Friday, 31 October 2014

Paranormal Skatetivity 2: From Haunted Rinks To Skating Ghosts


"In culture after culture, people believe that the soul lives on after death, that rituals can change the physical world and divine the truth, and that illness and misfortune are caused and alleviated by spirits, ghosts, saints ... and gods." - Steven Pinker. In the first edition of Paranormal Skatetivity last year, I brought to light 6.0 stories of the spooky and macabre that related to ice skating. From Janet and Rosetta Van Der Voort, the daughters of an overprotective wealthy helicopter pilot who are believed to haunt New York City's Wollman Rink to an entire family who perished on the ice in Pennsylvania to the ghost of three time Olympic Gold Medallist Sonja Henie, I learned in researching that article that skating is certainly not without its stories that make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. It's time to lower the blinds, turn down the lights, lock the door and light a candle. It's time for Hallowe'en and the second edition of Paranormal Skatetivity:

DIMOND CENTER



The Dimond Center is a mall located in Anchorage, Alaska that plays host to the Dimond Center Ice Chalet, an in-mall skating rink. The Ice Chalet offers the U.S. Figure Skating Basic Skills Program in conjunction with the Alaska Association of Figure Skaters (AAFS). So you're thinking... run of the mill rink in a mall right? Not even close. According to More Than Horror, "the locals say that when the Dimond Center was first built in 2002 the grounds under it were Native American burial grounds. While digging up the grounds to build the mall, workers came across a few graves, but due the fact there was so few of them, they continued construction. People claim to see wolves roaming the halls and hearing the sound of flute music playing... the ghosts of people dressed in Native American clothing often appear to people in the hallways of the building. There is a evil presence in one of the stores that a lot of people are afraid of. They say it appears as a dark shadow and then a deep feeling of fear comes over whoever happens to be in the room... supposedly if you
try to stay in the room you will be pinched or hear a loud hiss in your ears." I suppose have its perks. If you take your kids to the Dimond Center to learn to skate, they are bound to have posture and gorgeously straight backs just like Dorothy Hamill. They'll have to... they'll be scared stiff!

GINBAN KALEIDOSCOPE


Written by Rei Kaibara and illustrated by Hiro Suzuhira, Ginban Kaleidoscope was a series of light novels that were adapted for Japanese television in 2005 and 2006 as an anime cartoon. The plot of both the books and television program revolves around Tazusa Sakurano, a Japanese figure skater and Olympic hopeful. At a figure skating competition in Canada, Sakurano falls on a triple lutz attempt and loses consciousness. At the exact instant Sakurano loses consciousness, Canadian stunt pilot Pete Pumps dies when his plane crashes as a result of mechanical failure. Like something straight out of The Exorcist, Pumps' spirit inhabits the Japanese figure skater's body for one hundred days... and she falls in love with him. The plot appears quite similar in some ways to Ice Angel, the 2000 made for TV movie which touches on the themes of reincarnation and figure skating. At any rate, if you're an Olympic hopeful and are going to be possessed, I suppose someone with a lot of experience in the air isn't exactly a bad fit. The moral of the story? Land that triple lutz or you just might end up spitting out pea soup everywhere, right?

CARLTON HOTEL SKY RINK



Another haunted rink? I couldn't possibly! This one's a little different though. After closing its doors in 1997, the Carlton Hotel Sky Rink in Johannesburg, South Africa has attracted its fair share of ghost hunters. Dirk Chalmers wrote "The Carlton Sky Rink is the creepiest place I've ever seen. If you're old enough you'll remember it differently, but today it manages to tick two boxes at once - rad party venue and the perfect spot to hide dead bodies. It's rough around the edges but it's pretty much the same place it was when my parents used to skate there back in the day. It just looks like nobody did much since then besides rip out the ice and switch the lights off. On our way out, we stopped by what is definitely the most horror movie appropriate room of them all: the shoe room, filled to the brim with dusty unused ice skates. Or perhaps... murder weapons..." The Carlton Hotel Sky Rink is actually a gutted former ice rink located on the top of an abandoned hotel - which was actually quite the high end affair in its heyday. Henry Kissinger, Hilary Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, Whitney Houston and Mick Jagger all took up temporary residence in the hotel at one time or another. The eerie calm of this abandoned and mothballed hotel with this spooky rink left over a decade ago to fall into disrepair just seem the perfect backdrop for a horror story, wouldn't you say? Who knows, maybe Kissinger, Thatcher or Houston return for a visit from time to time? Stranger things have happened. Ottavio Cinquanta's still around, after all.

AISLE 13: HALLOWE'EN HOLOCAUST GHOSTS



Revisiting "The Hallowe'en Holocaust: A Closer Look At The 1963 Holiday On Ice Explosion", we remember that in Lori Sankowsky's book "Ghost Hunter's Guide To Indianapolis", she recounts a story of her visit to what is now the Pepsi Coliseum - the site of the grisly October 31, 1963 Fairgrounds Coliseum explosion that killed eighty two people at a Holiday On Ice show. Like something off Most Haunted, Lori and her companion Keri heard audible clicks in the silence of the arena that stopped when they asked "is someone there?" and experienced sensations of overwhelming heat even though their infrared thermometer had not changed from their initial reading of sixty seven degrees. The book includes a photo showing a red orb appearing near aisle thirteen of the rebuilt arena where by accounts the apparition of a woman has been seen previously. Whether you believe in that kind of thing or not, it's certainly not the first time figure skating has had a haunted connection.

GHOSTS OF HOT ICE



The ice rink at Blackpool Pleasure Beach in England is the oldest purpose built ice theatre and the world and has played host to the popular Hot Ice show for the last seventy years. It ALSO paid host to a team of paranormal investigators in 2002, when the popular British television program Most Haunted set up shop. Blackpool writer Juliette Gregson has claimed that she herself "heard someone or something skating on the ice... when I have gone to look nothing was there. Lights and equipment move of their own accord and doors have been wide open when they have closed with padlocks. Staff working late at night, walking across to the tractor bay, have felt really cold, chilled to the bone and an 'awful' presence." Doors which are wide open have slammed shut on their own acccord, despite there being no wind or breezes. Apparitions have even reportedly been seen in the rink's dressing rooms. With so many famous skaters connected to that rink as show performers in its seventy year run, it is almost impossible to guess just who just may be revisiting that rink. Could it be Betty Callaway, coach of Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, who while performing met her first (and later, third) husband Roy - a principal skater in the show - there? What about former Blackpool Pleasure Beach chairman Doris Thompson, who passed away just hours after the funeral of her son and managing director of the venue, Geoffrey Thompson? The secret just may stay safe... beyond the veil.

