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Becky Bereswill's AEGON Cup diary

Tulips, chocolate, and travel delays

Becky Bereswill is one of the U.S. skaters headed to Courchevel, France.
Becky Bereswill is one of the U.S. skaters headed to Courchevel, France. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Becky Bereswill, special to icenetwork.com
(03/07/2008) - Becky Bereswill has two jobs this week in the Netherlands. Skating, of course, and serving as icenetwork.com's exclusive behind-the-scenes correspondent.

Tuesday, March 4th

Today is the big day, when two team leaders, eight coaches, nine skaters, and their chaperones come together from across the United States to form the U.S. team competing in The Hague at the 2008 AEGON International Challenge Cup

For many, traveling involved waking up early, driving to the airport and enjoying an 8-10 hour flight to Amsterdam. For some of us, the flight was not as simple.

Marissa Secundy; her father, Brad; and coach Becky Calvin, missed their connecting flight from Chicago to Amsterdam, after being held up due to bad weather in Chicago. Unfortunately, they had to catch the next flight out of Colorado Springs to Chicago, which led them to Frankfurt, not Amsterdam. After a lengthy delay, they hopped on a third flight, finally making it to Amsterdam.

For me; my coach, Megan Faulkner; and my mom and sister, our flight had something more dramatic in store. When we boarded in Houston at 6:30 p.m. Monday night, we were excited and expected to be in Amsterdam around 11:00 a.m., Tuesday morning. After an uneventful takeoff, we were in the air when we heard an announcement from the captain that we would probably be arriving early. However, within fifteen minutes, a flight attendant urgently asked if there were any doctors or medical personnel on board. After asking a second request, the announcements stopped.

An hour into the flight, while we were over Arkansas, the flight attendant informed the passengers that we had to turn around and fly back to Houston, because of a medical emergency. After making a large loop around the city of Pine Bluff, we flew back and ended up right back where we started.

Before we could land, the plane had to dump all of the gas on board, which we were informed cost $48,000. When we landed in Houston, they had to re-fill the plane with gas, and pick up 22 more passengers and their luggage. The group, calling themselves the "Dutchmen," had missed their connecting flight from Cancun. Lucky for them we were recalled!

Despite our troubles, when we made it to the Amsterdam Airport we left all of our frustrations on the plane and excitedly boarded the bus to The Hague. On the bus, Marissa and I met the skaters from Team Spain, and discovered our shaky Spanish was better than their English. We spent the hour bus ride giggling and trying to talk in Spanish. The drive from the airport was beautiful; we saw lots of cottages, tulips, and even one old windmill! When we arrived at our hotel, we immediately reported to accreditation and then dressed for the team dinner.

Team USA walked to a restaurant called "The Brushetta," an Italian restaurant a few blocks away from the hotel. The food was amazing; some of the favorite dishes were margarita pizza and lasagna. After that, we walked back to the hotel and began to get ready for bed when we realized that we had no idea how to turn on the shower. After about 15 minutes of tinkering with each knob, we pulled up on this strange looking one and realized it worked after cold water came showering down on our heads. Then, we climbed into bed and were able to rest after losing a day in travel.

Wednesday, March 5th

Good morning! Most everyone seemed to do okay with the time difference last night and were able to get in a night of rest. Everyone loved the breakfast buffet featuring mini Dutch pancakes, baked beans, eggs, bacon, sausage, fish, tomatoes au gratin, a variety of yogurt, fruit, granola, and of course tons of pastries. I have heard from many people that the croissants are very good. They also have a lot of fresh jams and chocolate butter. Lunch and dinner are also excellent, although the unfamiliar food has been a challenge.

"Half the time I don't know what I'm eating, I just put it on my plate," says Andrew Gonzales.

Once we got to the rink, we loved touring the beautiful facility. In addition to skating, they have a speed skating oval, rock climbing, go karts, and a small indoor ski slope that everyone is dying to try out. The practice rink is in the middle of the long speed skating track, and you have to walk over a large bridge to get to the center of the rink, which has a large tent over the ice.

When we were done with morning practice, we watched local people of all ages speed skate, the country's national sport. It was fun to see all of the different levels of skaters practicing, exercising, or just socializing. It looked so intriguing that two of our own coaches, Tammy Gambill and Mark Mitchell, decided to give it a whirl. In their sharp rental skates, they were able to skate really fast and had a blast.

After the afternoon round of practice was over, everyone headed back to the hotel to dress in formal attire for the opening ceremony. Before taking team pictures, David Wang broke out his Rubik's cube and showed everyone his impressive problem-solving skills. David, with members of the team counting down from 60, was able to solve the Rubik's cube in one minute, with his eyes closed for the last 10 seconds! After that, we headed to the ceremony, which was held at the museum adjacent to our hotel.

The night comprised of speeches from many distinguished guests, such as Ottavio Cinquanta, President of the ISU; Joan Haanappel, President of the Organizing Committee; the President of the main sponsor AEGON; a representative from The Hague; and many more. It was an honor to have so many important people welcome the U.S. team. (AEGON has signed on as a 30-year sponsorship for this event and is one of Europe's largest insurance and investment firms).

