Where Are ...

Evan, Evgeni, Johnny, Stephane, Stefan, Tomas, Joannie, Xue and Hongbo, Oksana and Max, Tanith and Ben, Isabelle and Olivier?

Why, mostly making money, of course!

by Alexandra Stevenson

Worlds after Olympics is always a problem. There was a time when the ISU would not classify the Olympics as a championship. The Union thought they were such an inferior competition, that they deliberately made it easier for entrants. Instead of the figures being drawn at the event as they were in all ISU championships, in the Olympics the figures were pre-ordained ahead of the season so those who relied on outdoor ice could practice the ones which would count. And there were only five figures in the Games, instead of the six, executed from both left and right starts at the ISU events. Also, of course, until 1976, another reason Worlds were considered more important, was that the Games had no ice dancing. Today, even though it is the 100th time Worlds have been held, they are definitely an anti-climax after the huge media focus on the Games. And how can competitors not be exhausted having to peak again so soon after Vancouver?

WHERE’S EVAN? In the Men's event, four of the top six Olympians are missing Worlds. Gold medalist Evan Lysacek is thoroughly enjoying his new-found super celebrityhood, although he still refuses to say he will NOT return to competitive skating in the fall. He says he’s now actively looking for music for next season.

He does not have pleasant memories of Torino, where he finished fourth in the 2006 Olympics. Illness prevented him giving his best in the SP and he wasn’t looking forward to returning to a place best forgotten. Instead, he will be in his hometown, Naperville, Illinois, where the now 24-year-old lived till he was 18. They are having an Evan Lysacek Day for him on March 26, when they will present him with the key to the city. A few days before then, he will appear with Dancing with the Stars. The highly popular TV series begins its tenth season this week. (1992 Olympic gold medallist Kristi Yamaguchi won the sixth season.) Lysacek says dancing isn’t as easy as he thought it would be, and he’s had some slips in controlling his jive. "I am used to moving on my own and now I have to move differently with a partner. We go counter-clockwise on the ice but on the ballroom they do the reverse." His professional partner is Anna Trebunskaya, who has finished as high as second in past seasons. Evan gushes, "Everyone who I’ve talked to has had such a positive experience on Dancing with the Stars so I jumped at the chance to join when they invited me. I went into rehearsals almost immediately I left Vancouver. In previous years, I’ve had a good time in the audience watching my friends Apolo Anton Ohno and Kristi Yamaguchi compete so I can only imagine how much fun it is to actually be dancing for the Mirror Ball Trophy. I’m really excited about this opportunity because it will give me a challenge while allowing me to celebrate my win at the Olympics."

Come April 1, Evan will appear with the 41-stop Smuckers Stars on Ice. His girl-friend is now the Russian-born US Olympic gold medalist gymnast Nastia Liukin. "She been so helpful to me," adds Lysacek. "She has been through it herself. If I'm having a bad day, she tells me to have faith and to keep going. Sometimes your support system has more faith in you than yourself. And when she tells me things are going to be fine, I really believe it." They met in Rapid City, South Dakota where NBC was filming their Skating and Gymnastics Spectacular and have been dating since last summer when he escorted her to the ESPYs. The blonde Liukin says, "Even though we're not in the same sport, we got to connect at the same level because there's nothing like the Olympics. In Vancouver, it was nice to be on other side of things and be the support system, but I was so nervous for Evan." Ryan Bradley will replace Lysacek in Torino.

WHERE’S EVGENY? Evgeni Plushenko, the Olympic silver medalist, was adamant he would be in Torino. Until his doctor in St. Petersburg said, "Nyet! No way, Jose!" On Thursday, (March 18) with his bags all packed, Evgeny was required to be checked out by the medics. He has problems with his left knee and his ankle. The doctors say the only way they will get better is rest. Evgeny has a heap of contracts coming up for shows around the world. The withdrawal was made by Valentin Piseev, who was head of figure skating in the old Soviet Union and carried over to head the Russian Skating Federation. However, the same forces which have called for the Russian Sports Minister to resign, which the Deputy Minister has already done, in the light of Russia’s poor showing in the Olympics, are also calling for Piseev to be sacked. Piseev e-mailed the ISU that Plushenko must avoid strenuous exercise for at least two weeks." Plushenko’s agent, Ari Zakarian said on Friday, "He is in perfect condition. But yesterday, in practice, he did 54 jumps and started getting pain on the quad toe. The doctors advised him to rest for two weeks. He did not want to compete without the quad."

