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2021 U.S. Championships Coverage

In a season where most competitions were cancelled, or postponed and then cancelled, U.S. Figure Skating was able to pull off their 2021 U.S. Championships with a modified bubble format.

The competition was originally scheduled for San Jose, CA, but after the success of the bubble model at the 2020 Skate America in Las Vegas, U.S. Figure Skating moved the event to Vegas and the Orleans Arena. With no on-site media, I was able to cover the event from home over Zoom, for Figure Skaters Online. I hadn’t planned to attend the event in person this year, even if it had been more of a “normal” competition setup, so this was an unexpected bonus for me. I know lots of my fellow skating media members were bummed not to be there in person, so we’re already excited for 2022 Nationals, which will be in my backyard at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville!

Covering an event over Zoom requires multiple screens and monopolizing the TV for a long weekend, plus lots of quick typing and transcribing during press conferences and mixed zones. It was fun to cover it with the team at FSO, and we put together some great coverage of each event, plus a bonus article about some of the competitors beyond the podiums. You can check them all out, plus great photos from our on-site photographer Robin Ritoss, at our U.S. Championships Hub.

I covered the ladies and pairs events, and contributed to our “Sin City Statements” recap. Check them all out here:

Bradie Tennell wins her second U.S. title at the 2021 U.S. Championships

A side note to this coverage: I definitely had questions about Tennell’s participation in this event. Her coach was not in Las Vegas because he had COVID-19, and one of her training mates tested positive upon arrival at the competition. It seems like any skater from that rink should have had to withdraw, based on the criteria that led to dance team Carreira/Ponomarenko and three pairs entrants from Colorado withdrawing (Full details on that here, via NBC Sports). Each of those teams said that the event rules called for them to withdraw after exposure to a positive case of COVID-19, despite their own negative tests. Allowing Tennell, and any other skaters who were in the vicinity of those two positive cases to compete, seemingly jeopardized the entire bubble. The always-thoughtful Alicia and Mary posted a similar analysis right after the event over on the Flutzes and Waxels podcast, in their ladies recap episode, which is worth a listen!

Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier win U.S. pairs title in nationals debut

Pairs is certainly not my area of expertise in the skating world, and this was my first time officially covering a pairs competition. Every time I watch this discipline, I’m consistently wowed by the athleticism of the skaters!

Sin City Statements
It wasn’t just the medalists who shined in the Sin City during the 2021 U.S. Championships. The U.S. Championships in Las Vegas marked the senior nationals debut for a number of skaters. There were some other special stories that came out of the event, from new partnerships, debuting new programs to seeking inspiration from Olympians for costumes. Figure Skaters Online’s Gina Capellazzi and Maura Sullivan Hill spoke with these skaters that had other accomplishments and victories that went beyond the podium.

Thanks for reading and supporting here and over at Figure Skaters Online!


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Socially Distant Synchro: What the 2020-21 Season Will Look Like

The Starlights junior team competes at the 2020 U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships. Photo by KrPhotogs Photography/Courtesy of U.S. Figure Skating

While singles skating is inherently physically distant, synchronized skating brings skaters much closer than six feet apart — it requires physical contact. Synchro skaters skate attached by hands or gripping each other’s shoulders, and do lifts and other acrobatic moves together. As rinks reopened and skaters got back on the ice, the team at Figure Skaters Online wanted to know more about how synchro skaters are adapting to new regulations and safety precautions. I talked to Kelly Vogtner, senior director of special projects for U.S. Figure Skating, about the federation’s plans for this season and also caught up with Heather Paige, coach of the Chicago-based Starlights, about how her team is coping. Read more here:

As organizers scramble to reconfigure Grand Prix events and other fall competitions for singles, pairs, and ice dance amid the COVID-19 pandemic, synchronized skating has a distinct advantage: “Our season is really far out. Synchronized skating doesn’t really start until after the new year [though there are limited competitions in November and December],” said Kelly Vogtner, senior director of special projects for U.S. Figure Skating.

