I'm back from almost a week at the North Pole, err, I mean Canada. I didn't take complete notes the whole time, so I'll share some random thoughts and post pictures. Taking a digital camera this time really helped. I was able to delete the pictures that appeared to not come out from the small preview window - limbs totally chopped off, backs completely turned and believe me a lot of just white ice where the skater had already passed. So, I turned out with about 500 pictures that may be postable. I'll try to get them uploaded in reasonable time.
Around the Coliseum
Section 101 - Media Booth: Only one booth really - shared by CBC and ABC. From CBC team, I recognized Paul Martini and Debbi Wilkes. From ABC, I only saw Peter
Section 108 - Judges: The main cameras were behind them, so a lot of this section was blocked off with thick black blankets draped over the seats. Not bad to sit behind here far back enough because many skaters design their programs with starting position, ending positions and some posing in between to be facing the judges.
Section 104 - Skater Entrance: This is where the skaters congregated waiting for practice groups and warm up groups to be called out. This is also the area where most of the coaches set up around for their coaching posts.
Section 126 - Kiss & Cry: Some skaters got confused again trying to return to the Skater Entrance area after performing and would be pointed across the rink's end to the Kiss & Cry area. It was beneficial to sit near this area if one was handing out flowers, stuffed animals, etc. to skaters after performances and wanted to get their attention.
They did not have any 200 level or higher sections open, so most all seats in the coliseum weren't terribly far back. There were a lot of blocked off seats, and some of the blocking off was done after the tickets to those seats were sold. In addition, almost anywhere in the front couple of rows had a blind spot where the skater movements could not be seen.
Eleven large flags of the countries participating were hanging from the ceiling opposite the judges' section.
Name That Tune
They played several songs during the practices before and after the skater music selections, and they played them during the wait time in the competition for ice resurfacing, etc. The ones I can recollect:
Celine Dion's I'm Alive
Shania Twain's I'm Gonna Getcha Good!
Chumbawamba's Tubthumping (I Get Knocked Down, But I Get Up Again)
Outkast's Hey Ya
Elton John's You Can Make History (Young Again) used for video on Canadian skating history
Also, a video tribute to Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz with comments from Tracy Wilson, Elvis Stojko and others about their career and win in Washington, D.C. was played.
Another video tribute played for Alexei Yagudin with scenes from his career.
Flirtation video piece with unrecognized skaters in which a voice keeps repeating, 'I've noticed you around,'…and I'd like to get to know you or something to that affect, where a young woman follows a young man around backstage and keeps trying to chase him. She keeps lip-synching that noticed you around phrase to him.
Same video tribute as at U.S. Nationals regarding what music does for skating - showing skater and coach reactions to end of programs, skaters spinning to fast parts of the music, unexpected happenings like Midori Ito jumping into and then out of the camera pit, pair and dance teams embraces at the end of the program and more, in between cuts of a conductor directing an orchestra.
Seen Around Town
Several skaters were seen going to and fro in the Jackson Square Mall that is connected to both Copps Coliseum and the Sheraton, skaters' hotel. I saw Canadian pair skaters Valerie Marcoux and Craig Buntin and on another occasion Anabelle Langlois and Patrice Archetto. I also saw Mexican men single skaters Humberto Contreras and Miguel Angel Moyron in the mall.
Ice dancers Danika Bourne of Australia and Nozomi Watanabe and Akiyuki Kido of Japan were seen crossing the street to get to the Sheraton hotel one day. They all looked cold and were wrapping their coats tighter as they went. I believe they all train with Coach Natalia Linichuk, who by the way has very white-blond hair now.
I later saw Danika Bourne and her partner Alexander Pavlov at the airport when I was at the check in line for the airline to return home on Monday morning.
Several skaters were seen sitting in the stands throughout the week. Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe were there quite often. Also seen watching were Anabelle Langlois and Patrice Archetto, Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, Jeff Buttle, Joannie Rochette, Cynthia Phaneuf, to name only some.
Nearly all of U.S. team sat in the stands near Skater Entrance at one point or another. Team South Africa, Mexico, Australia could also be readily found in the area.
Many teams would sit together and cheer for each other. Team Australia had a chant - 'Aussie, Aussie, Aussie. Oy, Oy, Oy. Aussie, Oy. Aussie, Oy.' They called this out during a warm up group that had the Australian men single skaters.
Almost all the participating skaters were in the stands at one time or another, and with such low attendance until later in the weekend, they could sit almost anywhere in the crowd. Most of them wound up in the sections in and around Skater Entrance and Kiss & Cry. They could pass from backstage to the stands around Skater Entrance quite easily by just walking around the dividing gate and up the steps.
