Saturday, 28 February 2015

Two Years In Blogging: Skate Guard's Second Anniversary


At the end of last February, I celebrated the blog's first anniversary with you by talking a bit about why I decided to take on this massive project. That's what it's been... a project. Putting out two to three new interviews, researched historical stories or event recaps a week takes time and like everyone else, I work a full time job. I MAKE the time because I'm honestly as passionate about the art of figure skating as it gets and there are just so many fascinating, untold stories that aren't getting told that I feel are begging to be. A lot has changed in the last year... the blog underwent a name change to simply 'Skate Guard', I made connections that have continued to allow me to do some pretty amazing interviews and Skate Guard even got featured in U.S. Figure Skating's magazine "Skating" and Open Kwong Dore Podcast. The blog has grown to almost two thousand readers on both Facebook and Twitter, hundreds more on RSS feeds and the content has been shared from Manhattan to Manila to Manchester. And guess what? I love it.

The biggest thing I learned about blogging this year came from (of all things) podcasts. I listen to a variety of podcasts every day - mostly history - and two things I noticed the most organized podcasters were doing was creating content ahead of time and consistently putting out two to three podcasts a week. I got organized and starting intelligently finding a way of putting out content that didn't monopolize my time or put pressure on me to "come up with something" and it was the smartest thing I've done. It's also allowed me the time also to begin the early stages of compiling materials for something I'd ultimately love to do more than anything... a book about skating history in my own province. As always, I want to thank you from THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART for reading and sharing and supporting what I'm trying to do here. I try to respond to every e-mail that I get and appreciate the kind words, photos and stories shared connected to every interview and blog and all of you period just so much. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


One thing that I've got asked several times is about which posts are the most popular and where the blog is most read. In the last year, the blog had 301,886 unique visitors from Canada, 52,555 from the U.S., 45,868 from Japan (owing largely to two wonderful bloggers in Japan who I've given permission to translate material into Japanese), 11,811 in Great Britain and 11,740 in Germany. Rounding out the top ten in terms of visitors were France, Russia, South Korea, the Ukraine and Australia.

Some of the most read blogs in the last year were the interviews with Trixi Schuba, Brian Orser and Fabian Bourzat, my editorial piece on bullying from the Sochi 2014 Olympics, "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Cinquanta?", "I Can Do Better..." and several of the historical blogs I've written, in particular "Anne Frank and Bernd Elias: Skaters In A Dangerous Time". Most recently, the tribute I wrote to Toller Cranston was extremely well read.

I'd love to do more interviews! One of my favourites will always be my interview with the first rate two time Olympic Gold Medallist Dick Button and my wish list overflows with people I haven't interviewed yet that I'd love to... people like Robin Cousins, Katarina Witt, Stéphane Lambiel, Jeffrey Buttle, Kurt Browning... believe me, the bucket list is huge and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Interviews are here to stay. One of the reasons I don't spend more time doing event recaps is that even though they are widely read, I simply hate writing them. It's common sense that if you want skaters to be receptive to talking to you, you don't bash them at every turn and it's just so difficult to be diplomatic or find just the right balance when you're talking about the "good, bad and #NoSheBetterDont" of figure skating competitions. The final event recap of this season will of course be the World Championships and I'll kind of see how I feel about continuing to do them from there...

What I WILL be continuing to do is write like crazy for you! I kind of draw my inspiration from the model of one of my favourite podcasts, Stuff You Missed In History Class, and what I've learned the most from blogging in the last year is that being yourself and writing about what YOU want to write about is the most important thing anyone can do. Rather than have life narrated to you, narrate it yourself. That's why skating history has been and will continue to be the main focus of the blog.


Here's to another year of loving and learning about figure skating! Keep reading and I'll keep writing.

To top it all off, have I got JUST the thing for you! A Facebook page that supplements this blog and shares daily skating news, videos and features as well as all of the newest articles and interviews from the blog with you. All you have to do is click 'LIKE' at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard. If the Twitter's more your cup of tea, check out http://twitter.com/ohh_N and give me a follow! I love talking about skating and would love to do it with you. Now that just sounded dirty... But you know what I mean!

Thursday, 26 February 2015

John Evelyn And The River Thames Frost Fairs


When you are looking at history, primary sources are always the ideal and it isn't everyday that you get to cite a gem like The Diary Of John Evelyn. First published in an 1818 edition as "Memoirs Illustrative of the Life and Writings of John Evelyn" by William Bray with the assistance of William Upcott, the diary serves as a memoir of a British royalist named John Evelyn. In his memoir which was written from 1620 to 1706, Evelyn wrote of many major historical events of the era including the Great Fire Of London in 1666, the death of Oliver Cromwell and the epidemic of the bubonic plague that struck London in 1665 and 1666. However, what makes his diary fascinating in a historical context when it comes to THIS blog is his mention of ice skating in England during that era!

Evelyn's diary entry from December 1, 1662 reads as follows: "Having seen the strange and wonderful dexterity of the sliders on the new canal in St. James's Park, performed before their Majesties by divers gentlemen and others with skates, after the manner of the Hollanders, with what swiftness they pass, how suddenly they stop in full career upon the ice; I went home by water, but not without exceeding difficulty, the Thames being frozen, great flakes of ice encompassing our boat." Evelyn's mention of skating on the Thames is explained by a period known historically as The Little Ice Age, where the winters in England were much more severe than in present day and the river was wider and slower and blocked by the Old London Bridge and was frozen solid.


The Thames was in fact frozen so solid that Frost Fairs were held on the ice, which included skating, entertainment, games of football and meals of roasted ox. The first recorded "official" Frost Fair was in 1608 and the final in 1814, when the weather took a turn for the better. In Evelyn's January 24, 1684 diary entry, he recounted in detail a Frost Fair including skating: "The frost continues more and more severe, the Thames before London was still planted with booths in formal streets, all sorts of trades and shops furnished, and full of commodities, even to a printing press, where the people and ladies took a fancy to have their names printed, and the day and year set down when printed on the Thames: this humor took so universally, that it was estimated that the printer gained £5 a day, for printing a line only, at sixpence a name, besides what he got by ballads, etc. Coaches plied from Westminster to the Temple, and from several other stairs to and fro, as in the streets, sleds, sliding with skates, a bull-baiting, horse and coach-races, puppet-plays and interludes, cooks, tippling, and other lewd places, so that it seemed to be a bacchanalian triumph, or carnival on the water, while it was a severe judgment on the land, the trees not only splitting as if the lightning struck, but men and cattle perishing in divers places, and the very seas so locked up with ice, that no vessels could stir out or come in. The fowls, fish, and birds, and all our exotic plants and greens, universally perishing. Many parks of deer were destroyed, and all sorts of fuel so dear, that there were great contributions to preserve the poor alive. Nor was this severe weather much less intense in most parts of Europe, even as far as Spain and the most southern tracts. London, by reason of the excessive coldness of the air hindering the ascent of the smoke, was so filled with the fuliginous steam of the sea-coal, that hardly could one see across the street, and this filling the lungs with its gross particles, exceedingly obstructed the breast, so as one could scarcely breathe. Here was no water to be had from the pipes and engines, nor could the brewers and divers other tradesmen work, and every moment was full of disastrous accidents."


