Saturday, 30 March 2013

Interview With PJ Kwong



An experienced skating commentator, CBC's PJ Kwong has been a television skating commentator since 1999 and worked as a PA announcer at countless Winter Olympic Games. She is a writer an author, a mother and figure skating expert! She has 25+ years experience as a coach with Skate Canada and has traveled the world helping figure skaters and fans alike better understand a complex sport that is constantly changing and evolving. It was my pleasure to have a chance to "interview the interviewer" and find out more about her opinions and experiences in the sport!

Q: How did you first become interested and involved in the sport?

A: I was a young and very shy child (believe it or not!) and my parents thought that every Canadian kid should know how to skate with the bonus of hopefully bringing me out of my shell. I loved it from the very first time!

Q: You are incredibly knowledgeable about the sport, and in particular Canadian skating. Who are your favourite Canadian skaters of all time and what kind of positive developments have you seen in Canada's National Team in recent years?

A: Thank you for the compliment! I think that the late Barbara Ann Scott is probably my favourite Canadian skater of all-time. In her day it wasn’t only about being an elite athlete you had to be an extraordinarily glamorous, articulate and gracious person as well. I am fascinated by that fact. Having interviewed her for my book I was impressed by her accomplishments of course, her ideas of serving her country first and her overall humility. She was truly a person who embodied grace under pressure. I think that Canadian skaters, in particular the men, have been responsible for many ‘firsts’ in the sport which has given Canada a bit of a bar to meet in competition.  At the end of the day, the global figure skating community has gotten a lot smaller with more and more skaters looking to achieve the same thing and looking for quality coaching and choreography wherever they can find it.  I think if you were to average results over time, Canada is one of a number of countries who is able to produce solid figure skaters across the board on a fairly consistent basis – but Canada isn’t alone.


Q: As a skating commentator, I can only imagine how difficult it must be to keep your personal opinions out of your commentary and not showing national basis or your own preference or deference to certain skaters. Is remaining objective difficult?

A: As I see it – I am paid to have personal but informed opinions and to share them.   My opinions are based on what I think and even more on what I know given my longevity in the sport.  I have seen enough skating to be objective about a performance. There are some skaters whose work I consistently like: Virtue and Moir for example who are Canadians and others like Volosozhar and Trankov and Ashley Wagner who are not.  I am consistent in my opinions and try to give the skaters a fair shake. I have been told by skaters that my honesty is respected and appreciated and that is a lovely compliment. I always try and carefully choose my words so that even if I have had to say I don’t like a performance, I can still see and speak to a skater backstage after the fact. My goal is to honor the work that the skaters, coaches, choreographers, parents and anybody else has done along the way… My idea is that a bad skate doesn’t necessarily mean a bad skater.

Kwong's interview with Canada's Shawn Sawyer

Q: What is RIGHT and what is WRONG with the sport right now?

A: What is RIGHT about the sport is what has always been right about the sport – the skating and the skaters. What is WRONG about the sport is the lack of willingness of some to inform themselves correctly about how the sport is scored.  The misinformation is still rampant. The scoring system isn’t that complicated. That said there are aspects that still have to be tweaked and things to be looked at – same sport – different generation. <lol>

Q: Do you think the ISU is in need of change? How can this be accomplished?

A: I don’t know what or how or why you would change?  Every sport has a governing body and the ISU is ours.  It is as strong or as weak as the members in it.

Q: Who are the most compelling and interesting skaters out there right now? Who excites you?

A: There are a ton!  I am so happy that Denis Ten rose to the challenge at Worlds – I have had my eye on him for a long time as a man who could be competitive. I think that Carolina Kostner’s ability to use the rink as a stage is very compelling. I like the athleticism of the Americans Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold. I think that Volosozhar and Trankov represent pair perfection for me and I love how Virtue and Moir have continued to push the boundaries artistically.  I am fascinated by the depth of talent with the Japanese men and women and the young Russian women.   On a sentimental note – it was lovely to see both Yu-Na Kim and Mao Asada at Worlds as competitive as they were.  I am interested every year in seeing who’s doing something new and different and which young skaters are making their mark. For me – there is always a ton to watch and be excited about.

Kwong's interview with World Champion Jeffrey Buttle

Q: How do you see Canada's medal hopes at the Sochi Olympics? What do you think it will take to win in Sochi?

A: I think that Canada will be sending their strongest team ever to the Olympics. I think in order to compete and win in Sochi – a skater has to stay 100% healthy for the next 10 months not to mention focused and determined.  It doesn't really matter what happened this season – the Olympics has a way of handing out surprises!

Q: If you could interview any ONE skater you haven't yet, who would it be and why?

A: Ekaterina Gordeeva. I admire what she did as a skater but not as much as what she had to do as a woman with a baby and a husband who died suddenly. I will always remember seeing the show on TV where she first skated on her own and being transported to tears by the raw vulnerability of that performance. I think that hers is a very human story that is compelling and interesting on many levels.

Q: What has been your funniest experience in the figure skating world?

A: As a PA announcer – for some bizarre reason during the 1996 season I kept saying Ca-na-na-da. I cannot explain why but it was like a mental block. I remember my mother and my best friend sitting across the rink from me at Worlds in 1996 when I announced somebody from Ca-Na-Na-Da and from the corner of my eye – I could see them sliding down their seats laughing ---- nice support eh? <lol>

Q: What do you see in the future of the sport? Say, 10 years from now?

A: I don’t know how to answer that except to say I will be fascinated to see who emerges as superstars and if we see the first Quint or some other milestone achieved.

Visit PJ's website at http://pjkwong.com and follow me on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Interview With Craig Heath


Performing as a professional skater since 1993, Craig Heath began his career like many skaters - competing in national and international level competitions for 10 years. Since turning professional, he has won the bronze medal at the World Professional Figure Skating Championships in Jaca, Spain, and performed in Hawaii, Russia, Europe, Asia and everywhere in between in shows, tours and even cruise ships. Known for his great connection to his music, superb spins and charisma, Craig Heath is a brilliant skater who has only made the sport better by his involvement in it. I had chance to ask him some questions  recently and am sure you will truly enjoy his answers:

Q: What was the transition like from 'amateur' to professional figure skating?

A: It was scary! I always loved to skate and I loved to work hard but I was at a road block with my skating and I didn't know which direction to take. Luckily, there was a show skater who worked at my rink who guided me into show business and even helped me to get my first professional job in an amusement park. After my first performance I was totally hooked and had found what I was born to do. I still feel this was twenty years later.


Q: Where is the most interesting place you've ever performed and what was the most bizarre thing that has ever happened to you on the ice?

A: A famous movie studio in Shanghai, China for the one hundred year anniversary of the Mont Blanc company. Bizarre... just stepping out onto ice for a show in Japan and an earthquake hit.

Q: You have worked with some genius choreographers like Gia Guddat and Brian Wright. What has been your favourite program to skate and why?

A: "X" by Brian Wright. It was the last one we made before he passed away. The music is so fun and the choreography is so creative and interesting. I still perform it sometimes. It makes me happy. "Save a Horse...Ride a Cowboy" by Gia Guddat. When she first asked me to do it I said no and I told her that's she's crazy to suggest it. Then I gave in and did it. It ended up to be one of the most fun and crowd pleasing routines I ever did. I still get many requests to perform it.


Q: You participated in competitions like the U.S. Open and American Open which were instrumental in giving professional skaters an opportunity to compete and gain exposure. Do you think that competitions such as these are leaving a void in the sport or are they a thing of the past?

A: I think there is a huge void. I was so fortunate to be able to participate. I have some of the best memories of my life from these competitions. I feel sad that the current skaters are not able to have that experience. The closest thing we have now is www.Proskaters.org has the Virtual Skate Off where pro skaters can send in show/competition videos for the public to judge. It is a great way to win some cash and get your name out there.

Q: What was the experience of skating on a cruise ship like?

