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Oi, Rizo face big decisions

Skaters have until May to give colleges the word

Brittney Rizo (left) and Curran Oi may pursue higher learning instead of skating.
Brittney Rizo (left) and Curran Oi may pursue higher learning instead of skating. (Sarah S. Brannen)

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By Sarah S. Brannen, special to icenetwork.com
(02/25/2009) - This May, Brittney Rizo and Curran Oi both have the same big decision to make. Oi, 18, has been accepted to MIT, and he's waiting to hear from Harvard and Stanford. Rizo, who turns 18 at the end of February, has been accepted to Northeastern University, and she is also waiting to hear from Boston University and Simmons College.

But what about skating? Both Rizo and Oi performed well above expectations at the 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships, skating their way into the final group of their respective free skates in their first senior season. Rizo finished seventh in the championship ladies event, and became the second alternate to the junior world team after Mirai Nagasu withdrew. Oi, who finished sixth at nationals in the championship men's division, was named to the junior world team and is currently in third place at the 2009 ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships after the short program. "I'll be on the beach in Jamaica while he's in Bulgaria," joked Rizo in January.

Neither skater has decided what to do about college. "I can defer [enrolling at MIT] for two years if I want to," says Oi. "So I've got a lot of flexibility." Oi, a two-time member of the U.S. Figure Skating Scholastic Honors Team, dreams of becoming a scientist, possibly in the field of nanotechnology. Rizo wants to be a doctor, although she hasn't decided what kind yet.

"The deadline is May 1st," says Rizo, so both skaters will have to figure it out by then. Rizo and Oi agree that skating competitively while attending college would be very difficult, as others have discovered.

"At the end of the year, after I'm done skating, I'm going to take everything in my life, put it together and look at it all at once," says Oi. "But right now, I don't want to look at it all at once, because I'm not sure. After junior worlds, I think I'll have most of the information I need."

"It's overwhelming," adds Rizo. "I'm thinking about all of my different options now, and I'll decide around the end of March."

Rizo and Oi made their senior debuts just this season, at the Eastern Sectional Championships in November. Both competed in the Junior Grand Prix series last fall, and Oi qualified for the Junior Grand Prix Final in 2006, but neither has previously competed at the world junior championships.

Rizo says she started skating at three. "I saw my aunt skating, and I immediately wanted to do it, because she was my idol. So I started skating with her. She had double Axels and stuff, but when she got to college she joined the Haydenettes."

Rizo is a senior at Braintree High School. "I go to school until 1:15 p.m., so I basically miss my last class every day." She arrives at the Skating Club of Boston soon after and skates three sessions each day.

Oi also started skating early. "I started skating when I was six. There was some sort of skating event on TV, and I was in the living room, and I started jumping around and pretending to do skating jumps, and I told my mom I wanted to be a skater, and she signed me up." Rizo, who says she hadn't heard this story before, gets a fit of giggles at the image. Oi's sister, Bryna, is also a skater. She finished fifth in junior ladies at the New England Regional Championships last fall.

A senior at Wellesley High School, Oi takes three classes at school and another two classes online, which gives him some flexibility to skate morning sessions at the busy Boston club. "It's really exciting right now," he says. "We had lots of people going to nationals this year. We have a really strong training group here. Sometimes later in the season there aren't that many people running programs, and it's hard to motivate yourself, but this year we had a lot, so there was a lot of energy to feed off of."

"And we definitely push each other on our sessions," adds Rizo, "So it's a lot easier to get through them."

"In the fall when things were a little more low-key," says Oi, "Before we started really training for nationals, Ross Miner, Peter Max Dion and I would all play this game..."

"I played too sometimes!" interrupts Rizo.

"Occasionally," concedes Oi, "But not when we started doing those flips and Lutzes!

"Because, ok, that's not fair!" pouts Rizo.

"It was 'add-ons,'" explains Oi, "So someone would start with triple Lutz, and someone else would be like triple Lutz, hop, triple loop. They got really crazy. We got up to five or six triples."

Both skaters are coached by Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson, of whom they speak with warmth and respect.

"They're awesome," says Rizo. "I love working with them. They're always there for you, and they'll always stand up for you and believe in the best."

"They'll chase you!" says Oi. "Sometimes when you're really tired or not feeling it, they'll just push you. It doesn't feel good at the time, but then you're so well trained later that it's really worth it."

As they prepared for the U.S. championships last month, neither skater had high expectations. "I just wanted to do two solid programs, just put it out there and see what happened," says Rizo. "I wanted top ten."

"I had similar goals," says Oi. " I guess, for me, I was just hoping to do two good programs. If I did two great programs and I was twelfth, I'd be happy. It was really mostly about doing two clean programs at nationals, or two really good programs. I got extra nervous skating last in the short and being in the final warm-up group in long, but I'm happy with the way I was able to get into my long after a shaky start. To me, the results were an unexpected bonus."