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The Inside Edge: High altitude is breathtaking

Thin air gets to international crowd; Caluza, Bulanhagui skate for Philippines

Melissa Bulanhagui, who once skated for the U.S., is excited to represent the Philippines.
Melissa Bulanhagui, who once skated for the U.S., is excited to represent the Philippines. (Sarah S. Brannen)

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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to icenetwork.com
(02/11/2012) - The story of the Four Continents competition so far has been the altitude, which overcame a lot of the competitors at the men's free skate Friday night. Getting through a short program at altitude is one thing; a free skate is something else.

Nan Song, in particular, seemed barely able to stand at the end of his program and had to be helped backstage by medical staff. We were told that they took him to the medical room at first, presumably to give him oxygen, but ultimately he was taken to the hospital. We are awaiting word on his condition.

Several skaters, including Ross Miner, Adam Rippon and Misha Ge, came to Colorado Springs early to get acclimated, and it showed in their skating.

Onward

We ran into Kevin Reynolds and Jeremy Ten on the concourse before the pairs short program. Reynolds told us he had sprained the ankle of his landing foot at the beginning of the week, which [partly explains why] he struggled in the competition, but that he's sure he'll be fully recovered soon.

"I'm looking forward to being ready for the world championships," he said.

Ten is bearing up bravely after a very rough free skate Friday night. We asked if he felt that the altitude was a problem for him.

"I did a clean long at the first practice," he said. "It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I think the problem was not having enough training time, and skating last in my group."

Ten is on the road back after missing most of the last two seasons with injuries; he says he just started jumping again last September.

"I thought my season would be over after nationals, so just to be here is a bonus," he said. "I'm disappointed, but I'm proud of all I've done this season. When I look back, I wouldn't have traded all that hard work for anything. It hurts right now, but I'll get over it."

Ten works at an Armani Express store in Vancouver, where he trains and often Tweets about the dramas of working retail.

"Things have been great at the store," he said. "They've been super-supportive of my skating and the free clothes are always a bonus. Before I got here, I got these pants, a nice hoodie and a nice gray wool sweater, and I got it all for 40 bucks."

Ge came by, and Ten -- imitating the fans Friday night -- called out, "Misha, we love you! That's all I heard last night."

(After Ge skated, the excited fans were still calling out to him as Ten, who skated after him, was about to take the ice.)

"I know," Ge said. "I tried to go backstage really fast. I was like, 'It's Jeremy's time now!'"

"Don't let it happen again," Ten said, laughing.

Changing countries

You probably remember that Christopher Caluza, who skated for the Philippines and finished 12th in the men's event, used to compete in the U.S. (He competed as a junior in 2010 and a senior in 2011, when he finished in 19th place at the U.S. championships).

We caught up with Caluza before the last group of the free skate Friday night and asked him about his decision to represent the Philippines.

"I always wanted to do it, since I was 16," he told us. "I decided to skate in the U.S. first so I could improve. I wanted to [switch to the Philippines] this year because I made it to U.S. nationals last year and I wanted to try it out."

We asked Caluza how he felt about his free skate.

"I felt that it was pretty good," he said. "It was my second ISU competition ever."

Caluza will be competing at the world championships and hopes to skate at the 2014 Olympics.

Perhaps he'll be joined on the Philippines team by Melissa Bulanhagui, who is also in the process of switching countries. We sat with Bulanhagui, who is the current Philippines champion, for the last half of the ladies short program.

"I was born with double citizenship," she said, "Because both my parents grew up in the Philippines."

Bulanhagui is still waiting to be released by the U.S. (She finished 10th at the 2011 U.S. championships). She hopes to be able to compete internationally in time for the Nebelhorn Trophy in the fall and the 2013 World Championships.

"I felt like I did really well for Team USA," she said, "And now I want to make a mark for the Philippines; I'd like to make skating bigger there. My mom is so excited about it -- she's always wanted me to do it. When we went to the Philippines, I got to meet all my family that I hadn't seen since I was 8."

Bulanagui is engaged to be married and planning to move to Colorado. Although she wants to keep Karen Luddington, with whom she has worked in Delaware for many years, as her main coach, she'll be looking for a coach in Colorado.

"It will be a good thing to branch out," she said. "I've gotten very comfortable with Karen."

Bulanhagui says her fiancé Nick, who is in the military and just got back from Afghanistan, is learning to appreciate figure skating.

"I taught him an Axel off the ice," she said. "He did it!"

Simultaneous synchro

Even as we watched the competition here in Colorado, there was a synchronized skating competition going on in Switzerland, the 2012 Neuchatel Trophy. The Crystallettes , from Dearborn, Mich., won both the short program and the gold medal. The Lexington, Mass., Haydenettes won the free skate and the silver medal. Congrats to all of them!

See you tomorrow,

Sarah and Drew
Follow us on Twitter for lots of extra pictures @SarahandDrew