Monday, 30 September 2013

Interview With Zabato Bebe


When I told Nancy Chacurian-Viveiros that my next interview victim was Zabato Bebe, she suggested I ask him 6.0 questions, one for every muscle in that six pack. As nice of a chesteses as it is (and it IS girl!), I just couldn't narrow it down to 6. I don't often rave about skaters. Let me stop right there - who am I kidding? I don't often rant about skaters as MUCH as I do about Zabato Bebe. From Vienna, Austria, Zabato is one of the most naturally talented and exciting skaters I've seen. He's a risk taker on the ice, isn't afraid of skating full out and has such a contagious spirit and love of performing that it's just unreal. He's competed in Young Artists Showcase, toured with World Professional Champions Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding, competed internationally and stolen shows. His performances are complex, extroverted and full of transitions that would put the top men in the world to shame. Transitions, in my opinion, are supposed to look easy and make the elements flow together, not difficult.... and he constantly seems to accomplish this! It's not just the transitions, it's the explosiveness and passion in his skating that cannot be really described and done justice. It was my absolute pleasure to have chance to interview one of the most exciting skaters of our time. We talked about YAS, choreography, performance, professional skating and much, much more:

Q: You are a complete rock star on the ice! What gives you the confidence to take completely different styles of choreography and movement and deliver each with such energy and drive?

A: I don't know about being a rock star, but for me creating and performing different styles comes very naturally. While I was growing up, I was fortunate enough to be exposed to many different cultures and I was being influenced from people not only in figure skating but also in dance, art and acting. My Dad was a performer himself and my mom always encouraged me to work in a very creative way. My coaches always allowed me to experiment on the ice and to try new things that didn't necessarily bring me any points in the competitions. I believe those are the main ingredients that allow me to do the work that I'm doing today.


Q: You are a Quest For Creativity champion with Young Artists Showcase and competed in the 4th season of Young Artists Showcase, qualifying for the live finals this December. What were your goals when taking on this ultimate choreographic challenge?

A: Young Artists Showcase (MKYAS4) has been an incredible experience so far. It definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone sometimes and forced me to come up with creative ideas. The finals will be very different for me. Being a professional figure skater, I very rarely get to perform on a full size ice rink. This will take some time for me to get used to. There are two parts to the finals. Part 1 will be "Choreographers Choice", where I will perform a piece of my choosing and Part 2 will be "Secret Talent", where I will create a piece for four other skaters. I have yet to decide between two pieces - which one I would like to do for the first part of the finals. One is safe, which means that the choreography is set. I've performed it before and I know that the audience usually responds very positive to that piece. The other has never been seen before by a live audience and it might be a little bit provocative to some viewers. So there is still a decision to be made. The second part of the finals is also very challenging for me, because I've never choreographed for four people on a full size ice rink and also the music that was given to me will force me to come up with some creative ideas. As of right now I have no clue what I am going to do.


Q: How did you come up with the choreography for your "King Of Africa" and "Rolling In The Deep" programs? Both give me chills!

A: I'm not sure if I deserve much credit for those pieces. Disney created "The Lion King", one of my favourite movies. Some DJ's created an awesome remix of that amazing soundtrack and  when I was a child, my dad showed me some African dance moves. I just brought all those things together and put them onto the ice. "Rolling In The Deep" was a similar process.



Q: How did you learn the backflip and Cantilever and did they scare you in the learning process?

A: Both the Cantilever and the backflip required a lot of persistence. The hardest part was not to listen to the people who said that it was impossible, dangerous or just not worth it to learn those tricks.

Q: What is your background in (ISU) competitive skating?

A: I always enjoyed doing fun and interesting things. It wasn't always easy growing up in the competitive figure skating world. Of course I won some national an international competitions, but my real goal was always to wow the audience with something they've never seen before. Therefore, I chose the path of professional figure skating which allows me more creative freedom.


Q: What benefit is there to skaters interpreting and choreographing music and programs on their own?

A: What benefit is there to do what you enjoy doing? For me, making up choreography and allowing myself to get inspired from all different kinds of sources is just something I really enjoy. I am lucky that during my career as a principal skater, producers and choreographers allowed me and even encouraged me to bring my own influence to the production. The benefit for me is that my performances have more meaning to me and I believe the benefit for the audience is that it feels more authentic to them, which hopefully makes the whole experience more truthful and enjoyable.

Q: What skaters past and present interest you artistically and have that intangible quality where you just stop and watch?

A: One of my ultimate heroes when I was growing up was Philippe Candeloro. Seeing him on TV as a little boy inspired me to follow my creative urges on the ice. Performing in the same show with him in Qatar in February of 2013 was unquestionably a dream come true. As a professional, I look up to skaters like Kurt Browning who continues to create absolutely fantastic programs but also the group "Le Patin Libre" are one of the wonderful things that are happening in figure skating right now.


