Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Interview With Ami Parekh



With countries like Russia, Canada, the United States, France and Japan dominating figure skating for so long, it's easy to forget that figure skating is very much a worldwide sport. Skaters from the last countries you would expect are represented in competition and come from recognized ISU federations in countries like Grenada, Argentina and New Zealand. A relatively "new kid on the block" is India, and Ami Parekh made history by becoming the first skater to represent India at an ISU Championships. This ground breaking skater has fought through injury to continue her career in the sport and it was my pleasure to have the opportunity to interview her and learn more about her career, skating in India, her education and her goals for the 2013/2014 season, which she has stated will probably be her last one:

Q: You were born in New Jersey and started your career skating within the United States but moved on to represent India. What made you decide to make this change?

A: I won Regionals in the U.S. twice, competed in U.S. Junior Nationals (top 7 one year) and Eastern Sectionals. Then, India became a provisional ISU member. Figure skating and India are completely new to each other, and my family is from India. I felt I was capable of bringing my favorite Olympic sport to India and vice versa. I really hope to be the one to bring India to the Olympic figure skating scene.

Q: In representing India at the 2007 World Figure Skating Championships, you made history by being the first skater to represent India at an ISU Championships. What did that experience of competing at the World Championships mean to you? How did it differ from your second trip, in 2012?

A: I had received a lot of attention at the 2007 World Championships because it was India's debut at a Senior Worlds and there were a lot of awesome Japanese figure skating fans! This was also my second Senior championships ever, and the first time I had to compete in a lot of pain due to a new injury that I would have to often manage. So that was a challenge in itself, and so far I've been succeeding. I was thrilled to experience what the World Figure Skating Championships were all about--all the best in skaters in the world and all the world skating fans in one ice arena. To meet and see all of them skating live, and to skate on the same ice as they did was amazing. In 2012, I had matured as a skater and I was not as nervous because I knew what to expect. Also India's participation at Worlds was not as much of a surprise to the skating community. Finally, there had been major judging system rules changes since 2006, so it was interesting to prepare for and watch others prepare. It was really cool to see many new faces as well as a couple of old ones - and they hadn't aged one bit!



Q: What can you tell us about the skating scene in India?

A: Skating has been around for quite some time in India, though it was either in the form of roller sports or at a recreational level. I think there are several reasons why India may be interested in competitive ice skating. First it is an Olympic sport unlike roller skating. Also, there are many pretty, natural ice rinks up north, and there could be plenty of opportunities to build skating rinks where the climate is colder and more temperate. Finally, in the hotter parts of the country, who wouldn't want to be on the ice as long as there was a way to efficiently build and maintain the rink? In addition to the above, I think there is so much Indian art, culture and talent that could shine on the ice and the world could enjoy it too! With a solid means and support system in India all people could learn skating at any level. Maybe one day all the top figure skaters in the world could go to India for major international competitions just like they currently can go to many other countries. They would get to experience the country and vice versa! However before any of this can happen, a wide scale recognition and dedication to the sport in the India would be necessary. When I went to India to perform and teach seminars in 2010, skating programs seemed a bit more developed than when I last visited the skating scene in 2004-2006. More ice rinks have been built in more cities, and many have rental skates for figure skaters. Unfortunately, there is a lack of qualified figure skating coaches and judges in the country. Also the hotter parts of the country are figuring out an energy efficient way to keep the small rinks running smoothly all year round.

Q: Do you do all of your training in the U.S. or do you train there as well? Does India have a National Championships or is their selection process different?

A: Yes, I have lived and trained in the U.S. for most of my skating career. There are solid skating programs here. People from all over the world come to the U.S. to train because of its top coaches and skaters. From the times I participated and won the Indian National Championships in 2004-2006 until now (2010-2013), things have changed in India. Now, the Indian Ice Skating Assoication does not require me to participate as frequently (it's almost as if I get a bye).



Q: What skaters do you most look up to (past or present)?

A: There are SO many amazing skaters out there, even the ones that are not well-known. Everyone brings something great to the ice! Michelle Kwan, Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao, Philippe Candeloro, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, and Akiko Suzuki are some of my favorite well-known skaters.

Q: What do you enjoy doing with your time outside of skating?

A: I enjoy dancing, working out, and studying outside of skating. I graduated University of Pennsylvania with a degree is neuroscience and am figuring out what I will do next once I'm completely finished with competitive skating (probably at the end of this upcoming season). So far, I am very interested in sports and rehab medicine. I am also interested in teaching skating in my free time and tutoring kids in basic science, english, and math. Most of all I like to chat and hang out with friends and to meet new people!

Q: What are your goals for next season? Have you already started working on new programs?

A: I just finished rehabbing an injury since January and things are looking great. My biggest goal is to to get the triple flip and triple lutz into my programs and to complete clean programs more often. I aim to keep learning and improving at a fast rate, however, I would need some kind of sponsorship to pay for coaching and training. I would like to participate in the Olympic pre qualifiers this September 2013 as well as the World and Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in February and March 2014. And, of course, it's the exciting Winter Olympic season! So hopefully, I can qualify to represent India in the February 2014 Winter Olympics too.

Q: When you look back at your years in skating, what do you love most about the sport? What makes you enjoy being on the ice every day you train?

A: I was and have always been a big fan of skating. I love pushing myself mentally and physically every day. Taking 5+ years off from high level skating and then coming back and improving more quickly than before has really given me a new perspective on learning and training. Also, skating is so empowering. It makes me feel so expressive, free, and larger than myself. It keeps me fit too! I hope to continue to share its beauty and athleticism with others.

A wonderful interview with a great skater! Stay tuned to http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard and http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca for more skater interviews as well as articles, commentary and special features! You can also follow me on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog for skating tweets and whatever else I've got on the go!

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The Other Olympic Gold Medallists, Part 2

One of the most fascinating aspects of figure skating is its rich and complex history, layered with stories of triumph against diversity, personal sacrifice, judging scandals and record breaking "firsts". I am and always have been a huge believer that every skater, judge, coach and fan that has ever become involved in the sport has added something to its history that can never be taken away. It's all part of an intricate web. Earlier this month I spent an afternoon in a library with a microfilm scanner, a stack of dusty reference books and a mission: to tell the stories of the Olympic gold medallists in figure skating that we know little about. I started with a short list but ending up compiling more information about other Olympic Gold Medallists as well. In my May 9 blog article, "The Other Olympic Gold Medallists", I shared the story of 6.0 Olympic Gold Medallists we as the mainsteam masses may not know a lot about. I decided to continue this research and share the stories of another 6.0 figure skaters who won Olympic gold. From jail sentences to pistol shooting to winning an Olympic gold medal while pregnant, this group has it all!

WOLFGANG SCHWARZ


It's hard to believe the story of an Olympic gold medallist once revered by rinkrats could take such a horrific and dramatic twist but Wolfgang Schwarz's story has. After finishing 2nd to his Austrian teammate Emmerich Danzer at the World Championships in 1966 and 1967, Vienna's Wolfgang Schwarz put it together when it counted and won the Olympic gold medal at the 1968 Winter Olympic Games in Grenoble, France ahead of American Tim Wood and France's Patrick Pera, who also won Olympic bronze four years later in Japan. After his Olympic win, Schwarz turned professional and toured with Ice Capades and Holiday On Ice. In 2002, Schwarz was making headlines decades after his Olympic win, but these were certainly not headlines of celebration. Accused of plotting to kidnap the daughter of a wealthy Romanian businessman and of trafficking eastern European women for prostitution in Austria, Schwarz first denied then confessed to his actions in court and is currently serving his prison term. In his court admission, Schwarz admitted he was motivated by money and stated "I admit it was my idea to kidnap the woman. I cannot explain it," After a delay in his sentencing due to treatment for skin cancer, he was sentenced to an 8 year term in 2006. He has bigger worries these days than dropping to the ice on a double axel. His main worry is not dropping the soap.

