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Hughes back in Boston to start fall semester

College sophomore will polish triples while hitting the books

Harvard sophomore Emily Hughes and her longtime coach, Bonni Retzkin.
Harvard sophomore Emily Hughes and her longtime coach, Bonni Retzkin. (Lynn Rutherford)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(09/16/2008) - Monday marked the first day of Harvard University's fall semester, and the start of Emily Hughes' balancing act.

As her sophomore year begins, the Great Neck, Long Island, skater will once again seek a workable equilibrium between the demands of an Ivy League education and elite figure skating competition.

"I loved my freshman year. I love school," the 19-year-old said. "I miss so many people, I actually can't wait. Everyone else is already there, so I'm kind of the last person to go back. It's exciting."

In Hughes' life, academic enthusiasm must co-exist with the realities of a heavy competition schedule. The strategy has already begun.

"I injured myself last December, and I was off-ice for all of the spring semester, so I took an extra class," the skater said. "This fall I'm taking one less class to try to lighten my load. I'm just looking forward to that part of my life, because I love both school and skating."

Last weekend, Hughes competed for the first time since 2007 Skate Canada at the Middle Atlantic Figure Skating Championships, hosted by Skating Club of New York at Chelsea Piers. The 2007 U.S. silver medalist missed key triple jumps and placed third, but regarded her performance as a useful stepping stone.

"I was supposed to do the 2008 U.S. Collegiate Championships [held Aug. 7-9] in Colorado Springs, but I sprained my ankle right around then and had to take two weeks off," she explained.

"Now I'm back on the ice and training hard. For the small amount of time I've been training, I was happy to go out to my first competition of the year -- actually, my first competition in almost a year. I'm looking forward to the next one."

Sunny optimism and a one-day-at-a-time philosophy have guided Hughes throughout her career. As the younger sister of Sarah, the 2002 Olympic champion, Emily's early successes and setbacks all took place in the spotlight.

Case in point: In 2004, as a junior, Emily failed to qualify for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The following season, she graduated to seniors and qualified, placing sixth; she went on to win a bronze medal at the 2005 World Junior Figure Skating Championships. In those days, a cheerful "Well, I skate righty and Sarah skates lefty" was Emily's most common answer to reporters' comparisons to her older sister.

Now, the resilient teen sees no reason why she cannot persevere.

"I'm heading up to Boston with Emily, to help set up her training there," Hughes' longtime coach, Bonni Retzkin, said. "I'm based in Long Island and I can't move [to Boston], but we're going to see each other one or hopefully two days a week."

"It's really important for me that I am in contact with Bonni, because she is my main coach," agreed Hughes. "[This fall] she'll come visit me for a few days, and I'll go home for a few days to work with her, back and forth. It will all work out in the end."

On days in Boston when Retzkin is unavailable, Hughes will work with Elin Gardiner Schran, founder of Boston Ice Theater and daughter of 1956 Olympic champion Tenley Albright.

"Elin is so nice -- I worked with her a little bit last year," Hughes said. "It's going to be hard and a lot of work but I feel like I've put in a lot of work already, so I'm going to keep going down the road I'm going."

Hughes debuted a new free skate at Middle Atlantics, choreographed by David Wilson to the theme from Gone with the Wind. The sweeping anthem, composed by Max Steiner for the 1939 blockbuster, was not the skater's first choice.

"Bonni always wanted me to do [GWTW] and this year, she was like, "I really think you should do it," and I said no, because the only part of the music I ever heard what that part that's played over and over," explained Hughes.

"Then David found this amazing version and I couldn't turn it down. I love it now. I went to Toronto in the beginning of June and David did the program, and also looked over the short [to Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm"], which is from last year. I saw David again in August for a follow-up, and I might visit him again."

Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson coached her last fall during her freshman year at Harvard. After placing fourth at both 2007 Skate America and Skate Canada, a right hip injury put an early end to her 2007/2008 season.

"I was injured in December, that's why I was unable to go to nationals, which was difficult," she said. "But I went back to school and decided to take an extra class, and took three or four months off. I wasn't on the ice at all.

"I was really upset I couldn't go to nationals but I was able to focus on my finals, which might have been good in a way. I was happy the way freshman year turned out and I was happy with my grades. From there I went back home, started training again and unfortunately sprained my ankle, but now I'm back on track."

Hughes' next competition will be the 2009 North Atlantic Regional Championships, held in Jamestown, N.Y., on October 10-14. In November, she is scheduled for Trophée Eric Bompard in Paris.

But her immediate concern, for the next 48 hours, is settling her fall class schedule. The balancing act has begun in earnest.

"I'm thinking of [majoring in] government; this fall, I'm taking a government class. I'm also taking a core class and a smaller class that seems pretty interesting, so we'll see. I have a few days to figure it all out."

Mid Atlantics round-up

The senior ladies' event was won by Georgian champion Elene Gedevanishvili, who trains at The Ice House in Hackensack, N.J., under coach Roman Serov.

Tamar Katz of Israel was second.

"I was a lot happier with my short program than my long, because I did a triple Lutz-triple toe [combination]," Gedesvanishvili said. "I'm working hard and my jumps are getting better and better."

Great Britain's Matthew Parr, the winner of the senior men's competition, hit a triple Axel in his short and a triple Lutz-triple toe combo in his long. The 18-year-old, who trains in Dundee, Scotland with coach Simon Briggs, recently recovered from a back injury.

"I was off the ice for a few weeks before the Junior Grand Prix in Merano, so I didn't do well there," Parr said. "Now I'm back and I can't complain. I'm going to compete at the JGP in Sheffield, and then I have two senior events. After that, [British] selections will be made for the European Championships and world juniors, and I would love to go."

Samantha Cesario won junior ladies with a four-triple free skate to music from "Tosca."

"It was definitely my best ever in competition," the 15-year-old said. "Now my goal is to do well at regionals and sectionals and qualify for nationals."

Daisuke Murakami, the former U.S. novice medalist who now represents Japan, dominated the junior men's event. He had planned to compete at last week's JGP in Mexico City, but a paperwork glitch put an end to those hopes.

"Daisuke was released by U.S. Figure Skating and he didn't compete last season, so he could [represent] Japan this season," the skater's coach, Nikolai Morozov, said. "We got to Mexico City and then they told us he could not compete there. The Japanese federation was supposed to file [notice] that he was competing 30 days before [the event], but they didn't make the deadline."

Murakami, who seemed to take the snafu in stride, said, "I got there, had one practice [on Wednesday], and turned around and came back Thursday night. But we had entered [Mid Atlantics] before and never withdrew, so I just came here."

The skater hopes to compete at two other JGP events later this fall.