Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The History Of The Miko Masters

In my previous "Return To Open Pro Competitions" articles, I took an in depth look at the U.S. Open and Jaca World Professional Figure Skating Championships. In an effort to preserve some of the history and stories of professional figure skating competition, I'm once again taking a walk down memory lane and this time examining the history of the Miko Masters professional figure skating competition. Held 12 times consecutively from 1991 to 2002, this prestigious competition was held annually at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy at the 12th arrondissement in Paris, France. From 1991-1999, the competition at this event was strictly for professional skaters and in the final two years the event was held it took on a pro-am format. Furthermore, the competition from 1991-1996 was divided by discipline, whereas beginning in 1997 until the event was last held in 2002, a team format was adopted. In addition to competitive performances, exhibitions were always a big part of the Miko Masters, and often allowed top eligible French and international skaters to shine. What made Miko Masters quite unique was that it was one of few professional competitions that really took advantage of elaborate stage lighting at the time. When the skaters performed their artistic programs, it was under theatrical lighting and great care was put into creating an atmosphere with the skater's music, lighting, costuming and performance itself. 

When the competition was first held in 1991, the list of competitors at the "Ice Gods", the forerunner to (and technically the first) Miko Masters competition sponsored by Miko, read like a who's who of professional figure skating. Philippe Angel, the event's organizer, got the idea for the competition when Katarina Witt informed him she was ending her amateur career in 1988. Angel wished "to give all the great champions the desire to go beyond their amateur career and have an alternative to exhibition skating and the mega ice shows" in a professional setting. Exhibition performances included Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay skating their "Missing II" program, and in the initial men's event, 1988 Olympic Gold Medallist Brian Boitano bested his long time rival Brian Orser to win the competition with a performance of his iconic "Music Of The Night" program, which bested Orser's "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" artistic program. After the ladies skated both technical and artistic programs, 1988 Olympic Gold Medallist Katarina Witt (like Brian) proved her Olympic gold medal was worth its mettle. Skating to "A Question Of U" by Prince, she outranked Charlene Wong, Debi Thomas, Liz Manley, Caryn Kadavy and Rosalynn Sumners to take the first ladies title.



In 1992, the event became officially known as the Miko Masters and many competitors from the Albertville Winter Games were invited to participate. Exhibition performances included 1992 Albertville pairs and dance winners Natalia Mishkutenoik and Artur Dmitriev and Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponamorenko and the event also marked the first time Victor Petrenko, Paul Wylie and Petr Barna (the medallists in Albertville) competed against each other as professionals. With a program to Chubby Checker's "Let's Twist Again" and solid jumps, Petrenko bested both Wylie and Barna to take the men's title and it was 1981 World Champion Denise Biellmann who secured the ladies title, ahead of Jill Trenary, Caryn Kadavy and others, skating to "Le Jazz Hot" from "Victor/Victoria" and "What Child As This?" as her technical and artistic program, respectively.


Broadcast by 37 television channels, the third edition of the competition again
proved historic. A pairs competition was added to the men's and ladies events, and the number of competitors in each discipline was reduced to 4. The first pairs title at Miko Masters was won by 1992 Olympic Silver Medallists Elena Bechke and Denis Petrov. They skated to music from the 1862 Italian opera "La Forza Del Destino" by Giuseppe Verdi. They finished ahead of Christine Hough and Doug Ladret, 1984 Olympic Gold Medallists Elena Valova and Oleg Vasiliev and Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding. Paul Wylie rebounded from a disappointing 6th place finish a year ago to win the men's event with his legendary "JFK" program, ahead of Petr Barna, Scott Williams and Brian Orser. The ladies competition was won by Caryn Kadavy, whose "I Dreamed A Dream" program from "Les Miserables" swayed the judges more than Denise Biellmann's "Drums/As Yet Untitled" avant garde artistic program. Claudia Leistner (in a rare professional competitive appearance) and Charlene Wong finished third and fourth.