NIKOLAY PANIN-KOLOMENKIN



Born in 1874, Nikolay Aleksandrovich Panin-Kolomenkin was not only Russia's first Olympic champion but a jack of all trades. In winning the first and only 'Special Figures' competition held at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London, England, the athletic Russian not only excelled at figure skating, but was an accomplished shooter as well, competing in the 1912 Summer Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden and finishing 8th in the 50 meter pistol competition. He was also an avid rower, cyclist, gymnast and track and field athlete. His career was remarkably unique in that he was a well known and respected skating coach both before and after his win at the Olympics, defying the terms of "professional skating" today, where coaches are grouped with professional athletes. Panin-Kolomenkin was definitely a figures specialist as opposed to a strong free skater, and did not place in the men's figure skating competition at those same 1908 Summer Olympics, which comprised of compulsory figures and free skating. With his Olympic gold medal and medals at the Russian, European and World Championships to his credit, Nikolay retired from athletics and focused on writing several biographical and reference books, continuing to coach and judging international competitions until his death in Leningrad in 1956, at the age of eight three.

MAGDA JULIN


The daughter of French music producer Edouard Mauroy, Magda Julin was born in France and moved to Sweden with her family when she was 7 years old. What's very fascinating about her career and many of the skaters of her time was her lack of international experience, owing to the difficulties of traveling worldwide to major competitions at the time. Available records show that Julin competed in Nordic figure skating events of her era, but only competed at one World Championships, in 1913, some 7 years before her trip to the 1920 Summer Olympics where she won the ladies figure skating event while pregnant (!) over Sweden's Svea Noren and America's Theresa Weld Blanchard. Julin, who was born in 1894 and lived until the age of ninety six, could be seen skating at the public outdoor ice rink in Kungsträdgården in central Stockholm at the age of ninety. If that's not love of the sport, I don't know what is. Julin had 2 sons and spent the last years of her life in an old age pensionare home in Stockholm.

ANETT PÖTZSCH



Before Katarina and Debi, Nancy and Tonya and Michelle and Tara, it was Annet Pötzsch and Linda Fratianne. They traded titles in the late seventies; Linda winning the world titles in 1977 and 1979 and Annet winning in 1978 and 1980. Both Annet and Linda were strong free skaters, but the catch was that Linda never finished lower than Annet in either the short program or free skate; her compulsory figures scores were always far back behind enough to ensure Annet the victory. When the rivals met in Lake Placid in 1980, Annet took a commanding lead in compulsory figures ahead of West Germany's Dagmar Lurz and Linda Fratianne. Although Linda won the short program with a very strong performance, Annet assured her win by losing in free skating not to Linda but to Switzerland's Denise Biellmann, who won the free skate with the performance of the night but had been considerably behind in compulsory figures. Although she was extremely well known in her day for her healthy rivalry with Linda Fratianne, Annet Pötzsch took a different road with her life following her 1980 Olympic win than most and did not seriously return to skating in the 1990's to pursue the many opportunities available for professional figure skaters of the time. She did however skate in the "Skates Of Gold" shows of 1993-1995, even landing double axels after years away from regular performance. She was coached throughout her career by Brigitte Schellhorn, Gabriele Seyfert and later Seyfert's mother Frau Jutta Müller (well known to skating fans as Jan Hoffmann and Katarina Witt's dedicated coach). Annet was a well rounded, athletic skater who competed in 8 World Championships, winning the 1978 and 1980 World titles in addition to her 1980 Olympic gold medal. Retiring in 1981, Potszch was actually reinstated by the ISU in 1994 alongside many other professional skaters, but did not ultimately return to competition like her former training mate Witt. She opted not to judge as originally planned or skate herself and instead focused on coaching. She admittedly missed skating. Her connection to Witt was even more intense than the fact they shared a coach - she married Katarina's brother Axel, but they divorced in 1990. Their daughter Claudia Rauschenbach is a former partner of Robin Szolkowy. She is currently married to former German champion and Olympian Axel Rauschenbach and is the mother of 2 and a figure skating coach in Chemnitz, Germany, as well as an ISU technical specialist.

SISSY SCHWARZ AND KURT OPPELT


1956 European, World and Olympic Champions Elisabeth "Sissy" Schwarz and Kurt Oppelt hailed from Austria and were rivals of 2 time World Champions Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden of Canada during their skating career. Schwarz and Oppelt were both no strangers to the Olympic Games, having competed and placed 19th and 11th respectively at the 1952 Winter Olympics as a singles skaters before focusing their attentions on pairs skating. With a performance in Italy at the 1956 Games to "Banditenstreiche" by Franz von Suppe, they narrowly defeated the reigning World Champions who faltered late in their performance to claim Olympic gold and their respective place in the history books. There was some hoopla at the time of their win, as the audience and journalists of the time both felt Dafoe and Bowden should have won despite their mistake. Schwarz and Oppelt had in actuality won on a majority of 2nd place ordinals. Following the Olympics, both teams met again at the World Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, West Germany, where Norris and Bowden arrived to issues with their room reservations and had their music repeatedly interrupted. Without a coach or a team leader, they were left to face the tactics on their own. Schwarz and Oppelt again skated well at Worlds, but Norris and Bowden gave a much stronger performance, and when Schwarz and Oppelt were again named the victors, the audience pelted the judges with oranges and anything else at arm's length. Following their Olympic and Worlds wins, Schwarz and Oppelt turned professional and skated in shows in both Europe and North America. Sadly, Kurt Oppelt passed away September 16, 2015 in Orlando, Florida. Schwarz resides in Austria.

HELENE ENGELMANN AND ALFRED BERGER


Helene Jaroschka (then Engelmann) and Alfred Berger were another Austrian pair team who rose to prominence in early pairs skating and claimed an Olympic gold medal at the 1924 Winter Olympic Games in Chamonix, France. Engelmann was the daughter of Eduard Englemann Jr., a three time European Figure Skating Champion (1892 to 1894) who had a rink named after him in Vienna and was therefore exposed to the sport early in life. She won the 1913 World title with Karl Mejstrik at age 15 then teamed up with Alfred Berger and won the World title with in 1922, a success she duplicated in 1924 following the Winter Olympic win.

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

Berger passed away in 1966 at the age of 71 and the younger Engelmann passed away in Vienna (where she was born) in 1985. They were certainly pioneers of pairs skating as we know it today and one of the many teams that helped shape the history and standard of pairs skating as we know it.

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.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Interview With Adam Blake


One of the most refreshing, organic and interesting young choreographers I've seen in recent years is Adam Blake, who got his proverbial start in choreography as a competitor in YAS (Young Artists Showcase) during season 1 of the program, and went on to WIN the second season with truly diverse and exuberant choreography and performances. In perhaps one of the most compelling interviews yet, I was thrilled to have a chance to ask Adam about his background, concepts, choreography and opinions on the sport. I am absolutely certain you will find his responses as interesting as I did:

Q: What first drew you to the ice and what can you share about your experience as an amateur skater? What prompted you to turn professional?

A: I, essentially, grew up at my skating rink. It was hockey that I had my heart set on at first, but it became evident that I needed to learn how to ice skate. So, I then started figure skating and haven't stopped since. My amateur experience was not typical though. In all my years of being an amateur, I never competed.  Weird, I know.  I started skating for the art of skating. I trained as more of a trick skater, trying to infuse my style with acrobatics. I tested up to freestyle 9 in the ISI testing system but without the thrill of competition or agony of defeat, my style remained sort of untouched from the realm of ISU order; I was able to skate for myself and really understand my relationship with the audience as a performer. With that, turning professional seemed like the only way that I could stay true to myself and my style of skating. Skating professionally in a show was a dream come true.

Q: You have toured as a principal skater with Disney On Ice. How would you describe the Disney On Ice experience? What goes into putting a show like this together and did you find the traveling and constant shows grueling or were they something that didn't phase you?

A: The Disney On Ice experience... it's really up to you as to what you make of it. For me, it has been one of the most essential experiences to have influenced my career. For a good majority of skaters, you say, "Disney on Ice" and it's amazing how fast their faces turn green. A lot of coaches look down on shows, figuring that it distracts from "the big picture". For me, Disney is a huge part of my big picture. I have grown in many ways as a skater, performer, choreographer, and professional through working with the mouse. Anyone who has ever worked with Disney On Ice can attest to the time, money, and heart that is put into every production. Ingredients are: 1) Renowned Choreographer/Director/Set Designer/Lighting Designer/Costume Designer 2) At least 35 professional level skaters, 8 of them principal 3) The means to put all of these artists onto one ice surface with the props/set/lights ($$$$$).  It really does take a town to produce an ice show. It's completely and utterly invigorating to travel all around the globe, meet new people, and on the weekend, play ice show! I don't know of any job quite like it. It's one of those jobs, where if you are bored it's because your eyes have been glued shut! It has its days where you miss home or that third show at the end of a Saturday doesn't seem possible but you'd be amazed on what you are able to accomplish in (and, for that matter, out of) a fish costume!

