Home Figure Skating News An Evening with Champions: 2023 Review

An Evening with Champions: 2023 Review

by Anna Kellar

Evening with Champions

An Evening with Champions

The 51st annual ice show An Evening with Champions (EWC) was held September 8th and 9th in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The event is organized every year by students at Harvard University, and raises money for the Jimmy Fund, a charity supporting patient care and research at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

This year’s cast was headlined by 2018 and 2022 Olympians Vincent Zhou, Mariah Bell and Mirai Nagasu. It also included current international competitors Yelim Kim, Starr Andrews, Maxim Naumov, and Emily Chan and Spencer Howe, among a group of local, national, and international talent.

Paul Wylie’s highlights

The event was hosted on the ice by 2006 Olympian Emily Hughes (Harvard Class of 2011) and 1992 Olympic Silver Medalist Paul Wyle (Harvard Class of 1991), who introduced the athletes and interviewed many of them after their skates.

Wylie has been involved in EWC for several decades.

“It is wonderful to come back after the 50th anniversary and have there be a 51st,” he said. “We had Vincent, Mariah, Mirai, coming back of their own volition. Those athletes don’t get a chance to perform very much, and I think [my generation] probably took that for granted; that we were able to have a career after our amateur career ended.”

“This audience has always been a sweetheart audience, very supportive of the athletes, and it’s a great cause,” Wylie continued. “I remember some of the kids I met at the Jimmy Fund skate, and the truth is, one of them didn’t make it. I have a picture of her in my office. I want to remember that life is really precious. But many, many more Jimmy Fund kids make it now because of science and the work that is done there, and that takes money. So that is why we are here, year after year.”

For Wylie, stand-out performances included Mariah Bell and Mirai Nagasu due to the mature quality of their skating.

“There was such beauty in the movement of their hands, their song choices,” he pointed out. “And it was fun to see some of these up-and-comer skaters, too, Max [Naumov] skating to Metallica, and Starr Andrews performing. There is such an interesting intergenerational element to this show, always, from the babies all the way up.”

Wylie’s top highlight, however, was 2022 Olympian and World Bronze medalist Vincent Zhou.

“Vincent’s performance was just so excellent,” he said. “I was on the phone with him, probably a month ago, and I said, ‘I really think you should skate.’ He said, ‘Really?’ and I said ‘Yes.’ I know he went back to the drawing board … and worked really hard to skate here. I thought it was moving to see him back on the ice, to know all that he has been through. He’s waiting for the decision on [the team Olympic medals], he had COVID and couldn’t skate the singles portion of his Olympics, so I think it was just neat to see him out there.”

Zhou closed out the night skating his Olympic season short program to “Vincent.” He landed a beautiful triple Lutz, triple Salchow and triple flip, and showed an emotional connection to his skating that has only improved in his time away from the ice. After the performance, Wylie asked Zhou about the “empty boxes” that the US Olympic team received in place of their team event medals, which have been delayed as the case against Kamila Valieva advances to the Court for Arbitration in Sport.

“All of us Olympians, we had a dream,” responded Zhou. “We saw our idols on the Olympic podium with their medals, and we sacrificed everything, our lives, our friends, family, homes to skate our hearts out in pursuit of our dream. To not receive the medals we earned, because of injustices out of our control, it doesn’t feel good.”

This was Zhou’s first time skating publicly in a year, and he said he enjoyed skating for the audience again.

“Skating will definitely be a big part of the rest of my life,” confirmed Zhou, who is embracing his experience as a full-time student at Brown University. “We can take so many lessons from everything we’ve been through as skaters. But intellectual challenges are inherently different from physical challenges and it’s interesting seeing how [my experience] applies.”

2018 Olympic team member Mirai Nagasu received one of the loudest cheers of the night from an audience that included many of the young skaters she coaches, as well as fans who remember her performances at the US Nationals in Boston in 2014. She skated an elegant and expressive version of “On Golden Pond,” a program that she performed at the 2014 US Nationals Exhibition, and which has emotional connections for Nagasu and fans. She fell on her double Axel but landed a strong triple toe.