An account from Charles Mackay in 1683's "The Thames And Its Tributaries" also offers mention of skating during the Frost Fairs... and it is (pardon the pun) a chilling addition to the story: "And it is also reported, that some skait- sliders upon one of those large icy plains, were unawares driven to sea, and arrived living (though almost perished with cold and hunger) upon the sea coast of Essex; but as to the certainty of this report I refer to the credit of succeeding intelligence, as also those wonderful damages upon the coast of Scotland relating of the loss of some shipping, and the lives of many ingenious and industrious navigators ; nor may those prodigious and lamentable damages seem strange, when in our own harbour, the river of Thames, several ships, both inward and outward bound, as well at Redrif as other adjacent places, have been broken to pieces, and sunk by the effects of this so unparalleled a frost." Could you imagine going skating and finding yourself adrift on an ice floe at sea and landing up in a different county? I'm sorry, but that's terrifying. We're talking about an hour trip by ice or car but out in the elements floating around in the ocean? That's some Titanic stuff right there.

At any rate, how fortunate we are to have John Evelyn's very early written account of skating available and the fact that it also alludes to skating "after the manner of the Hollanders", considering it was the Dutch who added edges to skates in the thirteenth or fourteenth century and James II that introduced skating to the British aristocracy after his exile in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century. I look at writing this blog in a way as sharing my own skating history diary with all of you and I'm thankful to John Evelyn for putting his own accounts of skating to paper so that I could share them.

I want to finish this blog with a wonderful quote from George Davis' 1814 book "Frostiana or A History of the River Thames in a Frozen State" that was actually published from a stall on the frozen Thames River: "Nothing can be more beautiful than the attitude of drawing the bow and arrow while the skater is making a large circle on the outside". Davis regarded one of skating's purest moves, the forward outside edge, as a thing of beauty then and today it remains one of figure skating's most beautiful movements. Full circle, literally.

Was this your cup of tea? Well, don't just stand there! In order for this blog to reach a wider audience, I could sure use a little help. All you have to do is "LIKE" the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard for instant access to all of the new blog articles, features and interviews as they are made available. I also share daily updates and headlines from the skating world, videos and much more that's not here on the blog, so if you love figure skating as much I do, it would really be rude not to get on that inside edge! You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ohh_N. If you know someone who loves skating, tell them! It's all about getting a dialogue going on! Fabulous skating is too fabulous to keep secret. Am I right or am I right?

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Interview With Angela Derochie


Representing the Gloucester Skating Club in Ottawa, Angela Derochie turned her grit and determination into gold when she won the 1998 Canadian senior ladies title in Hamilton, Ontario after top six finishes on her previous four attempts. With two other national medals to boot (silver in 1997 and bronze in 1999), she also represented Canada internationally at the Four Continents Championships and World Championships as well as a host of other international events in the nineties. After retiring in 1999, she turned to professional skating and is now a sought after coach in Ontario. It was my pleasure to speak with Angela in depth about her competitive career, her time spent coaching here in Nova Scotia, the triple axel jump and much more in this sensational interview:

Q: After winning the Canadian junior ladies title in 1992, you won the Canadian senior ladies gold, silver and bronze medal and represented Canada internationally on the Grand Prix circuit, at the Four Continents Championships and World Championships. Reflecting on it all now, what are your proudest moments or most special memories from that time in your life?

A: I would have to say my proudest moment after all the ups and downs with injury and consistency was to finally be able to put all the hard training together in both a short and long at the 1998 senior Nationals when I won. One of the most special moments would be doing my first Skate Canada on my birthday. After my short, the audience and Canadian team chanted "Happy Birthday!"

Q: My condolences for the recent loss of your coach Peter Dunfield. What made him the best coach for you and now, in your own own coaching career, what do you take from your work with him to your work with your own students?

A: Thank you. He was positive, quiet and calm. He was very picky technically in that even if you landed something it wasn't good enough because in competition you are never hoping to feel perfect. He had many great small exercises that helped make me quicker in rotation as I jumped high but didn't rotate fast. He also made sure I had more than just skating in my life. When it comes to my skaters, I monitor their emotional state. I like to make sure they are not training too much, along with being very picky technically.

Q: After the 1997 Canadian Champion Susan Humphreys was sent to that year's Olympic qualifying event (the Karl Schafer Memorial) in Vienna the previous fall injured and she failed to qualify a spot for a Canadian lady in the Nagano Olympics, how hard was it for you to win that year and miss out on that opportunity? Was competing through to the Salt Lake City Olympics something you considered at the time?

A: This was very difficult as it is every skaters dream to go not to just Worlds but Olympics. It was also a very long time between Nationals and Worlds with Olympics in between. With that being said, Peter Dunfield sent me to go to Cuba for a week to have a break from it all... the media questions about not making Olympics and how it's the first time in history that Canada had not had representation. This gave me time away from training and emotional stress before heading back to full out training. I had planned to compete until Salt Lake but at Worlds in 1998, my mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) so she was not able to help me as much with my skating. I was coaching skating and getting help from my aunt with my skating. In 2000, I was skating in practice better than I had ever skated but at Nationals I tried to make things happen instead of just doing it like every day. I fell to sixth and was no longer on the national team. I had lost my funding so I needed to make some hard decisions. I chose to skate on ships. When the Salt Lake City Olympics were on, I had a really hard time watching it but I made the right decision because the stress was gone and the money was coming in.

Q: You were landing a triple axel in practice near the end of your career and were even including it in your competitive programs at the time. How consistent was it and what was the feeling like when you first landed it?

A: I was landing one or two a day. They were not as consistent as they should have been to try them in competitions. It was really exciting to land the first one... and impossible to do another one in the same session. Learning it at first was a bit scary but exciting. Sometimes triple axel felt easier than triple flip and triple lutz.


Q: In your years of coaching, you spent some time working here in the Halifax area! What was your experience like coaching here in Nova Scotia and what did you love most about the area?

A: I have been coaching since 1991 and have coached many places and different levels. I loved the kids I taught in Nova Scotia. I found however that there were many roadblocks for myself and the skaters to overcome to compete against the kids from Ontario and Quebec. I liked the area and the people in the area.

Q: The "current state of skating" and the IJS judging system is always a hot topic. What is the best thing going on in skating right now and the worst?

A: The best thing is that the kids can see what the judges are giving them for each element and where they need to improve. They can see if the jumps are clean or cheated and they can see other skaters report cards to compare where they are and where they need to get to to be at the top. The worst thing is that things keep changing. The audiences really don't understand the system so we are losing some of the viewing audience.

