The Inside Edge with Sarah and Drew
Promo shoot, Festa on Ice and Pair Camp
|Adam Rippon and Johnny Weir practice some dance moves backstage in Korea. (Kelly Rippon)|
Since our last blog went up, we have been inundated with emails from Korean fans telling us stories about their favorite skaters. (Some of the conversations took place at 4:00 a.m. Korea time. Do fans ever sleep?) So, by popular demand, we called Johnny Weir and Adam Rippon to get their take on their wildly enthusiastic Korean fan base.
"In America, skating has already been played out," said Johnny, thoughtfully. "We've had ladies Olympic champions, and we've had some interesting men, but, in Korea, this is the first time they've had a star at Yu-Na Kim's level. They really treasure her because she's their first, and they don't know if they'll ever have somebody like that again."
"The wonderful thing about the Korean fans is that they're happy to watch whoever shows up," Adam said. "That's so refreshing."
Johnny told us he loves visiting South Korea and skating there. "I consider it almost a second home," he said, "[It's] on a par with how I feel about Russia."
His Korean fan group, who call themselves the Hyenas, have given him a Korean nickname: Wee John-he. A fan told us the name means "Your existence itself is a joy to us."
We already talked a bit about the meeting 250 of the Hyenas held for him on April 19.
"It was crazy," Johnny told us. "They were so excited to be there, although I didn't feel like I did very much. They gave me tons of gifts. They wanted me to sing because it's something all 'celebrities' do there. It was funny because, well, you know how bad I am at singing. But I did it anyway."
One fan who attended the meeting e-mailed us and wrote, "Hyenas hoped to show our love and care to Johnny, and it would cheer him up to make the Olympic season the most satisfactory to himself. Johnny enjoyed the programs, and we were happy to see Johnny happy. If we made Johnny miss Korea and wish to visit again, it's more than we prayed for. So far it seems that we succeeded."
Racheal Park, who translated for Johnny during the show, explained the meaning of 'Hyenas.'
"Johnny began to be famous after performing his seductive gala, 'Feeling Good,' during '08 Festa On Ice in Korea," she and YunJu Jung wrote to us. "Thousands of people became Johnny's fans. Everybody laid claim to Johnny, saying 'Johnny is mine! Johnny is mine.' We thought this was just like hyenas growling to each other for food, so we began to call ourselves 'Hyenas.'"
Racheal and YunJu told us the Hyenas showered Johnny with gifts during his visit last December, and they sent him several elaborate presents to cheer him up in February, including a DVD of fans singing songs, a Korean language lesson and a tour of all the places he visited in Korea; a book of 150 postcards; a photo album; and a gold, four-leaf clover.
We don't have space to include all the wonderful things the fans wrote to us about Johnny, but we'll let Racheal and YunJu speak for all of them.
"I think his biggest attraction is that he has his own unique way of skating," she wrote. "His attractiveness isn't just about skating. ... He really has a great personality. ... He is always candid and true to his heart and what he feels. We thank him when he expresses his emotions frankly.
"He loves Korea very much. He shows great interest in learning Korean. We can never forget his first press interview in Korea when he said that he is sorry for being unable to answer in Korean. There are tons of reasons to love him, but to add just one more, as you can see, he has such a nice, gorgeous face and body."
Adam told us he already had not one, but two fan clubs in Korea when he arrived in the country for his first visit last month. "I came with a little fan base. My first fan club started after nationals, I think," he told us. "It doesn't hurt that I skate with Yu-Na!"
The founder of his first fan club, Rin, confirmed this. "I first met Adam through the videos of him since when he was young," she wrote, "From then, I have supported him sincerely in my heart. My first opportunity of seeing 'REAL' him was by 'Festa On Ice' but ... I knew, when I saw him at a first sight, that he will be the rising top male figure skater in the new generation in the world of American figure skating history."
The club is called Adam's Apples. "Apples was chosen because it's easy word to remember, cute like Adam," wrote Rin, "And easy to pronounce it. The image of 'Apple' -- freshness, beauty, smart, delight, sweetness, juicy, pretty -- they all matches with Adam."
Since Adam appeared in "Festa on Ice," a second club, "Adam's Family with Fevers," has started up. (We figure the name loses something in translation). It is an offshoot of the massive Korean figure skating fan site, the Fevers. According to one fan, the Fevers comprise more than 13,000 fans, 99 percent of whom are active, and its Web site gets more than six million page views each week. Clearly, Yu-Na is their primary interest, but their fandom has grown to encompass skaters from around the world.
"We welcomed skaters on their visit to Korea," wrote a site administrator, who preferred to remain anonymous, "and had a chance to enjoy such a wonderful show at Festa on Ice, where our Yu-Na was a heroine and a host of the show. It was just like a dream that we were really sitting there, being a part of the show. We are also very glad to hear that skaters enjoyed the moment as we did!"