Q: In competing against 12 other talented skaters and choreographers, you won the second Young Artists Showcase in 2011 after being a finalist in the first season of the event in 2010. How did you first decide to become involved in this fantastic program and competition and what do you think YAS brings uniquely to the sport? 

A: It was Doug Webster who introduced me to the Young Artists Showcase. At that point in time, I was really starting to find my style and voice as a choreographer. The Young Artists Showcase gave me the tools and the confidence to pursue and refine my craft and turn "numbers" into "pieces". This competition is revolutionary to the sport. As you've said, programs nowadays are as cookie cutter as they come. What this competition is doing is bringing the creative artists of our sport out of hiding.

Q: One thing I noticed in watching your performances with YAS was your versatility both in style and movement but also your ability to project and reach out to your audience. Is this something that comes naturally to you or has skating professionally really brought that out?

A: I've always lived off of the performer/audience relationship. For me, I started out just being aware of the relationship and seeing what I could pull, but through being a professional I've learned so much about learning who my audience is and what they enjoy (and what I can get away with!).



Q: Where did you get the concept for your "Propeller Seeds" piece? I think it is brilliant and portrays such an ethereal quality.

A: Thank you! For me, it all starts with the music. I am an avid Imogen Heap fan, and I came across her song "Propeller Seeds", which was a song about Imogen meeting her soon-to-be husband. But for me it was that airy, almost nonchalant beauty through the very minute details in the music that sold me on the concept. The tinkling notes acting as the thousands upon thousands of seeds falling in eerie synchronization, the sweeping vocals taking control as the large gust of wind takes the seeds as their consequential master. The feeling just made perfect sense to me, and it just seemed like the perfect dance to take to the ice.

Q: How did you learn the cantilever?

A: The cantilever!  I actually learned it at my home rink.  I came back from a Disney On Ice show, where I saw the Genie do the trick. I thought it was the COOLEST thing ever, so I asked my coach and we got to work. But for the longest time I had to deal with all the ridicule during it's adolescent phase. When you first start learning one, you look like you are simply "sitting on the…" Yeah... And my mom gave me the biggest flack on learning it! It's one of those things where you just have to keep at it, while in the meantime telling everyone, "Trust me, it'll make sense!".



Q: How do you think Young Artists Showcase has evolved since the first season? It's getting bigger and bigger, with Kurt Browning acting as a guest judge this year. How can it continue to grow and why should skaters and aspiring choreographers push themselves and take on this great challenge?

A: The Young Artists Showcase is figure skating's reclaiming of artistry.  It has evolved to this highly celebrated competition where artists of the ice can finally have a voice again.  It has grown to an international level where choreographers, judges, and YouTube personalities are corresponding with each other from all across the world. Audrey Weisiger, Doug Mattis, and Sheila Theilen made history in creating this competition. For me, it was one of the hardest undertakings I have ever done, and I miss every second of it. The exposure that these young choreographers are getting is HUGE and is still growing. It's the Project Runway, or So You Think You Can Dance of the ice. You fall in love with these choreographers, and you learn about your style and voice.

Q: You started doing choreography for other skaters at the age of 16. Who has been the most compelling person you have worked with or met in figure skating and what has been your favourite piece you have choreographed? 

A: For me, it's Yebin Mok. The vibe that is present when we are feeding off of each other is unreal. She has this ability to completely lose herself to the ice, and she believes in every single movement I give her knowing that it is there for a reason and surrendering herself completely to the choreography, the ice, and the music. As to my favorite piece, it has to be "Some Nights" at Rockefeller Center. It has to be one of my favorite memories of my life. To have skated that with such an amazing group of professionals and to have done so on the world's most famous frozen stage was incredible.  It was everything I could have imagined, and everything that I choreograph for.

Q: Tell us about one idea that you have conceived for choreography but have yet to translate onto the ice.

A: Oh Geez! There's quite a few! I have a concept of a group number where half of the skaters are blindfolded. I'm working on using Spoken Word artist Aaron Samuels poetry to dictate the movement. But the one that is coming soon is my next big project and could be slightly controversial; (A commentary) faceless skaters behind the most known face in figure skating….

Q: Who are your favourite figure skating choreographers and what are some of your favourite pieces?

A: My favorite figure skating choreographers are Simone Grigorescu-Alexander, Robin Cousins, Lorna Brown, Cindy Stuart, Kurt Browning, Sandra Bezic, and (of course) Sarah Kawahara. Robin Cousins' "Satan Takes a Holiday" was pure genius!  It was subtle, smart and extremely effective. Kurt Browning's "Nyah" was f-ing* brilliant.  It was a dance. Pure and simple.

*Note to Adam: We say 'fucking' here, we're all adults, and I talk like a sailor. A really gay sailor.

Q: What was the opportunity of working with the Ice Theater Of New York like and why do you think ice theater has really taken off in the last several years?

A: It was magical. Getting the chance to perform live at Rockefeller Center was something I will treasure for the rest of my life. Moira North and Doug Webster have really taken the Ice Theater to new heights. They have expanded their productions to the Dollywood theme park, and have made recent appearances in television and in the celebrity world that is making figure skating RELEVANT! Ice Theater of New York is the celebration of art in skating. You don't have to be a bloody mathematician or IJS technician to feel like you are a part of their world, because with Ice Theater, you just need watch and listen. It's just that easy.



Q: Speaking of the Ice Theater Of New York, I recently read that choreographer and World Professional Champion Lorna Brown is encouraging skaters to work together to revive a World Professional Figure Skating Championships. Is this something you feel the sport needs right now and/or something you'd get involved with?

A: Well, anything that Lorna is for, I'm totally behind! She is a brilliant, brilliant artist on and off the ice.  I really do think we need a World Professional Championship. I'm down to see a program that doesn't look like a coach/choreographer is checking off a grocery list of needed points. And it would be fun to see what ex-competitors do without the IJS noose around their necks! Oh the stories they could skate!

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

A: I love Taylor Swift... Hate me if you want! I think she's great! I don't care what anyone says, I think she's a strong and talented young lady!

Q: If you were to be stranded on a desert patch of ice with three figure skaters past or present, who would those three skaters be and what would you choreograph?

A: It would have to be Yebin Mok, Kimmie Meisner (always had a huge crush on her), and Ilia Kulik. Discarded Toys… Kimmie is the Sad Ballerina, Yebin is the Blackbird with the Broken Wing, Ilia is a Jack-in-the-Box, and I'm the stepped on G.I. Joe. A kinda Breakfast club Of Misfits.

Q: What's the biggest life lesson that figure skating has taught you?

A: Nothing happens if you don't put yourself out there. I would not be half the skater/performer/choreographer I am today if I didn't take those risks and put my work out there. I bombed the first YAS, so I tried again! It's amazing what persistence and drive can do. Don't be afraid of what others might think of you or your work. Dare to be different and own it. Make your voice known.


As a final note, I want to make a suggestion. If you're not familiar with Adam's work, check out http://www.adamblakeice.com or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/adamblakeice. If you're not familiar with YAS, check out http://youngartistsshowcase.net. Check out choreographers like Adam, Garrett Kling, Kate McSwain and Mark Hanretty (and too many more to name) who have choreographed in and skated in this program. There's no much positive energy going on with both Adam's work and YAS to allow negativity about IJS/CoP to rent space in your head long term. So don't be sour - spend an hour watching some great skating.

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.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

The Figure Skating Documentaries You Really Need To See


Walter Salles simply stated "That's why I have always admired documentaries, because they open windows that can make you understand much better where you come from, much better than fiction, I think." Without documentaries about figure skating, much of the oral history of the sport would never be captured on film for future generations to learn from and experience. They tell the stories of the beginnings of the sport it and its development, the personalities and the fascinating connections between skaters, events and the ice itself. Over the years, MANY excellent documentaries have been made about the sport and I wanted to take the time to highlight many of the best of them so that you may enjoy and learn from them as much as I have.

