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The Inside Edge with Sarah and Drew

Authors visit with top skaters at SC of Boston's "Ice Chips" production

Alissa Czisny and Jeff Buttle show off new gifts while in Boston.
Alissa Czisny and Jeff Buttle show off new gifts while in Boston. (Sarah S. Brannen)

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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to icenetwork.com
(04/06/2009) - icenetwork.com's roving reporters, Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, traveled to Boston for the SC of Boston's 97th annual "Ice Chips" production. Beforehand, they caught up with Jeff Buttle, Alissa Czisny, Emily Hughes and Stephen Carriere.

Dressing room

We had dinner last weekend with Jeff Buttle, Alissa Czisny, Emily Hughes and Stephen Carriere. Although we were at a steakhouse, Jeff and Alissa had the salmon, and Emily and Stephen had salad with grilled chicken. We talked a bit about Stars on Ice; Jeff had been touring for months and just took off the last five shows of the American leg. He'll be heading back to the touring life shortly, when he joins the Canadian version of the tour.

If you haven't caught the show yet, bring your sunglasses for Jeff's first-half shirt, a wild multi-colored event by Jef Billings. It goes with an entertaining disco number to Jamiroquai's "Canned Heat," and he says it's fairly un-missable since everyone else is in white for the opening number. (Check out the photo in our gallery).

"I'm loving touring," Jeff told us. "I always loved the performing part of skating the most."

We talked about Twitter a little; everyone is still a little uncertain about whether they want to dive into it yet. We just started, um, "tweeting" a week ago -- if you're on Twitter, we go by SarahandDrew. Emily said she has sent exactly one tweet, to her mother. Incidentally, her mom and dad were at another table, having popped up for a visit and to see Emily skate.

After dinner and the obligatory coffee run, we hung out in the dressing room at Harvard's Bright Arena, watching American's Funniest Home Videos and chatting about skating, school and the future.

Jeff

We asked Jeff to look back on his recently concluded "reign" as world champion.

"It changed my life in ways that I wasn't expecting at all," he said. "It was really funny. As a champion, you get 365 days, and it's yours to do with it what you will. It was weird the way things worked out, but I'm really happy they did.

"Had I not won worlds, I'd probably still be competing right now. But I won, and I came to the conclusion that it was basically a dream come true for me, and to keep going would be for the sole purpose of winning gold at the Olympics. Then I started questioning, 'Well, how much do I really want that?' And I looked to my future, and it wasn't something that I needed in my life. I just felt like if I was going to stay in then I would have to enjoy the training and stuff like that. And I think I was just ready to move on and try something new."

We asked what advice he would give Evan Lysacek at this point.

"I've trained with Evan," he mused, "And we've hung out quite a bit. I can see he loves the training. I've watched him; he trains really hard on the ice. I think he just needs to keep doing what he's doing. Watching him in L.A., I can see that his spark and his flame is still there."

What are his plans for the future?

"For now, I'm loving touring. It's the reason why I got into skating in the first place and why I stuck with it for so long. ... I mean, I loved the skating, and I enjoyed the training but I loved the performing the most.

"So, in the near future, I have the Canadian Stars on Ice tour, and then hopefully I'll be able to keep touring for a couple of years beyond that. But I'm doing a lot of choreographic work this year -- now that I have the time, and now that I have people that are interested in it."

Jeff told us he is doing choreography for several people in Canada as well as American Tommy Steenberg. In the long run, does he see himself becoming a choreographer?

"Yeah, absolutely. I feel that my direction post-performing will be more involved in choreography than coaching. I don't know if I have the patience for coaching just yet. I'm constantly listening to music. I listen to almost anything and everything, trying to find something for the skater in my mind. As for 'normal music,' I'm totally addicted to James Morrison right now. He's awesome."

Any plans for a summer vacation this year?

"Not yet," said Jeff. "I definitely am going to go. One of my friends is skating on a cruise ship, and his ship is going to the Mediterranean. And I've never really had a vacation in Europe, so I was thinking I might go. I might go by myself and then meet him on the ship."

Alissa

We also asked Alissa about how winning the national title has changed her life.

"It did, I think, right away," she said. "It was something that I wasn't completely expecting, because I went into nationals not focusing on any outcome or the world team or anything. I just wanted to take everything I've learned this past year and apply it to my competition, and obviously the results are much improved from last year!"

How does she feel about the season as a whole?

"It was a lot better than my previous season. I struggled a lot last season. I was trying to change my jumps. This year it helped me, but last year it was hard to transition. I started working with Brian Boitano and Linda Leaver after 2007 nationals. They went back and took apart my jump technique and put it back together, and that was something I was working on last year, and this year it kind of clicked."

Alissa spoke fervently about working with Boitano and Leaver.

"They're just so good, and they've been there. They know what to do."

"He has such great stories," chimed in Jeff. "He's been through so much, right?"

How does Alissa think changing out of the hinged boots affected her?

"I think it was probably a good decision at the time. They were good for me when I had them, but it was starting to hinder my skating. It wasn't giving me enough support."

We mentioned how much we loved Alissa's costume for her free skate this season and asked her to talk about it. She mentioned that she and her mother make all her beautiful costumes.

"Actually, we found the fabric in a fabric store and we -- my mom and I, we usually design my dresses -- we loved it so much we just bought it. We figured it would be useful someday. And then, when I was on tour with Champions on Ice, we made that dress for a show program. Then this summer I was thinking that I needed something to wear for summer competitions before the real dress was ready. And I wore that one, and I liked it so much I wore it for the whole season."

