The Inside Edge with Sarah and Drew - Worlds diary

Kitson, dance drama and Candice Didier

Banners supporting Yu-Na Kim littered the STAPLES Center on Saturday night.
Banners supporting Yu-Na Kim littered the STAPLES Center on Saturday night. (Drew Meekins)


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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to
(03/28/2009) -'s intrepid backstage reporters Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins are on the scene at the 2009 World Figure Skating Championships in Los Angeles.

Saturday, March 28


We took advantage of the gorgeous day to go shopping on Melrose Avenue today before the ladies free skate. We hit up Marc Jacobs, G-Star and Kitson before having lunch at Fred Segal. We picked up a couple of items to remember Los Angeles at Kitson, in the form of a gray knit crewneck shirt and a grayish-purple linen summer scarf.

On our way back, we drove past the STAPLES Center, where the crowd was arriving in swarms to watch the ladies. There were several people outside wearing Korea buttons and handing out Korean flags to everyone entering the arena, presumably to rally support for Yu-Na Kim tonight. As ever, the omnipresent Korean media was on the scene, filming and photographing it all to satisfy the undying hunger of Kim's fans for any shred of news about their star.

The Boys Who Score + 1

After the ladies short program last night, we ran into the infamous "Boys Who Score" in the hotel lounge. They had scored the event with their usual near perfection. The BWS told us about a famous father they are thinking of recruiting. "We sat with Michelle Kwan's father!" they said with excitement. The BWS are avid Michelle fans and, in fact, waged a presidential campaign for the Kween last year.

They went on to tell us that Danny Kwan decided to join in on the scoring last night and proved to be quite good, calling Joannie Rochette's score within one point. He really got the BWS's attention when he proclaimed that Yu-Na was going to get 76 points right after she finished. "No way!" said the BWS, "That's like four points higher then the world record! Are you crazy?!" They calculate their scores with an element score card and a calculator, none of which Danny had access to. But of course, he was right on the money. The man apparently knows a thing or two about ladies skating.

Katrina Hacker told us that the whole Skating Club of Boston crowd got together and had a party to watch the ladies short program. They played Bananagrams (a word game) during the commercial breaks and cheered loudly for Finland's Laura Lepistö, who trained in Boston last summer and stayed with Katrina.

Free dance drama

After the free dance, fans and skaters alike were puzzled about Meryl Davis and Charlie White's scores. Meryl and Charlie brought down the house with their spot-on, energetic performance, which sparked a standing ovation well before their music finished. It seems that most people (including a growing group on Facebook titled "Meryl Davis and Charlie White got robbed!") would have liked to see them run away with the free dance, if not the whole thing. We ran into a certain former champion ice dancer back at the hotel and told her, "We don't understand dance, so can you explain the results to us?"

"Even I didn't understand that," she said. "Meryl and Charlie should have won by five points."

Meryl and Charlie came in later, with their good friend Ben Agosto. Being good sports, they all seemed happy and cheerful. One person after another kept coming up to Charlie, all saying variations of, "What happened? You guys should have won!"

However you think it should have gone, it was a great event to watch. Congrats to all.


Speaking of the scene last night, former American skating star (and gemologist to the stars!) Shepherd Clark invited us and many of skating's elite to a private room he had gotten in the hotel lounge last night. We actually never made it in to see the scene, but we are slightly intrigued to know what went down.

David Wilson and Brian Orser were laughing and relaxed at a table with Yu-Na's agent. We talked to him for a while; he seemed on top of the world, not surprising, given that his client is the biggest celebrity in Korea.

Infinite variations

Going back to skating: we have noticed that the commentators are often nonplussed when a skater deviates from their posted elements sheet. We have heard them say that the skater is improvising, but under the current system, that is quite unlikely. All skaters these days train to maximize points, not only with jumps and spins, but also with how they train their programs. They strategize with their coaches, so that if they miss a certain jump in a certain way, they know to change to Plan B, or C, or D, depending on what happened. That way, they won't have to be keeping track of combinations and passes during the program; they already know what to do.

