The Inside Edge with Sarah and Drew

Cassar talks new programs, inside spread eagle

Jonathan Cassar shares his experience at the Glacier Falls Summer Classic.
Jonathan Cassar shares his experience at the Glacier Falls Summer Classic. (Sarah S. Brannen)


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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to
(09/03/2009) - Jonathan Cassar impressed a lot of people at competitions last month with his moving and graceful free skate to Schindler's List. He spent last week training in Colorado Springs, Colo., and we had planned to interview him. At the last minute, Drew ended up in Boston for the week, but we went ahead and talked to Jonathan on the phone anyway.

First of all, just so you all know, Jonathan's last name is pronounced "Cuh-SAHR." What kind of name is Cassar, anyway?

"My dad's from Malta," Jonathan explained. "Well, he was born in the U.S., but my grandparents are both from there. It's an island in the middle of the Mediterranean. I've never been there," he added.

Both of Jonathan's programs were choreographed by David Wilson, as his programs have been for the last four years.

"In the past David would say, 'This is the music I want you to skate to,' but this year I told him I had some ideas and he said, 'I want you to have your own say, and I'll guide you.' Schindler's List is ambitious, and I was a bit nervous at first, because I wanted to be sure I could do my best job with it. Hopefully, I can build it up more and more."

We wondered whether the program tells a story?

"I wanted it to be more abstract than following the storyline of the movie or the Holocaust," said Jonathan. "This September is the 70th anniversary of the start of the Holocaust. There are moments of reflection that go back to the storyline, but we never really meant to do that. But it makes it more personal and I like that."

At Liberty, Jonathan was third in the short program and seventh in the free; in Detroit, he was second overall to Fedor Andreev.

"It was very different to do both competitions back to back, but I value it because you never know when you're going to have to find that motivation to train," he told us. "I was pleased with the outcome and how I skated. I was really tired by the last one. It gave me a lot of insight into what I need to work on."

In 2008, his first year as a senior, Jonathan was the first alternate to the U. S. Figure Skating Championships from the Midwestern section. When it became clear that he wouldn't get the call to compete in St. Paul, David Wilson suggested that he come to Toronto and spend the week working on programs for the next season.

If you've ever seen Jonathan skate, you know that he has, probably, the most beautiful inside spread eagle in the history of skating. He says it came very naturally to him.

"It's something to do with your personal anatomy," he told us. "If you have shallow hip sockets, your hips can open more and rotate more. If you have a deep hip socket your femur can't rotate as much, which is good for jumping. Each person is different, and for me, this is an element that comes more naturally. Like some people being able to do a spiral -- certain things play into how high their free leg can go, depending on how their back and hips are shaped."

Jonathan is well aware of the other great inside spread eagle in skating, that of Paul Wylie. "He's one of the reasons why I started skating," he said. "I saw his Schindler's List program after Liberty. Paul came up to me [at the competition], and we were talking about it."

David Wilson always works the spread eagle into each of Jonathan's programs. "David really wanted there to be a moment in each program that was just for that."

Jonathan is a dance major at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich. He'll graduate this spring. What are his plans for the degree?

"I'd like to use the degree in all ways," he said. "Performing, directing shows, choreography, on- and off-ice. I feel like I've learned how to become a better performer. It opened my eyes to realize how to draw audiences, to bring the audience to a quieter tone, to bring them into what you're doing at the moment.

"It's forced me to focus on what my body's doing at all times," he added. "In dance, everything is so choreographed, how you use your fingers, how you hold your hands. So now in skating I've picked up on that. The dance has played a big role in my skating. I wouldn't be the skater I am today without it."

A couple of weeks ago, Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin flew to Salt Lake City to film some promotional footage to be used leading up to and during the Vancouver games. The 30-person crew filmed them for six hours, doing lifts and death spirals in a dramatically lit arena.

"The back two thirds of the rink was pitch black," John told us, "And the front third was flooded with light. They had painted the ice white except for a U.S. flag and they would give me this tiny mark that I would have to hit."

The crew used a special super-slow-motion camera for the footage.

"The camera they used was called a Phantom Camera," said John. "They were very proud of it. It shot 1000 frames a second. It was amazing to watch the play back. It was the cleanest slow motion I have ever seen!"

"The camera was on an extendable arm, so they would film everything straight on and then from up above. The camera was so precise that they couldn't really follow us. We were either in the shot or not. After each take, these people with "Ghost-buster"-looking water packs would walk over the ice and cover our tracings so it would look clean every time," added John.

Athletes from several other sports, including speed skating, curling and hockey also filmed promotional footage, according to John. Rachael Flatt was filmed, but John had to fill in for the injured Brandon Mroz and play the part of a male singles skater.

John said he and Caitlin felt like stars during the shoot.

"There was a guy following us from when we woke up at the hotel, to when we left, shooting candid footage of us eating the breakfast they had catered, warming up, on the ice between takes and even over the camera man's shoulder who was interviewing us," said John. "It was odd, but so much fun.

"That is one of those moments I've had where you step back and wonder, 'Is this really happening to me? Did I really make it this far?' It's funny, as I've gone through skating the past four or five years, I've hit goals that were more daydreams, and now I find myself setting new goals that I never thought I'd have to seriously contemplate. I wish I could take my parents with me on all of these adventures, so they could feel what I am feeling. I've always told my mom I want her to stand on the ice after I skate clean, and feel the adrenaline as the crowd roars. I know she would love it."

Smart skaters
As you may recall, both Katrina Hacker and Curran Oi decided to forgo skating this season to attend two very prestigious schools. Katrina heads to Princeton for orientation on Sept. 12, and Curran moved into his new dorm at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology a few days ago.

"We start classes the 17th," said Katrina. "After having been away from school for a year, I'm a bit nervous, but I reviewed some math and French which made me feel much better."

Katrina is probably planning to take chemistry, French, math and a freshman seminar her first semester.

"There are so many fabulous, fascinating classes. I want to take all of them! I know that I want to be a doctor, so I am taking all of the pre-med requirements, but as for my major, I still have no idea. I really am passionate about history, so that's a possibility, but I am sure that I'll unearth some new interests."

Katrina skated almost every day this summer and took two dance tests. She says she plans to skate every day while she's in college.

"I'm hoping to do some teaching and to get involved with the Special Olympics with the Club. Of course, now, academics come first, and if I have a paper due in a few hours or an exam looming, I'm going to skip the rink for a day."

Meanwhile, Curran had a different sport on his mind last week: swimming! All students at MIT are required to pass a hundred-yard swimming test as a graduation requirement.

"This has been the cause for a lot of laughs in my family, because my younger brother Aidan is a swimmer, and he can swim 100 yards in about a minute," Curran told us. "I've never actually tried to swim 100 yards before. I'm planning to get in the pool before then to test my swimming abilities, and I'm crossing my fingers that I pass!"

Along with pool practice, Curran was busy with a Freshman Pre-Orientation Program (FPOP).

"They had a lot of FPOP options, and I'm doing one called 'Discovering Nuclear Science and Engineering.' It should be exciting. I hope to meet new people and learn a little bit along the way. Next week is orientation, and then classes start after Labor Day."

Curran promised to let us know if he passes the swimming test.

Until next time,
Sarah and Drew