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

A: Carolina Kostner. She is one of the most all around skaters I have ever seen not to mention down to earth and friendly. A great role model. She skates fast, jumps high and has great line and form. She has also had her ups and downs which shows young skaters about dedication, perseverance, hard work and the love of skating. Joannie Rochette is strong and beautiful to watch. She again shows that you can overcome adversity. Thirdly, Kurt Browning... by far one of the best performers of our sport. He is the Michael Jordan of figure skating: still skating and performing well.

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

A: That my favourite sport is basketball but I wasn't good at it nor was I ever tall enough to play.

Q: Do you miss performing and is that something you could ever see yourself getting involved in now? 

A: Yes, there are still days I miss performing but I cannot imagine trying to get myself back in skating shape. I could possibly see myself getting involved with a production company hiring or managing... maybe something like that.

Q: What is the biggest lesson figure skating has taught you?

A: To not listen to what everyone else says and wants from you. To do what's right for you and trust in your team. With hard work and believing in yourself, anything is possible.

If you enjoyed the interview with Angela, stay tuned to http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard and http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca for more skater interviews as well as articles, commentary and special features! You can also follow me on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/ohh_N for skating tweets and whatever else I've got on the go. It would be rude not to!

Saturday, 21 February 2015

King Arthur On Ice: Skating's Best (Or Worst) Kept Secret?


In 1975, Rick Wakeman (the former keyboardist for the progressive rock group Yes) took on the challenge of a lifetime in creating King Arthur On Ice, an ice show designed to complement his second studio album "The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table". The show was performed to three sold out audiences (at a financial loss) at Wembley Arena in London, received some of the worst reviews in figure skating history and was even brought to light on VH1's "100 Most Shocking Moments In Rock & Roll" feature.


Wakeman spoke about the show in a 2008 interview with The Observer: "Management wanted to put Myths and Legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table shows on at the Albert Hall. I wanted Wembley, but as there was this big ice show happening a week or so later, they told me it was impossible. I was fuming, so I told Melody Maker I was going to perform King Arthur, at Wembley, on ice! They made it a big story, so there was no going back. I put in my own money, which gave me total control, and I wanted the best. The skaters were flown in from around the world. We put together a huge cast. I had a 45-piece orchestra, 48 singers in two choirs, 50 skaters, 50 knights, a seven-piece band, a narrator and heaven knows what else. It was fun, but it wasn't without its problems. One night, as soon as I walked on, my cape got caught on one of the elevated keyboards, and I was left hanging in mid-air. I had to go off, dazed, trying to negotiate the ice. Then there was the dry ice, which was hard to control on that scale. On the first night, it was hovering nicely at knight level, then we noticed it rising. No one was able to turn the machines off, and by the end of 'Lady of the Lake', the dancing Guinevere had disappeared completely. So had the lower tier of the orchestra and the first tier of the auditorium. It was like looking out of an aeroplane window. Then there was the night the knight committed suicide. In the final battle, there were 25 knights opposite each other, poised to simultaneously kill each other and disappear into dry ice. On the last night, one of the knights was ill. 'Doesn't matter,' I said. 'There are loads of knights.' But, of course, when we finished the piece, there was one knight looking around for someone to kill him. The conductor looked at me helplessly. But this guy was brilliant. He wandered aimlessly, then had a stroke of genius and committed suicide. Pure entertainment!"


Not being a huge fan of MOST of these live music/skating variety shows that we are presented with on network television instead of professional competitions and shows anyway, you might say I was a bit biased before ever even watching the clips of King Arthur On Ice at Wembley. I really, really tried here. While I have to admire Wakeman's creative vision, the skating was hokey, the live music completely uncomplimentary to the King Arthur storyboard and the whole thing just stunk of a bad acid trip in my humble opinion. The skating stars - Australian Champion Reg Park and two time British Champion and Olympian Patricia Pauley - were kind of doomed by the concept of the show in the sense I don't think any jump, spin or choreography they could have come up with would have made this look any less chaotic. Strangely enough, a recording of the show was broadcast with subtitles on Japanese television on May 30, 1975. I can only imagine what the subtitles said! Unfortunately, this show kind of lives on as an example of a big idea that just didn't get executed in a marketable way and it's fascinating to me that in reading interviews with Wakeman as recent as this year, it appears he still wants another shot to put together this show again with a cast of current Olympic ice skaters. As much as I hate to be critical, I don't think the failure of this show had as much to do with the skating or staging as the musical soundtrack and vision itself. You do have to admire Wakeman's dedication to the idea though.

In order for this blog to reach a wider audience, I could sure use a little help. All you have to do is "LIKE" the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard for instant access to all of the new blog articles, features and interviews as they are made available. I also share daily updates and headlines from the skating world, videos and much more that's not here on the blog, so if you love figure skating as much I do, it would really be rude not to get on that inside edge! You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ohh_N. If you know someone who loves skating, tell them! It's all about getting a dialogue going on!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

WhoDUNNit: The Mysterious Death Of Jack Dunn


In his 1889 essay "The Decay Of Lying", Oscar Wilde wrote that "life imitates art far more than art imitates life". The story of the tragic death of Jack Dunn is certainly a case of a little of column A and column B.

The July 16, 1938 edition of the Miami News wrote that "Death cheated Jack Dunn, British champion ice skater, of the film role for which he had waited two years. The 21-year-old captain of the British 1936 Olympics skating team died last night of tularemia, a rare disease spread by rabbits, on the day he was scheduled to start his first picture. Coming here after the Berlin games, he was signed by Universal and later by Paramount. But while Sonja Henie, with whom he appeared in skating in exhibitions, rose to stardom, Dunn remained idle. Recently he signed with Edward Small Productions and was cast in the leading role of 'The Duke of West Point'. Upon its completion he was to have played Rudolph Valentino in a picturization of the late movie idol's life."

Like Rudolph Valentino, who died in 1926 at the age of thirty one, Dunn's life was cut short at a very young age... just when his future never seemed brighter. Before we take a more in depth look at the tragedy that befell Dunn, I want to start "at the beginning" and take a brief look at Dunn's successes in competitive skating before he joined forces with Sonja Henie. To begin, he Miami News was erroneous in stating that Dunn was a British Champion skater. Facing stiff competition at home from Henry Graham Sharp, Dunn was unable to claim the British title but did find enormous success in his brief competitive career. He made his first appearance at the European Championships in 1934, finishing sixth and returned the following year to finish just off the podium in fourth. His greatest success came at the 1935 World Figure Skating Championships in Budapest, Hungary, where he was able to outrank his rival Sharp and win the silver medal behind Olympic Gold Medallist Karl Schäfer. Dunn finished sixth at the 1936 Olympics in Germany and despite a second place finish in the free skate at the 1936 World Championships in Paris, was unable to move up from a fifth place finish in the school figures and finished just off the podium in fourth. 

