Header photo (2019 Four Continents Championships short program) by Robin Ritoss; all personal photos courtesy of Brooklee Han
On July 1, 2019, Brooklee Han announced her retirement from competition on her social media platforms [click here to read her Instagram post]. Han represented Australia for her entire international career, starting in 2010 at the junior level through her seventh consecutive appearance at the 2019 ISU Four Continents Championships, where an injury in practice forced her to withdraw before the free skate. She competed at three ISU World Championships (2013-2015), the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, three ISU Grand Prix events, and over twenty other senior internationals. In this first part of her two-part interview with Figure Skaters Online, Han, now 24, recounts selected career highlights and reveals her future goals both on and off the ice.
Figure Skaters Online (FSO): What were some of your favorite programs in your career and why?
Brooklee Han (BH): I think I have maybe four or five favorites. I am horrible at picking my favorites, as so many of my programs were special for so many different reasons, but here are my top five, in no particular order.
My Les Misérables “I Dreamed a Dream” short program is obviously special to me. I had been struggling to find music and I was, for whatever reason, fixated on the word “dream” and so I kept looking at “dream” songs. One day the Susan Boyle version of “I Dreamed a Dream” came on via my “dream” playlist and my choreographer Evgeni Nemirovski called me over and asked, “Is this what you are going to skate to?” and I looked at him and replied, “I think so.” For all the work that had gone into finding that music, it was the most anti-climactic decision. Once we started the program I think we finished the whole thing in about two hours; it came together super quickly and honestly very little of our original choreography changed over the course of the past two seasons. It was a program I immediately felt comfortable with; every time I skated it, it was like getting a hug from an old friend, or wearing your favorite comfy sweater in front of the fire with a cup of tea and a good book; it was just “me.” Since I was about 14, when an ice dance team at my rink in Newington, Connecticut skated to “Les Mis,“ I had always wanted to skate to something from the musical and I was so happy to finally fulfill that wish. I have had some great memories with that program and it will be one I always cherish.
My West Side Story free program from this past season is another memorable program for me. It was the first program ever that I was really “in charge of.” Obviously I had input from my coaches and a ton of help from Timothy LeDuc in cutting the music and Evgeni Nemirovski with the choreography, but I picked the music (like down to the exact second of where I wanted the cuts done), I chose the elements and the layout and where everything was going with the music, and I designed my costume (with the help of the amazingly sparkly Andrea Besson). It was “my” program, but that was also super nerve-racking, as I didn’t know if people would like it. However, my fears were not necessary, as I got so much positive feedback on the program all season; it was just so validating. I really loved the character of Maria. She is so strong and confident, but also very soft and naïve, and it was a lot of fun to portray her. I am disappointed I never skated a clean program in competition, but I did skate some really great clean programs in practice for the one or two people on the ice with me at 6:30 am this season (your applause was greatly appreciated, Logan and Lei Lei), so I guess I have to be happy with that.
“Por Una Cabeza,“ my free from 2016-2018, is another special program for me. I started out the season with a different free but it just wasn’t working. I had just moved to Dallas and after my first event of the season we decided to change the program. It was the first program Evgeni Nemirovski and I created together. I had never skated a tango before and it was so different from anything I had ever done. I remember at my first competition with it I was so uncomfortable and awkward. I was constantly second guessing myself and my ability to pull off the character, but the more I did it the easier it got. I had a real breakthrough on a practice session at 2017 Four Continents. We were practicing on the main rink, which was going to be the competition venue for the 2018 Olympics, and there was a big crowd and the audience was sitting close to the ice. During my run through I really started playing to the audience and about two-thirds of the way through my program I had this stop where I had to slide my hand up my leg and I always felt super awkward doing it. I was just staring at the crowd and acting super flirty and in character and, all of a sudden, a light bulb went off and I was like ‘OMG I can do this!’ I grew so much as a skater and performer with that program. It was truly the right program at the right time in my career and it will always have a special place in my heart.
Going way back now, another favorite program of mine was my “Take Five“ short program I had from 2010-2012 in juniors (2010 photo, right). It was such a different program for me and it was a lot of fun to skate. Over the course of the two seasons I had it we kept embellishing and polishing it and it was truly a masterpiece by the time we had finished with it. I think it was probably the best program my coach in Connecticut, Serhii Vaypan, and I did together.
