Smith puts some new training on ice
The U.S. Figure Skating Championships were only two weeks away and Scott Smith knew he needed to do something drastic.
The 26-year-old Baltimore native - who won the U.S. Junior Championship in 1999 and came in fourth at Nationals in 2003 - had just wrapped up what he termed a "horrible" international season.
Smith knew that if he continued along the same path, he'd find himself wondering, once again, why his results didn't match his potential.
So, on Jan. 6 - 14 days before Nationals - Smith made a bold move. He left the prestigious Skating Club of Boston, split amicably from his coaches, and took the next plane to Salt Lake City.
It was a huge risk. Smith, one of only a few skaters to land a quadruple jump in competition, knew his skating was technically sound but lacked passion.
Changing coaches, he believed, was worth the risk.
If Smith was looking for passion, he came to the right place. Skating coach Stephanee Grosscup has it coming out her ears. The Utah-based trainer, who coached Steven Cousins to a sixth-place finish in the 1998 Olympics, speaks about figure skating on a spiritual level. She doesn't simply order a skater to do 50 triple axels; Grosscup helps skaters weave their emotions into their performances.
She was just what Smith needed.
In a move that raised eyebrows across the sport, Smith spent the days leading up to nationals training with Grosscup. After he performed his two programs for her, Grosscup immediately understood Smith's frustration.
"He didn't have a story line for his programs and he didn't really understand the character of his programs," Grosscup said.
Grosscup trained with Smith over the next two weeks, cramming a massive amount of information into his head, including "all the things that make a performer go, 'Hi! You are coming on my ride, OK? And I'm not going to let you off until I'm done,' " Grosscup said.
At the end of the frenzied two weeks, Smith went home with just enough time to grab his costumes and sharpen his skates before heading to St. Paul, Minn., where he skated two clean programs and took sixth at nationals.
"He put it out there," Grosscup said. "The people were on their feet. I mean, he rocked the house."
It wasn't his best-ever result at nationals, but Smith felt like he was finally back on track. Insiders in the sport told him his skating was as memorable as it had ever been.
"I feel like I'm very much my own skater now rather than a product of somebody else," said Smith who liked Grosscup's approach so much that he decided to permanently relocate to Utah.
Right from the start, Smith and Grosscup hit it off. The two met while skating during the same session in Sun Valley, Idaho.
"I told him, 'Look, I really think that you have something,' " Grosscup said. " 'But it seems like you're a little tied up inside.' "
Smith lit up. Finally someone seemed to understand his problem. In Boston, it didn't seem like anyone knew how to help him.
This meeting led to Smith calling Grosscup a few weeks before nationals, asking if she'd train him.
Grosscup knew it was a risky move and urged him to take a long, hard look in the mirror before making any hasty decisions. Four days later, Smith called back and told Grosscup he was coming to Utah. He liked her philosophy.
Skaters, Grosscup believes, are "part actor, part pantomine, part dancer, part athlete, part rock star" and "part Broadway."
"Skating is about more than jumps and spins, it's about seizing the moment," Grosscup said.
Now in Salt Lake City, Smith is working full-time with Grosscup in hopes of taking his skating to the next level. Specifically, the Olympics.
In 2006, Smith came painfully close to qualifying for the Torino Olympics, taking fifth at nationals. The top three skaters went on to the Olympics.
"I had the highest technical score of anybody but it was my presentation and everything that kept me down in fifth place," Scott said. "That's why I'm here."
Salt Lake City isn't known as a major figure-skating hub but Smith doesn't care. He felt stagnant in Boston.
"There were more national-level competitors there but that doesn't mean that that's necessarily what I need at the moment," Smith said.
While in Boston, Smith improved from 18th to ninth to fourth at nationals.
"But I was there for five years and I'm just ready for a different perspective," he said.
Smith hopes that by training with Grosscup, who sees her role as "facilitating a dream" he'll finally achieve his own dream of standing on the podium at Nationals and competing in the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
"I feel like I've waited my turn," he said. "I feel like I paid my dues and I owe it to myself and deserve to make it."