Coach Shae-Lynn Bourne was seen from Friday morning practices on backstage and walking to and from the stands. Some fans were asking her for autographs and pictures, and she was willing to oblige.
Josée Chouinard and her husband Jean-Michel Bombardier came and sat in the row in front of me during the ice dance medal ceremony. She was interrupted quite often as little girls kept coming up to her row and asking, "Are you Josée?" and asking for her autograph. She nodded and said sure and would smile and sign the papers.
Cheering Without Fail
The most supportive team of each other was definitely Team Mexico. From the first team member that skated, Gladys Orozco in the Ladies Short, they caught the entire coliseum's attention with their loud cheers, "Vamos Gladys!" (Go Gladys! - said like GLAH-DEE.) And, other Spanish phrases were shouted in cheer for her that I was unable to decipher due to my poor Spanish vocabulary and lack of comprehension. They began this cheering as soon as Gladys' warm up group with the other ladies had started. Well, when Gladys name was called to begin her short program they screamed about ten times as loud as they had during the entire warm up group. It was so loud and enthusiastic, I had to laugh as did others around me. I was just not prepared. But, it was fun. I happen to like screams, cheers and liveliness at a skating event. It's kind of the purpose of being there in person. Their cheering also brought a lot of awareness for their team because every time a Mexican skater took the ice, the whole audience knew to prepare for the loud cheering and began cheering enthusiastically along with Team Mexico.
The coolest Team Jacket to me of the competition was Team Japan. It is black with gold sleeves and collar. JPN is written in gold lettering and there is a red flash symbol on the back like an electricity or lightning strike.
It's a tie between two Japanese men.
Yamato Tamura: After his free skate on the ice and while sitting in Kiss & Cry, he pretended like he was adjusting his 'wig'. His hair had a blond stripe sort of down the middle of his head, and he played off of it. Yamato would also clap along with the audience after he landed jump combinations in the practices. The audience claps element for element during the practices - so there is clapping after successful jump landings, good straight line sequences, daring lifts, etc.
Kenji Miyamoto: I think he entertains his coach and partner quite often. He made funny faces as he was taking the ice for his warm up group and while warming up and during the calculation of the marks for the team skating before him. In Kiss & Cry after the original dance, he was bobbing his head in unison with a teddy bear he had received and making the bear do head movements.
During the Thursday morning practice the day of the Original Dance, Nakako Tsuzuki fell to the ice. She had to be picked up into a standing position by her partner, Kenji Miyamoto. Everyone in her group was pointing to their head to indicate the injury - her coach Muriel Zazoui, her partner Kenji and Team Japan leaders. A Team Japan leader brought an ice pack from the back, and Nakako left the ice after the incident. Kenji returned to the ice later and finished the practice solo. The next time we saw her, she was at the Original Dance and seemed to be doing much better.
Get Well Soon
The we regret to inform you Takeshi Honda has withdrawn announcement was made right after Daisuke Takahashi had skated in the short program. I did get to see Takeshi skate in the Tuesday Men Free skate practice. He was working on quads and all - some successful, some with step out landings. Someone told me that he is a shy person, which is something I had not known about him before. Hope he gets healthy soon.
Fun Fact Justin Pietersen in Men singles and Abigail Pietersen in Ladies singles of South Africa are brother and sister. They have the same coach, and Abigail would sit with Justin and coach in Kiss & Cry after Justin's performances. They would also sit in the stands together and with Team South Africa and were supportive of each other.
Natalia Dubova would coach all three of the Chinese dance teams at once. One of the Chinese team leaders would stand with her. All three dance teams would gather around, and Dubova was very animated with her body movements in her by the boards advice. At one point during the Compulsory Dance practice at Chedoke rink, she was clapping her hands and swaying to the Yankee Polka selections from her coaching perch.
Robin Wagner Eat Your Heart Out
The most vehement coach at the event was definitely Yukina Ota's coach, Mie Hamada. Before Yukina would take her starting position on the ice after being introduced, Hamada would turn Yukina around to face the ice, stand behind her and pat Yukina on the shoulders firmly with both hands as if to give her a push off with good wishes. All throughout her skate and at every element the coach would be going through the highs and lows with her. She would shriek, cheer and clap at every jump she nailed, and sigh at a botched jump. She did this reacting with her full body, so she would be jumping up and oscillating around in her movements. People seated near Skater Entrance area would stare over at her when she reacted because it was quite noticeable.