THE DEVIL WENT UP TO NEW JERSEY



In 1978, two teenage boys went skating near Chatsworth in the Barrens and smelled an odor like dead fish and saw two red eyes staring at them. They didn't stick around for tea but did claim they had encountered The Jersey Devil. On his website dedicated to research of the Jersey Devil legend, Dave Juliano explains more about this well known folklore figure: "The Jersey Devil, the supposed mythical creature of the New Jersey Pinelands, has haunted New Jersey and the surrounding areas for the past 260 years. This entity has been seen by over 2,000 witnesses over this period. It has terrorized towns and caused factories and schools to close down, yet many people believe that the Jersey Devil is a legend, a mythical beast, that originated from the folklore of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Others disagree with this point of view... There are many different versions of the birth of the Jersey Devil. One of the most popular legends says a Mrs. Shrouds of Leeds Point, NJ made a wish that if she ever had another child, she want it to be a devil. Her next child was born misshapen and deformed. She sheltered it in the house, so the curious couldn't see him. On stormy night, the child flapped its arms, which turned into wings, and escaped out the chimney and was never seen by the family again. A Mrs. Bowen of Leeds point said, 'The Jersey Devil was born in the Shrouds house at Leeds Point.'Another story that also placed the birth at Leeds Point said that a young girl fell in love with a British soldier during the Revolutionary War. The people of Leeds Point cursed her. When she gave birth, she had a devil. Some people believe the birth of the devil was punishment for the mistreatment of a minister by the Leeds folk." Whatever the case may be, I think we should leave this one for Theresa Caputo, the Long Island Medium to sort out. You won't catch me skating outdoors in New Jersey anytime soon, I'll tell you that.

I want to close this special Hallowe'en edition of the blog with one of MY all time favourite skating spooky skating performances, choreographed by the late and great Brian Wright. Here are World Professional Champions Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding skating to "Sadeness":


I hope you all have a wonderful Hallowe'en! The next blog will take a look at my thoughts from this weekend's Skate Canada competition in Kelowna, British Columbia and don't forget that next week I'll be featuring a FANTASTIC interview with Olympic Bronze Medallist and two time U.S. Champion Ashley Wagner.

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Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Hallowe'en Holocaust: A Closer Look At The 1963 Holiday On Ice Explosion


I've long been a fan of the wonderful work done by Allison Manley and PJ Kwong on their respective Manleywoman SkateCast and Open Kwong Dore podcasts. Considering I didn't have a sweet clue about interviewing people when I started the blog last year, I really admire and look up to both Allison and PJ for what they continue to accomplish in doing these important interviews. Sadly though, I hadn't found time to listen to a lot of the less recent ones. That all changed in June. I decided to take a break from my usual routine of listening to music while working my day job and went on a three week bender of playing catch up on many of the interviews I had missed. My jaw dropped and my head shook back and forth in sheer disbelief when I listened to Allison's 2008 interview with iconic coach Ron Ludington. I think I even said "what?" out loud. Ludington shared the story of what he called 'The Hallowe'een Holocaust', an explosion at the Fairgrounds Coliseum during a Holiday On Ice show on October 31, 1963 that injured four hundred and killed between seventy and ninety. How had I never heard of this horrible tragedy?!

After listening to Ludington's gruesome first hand account of the tragedy, I set out to learn more about what happened that day. It was one of Indiana's greatest tragedies. An archival article "1963 Coliseum explosion killed 74" from the Indianapolis Star provides detailed background on just what happened that day: "It was opening night for the Holiday on Ice show, with more than 4,000 spectators on hand. Propane, being used to keep pre-popped popcorn warm, was leaking from a faulty valve. At 11:04 p.m. an explosion sent bodies flying nearly 60 feet. A second blast took place a few minutes later, caused by heat rising and air rushing into the vacuumized area. The victims were either severely burned or crushed by concrete. Indianapolis was not equiped to handle the volume of dead. Coroner Dennis Nicholas elected to use the Coliseum as a makeshift morgue. The bodies were placed on plywood and lined up on the ice according to gender and age. Family members passed through the rows of bodies to identify their loved ones. Sixty five people were killed that evening and eight others would die in the days and weeks that followed. The 74th victim died Feb. 7, 1964. On Dec. 19, 1963, a Marion County grand jury indicted State Fire Marshal Ira J. Anderson and Indianapolis fire chief Arnold W. Phillips on misdemeanor charges of failing to inspect the Coliseum. Edward J. Franger, president of Discount Gas Corp; Fred Helms, Discount's vice president; Richard Ensign, Discount's Indianapolis manager; Coliseum manager Melvin Ross; and Coliseum concession manager Floyd James were charged with manslaughter. There was only one conviction. Franger was found guilty of assault and battery. That verdict was later overturned by the Indiana Supreme Court. In the end victims and survivors received about $4.6 million in settlements." Among the dozens who perished in the tragedy was former Lafayette mayor Dwight Keim.

Joe Young photo from the Indianapolis News of the Coliseum's ice surface being used as a morgue after the explosion

Thomas Drabek's case study "Disaster In Aisle 13 Revisited" states the explosion actually occurred at 11:06 PM and not 11:04 and provides the exact number of spectators of that fateful show as 4327, also correcting the death toll to eighty two in total, higher than the toll listed in the Indianapolis Star archival article and more in line with the number that Ludington suggests in his interview with Allison. He examines and theorizes in depth as to the social science behind disaster research with relation to the response to this particular tragedy.

As I continued to dig a little deeper, the details became even more macabre. Dale Burgess' article "Coliseum Explosion 62". Burgess explained that at the time of the explosion, the stars of the show were waiting behind the curtains for the show's later finale as an ensemble group performed "a gay Dixieland" number as bodies, many of them wrapped in mink, "erupted onto the ice". Almost reminiscent of Wallace Hartley and the other musicians of the Titanic playing music until the ship was lost beneath the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, Burgess states that after the blasts "the band kept playing in the best tradition of show business, and the skaters hurried off the ice to make way for rescue teams". Walter Spangler, a Shriner who was in attendance that horrific night gave his account of the tragedy: ""About 90 percent of the crowd, like myself, were Shriners and their families. We were sitting almost directly opposite the explosion and the show was virtually over. Suddenly there was a dull thump. It wasn't an explosion as you usually think of one. There was no percussion. Immediately there was a tremendous column of fire - about 15 feet in diameter, and 40 to 50 feet high. Along with it was literally a column of bodies. I saw dozens of people flying through the air. Their arms and legs outspread. Then there was just screaming,"

Here's where things go from horrific to just plain unusual. In Lori Sankowsky's book "Ghost Hunter's Guide To Indianapolis", she recounts a story of her visit to what is now the Pepsi Coliseum. Like something off Most Haunted, Lori and her companion Keri heard audible clicks in the silence of the arena that stopped when they asked "is someone there?" and experienced sensations of overwhelming heat even though their infrared thermometer had not changed from their initial reading of sixty seven degrees. The book includes a photo showing a red orb appearing near aisle thirteen of the rebuilt arena where by accounts the apparition of a woman has been seen previously. Whether you believe in that kind of thing or not, it's certainly not the first time a rink has been considered haunted. I learned all about that when writing "Paranormal Skatetivity".

