Tuesday, 2 July 2013

One Hit Wonders: Skaters Whose Time On The Top Was Fast And Furious

Dexy's Midnight Runners, Lou Bega, Vanilla Ice and even composer Johann Pachelbel have one thing in common. They are remembered as "one hit wonders", musical artists that achieved massive popularity with their respective hits "Come On Eileen", "Mambo No. 5", "Ice, Ice Baby" and "Canon in D", but not artists that sustained their success into long lasting careers. The sport and art of figure skating is no stranger to the concept either. Injuries, inconsistency, illness and life choices have all played a role in the careers and journeys of figure skaters for decades. Let's take a look at 6.0 of figure skating's greatest one hit wonders and the impact that they made on the sport.


Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

I couldn't think of a more fitting start to these stories than in my own backyard. Winning her first and only Canadian senior ladies title right here in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1995, Netty Kim was a lovely skater who unfortunately never was able to match her success at Nationals that year. After the 1994 Canadian Nationals, Josee Chouinard and Karen Preston both turned professional, and that left a wide open field. The favourite was 1994 silver medallist Susan Humphreys, but injury plagued her and she ended up finishing 3rd, behind Kim and a fresh faced young skater right out of the junior ranks named Jennifer Robinson. Netty, who trained at the Upper Canada/North York Skating Club in Thornhill, Ontario under Bob Emerson, went on to compete at the 1995 World Championships in Birmingham, England but was unable to advance out of the qualifying rounds. Working at her family's Toronto convenience store throughout her career with her sister, she returned to Nationals the next two years, placing 7th and 5th respectively. One thing about Netty's skating that really stood out in my mind was the grace and elegance she possessed. She wasn't trying the triple lutz in her programs, and that was something that really hurt her at the time, but she had a lovely quality to her skating and certainly earned her place in the record books. A graduate of York University, Kim now works as a Sales Talent Agent in Toronto, Ontario.


Imagine winning the European Figure Skating Championships at 19 years of age (with 8 triples, including a triple/triple combination) on your first try - on two left blades - and then coming back the next 5 years and placing 6th, 7th, 7th, 8th and 8th. That's only part of the story of Ukraine's Dmitri Dmitrenko. The Kiev born skater began skating in 1977, and throughout his career truly stood out, as he often composed and arranged his own music for his competitive skating programs. Viktor Petrenko's 1994 comeback really hurt him, and a third place finish at that year's Ukrainian Nationals kept him off the Olympic team in Lillehammer. It wasn't all bad news for Dmitrenko though. He did rebound to earn a trip to the Nagano Games in 1998 and win a bronze medal in his 7th trip to the European Championships in 2000, but his last two trips to the World Championships saw him in 23rd and 22nd places. It's a shame his career ended on a low - when we was landing his jumps, they were huge, and he had a real creative streak in his skating.


I don't really think Kimmie is a "one hit wonder", but her quick rise to success and short time on the top is  honestly so remarkable that I felt she really deserved mention here. What Kimmie Meissner accomplished in her eligible skating career was nothing short of outstanding. She was only the second U.S. ladies skater to complete the triple axel in competition, the first being Tonya 'Stop Saying Mean Things About Me, Barack Obama' Harding. In just two short years, she became World Champion, Four Continents Champion and U.S. Champion. By 2008, things unfortunately were unravelling a little for Kimmie. A sprained right ankle left her in 7th after falling three times in her free skate at the 2008 U.S. Nationals. She was still selected for the World team that year and managed a 7th place finish. Injury still plagued her that fall, when she finished 8th at both of her Grand Prix assignments, which would be her last two eligible competitions. She's really blossomed as a performer though, going on to skate in shows regularly while studying at the University Of Delaware and even competing at the Medal Winners Open pro-am event last season. If it's possible, I think she's a better skater now than she ever was when she was performing those triple/triple combinations.


Again, one hit wonder isn't really a fair statement AT ALL but his time on the top of the U.S. men's skating podium was short and oh so sweet. In perhaps one of the most thrilling displays the sport has ever seen, Rudy Galindo had the skate of his life at the 1996 U.S. National Championships in his hometown of San Jose, California and won the competition, realizing his dream after years of tragedy and life challenges that seemed to plague him after his highly successful career as a pairs skater with 1992 Olympic Gold Medallist Kristi Yamaguchi ended in 1990. He went on to win the 1996 World bronze medal ahead of skaters like Elvis Stojko, Alexei Urmanov and Philippe Candeloro and promptly turned professional, having great success in professional competition and touring with Champions On Ice and Elvis Stojko's Tour Of Champions. Now a coach in San Jose, is giving back to the sport that has given him so much, and given us so much as well. No one can work it like Rudy! One of my favourites. Would have loved to see how he would have figured into things in Nagano!


I can't even imagine the pressure that must have been on this young skater from Dresden, Germany. Fresh off Katarina Witt's second Olympic win in Calgary, Alberta, German skating fans were looking for the next Katarina, and who better to fill her shoes than Evelyn Grossmann, a pupil of who else but Frau Jutta Muller, Katarina's legendary coach? After Katarina turned professional following the 1987/1988 season, Evelyn won her first East German title in 1989 and went on to place 7th at the European and World Championships that season. The NEXT year, she won the European Championships on her second trip there and placed 8th at the World Championships in Halifax. Things got a little interesting after that. She did win silver in 1991 at the Europeans, but that was her last trip there. Injuries plagued her throughout the rest of her career. She moved from her training base in Chemnitz in 1993, changing coaches and training in Oberstdorf. Her results in the German National Championships slid over the years. She finished off the podium until her last Nationals in 1995, bested by skaters like Tanja Szewczenko and Marina Kielmann. Her last competitions were Champions Series (Grand Prix) events in the fall of 1995, and her results were poor. She retired from competition and started coaching in Germany. She also worked as an international figure skating judge and technical specialist for the ISU.

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  1. As I recall, in Christine Brennan's book she stated that Jill Sawyer was injured in a car accident and was unable to train anymore.

  2. Christine Brennan said a lot of things in her books. But I digress.. That's really too bad to hear! Hope she is well and what a short lived but amazing career she did have.

  3. Looks like Jill Sawyer has turned up coaching in San Jose

    http://www.mtviewice.com/index.php/learntoskate/private-lessons Jill Lin Sawyer.

    Bio lists all her wins.

    Must say that Kathy Casey coaching Jill was pretty brutal to watch a lot of days - not shocking that the kid quit at first opportunity. Most of the rest of us that skated at the Tacoma Winter Club were virtually invisible and tried to stay off KC radar. I hear she has mellowed.

    1. You are totally correct in your comment on the relationship with KC and Miss Sawyer..I used to work at the Lakewood Winter Club resurfacing ice and noticed this relationship between KC, Jill, and the other skaters...I am also happy to hear that Jill is still active in skating.

    2. I was never impressed with Kathy Casey as a coach. I never thought she brought out the best in skaters, like there was always more potential than she ever tapped. In just one example, Scott Davis. One of the greatest spinners the US has ever had. Forget the fact that the guy couldn't jump after the 2nd minute of his program, his spins were rushed and hurried. He used the same 3-position combo spin for the bulk of his career. He never progressed. Like just doing a bit better than everyone else was enough. Someone who could spin like that and center like that, to me, was capable of something much better. He should have been inventing new positions or at least putting together a showstopping combination. He should have had a legacy like Lucinda Ruh. KC let him stagnate until he was just a brief expected novelty.

  4. I think it was certainly a different time when it came to training techniques, that's for sure. Glad to see Jill's still involved with the sport!! :)