Honorable mention for a supportive coach goes to Lisa Stigant, for Jenna-Anne Buys of South Africa. Buys would receive a hug, kiss on cheeks and pat on the back from her coach before each time that she would perform. Jenna-Anne also had a peace sign necklace that she removed and handed to her coach by the boards before her name was called. Stigant seemed to be genuinely emoting for Jenna-Anne in her highs and lows and seemed to feel supportive when her performances did not go right.
Men: Miguel Angel Moyron Free Program - The crowd really cheered him on per the renown temperament of his team, Mexico. It was well worth it. His performance was completely clean to the best of my knowledge although I'm not aware of his exact planned program elements. He never fell on jumps, and skated with more authority and sureness than most of those in his group and the group following. He received a partial standing ovation at the end and was very happy in Kiss & Cry and appreciative of the Canadian audience.
I have to state at these type of competitions with a wide range of skaters, and at U.S. Nationals for that matter, that in the second half finishers or so, there are many performances with doubled triples, falls, all two-footed landings and many performance attempts that look like the skater just gives up. It was nice to see Moyron's performance. He also has a smooth, flowing style and nice presentation.
Ladies: Cynthia Phaneuf Free Program - What a mood changer! She did an effortless, clean program that brought the house to its feet. Her jump landings were so seamless and she skated with refreshing joy. I had never even heard much of the girl and was looking forward to seeing her after I heard she had beaten Jennifer Robinson and Joannie Rochette for the title at Canadian Nationals, but now I know why. She saved the day.
Ice Dancing: Team China Original Dances - The Chinese dance teams were a pleasant addition. Despite the absence of the top Chinese team from last year, Weina Zhang and Xiangming Cao, China is in good shape for dance. All three of their original dances were spirited and had good expression for the O.D. rhythms which are this year geared toward the American rhythms - rock n' roll, blues, swing, jive, boogie woogie.
Pairs: I cannot really pick from this category. I expected the Chinese pair teams to be successful again, Canadians and U.S. to fit somewhere in there. I didn't go to any pair practices and missed quite of bit of the pair free programs by arriving late.
Striving for Perfection
There were really only a handful of clean programs within the top 5 or so finishers in each discipline in the free programs/dances.
Men: Evan Lysacek - From what I saw he was clean. Part of the rink was blocked from where I sat during his performance. He received an almost unanimous standing ovation.
Ladies: Cynthia Phaneuf - She was the one who made you feel completely relaxed during her performance and not on edge in anticipation of possible falls.
Pairs: Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang.
Ice Dancing: Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe and Nozomi Watanabe and Akiyuki Kido appeared to be clean although I am not completely familiar with their programs.
Men: Unpopular opinion - I'm not one who gets Jeffrey Buttle, and the great 'artistry' he has. So, I was in the minority in many ways after the rousing ovation and verve he received after the Men Free program finished Saturday night. He was the final skater, so maybe that explained the climax. Buttle is a nice skater, but Mama, I would not write you home about him. He has some nice moves in the field, but there is something about the stiff position in which he holds his wrists and arms when he skates that I'm not quite settled with. He's not usually very consistent either, so I'm not sure he is the answer. So, when he didn't hit a quad nor triple axel Saturday night, and I didn't feel it was one of his best performances presentation-wise, the reaction and placing was just an eye opener.
Now, Emanuel that night was not perfect technically. He did get it back more nicely after the initial jumping passes. And, Evan's program may be lacking a bit with artistic impact as the well-utilized Rachmaninov Concerto No. 2 might suggest, but it was the well-executed program of the night. I wouldn't say Buttle's presentation is that much better than Lysacek's. And personally don't feel Jeff's presentation is on par with Sandhu or even Johnny Weir, but that's a reflection of the more balletic dance style I prefer in skating.
It was all a bit weird, but things could have been a little different from the start. In the Men Short (Technical) program, I would have had Yamato Tamura first. Buttle took a fall on the first jumping pass. It was a breakthrough night for Yamato and probably very rewarding since he had contemplated retirement and was being tested for a trip to Worlds at this competition. His program had quads, triples, fast spins in good and interesting positions, and varied circular footwork. His presentation rivals not only the top men in Japan, but should also rival the top men here. I dunno, maybe he got marked down for the hair.
Ladies: Cynthia Phaneuf had too far to come from behind after the short, and Yukina Ota has good qualities, so I understood the decision. Yukina has great extension in the layback spin and ina bauer, which is held for a long time. She hits beautiful positions, so it makes up for her jumps being low. One day, will there be a great artist that has strong and high jumps? That may be a bit of an oxymoron in figure skating. Yukina does carry herself exquisitely and maturely in her presence on the ice.
