Day Six with Sarah and Drew in Cleveland

Lots of tears backstage; party time at the official hotel

Drew Meekins (top) with partner Jessica Rose Paetsch (right) and coach Dalilah Sappenfield (center) shortly before hitting the ice.
Drew Meekins (top) with partner Jessica Rose Paetsch (right) and coach Dalilah Sappenfield (center) shortly before hitting the ice. (Sarah S. Brannen)


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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to
(01/24/2009) - 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.


Curran Oi has some competition for the coolest name in the competition: junior man Pine Kopka-Ross. How color-coordinated of him to wear pine green for his free skate!

Speaking of Curran, we already mentioned that the gloves for his Phantom of the Opera short program look like a mask when he puts them over his face. Curran went for the drama last night, not wearing the gloves in the six-minute warm-up. When he put them over his face for his opening pose, the crowd gasped. Nice effect.

Famous threads

We dropped into the Hall of Fame reception Friday afternoon. Dick Button was holding court and making eyebrow-raising jokes, pretty much the way he does on TV, and food, drink and fur were flowing. Spotted in the crowd: Nancy Kerrigan, Dorothy Hamill, Paul Wylie, Brian Boitano, Elaine Zayak, Carol Heiss Jenkins, David Liu, Scott Hamilton, Tenley Albright, Judy Blumberg, Vera Wang, and most of the honchos of U.S. Figure Skating.

We asked Vera Wang, in black with a little fur stole, if she is dressing anyone in this year's competition, and the answer, unfortunately, was no. Then we asked her something we've always wondered about: does she always wear her own designs? "I mix it up," she said. "Mostly my own, but I mix it up."

The party was just kicking into high gear when we had to leave to get ready for the main event, the championship men's competition.

Tim weighs in

We called Tim Goebel today to ask him what he thought of the men's competition last night. Tim had only watched the first two skaters, since he had to get up at 6:15 this morning to go to the rink and coach.

"Jeremy [Abbott] had a really solid skate," said Tim. "He skated with a lot of confidence and had good energy. His elements looked really solid. Even since the Grand Prix Final, I thought he looked stronger.

"Evan's triple Axel looked better. I know he has put a lot of time into working on it and it shows. It's a great program, the footwork is difficult and it's interesting."

Tim commented that nationals is always the most difficult competition of the year, and he wasn't afraid to make a prediction: "Jeremy looks ready to be champion."

If he could give the guys one piece of advice for tomorrow, what would he say? "Don't play it safe. Go out and attack. Act like you're going out to win, not to defend."

Impressive record

We walked back from the arena last night with Paul George, the former secretary of the U. S. Olympic Committee, among many other titles. Halfway to our hotel, we were joined by coach Alexander Vedenin, the former head coach of the Soviet national team. The two luminaries reminisced about good times in the old days -- vodka and auto parts (Don't ask).

Mr. George mentioned that he has been to 14 Olympic Games, winter and summer. Mr. Vedenin said he should be in the Guinness Book of World records for that, then hesitated, and said, "Well, Tatiana Tarasova may equal you."

"I'd need a few more medals to equal her," said Mr. George, who was a pair skater himself back in the day.

Fierce hydroblade

The official hotel was a busy scene last night, with the party overflowing into every corner of the lobby and all over the fountain. Senior man Nicholas LaRoche stopped by, looking fierce in a crisp dark suit, tie, and diamond stud earring. His sister, also glam, told us Nick had had a Mohawk until recently, which we still can't quite picture.

Nick has the best hydroblade in the universe, if you've never seen it. He hasn't put it in his programs lately, because it gets no points in the current judging system. We begged him to do it tomorrow anyway, so keep your eyes open!

There's no crying in baseball...

But there's a lot in skating! It was sweet to see Amanda Evora sobbing with happiness from before the end of her free skate, through the bows, off the ice, and all the way into the kiss and cry. After the pairs event, Dalilah Sappenfield also couldn't stop crying with joy after Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker won their second national title. Dalilah had wept earlier after watching her son Larry Ibarra skate his last-ever competitive program. Larry is going to retire and coach full-time from now on.

In honor of his retirement, Larry came to the rink for the competition wearing a classy gray suit with a pink tie.

Peace out,
Sarah and Drew