Q: I've been doing a lot of writing lately about the resurgance of interest in artistic and particularly professional (non ISU) skating. What do you hope to see as the future of professional and artistic skating?

A: I think there are a lot of very creative skaters out there who have a great potential to contribute to the professional and artistic figure skating world. There needs to be a bigger platform and more exposure for skaters who don't  want to to follow the IJS system but want to create artistry on ice. Young Artists Showcase and ProSkaters' Virtual Skate Off are great ways to make your work visible to a larger audience but I'd also love to see offline, in person professional competitions reappear.

Q: What is one piece of music that you long to skate to someday? what's your favourite song right now?

A: One day I would like to create a piece where the audience is the main part of the performance and dictates the rhythm to which the skater is skating.


Q: What gives you happiness and peace when stepping on the ice?

A: I enjoy what I am doing. I love to step onto the ice every day and it doesn't even feel like work. What really brings me happiness are the excited faces of the audience when I perform for them and the comments I get via email, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter from people all over the world who tell me that they love my creations and even feel inspired by them. Knowing that I can bring joy to someone's life, even if it is just for a few minutes, is what keeps me going. By the way, you're doing an absolutely amazing job!

If you've been living under a rock somewhere and aren't already completely in love with Zabato's skating, you can check out his YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/Zabatino, his Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/Zabato.BB, his website http://www.zabato.net or Twitter at http://twitter.com/zabatobebe.

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.

Picture It... The Holy Roman Empire... 1610


It's time for another Sophia Petrillo moment. "Picture it... The Holy Roman Empire... 1610". Alright, maybe that was more than a little before Sophia's time, but the general vicinity isn't too far off. 

Rudolf II was of royal blood, a Habsburg and a former Archduke of Austria, King Of Bohemia, King Of Hungary and Croatia and the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire from 1576 until his death in January of 1612. His story is and thoroughly fascinating one. His life and reign was riddled with rumors that he was a big old homo (such as myself). He was an avid collector and patron of the arts and had a vast number of very erotic artworks commissioned for him. He was a practitioner, almost obsessively, of occult arts and sciences and made it his lifelong goal to find the Philosopher's Stone (this is like something out of that Harry Potter!). He knew Nostradamus. He for a time owned The Voynick Manuscript, one of the most compelling and mysterious items in history. His son showed signs of schizophrenia and was widely believed to have murdered and disfigured a local woman. He died unmarried and stripped of all of his real power by his own brother... He lived quite a life. 

But what does a Holy Roman Emperor from the 1600's have to do with skating? More than you'd think. Being so preoccupied with his occult studies and interest in the arts that it actually was perceived by some as a problem when it came to doing his job, one particular artistic medium that drew Rudolf's interest was ice skating. In addition to botanical gardens, exotic animals and a curio cabinet (Kunstkammer) of bizarre and macabre specimens, he enjoyed skating so much that he had a large ice carnival constructed right in his court in 1610 (two years before his death) to popularize skating in Prague, Bohemia and his Empire.

Years after Rudolf's first real introduction of ice skating to the people of Prague, skating in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic) has thrived. Alena Vrzanova, Eva Romanova and the late Pavel Roman and Ondrej Nepela all won world titles and today, skaters like Tomas Verner and Michal Brezina are real contenders for medals at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Skating in Prague's rich back story started from royalty and skaters like Verner and Brezina hope to become skating royalty themselves. Full circle, pussycat!

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, 28 September 2013

Interview With Phillip Mills


Sasha Cohen... Jill Trenary... Elaine Zayak... Calla Urbanski and Rocky Marval... Courtney Hicks... Kyoko Ina and Jason Dungjen... Ashley Wagner... the "Kween" herself Michelle Kwan... The list reads like a "who's who" of figure skating greats and all of them have not only their medals and U.S. titles in common. All of these skaters have had programs choreographed by one of figure skating's greatest choreographers, Phillip Mills. A highly successful gymnast and international star in the world of ballet, Phillip turned to the world of choreographing for figure skating and has choreographed for countless champions in singles, pairs and dance and helped lead them to National titles in the U.S. and around the world. Joining legendary coach Carlo Fassi as the choreographer at the Broadmoor World Arena and Ice Castle International Training Center, Mills went on to work with many more of the skating world's best and create pieces that complemented their own unique styles while bringing out the very best in them. It was my pleasure to have chance to ask Phillip about his many experiences in the figure skating world, his thoughts on what great choreography is all about and so much more:

Q: You have worked with a who's who of figure skating, choreographing legendary and memorable programs for everyone from Michelle Kwan to Katia Gordeeva, Elaine Zayak, Jill Trenary and so many more. Which skaters have you developed the closest bonds with over the years?