One of the finest out there is a 1999 HBO documentary called "Reflections On Ice". Featuring footage and discussion of the early days of ladies figure skating, this documentary discusses everything from gender roles in the sport to skating outdoors, the politics judging of compulsory figures, the Trixi Schuba/Janet Lynn rivalry that changed the way the sport was judged, costuming and shares the history, jumps, spins and candid honest story of the skaters involved in shaping ladies skating. One of the most poignant parts of this documentary was when I saw Janet Lynn's face when Pierre Brunet directed to her to take a bow and be acknowledged after not medalling at the World Championships with a tremendous performance to the dismay of the audience. I was reminded of what's happening again in the sport now with the way it's judged. Perhaps the CoP/IJS system is 2013's version of compulsory figures. While I'm all for progress, there are certainly downsides. Also featured were the stories of skating's most legendary star, 3 time Olympic gold medallist Sonja Henie, Laurence Owen and the tragic 1961 plane crash that claimed the lives of the entire U.S. team and cancelled the World Figure Skating Championships that year and the relationships of Peggy Fleming, Carol Heiss Jenkins and their mothers. Interviewed were skating legends we have now lost like 1948 Olympic Gold Medallist and 2 time World Champion Barbara Ann Scott King, 1936 Olympic Silver Medallist and 1937 World Champion Cecilia Colledge and 1928 and 1932 Olympic Silver Medallist Fritzi Burger, along with Olympic Gold Medallists Tenley Albright, Dorothy Hamill, Dick Button, Carol Heiss Jenkins and Peggy Fleming, as well as Frank Carroll, Donald Gilchrist, Slavka Kohout Button, historian Benjamin T. Wright and Jojo Starbuck. I have included links to the entire documentary below (on YouTube):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXm1w...eature=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSci4...eature=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKDF6...eature=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egSng...eature=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERZFyVFWisE
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqd04UgBIVk
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dr8po3cLg9I

A Discovery Channel documentary, also from the late 90's, called "On The Inside: The Unknown World Of Figure Skating" is certainly less historical and in depth in nature than the HBO documentary of the era, but is not without it's own merits. One of the interesting parts about this particular documentary is that it looks at the physiological breakdown of jump technique. Although this documentary features interviews with skating legends like John Nicks, it focuses on profiling U.S. Silver Medallist Naomi Nari Nam's skating career, as well as the training regimen and experiences of Michael Weiss and Alexei Yagudin during the 1999/2000 season. I wouldn't really say this is a "must watch" documentary like the HBO "Reflections On Ice" one, but it certainly worth mentioning. Again, I have shared YouTube links below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z21SevLRrBc
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgW_Z...eature=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBF0F...eature=related 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qd2fr...eature=related 

For what "On The Inside" in some respects lacked, a documentary named "RISE" certainly made up for. This 2011 feature celebrates American figure skating history while at the same time commemorating the 50th anniversary of the  tragic 1961 crash of Sabena Flight 548 that claimed the lives of 73 people including the entire U.S. contingent heading to the World Championships that year: 18 figure skaters and 16 family members, coaches and officials. The story of the history of American skating and the progress that has been made over time is beautifully chronicled through interviews with U.S. skating legends such as Peggy Fleming, Scott Hamilton, Brian Boitano and Michelle Kwan. The impact on these skaters careers of the U.S. Figure Skating Memorial fund, established in 1961 as a legacy of the skaters who lost their lives on Flight 548, is explained by the skaters themselves, and there are some very touching and fascinating moments in this Lookalike productions documentary. You can watch a trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCuurLKo2Co and purchase a 2 DVD set of this U.S. Figure Skating presentation by visiting http://www.rise1961dvd.com. All proceeds go to U.S. Figure Skating's Memorial Fund.

One documentary I have not yet had the pleasure of watching but have heard wonderful things about is Keri Pickett' "The Fabulous Ice Age". By all accounts scrupously researched, this film preserves the history of a century of theatrical, show and professional skating. Currently in the screening process, this show profiles not only legendary skaters like Charlotte and Sonja Jenie, but the shows that brought skating to the masses: Ice Follies, Ice Capades, Holiday On Ice, Casa Carioca, Steven's Hotel Boulevard Room/Conrad Hilton Hotel show, Champions On Ice, Disney On Ice, Stars On Ice... It's really quite remarkable if you think about combined how many millions of people have seen at least one of these shows around the world over time. You can find out more about this film by visiting http://fabulousiceage.com, which brought me to Roy Blakey's Ice Stage Archive at http://www.icestagearchive.com, a wonderful website sharing detailed history of show skating. A must visit indeed.

Finally, another significant documentary I wanted to mention is 1997's "The Road To Glory: Figure Skating". It takes a well rounded, dramatic look at the history of Olympic figure skating from its beginnings as a summer Olympic sport through to 1997. One of the great parts about this particular documentary is a wealth of video footage that is extremely rare. Featured are Ulrich Salchow, Karl Schafer, Dick Button, Sonja Henie, Ernst Baier and Maxi Herber, Ludmilla and Oleg Protopopov, Irina Rodnina, Brian Boitano, Brian Orser, Katarina Witt, Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan, Oksana Baiul, Alexei Urmanov, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean and many, many more. If you're looking for a basic primer on the history of the sport, this is definitely one worth watching. You can watch it online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=koq2pHK-GCk&feature=share&list=PLdeXclD6PQn5ZKXtX0_RirLB7TwRUS64A.

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, 25 May 2013

Interview with Tory Patsis And Joe Johnson



After only teaming up in 2012, Tory Patsis and Joe Johnson very quickly developed their skating and qualified for their first U.S. National Championships by finishing 2nd in novice dance at the 2013 Midwestern Sectional Championships. Going on to compete at the 2013 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in the novice dance category, they delivered strong performances, finishing 1st in the pattern dances and finishing 2nd overall and winning the silver medal overall in their debut. The Illinois and Colorado natives look forward to a long career together, and it was my pleasure to have a chance to speak to them about their debut season, plans for the future, training and more!

Q: You earned the silver medal at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in the novice dance category. What did this accomplishment mean to you?

A from Joe: Getting the silver medal was amazing! Since it was not only our first nationals together but each of our first nationals individually, we had no idea what was going to happen. It absolutely made all those months of hard work and uncertainty worth it, and it solidified our trust in each other. Definitely the perfect end to the season/start to nationals week and our partnership.

Q: At U.S. nationals, you won the pattern dances and finished second in the free dance portion of the competition. Which is more interesting to you - pattern dances or free dances, and is competing in a short dance as opposed to a pattern dance more or less appealing?

A from Joe: Last season I would say we probably found pattern dances a bit more enjoyable, just because of our short time together. This season, the free dance is coming together a lot more smoothly, but as we were still feeling out simple little partnering quirks and skating styles, pattern dances were something consistent to fall back on because there is more of a strict right and a wrong way to do them, and it's easier to assess where mistakes are being made. We love the short dance though! Incorporating difficult transitions between pattern dances and including lifts and elements from other ballroom styles has definitely upped the entertainment value.


Q: You have been training together for less than a year. Why do you think you two have "gelled" so quickly?

A from Joe: I think we gelled so quickly because we both wanted the same things and were willing to do whatever work necessary to achieve our goals. When Tory came out in June of last year, our goal was just to put out something respectable at Lake Placid, but after seeing that we compete well together we decided to aim for good placement nationally at Novice and get assigned to compete on Team USA this year.

Q: How did you first come to team up as a dance team and what have been the biggest obstacles in getting to this point with your skating?

A from Joe: We first teamed up based on having seen Tory in person out here for a different tryout that didn't pan out, and asking her out again. Our biggest obstacle as a team was getting used to each other's very different skating styles. About three months in (after many knees to the soft spot, elbows to the face, and tripping each other) we started to understand each other's skating much better.

Q: Are you familiar with Dancing On Ice and do you think the U.S. could benefit from a similar televised show?

A from Joe: Yes, we're familiar with Dancing on Ice! It's a shame there's not something similar in America. It's very entertaining and would no doubt help increase the sport's popularity to a wider range of fans who would otherwise not be interested in figure skating. We are privileged to work with Christopher Dean here in the Springs, who is one of the creative directors on the show.