A: Super fun. The audiences are great and they really appreciate the shows. The shows are extremely professional and very well produced. Willy Bietak Productions out of Los Angeles puts the shows together and hires all the skaters. Centering a spin is an interesting concept! The ship is always moving so the skaters have to be constantly adjusting. When the ship rocks, the skaters rock. Its funny to see a whole cast (around 12 skaters) go into a spin and all travel in the same direction due to the ship tilting.


Q: Who are the most interesting and compelling skaters of our time? Who's one very talented skater we should all know but may not?

A: Christopher Bowman, Brian Boitano, Ryan Bradley. Michelle Kwan. We should all know Nathan Chen. I work with him on spins and tricks. He's amazing!

Q: What would you do to change the way figure skating is judged?

A: Put back the 6.0 system ASAP!


Q: If you could give all competitive skaters one piece of advice what would it be?

A: Enjoy yourself and the process. Work hard. Be self motivated. Take acting, stretching and dance classes. Perform your programs like you are doing a show. Take responsibility for your future and your career. Don't wait for someone else to do it for you.

Visit Craig's website at http://www.craigheath.com

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

What Really Grinds My Gears? Ottavio Cinquanta, The ISU And The CoP/IJS Scoring System



What really grinds my gears? Ottavio Cinquanta, the ISU and the IJS/CoP scoring system, that's what.

In the United States Of America, presidents are allowed to serve 2 consecutive 4 year terms if fortunate enough to be democratically elected by the people of their country in succession. It's crazy to think that in comparison, ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta has comparatively been in power for 19 years, just shy of the equivalent of 5  consecutive 4 year terms in the Oval Office. Imagine George W. in there that long. I don't think the liquor store sells enough rum for that. JUST SAYIN.

A lot can change in 20 years, and a lot has. In the early years of his ISU presidency, Cinquanta was praised widely for his introduction of prize money at ISU eligible competitions and creation of the Champions Series (now called the ISU Grand Prix Of Figure Skating), which organized the many prestigious, pre-existing fall invitational competitions into a series of events that earned competitive skaters money to help offset their training expenses. In turn, the prize money at ISU eligible or "amateur" competitions helped destroy competitive professional skating "as we know it", as there was the same or a greater incentive to stay active in eligible competition for years longer than previously done. Fewer professional opportunities meant fewer creative opportunities for skaters. The importance of keeping those triples instead of progressing as an artist and performer certainly made a difference in the climate of the skating world - and the quality of the entertainment skating fans got to see in televised events. But I digress...

Things changed in 2002, when everything came crashing out into the open at the Salt Lake City Olympics when the judging scandals of the sport that had been going on for years finally got to the point they couldn't be ignored anymore by skating insiders or the media. Jamie Sale and David Pelletier and Jelena Bereznaya and Anton Sikharulidze's "shared gold" quickly made way for a new judging system that is not without great merits or blatant flaws. The one that has been consistent through the good, bad and the ugly figure skating over the last 19 years has been Cinquanta's iron fist rule.

Cinquanta, who has a background in speed skating, has shown little affection for the artistry of figure skating. What was once a thriving sport full of controversy, charisma and creativity has, with the new IJS/CoP system that Cinquanta fiercely defends, dropped in popularity drastically. We're talking about a man who rules with an iron fist and illegally requested that the skating union extend his term until 2014, even though he was age ineligible to run for re-election in 2014. In a sport that's full of age regulations and books of rules, he certainly didn't mind breaking them himself. Where was Cinquanta during the judging scandal of 2002, you ask? Oh, I don't know.. "still reigning", while Marie-Reine Le Gougne and Didier Gailhaguet faced 3 year suspensions. However, Le Gougne was allowed to continue her involvement in the sport in no time, running for presidency of the FFSG (French federation) in both 2006 and 2010. And where's her buddy, Didier Gailhaguet? He's president of the FFSG right now!

Where are we at now under Cinquanta's leadership in 2013? We've got angry skaters, angry coaches, angry federations and confused fans. I don't know about you, but you shouldn't have to have a freaking math degree to choreograph ANYTHING, or understand it on television. We are now looking at a petition circulating social media trying to get the ISU to redeem itself after Patrick Chan's win at the 2013 World Championships, by giving Denis Ten a gold medal for his superb performances. This petition, which you can read or sign at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/760/247/723/award-a-gold-medal-to-denis-ten-for-his-performance-at-the-2013-world-figure-skating-championships/, is signed by people from Brazil, Russia, Ireland, Jordan, Korea, the United States and Israel. All that's missing is a penguin. And I'm sure if there was a skating loving penguin out there with some WiFi, they'd be right on that. I can't see "Speedy" Cinquanta rushing to make it right though.

I'm sorry, but it's pretty hard to explain to the casual fan why a skater who fell twice and made other mistakes won by a landslide. It's those casual fans without math degrees that fill the seats and stay on that channel and watch an entertaining sport instead of move on to the next one. Casual fans are what made the sport. Growing up skating myself and being passionately in love with the sport as a fan, I can't tell you how many times I'd sit down with family and friends who casually enjoyed being entertained by the drama of "6.0 competition" and the entertainment of professional competition. These days even my dearest friends have a hard time feigning interest in a sport they just don't know anymore. And it's not that there aren't positives. It's great to see the "in between" things like footwork and spins getting attention, but if everyone has to do the same ones to have a small piece of the mathematical "Pi", we've lost the essence of what drove people to the sport in the first place. The stories, the individuality, the choreography and the excitement of high level competition are lost WHEN EVERYBODY IS DOING THE SAME DAMN THING. It's like the movie on "Groundhog Day" on ice, only instead of Bill Murray waking up in bed every morning to the alarm clock every day playing the same song, we as fans of the sport are treated to the same "choreography", music, awkward footwork sequences and systematic spins at every turn. That's why when you see someone make it work the odd time - like for instance the German team of Zhiganshina and Gazsi, who came up with one of the more original free dances we've SEEN in this system at Worlds - it gives you a flicker of hope that this system CAN work if people take risks. But 10th place doesn't mean it's working. Chan winning doesn't mean it's working. Sorry kids, you can keep your math. I'm not in the mood to count.

The reality of the situation is that things are not working the way they are, and if the person in charge of it all is not willing to cooperate and make positive change within the sport, we are not going to see any until the next person steps up. Let's just hope Cinquanta doesn't ask for another extension.

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Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Interview With Tai Babilonia


Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner are undoubtedly one of the first teams that come to most people's minds when thinking of legendary figure skating pairs teams. With a fabulous and complex mixture of art, athleticism and entertainment, they comprised a team of complex chemistry and just had that "it" factor on the ice. Fresh off the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships and my first interview with a World Champion - Randy Gardner - it is my utmost pleasure to present to the interview with my second, who just happens to be Tai Babilonia! A World Champion, U.S. Champion, Olympian, World Professional Champion and really sweet person - I sincerely hope you'll enjoy this interview! I most certainly did:

Q: You won five consecutive U.S. national titles and after 2 bronze medals, won the World Championships in 1979. What is your favourite memory from your competition days? The toughest challenge? 

A: Well, I have a few. I would say of course winning the World Championships in '79. We had one of those out of body experiences and after that performance the hug from Randy and my coach are something i will cherish forever. Being a two time Olympian (1976 and 1980) is also a very cool accomplishment. The toughest challenge was the training on and off the ice, especially before the Olympics in Lake Placid in 1980. There were quite a few distractions and I must thank and compliment our coach Mr. Nicks for protecting us from a lot of the Hollywood vultures who were at that time knocking on "the Tai and Randy door". He was brilliant and knew how to pick and choose the publicity that what was best for us at the time.

Q: You and Randy competed in many professional competitions throughout your career, winning important competitions like the World Professional Championships. What are your thoughts on professional and pro-am competitions? 

A: We both loved those pro competitions. So much fun and financially rewarding! Thank you to Dick Button for those awesome opportunities. Selling out the Capitol Center in Landover, Maryland every year... there is no way that would happen these days.

Q: What were your favourite programs you ever skated? 

