The Inside Edge with Sarah and Drew - July 30

Sarah Hughes, autograph seekers and bake sales

2002 Olympic champion Sarah Hughes at her graduation from Yale in May. She received a bachelor's degree in American Studies.
2002 Olympic champion Sarah Hughes at her graduation from Yale in May. She received a bachelor's degree in American Studies. (courtesy of Sarah Hughes)


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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to
(07/30/2009) - Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins cover all the bases in the latest version of The Inside Edge, from autograph hounds to Sarah Hughes thoughts on the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Sarah talks to Sarah

It was a nice surprise to pick up the phone on Tuesday and find Sarah Hughes on the other end. We had been joking with her on Twitter about making a comeback for the Vancouver Olympics. She said if we could get Paul Wylie and Viktor Petrenko to compete she would do it!

"It could be like one of those old pro competitions, the battle of the sexes," she said, laughing. "I used to love that!" Seriously, what does she think about Evgeni Plushenko, Stéphane Lambiel and Sasha Cohen returning to competition next season?

"I think it's cool," she said. "It's exciting."

Could she imagine making the same decision herself? Sarah is only 24, after all. She demurred.

"In order to come back, you really have to want it. And you have to have a good support system. Plushenko, Lambiel, and Sasha have all been champions. They know what it takes. No one can know what their motivation is. But for the fans, for figure skating, for the Olympics, I think it's a benefit to have people coming back."

Sarah just graduated from Yale this spring. She doesn't seem to be in a hurry to move on to graduate school or a career at the moment.

"I'm enjoying the summer," she said. "College was something I wanted to do from when I was really young. It's the greatest thing I've done so far."

Pressed to come up with a highlight of her college years, Sarah talked about the people she got to know and her own personal growth. Then she started reminiscing about how hard she worked.

"Freshman year I spent the whole first semester in the library," she said. "I was so intimidated by everything. You had to take a language, and I had Spanish every day for an hour. I had never studied it before and there were kids in the class who took Spanish all through high school! Then, I took a year off so I had to do another level, five days a week. I would spend hours on the homework -- 90 percent of the time I was working on Spanish."

So how is her Spanish now?

"No bueno," she said.

Sarah's sister Emily will take next season off from Harvard University to devote herself to skating and to go for another chance at the Olympics. Does Sarah give her advice?

"We don't really talk about her skating," she said. "If it comes up, we talk about it, but it's her thing. I'm here for her!" Did she hope Emily would follow her to Yale? "I don't know if Emily even thought about Yale," said Sarah.

"You know, I skated in the Jimmy Fund show [Evening with Champions] when I was twelve, and I fell in love with Harvard. But things changed and six years later, Yale was the perfect fit for me."

Emily, Sarah and the rest of the Hughes family celebrated their mother Amy's 60th birthday on Saturday with a big party; Emily baked the cake.

"I had a wonderful time," said Amy, a cancer survivor. "I am truly blessed!"

We wondered how much Sarah pays attention to competitive skating these days.

"I follow Emily," she said. "I went to watch her at the Olympics in Italy. I go to Nationals because I want to see the ladies. It's changed a lot."

What does she think of the current judging system?

"It's difficult for the commentators to explain the system. It's hard to follow and more confusing. But the number of triples is still the same from eight years ago; it used to be the standard, when I was competing, for the top girls to do five to seven triples.

"It's hard to see people with great specific skills not be able to do them -- we would never have had the Kerrigan spiral under this system."

We shared a moment mourning the demise of beautiful layback spins as well.

"Maybe someone will be really creative and come up with something that will blow the point system away," mused Sarah. "There's always going to be some progress. The only constant is change."

If you want to, you can follow Sarah on Twitter.

She thinks it's hilarious. "The only person I knew who had a Twitter was my mom," she told us. "Her phone kept going off with text messages, and I was like, 'Who is that?' And she said, 'It's Anderson Cooper.'"

Bake sale

Every year, the Michael Weiss Foundation awards scholarships to skaters who are having trouble meeting their financial needs. This year, the Colorado scholarship winners decided to give something back to the foundation. Since most of them will be unable to participate in the Sept. 26, fundraiser in Virginia, due to their international assignments, they came up with the idea of holding a bake sale. The World Arena in Colorado Springs has a free lunch barbeque for the summer school skaters and their families. Brandon Mroz, Alexe and Piper Gilles, Piper Gilles and Zach Donohue, Brittany Chase and Marissa Secundy asked if they could hold a bake sale during the barbeque on July 24.

It was a great success, with guitar music provided by Zach, Todd Gilles and Canada's Vaughn Chipeur, who was in town for a couple of weeks.

On sale were muffins, doughnuts, Rice Krispies treats and chocolate chip cookies. Piper and Alexe's special mini chocolate chip cookies shaped like a mini muffin with a chocolate Reese's in the middle were the best sellers.