With that extra time in mind, U.S. Figure Skating announced a new plan for the 2020-21 synchronized skating season on Thursday, Oct. 8. Vogtner said the plan was created after surveying coaches, skaters, and families, where a common theme emerged.

“We were taking their temperature—no pun intended—about where they are in the process, whether or not they were practicing, what was the most important thing for them this season. And what came back after multiple surveys was that the number one thing teams were looking for was an opportunity to perform,” she said. “What was not as important as in other years was a placement or a specific competition or beating somebody. What kept coming through was, ‘We want the opportunity to be able to perform, whatever that looks like.’”

As a result, the 2020-21 synchro season will include a national challenge competition open to all teams, as well as a series of competitions dubbed the 2020-21 National Synchronized Skating Series.

Read the full article on Figure Skaters Online for more details on the plan, as well as an insider’s look at how the Starlights Synchronized Skating teams are planning for the season ahead:

U.S. Figure Skating announces plans for 2020-21 synchronized skating season


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2020 Skate America Coverage

2020 Skate America took place in Las Vegas as scheduled, but that was about the only thing that went according to the original plan. U.S. Figure Skating initiated a “bubble” setup for the event, in accordance with COVID-19 safety guidelines and ISU regulations for the Grand Prix this season. With a roster of mostly American competitors, though a few international skaters skaters already training in the U.S. were included, Skate America looked more like a U.S. Nationals than a Grand Prix.

Despite the unusual setup, all the skaters emphasized how grateful they were to have an opportunity to compete and perform — even if the audience applause was dubbed in and there was no crowd.

Figure Skaters Online Website Image

The media was able to cover the event in person, by entering the bubble, or remotely via Zoom. Figure Skaters Online had a photographer on-site in the bubble, and then our reporters covered the event remotely, from home. We’re all so used to Zoom lately, it didn’t even feel strange to do press conferences the same way — it might even be a great option for future competitions, so outlets with little or no travel budget can still cover skating competitions. More accessibility and publicity for the sport seems like a no-brainer!

You can check out our event coverage here and photos here, on the FSO website. I covered the ladies and ice dance events, live-tweeting the performances, mixed zone interviews, and press conferences. Read my recaps of both events here:

Mariah Bell Wins Her First Grand Prix Title

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue Win Third Skate America Title

Skate Canada would have been the next Grand Prix event, this coming weekend, but it was cancelled. France cancelled their Grand Prix, as well, but as of this writing, Cup of China is still on, scheduled for the first weekend of November. No matter what the rest of the figure skating season looks like, it was fun to watch a competition this weekend, especially knowing that it was put on with the safety of athletes, staff, and volunteers at the forefront. Thanks for reading and for following along with the FSO coverage this weekend!


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When My Husband Watches Figure Skating

Who doesn’t love watching a Grand Prix event or Nationals with their skating buddies, or fellow skating junkies who closely follow this niche sport? I’ve laughed and cried while watching Olympics, Worlds, and many other competitions with these friends over the years. And plenty of others love watching and commenting with the folks on “Skating Twitter.” I tend to stay off my phone during the events and take it in more like an arena spectator (complete with snacks, naturally).

This year, for the first time in awhile, I was living somewhere that my skating viewing buddies weren’t around — which meant that my husband was often the only one around to listen to my observations (okay, fine, sometimes I was yelling at the TV). He said he was streaming football or baseball or a sport without glitter on his laptop during the competitions, but I think he was paying more attention than that. I kept track of some of his more memorable observations over the course of the 2019-2020 season, and wanted to share them with you for a little Flashback Friday:

“When do Guillaume and Cizeron skate?”
With apologies to Gabriella Papadakis, Guillaume Cizeron’s partner.

“Wait, whaaat? Where’s the ponytail!”
Watching Jason Brown at Skate American 2019…over a year after he got the famous haircut.

As a Hanyu performance wraps up: “Here come the Pooh Bears!”

On Yuzuru Hanyu vs. Nathan Chen: “Is this like a Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady situation?”

