An Evening with Champions, a skating show that benefits the Jimmy Fund (the fundraising arm of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute), was held on September 29 at Harvard University. The event is run annually by students at Harvard and this year's show featured 18-year-old Christina Gao (at right). Christina finished 5th at US Nationals the last few years and she is also competing at Skate America which starts today. I hope she breaks out this season because I love watching her skate -- she's lyrical, athletic, has a beautiful line, she's got the whole package.
Now here's the kicker -- when I received the press release for An Evening With Champions, it stated that Christina Gao will be part of the cast and she's also a Harvard freshman. Whaaaaat!?! Now I'm used to skaters at the very top taking a class here and there, maybe attend a college part time to keep the brain cells alive, but a full time student at Harvard? Curiosity got the best of me and I needed to find out why she made the decision to skate and go to Harvard during this very important pre-Olympic year. Thank goodness Christina had time between classes and training to write back...
I first realized you were attending Harvard from the An Evening With Champions press release. I was surprised that you decided to go full steam ahead and be a full time student while competing as an elite athlete. What made you decide to go to college now and not defer for a year or two or ten?
Christina: Academics have always been really important to me, which is why I decided to continue on and go to college. I decided not to defer this year because I was ready for a change in many ways. I thought it was the best decision for me personally to keep going with school because it will keep me busy and on top of everything. When I am in classes and on campus, I can escape the skating world for a bit and when I am at the rink, I can escape the school environment. I think it provides the perfect balance.
Was this a hard decision and did you have family input?
Christina: It definitely was a pretty hard decision for me. I spent a lot of time over the summer deciding what I wanted to do, continue skating exclusively or try and balance school and skating. My parents did not push me in one direction or the other -- It was fully my decision to continue with school and skating at the same time. Of course it will be tough to juggle international traveling and schoolwork but I am sure I will be able to handle it. As long as I stay on top of my work, it’s really not that bad. For example, I am not missing a huge number of days for Skate America. I talk to the professors so they know I will be away and then I turn my work in when it’s due.
Which colleges did you apply to?
Christina: I applied and got accepted to a few other colleges in Ohio where I'm from and around Boston but my top two choices were Harvard and Stanford. I visited both campuses but ended up choosing Harvard. Harvard was my first choice -- I love Boston so much and Harvard is an amazing school.
What classes are you taking this semester and do you know what you want to major in?
Christina: I am taking an Economics course, math, Chinese, and a freshman seminar on cell biology. As to my major, I’m not sure yet. I don’t have to decide until sophomore year so I am using this year to take some introduction courses and see where my interests lie. There are a lot of amazing courses offered here at Harvard so it really gives you an opportunity to explore different concentrations/majors.
Are you going through the whole college experience -- living in the dorms, having a roommate, eating in the dining hall, etc.?
Christina: Oh yes, I am living in a dorm in Harvard yard. All of the freshman housing is in the yard and then after freshman year you get “sorted” into upperclassman housing; it’s kind of like Harry Potter. Pretty awesome! I have three roommates and they are great! (At right, Christina provided a photo of her breakfast in the dining hall -- a classic Harvard waffle, or "Veritaffle")
Are you inspired by fellow competitor Rachael Flatt, who will also be at Skate America, who is attending Stanford full time?
Christina: Of course! It is not easy to do what we have decided to take on. Paul Wylie and Emily Hughes (Harvard alum) who have also taken this path, also inspire me.
Harvard (obviously) is expensive! Are you working while in college to defray some of the costs?
Christina: It is definitely tough financially for my family. I am not working right now because I don’t have time between classes, homework, and training.
You've had a lot of success training in Toronto -- Was it hard to leave coach Brian Orser? And can you describe your current training environment in Boston?
Christina: It was very tough to leave Brian and the entire coaching team in Toronto because I trained there for three years and it was absolutely amazing. I still keep in contact with everyone there. They were supportive of my decision to come to Boston and go to school. I am very grateful for everything they have done for me. Here I am training with Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson at Skating Club of Boston. I love training here; they are great coaches and the training environment is very motivating. My schedule worked out for me this year. I train in the mornings and then have class in the afternoons. After class I go back to the rink for off ice.
A Skate Ameria question...What are your short and long programs for this season?
Christina: My short program is “Close without Touching,” it’s a violin piece and I love it. My long is the same music from last year, Libertango, but we changed the choreography a little bit.
Is your goal to compete in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and represent the US?
Christina: It has always been my goal. Training has been going really well and I am balancing everything so far with school and skating.
Below is Christina skating to Close without Touching at An Evening With Champions on September 29, 2012. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that she breaks through this season and people take notice!