From the moment the six skaters representing the Sun Valley Figure Skating Club entered the Iceoplex at San Diego, Calif., home of the National Showcase, they knew it wasn’t an ordinary competition.
The rink was drenched in black except for bright spotlights trained on the single skater stationed at center ice.
And the competition itself was much, much bigger than the girls were accustomed to. In each division, skaters in four qualifying groups as large as 16 competitors vied for the top three spots that would move them into the finals.
“Nationals was kind of magical.
It reminded me of why I love to skate.”
Sun Valley Figure Skating Club
It was busy all day. Events ran from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Each skater in San Diego had already earned a medal in a previous competition and had qualified for nationals.
All were out to win. It was definitely the big show.
For Joyce Chan, Alexandra Harten, Blake and Lane Letourneau and Alex and Emma Stuessi, it was eye-popping, exciting and a little intimidating. The spotlights made it hard for the skaters to get their bearings. The level of competition was fierce. It all made for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“Nationals was kind of magical,” said Harten, looking back to explain why it was so special. “It reminded me of why I love to skate.
“The spotlight was very hard to get used to at first because you couldn’t see where you were going. But when you did get used to it, it was so much fun. I didn’t even feel like I was at an ice rink. It felt like I was alone out there and could just enjoy skating.”
Showcase, for those not familiar with the event, is exactly what it sounds like. Figure skaters perform elaborate routines involving unique costumes and props meant to dazzle and entertain.
All the Sun Valley skaters performed two programs in the preliminary rounds. They included interpretations of “Phantom of the Opera,” lyrical ballads, a sea creature, a jack-in-the-box, a flight attendant and a bird that breaks free of her cage. All were extremely creative and stood out even amid the tough competition.
“The routines we brought to San Diego were very unique and suited the skaters’ personalities,” said choreographer Gia Guddat. “We took a risk doing really different programs and it really paid off.”
Guddat designed all the award-winning programs and traveled with fellow coach Holly Wheeler to the California competition Aug. 9-11.
Guddat, who also choreographs Sun Valley on Ice shows, said the programs had to be unique and memorable to stand out in such a tough field.
Standing out as highly unique and memorable programs, indeed, worthy of recognition as national championships, were those performed by four of the SVFSC skaters.
Chan, Harten, Lane Letourneau and Alex Stuessi advanced into the final rounds where they made Sun Valley proud.
A hilarious self-voiced program of what goes on in her head when she skates earned Harten the national silver medal in Light Entertainment at Novice level. Also, Lane Letourneau became the Preliminary Light Entertainment national champion with her hip-hop interpretation of a robot.
Alex Stuessi won the Preliminary level Dramatic Entertainment national championship for her quirky take on Charlie Chaplin. Chan brought down the house with her life-size Slinky, earning her the title of national champion in Light Entertainment at the Intermediate level.
Remarkably, each of the four Sun Valley skaters won against at least 45 other competitors in the same division.
The six Sun Valley skaters also competed in the Small Group division. Together, they performed a rousing circus-themed number based on the program that took first place in July’s Sun Valley Summer Championships. Dressed in light-up costumes as characters from the hit summer film “Madagascar 3,” the skaters gave a high-energy and fun-filled performance.
“The pressure of the individual events was off, so performing in the group number was really fun,” said Blake Letourneau. “We all loved skating together and I think the audience and judges laughed a lot.”
Guddat added, “I was really excited that my skaters would get a chance to compete against the best show skaters in the country. I think all the Theater on Ice classes over the years and watching the summer ice shows have helped them become amazing performers.”
The national titles confirmed just that.
Sun Valley Resort has acknowledged the accomplishment of the three national champions by inviting them to perform their winning routines pre-show at Sun Valley on Ice.
Lane Letourneau skated Aug. 18. Alex Stuessi is due to perform Aug. 25. Chan takes to the ice in her full Slinky gear Sept. 1.