Finally, my free program to Secret [2007 film soundtrack] that I used from 2013-2015, including at the 2014 Olympics, is of course one of my favorites. It took Serhii and me about a month to choreograph the program, as he wanted to make sure everything was perfect. It was the first time either one of us had worked on a program that we knew had the potential to be skated at the Olympics, so it was a bit overwhelming. The soundtrack from the movie is just so emotional and pretty and I loved performing that program. Although I made a mistake on my first Salchow, my performance of that program at the 2013 Nebelhorn Trophy, where I secured the Olympic quota spot for Australia, will always be a high point for me. I remember going into the big back spiral at the end of the program and thinking, ‘OMG, I just did that!’ I had trained so hard for that moment and it was everything I could hope for, well almost everything, I would have liked those two additional rotations on my popped triple Salchow.
FSO: Can you share a few favorite memories from your competitive skating career?
BH: I hope you know this is an insanely difficult question. Two decades of skating and nine international seasons leaves you with more than a few favorite memories, but here are some of the highlights. If we are strictly talking about my actual skating at competitions I think some of my favorite memories are:
My short at the Junior Grand Prix (JGP) in Sheffield, England in 2010. This was my first international and obviously I was a bit nervous. The last jump in the program was my double Axel and I remember landing it and thinking ‘I have just skated a clean short at my first international competition!’ I was so proud of myself.
My free program in the qualifying round at 2012 World Juniors in Minsk is another highlight. Earlier in the season, after my second JGP, we discovered I had a stress fracture in my left navicular bone and I ended up on crutches for nine weeks. In the end I only had about four weeks back on the ice to try and prepare for junior worlds. I placed fifth in the qualifying round with a clean free program and a personal best score. It was such a gratifying moment. Unfortunately, Serhii and I had put all our energy into making it through the qualifying round and had barely touched my short program, so that didn’t go very well.
My short program at the 2012 Nebelhorn Trophy is definitely a special program in my career. It was my first time competing at a “big” senior international event. I had done Triglav Trophy in Slovenia at the end of the 2011-2012 season, but it was a smaller event, so Nebelhorn was my first really big senior event. The week before I had competed at JGP Istanbul and had had a rather rough outing. Serhii and I changed a few elements in the short program around in the handful of days between events and our strategy paid off as I skated a clean short program. I was so happy that I was able to turn things around between my events. The huge personal best score and finding myself surprisingly in fifth place after the short were nice little bonuses.
I am incredibly proud of my programs at 2013 Four Continents, 2013 World Juniors and 2013 Worlds. Going into Four Continents I was coming off of a DISASTROUS outing at nationals and by disastrous I mean I stayed upright on a total of three jumps between both short and free (side story: Brendan [Kerry] also had a horrific showing in his free program at that very same nationals. In the years since we have joked that we were competing to see who could fall the most times. While I stayed up on two jumps in my free and he only landed one, one of my ‘landed’ jumps was a pop, so we finally called it a tie). Obviously I was insanely nervous going into my short program at Four Continents, as the last time I had been out had not gone well at all. The night before my short I hardly slept, but I ended up skating two solid programs and my performances only improved as the championship season progressed. While it was very difficult to come back from my performance at nationals, it was a great lesson in perseverance.
My free program at the 2013 Nebelhorn Trophy is clearly one of my most favorite moments in my career. I had trained so hard for that event and when I got out there to compete I was on autopilot. I obviously lost some focus on my first triple Salchow, but I remember going into the big back spiral at the end of the program with just my combo spin left, and just letting all the emotions I had been trying to hold in, wash over me. When I finished the program I was pretty confident that I had completed my mission of securing an Olympic quota spot for Australia, but I’ll never forget that moment in the kiss and cry when I saw the score and placement come up on the screen and knew for sure that I had secured the spot.
For obvious reasons I am incredibly proud of my free program at 2014 Skate America. That was the first time I had put out a completely clean free program in international competition and it was so amazing to finally show the world what I was capable of. I finished that program so satisfied with all that I had done; it was such a surreal feeling.
I am very proud of my short program at the 2015 U.S. International Classic. I had ended my previous season by pulling my right adductor during my short program at worlds, so there were definitely some nerves when it came to returning to competitive ice. To top it off the heal of my right boot had split off from the rest of the boot the weekend prior so I was competing in four day old boots. Before my music started my legs were shaking so badly, but once I started the program I managed to calm myself down and I ended up skating a clean program.
Another big highlight was my free skate at 2017 Four Continents. I had been struggling to put out good performances, especially of my free programs, for about two and a half seasons and I finally put it all together when it mattered most. I remember landing my last jump, a double Axel, and I was just in complete disbelief. I finished the program and just stood there at center ice so overcome with emotion. I could hear my teammates all screaming like crazy in the stands and it was such a special moment. I was so proud of myself because I knew that all the hard work I had put in for the past two and a half years had finally paid off. It was a moment I will never forget.