A: I would have to say my closest bond is with Sasha Cohen because I still see her occasionally and because of the number of programs I did for her over the years. Her personality and enthusiasm was invigorating every time we got in the rink for rehearsal. Elaine Zayak is truly a lady and was amazing during her comeback. I remember when I was choreographing her short program and saying "OK, now have to do a spiral sequence" and she said "Oh, I don't do spirals", and I responded "Honey, you may not do windows but now in this day and age you have to do a spiral sequence". When Frank Carroll asked me to choreograph for Michelle Kwan I was truly honored. I felt such a connection to Michelle because of the dignity and respect she gave to her sport. Lastly, my close bond to Tatsuki Machida from Japan is so inspirational to me  because his purity of movement. He came to me last year to do The Firebird after seeing Ashley Wagner in Black Swan. He did not know that as a professional dancer I had danced Prince Ivan and Kastchei the Evil Wizard.


Q: You have not choreographed Ashley Wagner's programs for the current season, having really helped transform Ashley with such beautiful programs as Pollock, Black Swan and The Red Violin. How did these programs come to life and what direction do you think Ashley will end up going in?

A: I was pleased that I was able to give Ashley Wagner her artistic voice. I had choreographed Somewhere In Time a few years back and was so excited when she called me to choreograph Black Swan for her. I knew I wanted to make a contrast between Odette and Odile from the classic Swan Lake in this piece. This was the jumping off point to develop Ashley's ability as a character actress in her skating. The hours I spent rehearsing her on the proper classical use of port de bras for the sinuous haunting flutter of the Black Swans wings was well worth it. She was shocked at how difficult it is to be as pulled up in her torso as dancers are all of the time. During the spiral sequence, I knew I was going to put the memorable port de bras on the staccato music to emphasize the frenetic nervousness Odette experiences in her transformation into Odile. Odette is beautiful and trusting, delicate and needy while Odile is underhanded and conniving and evil to the core. The bourrees had to be in the step sequence as they are the  essence of Odette and Odile. Samson and Delilah was a continuation of the great dramatic quality Ashley was growing into. I wanted to show many sides of her personality in her quest to give up the secret behind Samson's power and eventually his demise. The controversial color of the dress was intentional as a metaphor for the gold that Delilah would receive once she gave the vital information to destroy Samson. Jackson Pollock is one of my favorite artists because his paintings inspire movement and emotion when I study them. This enabled me to give Ashley an edgy fun loving twist in the short for the first year. I tried to capture her frivolity and excitement to inspire and entertain the audience and judges. The Red Violin was inspired because I am of Italian descent and I spent part of my ten years with Carlo and Christa Fassi in Italy where the Red Violin takes place.  The movie is outstanding and the story spellbinding to me. For two years, Ashley Wagner was my muse and I think I have opened up artistic doors for her to thrive and flourish under whomever she works with. It will be interesting to see where The Black Swan flies to next.



Q: How the transition from choreographing 6.0 programs to CoP programs changed the process for you? What challenges has it presented?

A: In the beginning, the transformation from 6.0 to IJS was a little stifling. I felt it was difficult for me to interject so many of the very special and unique moves many skaters can do into the programs for fear of losing the necessary opportunities  to garner more points from the system. Then one day, my long time friend and coach Cindy Caprel said to me "Phillip, you have been choreographing for IJS for years and did not realize it, go back and look at our National Champion Deanna Stellato's long program at Keri Lotion". Well I did just that and immediately was enlightened at how many transitions and few crossovers there were in the program. Also, the innovative spins in her program would be Level 4 spins today. From that day forward, I felt free and inspired to try to give each skater an artistically challenging and exciting program.


Q: What advice would you give someone wanting to get into the world of choreography?

A: I believe education is the key to excelling at anything in life. Having had the opportunity to perform professionally on stage for 13 years was the most valuable education I could have ever dreamed of. Dancing ballets by so many different wonderful choreographers in classical and contemporary and having the opportunity in a German Opera house to dance in the operas, operettas and musicals exposed me to just about every genre of dance except hip hop which was soon to be born. Classical ballet training is the foundation of all dance forms whether it be ballet, contemporary, folk, character, spanish, jazz, rock or lyrical. I would encourage anyone who wants to be a choreographer to take as many dance classes in various styles as they can. I would suggest studying piano or violin to fine tune their ear to the demands of many musical compositions today. I think the most important thing is to be inventive and not just regurgitate choreography they received while they were skaters... challenge themselves to go to the theater and inspire themselves to greater heights of expertise.


Q: What choreographers - on and off the ice - inspire you?

A: My favourite choreographer is George Balanchine of the New York City Ballet. Mr. B. is revered as the greatest choreographer of the twentieth century. I have to get my New York City Ballet fix once a year to take myself back to my roots so that I can better choreograph for my skaters. Jiri Kylian of the Netherlands Danse Theatre is also one of my favourites. His use of space and time is magnificent and the creative way he uses the dancers and the sets is riveting. In a modern era, I think Travis Wall from So You Think You Can Dance? is outstanding. He has his own special style and one cannot decipher what modern dance technique he has come from whether it be Graham, Cunningham, Horton, Limon or Lubovitch based. This is what I was talking about when referring to young choreographers finding their own path and not copying that style or technique they gained from their choreographers while skating.