Q: What specific areas are you focusing on when it comes to your training right now and have you started working on new programs for next season as of yet? Do you plan on competing as novices or juniors next season?

A from Joe: Our training for the last few months has been covering lost ground on the basics we didn't get to work in our first season. Basic line and unison exercises took up a lot of our ice time. Recently though we've been doing mostly program work and starting to build some cardio endurance for competition month. We have a new free dance and the short is complete, and we're competing them as juniors in hopes of assignment.

Q: Looking forward to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, Korea, what are the three things you both need to do to be in line to be competitive on the senior level in the future?

A from Joe: Absolutely, we're looking forward to 2018! The Olympics is a long way away, and there's so much to do between now and then. The three most important would probably be work on consistency in competition, train in many dance styles to become better performers, and of course get stronger physically and mentally to develop the confidence one would need in the high senior ranks.

Q: What ice dance teams (past or present) do you most look up to or idolize?

A from Joe: Not to kill a cliché, but probably our two biggest idols as teams are Davis and White and Torvill and Dean. Both have set such high standards for what it means to be the best, and have been so innovative in moving ice dance forward in their respective times. They're perfect examples of where hard work and genuine dedication can take you if you stay the course.

Q: Who are your favourite musical artists and if you could skate to one song by them, what would it be?

A from Tory: My favourite musical artist would have to be Michael Buble. This is not an artist used much in the skating world, but if I could skate to one song by him I would choose "Hallelujah".

A from Joe: I'm a huge classical music guy. If it wasn't for the restriction in ice dance on needing a set rhythm, I'd love to skate to soundtracks from "Cinema Paradiso".

Q: What are the main differences, in your opinion, between pairs skating and ice dancing. Which is harder?

A from Joe: The biggest and most obvious difference between ice dance and pairs is that one has jumps and once doesn't. Overhead lifts and side by side spins are not allowed in dance either. As for which one is harder... I know I personally couldn't do what they do. The explosive strength needed to throw someone into a triple twist, the synchronizing of anything that isn't side by side twizzles, and death spirals are all so tough. I wouldn't go saying pairs is harder though. Just because a sport isn't acrobatic doesn't decrease its difficulty. Dance is a performance beginning to end, and elements aren't so much a display of athleticism so much integrated as part of the transitional work. There's no break in character or flow, and in a good program there's no obvious "breathing section". I don't know many pair skaters who could do dance, and vice versa. In the end, I'd say it's apples and oranges.

A from Tory: In my opinion, the main differences between pair skating and dance are the way we perform. I think dance has a more theatrical aspect to it while pairs is more go go go... and athletic looking. I think they are equally difficult, both of them have their difficulties. For example, pair lifts are sustained making both the woman and man in the relationship to be both equally stable and strong. Dance lifts are more movement oriented. I feel both partners have to be equally strong too, but the boy has more of a job maneuvering the woman in dance lifts.

Q: How does figure skating bring joy into your lives?

A from Tory: Figure skating is a sport that not many people can do. It is a lot of hard work and dedication. Figure skating brings joy to me because I know each day I go to practice I can learn and do something new and different. The moves I learn on the ice are so abnormal to a normal person's body that I think its cool I can do them. Skating and gliding on the ice just makes me smile and brightens my days.

A from Joe: Figure skating brings joy into my life because the ice is the one place where how I feel and how I move are one and the same. It's such a great way to express oneself, and to improve one's character. I've learned so much about life and what kind of challenges I can deal with, all the while having the freedom of movement skating allows me. I can't picture myself doing anything else.

If you enjoyed the interview with Tory and Joe, stay tuned to http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard and http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca for more skater interviews as well as articles, commentary and special features! You can also follow me on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog for skating tweets and whatever else I've got on the go!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Laughter And Lutzes: Figure Skating At Its Funniest


There are few things in this world that make me happier than laughter. When I decided I wanted to write about funny figure skating programs, I had a few in mind that I wanted to share and sat down  with a pen and a piece of paper to make a list of 6.0 programs that I thought were absolutely hilarious. Already knowing that there are hundreds of hilarious programs that I'm sure I'm completely forgetting at first thought, I already wound up with a list of eleven performances that didn't just make me chuckle, but made me "LMAO" (as the kids these days, say... you know). And with that list of programs, I was reminded instantly of just how wonderful a tool humor is in connecting with an audience. William Arthur Ward once said "A well-developed sense of humor is the pole that adds balance to your steps as you walk the tightrope of life." The same rings true for any figure skater wanting to reach out and connect with the audience they are there to entertain. If you can make them laugh, you have them in the palm of your hand. Let's take a look at 6.0 hilarious figure skating programs and what makes them so damn funny:

DEBI THOMAS - WANDA BEAZEL



1986 World Champion Debi Thomas went where no skater had gone before and dared to come up with the character of Wanda Beazel, a gum-chewing, awkward young skater giving a disastrously funny performance. As someone who has judged skating at the "lowest levels" myself, I can assure you that Debi's portrayal of a skater in one of their first competition VERY accurately portrays the very best of horrible technique. And to be a skater of Debi's caliber TRYING to look this bad is one of the most difficult things you can do. Whenever I need to laugh, I keep finding myself come back to this program. If you haven't seen it before, you just have to.

SCOTT HAMILTON - HAIR


I was hard pressed to decide on the funniest program that I thought the always hilarious 1984 Olympic Gold Medallist Scott Hamilton had ever skated. There have been so many through this professional career but personally I think his "Hair" program takes the cake. Cleverly choreographed and full of detail, Scott had people roaring in the aisles with his interpretation of a hippie turned businessman in this rip roaring program that reminded me of an old drag queen joke: "it's my hair, I bought it". It's the hairiest Hamilton has ever been that I've seen.

ISABELLE BRASSEUR AND LLOYD EISLER - PATRICIA THE STRIPPER



1993 World Champions Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler's gender bending "Patricia The Stripper" program has got to be the funniest pairs program I've ever seen. The four foot nine Isabelle throwing a six foot Lloyd into an axel in a flashy sequined cocktail dress and bad blonde wig is just funny whatever way you look at it. What makes this program so great is that I have friends who know little about figure skating who still talk about how funny this was. And if people remember something funny you did decades later, you did it right.

LAURENT TOBEL - CARMEN


1999 French National Champion Laurent Tobel had to be at least six foot two and towered over his competitors. With a goofy grin and a killer sense of humor, he was one of few skaters who was able to infuse comedy into his amateur programs and carry it off without a hitch. If a towering Tobel in a tutu is wrong, I don't want to be right. I'm pretty sure it's very wrong though.

OLGA MARKOVA - GO DOWN MOSES


Known for her avant garde, serious and dramatic presence on the ice, Russian National Champion and 2 time European medallist Olga Markova of Russia had a commanding style that kept your eyes on her every time she took the ice. She  even gave Maria Butyrskaya's death stare a run for its money. That said, she wasn't a comedic skater whatsoever. But when she took the ice in the gala after finishing 2nd at the 1998 World Professional Figure Skating Championships skating to Louis Armstrong's "Go Down Moses", you couldn't help but laugh at the complete absurdity of her program. Seemingly unaware of the social and political significance of the song, she bizarrely performed as a presumably intoxicated 1920's flapper or something, quite possibly assuming that the song was just a jazzy or a bluesy ragtime anthem and not a call to end slavery. I had to include this for the simple fact that I think (ironically) this is just TOO MUCH.

DOUG MATTIS - IMITATION


You know him, you love him, and if you don't, there's simply something wrong with you and you best get that checked out. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Doug Mattis' "Imitation" program flattered a whole lot of figure skaters. This cleverly constructed program poked a little fun at many of skating's best known skaters, including Dick Button, Brian Boitano, Paul Wylie and Tonya Harding. The originality and Doug's wonderful sense of humor shines through in this program... and the fact he impersonated Paul Wylie while competing against him is the BEST EVER. Just love this! 

If you're not done laughing yet, might I recommend YouTubing Kurt Browning's "Rag/Gidon/Time", Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean's "Hat Trick", Tomas Verner's "Sexy And I Know It" and "Gary Beacom's "I'm Your Man" for starters. And you certainly can't forget the movie Blades Of Glory, which I still think was a hilarious poke of fun at the sport as well. Who am I forgetting? 

