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The Inside Edge: An Evening with Champions

Icenetwork.com's trusty bloggers bring you all the backstage goings-on at Harvard benefit show

Braden Overett performs his humorous <i>Carmen</i> program at <i>An Evening with Champions</i>.
Braden Overett performs his humorous Carmen program at An Evening with Champions. (Sarah S. Brannen)

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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to icenetwork.com
(10/18/2011) - We had both been looking forward to the annual An Evening with Champions show for months. Unfortunately, at the last minute, Drew wasn't able to fly to Boston from his training base in Colorado, so Sarah decided to call in reinforcements to help out. Senior Eastern Sectional competitor Brad Vigorito filled in on Sunday, and "What the Buck" star Michael Buckley joined her on Saturday night. Both gentlemen took copious and thorough notes while Sarah took pictures, and she couldn't have done it without them. Many thanks!

It was very exciting to see Yu-Na Kim in person for the first time, and she was wonderful. Evening with Champions organizers told us both shows were sold out, and fans came from as far away as England, Japan and Korea. Everyone wanted to know what had made Kim decide to skate in the show; it's the first time she has performed in the U.S. in more than a year.

"Last year, I was invited, but I couldn't go because of the training for the world championships, but this time I made it!" she said. "There's no pressure; you can skate together [in] group numbers, having fun. I'm happy to meet new skaters."

When she arrived home in Korea on Tuesday, Kim told a Korean news agency that she will not be competing at all this season. We wish her the best in all she does.

Mad Hatter

Buckley's favorite discovery of the night was Shawn Sawyer, who did his spectacular Alice in Wonderland program, to our delight.

"I am obsessed with him! I keep watching his programs on YouTube." Buckley said. "I wish I had followed him more as an amateur, but I am a big fan now. His choreography and performance ability are absolutely unique and captivating."

At intermission, we made our way through the high security to talk to Sawyer backstage. We knew he was a painter, and it turns out that painting is his chief occupation since he retired from competition.

"I really want to pursue my career as an artist," Sawyer told us. "I think that would fulfill everything that I can hope for. I'm working really hard on an art exhibition that I want to have out within a year. It's going to be called 'A Second Cup of Shiraz' because I paint with red wine and coffee. I do it on a stretched canvas, and I work with all kinds of coffees, all kinds of wine -- sometime I use Cabernet, sometime I use Zinfandel [as well as Shiraz]. Some of it goes on the canvas, and the other half goes in my stomach. The show will be in Montreal, but I don't know where yet."

What type of paintings are they?

"They're a little bit abstract, but I wouldn't call them abstract because you can tell what it is. It's more a ... I've totally forgotten the name -- I know the name in French: surréaliste -- oh, surrealism! I always do that! It's the same word. Surrealism."

Sawyer told us that he's a native French speaker, and he said he hasn't been speaking in English much lately, hence the search for the right word. We asked whether he plans to continue skating.

"Absolutely," he said. "Skating is a part of me; it's in me whether I love it or hate it. I'm done competing. I had my best season last year, so I'm happy with that. I'm going to coach. I want to do a lot of choreography and just get my artwork out there. That's my number one thing."

We had to ask Sawyer about his haircut: long in the back and shaved on the sides.

"I did it myself with a dog clipper," he said, laughing. "I'm telling you, I'm entering the artist world."

Get Overett

Braden Overett, who made such a mark as a competitor, is still entertaining the crowds. At Harvard, he showed off his funny Carmen program, complete with a horrible wig and even more horrible fake chest hair. During the program, he attempted to woo various audience members with a rose, and at the end he gave the rose to Sarah. ("Now you have to mention him," Buckley said).

Actually, we had already planned to talk to Overett and catch up with what he has been doing since he left competition. He said he's doing some choreography, some performing and generally looking for a performance-related career of some kind.

"I kind of equate myself to an on-call doctor," he said. "I don't have any regular students. I kind of do things as people call me for them, which is a strangely erratic structure. Sometimes I'm swamped with things and sometimes I'm bored out of my mind."

In 2007, while still competing, Overett won the Paul McGrath Choreographer of the Year award, for his own Pirates of the Caribbean program. Overett says the award gave him a leg up from the start.

