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Skaters share memories of 2000 worlds in Nice

City's beauty struck Lang; Weiss recalls intense rivalry between Yagudin, Plushenko

Michael Weiss was in awe of the competitiveness between Alexei Yagudin and Evgeni Plushenko at the 2000 World Championships in Nice.
Michael Weiss was in awe of the competitiveness between Alexei Yagudin and Evgeni Plushenko at the 2000 World Championships in Nice. (Getty Images)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(03/15/2012) - With the World Figure Skating Championships returning to Nice at the end of this month, it seemed a good time to check in with people who competed in this beautiful city on the Côte d'Azur when the event was last held there 12 years ago.

In the spring of 2000, Canadian ice dancers Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe were excited about attending their first world championships, but they never anticipated how pleasantly unique the 2000 World Figure Skating Championships in Nice, France, were going to be.

"So used to traveling to cold places to compete, Nice was a welcome change!" said the on- and off-ice couple, who welcomed twins last October. "We spent our downtime walking through the city and along the French Riviera.

"For the competitive events, local school children pooled in to watch. They likely hadn't seen much skating before, as they stomped their feet on the metal stands in rowdy appreciation and laughed heartily when anyone fell. We had a blast."

For American ladies competitor Sarah Hughes, the 2000 World Championships proved a crucial step in her progress at the senior level. It was the first time she tried to do two triple-triple combinations, which made it memorable performance-wise.

"It's hard to beat the south of France in the spring," said Hughes, who won a bronze medal at 2001 worlds and Olympic gold in 2002. "I remember the practice rink had big windows, which is always a plus because we felt like we were practicing in a more open space."

Five-time U.S. ice dancing champion Naomi Lang and partner Peter Tchernyshev were competing at worlds for the second time. Nice was a significant departure from the previous year's site, frigidly cold Helsinki, Finland.

"The city was so romantic -- something right out of a fairy tale," Lang recalled. "I remember walking on cobblestone streets and having coffee in quaint little coffee shops. We were right on the coast, and the water just sparkled. I remember thinking I should pinch myself to see if I was really there because it was so beautiful."

It was the first year that vocals were allowed in ice dancing, and Christopher Dean choreographed Lang and Tchernyshev's free dance to Sarah Brightman's "Anytime, Anywhere."

"The best part is that Christopher Dean, my idol, was actually there standing by the boards to send us off to compete," Lang said. "It was such an honor and a proud moment in my life, that he would come to support us."

Not everything about 2000 worlds in Nice was perfect. At that time, French views on smoking were quite different than in North America, and it was common for people to smoke in the arena.

U.S. men's champion Michael Weiss recalls some building personnel taking a smoke break outside the men's locker room just before the free skate. Thankfully, they left when Weiss' coach, Audrey Weisiger, shooed them away. He put down a solid performance and wound up with the bronze medal ahead of the pre-event favorite Evgeni Plushenko of Russia, who made costly mistakes.

Although it wasn't Plushenko's night, Weiss vividly recalls Plushenko's intense rivalry with countryman Alexei Yagudin, who claimed his third consecutive men's title in 2000.

"I've never seen two more dominant people that were consistently right at the top for the entire four years," Weiss said. "I've never seen two guys more competitive. It was fun to be in the mix there and be a part of it."

Thanks to his bronze-medal finish, ABC Sports asked Weiss to appear in an off-ice bit down at the harbor.

"They rented this cigarette boat (also known as a go-fast boat), a really nice speed boat," he said. "They had me start it up and rev the engine. When we started it, it had this deep rumble. It was cool."

As for this author's memories, Nice was a beautiful city -- the warmest place I ever went for worlds.

The structure that served as the arena (a different site will be used this year) was temporary, and I though it might crumble when the spectators went wild over the French skaters. On the ice, it was amazing to see Michelle Kwan rise to the occasion. After placing second in her qualifying round and third in the short program, she brought it in the free skate to win her third of five world titles.