Las Vegas, NV
2020 Skate America Schedule
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Friday, October 23, 2020
Saturday, October 24, 2020
In order to meet Covid restriction, anyone involved with the competition was required to arrive up to two days early and be tested, followed by up to 48 hours of quarantine.
Due to Coid-19 requirements, Skate America was held without arena spectators.
Skate America 2020 – A Very Special Event
by Klaus-Reinhold Kany
The Covid-19 disease has created big problems for skating events all over the world. Some competitions like Worlds 2020 and the Grand Prix in Canada and France were completely cancelled or were postponed to a later date, like the Autumn Classic in Canada. Some other competitions took place with skaters and judges on site like the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany in September 2020 and without any paying spectators. Others allowed a small number of spectators with many restrictions.
Modern technology allow the fans to watch the competitions by livestream. This is better than nothing, but not the same as having the experience of watching live. Travel restrictions made many international journeys impossible. For example, no skaters, judges, officials or media persons from other countries were allowed to enter the USA and no skater or judge from the USA was allowed to travel to other countries, not even to Canada. Therefore Skate America 2020 was mainly a domestic event with mainly U.S. skaters and some others who train in the USA and did not have to cross any border. All members of the jury were from the U.S., like at U.S. Nationals.
U.S. Figure Skating decided to hold the event with many restrictions in spite of being a high risk country with more infections and deaths than any other country in the world. They gave their own skaters a chance to compete under relatively normal conditions, which is very positive. This is much different from sending a video of the short or free program from their home rinks to somewhere and with judges sitting somewhere at home and watching this video.
Nevertheless Skate America 2020 in the empty Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada was a very special event. Pair skater Mervin Tran wrote on social media: “When I arrive, I will be immediately tested from the airport and then isolated to my hotel room until I get my results. During the event, we will be in a social bubble quarantined from the population of the city of Las Vegas. It’s been made fully aware that we will not be given any warnings of misconduct. We will be ejected if we compromise the event in any way. Is this annoying? Yes. Is it necessary? Absolutely.”
Accredited people were not even allowed to contact the front desk of the hotel because it was outside the bubble. Everybody‘s temperature was checked daily. In case of problems with the hotel room, they had to contact a special person from US Figure Skating. There was no cleaning of the room during the event, only additional towels. Nobody was allowed to enter anybody else’s hotel room.
Skaters, juries, organizers and the
few media people who were present, had to stay in a “bubble“
which means they were all in a special section and special
floors of the official hotel, designated elevators and
restricted and expensive meal service. They were not allowed
to enter the Casino, go to any restaurant or downtown. After
having done a Covid-19 test they had to wait for receiving
the negative result in the hotel room. Even afterwards they
were obliged to stay there, follow the strict adherence with
CDC guidelines for face coverings and social distancing.
Everybody had to wear a mask all the time except while the skaters trained or competed on the ice and and to keep a distance of six feet from each other, also the coaches. When the skaters came back to the Kiss-and-Cry corner after the event, they had to put on their mask again. It was a bit difficult for the skaters to breathe and you may question if they really needed to wear masks right after the competition because nobody was sitting next to them, not even one coach, not even with a mask and talk to them right away. A sanitizing liquid was in the Kiss-and-Cry corner and skaters were encouraged to use it while they were waiting.
There was no normal mixed zone where skaters could be interviewed by media people after their competition. Journalists and the media people from U.S. Figure Skating had to ask questions in a camera and the skaters were separated, saw and heard the questions and answered into a microphone. There were, however, press conferences with everybody keeping a big distance from each other. Media persons who were not on site could only watch the livestram, but also ask questions from home in the virtual mixed zone and the press conferences. In one funny moment, the cat of a journalist jumped on her table at home and pair skater Alexia Scimeca-Knierim could see the cat online and had to laugh and commentate as she likes cats as well. The small number of photographers on site were not allowed to talk to the skaters in the rink.
In order to give the impression of fans in the rink, U.S. Figure Skating's Virtual Event Program allowed fans to purchase cutouts in their likeness to be displayed in the first five rows of The Orleans Arena, for 100 dollars in the first row and for 65 dollars in the other rows. All net proceeds from the sale of the virtual fan cutouts benefit the U.S. Figure Skating Memorial Fund. One familiar face was 2010 Olympian and two-time U.S. pairs silver medalist Mark Ladwig. "Since retiring, I regularly attend Skate America and U.S. Championships," Ladwig said. "With everything going on, this is my way to show support of the skaters. They are facing challenges on so many fronts and I hope seeing my face makes them smile and know I'm there in spirit (and cutout)."
Many dedicated figure skating fans and past Skate America attendees saw the Virtual Fan Program as an opportunity to show their unwavering support for U.S. Figure Skating and Team USA athletes. Around 300 persons paid 65 or 100 dollars to support U.S. Figure Skating. The fans had saved a lot of money because they neither traveled to Las Vegas nor paid any hotel or any entrance fee there. But by donating the money, they could spend part of the saved money for the support. Therefore the fans could see their photo during the competition.
The sound in the rink was also “manipulated," like it is very common in American TV comedies when an artificial laughter is played. This time, an artificial applause was produced as soon as the skaters were announced on the ice and another one right after their competition. Big stars got a stronger applause than newcomers. In the USA, the event could be watched by NBC or by Peacock Premium, in most other countries by the ISU livestream with British TV commentator Simon Reed talking.
In the Skate America Bubble
by George Rossano
While most media covering the 2020 Skate America did so remotely, I was fortunate to be approved to cover the competition on-site as one of the few credentialed photographers. The following was my experience in the Skate America bubble.