Q: What pieces of choreography are you most proud of?

A: I am fortunate to have so many wonderful coaches entrust their skaters to me and I humbly thank them. I am proud of so many pieces I choreographed over the years. A few that stand out are Ashley Wagner in Black Swan,  Jill Trenary in Winter Games, Michelle Kwan in Hands and Kissing You, Sasha Cohen in Hallelujah and West Side Story and Tatsuki Machida in The Firebird and East of Eden. Also, Wynne and Druar's Tap Dance free dance I did with Sandra Hess and had the opportunity to do the actual tap dancing on the soundtrack and then matching the steps to make it look like they were doing the tap the audience was hearing.


Q: What are your favourite movies?

A: Although I love movies, I am really a reader. Usually I have three books going at once. One for enjoyment, one to learn something like archaeology for my son and one in German. I would have to say The Hours, Pollock and West Side Story are among my favorite movies.




Q: What's one thing that very few people know about you?

A: I began my classical ballet training very young on the sly to help my gymnastics. Coming from a gymnastics family and being a champion gymnast I needed an edge on the competition. Ballet gave me that edge as it does to any serious figure skater. Another thing no one knows about me is that at my age I can still stay up in a handstand to make my grandkids smile.

For more information about Phillip and his work, visit www.phillipmillschoreographer.com!

If you enjoyed my interview with Phillip, "like" this blog on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard for all of the new interviews and writing as they get posted, pictures and news from the skating world and lots of great videos! You can also give me a follow on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog. I love talking skating and would love to talk skating with you!

Isabelle And Paul Duchesnay's The Planets


"Long ago, on a dark icy planet, the Gods gathered under Jupiter's watchful eye to create two perfect creatures. Having conjured the new beings from out of the ocean depths, the Gods then guided them on a breathtaking journey to maturity." The Planets with Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay was a tour de force and really a revolutionary piece of performance art when it was released by Rhombus Video in the mid 1990's and truly a collaboration that stands the test of time. Uniquely combining solo and ensemble skating, dance, underwater photography and imagery, The Planets created a new world combining imagination, skating, dance, mythology, theatre and the music of Gustav Holst (performed by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra) in a way that was truly remarkable and breathtaking.


Although the Duchesnays (who I just love) were the stars of this production, the skating cast also included 1987 World Champion Brian Orser. Dance was fused with skating, with dance performances by the Toronto Dance Theatre, Sonia Rodriguez, Learie McNicolls and Charles Kirby complementing the exquisite dancing on ice and underwater work in the setting of Mount Olympus. The performances were presented as entertainment to The Gods.


Choreography for The Planets was done by the gifted Lar Lubovitch, who studied at Juilliard under dance greats like Martha Graham and José Limón and has created works not only for Broadway stages but for the New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Paris Opera Ballet and Baryshnikov's White Oak Dance Project as well as his own Lar Lubovitch Dance Company. Lubovitch is no stranger to skating either, having choreographed a full length ice production of The Sleeping Beauty starring Robin Cousins and Rosalynn Sumners and worked with John Curry, Dorothy Hamill, Peggy Fleming and the Ice Theatre Of New York.


The Planets, which was originally broadcast by A&E in June 1995 and nominated for both Emmy and Grammy Awards, is definitely a piece of performance art and skating masterpiece worth revisiting... or discovering if you haven't yet. Broadcast Week (at the time of its release) described the production as "spectacular... in its beauty, grace and adoration of the pure flame of imagination... a sublimely elegant celebration of visual, aural and bodily splendour... a remarkably successful cross-fertilization of the popular and high performance arts". There's a certain sense of fantasy and getting lost in the pieces that comes in this particular production that is indescribable and perhaps a little magical. All the best skating is.

If you enjoyed this feature, "like" this blog on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard for all of the new interviews and writing as they get posted, pictures and news from the skating world and lots of great videos! You can also give me a follow on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog. I love talking skating and would love to talk skating with you!

Friday, 27 September 2013

Interview With Christopher Mabee


If you love watching men's figure skating and live in Canada, you most definitely know the name Christopher Mabee. A medallist on the Novice, Junior and Senior levels at the Canadian National Championships, Christopher has represented Canada on both the Junior and Senior Grand Prix with great success and competed at the World Junior Championships, the Four Continents Championships (where he won the silver in 2006) and the World Championships in 2007. I was in the rink when he skated to a silver medal at the 2007 Canadian Nationals here in Halifax and can attest to the fact of him not only having a wonderful performance but competing in a very deep field. Jeffrey Buttle won that year, but in finishing second Mabee outskated Emanuel Sandhu, Shawn Sawyer, Patrick Chan, Joey Russell, Vaughn Chipeur, Kevin Reynolds, Bryce Davison and a who's who of great Canadian skaters. Now skating on the high seas as a professional skater with Willy Bietak Productions, Christopher took the time to reflect on his competitive career, talk about skating professionally, homophobia in figure skating, men's skating in Canada and much more:

Q: During your skating career, you were a Novice, Junior and Senior medallist at the Canadian National Championships and competed at the World Junior Championships, Four Continents Championships, World Championships and on both the Junior and Senior Grand Prix, winning the silver medal at the 2006 Four Continents Championships ahead of well known skaters like Matthew Savoie and Michael Weiss. What are your proudest and most special memories from your eligible skating career?