“It’s a little embarrassing to fall in front of my students!” she said afterward, “but hopefully it’s a life lesson; you have to get up and keep going no matter what!”

A warm-up for competition

Mariah Bell performed the Free Skate she will use at Japan Open, to “The Power of Love” by Celine Dion. She included two double toes, a triple toe, a double Axel, and double flip, loop and Lutz.

“Hopefully I’ll get more triples in there for Japan Open,” Bell said. “The last time I competed was Japan Open last year, and I took the whole spring off. Off! I’m retired anyway,” she added, laughing.

Training post-retirement can feel challenging for Bell.

“It’s a really great reminder for me that I’m definitely ready to be retired, because I used to love training more than competing, honestly. I loved the daily schedule. I don’t have the same feeling now, but it has been fun and it’s given me a little bit of structure. It’s also sad how quickly you lose things in skating! But overall, it’s a fun experience…I’m just so lucky to get to do it, and Japan is just the best.”

Bell’s older sister, Morgan, will be accompanying her to Japan as her coach.

“She competed for a long time,” pointed out Mariah. “She went to Nationals, and then she did Disney on Ice for like seven years. Now she’s a coach in Dallas. They told me you could bring somebody as a coach, and you can either fly alone in business class, or have two economy tickets, and I thought ‘I guess she’s worth it’….she’s never been to Japan, so I think it’ll be really fun.”

Bell is returning to California soon to work with her former coach Rafael Arutunian, and to get a new exhibition number choreographed by Shae Lynn Bourne.

Starr Andrews skated an exhibition number to “Free Your Mind” by En Vogue, featuring a solid double Axel and triple flip. She used the show to return to performing after undergoing heart surgery earlier in the summer.

“Unfortunately, they couldn’t fix the issue, but at least I now know what it was, because I had no clue before. I still have to deal with it a little bit, but I’m doing a lot better now. I had a little bit of a late start to the season, but I did last year as well, so I knew how to navigate it.”

Andrews shared that she is especially excited about showing audiences her new short program to “Alien Superstar” by Beyonce.

“Adam Rippon choreographed it, and it’s so fun, and it has one of my favorite outfits,” she revealed. “I’m feeling pretty solid right now, so I’m really looking forward to going out there and competing.”

For the free skate, she’ll be using “Being Good Isn’t Good Enough” by Barbra Streisand, which she previously competed with at the Peggy Fleming Trophy. Her coach, Derrick Delmore, suggested turning the program into a Free Skate.

“It’s a beautiful song and it builds and builds and builds, and the way she sings it is so amazing, Andrews explained. “It’s an emotional song, and there is actually a new musical part in the middle, composed by Hugo Chouinard, and it is so beautiful. I’m super happy with it.”

Starr will be competing at the Kings Cup International in early October, before her Grand Prix events in Canada and Japan.

It was a pleasure to see Yelim Kim skate in the United States before the start of her competitive season, which will take her to Grand Prix events in China and Japan. Kim performed an exhibition to “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri. The height of her triple flip, speed of her spins and overall flow and grace of her skating stood out. She looked competition-ready, and her beautiful Ina Bauer drew literal gasps from the audience.

Max Naumov skated a powerful program to Metallica, landing a strong triple Lutz, triple Salchow, and triple Axel. The 2020 US Junior champion is scheduled to compete at the Nepela Trophy and then Skate America.

Public debut for new pair Gabbie Izzo and Thierry Ferland

The new pair team of Gabbie Izzo and Thierry Ferland skated publicly for the first time, debuting their short program to “Aint No Mountain High Enough.” The program included a double twist, side-by-side triple flips, and an impressive throw triple loop. The team looked remarkably confident and well-matched in performance, especially given that Izzo been training pairs for only a matter of months.

Izzo is a senior at Harvard, but will finish her education at McGill in Montreal, where she and Ferland are training.