Pairs: I prefer Qing Pang and Jian Tong's softer, more mature style to Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang's more athletic style.
Ice Dancing: Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon won the Compulsory Dance by a mile. Yes, it's true. French Canadians can actually do a Yankee Polka better than Yankees. Well, technically Tanith Belbin (born in Canada) is not a true Yankee. I understand neither team had performed that particular compulsory many times before. Dubreuil and Lauzon just had this good rocking motion in their skating flow, nice lean in their bodies and sureness. There were some rocking steps in the rink corner to the left of the judges in the middle of the dance that were executed nicely and with good timing. Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto looked a bit tentative in places, and it even showed a little in their usually perky expression.
Given Dubreuil and Lauzon's mistakes in their original dance and free dance, I am not in a position to argue the final placements. With the ice dance placings and rankings, they would have had to be clean in all phases to have a shot. They did do the best straight line sequence of the original dance that I had seen from them yet this season. Melissa Gregory did have a stumble in the steps of the free dance with Denis Petukhov and the placings wavered throughout the competition between them and Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe.
Skater Highlight Emanuel Sandhu: I actually got up the gumption to talk to him briefly after the Friday morning Men Free Program practice for his group. He was so easy to talk to. I was actually waiting in line to talk to him and get his picture because there were a bunch of people talking to him and trying to get his attention. I even had to move out of line for a few seconds, as some girls were attempting to get a picture with Evan Lysacek, and I would have been slightly in the frame. When they had finished and I got back in line, he soon finished talking to this lady, and turned to face me as he had seen me standing there waiting. I think I said stupid things again, but I did manage to tell him I liked his skating quite a bit. He seemed so humble and even pleasantly flustered by the attention and compliments. I forgot to tell him congratulations on the Grand Prix Final! He posed for a picture for me, and I also snapped a picture for someone who wanted a picture taken with him.
Okay, superficial thoughts here. He must have the most gorgeous face. He had his hair slicked back when I was talking to him, and he just looked even better than TV.
I met up with Hikari from 2003 Worlds autograph wall at the practices. We remembered each other. It was nice to see a familiar face. Although neither one of us was as into autograph wall and pictures I think as last time. I forgot my autograph book at home and did not go to as many practices as at Worlds. There was a group doing the after practice autographs, but it was a column of steps directly next to the wall and not seats as per Worlds, so it took a little more effort and positioning.
Ones to Watch
I want to share those who caught my eye as having potential on an artistic level that you don't normally see or hear about.
Men: Miguel Angel Moyron of Mexico, as previously stated. He had a musical style and had more stretch in his movements than many that finished near where he did.
Dong-Whun Lee of South Korea I had noticed at 2003 Worlds as having a soft and nice style. He had a showing of 12th here. I don't know where he will fall at Worlds as far as making the cut from qualifying. I got to see his Legends of the Fall soundtrack free program again here. He looks like he has grown up a lot in one year, and he doesn't look so young anymore.
Daisuke Takahashi of Japan showed some strengths here. He has good speed and punch to his skating. Much emphasis is put on the Japanese ladies, and it is well deserved, but the Japanese men are not bad here either.
Ladies: Cynthia Phaneuf of Canada has been mentioned.
Michelle Cantu of Mexico took my attention, particularly her free program. She has a nice glide and stroking on the ice. She is a bit flexible. She can do an ina bauer held for a long time across the ice. She does a biellman spin, and a layback with decent positions. She has a donut spin variation, where her knee is up higher than the rest of her body. I'm not sure if this is intentional or not. She also did a fast camel-sit-change sit to scratch combination spin at the end of her program.
Diane Chen of Chinese Taipei had some life to her skating and was one of the few who made an effort to consciously smile during her program. Her free program became rather rough technically at the end, and it was unfortunate she seemed to become dismayed about it in her presentation. She also had a decent layback and spiral sequence.
Jenna-Anne Buys of South Africa had many problems in her jumps in both the short and free programs, but there is an endearing quality about her skating. In the short program, she used techno music and did some nice dance moves. Her straight-line step sequence also started with some dancing and varied movements. The crowd began clapping along with her music to get her back into the program on her camel spin, following a fall on a jump. She has nice back positions and a soft style in the moves in the field.
Pairs: Only 10 pairs attended. They went by rather quickly. Okay is it very obvious I wasn't as into the pairs.
