Rinkside in Portland: It's a wrap
Zakrajsek proves his mettle; "Rigby" makes Dean sore
|Tom Zakrajsek pays off a bet to Rachael Flatt in the kiss-and-cry area after the free skate. (Tabitha Rodgers)|
The U.S. champion developed pain in her right knee and calf at NHK Trophy last month, where she also won silver. The pain progressed despite treatment at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs.
"It starts at the bottom of my foot and goes all the way up to my knee," she said after her winning free skate in Portland.
"I knew I trained very solid programs at home, and I knew I needed to rely on my training and shut that [pain] part of my mind down, which I didn't do as well in the short program."
Zakrajsek hopes and expects they will be able to treat the problem without losing too much training time.
"Everyone who has been treating her at OTC, and the people who have been treating her here, say all of the symptoms say it's a soft tissue [injury, perhaps tendinitis]," he said.
"We will definitely do some X-rays and MRIs to make sure it's that. We're pretty confident that it's more of an irritating type of thing, rather than something that's so devastating she can't jump."
Flatt's medal compelled Zakrajsek -- a former competitive and show skater who keeps himself trim -- to prove his mettle. The Portland crowd was treated to the sight of the coach doing three sets of push-ups in the kiss and cry.
"We had a little bet going, and that's why I did push-ups," he said. "I know with Rachael it's always great to relax and laugh; it was her idea, so I went along with it. I said I would do ten push-ups if she skated a clean long.
"I ended up doing 30, because I did the first set right away. Then [NBC] wanted me to do it on camera, so I did another ten when the red light went on. But they weren't live, and Scott Hamilton asked me to do them again once they were live. So I ended up doing 30 push-ups instead of ten."
Back in 1984, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean's signature program, Bolero, won Olympic gold with choreography that didn't have blades touch the ice for 18 seconds at the start; little change in rhythm and tempo; and a mad, dying fling across the ice at the end.
The program would be unthinkable in ice dance competition today, when every edge is analyzed by a three-person technical panel, lifts timed to a hundredth of a second and rules so complicated they seem to be "clarified" every week during the offseason.
Nevertheless, Canadian silver medalists Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier turned to Dean, so famous for breaking the rules, to choreograph their free dance to the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby."
"Chris is not used to working too much in this system, so it is frustrating for him at times," Poirier said. "Our coaches, Carol [Lane] and Yuri [Razguliaiev] were on the ice with us the whole time, making sure his moves would work [with the rules].
"Chris was on the ice with us, too, doing everything we did," Crone added. "He lifted me. He was staying at Carol [and husband Jon Lane's] house, and had to soak in the hot tub for a long while every night. We were pretty sore, too."
Former U.S. junior champion Alexe Gilles hit a high note, landing her first-ever triple toe-triple toe combination in a short program competition, but had a disappointing free, struggling with her jumps.
"It's more about helping her feel confident," her coach, Zakrajsek, said. "Ironically, she's in the best shape, and better trained, than she's been her entire career. She needs that core belief. We're working with her to pinpoint the mental game."
Alexe's ice dancer siblings -- older brother Todd and twin sister Piper -- aren't competing this season, which also prompted an adjustment.
"She's no longer one of three; the focus is on her," Zakrajsek said. "Maybe it's more pressure. She's also 18, wondering about life, all of that."
"It's been a little bit of a transition," Alexe admitted. "Todd is coaching a lot more, so I don't see him as much. Piper is out in L.A., which is hard, I guess because of the twin thing and all. We Skype a lot. She's coming home on [Nov.] 22, and I'm so excited to see her."
Stephen Carriere didn't put out the programs he wanted in Portland, but he hasn't lost his sense of humor.
"The triple Axel hasn't been my best friend; it's been a pain in the butt, literally," he said.
The 2007 world junior champion, tenth in the world in 2008, is working to rebuild his career after placing ninth at the 2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and withdrawing from the 2010 U.S. Championships after the short program.
Training under coach Priscilla Hill, he seemed to be on track until an ankle infection flared up at US Figure Skating's Champs Camp in late August, requiring surgery.
"I hate making excuses; don't complain, don't explain," he said. "Still, before Champs Camp and the surgery, the Axel and quad toe were going well. When I got back on the ice [mid to late September] they weren't the same.
"It's very gratifying that U.S. Figure Skating had the faith in me to give me this assignment. Now I've got ten weeks to go home and work on [the triple Axel and quad] for nationals."