At nineteen, Dunn abruptly decided to end his competitive career. After a stint skating opposite Sonja Henie's rival Cecilia Colledge in a series of British ice shows, he travelled with the Henie family to the U.S. and for two years toured in Sonja's ice revue as her pairs partner in the show. Dunn and Henie had a romance going on off the ice as well, but all of that came to a halt when she became reportedly romantically tangled up with Tyrone Power who many believe didn't just enjoy the company of the ladies. Here's where things get even more interesting. So plucked from England to come skate in Sonja Henie's tour, we have this jilted lover in Hollywood who's had a taste of show business and wants to make a name for himself. Dunn had a striking resemblance to the late Valentino, who he was set to play in a movie. 

According to the book "Real Ghosts, Restless Spirits, and Haunted Places" by Brad Steiger and the blog Unsolved Mysteries Of The World,  "it was in 1920 that Valentino, at the peak of his success, saw the ring in a San Francisco jeweller's. The proprietor warned him that the ring was a jinx, but Valentino still bought it. He wore the ring in his next picture, The Young Rajah. It was the biggest flop of his career and he was off the screen for the next two years. Valentino did not wear the ring again until he used it as a costume prop in The Son of the Sheik. Three weeks after finishing this film, he went to New York on vacation. While wearing the ring, he suffered an acute attack of appendicitis. Two weeks later, he was dead... Pola Negri, a famous female movie star of the time, asked to pick a memento from Valentino's possessions, chose the ring-and almost immediately suffered a long period of ill health that threatened to end her career. A year later, while convalescing, she met a performer who was almost Valentino's double, Russ Colombo. Miss Negri was so struck by the resemblance that she gave him Rudolph's ring, saying, 'From one Valentino to another.' Within a few days of receiving the gift, Russ Colombo was killed in a freak shooting accident. His cousin passed the ring on to Russ's best friend, Joe Casino. Also at the height of his popularity as an entertainer, Casino took no chances with the ring. Instead of wearing it, he kept it in a glass case in memory of his dead friend. When he was asked to donate it to a museum of Valentino relics, he refused, saying that he treasured it for sentimental reasons.   As time passed, Joe Casino forgot the ring's evil reputation and put it on. A week later, still wearing the ring, he was knocked down by a truck and killed. By now the curse was front-page news. When asked what he proposed to do with the ring, Joe's brother, Del, explained that he could not allow himself to be intimidated by a curse, or jinx, or ghost, or whatever it was. He didn't believe in things like that. Del Casino wore the ring for some time and nothing unusual happened. Then he lent it to a collector of Valentino relics, who suffered no ill effects either. This caused several newspapers to speculate that at last the evil influence of the ring had come to an end. And that seemed to trigger off a new wave of violence. One night soon afterward, the home of Del Casino was burgled. The police saw the burglar, a man named James Willis, running from the scene. One of them fired a warning shot, but the bullet went low and killed Willis. Among the loot found in his possession was the Valentino ring.   It was at this time that Hollywood producer Edward Small decided to make a film based on Valentino's career. Jack Dunn, a former skating partner to ice star Sonja Henie, bore a great resemblance to Rudolph and was asked to make a film test for the part. He dressed in Valentino's clothes for the test - and also wore the jinxed ring. Only twenty-one years old at the time, Dunn died ten days later from a rare blood disease. After this tragedy the ring was kept out of sight and never worn by anyone again."


Although rare and only fatal in one percent of reported (modern) cases, tularemia is most commonly reported among hunters, cooks and agricultural workers. What are the seemingly slim odds that a champion figure skater who went on a casual hunting trip would end up with this rare disease while wearing this supposedly cursed ring and be the last one to wear it before he was supposed to play the role of the person who BOUGHT IT in a film? I'm sorry, but that's like insane and just doesn't add up. Whether you believe in curses or not, the mysterious death of Jack Dunn certainly begs more questions than it offers answers... and remains one of figure skating's greatest mysteries.

If you enjoyed this feature on Jack Dunn, have I got JUST the thing for you! A Facebook page that supplements this blog and shares daily skating news, videos and features as well as all of the newest articles and interviews from the blog with you. All you have to do is click 'LIKE' at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard. If the Twitter's more your cup of tea, check out http://twitter.com/ohh_N and give me a follow! I love talking about skating and would love to do it with you. Now that just sounded dirty... But you know what I mean!

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Interview with Edward van Campen


He's live many lives in skating but for three time Dutch champion Edward van Campen, the ice has always been home. Competing as an amateur, professional and adult and coaching skating have all brought different perspectives to his love of skating. From taking pride in his accomplishments in the face of naysayers to finding the courage to return to the sport after losing his twin brother to HIV to his friendship with Robin Wagner and Sarah Hughes, Edward's story is nothing short of compelling and I am honored he took the time to share with me... and all of you:

Q: You won three Dutch titles between 1982 and 1985 and represented The Netherlands at the European and World Championships. What are your proudest moments from your "amateur" career? 

A: I have a couple of proudest moments. The first was in 1983 when I passed by gold figure test on my first try. The second was when I skated the routines of my life at 1982 Europeans and finished eighteenth. My country had informed me before Europeans that they were not sending me to the 1982 Worlds, but because I placed well they changed their minds and allowed me to go. I thought... not bad for a twenty two year old who only started skating at sixteen! When I started skating, there were coaches at our rink who said to my coach, "Why are you wasting your time teaching that fuddy duddy? He's too old and will not amount to anything in skating". I was so proud to get on that plane with my coach on my way to the World Championships.

Q: How did you reach the decision to turn professional and what can you share about life on the road touring with the Ice Capades - good AND bad? 

A: I quit skating for about three years. All the people, whose opinions I valued told me to stop skating, get a real job and think about my future. I worked hard and ended up as an Executive Secretary at Security Pacific National Bank in southern California. In 1988, my twin brother René, who was also a skater, was diagnosed with HIV. At that time there wasn't really anything doctors could do for him. He took massive doses of AZT and moved in with our mother so she could take care of him. He died in the summer of 1989. It was horrible watching all of this happen to him and what it was doing to my Mom. I was devastated by his death and sought out counselling. The Doctor asked me when was I the happiest. I told him "when I'm on the ice, skating". At that moment I realized that I should get back on the ice and enjoy my life. I started skating again at Laurel Plaza in North Hollywood. I skated on the same sessions as Richard Dwyer, Dorothy Hamill and Aimee Kravette. Aimee told me about a competition in Jaca, Spain, called the World Professional Skating Championships so I began training for that. I loved my time in Spain. While I was there, a skater approached me and said I should send an audition video to Willy Bietak Productions. I sent my video to them and was hired to do their park shows. I worked for them for almost nine years. I also worked with Karen Kresge doing Christmas shows for Charles Schulz, Nutcracker on Ice and Ice Capades' "Cinderella Frozen in Time". I had found my niche. I loved performing. Doing touring shows is not for everyone. The travelling schedule can be brutal. It was hard work but I loved every minute of it. I have made so many friends that I still keep in touch with. The only negative thing I can say about any show is that the dynamics of a cast can make or break your enjoyment of a tour.