As on-ice and off-ice couple Madison Chock and Evan Bates are introduced: “When will it be Bates and Bates?” (No pressure, guys!)

“They put the scrubs in the first group.”
Cue my explanation of world rankings and draws…oh wait, the timeout in the Notre Dame game is over.

Mistaking Koshiro Shimada of Japan for his countryman Yuzuru Hanyu from behind: “Come on, that looks like a Hanyu outfit!”

He’s not wrong, folks:

Koshiro Shimada Nebelhorn 2019

Screenshot via YouTube, Nebelhorn Trophy 2019

It might be light on the sparkle for a Hanyu costume, but it’s got the tunic-like, drapey elements, for sure. I guess it’s time for me to give him a bit more credit for his skating knowledge! And thanks to my husband for being such a good sport about me sharing these observations! 🙂


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Coach Michelle Hong’s social media channels support skaters during the coronavirus pandemic

Coach Michelle Hong

Coach Michelle Hong; Photo by Lisa Kimura

Hey skaters and skating fans – I know I’m not alone in missing the ice these days (though it’s a small sacrifice to stay home so we can keep people safe and support essential workers). In looking for ways to stay in shape off the ice and add some variety to my workout routine, I found the fantastic Instagram account of Coach Michelle Hong (pictured), who you may know already from her videos with on-ice tips and off-ice workouts and stretching. Her video on stretches for spirals has become a favorite for me.

With so many people at home and off the ice, I asked her if she’d do an interview with me for Figure Skaters Online and we sat down to chat over Zoom. Here’s the story:

Coach Michelle Hong’s social media channels support skaters during the coronavirus pandemic

The rinks started closing in March, mandated by statewide shelter in place orders in response to the coronavirus pandemic. With spring competitions and ice shows cancelled or postponed indefinitely, coaches and skaters alike searched for ways to stay in shape off the ice.

Some were scrambling—creating new off-ice programming and offering lessons or workouts on Zoom—but not Michelle Hong, a coach based at the Oakland Ice Center in Oakland, CA. Hong has been sharing skating-specific tips, exercises, and workouts online for four years, since 2016. She has a website, YouTube channel, and Instagram account called Coach Michelle Hong, where she shares free skating content for all ages and ability levels.

“Figure skating is notorious for being one of the most expensive sports, which excludes a lot of people who genuinely love skating and want to compete,” Hong told Figure Skaters Online in a Zoom interview. “Reflecting on how much harder and smarter I had to train just to remain a contender amongst my peers who had daily lessons and more training resources overall, [that] lit the fire behind my idea to be the first person to ever create a free online platform dedicated to empowering all generations of figure skaters and athletes through full tutorials and tips.”

Read the full story at Figure Skaters Online for more from Michelle about how skaters are reacting to her videos and what she’s doing to make skating more accessible for everyone. Thanks to Michelle for taking the time to chat with me!


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Bradie Tennell Interview: She’s “living day to day” amid coronavirus pandemic

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Photo by Robin Ritoss, Courtesy Figure Skaters Online

Last week, I talked with 2018 U.S. Champion and Olympic Team Bronze Medalist Bradie Tennell for Figure Skaters Online. The story is part of an ongoing series catching up with skaters as they, like the rest of the world, adapt to the current circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic.

Bradie Tennell’s suitcase was up in her room, half-packed for the 2020 World Championships in Montreal, when she heard the news that the event was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was literally like somebody kicked me in the gut. I was shocked. We found out four days before we were supposed to leave,” she said. “Obviously, it was the right decision, but it was very hard for me.”

It was an anticlimactic end to Tennell’s season, which had included a silver medal at Skate America, an appearance at the Grand Prix Final, and a bronze medal at the 2020 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships. Now, at home in suburban Chicago while Illinois is under stay-at-home orders, Tennell says she is “living day to day.”

Read the full story at Figure Skaters Online for more from Bradie, including how she’s keeping busy at home these days and why she supported the recent Blades for the Brave fundraiser for health workers like her mom, who is a nurse.