Molly Oberstar (see right) and Juran "TJ" Yang left last night from St. Paul, Minnesota and headed off to the 2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Cleveland, Ohio. This is a special time for them and their coach Ann Eidson, who is attending her 20th(!) Nationals as a coach. Molly will be competing in her second Nationals in the senior ladies, and TJ will be at his first Nationals in the junior men. They both train out of the St. Paul FSC and I had a chance to catch up with Molly and Ann via telephone before the trio left for Cleveland.
Q: How are you feeling as a coach going to Cleveland this year?
Ann: I'm very proud to be going to Nationals with Molly and TJ. I've been Molly's coach for a year and a half, and TJ's for about three years. TJ moved from Florida to train with me. I love them both. We're all very excited, they've both worked very hard, and they're having fun training together. We work so hard to get to Nationals and we don't take it for granted. We're very fortunate and blessed that our club can produce national-level skaters on a consistent basis year after year.
Q: What's your state of mind before Nationals?
Molly: I'm feeling like a fighter. Mentally I'm very determined, and just trying to be a fighter. For some reason, that works for me. Of course there's a balance -- If you get too determined in your head and psyched up, your body will be too tense to do jumps and perform your best, so obviously you have to have some amount of calm. But feeling 100% relaxed doesn't work for me, I have to keep my intensity up. But we're getting there a little early so that I can take a day off to refresh and not skate. Maybe my mom and I will explore the town, do some sightseeing and shop around.
Q: Ann, this is your 20th year coaching at Nationals. Do you remember every single Nationals that you've attended like it was yesterday?
Ann: Well, I definitely remember the first one, back in 1988. I did miss one because my daughter was born. I remember last years of course in part because it was held in St. Paul and it was great having Nationals in St. Paul, it was only a mile and a half away from our club. In fact, they used our rink as a practice facility. Last year I had Molly and senior man Eliot Halverson competing so it was a great honor to have a senior lady and senior man from our hometown. [Note: Eliot is competing this year representing Ann Arbor FSC.] TJ sat in the stands and watched the competition so that was great too.
Molly: Last year it was so fun and it was really great that it was at home. It was really comforting, I got to skate in an arena I had skated in, I had my bearings, all my supporters were there cheering me on. Cleveland will be different, more of an adventure. In a funny way, sometimes it's easier to focus when you're in a different environment. Sometimes it's more stressful when you're at home. So there's pros and cons for both.
Q: Do you have a philosophy going into Nationals every year?
Ann: Every year is a different year. The philosophy and how I approach it is based on where they are with their physical and technical development. I focus on the process of being the best skater they can be. Skating is not a contact sport, the biggest competitor is yourself. It's not like in tennis, for example, where you need to understand your competitor. In skating, how your competitor skates does not influence how you perform. I work hard to have the skater focus on themselves.
Q: What are Molly's short and long programs this season?
Ann: They're very different from each other and only a skater like Molly can pull both off. The short program is beautiful and exquisite to watch. The song is Somewhere Over the Rainbow and I have to say, when she skates it, she mesmerizes the audience. It's very magical. The long program is music from North Africa, with an Eastern influence. It's really unique and exciting, completely different from the short. Very dramatic and dynamic music.
Q: How were both pieces chosen?
Ann: Molly and Sebastien [Sebastien Britten, choreographer from Canada] choose the music together. They have artistic freedom and I also give my stamp of approval. Molly sees Sebastian about twice a year.
Q: What is the story you're trying to tell in your programs?
Molly: Well the short program is a classical jazz version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow so it's not that obvious, you hear a faint melody. The scene takes place in a piano bar and at the beginning of the program, I play a character who's a little nervous and walks into the bar and sits in front of the piano, and as the program continues, I get more confident in playing the piece. At the end of the program, there is a feeling of relief and joy. I fly into spirals like I'm home free and reaching the peak of performance. (see above right, Molly's ending pose for Somewhere Over the Rainbow) For the long program, I play an ancient spirit that's been asleep for a long time. I break out of my chains and from there, grow and wake up. It's about discovering the world again after being asleep for so long. So I think both programs are about having a new outlook. (Photo above, Molly and Ann in Vienna at the Karl Schäfer Memorial in October 2008 where Molly placed sixth)
Q: I like Molly's skating partly because she is very balletic in her movements. At 5'7", she is "tall" for a skater and her lines are beautiful, much like Lucinda Ruh and Katherine Healy.
Molly: Thank you. When I was very young, I had a choreographer who really worked with me on ballet and things like that on the ice. I think that influenced me a lot today, but I never did in-studio or went to school for ballet.
Ann: Molly uses her height to her advantage and she works with what she has. Yes, her height and line are beautiful and exquisite to watch, it fills up the arena. She also let's her personality shine through to her skating and changes her persona with the music. I think that's a huge advantage she has. She's a determined competitor, loves to compete and wants to be out there. I also wanted to mention that she won sectionals senior ladies two years in a row, and I'm not sure that's ever been done, but it's unusual. TJ finished third at sectionals and I feel honored to work with both of them.
Q: What are your interests outside of skating?
Molly: Well I'm a part-time student at the Unversity of Minnesota in their College of Design, majoring in fashion merchandising. I took a year off after high school to focus on skating so I would consider myself a freshman in college. One of my goals is to be a stylist, I think that would be very fun. I'm very hands on with clothing. I'm not the type that wants to sit in a cucible, I need to be in on the action. I love Project Runway and I watch the Rachel Zoe Project and Stylista - That's exactly what I want to do but not necessarily for celebrities. I look at Style.com, fashion shows, magazines, you name it.
Q: Any celebrity that you are liking their style at the moment?
Molly: I think Rihanna is really interesting now.
Note: Molly will begin competing on Thursday, January 22, with the start of the senior ladies short program.
Update 01/24: Molly finished 15th overall out of a field of 23 ladies. See complete results here.