I should think not. After he kept saying, "It is not men’s skating without a quad," he’d never live down competing without a quad!  Sergei Voronov will replace him in Torino.

WHERE’S STEPHANE? Stephane Lambiel, who missed out for Olympic bronze by only 0.51 of a point, is appearing in the reality show Thin Ice, which will be televised on ABC March 19 (8:00-9:00 p.m., ET) and March 21 (7:00-8:00 p.m., ET). He will partner 2006 Olympic gold medalist, Shizuka Arakawa. On March 15, they were working with the show’s artistic director Lea Ann Miller at the Municipal Ice Rink in Norwich, CT. The competition is being held on the 85’-by-150’ ice rink which has been put down on the Premier Ballroom at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods, in Mashantucket, Connecticut. Lambiel said, "It's so different, you know. When I competed at the Olympics, there were rules and I had to do all the elements of my program. Here, it’s about fun. It’s about dancing on the ice." Their music Get Bodied by Beyonce and Magic Touch by Robin Thicke and Mary J. Blige, was choreographed by the hip-hop artist Hi-Hat. Then, with Miller’s help, they transformed it onto the ice. Lambiel explained, "Figure skating is a sport but it's also an expression of yourself. It's like dancing. There is beautiful, classical ballet and there is incredible hip-hop. So you can really do the same on the ice."

They will be competing against four other couples, none of whom have skated together: Jamie Sale and Patrice Lauzon, Elena Berezhnaya and David Pelletier, Marie-France Dubreuil and Michael Weiss, and Shae-Lynn Bourne and John Zimmerman. They will be judged by former Olympic gold medalists, Katarina Witt, Kristi Yamaguchi and Dick Button. But these judges will provide only fifty percent of the votes. The rest will come from the audience. Lambiel said, "We hope to get the audience to stand up and cheer for us." Yamaguchi explained, "This is an avenue where the skaters can really freely express themselves and not worry about points they're trying to rack up to win. You'll see not only the top in skating, technically, but you'll see them do things you'd never see at the Olympics, whether that means back flips or, as a couple on the ice, just being able to play off each other and their characters and personalities. None of them are skating with their regular partners."

The Executive Producer, Terry O'Neil, said, "The surprising and striking thing for me is how competitive the skaters and serious the skaters are taking the event. When you say reality show, I think people think it's going to be a skate and a giggle, with a pro and celebrity or a pro and an amateur. What we've gathered instead are the greatest 10 pro skaters in the world." The final results will be determined in equal parts by the judges' and viewers' votes. Pro skaters have not had a place to compete in years. They've done exhibitions and toured, yes, but haven't competed. They say they're fired up to get that chance. They are not doing it for the money. There's very little difference between first, who get $60,000 per couple, and fifth, who receive $30,000 per couple." Kurt Browning is the host.

In addition, Lambiel said he has a host of other engagements. "I will be taking part in about 16 shows by the end of April, including Ilya Averbukh’s tour."

WHERE’S JOHNNY? Johnny Weir, who was sixth in both SP and FS and overall in the Olympics, says that although he won't compete in Torino, his career isn't over. "I want time to reassess my strategy and goals. I need a break from competition to get reenergized." As the star of Be Good Johnny Weir, he has gone Hollywood and was working the red carpet for the Sundance Channel at the Independent Spirit Awards. His show ends its first season on March 22, and he has been giving interviews here, there and everywhere, including a huge piece for the Los Angeles Times, and thoroughly enjoying himself. "When I was younger, I didn’t really think of myself as a speaker for other people. But, now, I know that I have a responsibility for the kids coming up after me, especially after the Olympics. There were a lot of negative comments about me made from Vancouver. I now realize that it’s very important that I talk about those things in public. It’s really grinding to always play out of both sides of your mind and always be thinking what will offend people. Or what won’t. But I’m strong enough to deal with that. I admit that I’m freakish in my way. Other people’s approval means very little to me, although I would have really, really liked to have had a medal at the Olympics. I say a lot of things people think of as crazy. And not every judge sitting on that panel judging me is going to like that. Maybe I’m judged a little harshly. Maybe I’m not. Who knows? But the one thing I could have done was skate well, and that’s what I did. I skated two programs I can be proud of for the rest of my life, medal or not. But still, I am an athlete, and, at the end of the day, nobody likes to lose."

