Figure skaters recall odd gifts from fans

Figure skating gifts
0 Comments

Michelle Kwan still has bags of stuffed animals, and she doesn’t know what to do with them.

The toys are mostly at least 10 years old, thrown on the ice by fans after her figure skating performances. Kwan believes the bags are collecting dust in the attic of her parents’ home.

“I think it’s a little too late to give stuffed animals [away to children] because they’re so old now,” Kwan said at a Figure Skating in Harlem gala in New York last week. “The kids will be like, ‘They make these still?’ … I don’t think kids would want to play with them anymore.”

Ardent figure skating fans go to competitions toting presents they heave on the ice after their favorite skaters perform. Whether the skater lands quadruple jumps or falls on a simple spin, they will receive lovely parting gifts.

Usually, children called “sweepers” gather the teddy bears, fake flowers, even candy for the skaters, who will sometimes pick up one or two items themselves on their way to the kiss-and-cry area.

It’s one of the sport’s unique traditions that grew more visible this past season, if one looked closely.

In January, U.S. Olympian Gracie Gold received a small stuffed sea creature at the U.S. Championships in Greensboro, N.C. Her coach, 76-year-old Frank Carroll, appeared to try to take a bite out of it while Gold waited for her scores.

In February, Gold carried a stuffed white bear about half her size to the kiss-and-cry area at the Four Continents Championship in Seoul. The bear wore a pink backpack, Gold opened it and pulled out a bag of Reese’s peanut butter cups while waiting for her judges’ scores.

The world’s most popular skater, Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, is known to have a Winnie-the-Pooh tissue box with him at competitions.

In March, gold and red Pooh bears rained on the ice at the World Championships in Shanghai, China, following Hanyu’s short program. At least 10 sweepers required minutes to clean the surface.

Hanyu’s friendly rival, Spain’s Javier Fernandez, was scheduled to skate after Hanyu in the next day’s long program.

“I’m going to skate around [the bears] and try not to kill myself,” Fernandez reportedly said then.

Active and retired U.S. skaters agreed that Japanese fans are on their own level.

“There’s adoration, and then there’s that,” 1992 Olympic silver medalist Paul Wylie said. “It’s like worship almost. I think that would be overwhelming for a skater. That is pressure.”

Wylie competed in the pre-sweepers era.

“You would go around, and you would take probably two to three minutes and then greet anyone who was giving you a rose or something like that,” he said. “People wouldn’t throw them. They would stand at the edge of the barrier, and then the skater would come by and have this meet and greet. Based on that, it was taking too long.”

Wylie’s account conjures this Coca-Cola commercial from the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympics:

“Back in the ’90s, it was popular to do flowers, which I don’t think they allow anymore because of the debris,” 1992 Olympic champion Kristi Yamaguchi said.

In 2001, U.S. Figure Skating banned flowers “in part because of safety concerns related to the Sept. 11 attacks and subsequent anthrax scares,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

“Sept. 11 made the U.S. Figure Skating Assn. move up a decision it was already going to make,” said Larry Kriwanek, chair of the Los Angeles 2002 U.S. Figure Championships organizing committee, according to the report. “Flowers were going to be eliminated. It was just a question of when.”

That did little to quell fans’ creativity.

“We sometimes will get stuffed animals made in custom costumes to match what we’re wearing,” Sochi Olympic ice dance champion Meryl Davis said, referring to partner Charlie White and herself.

Davis remembered as a child watching Kwan skate, and seeing the stream of stuffed animals being thrown by people sitting around her. But she said she’s never thrown a gift on the ice for another skater.

There’s difficulty in deciding which items to squeeze into luggage for the flight home. The others usually go to children’s hospitals.

“It’s tough to leave stuff behind, because you know that people are going out of their way to give it to you,” Davis said. “Usually in Japan, you get the most.”

Sasha Cohen, the 2006 Olympic silver medalist, received marriage proposals and, once in Paris, a bunch of Cashmere sweaters. She made sure to find room for them on her return flight.

