championships set for March 28-April 3 in Miner's hometown of Boston, he was especially looking forward to the opportunity.
Miner's celebration was thwarted in his free skate, in which he touched his hand down on his quad salchow and popped his axel, his opening two elements. He ended up finishing fifth with 248.01 points.
Afterward, Miner revealed that he wasn't even sure he would be able to skate in Saint Paul at all because of a stress fracture that was diagnosed about three weeks ago. Miner said the injury prevented him from doing full run-throughs of his free skate until a week and a half ago. He was not certain what caused the injury.
"I'm proud of the fact that I was able to get here," Miner said. "I haven't been in pain for the last two and a half weeks, but I had really smart management and was lucky to be here."
- Amy Rosewater