He is certain his future will include New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. "The only thing I know how to sell is myself. I’ve learned that, in business, you should always be open to people who want to help you. Part of being me is having no regrets and also not being afraid to be myself. I have offended many, many people in my lifetime, but I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t cross boundaries. I am never scared. That is part of my brand personally. I would be so unhappy if I was doing what everyone else thought I should be doing in my life. I think being your own product is the best thing you can be." He definitely speaks his mind. His latest comment to make the headlines was trashing celebrity Kate Gosselin, who had a reality show with her then husband and their eight children, and who will be one of Evan Lysacek’s competitors on Dancing With the Stars. He has met her both publicly and privately. "My cousin’s house backs up to the house Jon and Kate lived in." Weir was upset at her behavior at Elton John and David Furnish’s AIDS Foundation benefit. "She was a terror. She was rude to everyone at this charity show, and showed up very late. She’s not a film star. She’s not a singer. And it's not really acceptable in those cases either, to be a nasty person." For Torino, Weir has been replaced by Adam Rippon.

WHERE’S TOMAS? Tomas Verner, former Czech and 2008 European champion, who was fourth in the 2009 World championships, has had a poor season, ruined by health problems culminating in 19th place in Vancouver, well behind his teammate, Michal Brezina, who was 10th. Verner said, "I could see I wouldn't be able to compete with the top guys for, say, the fifth spot." He decided he would step down from the world team but confirmed that he would appear at exhibitions in South Korea April 16-18 at the Olympic Park Gymnastics Stadium in Seoul, and also in events in Prague and in Japan, also in April.

WHERE’S STEFAN? Stefan Lindemann, who was 22nd in Vancouver, was replaced by the German Federation with Peter Liebers.

WHERE’S JOANNIE? Joannie Rochette, the courageous Canadian figure skater who won a bronze medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver just four days after losing her mother to a heart attack, performed in the March 19 show Thin Ice, skating to Vole, which is French for Fly. This piece was a favorite of her late mother, who liked Celine Dion. The song includes the touching and appropriate lyrics, Fly, fly, little flame/Fly my angel, my soul/Leave your misery’s skin/Go rediscover the light. Though Rochette withdrew from next week’s World Figure Skating Championships in Torino, saying she was emotionally and physically unprepared for competition, she felt this tribute to her mother was appropriate. The ISU first threatened and then rescinded the threat to take away her competition eligibility because she agreed to do this show.

WHERE ARE XUE AND HONGBO? Xue Shen said when the training got really, really hard after they came out of retirement to compete in the Vancouver Games, her husband and partner, Hongbo Zhao, promised her that afterwards they would have plenty of time to sit around all day and drink tea. However, after they won the Olympic pairs gold, their life seems to be as busy as ever. They are trying to promote a Gymnastics and Skating tour of China and have invited all the top skaters. They have agreed to perform in Yu-Na Kim’s show in Seoul and other shows, hoping that the skaters will reciprocate and come to theirs. Kim's coach, Brian Orser, and choreographer David Wilson will supervise and design the group choreography the Seoul show.

WHERE ARE OKSANA AND MAXIM? It came as no surprise that Olympic bronze medalists, Oksana Domnina & Maxim Shabalin, have retired because of his worn-out knees. The Russian Federation tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade her to consider trying a new partner. They have joined Ilya Averbukh’s Ice Age tour, which is currently whizzing through a month-long one-appearance-only engagements in a series of towns known to few outside of Russia. It is not known yet whether the dancers will be in the April 17 engagement in Hanover in Germany or the Tel Aviv engagement on May 1. A booking in Toronto was considered but cancelled. Domnina & Shabalin will also perform in front of Korean fans in the April Show in Seoul.

WHERE ARE TANITH AND BEN? Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto will tour with Stars on Ice this spring. Belbin said, "We’re going to take some time while on tour to consider our future. It seemed like the right time to wrap up our career." Then she tweeted, after living in the Olympic village for two weeks, "I couldn’t wait to sleep in a bed wider than a bath tub!" They were replaced by Kimberly Navarro & Brent Bommentre, who were devastated when, after twice earning bronze in the US championship, they finished fourth in nationals this year and didn’t make the Olympics.

WHERE ARE ISABELLE AND OLIVIER? Isabelle Delobel & Olivier Schoenfelder, from France, the 2008 world champions, who took part in the Olympics having not competed for over a year in part because she had a bad shoulder injury, and then had a son on October 1, finished a disappointed sixth in the Olympics. They went back to France to face relative obscurity, she to her husband and baby, he to his wife.  He is still planning to become a television commentator.

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Copyright 2010 by George S. Rossano