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The Inside Edge: Hamilton, Boitano scout the field

Simpson, Blackmer cheer on others after capturing junior title

U.S. Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton likes Ashley Wagner and Jeremy Abbott to win.
U.S. Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton likes Ashley Wagner and Jeremy Abbott to win. (Sarah S. Brannen)

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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to icenetwork.com
(01/24/2013) - We talked to Brian Boitano for a bit earlier on Thursday. Boitano won his gold medal at the Calgary Olympics 25 years ago, on Feb. 20.

"It seems crazy," he said. "It seems like it was just yesterday. I can remember that day, and what I went through, and I could tell you right now what I was thinking. It's so sharp.

"There are certain things about the competition that seem far away, and then there are things that are so vivid in my memory, I think they'll probably be some of the last things that I'll remember in my life."

Boitano was one of the first men to try a quad in competition; he landed one on two feet at the 1988 World Championships. We wondered what he thought of the progression of the four-revolution jump. He said that he would have thought quads would have become standard sooner, years ago.

"If you had asked me back then if Evan [Lysacek] would have had to have a quad to win the 2010 Olympics, I would have said, 'Absolutely,' but we didn't anticipate all the changes in the judging system. If it was still the 6.0 system, you would have had to have a quad."

We tried to get Boitano to pick a winner in the men's competition.

"There are so many of them!" he said. "I really like Jeremy Abbott. I think he's just beautiful. It's really up to him. If he skates well, he's pretty unbeatable, by anyone in the world. He's really that good. Hopefully he'll have a great competition."

Having said all that, Boitano repeated that there are a lot of really good men in the field this year at the 2013 U.S. Championships.

"It's hard to stand out," he said. "You really have to skate clean. It was the same in my day! I knew that, every year, I had to be clean."

As we talked, coach Rafael Arutunian came up and asked to have his picture taken with Boitano.

"He's my favorite skater!" Arutunian said.

Another gold medalist

As the senior men practiced in the convention center, Scott Hamilton arrived to do some TV interviews and handicap the field in Omaha.

"Ashley [Wagner] broke through and won last year, and she looks in shape and ready to go now," he said. "But, there's a couple of younger skaters who are going to give her a run for her money. It's going to be who navigates the minefield and gets all the way through their program without making a big mistake."

Someone asked what Hamilton thought about the men's field.

"Jeremy's won this thing three times, so you have to look at him as the favorite," he said. "When I was competing, anyone who would try a quad was a freak or a mutant. Now, you need one in the short and one in the long to be competitive on the world level.

"Jeremy has the whole package. He's an incredible artist, his programs are so beautifully constructed. I love his maturity on the ice, his presence, but he's struggled with the quad a little bit. That's the demon that he's got to exorcize in order to get on the podium at the world level."

As Hamilton spoke, Ross Miner was running his free skate a few feet away.

"Ross Miner is really steady and has been consistent; he's always in it," Hamilton went on. "Richard Dornbush was so great a couple of years ago and then he struggled; he looks great this year.

"It's great to see Jason Brown finally get his triple Axel. Josh Farris is great; the buzz on him is really good. There's a lot of the young ones coming up."

Cheering section

Newly crowned junior pairs champions Britney Simpson and Matthew Blackmer spent the day at the main arena, loudly cheering on all the senior men and pairs during their practice sessions. After some particularly vociferous support of Dornbush's excellent quad toe and triple Axel, Dornbush skated by and high-fived them both.

"Now that we're done, we want to watch and cheer everyone on," Blackmer said. "You want people to cheer for you and push you forward; it kind of keeps you going."

"Cheering after an element is completed gives a real boost of confidence to the skater," Simpson said. "I have a feeling we're going to be here all day."

"Almost everyone will tell you, the competition starts the minute you walk through the doors," Blackmer said. "It's more intense on these practices because the judging panel is there watching you. It kind of relaxes them. Ross Miner winked at us in the middle of his program. It takes some of the pressure off some of these practices."

The pair interrupted themselves to give a wild cheer for Max Aaron's quad Salchow.

"We call that the 'Quad Sal Entrance of Doom,'" Blackmer said. "Forty miles an hour, right along the board."

Devoted fans

Also in the stands watching practice was longtime fan Andy Depew, who you have probably seen on icenetwork.com and TV, always in the front row within a group of fans wearing American flag sweatshirts. This is Depew's 27th trip to the U.S. championships; he has also attended five world championships, many Grand Prix and Four Continents events and the 2010 Olympics.

"We call ourselves groupies," he said. "I usually get eight tickets."

Depew told us he had started watching skating with the first live broadcast of the championships in 1961. He was devastated when the young skaters he had just watched were killed in the plane crash on their way to worlds.

"That really impacted me," Depew said. "Then, Peggy [Fleming] came along. I worked with Roz Sumners' father -- he said she was going to the Olympics. She was about eight at the time."

Depew says he doesn't have any favorites among the competitors, supporting them all with equal fervor.

Broomball

Professional Skaters Association Executive Director Jimmy Santee is here this week, walking with a cane. He told us he was injured in a broomball tournament.

"Rockne Brubaker took me out!" he said. "We have a tournament every summer during camp, and all kinds of people come and play with the kids -- Rockne, Ryan Bradley, Todd Sand, Charlie White has come. It's to keep the kids motivated, a team-building activity."

Olympic champion sightings: 4. Along with Tara Lipinski, we saw Boitano at the hotel last night, Sarah Hughes in the gym this morning and Hamilton at the practice rink.

Off to watch the senior ladies short program!

Sarah and Drew
Follow us on Twitter @SarahandDrew