For instance, Rachael Flatt's first jumping pass in her short program is supposed to be triple flip-triple toe. But when she missed the jump and put her foot down, she knew that it would no longer count as a combination. (You can turn out of the first jump in a combination, but you can't put your foot down). So she added the double toe to her triple Lutz jump. This is something Rachael does in practice any time she puts her foot down on the triple flip. So she didn't have to think about it in the heat of the moment.

As you know, we train with Rachael and Jeremy Abbott every day. There are almost infinite variations in the possible layout of a long program, but realistically, Jeremy probably does three or four different layouts during his run-throughs. If his triple Axel-triple toe combination turns into a triple-double, he knows to put the triple toe after the triple Lutz later. If he pops one of his triple Axels, his last jumping pass, usually double Axel-double toe, turns into a triple Axel combination. When he popped his double Axel on Thursday, he did a tap-toe into double Axel, knowing, because he has practiced that way, that that would maximize his points.

We hope we have explained this clearly, and that you found it interesting!

Candice Didier

The crowd at the STAPLES Center was horrified during the free skate today when Candice Didier tripped on a jump landing, fell hard on her side, slid into the boards and didn't get up. After being helped off the ice, she appeared about to faint, so we were very surprised that she managed to get back on and finish her program, despite being in obvious pain. She was taken out on a stretcher, and we just got a report from team leader Eric Millot.

"Right now the doctors are thinking that she suffered a contusion on the hip. She gets painkillers now. She was almost fainting in the kiss and cry, but she wanted to finish her program by all means."

We hope the injury isn't too bad and that she gets better soon!

Ongoing count

Olympic champions spotted today and Friday: Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karpanosov, Brian Boitano. Total: 13.

Michelle Kwan sightings: 1! Finally! Looking stupendous in a blue dress.

We'll be back tomorrow, with, wait for it, the international version of our best-dressed list.

Friday, March 27

World record

After the ladies short program, we headed backstage to try and go to the press conference. We couldn't get near the room! Even the area outside the press conference room was completely packed with (mostly Asian) media and cameras. The noise was deafening -- an excited hubbub of energy. It was like a rock concert, and Yu-Na Kim was the lead singer.

The ladies event is a whole different animal from the other events. Dedicated skating fans may feel that men's or dance are the main events, but the general public does not agree.

The press room here is enormous. When we arrived on Wednesday, halfway through the men's short program, there were, maybe, five people in the room. Tonight, it was totally full -- we'd guess between 100 and 150 members of the media.

And despite her enormous popularity and the incredible pressure she must feel, Kim delivered. Congratulations on her new world-record score! Good luck to all the ladies tomorrow in the long program.

It's not about the quad

Huge congratulations to Evan Lysacek for the gold medal-winning skate of his life last night. He is obviously a very talented skater athletically and artistically, and he brought his A-game last night. Evan won the event not only because of his on-ice ability, but because he is truly a fierce competitor. A thought struck us immediately afterward. Last year, the world champion didn't try a quad; this year, neither the gold nor silver medalist tried one. Of the major events this season, none except Europeans was won with a quad. The three highest-scoring free skates of the season did not include quads. Under the International Judging System, it is not all about the quad any more.

But, of course, when we had this thought, we had to get some expert opinions. Scott Smith, who has landed many quad Salchows in competition (he says 15ish of them), agrees.

"This sport right now is so not about the quad. Tomas Verner did a quad-triple combination in the short, and he was below people who did triple-triples. The whole 'downgrade if you miss it' thing is keeping people from doing it. A fall is like an automatic downgrade."

We noticed that no one in the entire men's competition even tried a quad Salchow.

Scott says he still hits the quad Sal all the time when he's healthy, but "I had a couple bad experiences with missing it with a downgrade and seeing people win without it, and I didn't want to do it in competition anymore.