Though all of the speeches were in "English," they were sometimes difficult to follow. We could not help noticing that the young members of the Japanese team in the row in front of us fell asleep. One had to be carried off, which made us giggle. After two of the speeches, there was a performance from a Dutch mime. This performance was interesting and unique. Everyone was left kind of speechless when the mime, who wore a large skirt with a large flowery cap, left the stage.

Another performance we saw was a dance piece performed by the "Next Stage Dancers." This number was really cool, and everyone loved getting to see a different style of dancing. At the end, Cinquanta and Haanappel declared the AEGON Challenge Cup officially open and unveiled the trophy for the winning country.

Thursday, March 7th

SUCCESS FOR THE US!

Thursday was a great day for the U.S. team at the AEGON Cup Challenge. It was the first day of competition and everyone skated really well.

It was a fun day for everyone watching the events. Karl and Kaylyn (Kiki), our ice dancers, won both the compulsory and the original dance; Marissa won her short program; and David finished second in his short. The remaining five team members will compete for the first time Friday. For everyone, practices are going well and everyone is enjoying the great food and beautiful city.

Today in the bus, we saw someone horseback riding on a small trail. The 20-30 minute bus rides to the rink give everyone a chance to get a glimpse of the city. In the lake by the rink, we saw three black and white ducks and two cranes. The Hague is a really clean city, and a large portion of the population ride bikes. They even have a separate road (that we have learned to stand clear of!), beside the actual road exclusively for bikes. Few people have ventured away from the competition rink, but those who have report that the beach (North Sea) is wondrous and that the city is brimming with great shops and amazing chocolatiers.

The novice ladies' final was today along with the junior and senior ladies' and men's short programs. The junior dance and novice men had the day off and enjoyed practicing and cheering on their teammates. For the novice ladies, Marissa Secundy skated a great program to win the division in her first international appearance. Following the event, there was an beautiful victory ceremony with six Dutch girls dressed in klederdracht, the traditional costume with white lace, Dutch bonnets, long dresses and wooden shoes to present the medals. They also carried large beautiful flower bouquets filled with roses, tulips, mums (Marissa's favorite), and Dutch wild flowers.

For the junior men, Andrew (Drew) Gonzales skated an exquisite short program to take the lead in a talented men's group. Daniel O'Shea, for his first junior program, skated strong throughout and finished fifth place.

Friday, March 8th

Goede avond! Good evening!

So far, all of the team USA skaters have medaled at the Aegan Challenge Cup. David Wang, will compete his novice long program Sunday morning. The team USA members enjoyed seeing Holland's customs and traditions, shared in the "victory ceremony" tonight. Currently, the worry on all the girls' minds is whether or not we will be able to make it through customs, and take home the beautiful flower bouquets we received. Tomorrow, the winners of each event have been invited to perform in the closing gala exhibition that everyone is excited about. More later.

Saturday, March 9th

Well, it is hard to believe that the competition is over. Everyone is sad to go home after such an amazing and exciting week, but are psyched for the new season. Overall, the team had a very successful week having all of the team competitors medal in their divisions!

After the competition, we had a few hours off before the closing banquet ceremony. During these two hours, everyone rushed back to the hotel to finish packing and to set wake-up calls for the next morning. After everyone's rooms were inspected and approved by team leader, Kitty DeLio, we met in the lobby and headed off to the banquet. After a few closing speeches from the organizing committee, they served dinner which was an international style buffet with dishes ranging from tacos, to sushi, to hamburgers. It sounds pretty unhealthy, I know, but they also had the healthy, and traditional Dutch dishes too. After dinner, they set up an amazing dessert table with many lavish desserts that everyone loved, non counting, however, the small bitter fruit tarts that we later found out had a strong vodka glaze. The most popular section of the table was the Dutch chocolate fondue fountain that everyone dipping everything in.

After everyone was done eating, a large open dance floor was begging for attention. Not wanting to be the first one dancing, everyone sat back and waited for the one brave soul who would break the ice. A few minutes later, we noticed that Danny O'Shea's chair was empty and that he had silently taken it upon himself to be the one brave soul. After busting a few moves on the dance floor, he received a large applause, followed by a wave of European skaters joining him. The rest of the team joined in and had fun learning famous European dances, while also teaching the skaters from other countries American dances.

After the conclusion of the party, the team gathered in one of the rooms to spend the last few hours together telling competition stories and playing Catchphrase. We had a lot of fun playing Catchphrase, a game where one person is given a word and they have to try to make everyone guess it while only using other words to describe the word. We all started laughing when Drew shouted out "herniated disk!" to correctly guess the difficult word I got stuck with that round. With the exception of a few random words, the game was fun because, as Karl put it, "we can use the experiences and fun times together this week to describe the words," like when he said "it's the theme of our free dance..." or like when Amanda Dobbs said "it's the thing we all wanted to do on Saturday," and everyone screamed "rock-climbing!"

Overall, everyone had a wonderful time and learned a lot about themselves and competing. A special thank you goes out to our AWESOME team leaders, Kitty DeLio and John Millier who made the trip extra special and successful. We would be lost without you (literally and physically because The Hague was a difficult city to get around in). In the words of Brittany Rizo, Kitty kept us very organized, on time, and prepared, and John kept us calm by making us laugh and giving the best pep talks and words of wisdom. On behalf of all of the skaters, I would also like to thank everyone who made this trip possible and say that it has been fun blogging for Icenetwork. Thanks for reading!

Becky Bereswill