“I may have worn them back,” she said.

The 1988 Olympic bronze medalist Debi Thomas once received a box of Domino’s Pizza. Canadian Olympic silver medalists Elvis Stojko and Patrick Chan have both said they received lingerie.

“The panties came out on the ice after my short program,” Stojko said in 2010, according to ESPN.com, “and the top came out the next night after the long program, with a phone number and name attached.”

Kwan, a nine-time U.S. champion, still has a buttoned, navy blue figure skating outfit with a skirt tossed by a fan.

“And it actually fit,” she said. “When I was a kid, I was 13 [years old] at Nationals, I used to keep every single toy. The next year, I got the same amount of stuffed animals, if not more, and I said, ‘What am I going to do with them?'”

Kwan said that, as a young spectator, she once threw a stuffed rabbit on the ice for Tisha Walker, a late 1980s and early 1990s U.S. skater.

Evan Lysacek, the 2010 Olympic champion, said he’s received a bobblehead of himself, among stranger things.

“I got a self-sufficient ecosystem with a statue of me in the middle, so if the earth ever like came to an end, you could open this up, and the earth would regrow again from the center of this ecosystem with a statue of me,” he said.

Wylie remembered a famous fan story from the late 1980s, when he skated on a tour that visited Milan.

The star of the show was East German Katarina Witt, the 1984 and 1988 Olympic champion. Wylie noticed a famous spectator, Italian Alpine skier Alberto Tomba.

“Tomba was kind of after her, you know,” Wylie said of the man-about-town, five-time Olympic medalist. “He came into the boys locker room and noticed that there was this mound of flowers that we had sort of set there because they were going to go to the hospital or whatever. He kind of second-hand picked up the flower and gave it to Katarina.”

Was the gift well-received?

“She kind of liked him, I think,” Wylie said, smiling. “I think it worked.”

Yevgeny Plushenko to return to figure skating competition

Bradie’s back: Tennell wows in U.S. Figure Skating Championships return from nightmare

1 Comment

SAN JOSE, California — Bradie Tennell stood at the end boards, her back to the ice surface, her attention on trying to take in what her imposing coach, Benoit Richaud, was telling her in the final seconds before she took the ice for Thursday’s short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

It was hard for Tennell to stay focused on – or even hear – what Richaud was saying. A group of kids from U.S. Figure Skating’s development camp, who were sitting in the stands near Tennell, started screaming their lungs out when they were shown on the SAP Center video board. Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar” was blasting at approximately 10 million decibels on the arena’s sound system.

“It was very distracting,” Tennell said, eschewing an athlete’s usual cliché about nothing being able to break her concentration. “But this past year has taught me nothing comes easy.”

It was a year of injuries, re-injuries, new injuries. A year when the two-time U.S. champion had been physically unable to compete for a spot on a second Olympic team in 2022. A year when Tennell turned her life inside out, moving to France to train with Richaud, only to have more setbacks.

“I’ve definitely had my share of bumps in the road on the way here,” Tennell said. “This was a very long time in the making.”

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

This was finishing second in the short program, a whisker behind event favorite Isabeau Levito. This was a Tennell performance marred only by unexpected mistakes on spins, her last of seven elements in the short program. This was a statement to anyone who wondered if she could be a factor in the sport again.

“I’m back, baby,” she said, her uncharacteristic bravado tempered by a laugh.

Richaud agreed.

“People can see the job we did, see the improvement,” Richaud said. “Clearly the message tonight is Bradie is one of the best skaters in the world.”

Her skating had a greater maturity and finesse, with striking flow and attention to details of hand movement and body position. She has vowed not to take a pass on any moment in her programs, knowing every second can produce more points.

“I’m a new and improved Bradie,” she said. “I don’t put a limit on myself.”

Tennell opened with a solid triple lutz-triple toe loop combination, the first time she had landed that combination cleanly since her victorious 2021 Nationals. She followed that with a strong triple flip and a good double Axel. A slip on her flying sit spin and a flawed combination spin would cost her the points that dropped her behind Levito, 73.78 to 73.76, going into Friday night’s free skate.

