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The Inside Edge: Wilson choreographs for three

Zawadzki embraces lofty goals; Ten, Cassar eager for next skate

U.S. bronze medalist Agnes Zawadzki has her sights set on a date in Sochi.
U.S. bronze medalist Agnes Zawadzki has her sights set on a date in Sochi. (Sarah S. Brannen)

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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to icenetwork.com
(07/12/2012) - Every year, throngs of skaters head to the Cricket Club in Toronto to get their programs choreographed by the stellar David Wilson. We talked to three skaters who worked with Wilson recently.

Agnes Zawadzki

Zawadzki told us that Wilson choreographed her short program during the last week of June.

"This is the first time I've worked with him," she told us. "We were going to do it last year, since we scrapped my long, but he didn't have time."

The 2012 U.S. bronze medalist revealed that she'll be skating to music from the Sex and the City 2 soundtrack.

"It has a Middle Eastern vibe to it," she said. "I absolutely love the program and the music. It's different than what I've done. David was an absolute joy to work with. I loved his energy and personality."

Zawadzki will be keeping her "Rhapsody in Blue" free skate, which was choreographed by Scott Brown.

"I really like the music a lot and I feel like I could perform it better than I did last season," Zawadzki said. "I'll be used to it, and I won't feel so out of place with it. It's the same music, but we have a bit of a different cut in some sections. I have new choreography and different jumps -- I have a triple Lutz-triple toe in there now, and my double Axel-triple toe is later in the program."

Zawadzki recently took a couple weeks off after a minor lower back sprain, which she said was much better.

"We'd rather have it happen now," she said. "I just took a really weird fall and twisted my back. It's a lot better now, and I can actually move."

Now that she's training again, Zawadzki is working on her mental game along with her jumps.

"This season I want to come back more consistent with my jumps," she said. "I want to get back into the state of mind I had during my second year junior. I doubted myself last year. I'd step on the ice at competitions and say, 'Can I do this?' My junior year, when I would step on the ice, I knew I was ready. For every practice program, I have to have that mindset that I'm going to land every jump no matter what."

Goals for the upcoming season include a consistent triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination in the short program and free skate and, hopefully, a top-two finish at the U.S. championships. To aid with the realization of her goals, Zawadzki has been working with Dr. Alex Cohen, a sports psychologist at the Olympic Training Center, on her mental toughness.

"He would come to practices and that helped a lot because he got to see me training," she said. "I would talk a little with him on the ice. He got to see how we would work through something and how I would get frustrated, and he would give me some techniques to calm me down and get back on track."

Zawadzki graduated from high school on May 28, and of course she went to her prom. We had to detour from the interview to hear all about her dress.

"It was fun," she said. "It was a black one-shouldered dress, and it had crystals on the strap, and then it came down and gathered to the side, and it had a little slit in the front. It was pretty simple, but I loved it."

Next up will be the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, where Zawadzki is planning to major in forensic psychology. Along with that goal, she obviously has her mind on Sochi.

"I can't believe it's almost the Olympic year!" she said. "It's been my dream as a little girl. I remember watching Michelle [Kwan] on TV and saying, 'I want to do that, I want to go to the Olympics.'"

Jeremy Ten

Canadian bronze medalist Jeremy Ten has been working with Wilson since 2006, and he turned to him again for his 2012-13 short program, set to "Grand Guignol" by Bajofondo.

"It's fun and energetic, kind of sexy," Ten told us. "It's got a great beat to it. It opens really strong. Right away, I'm just flying into the elements. It's kind of reminiscent of last year's 'Come Together,' but it has more maturity; it's more elegant, and like I said, it's a little sexy!"

Ten said he got a late start on choreography this season, partly because his training schedule was uncertain, and partly because Wilson was booked solid.

"It was very kind of him to fit me into his schedule," Ten said. "We worked together for four days, which was kind of rushed, but we put our heart and soul into it, working on every detail of the music. I'm really thankful for his dedication to my career and his passion. We definitely have great energy working together. It's always a sad time when I have to go back to Vancouver."

