Notes from the Xcel underground

Schmooze-fest backstage at champs

Angela Maxwell leads the junior ladies at U.S. Championships.
Angela Maxwell leads the junior ladies at U.S. Championships. (Michelle Harvath)


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By Liz Leamy, special to
(01/22/2008) - The week has just begun, and already memorable things are happening at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

There is a great camaraderie developing among the various factions of people converged at the Xcel Energy Center. Skaters, coaches, officials, writers, fans, workers and volunteers are busy doing their duties and making sure they assist in turning out a top-rate event. The facility itself is fantastic. It is contained within a giant, glass-enclosed, cement building that sits right on the Mississippi River. It is clean, in great condition, and there are workers everywhere making sure everything runs smoothly.

According to a 2007 ESPN poll, the Xcel Center was rated as the number one indoor sports venue in the United States, a citation that everyone from the elevator operators to the Zamboni drivers seem to be happy to admit. (The Zamboni is even in mint condition and appears to have Mag-like wheels that actually light up.)

Everyone seems to be thrilled with the luxuriousness of the venue.

"This has been a great experience. Everyone has been very nice, and I've really liked being here," said Ross Miner of the SC of Boston after capturing the silver medal in the novice men's event.

Tammy Gambill, the acclaimed California coach, also raved: "This is a wonderful facility, and the people have been so great."

One of the most interesting experiences of the week so far has been the interaction between the novice and junior skaters, and the writers in the 'mixed-zone' area right behind the athlete's ice entryway.

Based on these somewhat short, but important discussions, these kids seem to be truly remarkable people. Although they are technically at what might be deemed the 'rookie' national level, they seem to handle themselves with the sophistication, experience and aplomb of well-seasoned veterans.

Virtually all of the athletes who have been brought over to speak with the writers have been gracious, well-mannered, intelligent, honest and humble.

On Sunday, Angela Maxwell of the Dallas FSC, charmed everyone with her interesting and spirited take on her victory in the junior ladies short program.

Yesterday, Felicia Zhang, the novice ladies bronze medalist, was extremely informative and frank about the machinations of the International Judging System.

"I try to do every element as best as I can to earn the highest number of points in my performances," she said.

Zhang is regarded as a quintessential IJS skater -- she wasn't armed with triples, but a textbook skate got her on the podium.

Meanwhile, last night, the top three winners in the novice men staged as good of a show in the zone as they did on the ice.

Daniel O'Shea, the novice men's gold medalist, delighted writers with interesting personal information, including the fact that he was thrown a giant stuffed frog on the ice by his friends, because they [frogs] represent a great source of faith and inspiration to him.

Ross Miner, who was second, had most of the media laughing with his quick witticisms. When asked about where he gets the courage to approach triples from his renowned high-speed entries, he responded with: "I do it that way because a faster takeoff helps to make the a jump a lot easier, so hey, why not?"

Finally, 13-year-old David Wang's demo in which he put together a Rubik's Cube in less than a minute had everyone in awe. Asked if he invests as much time in practicing the Rubik's Cube as he does with skating, Wang replied, "No, I just sort of fool around with it when I have the time."