January 21, 2010 in Washington Voices

Novice fans of skating blissfully unaware

By Correspondent

It seemed only fitting that the first event of the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships I attended was Monday’s Novice Ladies Short Program. To say that I’m a skating novice would be an understatement.

Though I’ve written about the sport extensively for the PassportToGold2010.com blog, the closest I’ve been to actual skating was in second grade, when I sported a Dorothy Hamill haircut.

So when I secured tickets to Monday’s event, I brought along an expert – my 78-year-old mother. In the 1940s, she once skated on a pond in Hayden, Idaho. Plus, she and my dad used to watch a lot of figure skating on TV.

We settled into our seats as the announcer introduced the officials. “Nine judges, just like the Supreme Court,” I said to Mom. Then we clapped for the referees. Who knew there were referees in figure skating? We spent several minutes scouring the stadium for zebra-striped refs but never spotted them.

Lastly the announcer introduced the accountant. That worried me. Any sport that requires an accountant seems way too complicated for me.

But as lovely girls in glittering costumes warmed up, dancing across the ice, I thought I’d be able to follow the action. One competitor took a nasty fall. “She hasn’t got her legs under her yet,” said Mom.

Impressed by her skating lingo, I nodded. But Mom is always honest. “I heard Scott Hamilton say that on TV last night,” she confessed.

Then the announcer said, “Ladies, we’ve got one minute left to warm up.”

This worried Mom. “I’m not warmed up yet,” she said shivering, as a chill breeze from the ice washed over us. “I’ve got a little ways to go.”

“I don’t think he was talking to us,” I assured her.

As the first skater began her program, I asked Mom to explain the difference between the short program and the long program. “The long program is longer,” she replied. Who needs Scott Hamilton?

I watched amazed as Courtney Taylor achieved poses on the ice that I’ve only attempted in yoga class. At the conclusion of her performance the enthusiastic crowd tossed bouquets onto the ice.

But I’m not sure she even saw them. Local skaters, called sweepers, scooped up the tributes before Taylor had a chance to take a third bow. “What a rip-off!” I said.

When Ashley Cain from Texas entered the rink, I commented on her statuesque height. “Yes,” Mom said. “She should have been in the long program.”

After Cain, the next competitor skated onto the ice in a gauzy, pale pink concoction. I predicted she would score well. Her costume alone was worth extra points.

Alas, that’s when I discovered the more I liked the costume the worse the skater scored. Costumes apparently don’t rank as high as double salchows.

By the time the next event, the Novice Pairs finals, began I was feeling confident enough to exclaim, “Oh! Nice layback spin!” And when Mom tried to tell me Morgan Sowa and her partner David Leenen performed superior “flying camels,” I said, “I believe those are camel spins.”

We both remarked on the fact that the bouquets tossed to the ice soon gave way to a preponderance of stuffed animals – Big Bird being a big favorite. Skaters must be big Sesame Street fans.

The pairs competition gave us new fodder upon which to base our winning predictions. When Meredith Pipkin and Brett Dunie-Neustadt embraced before their performance, Mom felt they’d earn a high score. “Oh! They hugged each other,” she said. “They’re going to do everything together and not fall down.”

Judging by the scores, Mom shouldn’t get into the fortune-telling trade.

Fellow audience members engaged in their own speculations. “She’s picturesque,” a gentleman behind us exclaimed about the next skater. But he didn’t care for the music the couple had chosen. “What is that?” he wondered.

After witnessing a couple of nasty spills Mom felt encouraged when Morgan Agster and Adam Civiello took the ice. “Oh! She’s so skinny!” said Mom. “He won’t have any problems throwing her around.” She then instructed me to look for the quads. “That’s when they spin around four times,” she said.

“Well, how do the judges count that?” I asked.

Patiently, Mom sighed. “Like this, one, two, three … .”

Several hours of skating later, as we walked to the car, I complained that I still didn’t know much about the sport. Ever forthright, she agreed. “Actually, now, you probably know even less.”

She paused and watched me scribble in my notebook. “Don’t you dare quote me!” she said.

I may not have learned much about skating Monday, but Mom discovered you must say “Off the record” before you talk to a reporter, if you don’t want to see your words in print. I’d say it was an educational afternoon for both of us.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email