Ice Dancing: Xiaoyang Yu and Chen Wang of China are the cutest ice dancers, at seventeen years old. She looks like a little doll with her curly hair, and he is very cute, too. Their skating is coming along quite nicely. In their Yankee Polka compulsory dance, they gave high 5's to each other in between putting their hands on their hips as part of their ending choreography that the dancers do after the prescribed pattern steps. They were really quite lively and into it, but perhaps a little stronger in practice. For their original dance they did a jive, which starts out right away with their straight-line sequence. It transitions into a blues section featuring passionate leg wraps, and moves and spins in the blues flavor. Their free dance practices were strong also, done to more dramatic music.
Nakako Tsuzuki and Kenji Miyamoto of Japan are in their first year together. I was anxious to see what the skating of Kenji and his new partner would be like as I had followed him and Rie Arikawa, his previous partner. I remember Tsuzuki from 2001 Worlds and her former partner Rinat Farkhoutinov. Tsuzuki and Miyamoto make an attractive couple. They are very lively in the original dance and bring a sense of fun to it well. For the free dance, the Prince of Egypt soundtrack music they use has parts similar to Alexei Urmanov's exhibition program music from a few years back. Tsuzuki and Miyamoto had some twizzles running with the beat of the music. They kept the feel of the Egyptian music in the dance spins and arm motions into the change of edge carry lift where he holds her in a laying position for quite a length of time. They had several nice rotational lifts. Kenji does split jumps toward the end of the program, which are usually not seen in ice dancing.
Nozomi Watanabe and Akiyuki Kido of Japan keep improving. They finished very well here and are highest next to the American and Canadian teams. They had well executed programs. Kido captures attention with the facial expressions. He is very into it. He holds his hand out like he is pointing to the audience while smiling and dancing around. He does a cartwheel on the ice in the middle of their original dance routine.
Cutest Couple Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon: I caught up with them after the Thursday morning original dance practice and asked to take their picture. Marie-France still looks gorgeous, and nice new hairstyle. Patrice is quite cute and wore the military uniform very well. A tad shy and demure, but both gracious.
Well, I was exactly thirty minutes late to the free dance once again. And, you guessed it. I had missed the entire first group. It felt like Worlds all over again. Although for Four Continents, I was also late to the Pair Free Program and the Exhibition, so I had even more tardy moments.
I also relived the nightmare of staying up all night the night before and beginning all of the packing 2 hours before I had to leave to catch the ride to the airport. Miraculously, I wasn't tired enough to fall asleep during the practices and somehow later caught up on sleep. The early morning practices that I wanted to see did tend to start later than the early morning practices at Worlds.
I didn't take notes during the exhibition, but here's what I can remember about the part I saw. This is not in the order it was skated.
Amber Corwin - Skated to what sounded like a Christina Aguilera song. It was nice to see this dancier, more playful side of Amber.
Ryan Jahnke - The Lord's Prayer - Wedding song, religious song. This song had low musical accompaniment because you could hear his stroking on the ice between the singing of the lyrics. Ryan did some of his split jumps and moves in the field in the singing breaks. The performance actually turned out to be rather on beat and unique.
Evan Lysacek - Time to Say Goodbye - He skated to a version with lyrics. He has the right flowing style for this type of music. I know it's been done before, but I still like this song.
Melissa Gregory/Denis Petukhov - God Bless America - Celine Dion version sang at September 11th special. Their performance featured good lifts, spins and highlight moves. White flowing costumes. I love Celine's soothing voice, so no complaints here.
Joannie Rochette - Paint It Black - Sounds like Jewel singing, I'm not sure. Song lyrics sound like a serious case of the blues. Joannie is in a pants suit. Not a bad performance.
Yamato Tamura - He skated to an opera piece.
Qing Pang/Jian Tong - The Prayer - Same song version as I witnessed at the 2003 Worlds exhibition. Nice lifts and highlights here. Smooth and flowing.
Anabelle Langlois/Patrice Archetto - Your Song - From Moulin Rouge soundtrack. This piece suits them. Soft and subtly romantic performance.
Rena Inoue/John Baldwin, Jr. - Last Dance- Donna Summer disco song. Nice to see this lively, fun piece with Rena and John.
Yukina Ota - Last Dance- sounds like the same arrangement as Inoue and Baldwin used. It's a nice groovy, danceable piece for both. Yukina pulled this off well. She's in a pants suit. She's introducing the audience to this sassier side of her.