A: Sarah Kawahara choreographed "On Golden Pond" for us and it was absolutely beautiful. Randy choreographed "Love" sung by Kenny Loggins. I really loved that program. I think what made it special was that it was Randy's vision and creation. He kept it simple, clean and elegant. With us, less is more. We performed it at a very emotional time in my life in 1996. My father had passed away and I was going through a divorce and was a single parent providing for Scout. My performing that year got me through a very intense period - probably some of my best performances were during that time. Applause is very healing.


Q: What was working with John Nicks like? 

A: Mr. Nicks was the boss and it was and still is about RESPECT, that's all.

Q: You battled addiction and won. What kind of advice would give someone fighting addiction? 

A: Well, I haven't won my battle. For me it's not a day at a time, it's one second at a time. I choose to share my recovery with everyone - this works best for me. I have no secrets and I like it that way. It's been well documented from the cover story for People magazine to a made for television movie for NBC back in '90. It comes up in every interview i do and it's a huge part of my story. I have learned to embrace it. I recently worked with a very well known musician and he knew about my recovery. His advice to me is now a permanent chip in my brain. He told me to "take care of my sobriety because it is very fragile". Oh, how I love that! And yes, I have incorporated this in a poem. My advice to anyone dealing with addiction is really not advice but just know you are not alone and there is so much help out there if you want it. It's about the honesty!


Q: What are your thoughts on U.S. skating today? How have things changed since you competed? 

A: By now, most of my friends know my thoughts about where our sport is. It's not positive and believe me, I have tried to find the positive. I can't find it. My fear right this second is for the little skater kids coming up. I honestly see no future for them and that makes me so sad - really sad and mad. Don't get me started because this interview will probably end up being ten pages long! I see a corruptness in skating and no one is saying or doing anything about it. i don't have the power to fix it but as you know, I use my voice as much as I can. I am just trying to help but the egos of some people in U.S. Figure Skating I think take it as a threat. To 'them', I am the past and my opinion does not matter or count anymore. I so appreciate that Randy and I were part of figure skating when it was cool. It seems very uncool now.

Q: What kinds of projects are you involved in these days? Do you and Randy still skate together? 

A: My biggest project right now is my book. I just finished working with my ghost writer and now the proposal is being written. It's pretty powerful and I went deep with this one. Once again it's about the honesty. My son Scout has said he would love to write the forward and I can't think of a better person to write it. I hid nothing from him and he is my biggest supporter and cheerleader. I think if there is a project that is really creative and not very time consuming, Randy and I would absolutely do something together, never say never. We will be hosting a fundraiser here at home in Los Angeles called "An Evening On Ice" in July for Tricia and Nick LaRoche. We are really looking forward to this one. For more information on "An Evening On Ice" visit http://www.usathleticfoundation.org/.

Q: Having a connection on the ice and skating TO the music are undoubtedly two of the key elements to good pairs skating. Which pairs teams inspire you? 

A: The pair teams that have inspired me are Richard Ewell and Shelly McCladdie and Jojo Starbuck and Ken Shelley. As a young skater, I watched and I learned. They were also coached by Mr. Nicks in the seventies. I'm old school!



Q: What's your favourite song? 

A: That's a tough one. I have so many! Anything by the Beatles and any song from the Motown Sound. "Little Wing" by Jimi Hendrix is number one for sure. I love a lot of Broadway music - the songs "Somewhere" and "One Hand, One Heart" from West Side Story... I also love "Something Wonderful" from The King And I, "Colour My World" from Chicago... too many to name!

Q: The way figure skating is presented to the public has certainly changed, with less television coverage and things like Ice Network, Internet broadcast feeds and YouTube bringing skating to a wider audience over the Internet. Do you think we'll see figure skating return to its "glory days" of media coverage (as in the nineties)? 

A: No! But I hope and believe that if the right and honest people are in charge it has a small chance. Here's hoping!

Q: In addition to being a figure skating legend yourself, you have skated with and worked with legend upon legend of the sport. Who is the most interesting person you've worked with? 

A: I can't choose one. All of the above and the top of that list legend/icon/friend Mr. Dick Button and Richard Dwyer.



Q:  What motivates you every day and what is the most important thing you've learned in life? 

A: (laughing) My son Scout absolutely motivates me and at the same time drives me crazy, I'm motivated by how incredibly lucky I am to have what I had and have now. I am my own motivation. I have learned to never ever take anything for granted. I'm such a lucky girl and I'm so grateful for so many things. My journey continues!

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"Teamwork": A Good Idea Or An Awful One?



With a new team format style competition making it's flashy Melissa and Joan red carpet entrance at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia and the final big event of the 2012/2013 figure skating season - The World Team Trophy - just around the corner, the concept of team competition is a hot topic in the figure skating world. Although fans will get to see more of their favourite skaters in Sochi, it will certainly be at somewhat of a cost, as many of the solo skaters and pairs and ice dance teams will no doubt have to play "double duty" and compete in solo and team competitions, which raises the question about whether or not a team format style competition to replace major solo competitions might be the ticket to get people in those seats. Although it's relatively new to the ISU eligible skating world, it's certainly not a new idea. Professional figure skaters have been doing it for decades.

The concept of a "team style" competition was first popularized in the early 1980's, when Dick Button's Candid Productions introduced a team format at the World Professional Figure Skating Championships. From 1980-1985, a team format was maintained and stars like John Curry, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner, Janet Lynn and Scott Hamilton participated in a team format professional competition, with technical and artistic programs. At the same time, a series of professional competitions was being held internationally in such countries as Japan and Canada, featuring stars like Cousins, Babilonia and Gardner, Denise Biellmann and Toller Cranston. This competition, too, utilized a team format.

Placing less individual pressure on skaters, different team formats were popularized in the 1990's, when professional figure skating competitions were at the ultimate height of their popularity. Huge household names like Kurt Browning, Brian Boitano, Katarina Witt, Kristi Yamaguchi, Oksana Baiul and Nancy Kerrigan participated in events like Ice Wars (which pitted the U.S. against "The World"), the World Team Skating Championships (which featured teams from Europe, Russia, Canada and the U.S.), various USFSA sponsored pro-am competitions and even "The Battle Of The Sexes", where mens and ladies skaters competed head to head. After the men won in 1996, the ladies took the title the next 2 years. The events were highly popular with the skaters competing and audiences alike.

Although the oversaturation of professional, "made for TV" competitions in the 90's ultimately resulted in the implosion of professional competitions, times are changing and people are growing weary of cookie cutter programs and yearning to be entertained by the skating they are seeing again. Would a team format across the board at eligible competitions be a more inclusive idea or a faulty one?

Let's say, for instance, you had one entry per country and any country with skaters in all four disciplines could participate and have their entrants skate a technical program - yes, a technical program. I didn't say short program. Although you'd only have one entry per discipline per country, it would force federations to develop skaters in all four disciplines, and would also put less pressure on the individual skaters and make the format more marketable to TV and other media. You could start out with as many teams as you wanted, and have the top 10 teams all participate in an artistic or free skate. It might not be the best idea, it might have kinks, but I'm sorry - look at what we have going on now. At least the skaters would be having fun, right? I don't see what's so fun about some of the foolishness that's going on now.

Then again, you have to look at how tired these skaters are going to get playing double duty in solo AND team competitions. Imagine if you were Suzy Salchow who had a great skate in the team short program and free skate, helping her not so competitive team finish say, 4th instead of 10th, then went out and dashed your medal hopes in the solo competition because you have bigger bags under your eyes than Lindsay Lohan after an all you can drink for $4.99 mimosa buffet in Cancun. Who needs that?

At any rate, we need more "fun" competitions and less fledgling international ones. Some of these skaters are competing in more Senior B internationals in the fall than you can shake a stick at, and then everyone acts all surprised when it's Nationals and Europeans/Four Continents time and half of them have already peaked. I say they have a couple senior B internationals, a Grand Prix, a Junior Grand Prix and a handful of fun, team or pro style competitions and then the biggies.

It's time for the ISU and federations like Skate Canada and U.S. Figure Skating to take owness of the fact that changes need to be made to make skating fun again. They need to listen to the skaters and the audiences and really  do what's best for the sport. Ironically, that's also called teamwork. Just putting that out there.

