Thursday, December 16, 2010

being a fan is good times

30 Days of Skating

Day 3: What is your favourite spectatorship moment?

OK, first of all, this is a really hard question. Second, this is one of my favourite things to write about when it comes to skating. I don't think I've ever been completely successful at telling any of these stories, but I'm working on it. At any rate, I don't think I could possibly pick just one. I think I can pick my top four, though. In no particular order:

The 2010 Olympic Free Dance
We didn't get tickets in the lottery system. They released a few more pockets of tickets prior to the event, but they were all so expensive. We had a few leads from people trying to sell extras, but again, it was all just a bit out of reach for us. My friends and I aren't exactly rolling in the dough, and just going to the Olympics for six days was really stretching our budgets. So we decided to wing it. We'd see if we could get tickets outside the arena, but if we couldn't, we'd suck it up, find somewhere to watch it, and be satisfied that, at least, we were watching it together, in Vancouver. Just being at the Olympics was a dream come true, for all of us.

Then the OD happened. Jen, Jules, and Christina had tickets in the nosebleeds for that one, and Chele and I scored good deals on scalped tickets a few hours before the event. And when we left that night, Tessa and Scott were in the lead. At the Olympics. At the Olympics in Canada. The kids that we'd known since they were practically fetuses were in first place at the Olympics in their home country. Suddenly, missing the free dance wasn't really an option. So the next day, during practice, we planned a course of action, then hiked to the bank and withdrew as much money as we could from our accounts, and went back to the arena. There weren't nearly as many scalpers as there were the night before, so I still don't know how it worked out so well for us. But somehow, we managed to find someone who had 5 tickets in the same row, like 6 rows from the ice, and he was willing to sell them to us for half the face value. I think we knew, right then, that it was going to be the one of the best nights of our lives.

There were 3 people sitting between our two sets of tickets, and they graciously offered to move, probably as soon as they realized that we were going to be talking around them all night! We took a million pictures. I cried before it even started. By the time the final group took the ice, I was shaking. And then I looked down, saw how calm Tessa and Scott were, and I breathed. I was at the free dance at the Olympics, I hadn't had to completely clean out my bank account to get into the building, and at the end of the night, those kids we knew were going to be singing "O Canada" from the top of the podium. I absolutely knew it. It had to be true. We believed.

And we were right.

Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir, 2010 Olympics -- after their free dance

2004 Four Continents Championships
Many good times were had at the first skating competition I attended. I traveled in a horde of, like, 10 enthusiastic girls. We took over one of the corners in the Copps and garnered the attention of pretty much everyone...athletes, coaches, team leaders, CEOs, etc. We were really, really loud. Sometimes I waved first. Sometimes we figured out the results before the the skaters in the kiss & cry (which was a lot more difficult in the interim 6.0 system) and screeched before anyone else in the arena knew what was going on. We made the most ghetto signs (while sitting the stands) using bingo dabbers, because the Dollarama didn't have markers. We overdosed on bagels from T. Ho's. I experienced Christina's fire alarm scream for the first time for Val & Craig's awesome "Caravan" short program, still dear to my heart (see Day 2). I couldn't have asked for more from my first competition, and the part I still remember most fondly is cheering for Team Mexico.

It started with Gladys. She was so sassy in practice, and no one was cheering for her, so we decided to fill the void. And once we were cheering for Gladys, we couldn't not cheer for Michele, right? When they skated their shorts, the boys on the team took notice of us (we were sitting one section over from the designated skaters' section, plus the arena wasn't exactly full), and they came over to join forces. Strength in numbers. They taught us their team cheers and we bonded. Gladys sat with us when the boys skated, and like I said, we were loud. The people around us started cheering, too. I don't know, maybe they thought that we knew something about them that they didn't. The guys, especially, really got into it. I think Adrian skated first, then Humberto, then Miguel, all in the 1st and 2nd group of the men's free—not usually when the audience is invested, to say the least. But we were committed, and we cheered like it was the Olympics. We made a sign with our bingo dabbers and stood for each of them. And when we looked around after Miguel skated his pants off, most of the other people in the Copps were standing.

Miguel was looking up at the audience like, "What is going on here?!?!" and we were jumping up and down, cheering, crying. Well, I was crying. Someone across the arena from us threw underwear on the ice. Hopefully not underwear she'd just been wearing. We threw little plush soccer balls from the dollar store. On the flood after the 2nd group, they all came out of the tunnel, running up the stairs towards us. We were all hugging and I was probably crying again and then Humberto exclaimed, "I landed my first triple-triple!!" It was such a moment, full of energy. And then they got mobbed. Packs of girls came down the stairs towards them and clogged up the aisles, asking for photos and autographs.

I don't know, I've always felt proud of that, knowing that we did something to help create that moment for them. I guess standing ovations would lose their meaning if every skater always got one, but in some ways, I think that they all deserve a moment like that sometime.

2005 Canadian Championships
This event came at a really tough time for me. I was already having my worst year yet (and it was only January!) and then 4 days before I left for the event, my ex-fiancé ended things. I didn't even want to go, but I knew that going would take my mind off of everything at home, and I knew that being with my friends would help.

