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Weir and Abbott combine talents for charity

Two U.S. champions perform in scholarship benefit show

Reigning U.S. national champion Jeremy Abbott signs autographs at the benefit show on Saturday in New Jersey.
Reigning U.S. national champion Jeremy Abbott signs autographs at the benefit show on Saturday in New Jersey. (Lynn Rutherford)

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By Lynn Rutherford and Liz Leamy special to icenetwork.com
(04/06/2009) - This past weekend, Jeremy Abbott and Johnny Weir, who will battle it out next season for a much-coveted spot on the U.S. Olympic Team, jointly headlined a benefit show to help raise scholarship money for skaters pursuing higher education.

More than 200 people attended the Saturday night show, held at the Floyd Hall Arena on the Montclair State University campus in Little Falls, N.J. It benefited the Metropolitan Ice Rink Managers Association (MIRMA) Skate for Knowledge Scholarship Fund. In addition to the money that was raised from ticket sales, profits were generated from sales of t-shirts and photos of the performers.

According to the show's organizers, the event was a major success.

"This has been a fantastic experience. The performers have been wonderful, and everyone has worked so hard to help this cause," said Lisa Fedick, the MIRMA secretary and longtime director of Wonderland on Ice in Bridgeport, Conn. She is also the District III (New York metropolitan area) representative for the Ice Skating Institute (ISI) and helped run a two-day competition for that organization at the rink last Friday and Saturday.

Other than Weir and Abbott, performers included Alexandra Zaretski and Roman Zaretski, the three-time Israeli dance champions who were 13th at the 2009 World Championships and 11th at the 2009 Europeans; Kristin Fraser and Igor Lukanin of Azerbaijan, who placed 18th at this year's worlds and ninth at the 2009 Europeans; ice acrobats Bert Cording and Alexey Polishuk, stars of the Evgeni Plushenko tour; and Artur Dmitriev, Jr., the 16-year-old son of the 1992 and 1998 Olympic pairs gold medalist Artur Dmitriev, who placed 11th at the 2009 Russian junior championships. Other skaters included Anastasia Kononenko, the 2009 North Atlantic regional junior ladies bronze medalist and 2009 Eastern sectionals competitor, and three lottery-picked participants from ISI competitions held during this past season.

Weir, whose disappointing fifth-place finish at the 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships cost him a spot on the U.S. World Team, performed in a way that indicated he is on a quest to reclaim his spot as one of the world's contenders. His signature program to "Ave Maria" was as beautiful as ever, as he reeled off a soaring triple toe amidst fluid footwork, fuel-charged back crossovers and high-acceleration spins.

"It's nice to be in a small rink performing with so many friends. It was great to be out there for such an important cause," said Weir after the show.

Weir also mentioned that this show was especially meaningful for him since he trains twice weekly at the Floyd Hall.

The most telling thing about Weir at this show was that his competitive spirit seems to be back in high gear. Rather than viewing his placement at the 2009 U.S. Championships as a setback, he has turned it into a positive thing and appears to be more motivated than ever to get back to the top of his game.

He has been training diligently under the watchful eyes of his coaches, Galina Zmievskaya and her son-in-law Viktor Petrenko, the 1992 Olympic and world champion. Ever since he got back from the U.S. championships, he said he has been hard at work at his Wayne, N.J., rink, running through his jumps and spins and thinking about new programs.

"I'm on a mission to make a comeback," said Weir. "You grow from every experience, and I plan on having a good season. I went through a lot with being sick most of last winter, but now I'm feeling much stronger and better and I feel it when I'm out on the ice."

Weir attended the ladies' competition at worlds, offering some comments to telecasters NBC/Oxygen. For him, being there as a civilian further fueled his competitive fire.

"It was great being there; it really helped to inspire me," he said.

Abbott also has his eyes focused on the 2010 Olympic and world teams, fighting off the disappointment of an 11th-place finish last week in Los Angeles. Although his first program to Carlos Santana's "Treat" had a few popped jumps, he came back strong in the second half with a memorable interpretation of Daniel Bedingfield's "Gotta Get Thru This." This marked the debut of this program, which was crafted by Tom Dickson, the renowned Colorado Springs-based choreographer. It featured a triple flip, a triple Lutz, an open Axel and innovative footwork and spins.

"I had a bit of a rough start tonight, but by the finish, I got my feet underneath me," said Abbott. "It was a lot of fun to do this show. Everyone has been just great here."

The other performers also felt happy with the show.

"It was good, and because it held here at the rink where we train at, it was nice," said Lukanin, who with Fraser performed the couple's 2008-09 original dance to "St. Louis Blues." The team has trained at the Floyd Hall Arena for several years and Fraser helps run the skating school there.

The Zaretski siblings were a crowd favorite. They entertained onlookers with their dramatic free dance to a Jesus Christ Superstar medley and a lively number to Ray Charles' "Hit the Road Jack." They did some excellent lifts and well-synchronized steps and footwork.

Ice acrobats Cording and Polishuk skated to a Blues Brothers-themed program that was funny and engaging. They performed a series of mind-boggling tricks, including a handstand lift and a spin in which Cording balanced his partner on his head.

"We work hard, but sometimes my body hurts, so we can only do a few hours a day," said Cording, who started skating with Polishuk 11 months ago.

The young Dmitriev skated to Elton John's "Funeral for a Friend" and did two triple toes and a double Axel. The teen used to live and train in New Jersey but moved Saint Petersburg several years ago so that he could work with the esteemed Alexei Mishin. Several weeks ago, he flew back from Russia here to the U.S. in order to perform in this show and take part in a training camp to be held in Florida over the next few weeks.

Kononenko's electric rendition of Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" featured lovely spirals and spins, including a variation of a Biellmann in which she pulled her free leg past her head.

Monica Malcomson, 19, also skated. Next fall, she plans on attending Sacred Heart University in Bridgeport, Conn. Last year, she toured with the west coast swing of Disney on Ice's on-ice production of High School Musical, which she said was a lot of fun.

"It was so much fun to skate here. It's such a great sport with such good people," said Malcomson, who added she plans on combining coaching, skating and school.