In any event, the tragedy known as 'The Hallowe'en Holocaust' may not be as well known as the horrific plane crash that killed the entire U.S. figure skating team only two years previously but like the victims of that fateful plane crash, the victims of that 1963 explosion at the Holiday On Ice show at the Fairgrounds Coliseum in Indianapolis absolutely deserve to be remembered.

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Monday, 27 October 2014

ISU GRAND PRIX: Skate Guard Skate America Coverage


When I started the blog, I had no intention of going down the yellow brick road of event recaps... then the Sochi Olympics and Saitama Worlds happened! "By popular demand", I hope you will enjoy the more extensive "event coverage" this year. I will be blogging about my thoughts on each of the six senior Grand Prix events, the Grand Prix Final, the European Championships, Four Continents Championships, World Junior Championships and of course, the 2015 World Figure Skating Championships set to take center stage from March 23-29, 2015 in Shanghai, China. Where the powers of be have decided in their infinite wisdom to again hold the Canadian and U.S. Nationals at the same time this coming January and I'm dead set on making the trip up to Kingston, Ontario this year, I don't know that I'll be able to follow the U.S. Championships closely if I'm in Kingston, but we'll see how things all play out. Bottom line... as much as professional and artistic skating is really my thing, I do still have an immense respect and appreciation for the efforts of these talented skaters competing in the ISU ranks and I know how many of you do as well, so I want to keep skating in the forefront as much as possible. If that means blogging about those cookie cutter IJS step sequences I despise so much, so be it. It's all about keeping skating in the forefront!

Please keep in mind with all the coverage of any competition on Skate Guard as always I'll post videos of some of the most standout performances. It's always possible that they might be geoblocked in your country, and for that I apologize. Around the time of major competitions, videos go up every minute and come down and get geoblocked just as fast. If you're unable to watch videos in your country, I've got some great advice for you. Go to YouTube, and under your search settings you can select 'Upload Date'. If you type in keywords for the competition or skater you want to see, you can narrow it down to 'Today' or 'This Week' and usually find just what you're looking for in minutes! And now, on to the event at hand...

The 2014 Hilton Honors Skate America was held in The Windy City of Chicago and I totally just said Chicago in a Chicago accent.


At twenty four years of age, last year's Skate America Champion Tatsuki Machida entered this competition fresh off his most successful season yet. Winning the silver medal at the World
Championships behind Olympic and World Champion Yuzuru Hanyu, Machida looked ready to ride and continue his time on the top. His short program was clean and featured a quad/triple combination and his free skate boasted two quads, a triple axel/triple toe-loop as well as three other triples. He earned a total score of 175.70 and repeated as this event's gold medallist.


After injecting a whole lot of life, energy and excitement into the skating world with his "Riverdance" free skate, the expectations on Olympic Bronze Medallist Jason Brown to come out and 'top' his material from last season were probably a bit of a tall order. Intelligently, he went in a different direction and "Juke" and "Tristan et Iseult". I personally feel not one but BOTH programs absolutely play to his advantages and artistically shine. Rohene Ward masterpieces? Can we even act surprised? Jason blew my mind at the Nebelhorn Trophy and I expected a lot of him at this event. He wasn't perfect, but let's just remember that this is October and not February or March. Rather than approach Jason's skating with Helen Lovejoy cries of "won't someone PLEASE think of the triple axel?", let's appreciate the great programs he's bringing to the table. His overall event score of 234.7 is nothing to scoff at.


The surprise to some of the event was the bronze medal winning performances of Canada's Nam Nguyen. A student of Brian Orser, Nguyen came out gangbusters at this event and couldn't put a foot wrong and made a bold statement that his time isn't the future, it's right now. He landed the quad and I have to say flat out that I thought his PCS score in the free skate of 71.64 (lower than Artur Gachinski?) didn't make a lick of sense to me. If he keeps skating like this, the judges are going to reward him duly. I thought he was just fantastic.


2014 Olympic Bronze Medallist Denis Ten told me "I had to deal with so many challenges and in particular with injuries for last two years. These problems sometimes didn't let me train properly and also to compete well at international competitions. However, when it's a very important event I know how to get myself together no matter what's going on." Ten finished in fourth at Skate America with a score of 224.74 but despite some errors in the free skate, I thought he showed some great fight for the landings. Ten has proven to be a slow and steady wins the race kind of skater who has peaked when it counted the last two years, so that's definitely something to keep in mind.


Changing his mind on retirement from ISU competition, the four time and reigning U.S. Champion and Olympic Bronze Medallist Jeremy Abbott returned to competition with a new "back to basics" strategy this season. He choreographed his own short program to Sam Smith's "Lay Me Down" and worked with famed choreographer Sandra Bezic on his free skate to Samuel Barber's "Adagio For Strings". Jeremy was outstanding in the short program and finished second in that portion of the event with a score of 81.82. His short program (to me) proved case and point the argument why lyrics belong in competition. If entertainment and artistry draw in new fans, that's the whole point of it all. He unraveled a bit in the free skate and dropped to fifth overall, which I'm sure will give the sockpuppets of the internet plenty to go on about. While he did land five triples in his free skate, he just seemed a little off but it was his first time out of the gate with this program and I have every faith it'll come together for him. Artistically, the glimpses of genius were already there. My only other note about the men's event is that anytime Chafik Besseghier wants to show us his chesteses, he is more than welcome. Hay Girl Hay!


The buzz in the off-season has been about Russia's Elena Radionova. At fifteen years of age, she's won the last two Junior World titles and in her senior Grand Prix debut last season, she medalled at both of her assignments, including last year's Skate America. Again, she proved why she's the talk of the town here with challenging programs and her consistent triple/triple combinations. My criticism of Radionova's skating is that it almost looks like she's skating on a fast forward setting. While she hits absolutely stunning positions in her spins and without question has the jumps, the in-between's and choreography are not there just yet in my opinion - but that will come with time. There's a growing period for developing the style that takes you from juniors to seniors and while I feel her short program suits her well enough, the free skate isn't working for me and gives the impression of a young girl trying on her mother's dresses. It just doesn't aesthetically do it for me. I think the example I can give goes back to Tara Lipinski. I wasn't a big Tara fan in 1996, loved her in 1997 and then kind of went "meh" in 1998. If Radionova can channel her inner 1997 Tara Lipinski and package herself in a way that plays to her strengths (which are many) she might sway me to her camp but I think a lot of my opinion on her skating comes from - truth be told - maybe a little of my own ageism. At any rate, she won gold with 195.47 and served notice that although she's not queer, she's here and we're going to have to get used to it.


I've been thrilled that Liza Tuktamysheva has kind of been the comeback kid this season. Last year a tenth place finish at Russian Nationals derailed her Olympic hopes but rather than give up, she came back fighting... and that's what I like to see. I like her musical choices this season even if I do think the "Bolero" music is a little big for her britches choreographically perhaps. I'd like to see a bit more between the jumps in terms but she does have this very athletic package that reminds me a tiny bit of Debi Thomas and I don't know, I kind of like it. I'm just happy her and Alena Leonova are proving that they too are in this to win it this year and NOT to be met with dismissive narratives with little founding. Liza threw down two VERY strong programs, winning the short program in fact. Her overall score was 189.62 and the silver medal was hers.