I'm really glad I went, because 2005 Canadians had some of the best skating I've ever seen live. From freaking out for WakaFect's short (and making the broadcast) to the free dances and clapping all the way through "Zorba" even though I couldn't feel my hands anymore, it was 3 solid days of solid skating. The men's free, especially, was an incredible event. Chris Mabee and Jeff Buttle were both unbelievable, and I think Ben Ferreira and Fedor Andreev also had awesome skates, too. I had a seat in the front row in one of the corners and the whole thing was so surreal.

But the #1 moment had to have been Joannie Rochette's "Firebird." We were Jo fans, all of us, from the beginning. It was basically a pre-req for entrance into my group of skating fans. Even when she was missing her Lutz in every single competition, we rooted for her relentlessly. It was just how things went. I met her for the first time in Montréal in 2003, when she came with a group of us to see our friend Lori give a concert, the same week that I met Sarah and Christina (and Lori!) for the first time. From that trip, I was in the group, and Jo was our girl. It's just how it was.

She'd had some pretty awesome performances that season, on the Grand Prix, including her first GP gold. So we had high hopes that she'd have an awesome skate at Nationals, when we were all there to see it. Yeah, you could say that it was an awesome skate.

I still think it's my favourite performance of hers, ever, just because of the context and because I know that I was right there, in the front row, doing every jump right along with her. I remember when she did her second flip, and everyone started cheering, and we were like "NO!" because we knew that it was a sequence, she was going right into a sal, and we didn't want the crowd to break her concentration. But she was in the zone, she was the Firebird, and I don't think anything could have stopped her from giving the skate of her life, up to that point. Chele was holding my hand, and I don't think she was even halfway through before she was banging our hands against her leg, asking, "Can we stand yet? Can we stand??" We managed to hang on until the final spin, but as soon as she went into it, we looked over and we saw Sarah pop up and we were up half a second later.

It was such a defining moment for Jo. That season, she went from being a promising skater to a legit competitor, but at Canadians, she stepped it up even further and became a champion. I think we all knew that she was destined for something incredible.

And look, now she's Canada's sweetheart. Guess we were right about that, too!

2006 Canadian Championships, Free Dance
This was an all-around great event, too, with lots of fun moments, and a lot of excitement and extra pressure because it was an Olympic year. But more than any other event, this whole competition came down to one single moment for me.

Over the past two seasons of going to events, my friends and I had gotten to know Megan Wing & Aaron Lowe. Growing up in the States, they really weren't on my radar until late in their competitive careers, but I caught up quickly once I started tape trading. I loved watching them skate, I loved the way they could skate just about any rhythm, and they made it so easy for us to like them because they always remembered us from event to event, were always up for a chat, and just seemed like really spectacular people. (We were also right about this.)

The free dance was on Sunday, the only competitive event of the day, one of Skate Canada's quirky traditions. It was close. Megan & Aaron were still in 2nd, but they'd been 3rd in the OD, behind Tessa & Scott, the young kids that they trained with (apparently they had potential?). Canada had 2 Olympic spots, but really, there was only 1, since I'm pretty sure MF&P's tickets were already booked. I was so nervous that I don't even remember the first 3/4 of the event. I didn't know most of the dancers in the early flights (oh, how things have changed now), but we watched everyone. In the final flight, Tessa & Scott were up first, Megan & Aaron were up second.

It was tough, because we knew Tessa & Scott, too. I wanted good things for them, and it wasn't like I was wishing for them to fall, or anything. I wished that there had been 3 spots, but there weren't. And we knew they'd have another chance, but this was the last shot at the Olympics for Megan & Aaron. They'd already finished one spot away from the team in '98 and in '02. I was so desperately hoping for them to make the team, that I didn't dare hope for anything else in the other disciplines.

The week before, I'd moved out of my parents' house in Chicago and into an apartment on my own in Lansing, Michigan. I'd enrolled in the community college and was toying with the idea of applying to a couple of schools for the fall '06 semester to pursue creative writing or journalism, but I wasn't sure I could do it. I was terrified. For whatever reason, I told myself that if Megan & Aaron made the Olympic team, I'd give writing my all, jump in, see where it led. I don't know why I associated the two in my head, but I did. I think I felt like they must have had to do the same thing—take some big risks, dive headfirst into unknown territory, believe in themselves at all costs. So if it paid off for them, maybe it could someday pay off for me, too.

Of course, they did it. This would be a terrible story for this post if they didn't. They skated a brand new free dance nearly flawlessly and stayed about 3 points ahead of Tessa & Scott to win the silver medal and the chance to finally skate at the Olympics. I can't remember who skated right after them, although I can vividly remember Megan & Aaron's free dance and waiting for the marks. I was already thinking about writing about it.

I haven't written a formal essay that uses this story yet, but I know that I will someday. I'll have to, because that moment made such an impression on me, as did the one about an hour later, when Jules, Jen, and I flew down the concourse at them for ecstatic Olympic team hugs. Seriously, Jen almost knocked Megan on the ground. I know I'll have to write about this someday, to explore it further. Although it's their story, it has really influenced who I am. Because at a time when I needed it most, they reminded me that I have to believe in myself.

Me, Jen, and Jules with Megan & Aaron - Canadians banquet, 2006

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