Day Four with Sarah and Drew

Bradley shows Obama some love; Cassar vs. security guard

Jimmy McElroy and Chazz Michael Michaels were in the house on Thursday afternoon.
Jimmy McElroy and Chazz Michael Michaels were in the house on Thursday afternoon. (Sarah S. Brannen)


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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to
(01/22/2009) - Sarah Brannen and Drew Meekins report on all the behind-the-scenes happenings at the 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Cleveland.

Men on ice

We're sorry to admit we missed the early group of the championship men's practice this morning, but we made it for the second two groups. We walked over to the arena with Jonathan Cassar and his coach, through the very empty tunnel between the hotel and the arena. Jonathan thought it was a little eerie and wondered whether he was late or early. When we got to the entrance, though, he realized he had forgotten his credential and there was no sweet-talking the security guard. He ended up starting his warm-up by running back to the hotel for it, then back to the arena again. He took it in stride though, and in practice he wowed everyone with his superb inside spread eagle, possibly the best we've ever seen.

Inside we ran into Scott Hamilton and Tracy Wilson, looking happy and relaxed and ready to go on TV commentary duty. We've got Scott's new book, "The Great Eight," back in our hotel room and we're interested to read it.

On the ice, Ryan Bradley showed off his political allegiance by practicing in an Obama t-shirt. Johnny Weir wore a gray striped scarf tied around his middle for most of the session. "I always wear a scarf at practice, to keep my back warm and let me know where my center is," he said. The striped one had no particular significance. "I have a million of them," he added.

After the practice session, Johnny also told the assembled media that he was now the "grande dame of figure skating."

Workin' it

Coach Dalilah Sappenfield has a pair in every single warm-up group of today's championship free skate. In fact, she has two pairs in one group. Backstage before the event, she is still all smiles but we'll try and get "before and after" comparison shots for you.

Obligatory weather comment

The temperature outside is more what we'd call reasonable today, but it was a balmy 6 degrees when we headed out yesterday. We asked Tim Goebel if it was normal (Tim is from Cleveland, you may recall).

"Yeah, the weather there is insane," he said. We're going to catch up with Tim again after the men's short program and get his take on this year's marquee event.

Skating in the moonlight

We met a delightful fan in the stands yesterday. Fran McCutchan's first skating event was the 1967 World Championships, which she told us were the last worlds held in an outdoor rink.

"It rained during the ladies free skate," she said. "Peggy Fleming fell and her tights got all wet."

Fran's memory is that there were only a few hundred people in attendance for the event, quite a contrast to recent years. She was a flight attendant for TWA back then. "They called us hostesses," she said. She and three other TWA "hostesses" flew to the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble, for free of course, and she said the whole event only cost around $500.

One of Fran's favorite memories is seeing Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov practicing on an outdoor rink in the moonlight.

"They were the only ones out there," she said. "They just stroked around and around for a long time, with the moon overhead. All you could hear was the sound of their blades."

That's a pretty lovely image.

Chazz and Jimmy

Cheering the pairs on in the short program were Chazz Michael Michaels and Jimmy McElroy, er, Dean Copely and Tim McKernan. We told you they had something special planned!

They made the costumes based on the "Fire and Ice" program from Blades of Glory for Halloween. Deciding to take them to Cleveland was the work of a moment.

"I got a text from Dean saying, 'Dude, bring your costume!' said Tim. "I texted back, 'Dude, it's already packed!'"

And with that, we're calling it a wrap for today.

Much more tomorrow,
Sarah and Drew