We can't talk about Gracie Gold at Skate America without talking about the highlight of the whole competition... Frank Carroll in the kiss and cry. How awesome was that? I died! After some tentative skating in practice, Gracie actually really surprised me here. Despite a couple little blunders with a two footed jump and a problem on the spin in the short, her free skate might have got dinged for two many toe-loops but the jumping itself was actually just great. I can't say the programs themselves did a lot for me but as Carol Lane aptly said on CBC's coverage... "just because a program doesn't appeal to you style wise doesn't mean it's not a good program." Gracie took home the bronze and a score of 179.38.


Samantha Cesario told me that "one of my main goals is to perfect a triple/triple and up my technical side to keep up with the talent we have here in the U.S. as well as internationally. Another main goal is to improve on my skating skills and speed while continuing to bring entertaining programs to the audience." She threw down in Chicago with a free skate that featured seven triples, earning a score of 174.58. She's a mature, elegant skater and I think she's putting the U.S. ladies on notice that she's up for the challenge and a podium threat at Nationals this season.


After a disappointing 2014/2015 season that saw her deliver strong performances, finish third and be left off the U.S. team in favor of two time U.S. Champion Ashley Wagner, anyone else but Mirai Nagasu would have thrown in the towel. The 2008 U.S. Champion's determination to succeed was evident in her renewed focus and drive heading into this season, but a fifth place finish behind Polina Edmunds and Courtney Hicks at the U.S. International Classic earlier this fall wasn't the comeback that she had perhaps hoped for. The judges seem to love to nitpick Mirai's landings on jumps and as usual, for that reason she found herself out of favor with them. The skating itself was gutsy, inspired and athletic and I have a lot of respect for her for sticking with it. Her sixth place finish here "is what it is".


Maé-Bérénice Méité came into this event with the goal of "really getting better and better and to get better places on the Grand Prix". She finished sixth at Skate America in Detroit last year so her ninth place finish at this event wasn't a great event for her but the attack was as always there and I like her material this year. Another skater I wanted to mention was Brooklee Han. Although she finished tenth, her free skate was simply fantastic and much like Nguyen in the men's event, if she keeps skating like this the judges are going to have to take notice.


After missing the 2013/2014 season due to Smirnov's ruptired patellar tendon, Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov returned to - and won - their first competition of the season, the Nebelhorn Trophy, last month. I just love their free skate. It has this very sweeping old school quality and there is more than enough meat choreographically going on. Take that wonderful section before the overhead lift and throw triple loop for instance. It's got to be at least a Pasha on a scale of one to Angelika Krylova back row Carmen theatre face. Coming from me, that's a compliment. I'm the kind of skating fan who would have loved to have Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin turn their "Raputin" program into a full length TV special with Laetitia Hubert, Olga Markova, one of those Hallowe'en sound effects tapes, Toller Cranston, a smoke machine, confetti cannon, cash bar and the off off off Broadway cast of Cats. Their winning performances at this event were convincing and technically unreal. Although the speed might not have been there, a throw quad salchow is NOTHING to sneeze at and I think this team's storyline this season is one that is going to serve the skating world notice.


In winning silver in the pairs event ahead of the Chinese pair, Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier were fantastic. The U.S. pairs are really stepping it up a notch and this particular team I think is really one to watch. I also predict a great future for Vanessa Grenier and Maxime Deschamps, who (despite some problems on the technical elements) showed flashes of brilliance and a lot of promise.


The ice dance event was all about the Americans, with Maia and Alex Shibutani squaring off with Madison Chock and Evan Bates. Both teams have impressive résumés and brought somewhat comparable styles to the table at this event. After a high energy crowd pleasing free dance set to Michael Jackson music last year, 'The ShibSibs' opted for a much more subdued style in their free dance set to ""Rosen aus dem Süden" and "The Blue Danube" by Johann Strauss. Chock and Bates also opted for a more traditional free dance set to "An American In Paris". Whereas the music choices might not have had me on the edge of my seat, the skating was anything but lifeless. I thought both teams brought a high technical standard to the table.


Madison Chock and Evan Bates' short dance didn't really work for me as a paso doble but I certainly appreciated (as always) their speed, lifts and carriage. With regard to their free dance to "An American In Paris", I again thought their speed and lifts were incredible and the closeness in their twizzles was something else. I didn't have any issue with their TES score... but PCS wise, the slow section was lovely but there's a certain contrived quality of the choreography that just didn't do it for me. The final up and down merry-go-round liftamigger in the program didn't work for me either. I think my opinion with regard to this team really comes down to the fact that "An American In Paris" was preceeded by "Les Mis" and "Doctor Zhivago". They are so technically good and the program choices that they continue to select are so far from what I personally go for that it's just hard for me to relate with their skating. That said, they are a damn good team and a score of 171.03 is certainly impressive.


Now... time to talk about the ShibSibs. I personally thought they should have won the short dance. Their free dance was a very effective program with great timing, expression, twizzles (which were confident, a highlight, full of speed and textbook) and character. What they did ON the ice as opposed in the air was far for more impressive than any acro-tactics we saw from some of their competitors. I can't say the waltz entirely grows on me as much as the Michael Jackson program did, but that said, it's a classic, effective program and I admire their sticktuitiveness. 160.33 and ten points back of first? Yeah, I don't know how I feel about that at all.


Stepanova and Bukin's "Eleanor Rigby" free dance was a complete fail for me, despite those badass sitting twizzles. However, I did enjoy that dance spin where she was... Stepanova him. The lifts were creative but the program lost steam and the innate connection between music and movement just wasn't there from start to finish. They won the bronze medal with a score of 143.87 (over twenty five points back of first) but I think the strength of their short dance should serve them well as they go through the season. Let's not forget how that worked for Cappellini and Lanotte in Saitama.


A couple of other notes... A huge jump for Paradis and Ouellette in the free dance. Marie-France Dubreuil has created some magic with this team and you can just see her influence in their skating. That closing rotational movement in their free dance was to die for and fourth place overall (coming from last after the short dance) was just crazy. Good for them! With regard to Orford and Williams, I love me some old school "Titanic" and actually skated to the soundtrack myself when that was the in thing in the late nineties. The program really caught my attention at the beginning but the jig section just needed a little more outward projection and camp for it to really sell itself more. The lifts were great and I think with a little fine tuning, this dance will be just fine by Nationals.

That brings me to the end of my ramblings about this event and I can tell you right now the other Grand Prix blogs will probably be a lot shorter! If you enjoyed reading, the best advice I can give you is to take just a moment of your time and click through to this blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard and "like it" - you'll end up with daily figure skating news, videos and interesting articles right in your Facebook news feed, as well as new content and interviews on this blog as they happen. I'm also just in love with the Twitter - it's so fun! You can also tweet me at http://twitter.com/ohh_N anytime you feel like talking about skating... that's what I'm here for!