What performances do YOU think are the funniest figure skating has ever seen? Let me know on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard or on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Midori Ito And Why Adult Skating Makes Me Smile!



Age is indeed just a number and anyone who thinks otherwise honestly doesn't know what they're talking about. Sorry bout it. It's true.

I was inspired to write this after learning this morning that once again, 1989 World Champion and 1992 Olympic Silver Medallist Midori Ito would be competing at the 2013 ISU Adult Figure Skating Competition in Oberstdorf, Germany. Ito, now 43, will compete against 6 other ladies (from Germany and the U.S.) for the Masters (Elite) Ladies II Free Skating title. Ito, who is a former World Professional Champion as well, shows just how strong her love for the sport is and how her competitive spirit still lives on by making this, her third trip to this competition in recent years, a reality. Her infectious smile and massive jumps (she's still landing double axels and triples) show that without a doubt she still loves being out there. And I know I keep going back to how ridiculous it is there are no professional competitions these days, but here's a good example of a skater who I'm sure would be happy to participate. Hear that, event organizers? But I digress... that's not the story I am here to talk about. I'm here to talk about how inspiring it is to see skaters of ALL AGES getting out on the ice and skating for the JOY of it.

And you might say, hey, look at that hypocrite over there... you used to skate! Why aren't you out there? I'm not saying I won't again at some point in my life. I've competed in "Adult Artistic" once before. It was a completely different experience in that I was actually on the very younger spectrum of the "adult" category at the time and competing against a lady (it was mixed) who was older than me. She was a doll and they ended up putting us in a tie for 1st. What a fun experience it was at the time though. I'd love to get out there and try it again someday, if the time is right. You never know. The thing is, it's not easy at any age to get out there, but there's something absolutely heartwarming about people who aren't 16 getting out there and giving it 110%. When you're 16 and you fall 10 times in an hour, you get up and fall another 10. When you're 36 or 46... or in your 70's like Ludmilla and Oleg Protopopov, you fall 10 times in an hour, get up, fall another 10 and walk around in pain for a week. Hell, I'm 30 and I already have my own version of the bend and snap going on. Trust me, it hurts come spring! It's one thing to keep yourself in great shape for a long time. That's amazing! But for these skaters taking up the sport later in life, or coming back to skating after long absences - I give you a standing ovation. It can't be easy. The thought of jumping honestly terrifies me!

The fact of the matter is that adults are getting out there and skating more than they ever did these days. Although the U.S. established a national adult competition in 1995, it wasn't until 2004 that Skate Canada followed suit. Now, adult competitions are held around the world, with the ISU adult competition Midori Ito is competing in boasting 325 entries from 19 countries between the ages of 28 and 78. 33 of those 325 entries are Canadian, with British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and even my home province of Nova Scotia being represented. It's a wonderful thing to see!

I have been blessed to not only participate in adult competition, but judge it as well, and one thing I can say is that the skaters participating have SO much fun out there it's unreal. And what that reminds us is that any age (which is only a number) to get out there and have that EXPERIENCE is what anyone who skates or has skated cherishes. So here's not only to Midori Ito, but to adult skaters everywhere who are showing their love of the sport. Thanks for making me smile!

Stay tuned to http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard and http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca for skater interviews as well as articles, commentary and special features! You can also follow me on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog for skating tweets and whatever else I've got on the go!

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Three Cheers For Dick: Why Dick Button Should Be The Next ISU President



In a perfect world, figure skating would always be fun, we'd always agree with the results and the International Skating Union would be run by someone with a sense of humor, a knowledge of what WORKS in figure skating and how the sport should be judged, presented and organized behind the scenes. If you have read my blog entry "What Really Grinds My Gears? Ottavio Cinquanta, The ISU And The CoP/IJS Scoring System", you have an idea about how I feel about Cinquanta's leadership and the new judging system. As far as I'm concerned, the sport needs a makeover and who better could you find to do it than famed skating commentator, professional competition organizer and 2 time Olympic Gold Medallist Dick Button? I adore Dick so much that I'm offering the top 12.0 reasons (that's 2 6.0's - one for technical merit and one for artistic expression) - why Dick should rule the ISU roost:

1. He is not only knowledgeable but absolutely hilarious.

2. He could commentate every single event and have his commentary play a role in the judging. If he announced on air that someone had performed a "first rate triple toe walley" and the judges actually identified and scored it as a double flip, he could just ream them out on air and be like "I'm sorry, judge #2, but if you'll recall in my commentary of that superb free skate, I not only pointed out that skater's fine free leg, but also complimented their triple toe walley". If the judge rebutted him and argued the skater had actually done a double flip, he could just get Peggy to back him up. I think it's a fabulous idea. He has good taste.

3. Lucinda Ruh could make a comeback and he could say "Good for you, Lucinda Ruh" again.

4. The "Pirates Of The Caribbean" soundtrack could be mandatory short program/short dance music for his first season as ISU president just so he could say "look at the swash in that swashbuckling" again (and on a regular basis). As a result, Alena Leonova would be forced to bring back her "Pirates Of The Caribbean" short program and mop the floor with those other Russian jumping beans that get right on my last gay nerve, like that Adelina Sotnikova one who skated to Christina Aguilera screeching like a dying seal for five minutes. But that's a whole different blog entry in the making...

5. He is pretty much single handedly responsible for competitive professional figure skating becoming a 'thing', and would probably be all for having judging panels consisting of past skaters and knowledgeable coaches and referees of the sport. You just know he'd be all for vocal music and creativity too. Imagine! What a concept, girl. But why have vocals in singles skating when someone could skate to the freaking "Dr. Zhivago" soundtrack again? That'll sure bring in the ratings.

6. The need to remember skaters names would be absolutely pointless. Everyone could just be called "this young man" or "this young lady".

7. No other ISU president would ever say ""if that doesn't put a fanizzle in her shanizzle nothing else will" on network television.

8. Crooked judges could be accused of "bamboozling" and stricken from the record. He wouldn't be having any of that tomfoolery.

9. If a skater cheated, flutzed or underrated a jump, he could have them stop the music, get on the PA and matter of factly say "whatever that was supposed to be, it wasn't" then march down to the ice and give them a long lecture on why they should be doing a first rate double instead.

10. He could get rid of "positive and negative GOE" (grades of execution, for those of you who humor the Cop/IJS system) in the scoring of elements and replace them with a new system that calls out poorly executed elements as "sloppy" and reward well performed elements by calling them "first rate, first rate".  In skater interviews, skaters could explain that "that quad/triple combination set the tone for the program, but it was that first rate layback spin that won it for me".

11. If he disliked a skater's program, he could just march right up to the choreographers and tell them he didn't give a "rusty hoot" who told them another "Carmen" program was a good idea, but he wasn't having it.

12. Every program would contain at least 5 layback spins and you better believe he'd be watching closely. If he didn't feel 5 was enough, he could always add a whole other round of competition specifically devoted to layback spins.

If that's not enough, there are these videos:

Dick Button ranting about judging: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMoRf-RPssQ
Dick Button: The Gold Standard: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQEudPJoM-g
The Dick Button Seal Of Approval: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skeLC0i0A0I

To make a long story short (too late), you can't change the sport without a sense of humor, and no one has a better one and more knowledge about the sport than this man, who has watched it grow for almost 100 years and seen every up, down, success story and tragedy. He's lived through World War II, the plane crash that took the lives of a whole generation of U.S. figure skaters, invented the flying camel spin, was the first person to land the double axel or a triple jump in competition, commentated skating for decades, made history countless times over and brought smiles to our faces time and time again. I say the figure skating world talks him into turning the figure skating world on it's head. After all, we all need a little more Dick in our lives, wouldn't you say?


Stay tuned to http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard and http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca for skater interviews as well as articles, commentary and special features! You can also follow me on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog for skating tweets and whatever else I've got on the go!