Within the Fevers, there are separate groups who support a particular favorite, each with a distinctive name. As well as Yu-Na's Seung-Nyang-Yi (named after the dhole, a coyote-like wild dog) and Johnny's Hyenas, we heard about, among many others, Brian Joubert's Muscles, Stéphane Lambiel's Zebras and brand-new Lamvelys, Patrick Chan's Chantastics and Evan Lysacek's 'Mysacek' group.
"As there are a lot of people together," wrote another fan, "it's easier to brainstorm and collect good ideas. For the [most recent] example, we did an event for skaters participating in Festa On Ice 2009. We presented them cute blankets, exclusively made Fevers-character cushions and small tour guidebooks specially designed, written, edited and printed only for skaters by Fevers members. If the souvenirs can be useful to the skaters and helpful to recall the memory of FOI when they are back home, and if the event could make the skaters happy, we would have achieved the goal of our event perfectly."
Each foreign skater was met by a group of screaming fans when they arrived at the airport for the show last month. Based on the videos we've seen, Johnny drew the biggest crowd, but everyone had quite a welcome.
"There were a bunch of people at the airport," said Adam. "It was very exciting. It's something we're not used to! My fan club gave me a really nice backpack and tea set. They gave my mom a scarf, and they had presents for all my brothers and sisters back home, too."
Adam's Apples gave Adam some mugs with his face on them, and they made up posters. "The poster is really embarrassing," said Adam, "because my face is the apple, and there's a stem coming out of the top of my head and a leaf coming out of my hair."
The fans have noted Adam's striking resemblance to Cupid, and they tended to ask him to pose as if he were shooting a bow and arrow. "They asked me if I practiced the pose!" laughed Adam.
"We just wanted to say 'You are a special person! You are a treasure for us!'" wrote Rin. "We hope he knows there are so many people who support him! It was a wonderful time for us -- meet him, say hello, saw his beautiful skating."
The Fevers made up beautiful books for all the foreign skaters who appeared in Festa on Ice, titled Sleepless in Seoul. Chapters included the history of Korea, dining, shopping, museums, night-life, touring (with maps) and an outline of each of the districts.
"It was a much more professional guide book than anything I purchased before I went," said Jeremy Abbott's mom, Allison.
The skaters were more or less mobbed by fans wherever they went during the three days of the shows. "When we walked from the arena into the strip mall next door, Johnny, Jeremy and I needed bodyguards," said Adam. "It was kind of unreal. We had two big guys walking on either side of us."
"The fans at the show were so loud it felt like a rock concert," said Johnny. "I feel like the fans wouldn't have screamed louder if it had been Britney Spears lip-synching instead of me skating."
"It was so much fun," said Adam. "The first and second nights I was surprised by the screaming, but, by the third night, I did whatever I could to milk the screams. I realized that they react to everything you do, so I purposely changed the choreography. Brian [Orser] and David [Wilson] were laughing at me afterward."
Adam's mom, Kelly, made the trip to Korea as well. "I had an incredible time. A Korean ice show is a must-see!" she wrote to us. "So much has been said about the volume of the fans. ... They are very vocal during the performances, but they have a quiet respect and are very courteous in person. They were extremely thoughtful to all of the skaters and their families. I appreciated the experience so much and thank Yu-Na, her family and management for the opportunity. I would not have believed that fans could be that enthusiastic without being intrusive if I had not seen it with my own eyes."
On to the new season
Both Johnny and Adam are in the midst of choreographing new programs, but they're not ready to reveal the music or the choreographers. We can tell you that it sounds very exciting, though.
Johnny's plans for the immediate future include attending a festival showing of the documentary Pop Star on Ice.
"I'm going to the New York premiere," he told us, "and maybe L.A. or Provincetown."
Adam has just moved into an apartment in his new training base in Toronto.
"I'm settled into my apartment," he said. "I'm living the Canadian lifestyle the American way."
Our heartfelt thanks to the many Korean fans who shared their stories with us. It was a delight hearing from all of you!
TV and photo shoots in L.A.
Many of the top winter athletes in the United States were in Los Angeles this week for a pre-Olympics media event, the "NBC/United States Olympic Committee Promotional Shoot." Most of the country's top skaters made the trip and spent a couple of days doing photo shoots, interviews and filming promotional spots.
