Kerrs try on for the Olympic season

By Reut Golinsky
Photos © Reut Golinsky, Mireille Geurts & Joy, Vera Alexandrova

My autumn vacation this year had two parts: the "skating part" was in Oberstdorf, and the "absolutely non-skating" part continued overseas in New York at my friend's. But there was an exception I was ready to make in my "skating-free" time, as there were two skaters I was looking forward to meeting while I was there.
The initial plan was totally different. I was supposed to visit Sinead and John at their rink, to watch their practice and to do an interview about the coming season. But things turned out differently. Firstly, I found out that without a car, it's almost impossible to get to the Igloo rink, where they are training, then John wrote that they planned to come to NY during the week, anyway. And though I was really impatient to see the new programs, it was much more convenient (and feasible too) to meet them three metro stops from the place I stayed in.

Wednesday, September 30th. Brooklyn, somewhere between a sushi bar and a flower shop, in small tailor studio. I'm waiting for the Kerrs who should come here today to try on their new costumes. In a week they fly to Finland for their first international competition of this season. The costumes for free dance? Still not ready. "It's a bit late", agrees John. "But everybody is always late with their costumes. Evan Lysacek once received his on a day of the short program. We decided about the music and the idea of our free dance in summer, but had some disagreements with our designer. That's why it took so long".

Their designer, Natella Abdulaeva, is the person who created their last season's "Muse" Free Dance program costumes - ripped costumes of survivors on their "journey from perdition" - and the unusual space aliens' costumes from season 2007/08, and the Scottish ones too. She was the author of famous Yagudin's "Winter" and "Iron Mask", she worked with Platov/Grishuk, Ando, Arakawa and Cohen, she created costumes for Tarasova's ice theater and for Igor Bobrin's shows. She has a very special vision of how things should look. For example, it was she who insisted on unusual yellow and white colors in Kulik's costume for his program to Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Not so easy to argue with her, I suppose.

Their costumes for original dance are ready - jeans for John, shorts for Sinead, checkered shirts - not much to do there. They chose for their folk/country original dance something more close to Canada, cowboys and western, with I've been Everywhere by Johnny Cash (as it'll be boring using something Scottish again so soon, right?). "Robert [Robert Royston, who worked with them on their swing OD last season] said that in country competitions this is what they wear - just jeans and shirts", clarified Sinead regarding their relatively simple outfits. And Robert can be trusted, as he is a four-time world country dance champion. Also, I should admit, Sinead looks great in those shorts - worth showing to the world in Vancouver.

To my question about the French pair Pechalat/Bourzat who are also doing a western-type dance this season, they answered that they are not afraid of rivalry: "They are a great team, but we think this style of music suits us better".

Actually when we talked to the Kerrs in Paris a year ago they had a different idea. They told us then that they were thinking of having a Bollywood theme. So I reminded them about this idea of theirs and asked why they didn't choose it. "Last winter 'Slumdog Millionaire' was screened and it was so popular that the Indian theme became too obvious and banal, we were sure someone would do it, so we changed our minds", answered John, "and also we had Robert in our team who is a professional in country dances, so it was much simpler than to start looking for someone who is a specialist in Indian dances", added Sinead.

While we are waiting for the tailor, Valentina, to finish with her previous clients, Dutch ice dancers, we have a chat about Michael Weiss's show, which they recently participated in and about loud Korean fans, about "Cirque du Soleil" (I planned to watch in Toronto, but in the end, missed it) and about expensive hotels in Vancouver this winter (their parents won't get any discount, and I think it's not fair), about comebacks and about the Nebelhorn Trophy. Otar Japaridze, who joined his friends and training mates on their trip to NY, competed there with his new partner Allison Reed and got a spot for Georgia in the coming Olympic Games. Valentina, by the way, made that beautiful Georgian costume he had for the original dance.

Sinead is the first for a try-on. In a few minutes the boys and I are allowed to see her. There are lots of pins all over the airy white dress, very open and quite sexy. "Just to add wings and halo and you'll be a real angel", jokes Valentina.

Angel? Yes, that's the main idea behind their FD. John is "a man who loses his grip on reality, closing off to the world" and Sinead is his guardian angel, his sub-conscious, who is trying to save him and "help him back to normality". (I wonder if it works in their off-ice life too? ;))

So Sinead's costume is pretty much decided, they only need to agree on how the cut of her dress will look - in strips, smooth or something else.

John's costume is not ready at all. At least not something they could show me and let me take pictures of (actually, I think, that the photo of John without the costume could make a real scoop, but, well, maybe next time). They agree to meet on Saturday, just few days before their departure to Europe. But according to what we saw on Finlandia Trophy fortunately they were in time.

I had a really great time chatting with Sinead, John and Otar, but on my way back I suddenly realised that I had no idea how to make an interview out of the informal talk we had. So, it won't be an interview in the end, but

Things you didn't know about the Kerrs and always wanted to ask
  • A week before the first international competition of their season they still didn't have any exhibition number, or an idea of what to do. Recently Evgeny got them to skate their OD in all their shows.