Marie-France Dubreuil/Patrice Lauzon - Leucour Hamieve - Marie-France in mask and pants outfit with strings. Patrice and Marie describe this piece as a man who finds a wounded bird and helps it to heal and fly again. They do lots of neat tricks, lifts and spins with the strings to her costume. They do well at abstract pieces.
Emanuel Sandhu - Like I Love You - Song by Justin Timberlake. Let the dance seminar begin. Emanuel 101 in the Sandhu Studio. He really puts on a clinic with this program. Audience screaming to the stop and dance moves. Yes, he only does about two jumps in the program, but the program is worth it for the dance value alone. He spun so fast that the cap flew off his head.
Cynthia Phaneuf - Sounds like another Jewel song. This song's about the confusion in the world and finding your place in the world. Cynthia's jumps were not there that day, but she has a nice presence on the ice. I hope she has gained some confidence here for next season, being so new to the scene.
Tanith Belbin/Benjamin Agosto - Elvis medley - From 2003 Worlds exhibition. A variation on their 2002-2003 Elvis free dance. The audience clapped along to Jailhouse Rock segment.
Jeffrey Buttle - Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me - Flowing ballad music - familiar, with catchy tune. Nice moves in the field.
Dan Zhang/Hao Zhang, Valerie Marcoux/Craig Buntin, Megan Wing/Aaron Lowe and Nozomi Watanabe/Akiyuki Kido also skated in the exhibition. I can't identify the music of the former three teams, and sadly I missed the skate of Watanabe/Kido.
Encores were done by all of the gold medallists. The announcer would encourage the audience to scream and cheer and convince the goldies enough to give the audience some more.
The finale where all the skaters were recalled and each skater/team executed a special move was to Ricky Martin music - Here We Go and She Bangs. It was quite lively and fun. The skaters were dancing around and looking like they were having a good time. You can really tell those that have a natural dance rhythm even outside of skating. They encouraged the audience to scream and cheer. I think I shrieked my loudest and really let it all out. Throughout the competition, I did enjoy again clapping loudly for everyone and throwing cheers in here and there as well. The audience wasn't typically dull at all, and most all of the U.S. and Canadian skaters had cheering sections throughout the audience. There was applause for all. And, many skaters would wave to their particular sections of cheering audience members. After the bows in center ice to both sides of the coliseum and victory lap where the skaters waved and slapped some hands in the audience, most of the skaters filed out. Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov did stay for a while afterwards signing some autographs near what used to be Skater Entrance.
Odds and Ends
Security at Copps: To enter Copps, all they were doing was scanning tickets. There was absolutely no checking of bags or purses for any reason. Any food from outside or cameras could be brought in. They did make an announcement that flash should not be used at competition for safety of the skaters so the best performances could be seen. There were no seating attendants anywhere. It was nothing like the U.S. where there are seating attendants at the entrance of every section almost re-checking your tickets. The only workers aside from the front door ticketing agents and food vendors at the hallway stands were volunteers who manned the backstage area entrances from the stands and medical staff in jackets that read medical on the back for potential skater injury purposes. My assigned seat was in second row, but I sat from first row until those seat occupants came later in the weekend and back to about 10th row or further when I was in more of a picture taking mood and wanted to be back behind all TV camera blocking angles. Sight lines can actually be better further up the stands.
Rudest Copps staffer: There was a very power tripping volunteer who at times worked the areas around backstage and sat near Kiss & Cry. He often snapped at people and was over aggressive when it was not at all necessary. I never saw anyone get out of line or out of control at all, but he had the demeanor of expecting that behavior at every turn. I thought the man looked vaguely familiar, and I realized later he looks like one of the villains in my favorite 1980's detective show. He once came up in the area in the stands where I sat and yelled at me so demandingly, commandingly and loud when I was using flash during the pair medal ceremony that everyone in the area turned and stared at me for like 10 seconds after he left. Several were using flash during the medal ceremonies, and I actually thought it was commonly allowable to do since the participants are posing and not the competition, but I was the one yelled at. I did not even accidentally use the flash at all during the skating, but there was flash going off around the coliseum during competition, and I saw no one charge at anyone nor yell at anyone about that.
Nicest Copps staffer: So, there's a flip side to everything. There was a guy in the medical coat that at times sat with the medical people in their row near Skater Entrance. He would make conversation with me and found out where I was from and was accommodating and nice. He even went backstage at one point and tried to find some skaters I was looking for to give gifts to because I had missed doing so directly after the practice.
