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Behind the scenes of figure skating - Nov. 22

The view from the coaching room

Coach Jeff DiGregorio with Italian coaches Franca Bianconi and Rosanna Murante.
Coach Jeff DiGregorio with Italian coaches Franca Bianconi and Rosanna Murante. (Kathy Atkinson)

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By Liz Leamy, special to icenetwork.com
(11/22/2007) - Skating was certainly the main event at Eastern Sectionals this past weekend, however there were some good things happening on the sidelines, specifically with the coaches.

This event attracted its usual esteemed troop of top-rate national and world coaches, nearly all of whom have been producing exceptional skaters for decades and who, for the most part, have dedicated most of their lives to developing the sport of figure skating.

For the latter part of this past week, this lively contingent of skilled and interesting people inhabited the rink's coaching room, which made it one of the most fun and memorable experiences of the whole event. (I know this because the coaches all kindly acquiesced to letting my colleague, Lynn Rutherford, and myself, work alongside them in their only downtime domain.)

Without a doubt, this accomplished group of people was fascinating on the whole, and exuded evident talent, spirit, wisdom and experience in regard to the sport.

This group included such big names as World and Olympic coaches, Peter Burrows, Ron Ludington, Slavka Button and Audrey Wiesiger, among many others. Some other notable names off the cuff included Kerry Leitch, Peter Johansson, Robbie Kaine, Aren Nielsen, Karl Kurtz, Jeff DiGregorio, Shirley Hughes, Tracy Doyle-Lunde and Steven Rice.

"This is a wonderful life. It can be challenging at times, just like anything else, but it is so fulfilling. You work with great kids alongside such good people. I've been working with Ron (Ludington) at the University of Delaware for 18 years, and it's been great. I asked to work for him when I was in college and he took me under his wing. He's been just terrific to me and it's been an amazing experience," said Jeff DiGregorio, who had numerous entries at this event and who is also a former coach of 1998 Olympic Champion Tara Lipinski.

Throughout this event, these coaches would catch up with one another during infrequent breaks. They could be seen discussing new happenings in the sport or offering support and advice to one another. As a whole, this seemed to really be a tight-knit group of people who were trying to do their best possible job for all the athletes on all levels.

"These kids work very hard and I think that both now and in the long run, they benefit from the lessons they learn from this sport. There is so much you get from skating, a good work ethic, a sense of teamwork, discipline and when it's called for -- a good sense of humor," continued DiGregorio.

These coaches, especially Ludington and his fellow cohort Peter Burrows, were anything but lacking in a sense of humor. These two iconic American coaches, who are former competitors and longtime colleagues and friends, seemed to be the captains of this terrific team of people. Whenever they were in the room, there seemed to be a real feeling of power and presence and they helped set the lively tone of the place.

"We've been friends for years, we've gone to many events together and always have a good time; except when we play golf, and Peter uses golf clubs that are illegal," laughed Ludington.

Meanwhile, Karl Kurtz kept the room hopping with his lively banter and keen wit. Even during those dark moments when our laptops would not be operating well which caused some distress on our part, to say the least, Kurtz would smile and say "everything will be just fine."