The 2011/12 competitive season began with developing and training a new long program based on the music from the “Untouchables” that was choreographed by Jamie Isley. I debuted the program at the Middle Atlantics competition at Chelsea Piers in New York City. I had been notified a few months earlier that I had been chosen to participate in two Grand Prix events this year: the first at Skate Canada in Mississauga, Canada and the second at the NHK Trophy in Sapporo, Japan.
My first outing at Skate Canada was somewhat disappointing, as a popped triple axel in the short program placed me low in the overall standings (ninth out of ten skaters). Fortunately, I was able to redeem myself a bit in the long program by placing fifth in the long program and sixth overall.
Just a few weeks later I was off to Sapporo, Japan to compete in the NHK Trophy. I had a decent short program and finished in sixth place, just three and a half points out of third. The NHK Trophy was very competitive this year. Only nine skaters ended up competing and of the nine there were three Japanese skaters (including Daisuke Takahashi, Takahiko Kozuka and Tatsuki Machida) and three U.S. skaters (including myself, Armin Mahbanoozadeh and Brandon Mroz). The three additional skaters were Tomas Verner, Samuel Contesti and Konstantin Menshov. Needless to say, the field was quite competitive. As many of you are aware, the free skate starting order at ISU Grand Prix events are in reverse order of placements from the short program. This meant that I would be the third skater in the first warm up with six skaters to skate after me.
Skating in Japan is very special. The venues always sell out, the fans are very knowledgeable about skating, and, most importantly, support all skaters. Arriving at the rink on the day of the long program, there were literally thousands of fans lined up in a very orderly fashion with the line snaking and filling the entire entry to the stadium. The Makomanai “Sekisui Heim” Ice Arena is the original venue used in the 1972 Winter Olympics held in Sapporo. The rink only holds 11,500 people and is quite a bit smaller than many of the “more modern” Winter Olympic facilities. It is similar in size and feel of the 1980 Herb Brooks area in Lake Placid, which holds 7,700 spectators. Much like Yoyogi stadium in Tokyo, the Makomani Arena is very interesting architecturally.
Well, long story short, I skated a solid and consistent free skate. I was within .3 points of my long at Skate Canada and upped my total score by 10 points. With six skaters left to skate and all with higher short program scores, all I could do was wait and see what the final result would be. After Tomas Verner skated I was still in the lead and there were three more skaters to skate, I started to get a little nervous. I would probably be required to skate in the exhibition and did not have my music or costume. I was desperately trying to get in touch with my mom so she could run to the hotel and grab what I needed. I forgot to mention there was less than an hour between the end of the men’s program and the start of the exhibition. After Samuel Contesti skated and his scores were announced, it became very evident that with only two skaters left to skate, I would be on the podium! My first ISU Grand Prix medal! Instead of savoring the moment, intense pressure to be ready for the exhibition was turning into panic. With the medal ceremony between now and the opening of the exhibition, there was virtually no time for me to get prepared for my exhibition number. Having had experience with this problem before (at the 2011 U.S. Nationals), I knew my mom would figure everything out. Since my Bruce Springsteen exhibition program only requires jeans, the tourist store Hokkaido tee shirt (the name of the island upon which Sapporo sits), she purchased running through the lobby of the hotel turned out to be a big hit. Problem solved.
What an honor it is to medal in Japan. At many medal ceremonies throughout the world the stands are almost empty as spectators clear the arena after having spent way to may hours sitting and watching skating. In Japan, however, the stands are almost as full for the medal ceremony as the event. Being the only non-Japanese skater on the podium may explain the large audience. The clapping in time to music, hundreds of people crowding the boards, and, most importantly, acknowledging me as loudly as their own is very, very special. In the multimedia section of this website, under the video section, you can watch this ceremony. At the end of the video, pay close attention to the “victory lap”. Dai has to make a special trip back to his coaches to “unload” his gifts and flowers. What a rock star!