After that episode of "What Really Grinds My Toe Picks", I feel like I'm going off more than Eddy from AbFab in her courtroom rant, which much be watched repeatedly. It would be rude not to, I say.


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Monday, 18 March 2013

Interview With Randy Gardner


Fresh off the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships, it is my absolute honor to present my first interview with a World Figure Skating Champion, the brilliant Randy Gardner. With partner Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner is a five time U.S. pairs champion, the 1979 World Figure Skating Champion, a 3 time World Professional Champion, an Olympian and sought after choreographer. Tai and Randy are skating legends and two of my personal favourites and I am absolutely sure you will enjoy my interview with him as much as I did:

Q: You won five consecutive U.S. national titles and after two bronze medals, won the World Championships in 1979. What is your favourite memory from your competition days? The toughest challenge?

A: One of the most memorable events was our first Olympic Games in Innsbruck.  We were young, the newly crowned U.S. Champions, and on our way to the Olympics Games. Almost too much to handle.  But we got swept up in all the excitement of being there.  We finished fifth, but that whole experience set us up for the remainder of our competitive career.


Q: You and Tai competed in many professional competitions throughout your career, winning important competitions like the World Professional Championships. What are your thoughts on professional and pro-am competitions? 

A: The pro Competitions are a great avenue for professional skaters to expose new and different things for skating.  With more open rules, you will see more unusual things and more creative approaches to skating - a very necessary thing these days.  There really aren't many available right now, but I'm working on a new concept for professional skating now which will hopefully create a new and exciting vehicle for professional skaters to work and for the skating audience to see something new and different.

Q: What were your favourite programs you ever skated?

A: "On Golden Pond" and "Love".



Q: I adored your program to "Love" by Kenny Loggins when you and Tai made a comeback in 1996. What made this program so special?

A: I think it was an interesting time in our career and our lives where we were mature enough to handle the number, yet, make it work for both pro competitions and shows.  We used that number a lot that season. I still remember the choreography in it. I set it!

Q: What was working with John Nicks like?

A: Oh, he was an amazing coach. Still is. It was a very close, intense relationship.  He was strict, no-nonsense and a very talented man that turned his expertise into great coaching and mentorship skills.  I'm so glad for his success right now with Ashley Wagner.  She's lucky to have him.


Q: What are your thoughts on U.S. skating today? How have things changed since you competed?

A:  Well, IJS has changed the sport, not only in the US, but worldwide.  You can see the system going through growing pains right now and trying to settle in to what it's suppose to be - a fair and transparent system.  However, the public doesn't understand it, let alone some coaches and skaters, so you are losing an audience, which makes it frustrating for all involved to see.  If the powers that be remain open-minded and shape the system to conform to the needs of the sport and the athletes, we should be OK.  Hopefully this is a work in progress.

Q: What kinds of projects are you involved in these days? 

A: My latest project was Liz Manley and Friends in Ottawa.  Great cast and a very successful fundraiser that I choreographed for Liz and company.  And another new endeavour is a brand that's been created for me (with my help) called Randy Gardner's The Rink.  It's an informational, educational and entertaining place for the skating world and it's followers to take part in through digital media interaction, as well as, being entertained by some of my dearest and most talented friends in the business. And then, this summer I'll do my clinic, Performance Plus, in Nantucket and other locations across the country.

Q: What is working with Liz like?

A: I just love Liz Manley! She's the real deal. She had such a passion for the show we did it helped me to be inspired in making it. She pulled together an amazing cast; Elvis, Nancy Kerrigan, Duhamel and Radford, Shawn Sawyer and the talent went on and on.  And we did all for Liz. We all would do anything for her.


Q: Having a connection on the ice and skating TO the music are undoubtedly two of the key elements to good pairs skating. Which pairs teams inspire you?

A: Right now, I'm a big Meagan and Eric (Duhamel and Radford) fan. They have a great chemistry, great look, maturity and offer a lot of originality through their talent. He's a pianist, as well, which I think helps in their musicality. I'm looking forward to seeing the U.S. pair teams as they develop this year and once they settle in with their new partners.

Q: What's your favourite song?

A: I'm on an Adele kick right now, "Rollin' In The Deep". Looking forward to her new album, whenever that will be.  Also, Moody Blues "Wild".

Q: The way figure skating is presented to the public has certainly changed, with less television coverage and things like Ice Network, Internet broadcast feeds and YouTube bringing skating to a wider audience over the Internet. Do you think we'll see figure skating return to its "glory days" of media coverage (as in the nineties)?

A : For skating to return to what it was it needs a 'shining star,' one (or team) that the public gets to know, watch grow and change (like we did with Michelle Kwan), and one that changes the sport in some way while they are in it as well as after they have left it.  It's a tough responsibility, but one that can be done. It has been before.


Q: In addition to being a figure skating legend yourself, you have skated with and worked with legend upon legend of the sport - Dick Button, John Curry, Robin Cousins, Janet Lynn, Toller Cranston, Dorothy Hamill, Ludmilla and Oleg Protopopov... Who is the most interesting person you've worked with?

A: Wow! Those names!  Almost impossible to answer.  I must say that Dick is someone who is the go-to guy for me.  He has such love and longevity in skating, it's hard to imagine the skating world without him, which I hope will never happen. He and I have had some great discussions on skating, it's history, it's future, it's present.  I've learned to listen to him, voice my opinion carefully if it's different than his, take in all that he has to say which never ceases to amaze me.  Then next time we're together he'll remember our conversation and exactly what I had said, then we'll build on that for our next chat.  Very fun guy and so, so interesting.  I want to be him when I grow up.  Him or Richard Dwyer!

Q: What motivates you every day and what is the most important thing you've learned in life? 

A: My motivation comes from the people around me, both the professional and personal relationships.  There is always something to share and always something to learn everyday from everyone. I also like to look forward to doing new things each year whether it be something in a different location, a different type of venue or with a different type of clientele.  All those things keep you on your toes and motivated. I've also learned that there is a solution to every problem.  Don't sweat it,  the answer will come.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Interview With Jackie Wong



Incredibly analytical and knowledgeable about the entire sport of figure skating (and particularly the new IJS/CoP system and current ISU regulations and ISU eligible skating), Jackie Wong's "Figure Skating Examiner" is one of the most comprehensive resources available online today when it comes to figure skating event coverage. I had the chance to ask some questions of the man behind the coverage and weigh in on his opinions about the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ontario, some of the competition's stars and the current judging system:

Q: You're immensely thorough in your coverage and knowledgeable about the sport! What is your background in the sport and what drew you to the skating world in the first place?

A: What drew me to the sport?  Obsessively watching the 1992 World Championships - the ladies event, in particular. I've been skating for almost two decades now - though I don't know if you can call my past few years of ice time "skating."  During my first few years as a skater, I really just wanted to jump, and that's what I did - no tests, very elementary with the basics, but I was doing doubles and learning triples.  As I got older, I wanted to become a better skater.  So actually, when I went to college, I started from the basics - relearned all of my singles and doubles, and tested up the USFS levels.  I really got an appreciation for the technical intricacies of skating.  It was starting in college that I competed in intercollegiate events - co-founded Stanford Figure Skating in college and then co-founded Penn Figure Skating when I was in grad school. During that time, I also became a USFS judge and did a bit of coaching and choreographing for my teammates - and in college, these teammates were everything from preliminary to senior levels.  I started writing in 2009 because I really wanted to contribute a different voice to the conversation.  I'm a very analytical person, and the more level-headed and technically-oriented presence in figure skating media seemed to be missing.  I wanted to fill that role.

Q: What were your favorite and least favorite performances at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships?

A: I'll be doing my usual Top 30 Worlds countdown, so consider this a preview.  My personal favourite performances, which may or may not be at the top of my countdown, would be Li's free, Duhamel/Radford's short, and Weaver/Poje's free.  Least favourite?  I'd go with both of Peng/Zhang's programs - the partnership as it stands just feels forced.

