Pyeongchang 2018 – The joy, and then disappointment, for figure skater Ross Miner

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WATERTOWN, Mass. — Ross Miner was fully immersed as the final group of skaters warmed up for the men’s Olympic short program Thursday evening. Two of them — reigning champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and Javier Fernandez of Spain — are his good friends and longtime competitors. Nathan Chen is a younger compatriot whose enormous talent, work ethic and modesty Miner admires.

So even though the 27-year-old U.S. national silver medalist is not far removed from last month’s disappointment of being passed over for the team competing in Pyeongchang, there was no way Miner wasn’t going to watch. From a couch 6,700 miles away in the Boston suburbs, he exhorted his fellow athletes to “Go … Get it … Focus!”

“The old guys brought it — good for us,” Miner said, referring to Hanyu and Fernandez, who at 23 and 26 withstood the fleet of teenagers in the field to finish 1-2 and put themselves in prime position for medals before Friday’s long program.

Chen’s disastrous outing, which left him in 17th place and an almost insurmountable distance from the podium, was harder to process. “No American guy in a long time has been in his position, so I can’t begin to say how it must feel,” Miner said. “If I had one thing to say to him, it would be, ‘Focus on you. You can’t control what other people think of you.'”

He spoke with a coach’s voice, for good reason. Miner has his foot in that world, too. It’s one of the reasons he can see beyond Pyeongchang and make peace with the fact that the skate of his life didn’t get him there.

Earlier Thursday, one of his youngest students at the Cronin Skating Rink in Revere, Massachusetts, had presented him with a large chocolate lollipop heart and giggled, clearly smitten.

“I love teaching — to see a kid do something they’ve never done before, it kind of connects you back to the first time you did it and that feeling of accomplishment,” Miner said. “They feel like I did when I got off the ice at nationals.”

That moment is still a singular and gilded one for Miner, whose electric long program brought the crowd at the national championships in San Jose, California, in January to its feet and lifted him into second place overall.

His elation was short-lived. Hours later, waiting up with his girlfriend, fellow skater Heidi Munger, he was informed he had been left off the Olympic team. The next morning, Miner learned he was not even the first alternate, which was almost worse.

U.S. Figure Skating’s selection process allows a committee to consider a body of work over two seasons, and to exercise some discretion. Chen was a shoo-in based on résumé. Adam Rippon, despite a rough long program at nationals that dropped him to fourth, also had competitive laurels to rest on, and he and Vincent Zhou, the 17-year-old 2017 junior world champion, got the nod.

The veteran Miner didn’t have the same kinds of results to show, but he did have the argument that he was in form at the right time. He knew he was a long shot but felt he had earned serious consideration. The USFS decision didn’t stir as much controversy or emotion as those involving Mirai Nagasu in 2014 and Ashley Wagner this year, but it attracted a fair amount of attention.

Mark Mitchell, one of Miner’s coaches, showed up at the Olympic selection news conference the next morning with his jaw jutting angrily. Mitchell had been through the same kind of disappointment when he was snubbed for the 1992 Olympic team and felt it even more keenly on Miner’s behalf. The essence of his comments to reporters afterward: Why even factor in nationals if the result is preordained?

Miner would like to see the process tweaked so it doesn’t devalue the event, and he suggests the federation could choose to name some skaters to the Olympic team beforehand — thus relieving them of the task of trying to peak twice within a month — and “let the rest of us fight it out at nationals.”

He hasn’t decided whether he’ll compete next season. For now, he’s juggling coaching at two rinks and undergraduate classes at Harvard Extension School. Credits-wise, he’s in the equivalent of his sophomore year, studying social sciences and enjoying the classroom atmosphere after many years of home schooling. He and his father have nearly completed extensive demolition and renovations on Miner’s 1890-vintage house.

The Vermont-born Miner said he feels far more gratitude than anything about the sport that has taken him around the world.

“I thought I did what I had to do,” he said of his performance at nationals. “I’m really proud of how I skated, how I performed. I did my job. The performances spoke for themselves. I don’t have any regrets about the way I skated or prepared. And I feel like I handled myself well in a very difficult situation afterward. Obviously, I’m disappointed in things I didn’t have any direct control over.”

For the rest of championship weekend, Miner tried to handle his situation with grace. Fans started a petition protesting the decision. Several of his childhood idols, including Brian Boitano, Scott Hamilton and Kristi Yamaguchi, sought him out and praised his skating.

He wasn’t at all sure that he wanted to perform in the gala traditionally held the final night of nationals, especially when he received a late invitation that felt like an afterthought. But then he got a message from Nagasu, who had faced the same situation four years ago. She created one of the most memorable moments of her saga by going through with her 2014 exhibition program, in tears but resolute about her future.

“Mirai texted me and said, ‘I’m not gonna tell you what to do, but it was a really meaningful experience for me to do the exhibition, and I hope that you can do it and have the same positive experience from it that I did,'” Miner said.

“It was pretty special for me to have a skater I respect spare a thought for me in a moment when she should just be happy for herself. She was so good at nationals; I was so happy for her.”

Miner elected to skate. He took the ice dry-eyed, wearing a simple gray T-shirt and black jeans, and wowed the audience with a routine set to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”

“The applause had a certain respect to it,” Miner said. “It was honoring how I had competed, and my career.”



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