Q: You have decades of experience competing professionally, in adult competition and at the Gay Games. What has kept the competitive spirit going in you for all of these years and why are competitive opportunities beyond the ISU "amateur" route important for adult and professional skaters? 

A: There were not a lot of professional jobs out there for me and no opportunities to compete as a pro. I realized that my show career was coming to an end so began teaching skating. I reinstated my amateur status and starting competing again. It's in our blood. I am now fifty four and believe that I still have something to offer the sport and will always strive to be a better skater and never stop learning. I cannot imagine going through life and not being able to call myself a skater.  Plus, it keeps me young, in shape, and I'm afraid of my perky round butt falling one day.

Q: Speaking of adult skating, you've done a lot of work coaching adult skaters yourself and have worked with skaters at U.S. Figure Skating's Adult Training Camps. What are the unique challenges of working with adult skaters - both skaters coming to the sport for the first time and those returning after many years off the ice? 

A: There is a definite difference in the mind set of ex-skaters coming back as adults and beginning adult skaters. Ex-skaters coming back as adults are very set in their old ways. They know what they are good at and stick with that. They are also not afraid to fall. New adult skaters are very intense. They want it so bad and seem as though they are trying to make up for lost time. There is also a definite fear factor. They know that they are older and bones break. Who will take care of them if they get injured? They alter proper technique to make it safe.

Q: You currently coach at The Ice House in New Jersey and actually spent a lot of time on the ice alongside Robin Wagner and Sarah Hughes when Sarah was training for the 2002 Olympics. Did you think at the time she'd be an Olympic Champion and how proud are you of the woman she's become today? 

A: I remember the first time I met Robin and Sarah. Sarah had just won the U.S. Figure Skating junior ladies title and they were skating at our rink for the first time. She did this layback that stopped me in my tracks. I skated over and said "that's the best layback I had ever seen". Most of the time it was just the three of us on the ice training together. We became great friends. I was excited when she competed at Worlds and ended up fifth. Sarah was always a better skater at competitions. The entire rink was buzzing when they got on the Olympic team. We were just happy that they were going. Who would have thought that she had a chance to win? It wasn't supposed to be her time. It was between Michelle and Irina, but Sarah did what she needed to do and the rest is history. Sarah has a very good head on her shoulders and a very loving, close family. I am proud to know her and there isn't anything that she can't do. It has been a joy to have know her as a young girl and now as a young woman.

Q: You decided to be open about your sexuality in a sport that hasn't always loved it gays like Kathy Griffin loves us. Do you think attitudes have really evolved along with 'the real world' inside the skating community or is there a certain level of internalized homophobia going on? 

A: Attitudes in skating and the public have come a long way. In the past, there were skaters who I knew to be gay but very closeted. I think they were afraid of judges, associations or their fan base treating them differently. I believe that even today some fear public opinion. They will come out when they are ready. Rudy Galindo was the first to break the ice and be embraced by everyone. I believe that U.S. Figure Skating didn't think he was marketable at the time but in San Jose when he won the national senior title, they couldn't hold him back anymore. Now you have the Johnny Weir's of the skating world doing commentary on NBC Sports. Who would have thought that who a person chooses to love doesn't matter anymore? I have never hidden my sexuality, but also have never thrown it in your face.  Maybe I'm old school, but I prefer to be known as Edward the skater, who happens to be gay and not Edward the gay skater.

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

A: I started skating at age sixteen and that I'm TERRIFIED of spiders!

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

A: Kurt Browning. He is the epitome of showman. His personality comes out when he skates and he is the type of show skater I always wanted to be. Yuka Sato. Her edges and her knees! I have always loved the way she skated but when I got the opportunity to hang out with the skaters in Stars On Ice during practice, I saw her edges and knees up close... wow! She doesn't make a sound when she skates. Matt Savoie. Matt is the complete package. He skates like a man with amazing artistic style, great arms, edges, jumps and technique. In my opinion, he has always been underrated.

Q: What do you love most about figure skating? 

A: Combining both grace and athleticism into an art form. Jumping and knowing in mid air that the jump is going to work. Performing and getting the audience to feel something... taking them on a journey.

Please be sure to check the hundreds of other skater, choreographer and expert interviews already on Skate Guard! There's also a ton of historical writing to keep you busy for a while. "Like" this blog on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard for all of the new interviews and writing as they get posted, pictures and news from the skating world and lots of great videos. You can also give me a follow on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/ohh_N. I love talking skating and would love to talk skating with you!

Monday, 16 February 2015

Helping One Of Our Own: The Karen Magnussen Benefit


Born and raised in North Vancouver, Karen Magnussen is a Canadian skating legend. She's a five time Canadian Champion, North American Champion, World Champion and Olympic Silver Medallist in 1972 behind Trixi Schuba. Turning professional in 1973, she signed a three year contract with the Ice Capades for over one hundred thousand dollars. After her contract was extended for a fourth year, she turned to coaching alongside HER former coach Linda Brauckmann and became a mother. In the eighties and nineties, she coached provincial, national and international level skaters before focusing her attention on grassroots skaters... and then everything took a horrific turn.

I was talking to someone the other day about Karen Magnussen and what happened to her in 2011. If you don't know the story, here it is in a nutshell. There was a serious ammonia leak in 2011 at the North Shore Winter Club where Karen was coaching early in the morning. Opening two hallway doors, she was hit with a blast of ammonia which she breathed in. Unable to breathe, she ran with her skates on to get her students outside. By the time they all made it out, she was coughing uncontrollably and her throat was burned badly. Not only is Karen still unable to even set foot in an ice rink, she continues to suffer health problems and the typical run around she's got from Canada's social programs isn't exactly anything new. It's an awful situation. Karen explained to me that "for three years my family and I have been struggling to keep above water while the NSWC where my accident occurred have never been held accountable - no fines and haven't had to pay any compensation to me for my loss of my livelihood and my career.  My love of skating has been robbed from me... something that has been my life since I was a little girl of seven years old! The past three years have been very, very difficult. In and out of doctor's offices, taking more medications than ever before and struggling every day just to move and do ordinary things... things I used to do without ever thinking about what I was doing,.. things we all take for granted!"


In an effort to help her out, The Connaught Skating Club (in cooperation with the BC/Yukon section of Skate Canada) has organized Karen Magnussen: A Benefit Show on March 14 at the Minoru Arena in Richmond, British Columbia. Keegan Murphy, himself a former Canadian medallist on the junior level and now the Director Of Skating Programs at the Connaught Skating Club, has taken on the role of directing this benefit for Karen. Murphy explained to me that "celebrating our Canadian skating heroes and paying tribute to their career is something we do not do enough in our sport of figure skating. We are fortunate to have the level of skating and incredible volunteer base to put on such a show. The Magnussen family has been through a devastating situation over the past three years.  As a competitive coach, I can not imagine my life without my work and career. The entire skating community feels for Karen. This show and any possible donations are the least we can do." Murphy hopes to teach the skaters involved an important life lesson as well. "We are also trying to teach our younger generation of competitive athletes that their performances and passion for skating can be used to foster a greater good for another human being in our community. This will be a life skill that will serve them well in their young adult lives," he explained. "Connaught Skating Club always strives to balance the role of developing competitive athletes while the fostering of life skills in the training environment.  This show is another step in that direction."