A: Well, after you put it all out there I guess I would have to say I am proud of all the accomplishments I achieved over my competitive career! A couple of my proudest moments probably come from the National Championships in Canada. I feel like I always had my best skates in front of a Canadian audience. 2005 was a year of changes. I made a coaching change during the off season and then returned back to Lee Barkell and Doug Leigh because it wasn't working out. Then I was injured before the Junior Grand Prix final. Going to Nationals and performing probably one of my most emotional performances and in my hometown was such a great moment. The only other one would have to be after the 2006 long program where I really thought I had skated well enough to make the Olympic team. To recover after falling from 3rd to 8th after the short program and then to come back with a solid free skate really showed me what I was made of.

Q: Looking back, would you change about your skating career if you had to do it all again?

A: I am not sure what I would change. Honestly, I wish I would have loved the gym more and didn't make it seem like such a chore. I wish I knew then what I know now. I find I am a much more consistent performer now being older, but that's about it.

Q: You competed under both the 6.0 and IJS system. How hard was adjusting to a new way of skating and a new way of being judged? Which system do you think was/is the fairest to skaters and audiences?

A: Adjusting to the new system was interesting to say the least. I had a hard time understanding the importance of the small points adding up and I don't even think I full got it even when I removed myself from competitive skating. The new system changed skating. I find the new system has made skating seem busy. Choreographers like David Wilson, Lori Nichol and Jeffrey Buttle have been great at finding the balance of pleasing the judges and not making their skaters look chaotic or frantic. I like how everything has value, but I feel like with all the strategy it is making it hard for the audience to connect with skaters on emotional level. I feel like we are getting closer to what it was like before the system change but it will need more time. I think the 6.0 system was easier for the audience to understand and to relate to. As for what is fair, we are speaking about a judged sport. I would like to see some judges called out for stupidly high numbers when the other judges go low. Same with the calling of the events. Last year at the Grand Prix Final, I saw some stuff where I had no idea what the panel saw. For me it was just weird. In general, I don't care what the numbers are. I just want to watch good skating and see that being rewarded and I think/hope the audience would want the same thing.

Q: You worked with some of the best coaches and choreographers in the skating world during your career - David Wilson, Lori Nichol, Doug Leigh, Lee Barkell, Paul Wirtz... What did you take from working with each of these people that really helped you develop as a better skater?

A: Well, each person I have worked with has been so different and I have definitely learned something from everyone. With Paul Wirtz, I never went to a competition unprepared. He always had me trained and ready to go. Doug Leigh and Lee Barkell taught me proper technique on my jumps. With David Wilson, he showed me another side of skating that I didn't know was there and really pushed me to try something new. Lori Nichol showed me the importance of connecting with the choreographer and showed me that you can have fun and get stuff done too. I can always remember having a great time with Lori anytime we got together. In this new aspect of my career, I have had the opportunity to work with Sarah Kawahara who taught me a lot about playing a character and telling a story. Christopher Nolan gave me a new appreciation for the simple things in skating like a pointed toe, clean lines, and simple skating. I have been really lucky to have worked with such talented people.

Q: In 2006, you finished 4th at the Canadian Championships, missing a trip to the Winter Olympics by one spot. I can't even imagine. How did you get over that and how can skaters perservere when the going gets tough?

A: Well, it wasn't easy. The hardest part was training for the Four Continents Championships which were only a few weeks later. I have a great support system and they really helped me through that time. During the Olympics I enjoyed a drink or two while watching it. I spoke a lot with my sports psychologist, and she really helped me get through the emotional trauma that happened with being so close to making it to Olympics. It wasn't until the end of the Grand Prix events where I finally feel like I got over it and could focus on what I needed to do. I think the best thing you can do in moments like that is really communicate with your support team (family, coaches, close friends). Don't hold it in, just be honest with yourself and about how you feel.

Q: You turned professional in 2008 and have done some touring, both with Disney On Ice and Royal Caribbean. Where are you currently performing and is professional skating what you thought it would be? What do you love the most about it?

A: As of right now, I am in between contracts. I am currently working for Willy Bietak Productions on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. Professional skating is more than what I thought it would be. When I came into professional skating I was in a time in my life were I was broke and needed money. I had no idea when I started that it would reignite my love and passion for the sport. I love being able to skate without the pressure. I obviously still have a lot of expectations for myself but being able to perform in front of an audience without pressure is such a freeing feeling.

Q: Is skating professionally something you see yourself doing long term? 