Once back in Boston, I had about two months to prepare for Nationals. I felt great and my progress at international events allowed me to skate with confidence. About a week prior to my departure for Nationals, a box arrived at the Skating Club of Boston. The box had a customs label that said it contained paper cranes and boy was I surprised when I opened the box. Imagine an origami paper crane, and how many folds are involved to create one paper crane. OK, even with instruction and maybe even some personal assistance I might get one crane out in about 15 to 30 minutes. What I received in that box from Hiroko Arita and her family blew me away. In that box were 1,000 yes, 1,000, folded paper cranes attached end to end by string and arranged to form a giant pom-pom. Additionally, jewels were attached at various intervals to further adorn, what I will call the structure. This note was found attached: “Dear Ross, My friend and my family and I folded 1,000 paper cranes to bring fortune in your next win!! Good Luck!....Hiroko Arita.” It is difficult for me to fathom how many hours and the great care that went into making this most precious gift. Each crane is as perfectly folded as the next. I cannot imagine how many hours went into this project. Please see the attached photo to admire this detail.
I have pictured the 1,000 cranes with my second U.S. Nationals medal because I would like to dedicate my success at Nationals to Hiroko, her friends and family. Their thoughtful gift certainly did bring me fortune at my next win, and perhaps a few more to come! Nationals were held in San Jose this year and I had a very respectable short program. My triple lutz-triple toe could have been better, but otherwise a good program. I placed fourth in the short with about 4 points separating me from second place. I thought I skated the long program quite well, although I did have an incident (some call it a costume malfunction). After my first triple axel the strap that attached around the skate broke and I skated the rest of my program with a “high water” pant leg and exposed duct tape that I use to keep my laces in check. I keep the laces in check because about three years ago I finished a program with about two feet of lace trailing behind me. Now that I think about it, maybe duct tape from my knees down might be in order??? I finished the long with two miscues, I fell on my second triple axel (after what appeared to be a decent landing) and tripped on my choreographed footwork (although Scott Hamilton suggested I should have sold it as a planned portion of the footwork sequence). I finished the event with my second bronze medal and was honored to be selected by US Figure Skating to represent the U.S. at the upcoming Four Continents to be held in Colorado Springs.
A few short weeks after the U.S. Nationals I found myself in Colorado Springs at the Four Continents Championships. I got there about four days prior to the event in order to acclimate myself to altitude. I had very good practices and spent a lot of time prior to the event hanging out with Ricky Dornbush, who, as I, was staying at the Olympic Training Center (OTC). Staying at the OTC is always a great experience, especially this being a summer Olympic year. Meeting the numerous athletes preparing in a very important year is quite inspiring. I skated a clean short and ended up sixth and about 6 points out of third. I would be in the last warmup and had drawn 24th or the last skater of the event. That would mean I would knew exactly where I stood in the event immediately after skating.
The long program at altitude is the real test of your training and endurance. While back stage, one of the skaters in an earlier warmup had to be helped off the ice, literally being assisted off the ice with a coach supporting him on each shoulder. When they got near me back stage, he nearly collapsed and all I remember is Peter (my coach) looking me straight in the eyes and repeating “look at me, look at me”. My dad later told me that several skaters were doubled over at center ice after their skate and he thought at least two skaters required oxygen in the kiss and cry.
I had a reasonably good free skate although the triple lutz could have been improved and I doubled the loop. As I mentioned earlier, being the last skater, assured me of knowing how I placed at the event. Throughout the course of the season I never achieved the skate I wanted to skate. I did well, but not what I had trained and knew I could achieve. This day was no different. In the video section of this website is the link to the free skate at the Four Continents and the kiss and cry reaction. While in the kiss and cry along with my interaction with Peter, you can see my visible disappointment. Boy did that change quickly. When the scores were announced and I registered a third place finish, both Peter and I were ecstatic. OK maybe I slightly overreacted. But that was a great feeling. Also, not so bad to be on the podium with the two most recent World champions!
I was disappointed not to make the 2012 World Team, but clearly the season ended well with my Four Continents bronze. More importantly, based on ISU Current Seasons World Ranking for the 2011/12 season I was ranked the number 10 skater in the world. I am proud of this achievement. I am really using the additional training time to my advantage. I already have two new programs and have had a lot of additional time to work on my quad toe and quad salchow. I will take a vacation at he end of May with Alex and Maia Shibutani, something I haven’t done in years, and I am so excited. Plus I am working on new ways of movement over the ice, and really enjoying that as well! Now I am hoping for two Grand Prix assignments next fall, and anxiously awaiting the outcome of the ISU decisions.”