"Quads aren't worth very many points. A change-of-edge spin that is done well is worth more than a quad, it seems, and is way less risky."

We talked to Tim Goebel a couple of days ago about quads (see our Wednesday entry below).

"Girls are taking out triple-triples because of the downgrades," he added. "For the sport to move forward, there should be more reward for taking risks."

We tried to reach Paul Wylie, who was traveling all day, and he took the time to weigh in late tonight.

"Skaters are pragmatic, and the quad has not been worth the risk [the reward doesn't match its inherent difficulty]. Like the triple Axel in the ladies event, skaters face the following risks: falling [a certain -3 and the double-counting 1-point deduction]; downgrading; expending tremendous psychological/physical effort; and even if they land it, being overcome with the thrill and messing up other jumps [a la Verner and Yannick Ponsero]."

Paul also commented on the current system's values for combinations: "Just adding the values of the jumps in combinations is a blunt instrument. Why is a triple toe tacked onto a triple flip the same value as one added to a quad? The quad-triple combo is a tremendous feat, and every skater who has ever tried one knows it.

"If the ISU wants the men to do the quad and the ladies to do the triple Axel, they are going to have to reward their efforts in a manner commensurate with the risk. Otherwise, why should they bother, especially if they can deliver a clean, entertaining program as Evan did last night?"

Thanks to all our experts for their thoughtful analysis. And congratulations again to the medalists, and all the guys.

Pinky and the Brain

After the men's free skate last night, we saw Jeremy Abbott being mobbed on the street by about 200 fans. They were screaming, staggering, hyperventilating and taking a lot of pictures. And they were almost all from Japan and Korea, as far as we could tell. We sort of wish skating were that popular in the U.S.

By the way, how cute is it that Jeremy was quoting Pinky and the Brain before he skated?

"What are we going to do tonight, Brain? Same thing we do every night Pinky -- try and take over the world!"

Afterward, he said, "I failed at taking over the world last night, but that will not stop me because some day I will!"

Tai and Keauna

We heard from Tai Babilonia this morning, and she told us some of her thoughts after watching the pairs final Wednesday night.

"I truly hope Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker learned from their mistakes this season and go home and re-think their training regimen. I am a big believer in tough love. I'm sure they are having a huge reality check right now. All the talent is there, and if they want to be champions, they will have to fight for it."

Tai, who as we mentioned mentors the U.S. champs, also had a bit to add about the necklace she gave Keauna.

"I wanted to give Keauna something for good luck when I came to visit her and Rockne last January," said Tai. "I found a tiny gold moon necklace from my personal jewelry collection and gave that one to her. I am honored that Keauna has chosen to wear it, but, along with good luck charms, you must truly believe in yourself and take nothing for granted."

Tai says she still, and always, wears the gold crescent moon that Stevie Nicks gave her in 1979.

Good advice from a great champion and a very sweet and gracious lady. Tai signed off with this comment: "I am so happy for Evan. He deserves it and worked his tail off to earn that title. Bravo!"

And then she told us to have fun in L.A. and watch out for Lindsay Lohan.

Current count

Olympic champions spotted today and Thursday: Jamie Salé and David Pelletier, Tara Lipinski, Kristi Yamaguchi, Evgeny Platov, Dick Button and Nastia Liukin. We know Brian Boitano is here, but we haven't laid eyes on him yet. Current total: 10

By the way, Tara was spotted carrying a fabulous classic black-and-white Chanel bag on one arm, and a man of interest on the other! The two spent half the men's event last night canoodling in the stands.

Michelle Kwan sightings: 0 :(

Movie stars: 0. Where are they? C'mon, this is L.A.! Ross the Intern is here, so we're hoping to run into him.

And we're off to the free dance!

Thursday, March 26

Men side-by-side

We made it over to the STAPLES Center in time for the last men's warm-up group this morning, where a large crowd was in attendance. Samuel Contesti looked ready to win the whole thing tonight. He brought down the house with his straight-line step sequence at the end of his program until he fell and crashed into the boards, that is.

