|Charlie and me with our fifth consecutive U.S. championships
|Warming up backstage
|Charlie congratulates his friends and fellow ice-dancers, Madison
Chock and Evan Bates, in the AT&T athlete lounge
|Charlie and I pose with novice ice dance champs Chloe Lewis
and Logan Bye at the Friends of Figure Skating Breakfast
We’ve just returned home from the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Omaha, and what an event it was. Having done a promotional visit to the venue in the fall, Charlie and I had heard quite a bit about Omaha’s success with the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials and the event’s record-breaking attendance. The city seemed to be eagerly anticipating the figure skating championships, which created quite a stir among the would-be participants and attendees. As we made our descent on the city from the airport, our driver even pointed out new construction on what the city hopes might be a future Super Bowl venue. The hype boasting Omaha as a mega-host was thusly established, but the city did not disappoint during our week-long event. The CenturyLink Center was beautiful, the locals were welcoming, and the crowds filling the stands were electric.
Certainly, the on-ice action at this year’s championships did nothing to deter the crowd’s excitement. Despite my own thorough familiarity with the American figure skating scene, I came away in awe of the depth of talent showcased at these championships. Each of the four disciplines displayed truly inspiring strength. From the familiar faces to the oh-so-promising fresh ones, there were performances that I hope the athletes make an effort to remember.
As per our coach Marina Zoueva’s advice, I made an attempt to do just that throughout our own performance. Charlie and I began our career at the U.S. championships together as children in 2000, this was our 12th (we missed in 2005 due to a hockey injury) championship. Contrary to what one may think, my experiences at the event have continued to grow more inspiring and fill me with more of that “Christmas morning” feeling each time. As we finished our free dance on Saturday evening, I made an effort to let the moment sink in.
While the championships have always felt incredibly unique among the season’s events, I feel I now better understand why the U.S. championships, in particular, seem to make us all giddy. After the audience has warmly received our display of hard work, we get to walk backstage to a family of sorts. Here, our competitors are more like teammates from our countless trips around the world together. The production team, who knew all of us in our awkward braces stage, are more like friends. The U.S. Figure Skating staff, who monitor our nutrition, accept our late paperwork, among so many other things, support us tirelessly and share in our odyssey.
Consequently, it seems fitting that it’s not the skating alone that draws retired skaters and champions of the past back to the U.S. championships each year. One has to only step foot into the lobby of the host hotel to witness the buzz of old friends discussing shared moments and former “rivals” giggling about special memories of years past. Meanwhile, the captivated eyes of the first-timers reveal their disbelief at standing quite so close to their own idols. I can so vividly remember passing Michelle Kwan on the escalator 13 years ago. Going down as she was going up, I couldn’t believe that I could be part of the same event as one of my skating icons. Even still, as I pass Kristi Yamaguchi walking to the rink, there’s a part of me that can’t believe she knows my name. It’s all part of the magic of the U.S. championships. For those first-timers, I have good news…it only gets better from here.
Charlie and I, along with the rest of the team, are off to Osaka in about a week for the Four Continents Championships. We look forward to sharing our latest adventure!