I have pleasant memories of the MCI Center staff at 2003 Worlds. They would remember me from day to day and say 'Oh, you're back again.' They would take me by the arm and guide me towards where I should be pointed if I needed directions. They didn't even say anything to me when I was going towards the front with flowers and stuffed animals, although the Worlds website had discouraged such a thing. They would instead make jokes and say, 'Are those flowers for me?'
Getting Around Hamilton Style
Hotels: Sheraton was the skaters' hotel. And, while costly, it was connected to Copps Coliseum and the Jackson Square Mall, so one did not have to go outside in the elements while going to and from the skating events.
Ramada Plaza Hotel and Howard Johnson on King Street were to my knowledge the only other hotels in 'walking distance' of Copps Coliseum. Although, I actually found them rather far for the extreme cold and wind chill and late at night. The Ramada and HoJo are right next to each other - a short crosswalk in between. It took me roughly 15 minutes one way to get from there to Copps entrance. There are several stoplights, so part of that time is waiting for the lights to change and get the go ahead to cross the streets. At night, there were people out - others leaving Copps for these hotels. I also found that even in the severe cold, there are people out at night walking the dog, waiting for the bus (and looking miserably cold), but it is not advisable to be out for long. Ramada on the inside is actually quite new and clean looking. They had signs up at the time that they were doing some remodeling. The noise could be heard in the mornings of carts/equipment and remodelers going to and fro. The staff ranged from very helpful and nice to indifferent. A very helpful feature I found is a microwave next to two vending machines on the Lobby floor. Refrigerators are available to be brought to the room on a first come first serve basis. I did have complaints that the showerhead did not emit enough force to take a shower until it was replaced about two days before I left, so prepare to take baths. And, I would check to make sure the sheets are actually clean. Hair that is not your color or length may be found in the sheets before even climbing in them.
Jackson Square Mall: This included several shops, a food court, a dollar store, foreign currency exchange booth, a bank, and a flower shop. There is also a flower shop a few blocks up from the Bay Street main entrance to Copps Coliseum going in the direction away from the mall's street entrance.
Taxi Ride: Taxi's were all over in Hamilton. It's fairly quick to catch one by calling from your location before you are ready to leave. They are fairly costly though even if you are going from downtown to an area right outside of downtown in Hamilton or maybe I'm lost on the CAD to USD conversion. I did always pay with Canadian money, so I don't know if they accept U.S. dollars. The vendors must have thought I was crazy because I always took such a long time to examine the money and count it up in order to pay. They use a lot more coins than we do regularly - their $2 is a coin, as is the $1. The taxi ride from downtown Hamilton to Chedoke practice rink was $15 to $20 CAD one way. It is up a hill that overlooks and has a view of Hamilton and past a residential neighborhood.
From the Toronto airport to Hamilton: It's not an easy thing if you have a lot of luggage to manage, but public transportation is doable. Allow at least three hours from the time you have collected your baggage and are leaving the airport terminal until the time you want to arrive in downtown Hamilton.
TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) is one of the public transportation systems. The TTC bus (192) can be caught from the deck outside the Toronto Pearson airport to the Kipling TTC train station. Kipling is the westernmost train station on the east-west line. Get on the train at Kipling and ride until the St. George station transfer point. Then catch a southbound train to Union station. Total TTC fare was $2.25 CAD. Exit Union station and cross the street to the GO Transit ticketing station. Note: GO Transit is a separate public transportation system from the TTC. Buy a ticket for the Hamilton QEW Express GO Bus Service route. The fare was $8.30 CAD one way at the time I went. Then take the ticket outside, cross another street and stand under the roof at the GO Bus Terminal and wait for the bus. There are compartments underneath the bus, like a tour bus, where large pieces of luggage can be placed before finding a seat inside the bus. The ride to Hamilton can be about 1 hour. At the time I went, it was midday and not much traffic. It is express because it doesn't stop until it gets off the freeway and approaches Hamilton. Then stops were requested on the way to the main destination, which is the Hamilton GO Centre train station. Hamilton GO Centre is in downtown, and a taxi can be called from there or even some of the downtown hotels are walking distance if you are up for it.
Be prepared that your luggage may very well be lost. Pack a few extra pairs of clothes in your carryon bag with your valuables and the items you need with you all the time. Then, be persistent in calling the carrier to find out if the luggage has been found yet and when they can deliver it to your location.
Neighbors to the North
This was my first trip ever to eastern Canada. I had been to British Columbia several years ago. People were polite in general. As far as saying 'please', 'thank you', 'excuse me', 'sorry' - I found them more polite than most in the U.S. in general. Relating to store owners, vendors, patrons and in general. There are some stores at home where my friends and I typically avoid shopping at during peak hours because of the belligerence of the cart drivers, unaccommodating attitude of workers.