Evan Lysacek and Patrick Chan did perfectly synchronized side-by-side spins while Evan was mid run-through, better than a lot of the pairs yesterday, in fact. We noticed that Evan has taken the quad out of his program, and replaced it with a triple lutz-triple toe combination.

Banner day

In the downtime after practice, we started counting the colorful banners made by fans to support their favorites. Here is our count, as of noon today: Yu-Na Kim ran away with the gold medal, as we suspect she might in the ladies event later in the week, with 20 banners! Jeremy Abbott (eight) and Chan (five) rounded out the top three.

Qing Pang and Jian Tong, Nobunari Oda and Lysacek finished in a three-way tie with four apiece, as did Brian Joubert, Takahiko Kozuka and Mao Asada, who all had two banners hung in their support.

It should be mentioned, however, that a couple of banners are entirely in Japanese, and we don't know what they say. The only skaters to make the wall who are not competing in L.A.: Daisuke Takahashi ("Daisuke, See you in Vancouver") and L.A.'s golden girl, Michelle Kwan, whose banner simply read "Kwan: Legend."

Our favorite: "Drive from San Bernadino: 64 miles. Cost of world championship ticket: $600. Seeing Evan Lysacek win gold: Priceless."

We also liked the banners depicting Jeremy and Yu-Na as characters from The Simpsons.

Very clever.


In honor of the star-studded attendance here in L.A., we have decided to keep track of daily Olympic Champion sightings. Spotted on Wednesday: Scott Hamilton, Oleg Vasiliev and Alexei Urmanov. More to come, we are certain.

We intend on keeping a "Kwan sighting" count as well, although we have not yet been graced with the presence of the Kween.

If looks could kill

Well! We never thought we would see another Italian Death Stare to equal Barbara Fusar-Poli's glare at her partner after he dropped her in the original dance at the 2006 Olympics. However, Federica Faiella gave Barbara a run for her money today, after Massimo Scali did the Mother of All Trips in their original dance, falling on his face and taking Federica down with him. Of course we don't know if she intended it or not, but regardless, we're a little scared of her now.

Savchenko in the zone

Pair skater Caitlin Yankowskas was glued to the pairs (on TV) of course. We asked her for her thoughts on the competition last night.

"I thought that the last two groups were great, but everyone looked shaky," she said. "No one had a clean skate. You could tell that it was the year before the 2010 Games. I was tense and I wasn't even there!"

What did she think of Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy's winning performance?

"I thought the Germans were amazing!" she said. "Best performance of the season. Even his little 'oopsie' during the footwork didn't hurt their presence out there."

We asked Caitlin what aspects of Savchenko and Szolkowy's skating particularly impressed her.

"I love their smooth skating and speed," she said. "No one touches them in that area. There's no hesitation with their elements and there's no loss of choreography throughout the entire performance. I loved their strong opening with the triple-triple sequence and then their abrupt stop into very slow heartbreaking music ... they portray that piece with utter perfection! They also have fabulous costumes, but she looks good in everything because she has a fabulous body!"

Caitlin particularly mentioned the way Aliona attacks her elements.

"She is so mentally tough," she said with admiration. "Nothing shakes her confidence and you can tell that she never loses her cool. She is always in the zone and does not let pressure or a mistake shake her confidence. That is something every elite athlete has, and she drives me more to learn to use that too."

And on that inspiring note, we're off to watch the men's free skate. More tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 25

Welcome to LA! We flew in this afternoon with just a hop, skip and a jump over the Rockies. We're excited to be on the scene once again, and eager for a fabulous week. As always, stay tuned for daily updates of all the drama and news!

Good luck charm
It's hidden inside her costume, but Keauna McLaughlin is wearing a very special good-luck charm around her neck. You probably remember the story of how Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks gave a gold crescent moon necklace to Tai Babilonia for good luck in 1979; she told us all about it last summer in our June 13 blog.

