I was born to Russian parents, so watching figure skating was almost like a rite of passage. For a number of Olympic cycles, my years have followed a calendar somewhat different from other people: They start in August with the ISU Junior Grand Prix series, and end in March with the world championships.
And yet, despite my seemingly everlasting skating fandom, I have never seen a figure skating competition live — and what better way to induct myself into it than to cover one from behind the scenes at the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships?
I spent the majority of the last week of January as part of the accredited media at the event, both for the junior and senior competitions.
The people I have spent years following on television (and through shoddy live streams for the less-publicized events) were suddenly very much in my presence. The journalists whose work I have spent years admiring were suddenly my colleagues.
And I don’t mean that they were just in my presence, and that we would occasionally share an elevator trip up to the rink. I say “colleagues” in every sense of the word: discussing the day’s events, talking about scheduling and media availability and giving our opinions about everything from the federation’s choices for the world championship team to the media hospitality snacks.
On more than one occasion I shook hands with someone who introduced themselves to me, during which time I had to use all of my willpower to not say “I know” when they said their name.
This wasn’t my first time at a professional sporting event as part of the media — and, Lord knows, I hope that it won’t be my last. While I might have fumbled a little before, this time I instantly fell into a groove.
I arrived in the morning and went through the security check. I picked up my credentials on the first day, and breezed through every subsequent morning with a “Hello, how are you” to the security staff and volunteers.
I would jaunt down to the first floor, which housed the media workroom. I’d grab a coffee, check out the schedule for the day (one that is meticulously timed, with the exact minute each skater would take the ice). I think I really looked like I knew what I was doing.
And I felt like it, too.
I’d write in the media workroom and then head up to the rink just in time for the first warmup group of each event. I’d come down to the first floor intermittently to grab another cup of coffee or a snack. Admittedly, I probably broke some sort of record, consuming an embarrassing amount of Diet Coke over the week.
For the majority of the time, though, I was parked up in the upper sections of the stadium, at the tables designated for media, live-Tweeting and making notes.
After every senior event, I would sit in on the press conferences. For once, I was among the first to hear major news, reactions and assessments instead of constantly refreshing my social media to track other journalists’ live-Tweets.
Aside from getting to be in “The Room Where It Happens,” seeing some of my all-time favorite skaters was an absolutely surreal experience. In this column I would like to give a specific shoutout to silver medalist Jason Brown — there will never be a skater like him in U.S. figure skating.
Overall, it was astounding how much I felt like I belonged in that pressroom. By the end of the week, I was joking around with the journalists in the field and referencing conversations we had days ago. My sometimes frightening depth of knowledge of the sport was finally being put to use beyond me bothering my friends with the latest skating competition news.
And if I was ever unsure about my choice of career path in sports journalism, I feel pretty darn set in it now.