Q: Patrick Chan won a third consecutive world title despite a free skate marred by falls and errors. Do you agree with this win?

A: Funny you should ask, because I got a whole post about it: http://www.examiner.com/article/opining-on-worlds-the-plight-and-misuse-of-program-components.

Q: Yu Na Kim earned her world title with an almost 20 point lead on her closest competitors and plans to try to defend her title in Sochi next year. Is she even beatable?

A: It was breathtaking - she's got such a subdued killer instinct about her, it's really something to watch.  Is she beatable?  Yes.  But what her rivals did this week certainly didn't help their own causes.  When Kim got 8s in PCS even with a clean short program, you could see someone like Asada or Kostner overtaking her.  But neither of them was clean, and that opened the door.  And when both of them made mistakes in the free skate, Kim kicked the door wide open and sprinted through it.  If there was ever a time for Kim's rivals to pull her back even with them, it was at these World Championships.  Instead, the inconsistencies opened the gap back up.  I'll be surprised if Kim's PCS come down next season. The way that someone can beat Kim is through the technical side.  Unlike in Vancouver, Kim is no longer putting out the hardest programs, base value-wise.  My analysis before Worlds (http://www.examiner.com/article/2013-world-championships-preview-ladies-base-value-comparison) showed as much.  I suspect that she will play around in the off-season with bringing back the triple loop, but that was never a hot jump for her.  But, for the time being, if Kim is clean in Sochi, the only one who can beat her is a clean Asada w/an eight-triple free skate.

Q: Who do you think the most special stories at these Championships came from?

A: Denis Ten, the journeyman.  That was the best story for me.  He struggled for so many years with inconsistency.  And while he's always been a fine skater, everything was very insular.  There was certainly a change last year as he was starting to open up, and then he became a lot more consistent with his jumps.  But it fell apart again the entire season until the short program.  It was like we were seeing a different skater - confident, outwardly projecting, you wanted to live vicariously through him in both programs.

Q: What are three main things the ISU needs to change? Do you think members of the skating community need to take a more active approach in petitioning for changes and improvements to the judging aspect of the sport? ie. petitioning for changes etc.

A: Two things that are in their control and one thing that isn't.  First controllable thing is the system of incentives/disincentives (http://www.examiner.com/article/opining-on-the-isu-judging-system-balancing-risk-and-reward).  As I tweeted during Worlds, skating errors are logarithmic, not linear.  A slight hand down is much, much less egregious than a fall, yet the fall only costs a couple more points than the hand down when program points go into the hundreds? The second thing is anonymous judging.  What is nice about the IJS over 6.0 is that the judging, even if it's incorrect, is clearly laid out.  You know, in a sense, what the judges are thinking by element.  In 6.0, what do you say to a judge who gave a 5.4 when you thought it should be a 5.5?  But anonymous judging, as much as it was conceived to protect the judges, isn't providing the type of transparency that we need as a sport.  If there's corruption, deal with the corruption, don't put duct tape on it with anonymity. The third thing is actually the way that judges judge, which is a whole lot less controllable.  Even though it's now been a decade since the introduction of IJS, there are still a lot of judges from the 6.0 era who are still judging.  Old habits are tough to break - the fact that there is still an advantage to skating later in a competition because of progressive inflation of marks or that the five component marks are often given out with little range can partly be traced back to 6.0 habits.  Judges have to start judging based on the criteria that's in front of them and based on the actual performance that they are watching. There's a lot of behind-the-scenes work in skating federations and the ISU.  As with any other bureaucratic entity, it takes a village to get things done and changed - and even when that happens, it takes a long time.  The best thing that the ISU, USFS, Skate Canada, etc., can do for skating fans is to be open about what is going on.  It can often feel very Wizard of Oz.

Q: What advice would you give certain skaters for next season?

A: The last thing skaters want to hear is unsolicited advice, so I won't do the I-hope-he/she-skates-to-this-music or this-skater-should-work-on-extension/expression.  What I will say is that skaters and their coaching teams should get their numbers in line - it's the only thing they can control, everything else goes to the judges.  Why start with a quad-triple in the short when doing a quad as a solo jump and a triple-triple in the bonus part of the program will earn more points?  Why not maximize your jumping passes when doing a three-jump combination in the free skate instead of a third two-jump combination could mean the difference between placements?  It's all math, and it's not even algebra.

Q: What three skaters - living or dead - would you most like to meet?

A: Ulrich Salchow - to thank him for inventing my favourite jump.  Alois Lutz - to tell him that there are some bodies that just don't do well with that outside edge.  Axel Paulsen - to get him to buy me a cup of coffee for all the times I waxeled.

Q: Who do you think we need to watch out for next season and in Sochi?

A: The young Chinese singles skaters - Han Yan and Zijun Li.  Particularly in Li's case, if she can build on the momentum and rep-building exercise that was Worlds, she's a dark horse in the making.  James/Cipres - they will still be a bit on the periphery, but the improvements they made from last season to this season were stunning, and they are only going to get better.  And then you've got Scimeca/Knierim, who were so very impressive last week.  They got the jumps, they got the tricks, and they got a great look.  Again, maybe not podium material yet, but I'm excited to see their growth.

Follow Jackie Wong's Figure Skating Examiner at Examiner.com at www.examiner.com/figure-skating-in-national/jackie-wong. You can also follow him on Twitter at @examinerskating.

Follow me on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

The 2013 World Figure Skating Championships


The competition at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ontario has drawn to a close and I've got lots to "blog about". The good, the bad, the ugly and the "oh HELL no!".

Let's start by talking about ice dance. Now, we saw some terrific performances in both the short and free dances and certainly some judging calls I wouldn't necessarily agree with as well. The good: both Meryl Davis and Charlie White and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir brought their "A Game" to the table and battled it out in style. I got some shade on the Twitter from 2 anonymous people who didn't appreciate my tweet anticipating another Scott Moir temper tantrum and saying that I hoped he didn't rip off his medal like Surya Bonaly at the 1994 World Figure Skating Championships. In the end, both teams showed great sportsmanship and delivered fabulous free dances. Although I am not a massive fan of Virtue and Moir's "Carmen", it is certainly a difficult program with good speed and lifts. Davis and White's "Notre Dame De Paris" free skate, though, in my opinion was the skate of the night. Packed with difficulty, two back to back very strong lifts, flawless twizzles and great musical interpretation, it really was the skate with the "wow" factor. It's like comparing 2 apples though. I felt Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje's free dance was definitely superior to the effort put out by the Russians and Italians - it was a beautifully crafted program that spoke to me as being more of an art than a cookie cutter performance. Anyone that can craft something magical within this new system DESERVES a medal. Their short dance score arguably did hurt them, but their free dance was outstanding as well. The French team Natalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, favourites for the bronze, were seriously robbed, dropping to 6th place from 4th after skating 2 programs that were really quite outstanding technically and full of fun. I was thrilled to see the German team of Nelli Zhiganshina and Alexander Gazsi finish in the top ten, with a FABULOUS zombie themed free dance full of character, speed, great lifts and originality. One of the most entertaining skates of the whole dance competition!

The pairs competition was not without excitement either. Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov continued a strong season and claimed the title with an outstanding score of 225.71 ahead of favourites Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany, Canadian teams Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford and Kristen Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch and former World Champions Qing Pang and Jian Tong. Canada's extremely strong showing earned Skate Canada 3 pairs berths for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, which is fabulous! Now - don't get me wrong - I just LOVE Aliona and Robin, but their 1 point victory over Duhamel and Radford certainly indicates that change is in the air. That said, although Robin doubled two side by side jumps in the free skate, Savchenko and Szolkowy's skate was gutsy, featuring a 2 footed (and huge) throw triple axel. I wouldn't count them out just yet. But Duhamel and Radford's skate was out of this world - featuring a throw triple lutz and side by side triple lutzes, along with a throw triple loop and difficult lifts. This team is doing things that weren't even thought POSSIBLE in pairs skating. Ten years ago, who even attempted a side by side triple lutz or a throw triple lutz. The game is afoot, and it was great to see them (and Moore-Towers and Moscovitch, who also had the skate of their lives at home) finally really rewarded for their crazy talent. Next season just got very interesting and it hasn't even started yet.