Leading up to the competition, everyone approved to be on site was required to provide daily health updates that they were symptom free, and received thorough instructions for how the bubble would work, key to which would be a Covid test upon arrival. Having no desire to make a futile drive all the way to Las Vegas, I got myself tested at home a few day before so I was sure I was negative before I left.
We were warned that it might take two days to get back test results, and that a positive test would require a retest, so I left home in San Bernardino Monday afternoon to allow two free days before Thursday practices. Traffic into Las Vegas was lighter than typical, even for a Monday. It took far less than four hours for the trip, even with the usual half-hour stop in Baker for gas and an essential visit to the quirky Alien Fresh Jerky store.
Arriving in the evening at the arena there was parking right next to the access doors to the arena, where my car would stay all week. Check-in took place at the arena and not at the hotel lobby. In the arena everyone got their room keys, a Covid test and a red wrist band indicating we were not yet cleared for entry to the competition. Following this, we received a box dinner and were escorted to our room to await our test result. Everyone had to stay in their rooms until they got a negative result, at which point one could return to the arena to pick up a credential.
The following morning a box breakfast was outside our door, with an egg biscuit still cold from the hotel refrigerator - most unappealing - and no microwave in the rooms. Test results came back very quickly overnight and Tuesday morning I picked up my credential. Nevertheless, media were not allowed in the arena to work until Thursday, so Tuesday and Wednesday was spent in the hotel room working on this and that, with only meals in the arena.
The bubble consisted of the arena, the floors occupied by those involved with the competition and the proscribed path between them. Orleans staff monitored the way so there was no way for anyone to leave or enter the bubble without being noticed. No one could go to the hotel lobby, casino or restaurants, or anywhere else for that matter, not even their car parked next to the arena door. No one could visit the room of another person.
There was no housekeeping or room service. Instead, each room had an extra supply of linens and towels, and the elevator areas on each floor had a further supply of linens and towels, and a place to deposit used linens, as well as stacks of soap, shampoo, toilet paper etc., and bottles of water on a self serve basis. Though socializing in rooms was not allowed, there were areas in the bubble where this was possible.
All meals were taken in two adjacent rooms in the arena. Seats at a table could be used only once per meal, so after all seats had been used in one room the second room was opened up. For each meal, hours were quite lengthy so those present at the competition could sit and talk in the dining rooms. In addition, the path between the hotel and arena went through a parking lot that was fenced off and had tables placed where people could sit and talk during their off hours. Tables and chairs in the dinning rooms and in the parking lot were sanitized regularly. Outside the weather cooperated with it being not too hot during the day and comfortable at night.
The only real negative for the competition, for me, was that there was no kitchen near the dining rooms and as a result the food (which was very expensive) brought over from the hotel was at best lukewarm and at worst inediblely (throw it in the trash) ice cold. Other than that, the logistical arrangements took place quite smoothly and were not a burden at all.
Thursday the media were able to finally get into the full arena and get to work. The photographers had seats rink side, with adjacent work tables instead of in a separate press room. This was both convenient and efficient, and avoided the need to move about the arena much except to go for meals. Basically we hunkered down in this area from Thursday though Saturday evening.
Our correspondent Klaus elsewhere has described the use of the applause track during the competition. At first this seemed a bit odd, but very quickly it proved a real value in creating the mood of a competition. The skaters I spoke to all thought it was a help to create a needed atmosphere for the competition. Skaters were allowed access to some suites above the empty seating sections, providing a bit of real applause for their fellow participants. The thought occurred to me during the competition, if they do an event like this again, the app for viewers at home should have an applause button, and the more people who click on the button at home the louder the canned applause in the arena.
The practices and skating of the events went off as smooth as one could want. Kiss-and-cry was a bit odd with the skaters sitting individually with their masks on, with no one nearby. There were also no awards ceremonies. The medalist picked up their medals back stage after their events finished, and placed them on themselves. Then there was a quick photo-op for the official photographer in kiss-and-cry with everyone socially distanced, and that was that.
The scoring system equipment required special attention during the competition. The touchscreens were all sanitized after each event segment. In additional, each person on the technical panels had their own headset for the competition. When they were off-panel, their headset was stored in a ziplock bag, so no one had to use a headset worn by another person at the competition.
As there was no Gala for this competition, once we were done Saturday night, we were done, but still confined to the bubble, as many people were staying on for a made for TV event on Monday and the bubble needed to be maintained for that.
Sunday was a day of travel home for me. Driving home from Las Vegas on a Sunday is always a nightmare. Usually the trip home takes a good two hours longer than the trip into Las Vegas. This time it was just an extra hour, as there are not as many people visiting Las Vegas now due to Covid.
For most others, Sunday was a day of rest. The officials and support people and many of the skaters stayed on for a made for TV invitational competition that took place on Monday. This was a closed event, meaning no media were allowed. The only thing we can tell you about it is that it will be broadcast Sunday, Nov. 15.
It was extremely fortunate that U.S. Figure Skating decided to return to the Orleans this year. Last year's competition was not part of a multi-year deal, and U.S. Figure Skating was looking at other cities for the 2020 competition. But after a tremendously successful competition in 2019 it was quickly decided after the 2019 competition to return this year. The proximity of the arena and hotel and the ease of access control between the two made creating the bubble much easier at the Orleans that it would have been just about anywhere else. Creating a similar bubble in San Jose for 2021 Nationals will likely not be nearly as easy as it was in Las Vegas.