As with all cities, there can be found troubling things on the streets. One morning, a man was standing on the street in a cussing tirade at anyone walking by or maybe at no one in particular at all. Just shouting obscenities in a diatribe that I didn't bother to stop walking and here the complete theme. Then, inside the mall at lunchtime, there was a young man picking a fight with another young man rather loudly and becoming more aggressive. It was verbal at the point I walked past the area. One night, leaving the competition late, a panhandler charged right toward me asking for help. But, I am not scared easily about these things.
I did get some stares like who are you and what are you doing here, even in and around Copps, but I'd say overall that positive people outweigh negative people. There were people on the streets and in the train stations who offered me help with directions on several occasions without me even asking for it - must be that perplexed look again. The most helpful person I met was a young man who saw me struggling to carry the groceries. I had purchased more at the store than I could carry and was planning on stopping periodically to rest and just continue on like that with starting and stopping during the walk. The man was walking behind me and offered to carry the water jug I was resting on a post. He insisted he was already going in the same direction, and it would be no problem. He was very friendly, and did carry the water a long ways until I had reached my destination. I felt bad later because I didn't even ask him if he needed to stop and rest during the whole trip. And, another time in the TTC station, a man insisted on carrying one of my luggage pieces all the way onto the train, as I was struggling to find the elevator and trying to manage the steps with two pieces.
I did make the mistake of saying Hamilton was a suburb of Toronto to one of the taxi drivers. They don't consider Hamilton a suburb because it is almost an hour away and has a large population and its own suburbs.
Nothing will give preparation for the cold if you are not born and raised in the Northeast or upper Midwest United States. The wind-chill is unbelievable. You will literally be fighting the wind just to walk forward and not march in place when the wind picks up. Snow was covering the ground the whole time. Snow was in the process of falling much of the time, day and night. And, snow and ice will blow in your face and impede visibility. Salt from the sidewalks and roads will cover your lower pant legs and shoes. If this salt is not wiped off, it will eventually stain your shoes. Walking or standing in the cold for long periods is a huge mistake. I made this mistake thinking I was bundled enough and I walked for too long, and didn't realize how quickly the cold will get to you. I had 2 thick pairs of gloves on, but soon my hands started to burn and hurt terribly, and it took nearly 20 minutes indoors to get them to return to normal again. I wore up to 5 layers of shirts/sweaters at one time, not counting a coat. Is anyone laughing at me yet? I know, I have low tolerance for cold. I don't know how Celsius converts to Fahrenheit, I just know it was cold, cold, cold.
Some more on the Chedoke practice rink. Four Continents practices were in the green rink. It is a hockey style rink with the high plexiglass shield on one side of the rink nearest the spectator seats that are up high on one side of the rink. The opposite side of the rink had lower plexiglass, and this is where the coaches perched. The place was cold inside the rink area. I was there for only one practice, compulsory dance, and it was mostly judges in attendance. Even with the fur coats they wear, they exited the spectator seats through the doors into the main lobby and concessions area each time the zamboni ice resurfacings occurred. People returned through the doors into the seats when the skaters were being introduced onto the ice for the next practice group. As opposed to Copps, where everyone did not have to go out into the hallway during the zamboni resurfacings to maintain some warmth. Although I still found Copps cold, particularly in the rows closest to the ice.
The near one week straight of skating competition is truthfully physically and emotionally taxing. I avoided getting sick by drinking more water and grapefruit juice mornings and nights. I also drank Theraflu every night regardless of how healthy or not I felt. I made sleeping in and getting more rest a priority while I was there. I took a seat cushion for my back in the chair. I made sure to walk some laps around the coliseum during some of the zamboni breaks. There wasn't much knee room while sitting in the seats, so some stretching was a necessity. I packed some of my own food, bought some fruit from the store while there (which wasn't bad tasting at all by the way considering it was imported from some place warm), and ate mall food only at the end of the week. Still, I've lost about ten pounds each week that I've been at skating competitions. I know I make a federal case out of these things with all the planning, packing and preparing gifts for skaters and the stress that goes into it all. The best thing to do is pace yourself while still trying to get the most enjoyment out of the skating you can. For example, I chose men and ice dancing to focus more of the practice attendance on and had to let some of the pairs and ladies go at Four Continents. The element I like most about these competitions is the ability to see such a variety of skaters and how each skater or team has something different and special to offer the audiences.