The men's competition was full of great skating and judging that made me roll my eyes. The most positive thing about the competition, in my opinion, was the history that was made. Kazakhstan and Spain both won their countries first World Championship medals, with Denis Ten and Javier Fernandez winning the silver and bronze. Patrick Chan was crowned the winner for the 3rd year straight, delivering a flawless short program and a less than stellar free skate, featuring 2 beautiful quads but 3 failed triple jumps, two of them resulting in falls. Now, juxtaposed with 2 clean (and difficult) performances from Ten and very strong efforts from Javier Fernandez, Brian Joubert, Max Aaron, etc. it's hard to justify to audiences how the skater who doesn't have the best free skate wins the competition. I just cringed watching skaters that I really enjoy like Ross Miner, Tomas Verner and Michal Brezina have a rough time of it out there. The thing about skating we all have to remember though is that it is all about (or SHOULD be about) what you go out there and do. If you fumble in a few competitions, it doesn't mean you can't rebound. Another 2 things about the men I would like to comment on are how fabulous Kevin Reynolds' SP was (I'm now HOOKED on his music "Chambermaid Swing") and how I really must say that Brian Joubert is still owning it. He's a skater who takes a lot of crap from skating fans and judges alike, criticizing his weakness in spinning and "the in between stuff". That said, he laid down 2 solid skates here. He skated very well last year as well. He keeps coming back, which tells me he obviously loves to skate, and in my opinion his short program especially was one of the more entertaining programs in the whole men's competition. And the jumps weren't bad either!

As always, the ladies competition was wrought with controversy. Many felt that reigning World Champion Carolina Kostner's short program was generously rewarded with high PCS. Despite a fall, she still remained in the top 3. I joked that with a triple toe, triple loop and double axel, with some training Katarina Witt could certainly make a comeback and finish in the top 3 at Worlds. While I appreciate the steps Carolina has made to heighten the difficulty of her jumping passes, the fact her already easier short program WITH a mistake was scored so generously really makes me again question the inflation of PCS scores to skaters with a track record. LOVED seeing Alena Leonova out there. She stumbled a bit in the short program but came back guns blazing in the free skate, landing a triple lutz, 2 triple flips (one 2 footed) and a triple toe/triple toe combination. She showed passion and energy through to the end of her program, dispelling naysayers who didn't think she was still capable of competing at that level. The competition was certainly full of surprises. Gracie Gold stumbled out of a double axel and almost hit the boards, however despite a few mistakes, her world debut was quite strong! She finished 6th. Canada's Kaetlyn Osmond started off strongly with a 4th place finish and flawless short program, but unravelled a bit in the free skate, finishing 8th overall after 2 falls dropped her in the standings. She did - however - qualify 2 ladies spots at the 2012 Olympics in Sochi, meaning that all four fields will have multiple Canadian entries. Carolina Kostner's free skate was nerve wracking. Before her program started, she was overcoming a nosebleed, and twice during her program, she appeared to be distracted or concerned about her nose. The bleeding subsided! She started off strongly with a triple lutz and triple flip/triple toe and her only error was a popped triple loop until the very end of her exquisite "Bolero" free skate, when she took a nasty spill on a triple salchow. Carolina won the silver medal, and a confident and technically difficult but error marred free skate from Mao Asada took the bronze, ahead again of a flawless Kanako Murakami, who skated a brilliant short program. Ashley Wagner skated two strong programs, her only real error being a random fall on her footwork sequence in her free skate. She finished 5th. Gracie and Ashley's combined placements will ensure the U.S. has three ladies in Sochi. The winner of both the short program and free skate by an almost 20 point margin was 2010 Olympic Gold Medallist Yu Na Kim of Korea. Skating a perfect short program and her free skate to "Les Miserables", a tour de force choreographed by David Wilson, "Queen Yu Na" couldn't seem to put a foot wrong, railing off triple jumps like there was no tomorrow. She earned her title without a doubt.

All in all, this competition was certainly most exciting and I can't wait to see what next season has in store. The World Championships in the seasons before the Olympics usually give a hint of things to come, and if this competition was any indication, there's a lot of excitement in store for us!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Interview With Ashley Cain


With the 2011 U.S. Junior pairs title and 2012 U.S. Junior ladies silver to her credit, Ashley Cain has amassed three top 6 finishes in Junior Grand Prix events as a singles skater and competed for the first time as a senior skater at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, laying down strong programs and finishing a very respectable 12th in her senior debut (in a deep field). With enormous potential and strong skating skills and jumps, Ashley is certainly an up and coming young star. I had the chance to talk to her about her experience at U.S. Nationals, her goals for next season and her experiences in the skating world:

Q: To say you're a very strong jumper goes without saying, but what caught my eye about you at this year's U.S. Nationals was the artistic side of your skating - your free skate was beautiful! Who picked the "Ave Maria" music and who choreographed this program?

A: My choreographer, Scott Brown, sent me a few music choices for my long program last season. This version of "Ave Maria" was on the CD and I absolutely fell in love with it. I remember I was just skating around and when it came on, I just started making up steps to the music. This piece of music made me feel really happy and relaxed. Every time I skate the program I feel very peaceful.

Q: What were your thoughts about U.S. Nationals this year?

A: This nationals was my first year as a senior lady and the whole atmosphere was completely different to anything I have ever experienced. It was such a great experience and I had so much fun. When I walked out of the tunnel to get onto the ice for my event, and almost every seat in the arena was full, I thought to myself," Wow I am finally here! I have watched this moment happen to so many other skaters and now it is finally my turn." That was a moment I will remember for the rest of my life.

Q: I know a lot of skating fans were upset by some of the judging. What was the mood like backstage?

A: The mood backstage was very chaotic but laid back if that makes sense! What I mean by that was that I was able to just sit down and enjoy watching the group but around me the media was going crazy. After the long I was sitting with Gracie, and she had such an amazing performance. Sitting with her when she found out she won the silver, was very cool. It made me realize how much I want a moment like that one day. There is always so much media backstage, for the Senior events, I had to make sure to stay focused on myself prior to the event.

Q: What kinds of goals have you set for yourself for next season and beyond?

A: This upcoming season I have set many goals for myself. I want to make my programs more difficult and really challenge myself with my elements and artistry. I am working on triple flip/triple toe right now, and I want to be able to compete all season with this combination. This season I want to be more confident with my skating and not be so hard on myself. I know this season will be very challenging but I am willing to push through it!



Q: Will you be keeping either of your programs or going in a different direction?

A: I will be keeping "Ave Maria" for my long program this season. I really love this piece of music and me, Scott, and my coaches decided that it would be nice to keep this program and really grow with it. I have picked a flamenco piece for my short, and I am so excited to start on the choreography. It is a really fun and upbeat piece of music. I always like having a contrast between the two programs, each program tells a different story.

Q: What's your favourite jump and spin? Least favourite?

A: My favorite jump would definitely be triple loop! I am starting to love lutz and flip more now because we have changed the entrances, so it has made my technique better. I also really like trying triple/triples. My favorite spin is flying sit spin, which is funny because I used to be terrified of it. It was required for junior two seasons ago so I had to learn it. It was always a spin I pushed aside and never worked on but now I love it and it will be in both my programs this year. My least favorite jump is probably axel because you can Waxel big time! I have done so many waxels(when you go off the heel). My least favorite spin would be layback. I don't know why but I always feel so uncomfortable when I am doing it. I have spent a lot of time on it lately.


Q: What skaters did you grow up admiring?

A: The one skater I have always looked up to is Michelle Kwan. I feel she brought everything to the sport, she was athletic but also balletic. She was always so fun to watch and she always brought so much joy to each performance. Every program she skated inspired me, and before almost every competition I watch one of her performances to get me motivated.

Q: For years, you balanced singles and pairs skating, winning the U.S. Novice and Junior titles with Joshua Reagan. Do you miss pairs skating? Was it scary?