Friday, 24 October 2014

Rink Of Wax: Figure Skaters In Wax Museums

I don't know about you, but personally I think there was something infinitely creepy about the 1953 Vincent Prince film "House Of Wax". It was about a burned sculptor who filled up his wax museum with real life corpses. Although lifelike wax replicas of famous figures have been popular tourist attractions since Mary Salmon's The Moving Wax Works Of The Royal Court Of England in 1711, the most well known of these wax museums is without question Madame Tussauds in London. The popularity of the original museum founded by Madame Marie Tussaud in 1835 has spread like wildfire across the world and the seven seas and there are now Madame Tussaud wax museums everywhere from Shanghai to Hollywood as well as numerous other wax museums everywhere from Dublin to New Orleans to Kolkata. Now... in keeping with the ongoing series of spooky articles interspersed with skating history and interviews throughout October on Skate Guard, I wanted to show all of you some of the lifelike and quite eerie tributes to FIGURE SKATERS found (or once found) in wax museums around the world!

The Kween herself, Michelle Kwan, once featured in wax at Madame Tussauds in New York City!
Grévin Wax Museum in Montreal pays host to a wax replica of Joannie Rochette, wearing a pair of Joannie`s own skates!

 
Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean`s ìconic Bolero immortalized in wax at Madame Tussauds in England

Mao Asada`s wax figure at Madame Tussauds in Tokyo, Japan

Although these wax replicas of some of the sport`s biggest stars are just that - replicas - you have to admit that there is something stunningly creepy about wax figures period. Almost like the Night At The Museum movies, one has to playfully ponder as to whether they come alive at night or something and do a few double axels before returning to their posts. Stranger things have happened. Ottavio Cinquanta`s still around, right?

Did you enjoy this feature on Skate Guard? What comes next? MORE interviews, MORE skating history, MORE interesting articles for you to read, that's what! Stay tuned to the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard and my Twitter feed at http://www.twitter.com/ohh_N and thanks as always for your support and most importantly... spreading the word!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Interview With Alina Adams


I don't know about you, but I sure love a good mystery. One of my all time favourite movies is "Clue", I think Jessica Fletcher is the living end, I lovingly watch "Murdoch Mysteries" on CBC and not long ago, I stumbled upon a 1986 Agatha Christie TV movie on YouTube called "Dead Man's Folly" that starred none other than the FABULOUS Jean Stapleton. You know, "Oh Arrrrrchie!"... Edith Bunker! As an aside, in the movie her character is a LOT like Edith so you totally need to watch Edith Bunker, P.I. After watching this Poirot gem, I got to thinking about mystery novels and my mind turned to Alina Adams, a New York Times Bestseller who has written some fantastic murder mysteries centered around the figure skating world. How unique and fabulous is that? This New York City resident is not only the author of "Murder On Ice", "On Thin Ice", "Axel Of Evil", "Death Drop" and "Skate Crime", she has also written a host of romance novels, a biography of Sarah Hughes, worked in television for four different soap operas and also had her hand in broadcast work for figure skating as well. Seeing as I do a little writing myself, I am always fascinated to speak with other writers and speaking with Alina was just a pleasure. I think you'll find this interview to DIE for:

Q: You are a New York Times Bestseller and have writing over twenty books including both fiction and non-fiction books about figure skating. What first gave you for writing fiction (in particularly mysteries) centered around figure skating?

A: Basically, I had written a couple of romance novels and I was pitching a romance based in the figure skating world to my editor. She didn't think it would be a great fit originally but did know another editor looking for someone to write a biography of Sarah Hughes. The editor called me and I did the book on Sarah which came out a couple of months before she won the 2002 Olympics. When she won and the book did really well, the editor suggested that I do a figure skating mystery novel. The publisher did very specific series of mystery novels, for instance mysteries based on candle making and scrapbooking so this fit with what they published. I wrote her a proposal for a book that took place in Russia during a skating competition but after reading the proposal, she asked for something based in the U.S. She was still going back and forth with the proposals I sent. Literally, after months of us brainstorming and going back and forth during the 2002 Olympics there was the whole pairs scandal and I sent her a single line: "someone murders the judge that gives the gold medal to the Russians over the Americans" and she replied "yes". All proposals that went back and forth (five in total) ended up eventually turning into novels.

Q: What have been the unique challenges of bringing figure skating to paper?

A: The most difficult thing is that you can be the most brilliant writer (which I'm not) but it's almost impossible to describe a visual like skating. It's actually why I like doing the enhanced E-books. I partnered with Ice Theatre Of New York on them and they gave me full access to their video library and I was able to put the visual with the skating and give readers a different experience. You didn't just have to read about the routine, you actually got to see it. I actually had to work it backward and then go find a video that suited to the program I was describing, which wasn't always easy. In one case, I had a pair where one of them was black and the other white and serendipitously I was able to find a video in their library that worked.

Q: Skating fans can be a VERY tough crowd to market writing to. How do you deal with that challenge?

A: As you said with skating fans, it's going to be impossible to please everyone, because everyone has their own personal narrative of how skating works and how the story should go. At the beginning of every fictional book you read it says something like "any resemblance to characters dead or living is purely coincidental". There's obviously a little fun of basing characters on people that are in the public eye but fiction is fiction and you have to have a sense of humor when it comes to all that. Someone of Dick Button's stature was able to take the books with great humor and some skating fans didn't see it that way. When it comes to non-skating fans, they also have their own narrative, and a lot of that comes from what's being sold in the media and also in cliches. With skating on television broadcasts, it's a storyline. It's not scripted but there's as much narrative going on in TV coverage as you'd find in a book. One of the things I tried to do in writing these books was to turn that narrative on its end because when you write mysteries you WANT to fool people.

Q: I'm dying to ask this because I'm a writer myself. Is there a cure, in your opinion, for writer's block?

A: Honestly, I say this and it sounds trite but when you write for a living, the cure is needing to pay your bills. If I have something due, I literally tell myself to write one line, then the one after that and then the one after that. The more you do it, you find that you do come up with tricks and sometimes they are shortcuts but you end up putting some words down on a page. There's a quote to the effect of "it's much easier to edit a bad page than a blank page." You know those days when you feel you're in the zone and then there are those other days when it's like pulling teeth? If you go back six months and read the writing both of those kinds of days, there's really no difference.

Q: You actually worked for some time with the soap operas Loving, As The World Turns, Guiding Light, Another World and as a researcher for the Daytime Emmy Awards. While I don't watch any soap operas now, I will admit that growing up watching General Hospital with my mother was a bit of a guilty pleasure. What were the best parts of working in television?

A: The best parts of working in TV AND in skating are that they both move very, very quickly. You have to have your stuff together but when it's done, it's done. With soap operas you have to produce an episode a day and in skating, when you're done you move on to the next show. Both are perfectly suited for adrenaline junkies. I can say though that my tenth draft might not be any better than anyone's elses tenth draft of something but my first will be. Looking at skating broadcasts, there's that live element though. First you have the skater's program in front of you but maybe you have a Christopher Bowman who is changing their choreography or a different podium outcome than you were expecting.,. that kind of thing. In television, you have to be able to think very fast and that's the kind of work I love.

