The Inside Edge: U.S. skaters reflect on Minsk
Americans have rave reviews for site of junior worlds, enjoyed making new friends
|Skaters from the Detroit SC show their support for club mates, and world junior bronze medalists, Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton. (courtesy of Massimo Scali)|
We called high school junior Jason Brown a few days after he got back from Belarus and caught him doing his homework. He told us all about the trip; we started by asking what he thought of Minsk.
"It was different," he said. "It was definitely a shock. I've never been to Eastern Europe, so I don't have much to compare it to.
"You don't see the sun; it's light out, but you don't actually see the sun. It's so funny how you hear all these rumors about different things like the water, the food and the people, but you don't know what it's like until you get there, and it was totally opposite of what they said.
"The food was great -- I loved the food there -- and the people were so nice. They were really excited to practice their English with you."
At the small medal ceremony on the upper level of the rink, a reporter asked Brown how he liked Minsk. The assembled crowd had to wait until his answer was translated, but they liked what they heard.
"I said, 'I like walking around, I liked the city, the shops,' and everyone started clapping," Brown said.
Brown told us that almost all the team arrived on Sunday and didn't leave until the Monday a week later, so they all had lots of time to get to know one another.
"I loved the U.S. team," he enthused. "I don't want to speak for everyone else, but we became really close. It was sad to leave. I miss them all."
Brown also enjoyed meeting lots of skaters from other countries, even when they didn't speak much English.
"I loved trying to communicate with other people," he said. "Han Yan and I became really close, and that was fun. He speaks no English. I like him!
"Our warm-up practice for the first three days was with the Chinese, so we became close to the Chinese group, the coaches -- we were all really supportive of each other. And then we were in the top six after short, so we had all our practices together.
"I loved, loved, loved the Japanese girls. Satoko Miyahara's coach asked me to look after her during the exhibition finale. She was the only Japanese skater in the exhibition. It was really fun, and I really liked her. I loved the whole Japanese team!"
We asked how Brown felt about his skating and winning the bronze medal.
"It was so exciting to skate last and not know exactly where you're going to end up," he said. "[My coach] Kori [Ade] came in and told me how everyone had done, before I skated. I tried to stay focused, and I felt good out there and I trusted myself. I was proud to win a medal for the U.S."
Next we tracked down ladies silver medalist Gracie Gold, who answered our questions by email. We asked her about her experience in Minsk.
"I thought Minsk was a beautiful city," she said. "It was very cold, but we saw the sun a few times! The rink was the most amazing facility I have ever been in. The ice was really soft, and the people working the competition did everything they could to help us and were so nice."
Like Brown, Gold said she had a very good time with the U.S. team.
"Most of the [U.S.] skaters I had never met before, but now I am friends with most of them!" she went on. "Dana [Graham], our team leader, was very nice and organized for us.
"I met a few skaters from other countries. Adelina Sotnikova was super nice and seems so sweet. I also met Isadora Williams, from Brazil, an Italian ice dancer, a few pairs skaters, Han Yan, Denis Ten, Brendan Kerry and the Japanese girls."
We asked Gold how she felt she skated.
"I thought I skated really well, although it wasn't my best," she said. "I was a little nervous for my short, because I was skating seventh in the first warm-up, but as soon as I started skating I felt better and more confident. My long went really well, minus the mistake on the loop. I thought I put out two solid performances and it was a great ending to my season."
We found Joshua Farris on vacation, enjoying a well-earned rest after a long season.
"It's glorious!" he said, by phone. "I'm being a total couch potato."
Farris said he had a wonderful time in Minsk, although he didn't have time for any sightseeing.
"I had so much fun -- it was a blast," he said. "The people we met were very nice there. I don't know what it's like outside the rink! Because it snowed a lot, it looked very pretty. It was very cold, freezing and windy."
Farris, an experienced international competitor, knew most of the U.S. team already, except for Gold, but he enjoyed meeting some of the skaters from other countries.
"Normally, I kind of stick to the U.S., but this time I was like, 'I'm going to make an effort to hang with people from other countries.' The Russians were really nice, and the Japanese team ... I tried to communicate with Han Yan, but he didn't speak a lot of English. He's very nice."
Farris missed winning the gold by a fraction of a point, but he is very happy with how he skated.
"I was so excited that I did two clean programs in the same competition!" he said. "I haven't done that since I was a novice. I was less nervous, for some reason. There were two things that I could have done differently that would have put me first: one, get the level on my footwork, and I know what I did wrong on that, and two, do the three-jump combination. After my triple Lutz-triple toe, I kind of did a single loop, and I wasn't sure whether they would count it as a three-jump combination. But second's pretty good, too!"
Aldridge and Eaton
Daniel Eaton shared Gold and Brown's opinions of Minsk.
"Minsk was completely different than anything Alex and I had ever gone to ... It was a beautiful country, and I'm glad I got to experience it," Eaton said.
"It was an amazing experience," Aldridge added. "The rink was beautiful. It was a new rink, with a speedskating track around two NHL-sized rinks, and the Olympic-sized rink where the competition was held was a huge stadium."
Aldridge and Eaton were able to reconnect with old friends on the trip.
"All the U.S. team that we were out with I had been out with before," Eaton said. "I roomed with the same guy I roomed with on the Junior Grand Prix, Colin Grafton, and we all got along so well. It was great. We all had a blast."
"We were lucky enough to have our Junior Grand Prixes with a lot of the [U.S.] skaters who went with us to junior worlds," Aldridge said. "It was a really great team, and everyone did amazing. I've grown really close with some of the Russian skaters -- as much as we can communicate -- and they're really friendly. I love meeting people from other countries and having friends worldwide."
At the beginning of the season, Aldridge and Eaton set the goal for themselves to qualify for the Junior Grand Prix Final and medal at junior worlds.
"We did what we wanted," Eaton said. "I knew we would be either third or fourth, because both of the top two teams are unbelievable. Alex and I put everything on the table for our program, and it paid off."
"I was really pleased with the way we skated," Aldridge said. "Going into the free dance, we had a lot of fire to get onto the podium. In the last pose, I was so happy with everything we had achieved this season, and I knew we had done the best free dance we did all season."
After Aldridge and Eaton won the bronze medal, their training mates in Detroit posed for a picture, all enthusiastically holding up three fingers (see above), and posted it on Facebook.
"That was so cool," Eaton said. "At the Detroit Skating Club, we have such a tight group. I don't think you could really split us up, we're all so close. We push each other and help each other out, and their support has really helped Alex and myself."
Congratulations to former pairs skater Ameena Sheikh and her new husband, Greg Walczak, who were married Feb. 25 in Birmingham, Mich. Walczak owns the Elite Fitness gym in Birmingham.
"We met at Amber Czisny's wedding," Sheikh told us. "[Greg] walked me down the aisle at her wedding!"
The couple plans to live in the Bloomfield Hills area of Michigan. Sheikh has retired from skating, as of last year, and says she is waiting to hear back from law schools she has applied to. She coaches at the Troy Sports Center, along with her sister, Sameena. Their sister, Farah, a senior lady, trains at the Detroit Skating Club, and they both coach their youngest sister, Aneesa, who has just started skating.
All the best to the happy couple!
Sarah and Drew