  • And they can't use their Scottish routine again - according to one of the rules of the competition's gala. And they will have to participate in the gala in Finland and in Paris.

  • Their Scottish dance became their trademark: a few organisers of the shows, when inviting them, specifically asked them to perform it.

  • Christina Chitwood and Mark Hanretty, the other British ice dance pair, chose Scottish dance this year for their OD. But when Kerrs hinted to Mark to wear a kilt, he answered that this was not such a brilliant idea, because the public won't accept anyone else in a kilt now, except John. (I think he is right, John-in-a-kilt can't be copied, and it's something unique.)

  • Sinead and John have Nationals in November and Euros in January, which makes it complicated to celebrate Christmas with their family in Scotland. They'd love to have some ice shows arranged around that time in Europe so they could go home too.

  • They are excited about their Grand Prix events: two places they really liked to compete and perform in.

  • They train twice a day. Morning practice starts "not too early", at 08:00 (middle of the night for me).

  • They live in a very small town, Mount Laurel, not much to do there, which is good, as in Olympic season you don't have much time to go out anyway.

  • They usually eat at home, Sinead cooks. And they are not so excited about American food in general.

  • Sinead is a "Diet Cola" addict, she can't live without it. During one of their trips they couldn't get any and that was really hard for her, no joke.

  • "Diet" not because of the diet, they don't keep any specific diet, they don't need to.

  • They don't have Twitters. John tried it, but it was boring and a bit unclear what to do with it, so he gave up on it. Facebook is enough. (At the moment he has 1550 friends, and I'm sure that by the time you read this, he'll have more).

  • They know few Russian words, like "Spasibo" ("Thanks"), "Priyatnogo appetita" ("Bon appetite"), they can explain if they are feeling good or bad. Platov taught them. But they don't intend to learn Russian seriously, though Platov would be delighted.

  • Their designer is having a hard time understanding their accent, so she doesn't like to call them by phone.

  • Their tailor was born in Georgia (country, not state), moved many times all round the world, she even lived in Netania (Israel). And she doesn't know to pronounce Sinead's name.

  • In a way Sinead and John started to skate by chance - it's just, they had a rink not far from their home. The rink was closed later on, but they were too excited to skate to give up and were ready to travel further from home to continue.

  • When they first started to skate together and were less successful in Nationals they thought of switching to Ireland as their mother is Irish.

  • Marika Humphreys, British National champion (with Vitaliy Baranov), to whom they lost in 2000 and 2001, was a technical controller on many of their competitions later on.

  • No, they don't think such after-skating career would suit them. Sinead thinks she is too nice to be a judge or technical controller; she'd try to gratify everybody.

  • Of course, not all the judges are nasty and unfair. They got to know a few very good, professional ones, who know what they are looking for in good skating and appreciate it when they see it.

  • Sinead and John appreciate good skating too, not only in ice dance, and they follow the new videos on YouTube. They liked Abbott's new short, and Lambiel's performances in Nebelhorn. They like what Ingo Steuer creates for his pairs, they like the more modern approach he has, though they liked "Lost in space", Aliona and Robin's short of previous season, less. They believe that the most important thing in skating is when you, while sitting in the audience, want to stand up on your feet during the performance you see.

  • They think that Stephane Lambiel is back because he needs a bigger stage and bigger audience - that he possesses the "starry" quality which demands this; and Olympics is the best opportunity for this. They are excited about the tough competition in the men's field in Vancouver, which became even tougher with Lambiel's and Plushenko's return. But unfortunately they won't be able to watch it live because the men's event is before the ice dance, so they will have some practices then and in general they will be nervous, so the additional excitement and emotions might be unwanted.

  • Regarding comebacks - they don't think Sasha Cohen is going to make it to the US team. She is a great skater, but technically she is just not there.

  • Like many other skaters they agree that Korean fans are really crazy and loud. The atmosphere during the Korean shows is similar to the one rock concerts have, something close to "Beatlomania" even. But this gives a great feeling to perform and to live though such an experience.

  • Regarding the fans and especially the most devoted ones, who tell them that they are the only ones who are loved - you should know that they are totally aware when you change the flags you wave during the competitions. They noticed you, yes, yes, you. And you too.

  • The last Olympic cycle was significant for them. After Turin where they were 10th, they switched to Platov and left to train in States. Lots of hard decisions were made then, which they don't regret, even though they needed to learn many things again, to start from basics, to adjust to the new training approach. They felt that they made few steps back first and then, step by step, started to advance. Last season they really felt the improvement, hopefully this season will be even better.

  • Will they be able to get bronze at Euros this year again? Well, it depends on who will be there and of course on how they are prepared. After all the only thing which is under their control is their skating...

    ...and we can only wish them luck.

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