Following the hugely popular 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer, audiences for professional events were at all time high. As such, the 1994 Miko Masters was a roaring success, with the pairs competition being dropped for this year only and 5 men and 5 ladies competing in both technical and artistic programs. The men's competition marked 4 time World Champion Kurt Browning's first professional competition, and he finished 2nd to Paul Wylie, who defended his title with yet another movie soundtrack from his growing repertoire - "The Untouchables". Alexandr Fadeev, Petr Barna and the late Robert Wagenhoffer finished 3rd, 4th and 5th in the men's event. In the ladies competition, Denise Biellmann won her second Miko Masters title with two technically sound and avant garde programs. Her "Rite Of Spring" just edged out two time Olympic Gold Medallist Katarina Witt skating to a French version of "On My Own" from "Les Miserables", who was also competing in her first professional event since her 1994 comeback to "amateur" skating. Caryn Kadavy finished 3rd, Rory Flack Burghart was 4th and theatrical French skater Sandra Garde, who won the Trophee Lalique audience judged pro competition in France, was 5th. Exhibition performances in 1994 included Swiss spinning sensation Nathalie Krieg, Philippe Candeloro and Sophie Moniotte and Pascal Lavanchy.

After making his first appearance of many at the Miko Masters in 1994,
Candeloro returned in 1995 with Miko as his main partner, bringing some of the best skaters from the French national team along with him for exhibitions, including Surya Bonaly, Eric Millot and Sophie Moniotte and Pascal Lavanchy. Candeloro and Bonaly prepared a pairs program, which they performed for the first time at this event together. Exhibitions were also skated by 2 time Olympic Gold Medallists Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov and 1991 World Champions Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay. The competition, which was televised both overseas and in North America on ESPN/TSN, saw the pairs return to the spotlight and Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding take home the title. In the men's event, Paul Wylie won his third consecutive Miko Masters title, showing his passionate "Schindler's List" program under theatrical lighting. Jozef Sabovcik skated a curious program in overalls to "Ol' Man River" from "Showboat" to finish 2nd, ahead of Scott Williams, Petr Barna and Alexandr Fadeev. In the ladies event, Denise Biellmann's acrobatic and
driving "Test Overdub/Frantic" wowed the judges and audience alike, and she was able to overtake Yuka Sato, Liz Manley, caryn Kadavy, and Sandra Garde to win the ladies title. Sandra Garde's very theatrical "Night On Bald Mountain" artistic program in this event, developed from a free skating program she used at the World Junior Championships in the late 80's, was a must see. Although her hardest jump was a double loop, her choreography, costuming and musicality were simply unforgettable.


In 1996, pairs skating was in the spotlight. The best performance in the pairs event, that of 1995 World Champions Radka Kovarikova and Rene Novotny, was awarded the Sergei Grinkov prize in tribute to Grinkov, who passed away in November 1995. They placed ahead of Hartshorn and Sweiding and Urbanski and Marval. Another innovation to the competition was a prize for best jump, which was awarded at the end of the men's, ladies and pairs technical programs. For the fourth time, Denise Biellmann took the ladies title, this time besting Caryn Kadavy, Yuka Sato, Charlene von Saher and Rory Flack Burghart. Among the men, Paul Wylie also won his fourth title, finishing ahead of Scott Williams, Alexandr Fadeev and Jozef Sabovcik. Surya Bonaly was among the special guests performing exhibitions. In a forerunner to the later Improv-Ice event, the audience chose music for the exhibitions at the event, which skaters then improvised. In association with Guépard Production (Juliette Leclercq), Miko announced financial support for young French skaters under the age of 16 at this event. This was the last year individual competitions were held.

In March 1997, with the change to a team format, skaters were grouped into Team Europe and Team North America. Each team featured a ladies skater, a men's skater, a pairs team and an ice dance team, and each performed a technical and artistic program. In an extremely close competition, Team Europe (consisting of Jozef Sabovcik, Charlene von Saher, Tricia Klocke and Ian Jenkins and Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko) placed ahead of Team America (Scott Williams, Josee Chouinard, Calla Urbanski and Rocky Marval and Renee Roca and Gorsha Sur) to win the first team competition. A report by Tatjana Flade on the 1997 event can be read at http://www.eiskunstlauf-ecke.de/archiv/1996-97/emiko97.shtml.

