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The Inside Edge: 'An Evening with Champions'

Blackmer, Simpson get surprise visit at practice from Olympic gymnastics champ Liukin

Nastia Liukin drops in on Britney Simpson and Matt Blackmer's practice session at the Ice Hall in Colorado Springs.
Nastia Liukin drops in on Britney Simpson and Matt Blackmer's practice session at the Ice Hall in Colorado Springs. (courtesy of Matt Blackmer)

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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to icenetwork.com
(10/03/2012) - We wouldn't dream of missing Harvard's Jimmy Fund benefit "An Evening With Champions." Drew couldn't get away from Colorado, but Sarah was on hand for both shows again this year. We did our best to catch up with everyone, finding out what they've been up to and what they have planned for the season.

Kims

People named Kim seem to have the writing bug. Kimmie Meissner told us she has recently transferred from the University of Delaware to Towson University.

"I'm going to be in school forever," she said. "I switched majors to English, with a writing track, so it's been a complete change of life. I would love to be a writer. I love to write fiction, I like to write poetry, but I'd also like to be a journalist."

Kim Navarro is also busy with writing classes.

"For the past two years, Brent [Bommentre] and I went to Holiday on Ice to skate, and this year we're staying in the U.S.," she said. "Brent's home base is Philadelphia, and he's taking some chemistry classes. We're doing the Ice Theater of New York show, so I signed up for three different writing classes in New York. I'm taking a grammar class, a humor class and a memoir class. I'd like to write a humorous, grammatically correct memoir!"

Harvard

Harvard has become quite the mecca for figure skaters recently. The show was hosted by Harvard grads Paul Wylie and Emily Hughes, and current senior and show committee member Mark Jahnke was busy behind the scenes. (Jahnke told us he and partner Roxette Howe have split up; he's busy with college right now and unsure about his future on-ice plans.)

Current student Blake Rosenthal skated in the show, as did brand-new freshman Christina Gao, who says so far she is having no trouble balancing her coursework and her training at the Skating Club of Boston. Gao and Harrison Choate were nearly classmates, but Choate has decided to take a year off to focus on training before starting his freshman year.

"I'm glad I'm taking this year to skate and kind of pursue that opportunity, but I'm excited to have a very different role in the show next year. I want to help out as much as I can behind the scenes," Choate said. "Christina and I were talking about that today, when the entire board was being introduced. We were like, 'Oh, this is going to be us next year!'"

Choate had to go home after the post-show reception and start packing; he left on Monday for Croatia, for his second Junior Grand Prix event of the season.

"I'm planning to do my programs better there, because I was pretty bad in France!" he said. "It was a rough week. I just want to skate like I do every day and have fun, because it's my last Junior Grand Prix. I'm too old after this one."

Meanwhile, Hughes is loving living in New York City and working for Deloitte Consulting. She got to go to the London Olympics this summer for work...how lucky is that?

"Deloitte is a sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Committee," Hughes said, "So I was able to go over to London and help out there, and kind of see the Olympics from the sponsorship end, which was really cool."

Hair

Fans are divided on Jason Brown's hair, with some loving the ponytail and others advocating scissors. We are emphatically pro-ponytail; we think it's his signature look and it's very becoming, both on and off the ice. Brown has been wearing his hair long since he was 9 or 10 years old, since his pre-juvenile days.

"It started that my hair was just really shaggy, and judges started commenting, 'Put it up or you have to cut it off,' " Brown said. "I really, really like it shaggy -- I like having long, loose hair -- and Kori [Ade] was like, 'Why don't you just grow it out, and then you can always cut it?' So that's what we did, and I haven't cut it! We've trimmed it but never cut it off."

Brown came out for the start of his MC Hammer program wearing shades and a big hat. We asked whether he could see anything with the sunglasses on.

"No, they get taken off very fast!" he said. "Especially when the lights are off, I can't see a thing."