Ten plans to keep last season's long program, set to the soundtrack of Il Postino, since he only got to compete it four times. He says he is "80 to 90 percent" recovered from surgery on his right foot and a broken left fibula, injuries which derailed his training in 2011.

"I get a little residual tenderness in my right ankle," he said. "It's nothing compared to prior to my surgery. The fracture in my left foot is fine. It was a blessing in disguise, having time to heal longer."

Ten had surgery for bone impingement in January 2011.

"I was just, 'Go in there and make the pain stop!'" he said. "We had X-rays and MRIs, and they couldn't locate a definite problem. So finally my doctor just said, 'We have to go in and take a look around and see what is causing the problem.'

"It's a lot better than what I was dealing with, and I'm so thankful for that. I feel like I'm as good -- if not better -- than where I was before my surgery. Flip gives me the most problems. I still practice Lutz and flip, but we'll tone down the repetitions. The worst thing is, they're my favorite jumps. It's been hard to scale back. I always want something to be perfect, so I do way more than I should."

Ten says he is landing triple Axels again and working on the quad toe, not for this season but for 2013-14.

"It feels comfortable and it's almost there. I want to work on it; I don't want to wait until next season."

His first competition will be Glacier Falls in August, which he said he chose because it has a very strong roster of competitors.

"I thought it would be a great competition to get out there, since there are a lot of great U.S. skaters," he said. "It will push me to get a great start to the season."

Jonathan Cassar

Jonathan Cassar has also been working with Wilson for a long time; their relationship is a true collaboration, since Cassar is a dancer. We talked to him last week and he revealed his new short program for 2012-13.

"I found a piece of music from Les Miserables, and I don't think anyone's ever skated to it," he told us. "We ended up using two pieces and we made it into a short program. I've always enjoyed working with David, and it went really smoothly. It felt almost more natural to me than any other program I've ever had. I hope the audience likes it."

Cassar said that after an up-tempo opening, the majority of the program will be adagio.

"A lot of short programs are very powerful, sharp and commanding, and I love that style," Cassar said, "And it's a lot of fun for audiences to watch. But I had done that before, and I wanted to try something different. I try to always step out of the box."

Like Ten and Zawadzki, Cassar is planning to keep his free skate from last season.

"I was going to get a new long program and choreograph the short on my own," he said. "But I didn't have as much time as I wanted to spend on creating it. And I was really happy with Pagliacci last year. You kind of want to retire it and start something new and fresh. But I didn't really do that many competitions.

"At nationals, I just was starting to get my wind and really starting to perform. Knowing how to train it makes me a little more confident about putting two triple Axels in it."

Ah, yes, the triple Axel. Cassar is well aware that he needs the jump to be able to place higher in the U.S. than he has previously.

"Last season ... I felt like I'd improved so much over the past two years, but I needed that triple Axel to get in the top group," he said. "I didn't want to walk away from the sport wondering what could have happened. So, my goal is to try my best and see what I can do with the jump.

"This year I sat down with Frank [Carroll] and I said I'm not going to go any further without this jump. So, I've made a commitment to getting the triple Axel. Just because it's not working one day doesn't mean I'm giving up."

Cassar just graduated from Oakland University with a performing arts degree in dance. He is planning to continue competing through the 2013-14 season, a decision that he reached after some soul-searching.

"After nationals I thought, 'Maybe I'm done,'" he said. "I was sad; everyone was telling me what I should do, go on a tour, teach. But I decided to keep myself in shape and keep skating, and I realized one day that something would be missing if I wasn't doing this and if I didn't give it my all. I really, really love this."

Skate with champions

"An Evening with Champions," the Harvard University fundraiser for the Jimmy Fund, has announced a new program, "Skating With Champions." Skaters are asked to form teams to raise as much money as possible during July and August. The two top fundraising teams will be invited to skate with the cast of the 2012 show on Sept. 29 and 30, and will also receive tickets to the exclusive post-show reception. To register, visit www.aneveningwithchampions.org.

"An Evening with Champions" and its "Skating with Champions" program support adult and pediatric cancer care and research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

We'll be back in a couple weeks with all the behind-the-scenes scoop from "An Evening on Ice."

Sarah and Drew
sarahanddrewblog@gmail.com
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