Q: What are you working on currently?

A: (laughing) In an attempt to torpedo my career, self destruct... I basically had this crazy idea. I am literally writing my next novel live on the web at http://alinaadams.com/live. You can literally watch me type, edit, erase and change the novel as I go and I explain why with notes. When I was a teenager, I wished I could learn by standing over a professional writer's shoulder. Thirty years ago there was no way you could do that. I created this website so people can virtually stand over my shoulder. You can learn from your mistakes or you can learn from MY mistakes! For instance, I cut two chapters (live) and explained that to people and made the edits in the chapters after. It's all about pulling back the curtain on the mysterious process of writing a novel.

Q: What's one thing about you most people don't know?

A: I'm pretty open. If I'm willing to 'write naked' by writing and editing a novel live, I don't have much to hide. There is this fun fact though: I was born in the former USSR and speak fluent Russian, which is how I first got into televised skating work.

Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why?

A: Number one has to be Dick Button. What he has brought to the sport - the innovation alone - and then what he did as an announcer and when he created all of the professional championships... No one will ever come close to that. You can't have a list without him being on the top of it. Robin Cousins as well... I worked with him on the StarSkates shows a while back. Whether he was doing "Satan Takes A Holiday" or a tap dance routine or "Phantom Of The Opera", he was always just wonderful. Thirdly, Brian Boitano. I can appreciate the technical perfection. It's really like watching a master craftsman when he skates.

Q: Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot or Jessica Fletcher... who's the best detective?

A: My husband and I just started watching the Benedict Humberbatch version of Sherlock Holmes. The two actors are amazing but I shouldn't be able to figure things out before Sherlock Holmes. If we are talking about the book, definitely Sherlock Holmes. On Murder She Wrote, all you had to do was see who the biggest guest star was and you knew your killer.

All five enhanced ebook versions of the Figure Skating Mystery books are available as one and priced very reasonably on both Amazon and Barnes And Noble (cheaper than buying each one separately). In addition, the individual titles are free to borrow for Amazon Prime members. You can also buy them individually through Chapters as well. Do yourself a favor and give them a read! If you enjoyed this interview with Alina Adams, be sure to "like" this blog on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard. This Facebook page not only presents all of the site's blog entries and interviews, but also features great skating videos and daily skating news you won't want to miss. You can also follow along and talk skating with me on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/ohh_N.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Norton Skate: Skate America's Humble Beginnings


As the action gets underway this week at the first stop on the ISU Grand Prix Of Skating series, it's hard to think that Skate America wasn't always this prestigious event with extensive media coverage and a who's who cast of international figure skating stars. After all, the list of previous Skate America winners reads like a figure skating hall of fame. Olympic Gold Medallists Yuna Kim, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, Scott Hamilton, Kristi Yamaguchi, Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat, Jamie Salé and David Pelletier, Brian Boitano, Artur Dmitriev (with both Natalia Mishkutenok and Oksana Kazakova), Viktor Petrenko, Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, Alexei Yagudin, Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao, Evan Lysacek, Oksana Baiul, Elena Valova and Oleg Vasiliev, Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin and Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov have all won Skate America gold at one time or another, in many cases more than once.

The very first Skate America competition wasn't actually called Skate America at all but instead Norton Skate, named after a Massachusetts manufacturer who sponsored the event. Held in Lake Placid in the autumn of 1979, Norton Skate was actually a test event for the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics. According to "The History Of Skate America" document from the World Figure Skating Museum And Hall Of Fame provided by U.S. Figure Skating's museum archivist Karen Cover, Norton Skate attracted sixty five skaters from sixteen countries. In Candus Thomson's 2009 article "Stars remember how Skate America began" in The Baltimore Sun, several of the stars of the first Skate America reflected on their participation in the event. Scott Hamilton, who won the men's event defeating World Champion Jan Hoffmann, said "the memories are wonderful and specific. I remember standing on top of the podium and thinking, 'I've got to start winning more because the view is amazing.' I really turned some heads in that competition. From that point on, I had to be taken seriously." Ladies winner Lisa-Marie Allen recalled "I won compulsory figures, an oddity because I had a reputation of not being able to skate cleanly. The short program, I don't remember, but I must have been good enough. I fell on the triple salchow in the long program, but it must have been good enough to win."

Scott Cramer competing at Norton Skate in 1979

Although Hamilton and Allen were able to win on home turf, the pairs and ice dancing competitions at the Lake Placid event favored international skaters. Sabine Baess and Tassilo Thierbach of East Germany fended off Kitty and Peter Carruthers to take the pairs gold, whereas Hungarians Krisztina Regőczy and András Sallay of Hungary, Soviets Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin and Canadians Lorna Wighton and John Dowding all stood on the ice dance podium. Americans Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert and Carol Fox and Richard Dalley were fourth and sixth, respectively. 

Although Norton Skate was originally only intended to be a one time event and there wasn't a Skate America competition in the fall of 1980, in 1981 the event was again held in Lake Placid and according to the World Figure Skating Museum article, "this time with the understanding that it would become an annual, international, invitational competition because of its popularity among international skaters, coaches and spectators." Following the 1982 Skate America, a national bidding process was opened up for potential host cities and interestingly in 1987 the event wasn't held due to an agreement between the USFSA and CFSA that international events wouldn't be held during seasons when either country was hosting the Olympics. Skate Canada International wasn't held in 1979 for this same reason. Adopted into the Champions Series which evolved into what is now known as the ISU Grand Prix, Skate America is one of the most prestigious events on the autumn figure skating calendar.

As you cheer on your favourites in the competition, don't forget that Skate America will be the first of the seven Grand Prix events (including the final) this season that you'll find coverage of on Skate Guard! I'm not going to be doing a play by play of any of the Grand Prix events but will be weighing in with my opinions. I do hope you enjoy the Grand Prix "coverage"!

But WAIT... there's more! If you call within the next thirty minutes, we'll throw in this link to the blog's Facebook page, which has news, features and videos that aren't on the blog for the low, low price of free. That's right... I don't do this for donations or profit of any sort. I write this blog because I believe in great skating - artistic skating - and want to share stories about the sport's history, its amazing skaters and areas of the sport you may not know enough about with as big of an audience as I can. All you have to do is "LIKE" it: http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard. If you get 10 friends to like, I'll throw in a big hug. And if you get one hundred friends to like, let's just as I'm "that kind of girl". You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ohh_N!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Then And Now: Figure Skating, The Internet And Television


It's hard to imagine a world without the internet. In this day and age of smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktop computers and WiFi, anything we could possibly want to know and access to instant communication with people all over the world is literally at our fingertips. This wealth of information and the popularity of social media as a means to share it is really heaven for any figure skating fan. If we want to know what is going on in skating, a quick Google or YouTube search or a scroll through your Facebook or Twitter feeds can usually answer anything. For everything else, there's Mastercard... I mean Wikipedia. It wasn't always this way though.

