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Holland days: Baga reports from Challenge Cup

U.S. pairs skater chronicles behind-the-scenes happenings in The Hague

Kiri Baga and Taylor Toth are competing in their first senior international together.
Kiri Baga and Taylor Toth are competing in their first senior international together. (Sarah S. Brannen)

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By Kiri Baga, special to icenetwork.com
(02/21/2013) - Kiri Baga is used to pulling double duty, skating both singles and pairs (with Taylor Toth), as she did at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. She was at the 2013 Challenge Cup in The Hague, Netherlands, in a different kind of dual role: that of skater/blogger.

Sunday, Feb. 24

I honestly don't know where to begin when it comes to what has happened in the past day. Alex [Johnson] did an amazing long program last night and truly earned his silver medal. We are so proud of him, and he came so close to beating 2007 world champion Brian Joubert.

Today was the pairs long program. As Taylor and I were warming up for the event, we started hearing pounding in the bathroom. We were thinking there was construction going on or someone was really upset and taking it out on the bathroom stalls, so we just decided to ignore the noises for, like, 10 minutes. Then I thought I heard someone call Taylor's name, so we peeked into the bathroom.

Our coach, Jeremy Allen, was locked in a stall.

After he was stuck in there for 20 minutes, we were thinking we might be competing without a coach. There were several rink employees trying to get him out, and it seemed to be taking forever. But then someone had the brilliant idea of having him climb through the ceiling, which totally worked. Besides a six-inch gash in his leg due to a misstep on a toilet paper holder, he came out completely unharmed and ready for the six-minute warm-up.

I have to say that all three pairs teams did great programs. Tarah [Kayne] and Danny [O'Shea] came away with the silver medal in their international debut, and we are so happy for them. After that, the scores were extremely close because of how well everyone skated. DeeDee [Leng] and Tim [Leduc] ended up taking fifth, with Taylor and I sixth.

After our long programs, we decided we wanted to try one of the great activities offered at the rink complex (De Uithof): speed skating. Of course, before the speed skating began, we had to check out the sports shop upstairs so the guys could try on skin suits. We took tons of pictures (the photo shoot actually lasted longer than the actual skating), and then we headed out to the ice.

We all quickly agreed that speed skating is incredibly hard. We had a race, and Taylor and I literally gave up and strolled down the ice together halfway through. Special shout out to the volunteers at Challenge Cup for helping us try this difficult, painful sport.

We were all tired after speed skating, so we didn't catch up until dinner. We all got pizza and talked about the trip. Our team leader, Lorrie Parker, was so much fun! She was a team leader and judge at this event, so she was constantly at the rink. I was extremely impressed with how much time she devoted to supporting Team USA even though she was so busy.

Another shout out to my friend Tarah Kayne for helping me figure out what to put in this blog, and making it sound OK. You're the best!

Saturday, Feb. 23

After I was done blogging yesterday, we all went to watch Alex's short program. He did such a good job! He hasn't competed internationally in a couple of years, so I'm so happy for him. His choreography is to die for. Alex is in second to Joubert ... that's pretty amazing. Speaking of Brian Joubert ...

A few members of Team USA have been less than modest about their love for him. Following him, taking pictures of him ... not me, of course. There were other people eyeing Joubert, too, though! There were girls surrounding the kiss and cry after he skated.

My roommate, Tarah Kayne, is so excited to be at her first international. I quote: "I am absolutely thrilled to be in another country!" All of Team USA's skaters are given trading pins to trade with skaters from other countries. Tarah was so eager to start trading. However, she has been less than successful in her pursuit of other pins. She's asked skaters from several countries, and she's had no luck ... although the Austrian team offered to trade for a piece of chocolate.

Today, the pairs competed their short programs. Tarah and Danny are in third after a great short program, and DeeDee and Tim are in fifth after a good skate. Taylor and I finished the event in sixth place. We had a couple odd mistakes, but we're looking forward to competing our long.

As we continue to skate in The Hague, we are learning more and more about the odd rink we're skating in. It's pretty impressive they fit a go-kart track, an indoor and outdoor rock climbing wall, and an indoor ski hill in one building. Just today I learned that our team leader saw horses on the practice rink, and there's a waffle stand directly outside the arena. It's quite the venue.

Since we have early practice tomorrow, we're all resting up. On nights like this, when we're hanging out, sometimes you get stuck watching TV. With only a few English channels, you may walk in on two pairs guys watching I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant.