As a whole, 2017 Finlandia Trophy is an event I am very proud of. It was my third Challenger Series event in four weeks so I was quite fatigued and while I did have a week at home prior to the event, my main coaches were both away at another event. About three hours before heading to the airport I was given the official news that based on the Ice Skating Australia selection policy, after crunching the numbers, the Olympic quota spot Kailani [Craine] had secured at Nebelhorn the week prior was hers to keep. I had been expecting this news as my performances in the season prior had been far less than stellar, but as always there was still a small glimmer of hope in my heart, so I was still a bit disappointed. However, I knew that I couldn’t let that feeling consume me as I still had a job to do in Finland. I ended up scoring two new personal bests in Finland and for the first time in a very long time, leaving a competition completely satisfied with what I put out in both programs.
I am very proud of my short program at the 2018 Inge Solar Memorial Trophy in Austria. As I have said several times my “Les Mis“ program is one of my most favorites and I was so glad to skate and perform it the way Evgeni and I always knew I could. I was so glad I could skate the program so well with him at the boards with me. Although my free program there was not as clean as I had hoped it could be, I was so excited to finish the event with a bronze medal, my first and only ISU Challenger Series medal (photo, right). While the medal and my personal best scores made the event special and memorable, what made it even more special was that I got to share it with so many incredible friends there with me, including Dani O’Brien and Ana Vaipan-Law.
Finally, I am very proud of the two programs I put out at nationals this past season. Although neither program was perfect, if you couldn’t tell by the splat fest of 2012 nationals (a feat I repeated at 2015 nationals), the national championships has been a bit of a bugaboo event for me throughout my career and this season despite not skating my programs as well as I had hoped, my whole experience was incredibly positive and for the first time I competed at nationals without having at least a minor meltdown. We were not sure if either of my main coaches could come with me to Australia until about two weeks before the event, at which point the cost of airline tickets was quite prohibitive and although Evgeni offered to come with me, I knew I would feel guilty for making him travel all the way to Australia to spend four days going on the grand tour of Sydney ice rinks, especially since he is not a huge fan of long haul flights. So, I arranged for my friends and Olympic teammates Dani O’Brien and Greg Merriman to put me on. It was so great to have the two of them at the barrier with me all week and I was so glad I got to share my final nationals experience with the two of them (photo, above).
FSO: What is the recovery status of your left foot injury that happened in practice and forced you to withdraw before the free skate at the 2019 Four Continents Championships in Anaheim, California this past February?
BH: After I returned home from Four Continents, I had an MRI and we soon discovered that I had a complete rupture of my Achilles tendon. A week after the initial injury I had surgery to repair the tendon. I spent about three weeks sitting in our living room with my leg elevated on several pillows. Six weeks after my surgery I was allowed to start walking again. Three weeks after that I was cleared to do some VERY basic skating and took my first tentative steps back on the ice April 19th. In mid-June I was cleared to run again, which has been great. The range of motion and stability have more or less completely returned, but I am still working on improving the strength of my gastrocnemius muscle which completely atrophied while I was non-weight bearing. On the ice right now I am able to do all of my complex turns on both feet and spins on my right foot. I am working on becoming strong enough able to do all my spins on my left foot again; I am currently only able to do sit spin variations and a fairly sad looking scratch spin. It has certainly been a journey and I am so grateful for all the progress I have made and for the outpouring of support from so many people.
FSO: Talk about your new skating goals.
BH: For a little over a year now Logan Giulietti-Schmitt and I have been toying with the idea of having me test all my pattern dances once I retired from competition. After I ruptured my Achilles, it seemed like the perfect way for me to slowly return to skating. I had passed my preliminary dance test when I was 11, so we got to start with the pre-bronze patterns (photo, right). Next week I am testing both my bronze and pre-silver dances. Obviously the dances become more difficult as you advance in the levels, which has been great for my rehab, as it has helped me add more and more difficult skating elements back into my repertoire. It has also given me a whole new perspective on my skating. For so many years my skating was mainly centered around jumps and spins and while I did work on my skating skills they were never a priority. Testing my dances has forced me to confront some bad habits I have had for decades and to really analyze my skating. As a singles skater it wasn’t really a problem that my right forward outside twizzle was a lot weaker than my left forward outside, but in dance that’s a big issue. So instead of just saying ‘oh well, we’ll just use the good twizzle,’ I have to really analyze the good one to try and figure out what I do differently so I can improve the weaker one. I am a total nerd, so I find the process really interesting and a lot of fun. I am also really enjoying skating with Logan. Due to my school schedule this past season I had to train on the ice before my classes and most days he and a couple of his students who skate before school were the only ones on the ice with me. Running a senior ladies free program is not a lot of fun at 6:45 am, so I was incredibly grateful for his support on those early mornings.