Presentation of teams at the 1998 event

The 1998 competition was held in late May, and featured many skaters making
their debut in professional competition, including Surya Bonaly and Philippe Candeloro. Candeloro, skating a 12 minute program combining his "Napoleon", "d'Artagnan" and "Lucky Luke" programs, helped Team Europe to a victory over Team World. In addition to men's, ladies, pairs and ice dance teams, each team also featuring an ice acrobat team. Other competitors included 1997 World Champions Mandy Woetzel and Ingo Steuer, World Professional Champions Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding, 1995 World Silver Medallists Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko and ice acrobats Vladimir Besedin and Oleksiy Polischuk. Exhibition skaters included Alexei Urmanov and Maria Butyrskaya. A full review of the 1998 event can be found on Tino Eberl's Figure Skating Corner at http://www.eiskunstlauf-ecke.de/archiv/1997-98/miko98.shtml.

Teams posing for the 1998 competition


The 1999 competition, held from April 13-14, 1999, again changed things up a bit. Teams from Europe and The World consisted of 2 men, 2 ladies, 1 pair and 1 dance team each, all skating 1 artistic program under theatrical lighting in addition to exhibition programs as well. The theme of all performances this year was "the cinema". Team Europe (Surya Bonaly, Denise Biellmann, Philippe Candeloro, Eric Millot, Woetzel and Steuer and Romanova and Yaroshenko) placed ahead of Team World (Olga Markova, Suzanna Szwed, Viascheslav Zagorodniuk, Scott Davis, Hartshorn and Sweiding and Roca and Sur). Interestingly enough, Romanova and Yaroshenko and Viascheslav Zagorodniuk, representing two different teams, both hailed from Ukraine. With 572.4 points to Team World's 561.0, Team Europe took home bragging rights for the third straight year. Dolorès Chaplin, who sponsored the 1999 Miko Masters, rewarded winners of the competition. Exhibitions were skated by "amateur" skaters at this event as well, including Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat, Sarah Abitbol and Stéphane Bernadis, Vincent Restencourt, Laurent Tobel, Vanessa Gusmeroli, Céline Masson and special guest Evgeni Plushenko. Scores from this event can be found at http://www.eiskunstlauf-ecke.de/archiv/1998-99/miko99.shtml.

Keeping with the changing times, things changed again in 2000, when the event kept its team format but switched to a FFSG approved "Open de France" pro-am competition between Russia and France. All skaters participating skated an ISU approved short program in addition to an interpretive free program. Team France (Eric Millot, Stannick Jeannette, Vanessa Gusmeroli, Abitbol and Bernadis and Anissina and Peizerat) edged Team Russia (Alexei Yagudin, Maria Butyrskaya, Olga Markova, Totmianina and Marinin and Lobatcheva and Averbukh) for the win. Full results and scores from the 2000 event can be found at http://www.eiskunstlauf-ecke.de/archiv/1999-00/mastersmiko00.shtml.

The Miko Masters competition returned in 2001 with the pro-am team 2 program format retained and skaters from France this time competing against a World team. France's team, lead by Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat and Vanessa Gusmeroli, upset the World Team, which included Lu Chen, Alexei Urmanov and Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas. 2 time French National Champion Laetitia Hubert performed exhibitions at this event as well, to the music of Charles Aznavour and Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out Of My Head".


In 2002, the competition was last held following the Salt Lake City Games. A team format was again adopted, with competitors including Brian Joubert, Laetitia Hubert, Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat, Alexander Abt, Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin. Team Russia won the overall competition in 2002.

What made competitions like the Miko Masters so special was the commitment to presenting professional skating in a way that was relatable to the audience. With easy to understand competition formats and a focus on creating an atmosphere for magical performances by providing top notch theatrical lighting, the programs that the skaters performed at this event over the years really shined as brightly as they could have. In looking through the history of competitions such as these, we can only be reminded of the impact artistic and professional skating have made on the sport and the very real future they have.

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