Anyway, it's time to get to sleep. We're ready to finish off Team USA's competition with the pairs long!

Friday, Feb. 22

Yesterday, I was a zombie. Getting to a foreign country in the morning on little-to-no sleep, and then being told you have to stay up all day so that you'll sleep at night is the worst. However, taking a jog in a cute European city felt amazing. I know the other pairs teams thoroughly enjoyed walking around The Hague. We also did some off-ice work (the pairs weren't given a practice yesterday), and then we watched Alex rock his long in practice.

Sometimes, at international competitions, you find yourself stuck in a hotel room, wondering why you're in Europe watching TV. Today was not one of those times.

It began with a breakfast at the hotel, with Team USA and stories about the trip so far. Alex woke up to learn from his roommate, Tim [LeDuc], that he talks in his sleep, particularly about farm animals. I also heard about how Team USA had sung a certain popular Sir Mix-A-Lot song on the bus...

After breakfast, all of us had practice. In a word, it was unusual. The first task was to get to the practice rink, which is in the middle of a speed skating oval. There were multiple staircases involved and a crowded ski chalet to maneuver through.

When you finally got to the ice, there was so much to soak in. There wasn't a full roof over the rink, just a tent-like structure with huge gaps, and leaves were falling on the ice. There were tons of little kids learning to skate on a side rink, and incredible speed skaters skating around you.

As I landed a throw, I questioned why Taylor's face looked so amused. He had spotted a zip-line going past the rink, and people were flying by us. It was quite the experience. I have to say the fact that Tarah and Danny did a full long program with no music in the midst of the crazy atmosphere was super impressive.

Taylor and I thought that since we start competing tomorrow, today was the day to explore the city. We went to see some art at the Escher Museum, which is located in a former palace. I'm not too artsy, but that 20th century art was really cool.

After the museum, we headed toward the North Sea to go to the beach. Even though it was a 30-minute train ride away, we were glad we did it. The views were spectacular, and even though it was freezing, we took a lot of pictures by the water and walked around. I also wanted to go to the beach because Christina Gao, Maia Shibutani and I wrote our names all over the pier during junior worlds in 2010, but I sadly couldn't find them again.

OK, it's time to go cheer on Alex in the short program...go Team USA!

Thursday, Feb. 21

Hello, from somewhere above the Atlantic! It's travel day, and I'm happy to say that I, Kiri Baga, am your 2013 Challenge Cup blogger.

The weeks since nationals have flown by, mostly because it was only two weeks, and here we are, competing again. My partner, Taylor, and I had elaborate break plans for the weeks after nationals. He was to spend time enjoying Fashion Week in New York City with his fancy friends, and I had a date with some ice cream and the couch. Three days after this bliss began, we both got a call about this week's Challenge Cup.

It was time to train again.

Although we took a week off of skating, we both know that our entire season has prepared us well for this event. Taylor flew back from New York, and myself from Minneapolis, and the training began immediately. Last weekend, Taylor and I took part in Skate with Heart at the Kern Center in Milwaukee, a show benefiting the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. Right before we got on the ice to perform, Taylor pulled me aside to remind me that we competed together for the first time at Skate Milwaukee last June. And now, less than a year later, we were skating our short program at the same rink in preparation for our international debut.

I know that everyone on Team USA going to Challenge Cup wasn't expecting to compete so quickly after nationals, so I applaud everyone for kicking it back into gear immediately after our biggest event of the season.

As soon as I heard that our event was in The Hague, Netherlands, I was excited. Both Taylor and I have good memories from the 2010 World Junior Championships, which were also held here. Taylor competed in pairs with Felicia Zhang, and I competed in singles. A beautiful city 30 minutes from Amsterdam, The Hague will be a great place for us to make our international debut, along with DeeDee and Tim, and Daniel and Tarah.

Speaking of the other teams, we met up with Danny and Tarah during our layover. Sadly, DeeDee and Tim's first flight was delayed, so they didn't catch their flight to Amsterdam! It will be nice when all of Team USA is safely in The Hague.

So far, our travel day has been interesting. We all walked through our programs at the gate to get a few funny pics, and Taylor recognized a man who had been investigated for murder in a foreign country. With a few questions asked, we knew Taylor was right.

This promises to be an eventful trip, and I will keep you up to date on everything Team USA is up to!