Autograph hounds

Just before the 40th anniversary of the first moonwalk, we read an article about a Neil Armstrong autograph going up for auction. It was described as the most sought-after autograph in the world, which made us wonder which skating autograph would be most desired by collectors.

We spoke to Al Wittnebert, the CFO of Universal Autograph Collectors' Club, the largest such group in the world. He told us that demand for sports autographs is way down these days.

"There's no real demand [for skating autographs]," he said, "Except -- you're gonna laugh -- for Tonya Harding. Because of the notorious aspect with the general public, and with that would go Nancy Kerrigan as well."

The public is interested in autographs with current pop-culture ties, like Dancing with the Stars.

"Kristi Yamaguchi got a bump because of that show," Mr. Wittnebert told us.

We went online and hunted around a little, and sure enough, the highest price we found for a skater's autograph was for a signed picture of Harding at the Olympics, for $149.99. We did notice some signed photos of Sonja Henie for just about that much, though. Signed photos of Michelle Kwan ranged from $5.99 to $79.99.

We see autograph seekers at every show and competition, young and old alike, mobbing the skaters by arena entrances. We tracked a few of them down.

Jennifer Comeaux has been collecting skating autographs for about eight years. She was nice enough to count for us, and reported that she has 290 so far.

"At my first Nationals in Boston 2001, my friend and I saw other people asking skaters to autograph their programs, so we thought it would be fun to do it, also. I already had a collection of baseball and football autographs at home, so I wanted to add my other favorite sport to the mix," she wrote.

Above all, Jennifer treasures Kwan's autograph, because Michelle is her all-time favorite skater. "When I got her autograph at '05 Nationals, I told her that her short program run-through at practice had my friend and me in tears, and she was touched and thanked us."

Jennifer also enjoys asking skaters new to the national scene for their signatures. "They seem to get a kick out of signing autographs," she said. "I'll never forget Danny Steffel wrote, 'Thanks! I never get to sign anything!'"

Lots of fans take photographs of skaters and then have them autograph them. Kristina Ziegler doesn't ask for autographs any other way.

"Currently, the only autographs I ask for are on photos of the skaters that I have taken myself. Since I print my photos at home, that means that every autograph is a two-event event!" she wrote. "For three years, I carried around a photo signed by Dan Zhang before I was able to get the autograph from Hao [Zhang]."

Most of the fans we heard from like to ask for an autograph as a way to meet a skater, but one, Rebekah Jaswa, says she has never acquired an autograph in person.

"I send my favorite skaters mail wishing them good luck at upcoming competitions," she said. "After I received a reply back, I could not get enough. I still send good luck letters and cards before U.S. nationals. I like to think that some of the lesser-known skaters enjoy receiving the mail. And of course I enjoy receiving replies."

"The first time I wrote to Fumie Suguri she replied with a letter with two autographed photos," she said. "Every time after that when I send her a letter [I always send a thank you note if I receive a reply] she replied with a post card, from Japan! I felt kind of bad that she kept sending me post cards."

Rachel Reinecke told us that her favorite autograph experience happened when she ran into Jamie Silverstein and Ryan O'Meara waiting for an elevator in St. Louis.

"When I asked if I could get an autograph, Jamie excitedly said 'Yes,' complemented the photo [taken at Skate America] and hugged me when I asked if she would like a copy. She was just so genuinely happy and gracious."

We then tracked down Mark Allen Baker, editor of the UACC publication The Pen & Quill. He declined to tell us how many skating autographs he possesses.

"My collection of autographs and manuscripts is enormous, equivalent to many small libraries," he wrote.

Mr. Baker has been collecting autographs since 1965, and has written several books on autograph collecting.

"As one may expect, demand for the signatures of figure skaters peaks during a major event such as the Olympics," he wrote. "It is a significant media showcase that warms collectors hearts and draws them to a particular star, like Tara Lipinski or Sarah Hughes.

Olympic medal winners and media darlings are the foundation of any skating collection.

Once the star enters the spotlight collectors rush to find ways to acquire their signature. Some collectors may be satisfied with autographs via mail, but many prefer the 'in-person' experience of meeting and greeting.

Mr. Baker began his collection with Peggy Fleming and Dick Button, acquired through a mail request. Most of all, he treasures the signatures he got in person.

"In 1992, Scott Hamilton and the entire Stars on Ice group stopped by my restaurant after their show. They autographed many items, from baseballs to even the wall of the restaurant. I cherish those items the most."

We wondered whose autograph Mr. Baker would still like to find?

"American skater Jackson Haines, considered the 'father of modern figure skating' would be a great signature to have -- I have never owned one."

And then, of course, Mr. Baker asked us for our autograph. A true collector.

Drew is competing at the Indy Pair Challenge, so we'll be sharing stories and photos from Indianapolis over the next few days. Check out the photo gallery for pictures from Skate Detroit and The Ice show in Nagoya, Japan.

Sarah and Drew
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