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Zhou blogs from the Glacier Falls Summer Classic

Ash-Wag, impromptu chocolate fountains and Nathan Chen

Ashley Wagner with coach John Nicks and choreographer Phillip Mills.
Ashley Wagner with coach John Nicks and choreographer Phillip Mills. (Karen Zhou)

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By Karen Zhou, special to icenetwork.com
(08/08/2011) - Karen Zhou's icenetwork.com blog from the 2011 Glacier Falls Summer Classic.

Hello from Anaheim!

This past weekend was one of the craziest, busiest, most hectic skating competitions I have ever experienced. Now, that may be in part because it was one of the few competitions I was first and foremost a spectator. Yes, you read that right, this blog is coming to you from a pure spectator's standpoint. Well, sort of.

Let me start off by setting the stage for you. The annual Glacier Falls Summer Classic competition was held, as always, at Anaheim Ice. It's a short distance away from Disneyland, the happiest place on Earth, which has absolutely nothing to do with the proceedings of this blog, but a cool fact nonetheless.

To put it simply, Anaheim Ice is huge, with two ice surfaces, one called the "NHL" rink, the other "Olympic." In the past, whenever a competition is held at Anaheim Ice, it's typically been on the NHL surface for reasons I've never really found out yet. But this time around, the Summer Classic was held on both surfaces, probably since it was such a big competition this year. It's always a good idea in theory to be able to have two surfaces that can be used simultaneously for competitions, but, with my newly spectator-seasoned eyes, it totally wreaked havoc on my schedule.

Luckily, I'd been able to stake out several passageways that linked some of the locker rooms with those on the other side, making it easier for me to scuttle from rink to rink. By the time the competition was over, I was able to use the Zamboni entrances to run back and forth to catch the action on both sides.

Take the junior men and senior men short programs, for instance. The former was on the Olympic side; the latter, on the NHL side, at the same time. I'm not the type of person who likes to compromise so, of course, I was attempting to do the impossible and watch both events, a feat that was actually fairly successful, if I dare say so myself.

Apparently, there was a slightly different version of the data system for IJS so the wait between skaters took a bit longer, which worked to my advantage and allowed me to witness some truly spectacular things. On the one side, you have the tiny dynamo of Nathan Chen, the calm triple-triple jumping action of Shotaro Omori and the entertaining side of Philip Warren (junior men). Juxtaposed right next to that was the exciting senior men, battling it out right on the other side of the wall. There you had the chance to witness the quads of Max Aaron and the breathtaking skating of Douglas Razzano, Scott Dyer and Jonathan Cassar. So, along with a slew of other spectators, we ran back and forth between the hallways to try to catch both events. To say I was exhausted at the end of that would be an understatement, but it was worth it.

Of course, this schedule also caused some coaches to be caught frantically running from the NHL rink to the Olympic and back again. I got to test out my brilliant coaching skills when I helped Karen Kwan-Oppegard out, who had a few conflicts on Saturday. Early in the afternoon, Senior Men were starting their long programs, just as intermediate ladies were finishing their qualifying rounds. So there was Karen O., caught between Sean Rabbitt and Ellie Min, two of my training mates at East West Ice Palace. And, as luck would have it, they basically skated at the same exact time. So I became a mini-Karen (Kwan-Oppegard, that is) and got to see most of the intermediate ladies unfold through a coaching lens.

Now that the spectator/coaching side of things are covered, there has to some mention of skaters. They say there are six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon, but, quite honestly, I think there are about two degrees of separation from every skater, a fact that is prominently on display at every competition. Aside from the moments before and after the actual skating of a program, competitions are the perfect time to catch up.

First there was a jet-lagged Mirai Nagasu, who I hadn't seen for a couple months and who immediately relayed her two-and-a-half week trip in Japan to me. Then there was Ashley Wagner, who I had briefly met at nationals a couple years back. Looking back, it never ceases to amaze me how natural conversation can be picked up, as if we had just seen each other the day before. Finally, there was Gracie and Carly Gold. The last time I saw these two was over two years ago, when they came to visit Southern California. I remember how tiny they were, namely how much shorter they were than me. As much as I hate to report this, seeing as height is always a sensitive topic for me, they are now both taller than me. Their skating has improved and matured so much and it was such a great experience to watch them and the other junior ladies as up-and-comers to this sport.

My experiences at this competition have opened my eyes to a couple things. First of all, I have a whole new appreciation for spectators and coaches. There are so many things that happen right in front of you that you miss as a competitor. All the spectators have committed their days to spend it at a cold ice rink (when they could easily be lounging on the warm sand at one of Southern California's lovely beaches) simply because they appreciate the sport of figure skating.

So, to all the spectators out there, thank you for dedicating your weekends to watching us. I think I can speak for most of the skaters when I say that it really does make a difference when you fill up the stands and cheer us on. Next time, though, I'd really recommend being fully equipped with blankets and pillows for your bottoms. Also, to all the coaches, you are superstars. How you maintain your composure despite all the forces of an ice rink is incredible. It was entertaining to watch the coaches as their skaters were competing - there are those that pace back and forth, those that actually perform the programs with their skaters, those that seem completely stoic and calm and everyone in between. But the one common factor is that they would do anything for their skaters. Braving the rigid, freezing atmosphere of an ice rink, they are willing take off their jackets to keep their skaters warm and run from surface to surface to be there to support each skater.

So there you have it -- a tale of spectators, coaches and skaters. It truly was a fun weekend, albeit it tiring. Thank you for reading and I hope to see you in Southern California soon!

Karen Zhou