The most interesting, most memorable moments of a competition often aren’t found in a score card or a finishing order, but in the personal stories and weird little vignettes that happen outside of a two to four-minute program. Here’s the top three special moments from US Nationals, this week’s Off-Ice Podium.
Gold Medal: Zoom Kiss & Cry
Possibly the best innovation from any sport during the COVID era, this Kiss & Cry at Nationals featured a giant LED screen, which after a skater’s performance was populated with live video feeds of their friends and family cheering from afar.
The video calls produced a number of memorable moments, from skaters introducing their pets to cameos from coaches and competitors to Alysa Liu grilling her friend live on air about giving the room code to a boy in their class. But better than that was watching the joy on skater’s faces as they came off the ice, not to an empty couch to wait for their scores alone, but to the sight of smiles and cheers from the people they care about most. It made the entire event, with its cardboard fans and prerecorded cheers, feel just a little bit less lonely.
Silver Medal: Jimmy Ma’s Reactions
As for the people physically in the kiss & cry, the best reaction of the weekend no doubt goes to Jimmy Ma’s excitement after his outstanding free skate. Despite doubling his second quad toe and a freak fall during a choreographic element late in the program, Ma delivered a powerful skate to end the competition in sixth place, the best result of his career. His joy was palpable from the second he stepped off the ice, even slipping in some accidental profanity after his scores were announced. It was a great step for Ma, who has often been noted more for his interesting music choices than his athletic ability, and it was wonderful to see him finally get a solid result at Nationals.
Bronze Medal: Nathan Chen’s costume
A man not typically known for his on-ice fashion game, Nathan Chen debuted a new costume which, shockingly, resembled a costume rather than a t-shirt or athletic wear. But don’t worry, he’s not getting a bronze medal just for wearing a shirt that had some kind of design philosophy. The reason this earns a podium spot is because of the revelation after the fact that the cutout-laden top used for his Phillip Glass free skate was in fact taken straight from choreographer Shae Lynn Bourne’s closet.
He gets bonus points for the presumably self-aware comment about his “extravagant” costume history, but that’s offset by adding the mesh underneath instead of going full open back, which is why this only gets a bronze.
Pewter/Potato Medal: The Geico gecko
It’s US Nationals so this week’s podium also gets a fourth-place medal, and, for me, it has to go to the six-foot tall cutout of the Geico gecko that had front row seats to every moment of the competition. (And no, Geico is not paying me for this free advertising. If they were, the gecko would have won gold.)
The bright green lizard appeared in the background of just about every single performance, offering a soft smile and an encouraging, anatomically-incorrect thumbs up through all of the ups and downs of the competition. After making his debut at Skate America back in October, the car insurance mascot with the weirdly long fingers of his right hand placed on his non-existent hips and the white space under his bicep no one even bothered to cut out had an even better view for Nationals, being placed directly behind the boards just to the side of center ice.
Though seeing high-definition photos made me think that his enormous brown eyes and meticulously rendered reptilian scales must have been an off-putting sight for skaters who came face to face with him during their program, I still got plenty of chuckles out of this silly cardboard cartoon who somehow perfectly encapsulates the bizarre, chaotic energy of this entire skating season.