A: I didn't expect to be skating this long. I have been working for Willy Bietak Productions for nearly 5 years now and it has been great. I am treated really well and have no intentions of completely stopping in the near future, but we will see how my body holds up in the upcoming years.

Q: If you hadn't been a figure skater, what other talent do you think you would have pursued this far in your life?

A: I am not sure if I would have been involved with sports but if I was it probably would have been diving or gymnastics but that would mean I would need to love the gym... so maybe not!

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

A: Something that most people don't know about me... My life is pretty much an open book. When I retired from competitive skating I was severely in debt. I was over $30,000 in debt and worked really hard and saved my money I was making to get out of it. As for random things people wouldn't know, I am a horrible tourist. I might go see what's important but I really just like finding interesting restaurants and having a good meal with great wine. That is what travel has become for me.

Q: Who are three figure skaters or teams (past or present) you could sit and watch perform all day?

A: John Curry! I am currently obsessed with a pro performance or exhibition he did where he skated to "Carmen". I just think it is a brilliant piece of choreography. Michelle Kwan, which doesn't need an explanation. I can't think of another person but I YouTube constantly looking for inspiration. I love when I can get goosebumps from watching a performance and that makes me want to skate.

Q: In response to Skate Canada's 2009 campaign to make figure skating more "masculine", Elvis Stojko told the Toronto Sun "if you're very lyrical and you're really feminine and soft, well, that's not men's skating. That is not men's skating, ok? Men's skating is power, strength, masculinity, focus, clarity of movement, interpretation of music." At the time, Skate Canada director Barb MacDonald was in charge of communications for One Way Ministries, an evangelical group that promotes "a cure for homosexuality". What are your thoughts on this and do you think homophobia within the sport is still an issue?

A: Well, first off everyone has their opinion on what men's skating should be. I feel like Skate Canada was maybe trying to promote skating as more than spandex and sparkles and let the people who are maybe a little close minded towards having their sons join skating know that it is more than just going out and looking pretty. It takes hard work to get to where you want to be. Regarding what Elvis said (and no offence to him or what he said but) to me Elvis was always just an athlete and not an artist. Men's skating needs a mix of both. I think it is important to respect each individual skater and what they bring to skating. There is no need to define what men's skating should be. It is what it is and we should be so happy to have such a variety of skaters. About Barb MacDonald, I have worked closely with Barb and never had any issues. She always treated me and other gay skaters with respect. Barb is one member of a team of people who push these new messages of what canadian skating should be promoting so I wouldn't think about what she is involved with in her personal life too much with the issue with Skate Canada. Homophobia is and will continue to be an issue. As long as everyone continues to stand up for what is right (gay or straight) then it will get better. We have to support the people who are not getting support they need.

Q: What are your thoughts on the current state of men's skating in Canada and worldwide?

A: Having the opportunity to watch Nationals last year I would say men's skating is looking really good. We have some great up and comers, and our current top guys are so strong. Mike Slipchuk (the Skate Canada High Performance Director) has such a strong development program and having such a talented group of guys coming, I am looking forward to watching them develop and be successful. I just hope they can survive the growth spurts and be the next big thing in men;s skating. From what I saw last year... loads of potential!

Q: Who do you think are the skaters to watch going into the 2014 Olympics in Sochi?

A: Denis Ten, Evgeni Plushenko (if he can make it to olympics), Gracie Gold, Kaetlyn Osmond... All Canadian pairs teams... they are all looking so good! Scott and Tessa... I am really interested to see what they are going to come out with this year. I loved "Carmen" and loved watching the piece evolve last season.

Q: What do you love most about being on the ice?

A: The sound of a perfect landing.

If you enjoyed my interview with Christopher, "like" this blog on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard for all of the new interviews and writing as they get posted, pictures and news from the skating world and lots of great videos! You can also give me a follow on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog. I love talking skating and would love to talk skating with you!

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Interview With Filip Stiller


If you look at Sweden's geographical location, you would just assume it was always winter and people were always skating. Although Ulrich Salchow won the Olympic title the first time figure skating was contested at the Olympics - the SUMMER Olympics - in 1908 and a record 10 World titles, Sweden has not been a superpower in the skating world although it has produced some extraordinary, fabulous skaters. One of those skaters is Filip Stiller, who won 3 National titles and represented his country at the Junior World Championships, European Championships and World Championships. Now retired from the skating world, Stiller took the time to talk about his skating career, skating in Sweden, the current flock of men's competitors, his current career in radio and much more:

Q: You're a 3 time Swedish National Champion and have also competed at the Junior World Championships, European Championships and World Championships, as well as both junior and senior international competitions. What are your best and worst memories from your competitive skating days? What did you learn the most from them?