“Made a couple silly mistakes on spins,” Tennell said. “I think I got too excited.”

So as pleased as Tennell was with the result, she once again heard the two voices that quarrel inside her head. One says be satisfied just by being able to compete again; the other wants to win.

“One was jumping up and down with pompoms,” Tennell said. “The other was, ‘But you didn’t get the (highest) spin levels.'”

Starr Andrews was third at 68.97, her highest finish in any segment of the six nationals in which she has competed. Five years ago in this building, Andrews, then 16, had made a dazzling senior debut while finishing sixth, but she has struggled to build on that promise.

“Of course, I wondered if that was going to happen again,” Andrews said.

Andrews helped relive that past glory by wearing the same sparky carmine unitard she had in 2018.

“It was kind of a full circle,” Andrews said. “It was really amazing to be out there again. I felt really comfortable and confident.”

Tennell, too, had created a career-defining moment at this arena in 2018, winning the national title after having finished ninth a year before and going on to earn an Olympic team event bronze medal.

“This is where all my skating craziness started,” she said.

She, too, expressed a feeling of having come full circle. Yet another moment was on her mind as the auditory craziness swirled over her while Richaud, whom Tennell calls “a commanding presence,” was trying to keep her calm by repeating things he had told her earlier this season, when her return to competition had been fraught with poor performances.

Tennell was thinking about the 2019 Nationals in Detroit, when she had won the short program but coped poorly with an unexpected distraction before the free skate.

“I couldn’t get my focus back after that,” she said.

The result was a desultory fourth in the free skate, second overall and a pledge to learn from it.

“I’ve always said to myself if that happened again, I would handle it better,” she recalled.

And she did.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

2023 Australian Open men’s singles draw, scores

Novak Djokovic Australian Open
Getty
0 Comments

At the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic can win a men’s record-extending 10th Australian Open title and tie Rafael Nadal for the most men’s major singles titles in history.

Djokovic was PointsBet Sportsbook’s pre-tournament favorite despite being seeded fourth after missing last year’s Australian Open and U.S. Open because of his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

He now faces No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s final, also with the No. 1 ranking on the line. Tsitsipas made his fifth Grand Slam semifinal and second final, still seeking his first major title. Every other man in the Open Era (since 1968) to make it to both of those rounds that many times has won a Slam except Todd Martin.

Djokovic’s stock in Melbourne rose after Nadal, the defending champion and top seed, was injured and ousted in the second round by American Mackenzie McDonald. The next day, the No. 2 seed, Norwegian Casper Ruud, was knocked out by American Jenson Brooksby.

Djokovic won three consecutive Australian Opens after a fourth-round defeat in 2018. He is bidding to move one shy of the overall record 11 Australian Open singles titles held by Margaret Court and become the second man to win any major 10 times.

The other man to do it is of course Nadal, who owns 14 French Open crowns. Nadal also owns the men’s record 22 Grand Slam singles titles overall, just one ahead of Djokovic.

Last year, Nadal won the Australian Open on the heels of a chronic foot injury that had him questioning coming back to tennis at all. He also overcame foot problems to win the French Open, then reach the Wimbledon semifinals before withdrawing with an abdominal muscle tear.

Starting with his U.S. Open fourth-round defeat, Nadal went 1-6 in his seven matches leading into the Australian Open. He beat Jack Draper in the first round this year, but was swept by McDonald amid a hip injury in the second round.

This is the first Australian Open since Roger Federer‘s retirement. Also missing: the injured world No. 1 and U.S. Open champion Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, who at 19 became the youngest men’s Grand Slam champion since Nadal’s first title at the 2005 French Open.

MORE: Australian Open Women’s Draw

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

2023 Australian Open Men’s Singles Draw

2023 Australian Open Men's Singles Draw 2023 Australian Open Men's Singles Draw 2023 Australian Open Men's Singles Draw 2023 Australian Open Men's Singles Draw