"I was super fortunate, because I won an award as a skater," he said. "It kind of put me in a class of choreographers where most people work for years to get to. So, all of a sudden, I was choreographing for some really big names, friends of mine who were competing internationally at the senior level. It's a blast, and it was a lot of fun, and it's still a great outlet."

Apart from choreography, what does Overett have planned?

"I would love to have my own show," he said. "I love performing, in a bunch of different capacities. I just did a ballroom dance performance a couple of weeks ago for the first time. They needed filler, and they said, 'Can you come in and learn the Paso Doble?' So I'm standing there with a cape, on the dance floor, and I'm thinking, 'What are you doing?'"

Commuting

Rachael Flatt spent all her down time during the weekend working on a paper for college. She just started at Stanford a few weeks ago, but she said that she was excited to have a weekend off to participate in the show. We asked how she likes college, and how she's managing to train at the same time.

"It's great, so far," she said. "I love it. It's exhausting, but I'm trying to manage school and skating. I didn't expect the commuting that I'm doing every day. I'm down in San Jose most mornings at 6:15 and then I hit rush hour on the way back, so it takes an hour and 15 minutes to get back to campus, when normally it takes half an hour. And then when I go to Oakland, it's an hour drive on the way up, and an hour and a half to two hours on the drive back due to traffic as well, so it's a lot of driving."

We noticed that Flatt was wearing a Stanford tank top. We asked what she likes best about college so far.

"Meeting so many people has been such a fabulous experience, and I'm really enjoying my classes so far," she said, smiling. "It's been great. I went to a football game, I had the face paint going, and 'I go to Stanford' written on my arms. It was the whole school spirit thing."

Red Sox

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani spared a few minutes during intermission to say hello. Alex was born in Boston and both skaters feel a strong connection to the city. Last summer, they made a quick trip to visit Ross Miner and go to some baseball games.

"We needed a weekend away, so we came here," Alex said. "I'm good friends with Ross. I've wanted to go to a Red Sox game for years and years. I just haven't gotten to go to Fenway Park, so we went to a Yankees series -- we went to two games -- and it was really exciting, the highlight of my summer, for sure -- aside from all those hours training in the rink, that was maybe a close second.

"I love this town. I'm actually staying in Adams House (a residential house at Harvard) this weekend. That's where I lived when I was a baby -- our parents were resident tutors at Harvard."

Maia and Alex performed their free dance in the show on Saturday, in part to prepare for their Grand Prix competitions.

"It's still really early in the season for us," Maia said. "It was great to get out in front of such a big, supportive crowd. We didn't have a five-minute warm-up or anything."

"Even though this wasn't exactly a competition, there were different challenges to deal with," Alex said. "We were really happy with how we skated it. We haven't had any time off since Finlandia, so to come here and skate without much rest..."

"...We think it's good preparation for China," Maia continued. "It's almost simulating China and Japan, two straight weeks, so we're very happy with how we skated."

Survivor stories, bits and pieces

An Evening with Champions benefits the Jimmy Fund of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. During the weekend, the skaters always meet, and skate with, a number of children who are living with cancer, and they all talked about how important this is to them.

"It really touched me," Yasmin Siraj. "I actually thought I was going to cry. It was just amazing to realize what we're really doing this for. It's not about you, it's really about these kids in the Jimmy Fund. We're part of a community, we're doing this for the same reason. It's really amazing."

"It really hit home that what we're doing is so important and so urgent," Gretchen Donlan added. "I'm so happy to be a part of it. And the crowd last night was amazing. I don't think I've ever enjoyed skating that much."


Also at the press conference, Kim was asked about being chosen as an ambassador for the Winter Youth Olympic Games, Jan. 13-22, 2012, in Innsbruck, Austria.

"I'm very honored to be part of the Olympic movement," Kim said. "I'm looking forward to watching their skating. Also, I hope to see some of the Korean skaters and Korean athletes in the Youth Olympic Games."


Former senior ladies competitor Blake Rosenthal is now a sophomore at Harvard, and she said she is pre-med, studying the history of science. Does she ever plan to compete again?

"Most likely not," she said. "I think those days are behind me. I need to start focusing on the academics."

Rosenthal already has two skating classmates, Emily Hughes and Mark Jahnke. She may have a fourth next year: Christina Gao is applying to Harvard.

We'll be sharing more backstage pictures on Twitter, so please follow us!

-- Sarah and Drew