The Inside Edge: JGP Final qualifiers

Sarah and Drew check in with Britney Simpson and Matthew Blackmer and club mate Joshua Farris

Matthew Blackmer (middle) with partner Britney Simpson and her homecoming date, Josh Farris.
Matthew Blackmer (middle) with partner Britney Simpson and her homecoming date, Josh Farris. (Sallie Simpson)


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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to
(11/02/2011) - We invited Joshua Farris, and Britney Simpson and Matt Blackmer to chat about their fantastic Junior Grand Prix competitions, which qualified them all for the JGP Final. Farris arrived in his signature baby blue pickup truck while Simpson, despite being a seasoned skater, is too young to drive and had to get dropped off by her mother. They crowded around Drew's MacBook at his apartment while Sarah took notes on the other end via Skype.

We originally tried to lure the three rising stars over by promising baked goods. This plan, however, was short lived when we remembered Farris' dairy allergy (more on that later), and dairy-free baking proved too challenging for Drew on short notice. Luckily, they all agreed to come anyway.

Farris, 16, had been Simpson's guest the night before at the homecoming dance at Cheyenne Mountain High School, where 15-year-old Simpson is a sophomore.

"It was really fun," Simpson said, "Although school dances don't measure up to the overseas competitors' parties! I wore a royal blue dress with little tiny black heels."

"It was so pretty," Blackmer added.

"I got home around 2:30 after practice, and I didn't leave my room until 6:30," Simpson continued. "I'm like a bride! No one can see me until the event. It's not as magical otherwise."

Simpson said it was her first school dance.

"Last year, being a freshman, I didn't attend anything," she said. "This year, I felt like I needed to experience at least one high school dance."

We wanted to learn a little more about Simpson and Blackmer, who teamed up last February after Simpson's previous partner, Nathan Miller, retired. Blackmer told us he's from Detroit, where he trained under Craig Joeright with a couple different partners.

"I've always been a little unlucky," he said. "As a novice, I broke my ankle three weeks out of nationals on a singles session. Last season my partner quit two weeks before nationals, which was kind of a blessing in disguise, I guess."

He has two younger sisters, Maggie and Elizabeth, and a younger brother, Eric.

"I'm the first kid to really leave the nest," he said.

Simpson said she started skating about 10 years ago on a recreational rink in Golden, Colo.

"My coach told me she wouldn't be able to take me all the way, and that's when I found Dalilah [Sappenfield, their coach]," she said. "I had just turned 10. I wanted to do singles, not pairs!"

Simpson, Blackmer and two other roommates share a townhouse in Colorado Springs.

"My mom does come down every once in a while," Simpson said, "But she knows that Matt can protect me."

On to the final

Simpson and Blackmer won their first Junior Grand Prix event, in Poland, and got the silver medal at their second, in Estonia. Farris joined them at both events and came home with two golds. They are all excited to compete at the final in Quebec City, Quebec, in December.

"We all traveled together, and it was so much fun because we already knew everybody. There were five people from Colorado Springs in Poland," Simpson said.

"It was fun; there was a lot of team camaraderie," said Blackmer, who wore a U.S. Figure Skating sign around his waist to cheer on his teammates. "I felt like I was Mr. Team USA. I was loving it. That was my first time in Europe ever, and my first big competition. I haven't even been to nationals yet!"

Simpson and Blackmer also enjoyed exploring the old town of Gdansk while Farris, who has more experience with international competitions, didn't see many of the sights.

"I didn't really get out much," he admitted. "The hotel was right by the sea -- David Wang and I walked around. There were lots of jellyfish on the beach, so you couldn't go in."

Simpson's mother traveled with her to both competitions; Blackmer said his dad came to Poland and his mom to Estonia.

"Since I don't live at home, it was a nice experience for my parents to come and see me," he said.

"I was actually by myself," Farris said. "Damon [Allen, his coach] was my dad!"

Farris is extremely allergic to dairy products, and he travels with a whole suitcase of food.

"If you gave me a little tiny glass of milk, I would get very sick, and if you didn't take me to the hospital, I would die," he said. "Even if something has touched milk, I get a scratchy throat and sick to my stomach.

"In Poland, I brought these little packets of tuna, and one broke open in my backpack on the plane. It smelled so bad! I won't be bringing tuna with me again," Farris continued. "I bring a lot of canned stuff. I bring a little hot pot with me. Asian food is really easy for me. I can't eat Italian food; that's probably the worst one."

At the closing banquet for international events, one athlete is chosen -- usually one of the champions -- to give a speech. Farris was picked at one of his events.

"I was pretty nervous; I don't know why," he said, as all three skaters laughed. "Usually, I'm pretty calm. I had to write down what I was going to say, but I didn't really follow what I wrote down. I couldn't speak clearly that day. Afterward, they had to email our team leader to ask what I had said."

Farris said he was very happy with his programs.

"I didn't have great practices, partly because of the ice [in Poland]," he said. "I couldn't warm up any of my jumps before my long program because I was basically swimming.

"The main rink was a lot better. I was really nervous before the long; I was pale and looked like I was about to throw up. I asked Damon, 'Are you sure the seniors get this nervous this before they go out?' He assured me they did."

We asked all three skaters if they plan to make any changes before the final.

"We're just making some minor changes," Simpson said. "We actually changed a couple things when we were in Estonia that helped. We're training a couple of new elements. We're trying to make the value on each element higher, and making sure we really hit our musical notes."

"We revamped our footwork to make it more difficult, and we're changing a lift," Blackmer added.

"I'm making some big changes, actually," Farris said, grinning. "I'm not going to say too much about it because I want it to be a surprise. I'm training the long program with a quad, for one thing."


As you read on, the ISU has confirmed that Brandon Mroz landed the first quad Lutz jump in competition, at the Colorado Springs Invitational on Sept. 16. (Watch the clip here.) We heard from him the day of the ISU's announcement about what the recognition means to him.

"Getting to be the first to accomplish the quad Lutz is an honor," Mroz said. "It's great to prove to myself what I can do, to carry the torch for the past skaters that have tried it and to give inspiration for the generations to come. It's been a long time since a new jump has been done. I'm proud that it was a USA kid to get the job done."

Happy Halloween

The big storm knocked out the power and festivities last weekend in the Northeast, but parties went on around most of the country. Drew dressed up as a cowboy for the Halloween party in his neighborhood, where he saw Max Aaron and Colin Grafton dressed as stars from The Jersey Shore, among many other costumes.

We asked a few other skaters what they wore, either to go out or to enliven the scene at the rink on Monday.

Piper Gilles told us she and Paul Poirier went as characters from Super Mario Brothers: "He was Mario, and I was Luigi."

Parker Pennington wore a banana suit to the rink, complete with maracas: "It's peanut butter and jelly time, meant for little ones in Basic Skills."

Marissa Castelli: "I was a flapper girl on Friday night. Tonight (Monday) I am just going people-watching to see the best costumes."

Wesley Campbell: "My Halloween costume is pretty much anything and everything fuzzy and warm. The rink is freezing. My staple wardrobe piece for the day is definitely my furry brown UGG earmuffs. So maybe I could pass as a mouse?"

Gracie Gold: "I'm the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland."

Stay warm,

Sarah and Drew

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