Karen is inspired by the support the club and skating community are showing by putting on this benefit. She said "I feel overwhelmed and appreciative of the unbelievable generosity that the Connaught Skating Club and so many others are bestowing on me to bring light back into my life as I fight the biggest fight of my life. A million thank you's to all of you and all of your support!" If you're in the area and can attend, please do. It's a great cause and is bound to be a great show. Not able to make it? That's why I'm blogging about this. You CAN donate. Tickets are available online but there's also an option to donate financially directly to Karen online or you can certainly mail a certified cheque or money order to the club. Their address is:

Connaught Skating Club
186-8120 No. 2 Road, Box #704,
Richmond, B.C., V7C 5J8
Canada

This God awful situation could have happened to ANY skater or coach and it's not like it's a career that comes with a pension or pays the big bucks most of the time. I have never asked nor WILL I ask for any financial assistance in covering the time spent or cost of purchasing books, other reference materials or the long distance costs for phone interviews in making this blog available, but when a cause comes along that I feel strongly about in the skating world I have no problem putting it out there and asking you to support it. Karen didn't ask for this fight and helping her out in any way that you're able would be so much appreciated. It's the right thing to do.

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!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The Four Continents Championships: The Good, The Bad And The #NoSheBetterDont


In the post U.S. and Canadian Nationals and European Championships blogs, I introduced a new format for event recaps: The Good, The Bad And The #NoSheBetterDont. To repeat my reasoning behind the brevity, this autumn I spent hours upon hours recapping all six ISU Grand Prix competitions and the Grand Prix Final in detail. Here's the thing. Agonizing over Suzie Salchow's take-off edge on her flip and the level of her spin combination really isn't my bag any more than jamming my hand in a car door is. I wanted to enjoy the competitions for the rest of the season rather than extrapolate the results to death but still wanted to represent all the major competitions with content on the blog as well. After all, whether I'm a big fan of the IJS system or not, there's some spectacular skating going on that I'd be absolutely negligent as a blogger by not talking about... and just as I expected this year's Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Seoul, South Korea did NOT disappoint:


TEN'S ACROSS THE BOARD: Yes, Denis Ten's winning free skate in Seoul was that good it felt like I was watching a good professional competitive program rather than a banal "IJS free skate". Following up on a superb short program, Ten skated one of the finest performances of his career, replete with two quadruple toe-loops (one in combination with a triple toe) and five other triples and convincingly took home the tiara with a total score of 289.46, more than TWENTY FIVE POINTS higher than silver medallist Josh Farris. That's huge! And there was a PROGRAM - an exquisite work of art; a beautiful marriage of music and movement. If he skates like this at Worlds, he just may finally win the World title he probably should have won in 2013. Bravo!

  

WORLD DOMINATION, MEAGAN AND ERIC STYLE: They're like Pinky and The Brain, those two, only they've BOTH got fabulous brains. "What are we going to do tonight, Eric? The same thing we do every night: try to take over the world". What can I say I haven't said before? These two are on a roll. They have been undefeated this season, winning both their Grand Prix events, the Grand Prix Final, a fourth Canadian title in Kingston and now their second Four Continents title. The best part? The difficulty level they are putting out there in each and every program isn't only scary hard, but it's so intelligently constructed to maximize TES and PCS points (yes, both) that (knock on wood) this just may finally be their year... and guess what? They absolutely deserve it. Their total score in Seoul was 219.48, excellent and even an improvement on their winning score at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona. That not withstanding, the bobble on the side-by-side triple lutzes showed they were human here. They've just been so flawless all season it's easy to forget that sometimes. It's always good to save something for the grand finale, and I have a strong gut feeling that their performances at Worlds will be their best yet! 


THE FABULOUS FOUR SEASONS: I'll sing it from the rooftops if you get me a sturdy ladder to climb up there. I love Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje's programs this year and as far as material goes, I prefer their material this year to any of that of any of their competitors in Seoul. Fluid and transitional from one element to another in the free skate with beautiful, deep edges, their "Four Seasons" free dance really is a piece of work in the best possible way. Coming from behind in the short dance, they twizzled to victory in Seoul with an impressive score of 109.15 in the free dance, four points ahead of Chock and Bates and nine more than the Shibutani's. The judges gave them the nod both in TES and PCS scores in the free dance, along with level fours on their curve lift, twizzles, straight line lift, rotational lift and combination dance spin from the technical panel. Although on paper their Personal Best Free Dance score came in Barcelona at the Grand Prix Final at 109.80 and this program fell just shy at 109.15, I see improvement building with every performance of this program and it's going to be damn tough to beat it at Worlds I think.



NUMERO UNO?: At only seventeen, Japan's silver medallist Shoma Uno has been around doing his thing for a few seasons now. The last three years, he has finished in the top ten at the World Junior Championships and though he won the Junior Grand Prix Final in style, the depth of Japanese men's skaters is just so great that I wasn't expecting him to make quite the splash he did in Seoul. In the short program, for example, he completely removed any doubt on my part. Not only did he finish second ahead of skaters with years more senior experience, but he posted the second highest PCS score in that part of the men's competition in doing so. There's quite a bit to like about his skating. He gets down into the ice with his knees and has really excellent speed and his jumps are huge, but there were some little things that I still think need to be worked on, for instance the monkey bar arm swing in that spread eagle going up into the triple axel. He's got years ahead of him to work on jump technique and some of the in-between's, but this kid's not just going places, he's already pretty much there. Fifth place is nothing to sneeze at.


JASON BROWN AND THE MATH RACE: Ahhh, the ever important quad. With the way some folks go on about it like it's the be all end all, you'd think it was all about the jumps. Oh wait! It is these days, isn't it? I give Jason bravery points for going for the quad in Seoul, and God knows I don't think anyone with a reasonable bone in their body would wholeheartedly expect anyone to land a four revolution jump on their first attempt in competition. He went for it in the short and ended up in ninth with a downgrade and negative GOE's from all nine judges. An underrotation on the triple axel didn't help his cause there either. In the free skate, he "played it safe" if that's what you want to call attempting two triple axels and six other triples including a triple flip/triple toe combination, and with a near-clean skate, again reminded us of what makes his skating so truly special: the fact he's presenting us with a program and a moment. I look at things with an artist's eye, not a mathematician's eye... and to me, I'd much rather watch a skater skate clean than go for the quad and miss. Chasing results in this system is always going to prove elusive but skaters like Brown are the bright lights that are gaining new viewers for the sport. I'm not hating the player here. I'm definitely hating the game. It's unfortunate that the sport has become a rat race that's driving any skater to put technical content in their programs for points and it's this kind of stuff that endlessly frustrates me about this judging system. As two time Olympic Gold Medallist Dick Button aptly said in Newsweek: "when a judging system rewards a fall over creativity and flair, what else do you expect?



