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U.S. world team extols Figure Skating in Harlem

Celebrity-attended event at Wollman Rink raises $700,000 for under-served youth

U.S. world team competitors Ashley Wagner and Jeremy Abbott came out to support FSH.
U.S. world team competitors Ashley Wagner and Jeremy Abbott came out to support FSH. (Lynn Rutherford)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(04/04/2012) - It was a 15th year celebration for Figure Skating in Harlem (FSH), and no one could envision a more glorious evening for the charity's signature "Skating with the Stars" gala.

"There was something special in the air," FSH founder and executive director Sharon Cohen said. "Maybe it was the 15th anniversary; maybe it was the amazing group of skaters who came."

Stars from the business and entertainment world, including Donald Trump; Macy's CEO and Chairman Terry Lundgren and his wife Tina, an international skating judge; pop star Kevin Jonas; newswoman Soledad O' Brien; Tamara Tunie and B.D. Wong of Law and Order; Twisted Sister's Dee Snider; and Miss Universe Dayana Mendoza, gathered at Central Park's Wollmann Rink to honor fashion icon Vera Wang and philanthropist Ellen Lowey.

The Queen of Motown, legendary Diana Ross, was on hand to see daughter Rhonda Ross, a Harlem artist and entrepreneur, presented with the Star Leadership Award.

All told, the gathering of 600 raised $700,000 to help fund FSH's innovative skating and academic program currently serving 200 girls.

"We feel like we're entering our second act and we're on to bigger and better things, and we're very grateful to everyone who came out," Cohen said. "This year, we're thrilled to offer our students year-round programming, both after-school and during the summer.

"That's very new because we just moved into an academic center, which gives us a place to hold programming year round. We're also renting ice in [the borough of] Queens and other places to do the summer skating."

Olympic champions Scott Hamilton, Tara Lipinski and Sarah Hughes; Olympic medalists Paul Wylie, Sasha Cohen, Tanith Belbin, Joannie Rochette and Tim Goebel; world champions Todd Eldredge and Kimmie Meissner; and U.S. champion and world medalist Nicole Bobek, joined the girls of FSH on the ice.

Reigning Olympic champion Evan Lysacek, who plans a comeback to competitive skating next season, introduced longtime friend and costume designer Wang to the crowd.

The U.S. world team turned out in force, fresh off their performances in Nice. Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who won their second world silver medal last week, wouldn't have had it any other way.

"FSH encompasses the three things Charlie and I feel most passionate about -- education, fitness and skating," Davis said. "We really relate to the cause, and it's something we're happy to be a part of."

Although longtime rivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir came out on top at 2012 worlds, the 2011 world champions felt they put out their best programs of the season in Nice.

"We didn't quite get there, but we were very happy with [the performances]," White said. "Obviously, the way the crowd responded was great. We gave it everything we had, and we said that if we do that, we're going to be happy. We're disappointed we couldn't win, but we're happy with how we presented ourselves and how we pulled through."

"Of course it was a little disappointing not to get season's best scores, but that really isn't within our control," Davis said. "We left proud and happy. It's okay to not win every once in a while."

Davis didn't think the loss would add additional fuel to their competitive fire.

"We don't need things like this to motivate us more," she said. "We really want to make sure we're putting out the best we possibly can, and I think that every year we're happy with our progress, happy with our improvement. I think we'll come out even better next season."

"Its tough to top yourself year after year and we really feel we've set the bar high with this free dance (Die Fledermaus), so what direction we go in is still a question mark," White said.

Ashley Wagner, who just missed out on a medal due to a mistake in the short program, left Nice full of optimism for next season.

"I ended up getting a small medal for being third in the [free skate], which was huge," Wagner said. "To pull up from eighth [after the short] to fourth overall is something I can definitely come away being proud of. I was the highest-placing U.S. lady since [Meissner in] 2007; it's been a while. That's a great place to put myself in.

"It was the short program that did me in, but at the same time, it wasn't a disaster; it was just that I didn't get that triple [flip]-triple [toe] in there, and that was when I really needed it. It gives me something to build on."

Among Wagner's offseason goals: gain consistency on that triple-triple and get two new programs.

"I can never repeat a program for two seasons," she said. "I get too bored. These were great programs, but I want something new."

Jeremy Abbott, who placed eighth in Nice, relished the chance to skate under New York City's skyline.

"The backdrop, you don't get any better than this," he said. "We get so caught up in the training, it's nice to be on the ice and skate with the kids just for the sheer fun of it."

The skater, who has founded his own foundation for aspiring skaters, was inspired by his mother, Allison Scott, to be charitable at an early age.

"My mom has always been a firm believer that we should all find something to believe in and support," he said. "The first year I got asked to come to FSH, I was really excited, and every year since it's been a joy. You can see the kids love to skate so much; it's really cool to be a part of."

Abbott's superb performances at the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships left many thinking he could challenge for a medal in Nice, but his fourth appearance at worlds -- he placed 11th in 2008 and 2009, and fifth in 2010 -- left him wanting more.

"Certainly, if I knew what was holding me back, then I wouldn't do it," he said. "I was really going to worlds to fight for a medal, so for me it was disappointing. But [coaches] Yuka [Sato], Jason [Dungjen] and I can see the improvement, and I'm starting to really believe in myself.

"It's just a matter of, unfortunately, time and patience. I've really been working hard with a sports psychologist and doing as much mental training as I have physical. I've always worked with a sports psychologist, but the past year and a half its been much more in depth. I think that's been helping and I've been gaining confidence. I think it will happen for me; I will make it happen."

Abbott plans to compete one of his programs, a short to Big Band era swing music or a free to selections from Muse, next season.

"I don't know which, but I think it would benefit me to keep one of them for sure," he said. "And really focus on putting the quad [toe loop] in the short program and training the [free skate] and getting it really consistent, so there are no stumbles."

Adam Rippon, who trains alongside Abbott at the Detroit Skating Club, is moved by the stories of FSH students.

"I see what FSH does for these girls, giving them opportunities they might not have otherwise," he said. "They have a 100-percent graduation rate (from high school). Last year, one of the girls spoke at the dinner, and she had a scholarship to Brown University. They're such role models, and as individual people, they are so inspiring."

The U.S. silver medalist admitted that his placement in Nice left much to be desired.

"Of course, looking at it, it's really disappointing to get 13th at worlds," he said. "I lost a lot of points in the short program making the two jumping errors, and it hurt me that I didn't land a clean quad in the long. I know what I really need to work on and not lose points on the little downgrades here and there."

Rippon, who arrived at DSC last summer, is encouraged with his progress there to date.

"I definitely feel like I'm on the right track; I love working with Yuka and Jason and I really think they have a lot to offer," he said. "I look forward to having the whole summer to work with them and establish an even greater rapport ... I'll have more time to work on the [quadruple] Salchow and other quads."