FSO: What was the favorite interview you did for International Figure Skating magazine as an intern and why?
BH: That is a great question and I honestly have no clue. There were so many interviews I really enjoyed doing. Interviewing 1992 Olympic pairs gold medalist Natalia Mishkutionok was definitely a highlight [click here to read on the IFS website]. She does not give a lot of interviews so I was really honored that she agreed to mine and I was so nervous going into it, as I didn’t want to mess up. She is such a legend in our sport and it was so incredible to hear all of her stories.
Another interview I had a lot of fun doing was my most recent one with Australian siblings Peter and Liz Cain. I have known both Peter and Liz for several years and it was so fun to get the chance to talk to the two of them together and hear all of the stories from their amateur and professional careers.
I also really enjoyed interviewing Bradie Tennell before the 2018 U.S. Nationals. She was at such an amazing place in her career, right on the precipice of stardom and it was fun to get the chance to talk to her right before what would be, at that point, the biggest and most important event of her career.
The 2018 Peggy Fleming Trophy was probably my favorite event that I have covered [click here to read on the IFS website]. It was such a fun event to watch, as you could see so much joy and love for skating and performing in each skater’s performance. Everyone gave me such great interviews about the event and their skating and I was so disappointed I couldn’t use all of the material I was given. I was really bummed I missed getting to watch the event this year. I have been scouring the internet for fan videos from the event and the programs I have found were just incredible. If you have the chance to get to the Broadmoor Open to see it in the future I would highly recommend it.
In 2017, I had the opportunity to interviewat Broadmoor Open shortly after he announced his retirement. Due to a very tight schedule we had to do the interview on the go. Now, if you are unaware, I am roughly 150 centimeters tall and Jeremy is a good 25 centimeters taller than me, giving him a much larger stride. Broadmoor is located in Colorado Springs, which has an elevation of 1,839 meters, so not only was I running to keep up with Jeremy, but I was running at altitude. At one point in the interview we were climbing some stairs in the World Arena and when I listened back to the voice recording to transcribe the interview I sounded like the big bad wolf, after trying to blow down the three little pigs’ houses.
Finally, I loved getting to interview my coach and choreographer, Evgeni Nemirovski [click here to read on the IFS website]. When I began working with him I had no clue about all of his choreographic achievements, until one day a few months after I had moved to Dallas, when he asked me who had choreographed my short program (it was my Dans La Maison short, that I used from 2015-2017). He was so surprised that my former coach, Serhii Vaypan, had done the program, as he had coached Serhii with Galina Zmievskaya in Ukraine, along with Galina’s other students, including Viktor and Vladimir Petrenko and Oksana Baiul. It was incredible to hear about Evgeni’s ballet career and how he ended up working with skaters. Once I had heard his story I knew it had to be shared with the world. Evgeni is an incredible man and I have loved getting to work with him, but it has been even more special because he worked with Serhii. We really brought things full circle.
FSO: What are your future plans? Will you stay in Texas or relocate?
BH: For at least the next two years I will remain in Texas, as I am (finally) finishing my undergraduate degree at Southern Methodist University here in Dallas. I started studying there part-time this past season and I really like the classes I took and the professors I worked with. I am excited (and a bit nervous) to become a full-time student and explore all of the various academic opportunities the university provides. I am majoring in German and Journalism. I may try to add a political science minor in as well because I seem to be well on my way to a minor without really even trying. If all goes according to plan, I am hoping to graduate spring of 2021.
Outside of the skating world, this past spring, I was given an incredible opportunity to work with Jeff Guinn, a local author here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, doing research for his upcoming book. I love learning about new things, so this has been right up my alley. Once I graduate I have no clue where I will end up. I am hoping that by the time I graduate my German is more or less fluent, so I could end up anywhere from Germany or Austria to the U.S. or Australia. It will be an adventure.
In addition to going to school I am also starting to coach a little bit, which I really enjoy and I have also have helped out a few friends search for music for themselves and/or their students, which is a lot of fun.
While I am focused on studying for university at the moment, once I graduate I want to become an ISU technical specialist. My parents instilled in me from a young age that it is important to give back to organizations and things that have helped us, so becoming a technical specialist and coaching a bit are how I plan on giving back to our sport.
In part two of her interview, Brooklee Han will share personal photos spanning her entire career on the ice as well as stories from how she first started skating in New England to her experience of competing in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
UPDATE: To read the second part of her interview, please [click here].