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Kim wows crowd at 'Evening with Champions'

Olympic champ makes rare appearance on U.S. soil

Olympic champion Yu-Na Kim performed her "Fever" program at <i>Evening with Champions</i>.
Olympic champion Yu-Na Kim performed her "Fever" program at Evening with Champions. (Sarah S. Brannen)

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By Sarah S. Brannen, special to icenetwork.com
(10/17/2011) - In a rare U.S. appearance, 2010 Olympic champion Yu-Na Kim joined the cast of An Evening with Champions at Harvard University on Oct. 15 and 16 for two nearly sold-out shows.

Long lines of excited fans gathered outside well before the start of each show; the organizers said some fans had come from other countries to see Kim and the other skating stars.

"This is my first event in Boston," Kim said. "I'm very excited to skate with great skaters."

An Evening with Champions has always lived up to its name, welcoming many national, world and Olympic medalists to each show. This year's edition, the 41st, included Olympic champions Oksana Baiul and Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov, world bronze medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani and 2010 U.S. champion Rachael Flatt. Many other notables, including Stephen Carriere, Shawn Sawyer, Alexander Aiken and Harvard student Emily Hughes, joined Kim on the ice. Paul Wylie and Hughes co-hosted the show.

Event co-chair Clara Yoon said the show has raised more than $2.5 million in the last 41 years, thanks largely to the hundreds of skating stars who perform each year.

"All of our skaters generously donate their time and energy, and they're wonderful, and we love them," she said.

Wylie announced to the crowd that more than $100,000 was raised by this year's show. All proceeds benefit The Jimmy Fund, the fund-raising arm of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

In addition to the two shows, the event includes an afternoon of skating for Jimmy Fund patients and their families, in which all the skaters participate.

Kim skated slowly around the ice, holding the hand of a very young child. Wylie taught a young skater learn-to-skate moves, double-checking with Aiken to make sure he had the sequence right. Carriere and Baiul critiqued a young skater's technique. Alex Shibutani attempted an Axel jump (two-footed, but landed) as Yasmin Siraj attempted to mimic Sawyer's spin positions.

"My favorite part of the show has to be skating with the kids," Miner said. "That's always really fun. Last year we brought some tennis rackets and got to play with them."

Each of the two shows began with a group number, culminating in a huge roar from the crowd as Kim made her appearance. Charlotte Lichtman and Dean Copely skated an Austin Powers number on Saturday and showed off their new short dance on Sunday, to "Mambo No. 5" and "Perhaps." Braden Overett performed his humorous Carmen program, complete with Elvis wig, fake chest hair and a rose.

Sawyer presented a version of his stunning Alice in Wonderland program, substituting a back flip for one jump.

"A relaxed atmosphere brings out the best in all of us," he said. "Competition is so hard, and you always have to be 100 percent dynamic."

Flatt skated her East of Eden short program, which she is planning to compete with again this season. On Sunday, the program included a triple flip-double toe, triple loop and double Axel.

Flatt said starting her freshman year at Stanford, while continuing to train, has been stressful. She mentioned she isn't getting much sleep, in part because she has to spend 3-4 hours in the car each day going to and from the rink.

"I slept for 10 hours the first night I got [to Boston]," she said. "I really needed it."

The Haydenettes showed off the power and precision of their new short program, to "Dancing with the Muse." Baiul made her entrance in a kimono, carrying two pink feather fans. She said that her program was a tribute to Japan, created after the tsunami last March.

The Protopopovs, Ludmila and Oleg, made a welcome return to the show, after missing the last one due to a health problem. Now 75 and 79, they are still able to show off their smooth elegance, and the crowd gave them a reverent standing ovation.

Gretchen Donlan and Andrew Speroff followed, skating to "Time to Say Goodbye." The audience cheered loudly for their beautiful lifts and huge throw triple Salchow.

"The crowd was amazing," Donlan said. "I don't think I've ever enjoyed skating that much."

Christina Gao also skated her short program, a new one to "To Love You More." She landed a triple flip and a triple toe but fell on a triple loop. Aiken, whose skating shows the influence of his coach, Wylie, skated to "The Best is Yet to Come." He landed a triple Lutz and triple Salchow.

Boston-based pair Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir terrified and thrilled the crowd with their exciting headbanger and a throw triple Salchow. Carriere reprised his popular "Mr. Cellophane" program, which included a triple toe, triple loop and four double Axels in a row. He was landing quad toes in practice on Sunday afternoon.

New dance team Roxette Howe and Mark Jahnke, in their first public performance, skated their Addams Family free dance. The Shibutanis also performed their free dance on Saturday, to a medley of Glenn Miller songs: "In the Mood," "Moonlight Serenade" and "Chattanooga Choo Choo."

"We're doing swing and tap -- those are the two dance styles we're focusing on this year," Alex said. "It's a very high-energy, fast-paced program for us. We've really upped our technical difficulty and our transitions, and our elements. The program's a lot of fun for us to skate to."

U.S. bronze medalist Ross Miner skated to "My Song" on Saturday, although he wasn't able to skate in the show Sunday.

Kim closed each of the shows with a sultry performance to "Fever," which included spins and slinky footwork but no jumps. The ovation that greeted her entrance may have been the loudest this reporter has ever heard in the venue; Wylie said it was the first time the show had ever hosted the reigning Olympic ladies champion.

Brad Vigorito and "What the Buck" host Michael Buckley contributed to this report.