Alissa actually wore the dress originally intended for Dr. Zhivago in the show a couple hours after we talked. It's a pale lavender with an ice-crystal pattern, and although we agreed that it's lovely, Alissa felt that the color wasn't strong enough for competition in the end.

At this point, Emily and Stephen came in from their brief, pre-show practice, and we all started talking about Paris.

"The food in Paris [at the Trophée Bompard] is so good," said Jeff. "Amongst the competitors, we usually count how many meal tickets you have left by the end of the week, but we had none left in Paris."

Emily

Emily told us that she was off the ice for a month and a half with the injury that forced her to withdraw from the 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

"I sprained my ankle really badly less than a week before I was supposed to leave for nationals. I was getting cortisone shots, and it just didn't really help at all. I got back on the ice a little bit in March. I'm feeling a lot better; my ankle is pretty much healed. I do a lot of physical therapy.

"I've been skating at the Skating Club of Boston. I'm on the ice four or five days a week -- just getting back into it, doing show programs, getting ready for summer training when I get back from school. I'm excited to go home and start training with Bonnie."

The big question, of course, is whether Emily plans to continue competing, at the same time that she is a full-time student at Harvard.

"I definitely still want to compete, and that's what's driving me. There's nothing quite like the adrenaline of competing, and the emotion and excitement, and especially the crowd. Spokane is an amazing city. I loved the nationals I had there last time. I know I have to go through two qualifying competitions first, but you start from the bottom and go to the top!"

Emily is majoring (they call it 'concentrating' at Harvard) in Sociology and Government.

"And I'm actually taking a science class," she said excitedly. "It's called The Energetic Universe; it's kind of astronomy and physics. I opened the textbook, and I see a picture, and I'm like, 'Oh, it's a skater! That dress looks kind of familiar!' And yes, I'm in the textbook."

The professor asked Emily to help him with a spinning demonstration in the lecture hall in front of 200 students. He put her on a spinner and gave her weights and then picked up a helmet.

"I was like, 'I don't really need a helmet!'" she said, laughing. "It had a flashlight duct-taped on top, and he turned the lights down and had me spin so the light went around. It was pretty funny."

Mardi Gras

And then it was time for the show, which was the Skating Club of Boston's 97th annual "Ice Chips" production, this time with a Mardi Gras theme. It was all most enjoyable. We adored the little girl in the bunny costume in the "What's Opera, Doc?" number, and the little boys dressed as stuffed 'gators, led by the effervescent coach, Elin Schran (daughter of Olympic champion Tenley Albright), as a crawdad!

The group numbers were packed with high-level skaters, like Katrina Hacker, Brittney Rizo, Keilani-Lyn Rudderham, Olivia Gibbons, Gretchen Donlan and Yasmin Siraj in "Lady Marmalade." Next, Harrison Choate, Peter Max Dion, Ross Miner, Curran Oi and Jason Wong joined up with the rest of the guys for "The Reaper." They had all planned to do triple Axels, but everyone except Ross doubled theirs. It was quite dark -- all the better to see their glow-in-the-dark skeleton costumes, stunningly executed by Christie Allan-Piper and Beth Bertalozzi.

Ross brought out a new program to "Born to Run," which suits his exuberant audience-pleasing style. At the start, he ran down the ice and did a huge hockey stop at the boards, spraying an audience member with snow. We don't think she liked it! Curran went over big with the huge troop of girl scouts in the audience, who squealed whenever he got near them.

Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir debuted an exciting rock program, to Jet and Van Halen. They scared the crowd, as always, with their headbanger. Later, sassy Marissa nearly kicked Simon in the face, knocked him flat and then walked over his stomach. He responded with some killer air-guitar playing.

Stephen reprised his new Seal program, this time in a cool new shirt with cut-outs, inspired by Brian Joubert's costume this season.

By the way, Stephen told us he'll be keeping his Firebird free skate next season. "But I'm going to amp it up -- add a quad, get the triple-triple better," he said.

He'll be getting a new short program -- something "powerful, elegant and passionate."

In the first half, Alissa performed her expressive "Man of La Mancha" program. Jeff closed out the half with "Eclogue" by Gerald Finzi, provoking goosebumps and a few tears with his apparently effortless, pristine technique.

To close the show, Alissa skated to "Bridge Over Troubled Water," showing off her incredible extension and gorgeous spins. Jeff did the aforementioned disco program and rocked the house. It was a thoroughly enjoyable show in every way.

After the show, several skaters did a little demonstration for the Girl Scouts, showing off jumps and spins on the ice.

Math

A minor footnote: The two of us had an intense math geek discussion after the recent world championships. We were pondering Yu-Na Kim's exceptionally high, world record-breaking total score and wondering how she would have stacked up against the men. Since the men's components are multiplied by 2 in the free skate, and the ladies only by 1.6, and since men are allowed eight jumping passes instead of seven, we had to bust out the calculators!

If you multiply Yu-Na's components by 2 instead of 1.6, they would be 85.50, so her total score for the free skate, exactly as she performed it in L.A., would have been 148.69, and her overall score would have been 224.81. This would have earned her fifth place in the men's free skate, sixth overall. But since she would have been able to do an additional jumping pass, we'll give her a conservative 3.85 (the value for a double Axel in the second half). This is a guessing game, of course; who knows whether she could add another jump and land it. We think she could.

If she did, even with 0 GOE, she would have had 228.66 in total and finished fifth in the men's competition. Yet another very impressive statistic from Yu-Na.

That's all for now. ... We'll be back in a couple of weeks! "Follow" us on Twitter for in-between-blog updates and more!

Sarah and Drew
sarahanddrewblog@gmail.com