Interview With Sara Hurtado Martin And Adrian Diaz Bronchud



Spain's Sura Hurtado Martin and Adrian Diaz Bronchud are an ice dance team that is climbing the ranks internationally with determination, purpose and good, CREATIVE skating. Full of something that can't be taught - charisma - their programs are full of visually stunning lifts, good projection and improved speed and edging. The first ice dance team to ever represent Spain in ISU competition, they are pioneers of the discipline in their country. With 5 gold medals (at both the junior and senior levels) at the Spanish National championships to their credit, the team has risen quickly in the deeply entrenched and sometimes "slow moving shuffle" of ice dancing rankings. In 2009, they finished 32nd at their debut at the World Junior Championships. The next year the were 16th, and the next 9th. That same season, they made their debut at the European Championships and World Championships. This past season marked their 3rd trip to the European and World Championships, where they finished 15th and 19th respectively. Taking artistic risks with their programs, their free dance last year was set to music by Stevie Ray Vaughan and was a joy to watch. After training in London, England, the Spanish duo relocated to Montreal, Canada in late 2011 and have been training with the brilliant Canadian ice dance team of Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon (who I can't gush about enough). With a chance to compete at the Winter Olympics and make history for their country on the line this fall at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, it's certainly a magical opportunity for this team in the making - I hope to see them make it! I was fortunate enough to have a chance to ask both Sara and Adrian about their careers, the ice dance team they look up to most, their goals and more in this interview:

Q: Representing Spain as ice dancers, you are certainly pioneers in a way, as Spain is not a country known for ice dance. When people think of skaters from Spain, they think about Javier Fernandez, Yvonne Gomez and Marta Andrade for example. What is it like being the first ice dance team to take your country by storm?

A: It's an honor to be pioneers in this discipline in Spain. It's very special knowing that you are making history with every step you make and at the same time is a big responsibility. I don't know if we are truly aware of how much we are doing. We just keep going and we look forward to achieving our goals. Every day we are asking for more. We want to get better and be at the top one day. Sometimes, we have to look back and realize how far we have come in such a short period of time.

Q: Who are your favourite ice dancers and why? 

A: Our favourite ice dancers from all times are Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay. We think that what they did is one of the greatest things to do for ice dance. They were original, they took risks with every program and that way, ice dance started evolving as a discipline and doing that, as a skater, is the biggest challenge. We love the way they did all those intricate transitions and made it look so easy and seemless. It's pure art.

Q: How would you change the way ice dancing is scored? 

A: We think the system that we have now is pretty good. It has evolved a lot since the 6.0 one and every season changes a little. Personally, we would give more freedom on the lifts and the elements, specially giving more importance to creativity. The way that it is right now, sometimes we have to change a lot of elements because they won't score high ¨on paper¨. We think this will help to make this sport evolve, see new things, create new elements and go for the wow effect, not the points. It's hard to find the balance between creativity and scores.



Q: What do you think is the most challenging part about ice dance?

A: The partnership. Skating and working everyday with the same person can be very hard, not because of the physical part, but the relationship part. It's hard to spend such a long time with the same person and sharing so much, like the best moments but also the worst. Your partner has to deal with your best days and worst days and work with you at the same time. It is not a team sport where you can rely on 10 other people - it is just 2. You have to understand that on the ice you are one, forget about your personal stuff and think about the other person, not for just you. As single skaters before, if we got mad about something not working it was with ourselves, but when you have a partner everything is more complicated. There are steps, patterns, timing, directions, leading and following... a lot more variables take part.

Q: Do you ever do singles skating for fun, or have either of you competed as singles skaters? 

A: Yes, before being ice dancers, we both used to compete as single skaters. Some days we like to play around and do some jumps and spins on our own. It's crazy how you forget about the feeling of jumping and then when you try to jump you remember it again. Adrian can still do double axels and one day he even landed a triple salchow with ice dance boots!



Q: How do people in your country look at figure skating? Is it a popular sport or is something that's gaining in popularity?

A: In our country, figure skating is not a popular sport at all. When we tell people that we do ice dance, they don't even know that this discipline exists and we have to explain what it is most of the time. The funny thing is that when we tell them that is part of figure skating they all say "OH! I love to watch that on TV, it's beautiful!" We live in a football country. People are starting to know more and more about figure skating, thanks to Javier Fernandez but it will take a big effort and a lot of gold medals to become a popular sport. Also, the amount of ice rinks there are in Spain doesn't help. There are only 8 ice rinks and it's really hard to build new ones because it's always cheaper (in a country like Spainy) to build a tennis court or a football field.

Q: What are your goals as skaters? 

A: The greatest goal for us is being Olympians. As every athlete, we think is the best reward you could ever get. Then, also hear the Spanish anthem and feel it from the podium... of course, a medal in a major event would be also one of the goals.

Q: Do you have any ideas for your programs for next season already? 

A: Yes, we do! We are working on them and we hope our fans like them! We think are very original and special. We are still in the creation process so probably some things will change during the making of the programs and stuff, but we will be able to tell you more in depth in a few weeks. If you are willing to wait.... hahaha!


Q: What are you most proud of so far in your careers? 

A: We can't decide a specific result or score. We think we are proud of every single step we have made and where we are now. We've been only skating together for 5 years and we are 19th in the world. Come on! It's crazy! If 5 years ago, someone would have told us we were going to achieve all of this we would not have believed it and now we are fighting for an Olympic spot for Sochi. It's truly unbelievable. Also, we believe we have so much to give -t makes all of this even more exciting. Now that we know nothing is impossible, we want to reach for the top.

If you enjoyed the interview with Sara and Adrian, stay tuned to http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard and http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca for more skater interviews as well as articles, commentary and special features! You can also follow me on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog for skating tweets and whatever else I've got on the go!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Mother's Day: A Tribute To The Amazing Mothers In Figure Skating


My mother and I

Without the support of mothers worldwide, I don't think figure skating as we know it would even exist. Children wouldn't arrive to Canskate lessons or would run amuck with loose, untied skates and runny noses, which is just gross if you ask me. Music wouldn't get played at rinks and test days, competitions and fundraisers wouldn't be organized. Skaters wouldn't have that person to be their biggest cheerleader when they landed that first axel or that shoulder to cry on when they failed their dutch waltz test or face planted on a spiral in competition.

To this day, my mother is everything to me and she couldn't have been any more supportive of my sister and I when we skated. She served on the executive of our skating club and helped keep it going for years and did everything from play music to organize test days, help encourage skaters entering competitions in our club (which was largely recreational at the time), helped make our club's yearly ice show happen and see that my sister and I were at every competition we qualified for and wanted to go to and on the ice in skates with great coaches and the BEST moral support anyone could ever ask for. I can't even begin to tell you all. And although my mother is the most supportive, amazing person I know, she is not the only amazing mother out there.

Skaters across the world owe the costumes on their backs (literally) to the sacrifices their parents have made to see their children pursue their passion to figure skate. For every mother an Olympic champion out there, there are thousands of mothers who went without summer vacations, new clothes or took out every mortgage and debt they could muster to see their children achieve their dreams at any cost, whether it was to compete in on the pre-juvenile level, learn how to do a sit spin or to pass their bronze dances. The results don't matter in the end, the whole point of it does. Did that child get to figure skate? Did they love what they were doing? Do they have those memories? Did they feel loved and supported through the experience? Was it FUN? Mothers in figure skating have and continue to do anything to see their children pursue what they love and they deserve the happiest Mother's Day's out there.

Whether you're directly involved or simply a lover of the sport, take the time today to wish a mother who is involved in the sport a Happy Mother's Day today. They can't and shouldn't ever hear it enough.


Stay tuned to http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard and http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca for skater interviews as well as articles, commentary and special features! You can also follow me on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog for skating tweets and whatever else I've got on the go!