The internet has grown and evolved exponentially since the early to mid nineties. I remember going online when I was a junior high and high school student in a computer lab that was opened I think one or two evenings a week. The place was packed! Home computers with internet connections weren't something everybody had like they do now, and if you did have one, chances were you were using a dial up or painfully slow connection... not that the computers in this lab were any better. Many websites would crash and freeze and a blue screen of death could set you back a good ten minutes in your efforts to surf "the World Wide Web". You didn't take advantage of the free Wifi at Starbucks. You paid through the nose at internet cafes.

As the internet itself grew in popularity, quite a thriving figure skating community cropped up. Devoted skating fans from around the world shared reviews of competitions they attended and discussed both amateur and professional competition on Usenet newsgroups such as one called rec.sport.skating.ice.figure. There were several and they were basically email newsgroups consisting of one giant back and forth conversation about skating. Sandra Loosemore's Skateweb: The Figure Skating Page was THE trusted and respected go to for all things figure skating. If you wanted the latest news about everything from competitive rosters and results to partner changes and an inside scoop as to the lives of many skaters, Blades On Ice magazine's website was the place to go. Katja Rupp's EUROSKATING and Tino Eberl's The Figure Skating Corner (the latter being still active and a HOST of wonderful information and archival results) offered a distinctly European perspective on the skating world. Fan pages were a dime a dozen, many thorough, excellent and full of every detail of a skater's story you could imagine. Some were simply free Angelfire, Tripod and Geocities pages full of wonky dancing baby type images and scanned photos that often would give you nasty inline ads or pop-ups you did NOT need to deal with. I even briefly maintained a much earlier short lived incarnation of what I am trying to do here on the blog called Intensity On Ice that had its own forum. I also compiled a hugely detailed collection of professional figure skating competition results and music, much of which I remember e-mailing to Paula Slater, who runs the Golden Skate site and maintains a good collection of those records there to this day.

I spoke with Rev. Joelle Colville-Hanson, who offered on her web sites a wonderful archive of information about professional competitions at the time as well as excellently researched fan pages for Scott Hamilton, Dorothy Hamill, Rosalynn Sumners and Kitty and Peter Carruthers. Joelle explained that she "was interested in both figure skating and history and saw that there were no web sites for these skaters and felt they should have fan pages. I was a particular fan of Scott Hamilton and his contribution to professional skating and thought that should be known. Back in those days, you could not just Google this stuff. I went to the library and looked up old Sports Illustrated and Skating magazines to gather all the information. After I was better known people would send me info and old skating show and competition programs. It was a hobby for me. When they took down all the websites that were so easy to use it kind of put the end to all that. I got busy doing other things. I do think it's a shame all that info wasn't saved. Although there is a group that is archiving a lot of Geocities pages and many of my pages are still there. Most of the Scott Hamilton stuff is gone and I'm not sure where I have it. It was probably saved on a floppy disk."

Joelle also talked to me about the closer sense of community (both good and bad) that came from more a tight-knit and far less anonymous group of skating fans back in the internet's Usenet days we don't always see on say, a skating forum today: "I don't know if you remember when my husband died and many people on the Skatefans Usenet made me a quilt. I do presentations on social media now and I use that as an example of how virtual community is real community. I use the example of the Skatefans newsgroup and email list as an example of early 'social media' even though we didn't call it that. I have many friends on Twitter and Facebook now that I met through those venues. The difference for me now is that those little groups were kind of closed and the skaters may have and probably to some extent did read what we said about them but it wasn't as public as it is now like on Twitter where you can tag the skater who is also on Twitter. Me, I just don't say any of the critical things I might have said about a performance or even snarky like 'Alissa Czisny is a head case' because I know for a fact she'll see it... and didn't she go off of Twitter because of that? Few people are like me and refrain from snarky. It's just all so much more public and open. We all knew each other on those groups, what skaters everyone liked, what their hobby horses were, what would set them off. It was more of a community than I think it is now. I don't know if you remember I had a stalker who followed me around on the different venues and just said awful things. On the one hand, I think it might be worse if she found me on social media now but I could block her on all those sites which you couldn't do on Usenet. I'm so much more public now I think I'd be much more worried. Sometimes I wonder if she will show up and start bothering me or if she has a life."

A big part in the challenge of really bringing people together like back in the internet's early days are the competing choices of skating coverage out there right now. There really is something available for everyone's varied tastes and many skating fans tend to be a little more cliquey now than they once were. There's also the glaring lack of television coverage to speak of. Joelle stated that "the biggest difference is that there is so little figure skating on television to talk about. My daughter competed and skated but now she is grown up (although still coaches skating) but to me I don't know the skaters anymore, I don't like the new scoring although I know the skaters really do. I'm just not that into as much, though I did go to Nationals (last year in Omaha)?  The Japan Open was our first peek at many of the world's best sporting new programs that they, like all competitive skaters do, hope will take them to the top."

Let's talk about that lack of television coverage a bit. I'm always about trying to look on the bright side, but sitting down to offer my two cents about televised figure skating coverage is not exactly a topic you can approach with a great deal of positivity. U.S. figure skating fans just got an unpleasant dose of reality when U.S. Figure Skating announced the broadcast schedule for figure skating this season. Coverage on NBC is minimal at best and thirty seven hours of the entire amount of competitive figure skating coverage being presented will be on Universal, which for many isn't a standard station people with a basic cable package would even have. ABC is offering a total of sixteen hours of additional coverage of the Disson skating/crossover shows such as the Skating and Gymnastics Spectacular and Family Skating Tribute.

Then you have icenetwork and live feeds for various feeds on the internet... don't get me wrong, I don't mind a live feed but I would much prefer to sitting on my sofa watching skating, We are fortunate as the coverage up here is generally much better and the sports stations skating coverage usually gets relegated to usually aren't ones you pay a fortune to add to your cable package. My job and life don't really necessitate me watching a lot of skating in real time anyway, so I count my lucky stars for YouTube and other platforms.

One of the more troubling issues as I see it is the fact that a sport who has a huge potential fan base based on the popularity of skating on television in the nineties seems to be neglecting a very loyal aging population. I am in no way saying a ninety year old can't use a computer and search for a live stream of a competition or get an icenetwork subscription, but the casual fans who MADE this sport popular definitely aren't going to watch if they have to go hunting skating down. The fan base is not going to significantly grow unless skating coverage is easily accessible to everyone. 20% of households in the U.S. do not even have internet access and many others who do might not be tech savvy enough to navigate and find what they are looking for necessarily.

Now, I've said it before and I'll say it again. The fundamental problem as to why figure skating is hurting so much and is not getting the ratings necessary to make it an attractive product for network television is that the judging system and the choreography we are seeing as a result simply is not viewer friendly. The quick fix to the problem is not bringing in a younger, more IJS savvy commentary team. There isn't a quick fix. The long overdue decision to allow skaters to use vocals in ISU competition isn't even likely to make the sport any more entertaining, if skaters, coaches and choreographers continue to use Piano Concerto No. Whatever again and again like it's some sort of good idea. There's an almost universal reluctance by many skaters to take advantage of the opportunity to make things a little more entertaining and back away from staid traditional program choices even when the option is clearly there. 