Speaking of hair, Agnes Zawadzki is going back to her naturally pale blonde hair; she hasn't quite gotten all the way there yet.

"I'm going to go a little lighter," she said. "It was hard to keep up with the dark, and I just wanted to try something new, so I wanted to go back to my regular hair color."

Navarro, by the way, gets the Big Hair award for the show, sporting a bouffant blonde 'do. As far as costumes go, we are giving the "Best-dressed in Show" award to Meissner. She wore a lovely Brad Griffies mauve dress with delicate stoning, perfect with her coloring.

Tidbits

Both Ryan Bradley and young competitor Bennett Gottlieb did back flips in their programs, which prompted this reminiscence from Wylie:

"I tried to do a back flip once. Michael Weiss's dad was helping me, and I got halfway over and fell right on top of him. No back flip for Paul!"

Jeremy Abbott confirmed that he and coach Yuka Sato choreographed his mesmerizing new free skate to "Bring Him Home," as they did last year for his "Exogenesis" program.

Everyone left town in a hurry after the show, needing to get back to training and, in several cases, get ready for imminent Grand Prix events. Ross Miner is prepping for Skate Canada, while Abbott, Gao, Marissa Castelli, Simon Shnapir, Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus all leave for Skate America in less than three weeks.

"I've never done Skate America," Abbott said. "I'm excited to be doing it. I've never done America or Paris, so it will be my first time doing both. I've been to Paris, twice, and I love the city so much, but I'm excited to actually go and do the competition."

Sunday's show included a performance by the Theater On Ice troupe Act I of Boston. Amid a host of skaters in kabuki makeup and fantasy-creature costumes were former national competitor Jason Wong, all in red, and Castelli, in a silver unitard. The two did a number of highlighted jumps and spins in the program, and also did a bit of pairs skating together, even re-creating one of Castelli and Shnapir's signature moves, a split balanced on a spread eagle.

Meanwhile, back in Colorado...

At the same time that the skaters were on the ice in Boston, Drew was hanging out with 2008 Olympic champion gymnast Nastia Liukin. Here's how it happened...

The Tour of Gymnastic Champions was performing in Colorado Springs on Saturday night at the World Arena, which is adjacent to the Ice Hall, where the Broadmoor skaters train. Pairs skater Matt Blackmer tweeted at Liukin and invited her to come over and watch the skaters.

"I was tweeting at her over and over, telling her she should come see the figure skaters," said Blackmer, who idolizes Liukin. "I'm in love with gymnastics in general. I couldn't afford tickets to the show, but we were really excited that they were here. Maddy [Aaron] saw Jordyn Wieber and Aly Raisman out running.

As Blackmer was warming up for the 1:15 pairs session on Saturday, he got a direct message from Liukin asking where the practice was.

"I was really excited. So I wrote back and said 'It's just a short walk away.' But the message didn't go through. Larry [Ibarra] was telling me to get my skates on, but I was running around, trying to get connected to the rink Wi-Fi. Finally, it went through.

"The entire session, I kept looking at the door waiting to see if she was going to come. We did a clean long run-through, but Larry told me I needed to be more focused!"

Blackmer was thrilled when Liukin walked in toward the end of the session.

"I had the biggest smile on my face!" he said. "I waved to her and she waved back, and she came up to the boards and introduced herself. She was so nice. We talked about training a little bit, and then she asked if we were coming to the show that night. And I was like, 'We don't have tickets.' And she said, 'Do you guys want tickets? How many do you want?' I asked for four, and she was like, 'How about six?' "

Blackmer, Britney Simpson, Max Settlage, Angela Wang, Alexa Scimeca and Drew went to the show; Liukin gave them third-row seats and backstage passes. Drew reports that the show was very exciting and that Liukin was gracious and charming.

We'll be back soon. Until then, check out the video blog (click here) from "An Evening with Champions," featuring funny mini-interviews with the stars.

Sarah and Drew

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