A: The best memory I have competition wise was when I, as a substitute for Kristoffer Berntsson, went to the Olympic qualification competition in 2001 in Zagreb. No one really expected me to even be close to getting a spot for Sweden but I skated clean in both programs and managed to qualify a spot for Sweden! I still remember the feeling when I had finished my free skate. I was jumping up and down on the ice! A lot of the guys that I managed to beat there were much more experienced and had placed quite high at several championships. Up until then, I had not really done any great international competitions so it was a huge confidence boost to realize I could do it. Unfortunately, Sweden decided not to send anyone for the Olympics in 2002, but it was still a great competition. Another great memory, for a totally different reason, was from the Nordics in Asker, Norway way back in 1996 when I was 13. There was a bus ride with all the Swedish skaters going to the train station, where we were all so tired and silly from the competition stress, we broke down laughing at absolutely everything anyone said. The worst memories are related to being put in second over and over to Kristoffer Berntsson, my good friend and rival over many years. During the junior years I was technically stronger but would still not beat him at Nationals even when I skated clean. He was more polished than me which the judges preferred. Later in our careers (in December 2002), Kristoffer withdrew from Nationals due to illness but was still picked over me for Europeans in Malmö, Sweden. He had landed the triple axel in competition and I hadn't. It was still such a hard blow. Overall, the pressure and agony that you feel while coming up to a competition is what I miss the least. Before my last Nationals, I had a lump in my stomach for two weeks prior to the event.

Q: Sweden is rich in skating history. The very first Olympic men's champion in figure skating, Ulrich Salchow, was from Sweden and your country has also produced some excellent skaters over the years - Catarina Lindgren, Peter Johanson, Kristoffer Berntsson, Joshi and Viktoria Helgesson, Adrian Schultheiss and yourself among them. How popular is skating in your country and has it gained popularity in recent years?

A: It is still very far behind many other sports, but there has definitely been a huge change over the last years. This has been following the success of Viktoria Helgesson, Joshi Helgesson, Adrian Schultheiss, Kristoffer Berntsson, and recently Alexander Majorov. Viktoria Helgesson (especially) has risen as a star in a way that I have never seen any Swedish figure skater do before and it makes me so happy. The Swedish Figure Skating Association now even has sponsors! That was impossible to get just ten years ago. In the media, there has always been a tradition to show figure skating championships on TV because the sport is beautiful and fun to watch. Now the interest has escalated with the success of our skaters. SVT (for example) had excellent viewing ratings during the European Championships in Zagreb in January. However, in Sweden, the most important sports in media I would say are soccer, ice hockey, riding, golf, skiing, and track.




Q: If you were going backpacking across Europe and could only take one book, one CD and one movie, what would they be?

A: My sister has been going on and on about Steve Jobs autobiography... maybe I would bring that. The CD would definitely be my countryman Avicii's amazing album "True" and I'd bring Lord of the Rings - Return of the King, because I love fantasy/sci-fi and that would keep me busy for at least three hours at a time.

Q: You are currently involved in journalism and radio. Who do you work for and what do you find the most rewarding about writing?

A: I currently work for national Swedish Radio as a reporter and news reader. The part I like the most is that I get to learn so much about the world thanks to my job. I don't necessarily have in-depth knowledge about everything, but at least I know a little about everything. I know how to find out the information that I need. And feeling that you have a pretty good idea on what's going on in the world is a rewarding feeling.

Q: When was the last time you were on the ice and can you ever see yourself getting back into competitive skating?

A: It was this spring when a friend came to visit and we went skating outdoors in Stockholm. I borrowed hockey skates because I didn't have my own with me! Before that, my sister and I skated a couple times in a rink nearby and it was good fun. Competitive skating? No... for numerous reasons. I'm too old, too heavy, too injured, and don't want to feel the pressure and agony of competing and trying to reach my goals again. Shows however, are not out of the question. I will always love to skate and perform. For now, I am focusing on my career as a journalist.

Q: Looking at the current field of men's skaters vying for medals in Sochi, who are the skaters to watch? If you were still competing, who would be the scariest to compete against?

A: I'd say to watch out for Javier Fernandez and Yuzuru Hanyu. If they can get it all together they will be very hard to beat. The question is if they can get it all together in one competition when it all matters. I hope so. Scariest to compete against? Well I don't know about scary, but Patrick Chan is such a brilliant skater artistically. He is so incredibly hard to beat just because of his sheer skating skills and musicality. There was one skater who I actually thought was scary for real and that was Yannick Ponsero, but only because his speed across the ice was unbelievable and I'd be terrified to crash in to him.

Q: Skating takes a lot of talent and also a lot of nerve. How did you manage to stay on top of the mental game of competitive figure skating?

A: I had specific technical pointers of every jump in the program that I would think about. Like, going in to the first combo I'd think "Right arm BACK, right arm BACK, right arm BACK!" The preparation - the crosscuts before each jump - is what decides a lot, so I made sure I knew exactly what I had to think, no matter where my brain was going.

Q: Two of your main rivals at home during your skating career were Adrian Schultheiss and Kristoffer Berntsson. What are your thoughts on their skating and what was competing against them like on a national level?