A:I actually get that question a lot and of course it is yes, I miss it a lot. I will always love pairs and I will always be a pair girl. Sometimes when I'm watching pairs, like at Nationals, I want to be out there so bad. But I am so happy with my singles skating right now and I just want to put everything I have into singles at the moment.



Q: What's your favourite food?

A: My two favorite foods are sushi and s'mores, not together of course. I can eat like ten s'mores, they are amazing! My friends and I used to have sushi Saturday every single Saturday, it was the best!

Q: What "do you want to be when you grow up"? Not that I think everyone should ever have to "grow up".. haha

A: I have always wanted to work with animals, ever since I was little. So something to do with working with animals would be my dream job. I would of course love to coach and skate in ice shows. My parents were in the ice shows for ten years and when I hear their stories it sounds like such a great experience!

Q: Who is the coolest skater you've ever had a chance to meet?

A: I think it is always cool to meet the skaters who are at the top of our sport. It's interesting to see how they get ready for competition and how they deal with all the pressure. I think meeting the German pair, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, was probably the greatest experience. I have watched them ever since they teamed up and they have been my favorite pair team because they are so innovative with their programs. When I was on the ice with them at Cup of Russia it was pretty surreal. Also Ashley Wagner is such a great role model. The way she deals with pressure is absolutely amazing. Seeing the way she keeps her head on her shoulders at competition, especially at Nationals, makes her a true champion.

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Interview With Shepherd Clark


Competing in ten U.S. Figure Skating Championships as a senior men's skater from 1989-2002, Shepherd Clark not only had a long career but certainly a very successful one as well. His long spanning skating career included wins at the Nebelhorn Trophy in 1989 and Finlandia Trophy in 1996, and a silver medal at the 1989 World Junior Figure Skating Championships. In his own words, Shepherd Clark took the time to share his story and talk about the skating world today, his personal life and projects and also brought up his intense spirituality.

Q: What are your memories of skating here in Canada?

A: I have many fond memories of Halifax. The people were exceptionally kind and are by far the best skating family in the entire world. Canadians are truly amazing people.



Q: Where are you currently living and what projects are you working on? Are you still actively involved in figure skating? When is the last time you have performed?

A: I'm in Hollywood/Los Angelesand I live in other locales. People in Hollywood universally love figure skating. I'm in a motion picture as myself this year, as well as having a TV series and appearing other TV shows and pictures. I am also starting a shopping network show, internet presence, a radio show in Hollywood, and music videos with an artist from Europe. My cat is also included in some of what I'm doing in Hollywood. I bring Mr. Puddin' to red carpets on occasion! I design jewels, jewelled oil paintings which get their designs from me skating on the ice, skating the painting's designs... I'm also designing mass market jewels for many famous stars and charitable causes, fashions made from a new high tech fabric which includes crystal technology, and designing some collector coins for various causes. It is surreal to be working with many people I have admired since I was a child, and to meet "old Hollywood" stars, as well as the occasional royal. I once taught Arnold Schwarzenegger to skate, and I like to go to parties with people who were in "Wizard of Oz" ! It is just totally surreal. Many people in Hollywood are fascinated by figure skating, and wish they could skate. Sometimes I will teach friends of mine in Hollywood to skate. I work EXTREMELY hard to use all that God has given to me to be a blessing to others. These are challenging times, and it is my belief that we need to constantly seek God for wisdom to make the best choices these days. I am finding that this is the very best way to approach anything in life. Trust God. I still skate and perform, yet in a new showbiz context. I'm being called "Shepherd, The World's Jewel Artist". One thing that you may find interesting is my work with Uschi Keszler who founded Pennies In Action to support Dr. Brian Czerniecki, who may have the cure for breast cancer and possibly many other forms as well, thus Uschi is a hero to me. What she is doing is truly historic and unprecedented. As you know, cancer has impacted our sport immensely. Dorothy, Peggy, Scott etc. I design all manner of products to solve the plague of cancer which is growing worldwide. Handbags are great fun to design as they are small works of sculpture. Using my life's work to help with many important causes is a great joy to me and a perfect investment of time.



Q: What was your greatest moment or performance as a skater that stands out in your mind?

A: Of all of my performances, it would be really hard to chose just one particular skate. I grew up with figures, so some of my best memories are when I would lay out an amazing figure. WHY? Because, when I started, my figures were terrible, so being able to overcome that weakness was nothing short of a miracle. I liked doing things that no one else would try, such as placing the triple loop on another triple or practicing the quadruple loop. Wearing costumes with real gems was also a realized dream of mine, as well as many other things. Skating has afforded me much TV experience, as well as motion pictures, and many other forms of media. Hollywood is a natural home for me. I would like to add that I am an entrepreneur in a wide variety of industries, which was developed by my family and my skating. It is funny when people find out the variety of things which my life has included, such as energy, medical. art, jewels, Hollywood, high tech, cosmetics, supplements, fashion, coins, etc. I am also a HUGE cat lover! The first charity that I was ever exposed to was my mother's work finding homes for many AND I MEAN MANY, rescue cats. Skaters are much like cats by the way in which they fight to remain upright. I am "part cat".


Q: Of today's competitors, who are your favourites? Who do you predict to see on the podium in Sochi?

A: My favourite skaters are many. Truly, I am pulling for all of them simply to do their best. When I watch, I feel what they are feeling. I am an extremely spiritually sensitive person, thus I get really emotional when I watch all skaters. My career model is an unusual one, as I competed for many years beyond most. Figure skating is the world's most glamorous sport. It is dancing upon a crystal, "The Jewelled Sport", and I know that God has blessed my life. I am an unusual jeweller who dances on a crystal. In a conversation with Dorothy Hamill, we agreed that of all skaters we both would have loved to have met Sonja Henie. I must say that there are many others whom I love sincerely for different reasons. I have dealt with things that people would never know. I am only alive today by miracles which Jesus provides to me, thus my best friend is He. I truly cannot recommend Him enough. All the great and exciting things happening to me today are a result of His love and provision in my life. He's The Author of Life. When I look at the current line up of world level skaters, I must say that it is now almost impossible to predict a championship. To me, the most important characteristic of an ice champion is to be a nice person with good character. I love a Special Olympics Team member the same as I love an Olympic Team member. I'm truly moved by seeing the miraculous, the unlikely, such as Sarah Hughes fabulous Olympic performances in 2002.

Q: What about the new scoring system? Do you think it is working out?

A: The scoring system is interesting to me. The 6.0 and 10.0 pro systems were terrific too, as the audience could self-judge and compare their marks with the actual judges. We could anticipate the extremely rare, exquisite, and thrilling perfect mark. This is now gone, yet we have amazing spins and step sequences. It is true that skating has advanced, yet many people with whom I speak sense that skating is missing something as a mainstream entertainment sport. There was a formula that got beat to death in the 90's through pseudo-competitions on TV which were a highly indulgent phase for competitors, as well as lucrative, yet these business models did not consider the future. They need to have a perpetuality built into them, a cultural context, a true relevance, so that they get something REAL accomplished. As an entrepreneur, what I witnessed concerned me from a pure business standpoint, because I did not see ANY meaning which spilled into the conscious of the global populace. One of my objectives in business is to change this reality. I have coached, judged, competed, conducted seminars, and just about every kind of experience skating offers. Many people had assumed that I was coaching or judging. In my heart, I know that God gave me a soul to excel at such and the experience to back it all up, yet skating was also a major factor in my father's illness and death at a pivotal point in my career. I witnessed things as well as experienced things which collectively led to me nearly taking my life many years ago. It is truly to the credit of Jesus Christ that I am alive and prospering. My life testimony is quite graphic and diverse. Skating is one facet of my life and still very much a part, so is the persecution which follows one who stands up for what he believes. I have an intense testimony to share, which will certainly shock the listener. God has a plan for me which is highly unusual. Skating is simply a part of this plan. Yes, I am still skating, yet my validation is from God and not from anything else. This brings me to my advice for skaters, or anyone who is considering participation in the world's most exquisite sport: "The Jewelled Sport" of figure skating where we dance on a crystal.
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Q: What are your biggest beliefs in life?