Tai is mentoring Keauna now, and when the 1979 pairs world champion was in Colorado Springs she gave Keauna the necklace, presumably not just for the world championships but for next year's Olympic Games as well.

"It's a good luck moon ... she's always worn one, and it was Stevie Nicks' old one that she gave to Tai," Keauna told us. Tai has only taken the necklace off once in the last 30 years. That occasion was, of course, the day she and Randy Gardner withdrew from the 1980 Olympics.

The medium is the massage

You may have heard that although Johnny Weir won't be competing this year, he will be in L.A. making various appearances. Johnny shocked figure skating junkies last month (as usual) when he told us that he's rooting for longtime "rival" Evan Lysacek. In true Johnny form, he took things up a notch last week when he followed up with us.

Emphasizing his commitment to the cause, he said, "I'm going to give Evan a massage before he skates." Evan did pretty well on his own today, but we can't wait to see if Johnny brings him more luck tomorrow night!

Stellar sweepers

You'll be seeing some familiar faces as the sweepers take the ice in L.A. The organizing committee, in Hollywood style, has ditched cute for talent, and decided to add a little star quality to their sweeping force. Up-and-coming stars and higher-level skaters will be used to pick up the stuffies this time, including Ellie Kawamura (U.S. junior silver medalist), Carolyn-Ann Alba (eighth in junior ladies) and Kloe Bautista (ninth in junior pairs).

"We thought it would be a great experience," said Ellie. "I'm also going to perform in the opening ceremony on Tuesday! I'm doing two group programs."

"I was chosen by my club [All Year FSC] to represent them as a sweeper for worlds," added Kloe. "My coach and I thought it was quite an honor to be asked, and I decided to follow through with it."

Speaking of the opening ceremony, it was fun to see Kloe and her partner, Galvani Hopson, skating pairs on the crowded ice and show lights, along with Ellie, Lindsay Davis and Alex Merritt (12th in senior pairs), Amanda Dobbs (seventh in junior ladies), and Richard Dornbush (third at the Junior Grand Prix Final). We've never seen quite that many fireworks on the ice in an opening ceremony!

The Quad King speaks his mind

As soon as the men's short program was over tonight, we called Tim Goebel to hash over the event. Tim always gives us a fascinating perspective from both sides of the boards; as a world medalist himself, he knows what it's like to compete in these circumstances, and as a technical specialist, he understands the judging system as well as anyone.

Not only that, but Tim trained in L.A. for five years and competed at the STAPLES Center himself at the 2002 U. S. Championships.

"I mostly remember falling on footwork in my short program," he reminisced wryly. "I was doing nothing. I stepped on the side of my boot and slid into home."

Nevertheless, Tim has fond memories of the venue. "It's a beautiful arena," he said. Tim was busy studying for his Modern Algebra 2 and Symbolic Logic mid-terms and said that if his spring break had been this week instead of last, he would have come to L.A. this week. He took some time to ponder today's results.

"If you make a mistake in the short program, I don't think you should be in first," he said, "but I'm happy that they're rewarding the quad, even with a mistake. There has been too much incentive lately to play it safe. For the sport to move forward, there should be rewards for taking risks.

"People will be tuning into the Olympics in less than a year, and they don't care about footwork or spins. They want to see power, they want to see jumps. I mean, I was doing triple Lutz-triple toe when I was a junior. Do the quad; grow up!"

Tim thinks that there could be a lot of movement in the standings tomorrow night. "Jeremy [Abbott] will be angry and hungry," he said, "And sometimes it's good. I'm sure he'll do the best long he's done all season. It's completely possible for him to get onto the podium. It will be exciting!

"Nationals is going to be really interesting next year," he mused. We'll be interested to hear what he thinks of the rest of the competition. And how he does on his exams. Good luck, Tim!

We're off to watch the pairs free skate, and we're sure it will be a fantastic show.

More tomorrow,
Sarah and Drew