FIRST WORLD #PASODOBLEPROBLEMS: At the Grand Prix Final, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje had a healthy six point lead on Chock and Bates and an almost ten point lead on 'the ShibSibs', but in Seoul the tables turned as the Americans gained the upper edge in the bullfight. Although Weaver and Poje still earned the highest PCS score of the short dance at this event, their TES score in Seoul was actually 0.01 lower than Gilles and Poirier, who finished fourth. One thing to keep in mind is the fact that the fluke fall at the end of Chock and Bates' paso in Barcelona cost them some points, but Weaver and Poje got dinged for a level two on their twizzles and steps and that cost them here. If you're looking at the whole package - and that's kind of what I do - they had the edge by a mile. Things are just getting a little close for comfort though among the top dance teams... and although it's exciting, I can't say I share the international judge's enthusiasm about Chock and Bates as a team. Tessa and Scott versus Meryl and Charlie recast this season is not. Weaver and Poje's technical strength and equal strength as partners just seems to me to be a cut above. 



PANG AND TONG'S BIG COMEBACK: After stepping away from competition following a fourth place finish at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Sochi, two time World Champions and 2010 Olympic Silver Medallists Qing Pang and Jian Tong made an unexpected and unceremonious return to competition in Seoul. Considering they've won this event five times previously, on paper they certainly had the potential to play spoilers put in actuality these seasoned veterans faced some serious competition not only from the obvious favourites (Duhamel and Radford) but from the other two Chinese teams participating as well. There's a lot to appreciate about this team - big throws and a huge triple twist included - but as nice as it was to see them back out there, Shen and Zhao they are not and even though I fully expect them to be a little more prepared at Worlds, PCS score advantage aside I'd be surprised to see them on the podium in their home country next month despite their bronze medal win here. Call it a hunch. I don't know what I was expecting from this team at this competition, but I didn't quite get it.



LABOURING LADIES: An absolutely charming character named Clairee Belcher once said "Well, you know what they say: if you don't have anything nice to say about anybody, come sit by me!" Not my style though. The ladies free skate at the Four Continents Championships wasn't exactly an example of everyone skating at their best to put it mildly. Between underrotations, downgrades, edge calls, falls and step outs, of the nineteen ladies competing only one skater managed to escape the technical panel unscathed, and that was Canadian Champion Gabby Daleman. who still somehow only managed to finish sixth in the free skate and seventh overall with a total score of 167.09 despite her only 'mistake' (if you want to call it that) being a doubled second triple lutz attempt. As usual, I was at odds with the PCS scoring in the free skate as well despite the errors we saw from so many of the ladies, especially the strength of the four at the top as compared to others who blundered. Take the PCS score of Rika Hongo for instance. She earned 56.27. Although she managed to stay on her feet with underrotation calls on the triple toe and triple Salchow on the back half of two of her three jump combinations, the program and skating skills arguably weren't even close to being on par with skaters like Daleman, Chartrand and Cesario in my opinion... but you know how it is. Polina Edmunds' win was a nice surprise to me and good on her for staying on her feet when others didn't, but if you take the skating we saw at Europeans from the medallists (even Radionova who you all know I'm no fan of) and compare it to this event, there's just no comparison. I think Ashley Wagner made a very wise decision by forgoing her spot and focusing on Worlds and this event (including the PCS judging) just cemented my belief that Worlds is going to be a showdown between Russian and American ladies skaters.


SAVING THE BEST FOR LATER?: Obviously, as a Canadian I'm always going to be rooting for the home team, and it was kind of hard to watch all three of Canada's men's skaters finish outside of the top ten especially after Weaver and Poje and Duhamel and Radford's wins and all of the Canadian pairs and dance teams finishing in the top ten. It's not like they skated badly though by any stretch of the imagination! The field of talent was incredibly deep at this event. Although Nam Nguyen was eleventh, Jeremy Ten twelfth and Liam Firus fourteenth, they are all outstanding skaters with the potential to greatly improve upon those results when it counts most in Shanghai. 


HISTORY REPEATING: Taking a page out of the Dame Shirley Bassey songbook, "it's all just a little bit of history repeating". In late December, I posted a blog called "I Can Do Better: Talking About IJS Skating's PC(S) Culture" which commented on the program we see on the ice versus the way that program is scored from a PCS mark perspective. I'll quote it right here: "Sarah Kay once said that 'artistry is important. Skill, hard work, rewriting, editing and careful, careful craft: All of these are necessary. These are what separate the beginners from experienced artists.' In the men's short program at the 2014 LEXUS Cup Of China, Uzbekistan's Misha Ge skated cleanly, performing a triple axel, triple lutz/triple toe and triple flip. His musical interpretation and choreography were without question better than most of the men out there in that particular competition and yet his PCS scores were ALL lower than China's Han Yan, who faltered on all three jumping passes he attempted in his program and skated with poor posture. The interpretation of the lively music 'If I Were A Rich Man" from "Fiddler On The Roof' looked half hearted and reliant mainly on transitional footwork and little kicks. Even under the guise or premise that IJS would duly reward his Transitions/Footwork separately from the other parts of the PCS score, it's hard to make an argument how a flawed Yan could earn just shy of ten points more than Ge with a program that was  in my opinion both technically and artistically inferior... which should have clearly reflected in the final three marks allocated for Performance/Execution, Choreography/Composition and Interpretation.


3Han YANCHN79.2139.4339.788.217.717.758.048.070.00#8
4Richard DORNBUSHUSA77.2338.9838.257.717.327.647.797.790.00#9
5Alexei BYCHENKOISR76.9643.7033.266.686.366.756.796.680.00#3
6Nam NGUYENCAN72.8538.3934.466.796.717.076.966.930.00#7
7Misha GEUZB69.4633.2836.187.046.867.437.397.460.00#6

It's about comparing apples with oranges though and while I get that subjectivity is always going to be a challenge that skating will always face, as the sport's audience we need to always reserve our right to say "I Can Do Better" if artistry is something as fans we personally value."




What happened in Seoul in the men's short program you ask? Han Yan again missed one of his jumping passes and Misha Ge completed all three. Despite an 0.11 edge in the 'Interpretation' category, Yan again topped Ge in the PCS score, with higher scores in four of the five categories. Yan finished third, Ge eighth. Explain this one to me because I'd love to wrap my head around it. I do know this. I can still do better... and if you don't think stuff like this isn't costing the sport viewers, I'd love to sit down over a cup of green tea and explain to you why I feel otherwise. 