On April 22 we (um, obviously just Drew in this case!) checked into the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs along with ten of the United States' top pair teams. U.S. Figure Skating has been conducting an intensive five-day "Pair Camp" for the last several years, in an effort to increase the size of the pair program in the States and to improve our pairs' competitiveness on the world stage. This being the last year of the Olympic quadrennium, the 2009 camp focused more on making strides in the technical and component segments and keeping existing teams on track, and less on creating new teams and developing younger teams as it has in the past. Our days were long, hard, and so exhausting that most of us couldn't even find the energy to slip out of our sweats and into our jeans at the end of the day's work. We studied on and off the ice, everything from levels, features, GOE and components to conditioning, creative movement and pair psychology. We even dusted off some of the World Figure Skating Museum's scribes and got down with good old-fashioned figures. U.S. Skating brought things up a notch by flying in some star power, as our country's former stars of pair skating led us throughout the week in all capacities. Jason Dungjen and Todd Sand worked with us on technique, David Kirby focused on levels, Wendy Enzmann and Doug Williams helped with GOE and components, ice dancer Judy Blumberg worked on stroking and creative movement, and Kathy Casey worked on jumps, off-ice training and patch. With the use of some special high-speed cameras that we don't usually have access to, we were able to analyze elements frame by high-def frame. A special camera operator filmed our twists and throws while a technical specialist/coach helped us digest what the camera picked up. The cameras allowed us to see precisely where a mistake started and thus were very helpful in rooting out problems. Everyone enjoyed catching up for the first time since Cleveland, and of course there was no shortage of fun. One afternoon there was an incident involving three towels that mysteriously disappeared while my roommates and I showered. Needless to say, we were dumbfounded when we realized what had happened. After much debate we decided our best option was to drape ourselves Project Runway-style in brown paper towel sheets. Don't worry; we were in fact more covered after the draping than we would have been in actual towels! The plan seemed brilliant and we were "makin' it work" in a way that would have left Tim Gunn proud, until the moment we opened the bathroom door to make a dash for our room. In the midst of our panic -- and giggling -- we forgot that the bathroom was right next to, well, everything, and that everyone could hear us. When we opened the door we were faced with several girls, with cameras ready! After laughing hysterically, the girls agreed to get us towels on one condition. In true Project Runway style, they made us have a pose off first! We never did find out who stole our towels, although we have our theories... However, it wasn't the first time at Pair Camp that we learned a little bit about teamwork, problem-solving and overcoming obstacles. And, in the process, we all became a whole heck of a lot closer! Hyenas, Zebras and Pigs in Korea
Circumstances beyond our control meant that we weren't able to write about the fabulous Festa on Ice tour in Seoul last month. We heard about the show from a lot of people who were there, and everyone commented on the devotion and enthusiasm of the Korean skating fans. They're crazy about their own world champion, Yu-Na Kim of course, but we are also impressed at the passion and love they shower on skaters from other countries. "They are fanatics," said Jeremy Abbott's mom Allison, who flew to Korea for the shows. "They're so enthusiastic and they show their love in so many ways. They got all dressed up for the shows -- it was like a rock concert!" Several fans, usually part of organized groups, greeted each foreign skater at the airport and showered them with flowers, balloons and gifts. Stéphane Lambiel had a group of "Zebras" and Johnny was feted by the "Hyenas." Adam Rippon was a new face to many of the fans, but they were wild for him by the end of the show and we'll be waiting with interest to hear what his new fans call themselves. Jeremy, of course, was given many pigs, stuffed and printed on shirts. "One fan made me a custom shirt that was really nice," he said. After thinking for a little, he followed by saying, "Hmm, I got nothing but pigs! Maybe I should rethink this whole 'Pigs can fly' business and go for something like, 'Louis Vuitton can fly!' or 'Marc Jacobs can fly!'" he said with a big grin on his face. Jeremy, who is always very appreciative of his fans and all the gifts he gets, told us how he has amassed quite a large pig collection in room. Jeremy also said meeting Korean fans can be quite the experience. "When you meet some of them they cry and shake. They ask for a hug, but when you give it to them they start screaming. It's weird, but kind of cool, to have someone shaking because of meeting you. I guess it's flattering! It doesn't feel like reality but it's kind of fun." Allison told us that she was startled at how loud the music was played during rehearsals, with the bass turned way, way up. The organizers told her it had to be played that way in the show because of the fans. "There were points in my program when they were screaming so loud I couldn't hear the music at all," Jeremy told us. "They would scream when you smiled, they'd scream if you looked in their general direction. Right before I stepped into my triple Axel in 'Treat,' I looked at them and they screamed, right in my face. I was proud of myself that I did the Axel every time in spite of the screaming in my face." Johnny had a special meeting with 250 of his most devoted fans, who call themselves the "Hyenas." He answered questions, participated in contests, watched a "Johnny's Idol" competition, opened gifts and even sang a song. (Apparently it's expected that any star in Korea has to sing; Jeremy's fans also asked him to sing but he assured them that they really, really didn't want to hear him). The Hyenas had an elaborate four-tiered cake made for the event, decorated with roses and precise little figures of Johnny in all his costumes from the past two seasons. Although it may be a little elaborate, we can't help feeling a wistful at the incredible enthusiasm for skating in Korea. Peace signs out,
Sarah and Drew
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