Thursday, 9 May 2013

The Other Olympic Gold Medallists

The roster of Olympic Gold Medallists reads like a who's who of figure skaters who have not only reached the pinnacle of success in their sport but have reached an almost legendary status in pop culture. Names like Dorothy Hamill, Brian Boitano, Kristi Yamaguchi, Katarina Witt, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean (among so many others) are not only known within the figure skating worldwide but worldwide even to people who have watched less than 5 minutes of figure skating their entire lives. People know who most Olympic Gold Medallists in figure skating are. However, there have been Olympic Gold Medallists in our sport that even the most avid fans know so little about. They haven't moved onto glamorous careers in broadcasting like Dick Button and Peggy Fleming, Hollywood films like Sonja Henie or modelling magazines like Evan Lysacek. They have, however, left an indelible imprint on the history of the sport and achieved personal goals and incredible heights of success. Let's take a look at 6.0 of the sport's Olympic gold medallists that we might not remember but certainly should never be forgotten:

SJOUJKE DIJKSTRA


One of the most fascinating parts of researching this article was sitting at a local library, sifting through old magazines on a microfilm scanner and happening upon articles from 1963 and 1964 about 3 time World Champion and 1964 Olympic Gold Medallist Sjoujke Dijkstra. Four years before Peggy Fleming won the 1968 Olympic Gold medal, Dijkstra made history by winning the first gold medal at the Winter Olympics ever for the Netherlands. To this day, she remains Holland's only Olympic gold medallist in figure skating. After winning the 1959 World bronze medal and 1960 Olympic silver medal behind Carol Heiss, Dijkstra's first world title was delayed by the horrific 1961 Brussels plane crash that killed the entire U.S. team and cancelled the 1961 World Championships. She won the following year, a title she defended for the next two years as well. An article from the March 15, 1963 issue of Time Magazine described Dijsktra's win at the 1963 World Championships in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy. Her performance at that event to Johann Strauss' "Graduation Ball" featured a huge double Axel, flying camel spins, flying sit spins and double toe loops: "The music leaped and the girl leaped too - a twirling double Axel that sent her hurdling through the air until she glided back on the ice." At 5'6" and 140 lbs, she was a more full figured woman than many skaters today. Sjoujke was an athletic skater who excelled at both figures and free skating. By the time of the 1964 Olympic Games, her skating was so popular in Holland that Queen Juliana of the Netherlands travelled to Austria to watch her compete. Delivering by all accounts the finest performance of her career, she won the first Olympic gold medal for her country since Fanny Blankers-Koen took 4 medals in women's track and field some time previous. Dick Button described Dijkstra as "tremendous. She has the strength of a man. She is probably the most powerful woman skater who ever existed". Not a flashy skater, Sjoukie was not afraid of a little hard work, stating "it's just working hard that makes you good." And work hard she did. On the road to her Olympic glory, she trained 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, 7 months a year. Her father was an Amsterdam doctor named Lou Dijkstra, a former speed skater who competed at the 1936 Winter Olympics. Early in her career, she broke a leg skating but persevered. By 10, she was training with Arnold Gerschwiler in Richmond, London. 2 years later she placed 14th at the European Figure Skating Championships. At age 13, she gave up formal schooling and with more time to focus on her skating, moved up in the ranks steadily under she achieved an Olympic dream. An article in a Dutch magazine pointed out another startling fact I had not previously been aware of - after compulsory figures at the World Championships in 1964, she was 59 points ahead of her closest rivals yet still delivered "a dazzling performance". She turned professional after winning her last World title and toured with Holiday On Ice from 1964 to 1972. In 1985, she became the figure skating advisor to the Dutch Skating Federation. She has done commentary for Dutch television and is a judge on the Dutch version of Dancing On Ice. She was inducted to the World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame this year.

TRIXI SCHUBA

Described by British sports journalist Howard Bass as having free skating that was "embarrassingly substandard", Schuba won the 1972 Olympic gold medal after achieving such a lead in compulsory 'school' figures that even with a 9th place finish in free skating, she still comfortably won ahead of excellent free skaters Karen Magnussen of Canada and Janet Lynn of the U.S. At the time of Schuba's win, compulsory figures accounted for 60% of the total score. A brilliant specialist in this area, her win sparked a controversy that led to the introduction of the short program to competition and the value of compulsory figures decreasing slowly over time until they were finally last skated at the Olympics in 1988. First winning a world silver medal in 1969, Schuba went on to duplicate that silver medal in 1970 and win the World Championships again in 1971 and 1972, in addition to her 1972 Olympic win in Sapporo, Japan. Schuba was no secret to hard work, taking over the bookkeeping of her family's Vienna lumber business after her father died when she was 13, while balancing school and skating at the same time. Following her Olympic win, she toured with Ice Follies and Holiday On Ice before beginning a career in the insurance field which she continues to this day. She is also a former president of the Austrian Ice Skating Association (the first woman to hold that position) and has been a formidable organizer and supporter of figure skating, Olympic and Paralympic athletes in her country.

RIA (BARAN) AND PAUL FALK


Coming out of nowhere to win the world title in 1951, Ria Baran and Paul Falk (who would later simply be known as The Falk's after marrying), were the first skaters from East or West Germany since World War II to win a world title. Strong technically with an elegant style, The Falk's had an extremely short career that culminated in a second world title and the Olympic gold medal in 1952, ahead of Karol and Peter Kennedy of the U.S. and Hungary's Marianna and Laszlo Nagy. Following their undefeated amateur record and Olympic win, they pursued a brief professional career with Holiday On Ice. Suggested to be the first team to perform side-by-side double jumps in competition and the inventors of the lasso lift, The Falk's were also world roller skating champions! After ending their professional career, Ria Falk worked as a secretary before her death in 1986 at age sixty three. Paul Falk is still alive and well, and enjoyed a long career as a precision mechanic after hanging up his skates. He keeps active to this day by playing golf and resides in Germany.

JEANNETTE ALTWEGG

The winner of the ladies title in 1952 was Great Britain's Jeannette Altwegg, a proficient skater who almost didn't end up involved in the sport seriously at all. In her teens, Altwegg made a difficult decision between tennis and skating after losing the junior finals at Wimbledon in 1946 by a narrow margin. The very next year, she was Britain's junior ladies champion. Coached by the legendary Swiss coach Jacques Gerschwiler, she was a strong compulsory figure skater than free skater thanks to Gerschwiler's expert instruction. Following up a 1948 Olympic bronze medal with the 1951 European and world titles, the then 21 year old Altwegg managed a win over free skating whizzes Tenley Albright and Jacqueline du Bief owing to her lead in that portion of the 1952 Oslo competition. Altwegg has lived a fascinating life, being born in India to a Swiss father and then being raised in Lancashire, England. After her Olympic win, Altwegg decided to forgo the nomadic travelling ice show life and opted to spend many years working with underprivileged children at the Pestalozzi Children's Village in Switzerland, where she met the father of her children. Her daughter grew up to up to be a World Champion curler, representing Switzerland. Now 82, Altwegg is a mother of and grandmother of 13. "My family has been and is my career" said Altwegg in a 2011 interview. Her and Madge Syers, the 1908 Olympic ladies champion, remain Britain's only Olympic ladies gold medallists to this day.

MANFRED SCHNELLDORFER


With a short career that ended as quickly as it started, 19 year old Manfred Schnelldorfer of Germany made a splash in 1963, when he won the bronze medal at the World Championships behind Canada's Donald McPherson and France's Alain Calmat. The following year, the elegant skater surprised everyone by winning the 1964 Olympic title ahead of Calmat and 14 year old Karol Divin. A former architecture student, Schnelldorfer has lived a fascinating live since his surprise Olympic win. He skated in professional ice shows, acted, had a pop music career, coached figure skating and acted as a sports teacher. Like The Falk's mentioned earlier, Schnelldorfer was also a champion roller skater as well. Now a married father, Schnelldorfer lives in Munich, Germany and is a business owner.

ONDREJ NEPELA


With 8 national titles, 5 European titles and 3 World titles to his credit, it was no surprise when Czechoslovakia's Ondrej Nepela brought home the gold medal at the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan. His career featured 3 trips to the Olympics (his first in 1964 at the age of 13) and ended in 1973 with a final world title in his home town of Bratislava, in what is now Slovakia. The first and only men's skater to this day to win a World title in figure skating, the very handsome Nepela was a figures specialist but not a one sided one whatsoever. Although he had a small frame, he was a brilliant free skater too. He had great height and consistency on his jumps and was well known for being calm and collected in the heat of any competition. He turned professional in 1973, touring for 13 years as a principal soloist with Holiday On Ice then began a coaching career in Germany, coaching Claudia Leistner to her European title in 1989. That same year, he lost his battle with AIDS at the age of 38. To this day, this beautiful skater is remembered in his home country with a memorial competition - the Ondrej Nepela Memorial. Previous winners include Michael Shmerkin, Stephane Lambiel, Carolina Kostner, Julia Sebestyen, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy and Marina Anisinna and Gwendal Peizerat. Nepela's skating was underrated and his life short lived but the legacy he has left for both his country and the sport, through this memorial event, is an everlasting one.

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.