The Smint Gala – with and without Jenna

 

by Mireille Geurts accompanied by Daphne Heij & Titia Tolsma
Photos © Absolute Skating

<<The Hague, Sunday March 11th 2007>>

An ad hoc decision made just the week before the actual gala, made us travel to The Hague to visit the Exhibition ending The Smint Challenge Cup. This event, the successor to the NK Challenge Cup was newly organized this year and consisted of debs, novices, juniors and senior ladies. Eight countries in all competing against each other. Organizing such an event is nothing new to the Netherlands, a Challenge Cup has been organized before, back in the 1970’s and 80’s, but with the downfall of the figure skating popularity, unfortunately it got cancelled. But riding on the success of the ‘Dancing on Ice’ shows on TV, things seem to pick up again, and it looked like perfect timing to pick up this tradition as well. And so, as Joan Haanappel announced in DOI on TV the week before, ‘her baby’ was born.

The general audience knows of Joan Haanappel because of her participation on DOI as a judge. To figure skating fans she’s also known for her history in skating and later for her long career as a TV commentator for Eurosport. She has become more and more involved with the Dutch Federation and now seems to be the driving force behind many of the changes made these past years. Her mission is to put more programs about figure skating on Dutch commercial TV (RTL). She also advertises the events held in the Netherlands (Nationals, the Junior Grand Prix and now this Challenge Cup). Joan presented this exhibition, on skates even, which was something we never expected to ever witness live. A nice surprise!

The program explained the idea behind this event; to offer promising skaters who don’t make the national teams to big competitions like the 4 continents and Worlds an opportunity to participate in a high level skating event. Not explained in the program, the cup is apparently also a team challenge competition. We found this out at the medal ceremony held at the beginning of the second part of the gala. Finland had the overall strongest team, and proudly received the Cup.

Since the timing of this event wasn’t exactly convenient for us, we never contemplated going, until we realized we didn’t have anything planned on that Sunday and we could make a nice day out of it by travelling to The Hague after all. A bit of a downer was to learn that Jenna McCorkell had withdrawn and wouldn’t be skating in the gala. But the good news was that Kevin van der Perren would! Which would probably mean that Jenna would be there as well.

The gala itself was very nice. As mentioned, it was presented by Joan Haanappel, and she did a great job. Sometimes it appeared as though her thoughts were a bit ahead of her mouth, or the other way around as some bits were a bit rambly, but that made it all very personal…and funny! The top three skaters in each category had a cold spot in the gala, as well as the best Dutch participants; Barbara Lagas (Debs), Manouk Gijsman (Novices) and Karen Venhuizen (Seniors) Only Eva Lim (Juniors) couldn’t participate as she was sick.

We were pleasantly surprised by the quality and the variety of all programs in the gala. It consisted of mostly ladies and we worried that the number of ‘typical female ballads’ they prefer skating to would put us to sleep. But it didn’t. OK we did hear one ‘Ave Maria’ and a waltz and several classical pieces, but what else can you expect? And there were some special invitees who had chosen different types of music and they added some more colour to the program.

The ‘Kids on Ice’ from Eindhoven opened and closed the gala with energetic performances. It all looked very well and bodes well for their annual shows at the end of March. <<click here for more information>>
The Netherlands has a young pair, Rachel & Dmitry Epstein. Yes, they are a brother/sister team, twins to be exact. These 13-year olds were also especially invited to perform here. A funny detail was Joan telling us how they got started in skating; he because he has weak legs and she because she’s hyperactive.

There were two special performances by the ‘Dutch Don’t Dance Division’, a ballet group. This is a very nice idea and seemed like a good addition to all the skating. It was only a shame they were so far away. We were sitting at the short end of the rink, and they were clear over on the opposite side. The big screen was also on that end so it didn’t help all that much.

And then there was Mr Kevin van der Perren, I almost forgot to mention him….not! He skated twice, his awesome program to ‘Tango de Roxanne’ we already had the good fortune to witness in Antwerp, and a newly put together piece to ‘Once upon a time in Mexico’. To this he wore the yummy costume he used for his ‘Sway’ exhibition last year. As you can tell, we were not complaining... And neither was Joan Haanappel, she told the audience that after she’d practically watched Kevin ‘grow up’ all these years, she started to love him a little. It was a shame it was too dark to actually see Kevin’s face at that point - waiting at the boards – but knowing him and his body language - leaning forward - kinda says it all…

But it was very cute and shows the personal touch this gala had.

I don’t want to move on without at least mentioning Victoria Huebler from Australia, who skated an adorable program to the ‘Pink Panther’ and even got to hand out some autographs later. Viviane Kaser from Switzerland skating to ‘Things’ by Robbie Williams, apparently specifically made for this event. Rosa-Maria Salonen from Finland started skating in baby school, and Joan suggested the Dutch audience to ‘throw’ their babies on the ice too. (Well, Rosa-Maria was 2 years old then so not really a baby…) Rachel Flat from the USA actually did an excellent backflip – twice!

After the gala we had the opportunity to catch up with Jenna, who was there accompanying Kevin as we had expected. Not expected was that she had her parents with her, and it was very nice to meet them. Of course we asked Jenna how she was doing and why she had withdrawn, and she told us she has a foot injury. She has been out for a few weeks, trying to figure out what was wrong. She just started training again, but doesn't feel ready, so she probably won’t go to the World Championships. And if she doesn't, she won’t accompany Kevin either, it's just too long of a trip to make. She had a bad experience travelling to Japan for the NHK. Both going there and back her destination was booked wrong so she spent more time travelling than anything else. (By now her name is taken off the ISU roster for Worlds, so we can assume she made the final decision not to go. -ed)

But despite that bit of sad news, she was very cheerful and looked great. We talked about living in Belgium; her Flemish is really getting better, she can basically understand the language now, which makes things a lot easier for her. After the European Championships where Kevin won the bronze medal, they received so many bottles of champagne they’ll have plenty of it to serve the guests at their wedding next year, too bad the flowers won't last equally long…


photo taken during practice
Liedekerke October 2006

Nor will the bunch of flowers Kevin handed her when he finally showed up after being ambushed by reporters and autograph hunters. We think he actually got every single rose they handed out at the entrance. Yes, they did that, upon entering people got free flowers to throw on the ice! What a nice thing to do! An effort was also made by the volunteers to get people to clap. Acting cheerleaders they jumped up and down and very enthusiastically clapped in front of the boards. So much it actually made some not-to-be-named people rebellious enough not to clap… And hey, I had a camera in my hands, so a good reason not to!


Special performance by the Finish team "Quartet"

But all in all, this was an excellent gala. Nice skating and skaters, nice programs, along with good and fitting additions. Next year they hope to add more disciplines, ice dance and men to be exact. That seems like a great idea and will certainly make us want to return.

When Joan announced the finale a little girl, approximately 5 years old sitting next to us, said:

“But I don’t WANT it to be over!”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, says all that needs to be said.

 

Some more impressions of the exhibition:
   
 

 

 






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