Skaters’ ties to Detroit add local flavor to U.S. Championships
By Colton Wood
DETROIT – When Hannah Miller was warming up for her short program on Thursday night at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, she heard an assembly of recognizable voices.
“Cheesers! Clappies! Make it happen! You’re fantabulous! We love you!” the group chanted.
The voices Miller heard came from several of her teammates at the Lansing Skating Club, where she has trained most of her life. With nationals taking place just over an hour from the Lansing SC, it gave Miller’s teammates the opportunity to watch her skate on the national level in person.
What the group said to Miller was something they have all said to each other before competitions for about 12 years.
Around 15 people, Miller said, flocked to Little Caesars Arena – home of Detroit’s Red Wings in the NHL and Pistons in the NBA – in Detroit to cheer her on during her short program.
“It’s awesome,” Miller said. “My family has been so supportive throughout my entire career. I couldn’t have asked for a better location for nationals this year because they all get to come and watch and support. It’s a chance for my family and all my trainers and all my friends to come see what it’s really like to be in a national arena.”
But Miller isn’t alone.
Numerous other skaters came to nationals with Michigan roots and were able to perform in front of countless family members and friends.
“It’s so nice to be home,” said pair skater Brian Johnson, a Farmington Hills, Michigan, native and member of the Detroit SC who trains in California. “I can’t describe it. I’m the kind of person who likes winter. I actually missed all the snow and stuff. I know it sounds crazy. I love the people. I just love being home.”
Not many of Johnson’s family and friends get to experience his performances in person. His mother has to watch most of his programs from afar but will occasionally get to watch him skate in person when she goes on work trips.
With his family and friends in the crowd watching him, Johnson feels less pressure at nationals this year.
“Most of my family is here; some came from Chicago,” he said. “All my friends are here. I would say it’s almost a little calmer.”
It’s been 25 years since Detroit last hosted nationals. Since then, Detroit underwent a city revival and constructed a multimillion-dollar arena to replace the decaying Joe Louis Arena.
“It’s cool to be in Detroit in this new facility,” said 2018 Olympic team event bronze medalist Nathan Chen. “Little Caesars Arena is a really cool rink. It’s really cool to be here.”
For Lansing, Michigan, native Madison Hubbell, her extended family has rarely been able to see her skate live. She added that her uncle and cousin are obsessive sports fans.
“For them, Little Caesars Arena calls for celebration,” Hubbell said. “This big arena, we’re gonna do it the way these other sports do it. They called the arena, everyone’s confirmed that this is possible to do a tailgate. They’re arranging it and they’re doing it with Kaitlin Hawayek’s parents and Evan Bates’ parents.”
The tailgate will take place on Saturday before the free dance.
“I’m just hoping that [our families] actually make it to the event,” Hawayek joked.