“I really like the environment in Montreal,” said Izzo. “The coaches push us hard, and it motivates us.”

Ferland shared that the new partnership means that both he and Izzo have a lot to learn.

“I was with my last partner for 12 years,” he said. “It’s new timing, new positions, everything, but she is doing great!”

The team is not yet cleared to skate internationally for Canada but will be competing domestically.

“We’re doing the regionals, provincials, all the qualifiers,” said Izzo. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had to qualify for nationals, but you have to start somewhere!”

US Silver medalists Emily Chan and Spencer Howe are building up slowly for their season debut, as Howe recovers from shoulder surgery.

“I’m four months out now from the surgery, and I’m where I’m supposed to be, but I still have to get more mobility back,” Howe commented.
The team had considered skating at the Finlandia Trophy or Tayside Trophy but has decided to wait to compete until their Grand Prix assignments in November.

While they retrain pair elements, the team took advantage of an opportunity to emphasize their artistic and emotional skating, a primary goal for them this season. The program, to the theme from the film “Sounds of Freedom” featured several dance lifts, a pair spin, and detailed footwork, showing off their skating skills and strong connection to the music.

“It’s great to be back in front of an audience,” said Howe.

The Haydenettes also debuted their new program. The 30-time U.S. National Synchronized Skating Champions skated to “Claire de Lune” with power and grace. The team was at times less polished than they will be as the season goes on, but it is a good program for them and very enjoyable to watch. The costumes are reminiscent of Carolina Kostner’s “Claire de Lune” exhibition number.

An intergenerational event

In addition to the headlines like Zhou and Nagasu, EWC was also an opportunity to appreciate skaters who have retired or paused their competitive careers, as well as up-and-coming talents. The diversity of ages and types of skating allowed the audience to appreciate the love for the sport and dedication shown by skaters who have a variety of goals.

Former US men’s competitors Sean Rabbitt and Ryan Dunk expressed how much it means to them to have the opportunity to perform for an audience that can appreciate them as entertainers.

Dunk recently retired from competitive skating, after having competed at his last US Nationals in 2022 and winning the US Collegiate Championship this summer. Now graduated from college, he is working as a research assistant at the Brigham Womens hospital in Boston. He shared that he sees the connections everyday between the funds raised at events like EWC and his work in medical research. He plans to go to graduate school in psychology.

“I love doing these kinds of shows, and skating to my favorite music,” he said. “Last year, I did Britney Spears, and this year I did Queen. I want to skate to all the icons.”

Dunk performed to “Bohemian Rhapsody” with a full Freddie Mercury-style mustache, tight jeans, and a white tank top. His program was a highlight of the night, perfectly choreographed to show the quirks and grandeur of the song, and his fast, flexible spins and creative positions got a big audience reaction.

Sean Rabbitt also appreciates the opportunity to continue performing as he has moved into full-time coaching work. He flirted with the audience through his energetic performance of “Sing Sing Sing,” and landed a high-quality triple Salchow. Rabbit shared that he thinks it helps his students when he is able to demonstrate the things that they are learning.

2022 Four Continents Pairs Champion Audrey Lu returned to Boston, where she trained with her former partner Misha Mitrofanov. She is now in pre-med at UCLA. Her program included three double jumps, and beautiful spins and spirals.

The show also included 2022 Skate Ontario Sectional Junior Champion and incoming Harvard freshman Caitlyn Kukulowicz, and several talented young skaters who competed for a spot in the show by raising money for the Jimmy Fund. A particular highlight was 2017 Special Olympics Ice Dance Bronze Medalist Sharita Taylor. She skated to “About Damn Time” with charisma and attitude.

Jordan Cowan of On Ice Perspectives was also on hand to document the event and will be releasing videos of the performances on his YouTube and social media accounts.

It’s rare to get a show that includes such a diverse group of skaters, and athletes in so many phases of their careers. Skating fans near Boston should plan on attending next year, and even if you don’t live close by, it’s worth making the trip, and supporting the cause.

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