A: RULE #1: Everything is a spiritual act. Approach everything that you do as a spiritual being who is participating in a physical endeavour, with the knowledge that you will be tested. God is your coach. RULE #2: Never, ever forget rule number one.

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Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Interview With Lucinda Ruh


A spinning virtuoso, Lucinda Ruh is the whirling dervish of figure skating, making skating history by making the Guinness Book Of World Records for her spinning ability, but her beautiful artistry and presence certainly matched her spinning talent equally. A 2 time Swiss National Champion, Lucinda competed at 5 World Championships, earned a bronze medal at Skate Canada and finished 3rd at the World Professional Championships, beating huge names like Surya Bonaly and Oksana Baiul. She also toured with Stars On Ice! Now married and the mother of twins, Lucinda lives in the United States and it was my pleasure to have the opportunity to interview her about her life, her skating and her thoughts on the current state of figure skating:

Q: I've got to start with an obvious question I'm sure you've been asked so many times, you're probably sick to death of answering it. You are one of the best spinners the world has ever seen. Denise Biellmann, Nathalie Krieg and Stephane Lambiel are all exquisite spinners as well. Is there something in the water in Switzerland the rest of the world doesn't know about?

A: I am the best spinner in the world in history because I am the longest spinner being in the Guinness Book of Records and also the fastest clocking at 6 revolutions a minute which is 360 rpm! I  also am the one who created most of the spin positions being done now and many that skaters still cannot replicate. You see many of mine, especially my famous pancake spin which I think needs to be called the Lucinda spin! Unfortunately I wouldn't be able to say it is anything Swiss as I was only born there and I rather grew up in France, Japan, China, Canada and the United States. However if you count Swiss DNA ... then maybe that it is. :):)


Q: Who do you think is the best spinner skating today?

A: I am not trying to sound arrogant but I do not think anyone in particular is spinning very well at the moment. No one is being innovative but rather just copying my positions as they are trying to get levels. I don't blame them as there is so much to work to be done on the ice and so many levels to achieve to get ahead in the rankings. This new system, which although the spin part was sparked because of me as they were trying to make a system that would award them, in contrary is just making spins look quite distasteful. Tragically with this system they are trying to put everyone in the same box where spinning and flexibility is not going to be everyone's positive point. Let each skater be an individual.. That's where you are going to see the talent emerge. That is why in the old days you had such artists and creative personalities on the ice. Now, no more. You see one skater one competition, and gone the next. Skaters are completely loosing their identity in the midst of practicing day in and day out with only getting points and levels as their motive.



Q: What is your favourite memory of competitive skating and what was your favourite program that you skated?

A: My favourite memory of my skating career is the World Championships in 1999 in Helsinki. I was confident, in my element, injury free and loving to skate. Although it is said I should have been placed higher, placements mean little in the big scheme of life and I just remember the wonderful skates I performed and standing ovations I received.



Q: What was working with Toller Cranston like? He has to be one of the biggest geniuses the sport has ever seen - just saying.

A: Working with Toller Cranston was an education and honor to say the least. I have a whole chapter on it in my book which will bring you to tears and laughter at the same time! Although I cannot sum him nor my experience with him up in a nutshell as they are both larger than life I can say I am eternally grateful to have worked so close with such an enigmatic artist. He is forever my friend.



Q: You're now a mother! Congratulations! How has your life changed since becoming a mother and what is the funniest experience you've had so far as a parent?

A: Thank you! I am a mother.. two for one! Twins have been such a blessing and more so such a surprise! I am loving every minute even amidst the busy schedule. The funniest experience so far has been when I thought both my twins somehow where covered with chocolate when I realized it was poo! From head to toe none the less. I also always play a baby Einstein CD and they will take the CD out of the CD player and hide it under the carpet! I guess they don't like that music anymore! At least they were loving it! But I must say every second being with them is the joy of my life.



Q: In addition to BEING one of my favourite skaters, you also got to compete with some of my other favourites... Laetitia Hubert, Tanja Szewczenko, Marie-Pierre Leray, Olga Markova... Who was the nicest person you ever competed against? The most competitive?

A: The nicest person I ever competed against was Irina Slutskaya. The most competitive, Tara Lipinski.



Q: Who is YOUR favourite skater to watch?

A: My favourite skater to watch was actually a pair team.. Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov. Growing up I watched them day and night. I have yet to see a pair team come close to their beauty, grace and unison.


Q: Your Alanis Morissette program at the World Professional Championships years ago was a complete masterpiece. Where did you get the idea and concept for this program and who choreographed it?

A: Thank you! My Alanis Morissette program was one of my favourites too! It was my meditation program. Since when I was young I loved to just be in my own world I wanted a program I could escape to, so this was the time I could and actually skate at the same time. To me I was trying to show the sufferings and healing of the world coming together as one and becoming a meditation for the world. The magnificent Robin Cousins choreographed it with my final touch. :)

Q: What do you think could be improved with the new judging system? Do you miss the 6.0 system?

A: I do not like this new judging system in more ways than I can describe. It's not interesting or beneficial for the coach nor the skater nor the viewer. There is now even more space and secrecy for the judges to manoeuvre points around and manipulate results. More injuries and more stress for the skater. I miss the old 6.0 system in that it let the skater be who she or he is. Not making a mapped out plan of how each skater should look like, be and should do. It has become so cookie cutter that even when a skater enters a spin you almost know exactly what spin they will do to get their levels. When they enter footwork, same thing. It is all looking quite monotonous and therefore skating has lost it's audience.



Q: What was your favourite and least favourite jump?

A: My favourite jump was triple lutz when I was doing it, and triple toe. My least favourite was triple salchow.



Q: Not only a brilliant skater, you are also a gifted dancer, musician and are fluent in more languages than I thought existed! If you pursue skating, what other passion would you most have liked to pursue at the time?

A: I definitely wanted to be a scientist.



Q: What are your thoughts on professional figure skating? It was MASSIVE in the 1990's and professional figure skating competitions are few and far between these days. Would you compete again if they made a resurgence?

A: Professional skating was really in place because it was for skaters who then could make money or receive gifts for their performances. Now Professional skating has lost it's charm and motive because any skater can receive monetary prizes. I think like all other sports if you are competing at the World level you should be called a Professional. I actually wanted to come back for the 2002 Olympics but unfortunately was not allowed at that time. The Olympics is the one competition that has eluded me due to political reasons from Switzerland and so I had wanted one more shot at it.



Q: What's your favourite song and why?

A: Conte Partiro is my favourite song because it is the song of my husband and I. The meaning of it, With you I Leave is so beautiful.



Q: When all is said and done, when you look back on your experience as a competitive skater, how you do you think it has shaped the person you are today?

A: My skating journey has made me who I am today. No doubt about it. It has shaped and formed me with how I think, with how I react and how I live my everyday. It has given me incredibly discipline, drive, and determination to really achieve anything I set my mind to. I notice, compared to non athletes my level of intensity when I do do something is so much higher due to the training I had been under from a very young age. It always was that it had to be done then and there. There was no second chance. I have to admit it can drive my husband crazy at times and then I need to remember I am not on the ice! I am not being judged and critiqued to the ninth degree. I am ok just being me and I don't have to do everything and have everything right NOW. But you know skating is a very lonely sport, especially if you are a single skater, and it is also such an intense sport. I think with gymnastics it is the most difficult sport out there and if you do not want it now, and want to train so very hard, and want to not be with friends and have sleepovers then its just not for you. There are so many great twelve year old skaters out there and yet so few eighteen year olds. So little survive this sport and even fewer make an impact on the sport. So I can only be profoundly appreciative of this sport and even more than what I have given it, for what it has given me and my family.

Visit Lucinda's website at www.lucindaruh.com and buy her book at
http://www.amazon.com/Frozen-Teardrop-Tragedy-Triumph-Skatings/dp/1590792130/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1363179693&sr=8-1&keywords=frozen+teardrop.

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