EXCLUSION: There's a LOT to be said for participation. Article 38, paragraph 7 of the ISU Constituion and Rule 107, paragraphs 1 to 9 of the ISU General Regulations refers to minimum TES scores required to allow skaters to participate in ISU Championships. I've copied and pasted the table to give you an idea of the numbers we're talking about here. They aren't unachievable by any means but they do certainly lead to exclusion at ISU events like Four Continents which have traditionally offered opportunities for skaters in 'developing figure skating countries':

Minimum technical scores (TES)
DisciplineSP / SDFS / FD
Men2545
Ladies2036
Pairs2036
Ice dance1929

In Seoul, only four countries (Canada, the U.S., Japan and China) had competitors in all four disciplines. South Korea was the only country to even have competitors in three. A total
of nine (yes, NINE) ISU members (South Africa, Puerto Rico, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, North Korea, Singapore, Thailand and New Zealand) didn't have a single skater in attendance and you know that these TES minimums had something to do with that. For many skaters in developing countries, Four Continents is these skater's 'Olympics' and would be an excellent growth opportunity for them. If you're just going to cut half of the skaters after the short program anyway and get rid of qualifying rounds, I don't see what the harm is in allowing them the opportunity to go and LEARN from skating against some of the world's best. I'm reminded of Père Henri's wonderful sermon from the end of the movie Chocolat: "Listen, here's what I think. I think that we can't go around... measuring our goodness by what we don't do. By what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think... we've got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create... and who we include." Cinquanta doesn't get it... not by a long shot. 

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, 13 February 2015

"Canada's Valentine": A Barbara Ann Scott Poem

"Barbara Ann Scott, 1946" by Yousuf Karsh, Library and Archives Canada, c058196

Over the holidays, the blog took an in depth look into the popularity of the Barbara Ann Scott Doll and seeing how fabulous the late, great four time Canadian Champion, two time World Champion and 1948 Olympic Gold Medallist truly was, I thought it only fitting that another holiday be celebrated on Skate Guard in true Barbara Ann Scott style. It didn't hurt that I stumbled across an absolutely charming poem that was published on Valentine's Day in 1948 in "Saturday Night" accompanied by a stunning portrait by the acclaimed Armenian Canadian portrait photographer Yousof Karsh. The poem "Canada's Valentine" was written by Mary Lowrey Ross, a journalist and author from Brantford, Ontario and here it is in its entirety:

"Dear Barbara Ann: Your Public would
Prefer to show you its gratitude
With tributes rare and wonderful,
And preferably, tangible.
A rope of pearls, a wrap of mink
A private indoor skating rink,
A larger Buick still and creamier
With testimonials from the Premier
But since such gifts are out of line
We send you this simple Valentine
A license issued to your art,
To skate school figures in our heart."

How adorable is that?


Wishing you ALL a happy Valentine's Day and thank you all for supporting the blog! And remember... chocolate goes on sale on February 15 and with the stress of the World Championships coming up, you just might want to stock up there sunshine!

In order for this blog to reach a wider audience, I could sure use a little help. All you have to do is "LIKE" the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard for instant access to all of the new blog articles, features and interviews as they are made available. I also share daily updates and headlines from the skating world, videos and much more that's not here on the blog, so if you love figure skating as much I do, it would really be rude not to get on that inside edge! You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ohh_N. If you know someone who loves skating, tell them! It's all about getting a dialogue going on! Fabulous skating is too fabulous to keep secret. Am I right or am I right?

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Interview With Jere Michael


1994 wasn't just the year of Lillehammer, of Tonya and Nancy and Oksana and Nancy or of the fabulous 'oversatuation' of skating on television I'd give anything to see back on my big screen. 1994 was the year of Jere Michael. The young skater from Colorado won both the U.S. junior title and the bronze medal at that year's World Junior Championships in Colorado Springs. Now one part of an unstoppable two part coaching duo in California with Alex Chang, Jere was kind enough to take the time to talk with me about his own competitive career, his coaching philosophy, favourite skaters and much more. Here's an interview you'll just love!:

Q: I want to start by talking about your competitive career. In 1994, you won the U.S. junior men's title and the bronze medal at the World Junior Championships. After moving into the senior ranks, you won the bronze medal at the 1997 Piruetten competition in Norway before retiring from competition following the 1999 U.S. Nationals. Looking back on it all now, what moments and performances stand out as the most special to you? Which were the most challenging?

A: My favourite moment and performance of my career would have to be my short program at the 1994 National Championships. The program itself is very personal to me because it was choreographed by my beloved coach Brian Wright, who has since passed away. I was so scared to depart from my comfort level and skate to classical music (Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme of Paganini), but Brian convinced me and the result was a program that represented who I was at that moment in my career perfectly. My other favourite program was my 1997 short program, choreographed by Lori Nichol to a honky-tonk piece called "Funky Mama". I skated great at Nationals and the Nashville crowd (a very music-friendly town) went nuts! One of my most challenging moments happened during the 1996 U.S. Nationals. Right before Nationals my beloved coach, Christy Krall, had told me she was retiring and this would be our last Nationals together. I had a hard time with this because I adored her and probably focused too much on my uncertain coaching future when I was at that Nationals.


Q: Going back to the medal win at Junior Worlds in 1994, you actually beat 2002 Olympic Gold Medallist Alexei Yagudin AND 1998 Olympic Gold Medallist Ilia Kulik that year. How cool is that?! Do you get chance to brag about beating two Olympic Gold Medallists to your students?

A: Of course! Seriously, it's an honor to even be in the same sentence with these two great athletes.

Q: You now coach with Alex Chang at Paramount Iceland and work with U.S. pewter medallist Courtney Hicks. Your other students have included Nix Phengsy, Amanda Gelb and Sophia Adams. What do you consider to be your coaching philosophy within the IJS system?

A: I would say my philosophy is honesty. My business partner and best friend, Alex Chang, taught me a great way to describe our combined philosophy – we teach our kids to have a positive relationship with both success AND failure. Ownership is also a big deal for me that I try to teach these kids. My job is to make sure I understand the rules fully and get my athletes to achieve their goals within the IJS system.



Q: One of the perks of both skating and coaching is the travel! Of all of the places you've visited over the years, what was your favourite? What's one place you've never visited that you've love to?

A: Junior Worlds in Australia was my favourite place as an athlete. Chinese Taipei is my favorite as a coach. I can't wait to go to Japan!

Q: Is performing something you miss and can you see yourself getting out there and taking center ice to perform in the future?

A: I had a great and long career. When I retired I was ready. I have no regrets and had great success. But no, I have no need to perform on the ice again.

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

A: Brian Boitano - his performance at 1988 Olympics showed me what I really wanted out of skating – freedom to be me! Jeri Campbell - she's a dear friend and skated from honesty and integrity. Michelle Kwan - her calm demeanor and amazing consistency.

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

A: I would have loved to be a highly successful DJ, where I would want to be main stage performing!

Q: What's the biggest lesson that your students have taught you?

A: Oh, so many things... but I think they remind me how much I love the sport of figure skating. There is nothing else in the world I'll ever want to do besides coach athletes on how to achieve their skating goals, and also help them along the bumpy ride that is growing up.

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