Simply put, times have changed from the internet's early days, and whether we like it or not, we're not just talking about skating on the internet anymore like back in the nineties. Now we HAVE to watch it there. I'm not even saying it's a bad thing for most existing fans. There are pluses obviously. We're not just seeing the five short programs that the television network decides to play. We can look at the skating in an unprejudiced way and develop our own narrative when we watch raw coverage online, which can at times be appealing. That said, there's something to be said for quality TV coverage and the appeal to a fan base OUTSIDE of the small percentage of viewers that are diehard fans. I just think that part of going forward is looking at what worked and trying to recreate that model... with witty commentators like Dick Button and easy to understand broadcast coverage that breaks down the IJS for casual viewers as much as possible. Times may have changed but throwing your hands up in the air, sighing and saying "figure skating is dying" is no more productive to helping rejuvenate the sport's popularity than not admitting there is a problem in the first place.

Did you enjoy this blog? Be sure to always check back for more skater interviews and writing about everything under the sun in the skating world. There is also a Facebook page connected to the blog where all blog articles and interviews are shared - as well as current skating news, photos and videos of amazing skating. Give it a "like" at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard. You can also follow me on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/ohh_N. I love talking figure skating and would love to talk about the sport with you!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Skating With Anne Boleyn's Ghost: The Royal Menagerie And The Tower Of London


Topping even the rink that was installed in the Eiffel Tower in terms of the cool factor, The Tower Of London in England plays host to one of the most dramatic ice rinks in the world: The Tower Of London Ice Rink. Literally developed where the Tower Of London's moat was situated, the ice rink offers outdoor public skating with the backdrop of the Tower's fortress battlements.

What makes this setting even more dramatic is that the Tower is considered one of the most haunted locations in the United Kingdom. Since building commenced in 1078, the property played host to well over one hundred confirmed executions including botched beheadings, hangings, firing squads and people being burned at the stake alive. The Tower Of London is synonymous with imprisonment and cruel torture. Modern excavations have revealed plague pits and mass burials near the property. It's the home of the Crown Jewels Of The United Kingdom, which Colonel Thomas Blood infamously tried unsuccessfully to steal in 1671 but more than anything, renowned for its unsurprising number of ghost sightings considering the brutality and suffering that has occurred there. The ghost of Anne Boleyn who was beheaded in 1536 for treason against Henry VII allegedly haunts both the White Tower (carrying her head under her arm) and the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula where her body is buried. Other ghost sightings at the Tower Of London include Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, King Henry VI and Lady Jane Grey, who reigned as Queen Of England for nine days before being ousted by the much feared Queen Mary I Of England, who earned the nickname "Bloody Mary". Perhaps even more famous than Anne Boleyn's ghost are the purported ghost sightings of Edward V of England and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, the two young brothers who mysteriously disappeared in 1843 while living in the Tower. In 1674, the skeletons of two boys were found buried ten feet under a staircase in the White Tower and an examination in 1933 confirmed the skeletons corresponded with the ages of the princes at the time of their disappearance. It is widely believed the boys were murdered and many have suggested that Richard III was responsible, even though both boys had been eliminated from the royal succession. Their ghosts have reportedly appeared as two small figures gliding down the stairs of the Bloody Tower, still in the white night shirts they would have worn when they were killed in their sleep. As early as the fifteenth century, there have also been sightings of the boys playing on battlements and around the grounds as well as of children's laughter. A look at ANOTHER famous ghost sighting at the Tower Of London takes us right back to the moat, the very site of the Tower Of London's skating rink in present day.

In January of 1816, a sentry on guard outside of the Jewel House reportedly witnessed the ghost of a bear approaching towards him and apparently died of fright a few days later according to Christina Hole's 1951 book "Haunted England: A Survey Of English Ghost-Lore". A ghost bear? Well, if you look at the history of The Tower Of London and the moat... it's certainly possible. In the early 1200's, The Royal Menagerie was founded at The Tower by King John to house exotic animals given as gifts from dignitaries around the world to England. Elephants, tigers, kangaroos, polar bears, ostriches, alligators, anacondas, baboons and lions were among the many animals who basically had free reign of the property. This went on for centuries until several attacks on visitors to the property prompted the royals to send the remaining animals to the London Zoo in Regent's Park in 1832. A 2010 Daily Mail UK article by Julia Stuart talks about some of these animal attacks: "In 1686 a lion mauled Mary Jenkinson, a Norfolk maid living with the lion keeper. It was decided to amputate her arm in order to save her life, but she died a few hours later. In the 18th century a baboon being shipped to the Tower hurled a 9lb cannon shot at a boy-sailor and killed him. A report in 1830 told how a leopard had attacked a man employed to remove bones and waste from the menagerie's exercise yard. Two under-keepers heard his horrified screams and came to his rescue. And then there was a seemingly ungrateful serpent, which wrapped itself around Alfred Cops's neck while he was feeding a bird to a boa constrictor in a bid to entertain tourists. Indeed, it may well have been two final unfortunate incidents - in which a wolf escaped from the Tower, followed shortly by a monkey biting a soldier's leg - which finally led to the closure of the Tower menagerie."

Now what does this have to do with the skating rink? In 1843, the moat where the skating rink is was drained and filled but in the 1930's, a major excavation on the site where the moat once was found remains of many exotic animals buried where the skating rink stands today - including leopards and medieval Barbary lions dating back to the 1200's. A 2008 article in The Londonist by Lindsey Clarke explained that "the menagerie was maintained as a symbol of the King’s wealth, power and influence and used to entertain courtiers and scare the pants off traitors and enemies. Unfortunately, this meant that the noble North African lions were kept in ignoble conditions, with scarce enough room to wiggle, let along swing their glorious regal manes, their equivalent of the peacock’s tail, used to get the lionesses hot. Although, no evidence of lady lions has been unearthed so no wonder they’re extinct now." Although these lions were especially prized as living symbols of Britain's coat of arms, a 2005 BBC article "Big Cats Prowled London's Tower" explained that "despite their royal status, the cats were not treated with ceremony when they died, instead being dumped - unskinned - in the Tower's moat". So with all of this now known, is it really as shocking as you'd think that a sentry guard would perhaps see an apparition of an advancing bear?



One has to wonder if Anne Boleyn, this deposed queen consort who met her untimely end at the hands of an expert swordsman brought in from France especially to execute her has any plans to take up something more lively than wandering around The White Tower carrying her head. Perhaps, just perhaps she will trade in her sorrow for Salchows and take to spending her afterlife haunting the skating rink built on the very spot that all of these animals from The Royal Menagerie were found, perhaps with a Barbary lion in tow. We already have a camel spin? Why not a Barbary lion one? If you do happen to see her spiralling down the ice should you visit, I would stay out of her way. At The Tower Of London, heads tend to roll.

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