A: Kristoffer meant a lot to me during my career. He was the main reason I pushed myself so hard to become better, and I have him to thank for a lot of my progress. I always looked up to his classic skating with great lines, with good speed throughout the whole programs. In the beginning of his career he was so shy and it was hard for him to show his emotions on the ice and then, as he got more mature, he transformed in to one of the most entertaining skaters in the business. That was impressive. I will never forget his free skate at the 2007 Tokyo Worlds. Competing against him was both the worst nightmare and the best thing ever. It was a nightmare because he always seemed to compete at his best when I was the only real opponent... for example at Nationals. That was where it all mattered. I could beat him at international competitions, but in the end, that didn't matter in the long run. It was a dream competing against him because he was a fantastic friend. He was always very respectful and so easy to be around. There was one international competition where we had both spent a lot of time lying in our beds in the hotel room, feeling sick from the competition pressure and all the nerves, and I particularily remember realizing when we talked about it afterwards that he was the only other person in the world who knew exactly how it felt to go through all this. That is why I think we became close friends. I still see him, his wife and two kids when I visit Gothenburg and I am happy to have him as my friend. Adrian came to my club during the last couple of seasons of my career, and we got along very well too. He is one of the biggest natural talents in figure skating that the world has ever seen, according to me. It was unbelievable to see how big his progress was, even if there were others who worked harder. It was fantastic to see how he handled the pressure of going to the Olympics and skating as well as he did. It is so sad the injuries put a stop to his skating.

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

A: Alexei Yagudin because he had the power, the skating, the jumps, and the charisma of a champion but could still be graceful. He kept developing the sport with his moves. Truly my number one. Number two would be Patrick Chan, because of a flow and knee bend that I could only dream about. I still can't see him land a quad without secretly sighing "Aaaaaah!" Thirdly, Michelle Kwan, because she embodied what "grace" is all about. Especially in the earlier years, her programs were packed with content, and she made a huge impact on the figure skating world.

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

A: Most people don't know anything about me to begin with! When I was 11 years old, I was on a game show here in Sweden called "The Hunt For The Red Ruby", where my parents had to answer questions in a studio in Stockholm and I had to try and find rings and eventually also a ruby in different locations in Istanbul, Turkey. The more questions they answered, the more clues I got. I did find the ruby in the end and we won some money and a trip that we took to North Carolina in the U.S.

Q: What do you love most about skating more than anything?

A: The fact that there aren't two skaters who can do anything exactly the same. Every skater jumps differently. Every skater skates differently. Every program can be done differently. There is an endless array of creating figure skating moves. I also love the sport because of the excitement and unpredictability that the sport holds: nothing is for certain, a wrong thought can make even a champion miss an relatively easy jump.

If you enjoyed my interview with Filip, "like" this blog on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard for all of the new interviews and writing as they get posted, pictures and news from the skating world and lots of great videos! You can also give me a follow on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog. I love talking skating and would love to talk skating with you!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

A Primer Of New France And Canada's Early Skating History


Outdoor ice skating in Canada originated as a form of transportation across frozen lakes and ponds. The Iroquois people tied the shinbones of animals to their footwear using deerskin rope and skated across lakes and ponds instead of travelling along the shoreline. Early French explorers at Acadia - right here in Nova Scotia - were thought to have ice skated in the early seventeenth century.

Early immigrants arriving in New France from Europe brought ice skates in their luggage. Travel journals and officers' diaries of the eighteenth century attest to skating's popularity in New France. On December 24, 1748, Intendant François Bigot issued an ordinance forbidding people to skate on Quebec's streets. Skates of the time were separate blades that would have been strapped, clamped or attached to a shoe or boot.


Skating's popularity in early Canada continued to thrive throughout the nineteenth century. British officers based in Canada introduced ice skating to the public as a means of recreation, helping to relieve the boredom and sense of isolation during the long, bitter winter months. Like snowshoeing, ice skating quickly caught on as not only a form of transportation but a popular recreational activity and sport. The first known game of a form of hockey was played on ice was on October 25, 1825 when Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin documented a game placed on Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories. The first known skating club in Canada was actually established on Lily Lake in Saint John, New Brunswick in 1833. In 1854, it is believed that speed skating was first popularized in early Canada when three British military officers raced from Montreal to Quebec (257 km/160 mile distance) on the frozen St. Lawrence River. By 1887, speed skating was a well established Canadian winter activity. In 1897, when the first World Speed Skating Championships were held in Montreal, Winnipeg's Jack McCulloch was the victor.

'Fancy skating' first developed a large following in the 1860's, in part inspired by 'The Father Of Figure Skating' Jackson Haines, who toured eastern and central Canada the 1860's. Exhibitions of 'fancy skating' were staged at the opening of new rinks and at gala balls and winter carnivals frequently held at Montreal's Victoria Rink. During this period, F. Perkins of Toronto was considered widely as Canada's top skater, winning The Gold Medal Of Canada in 1867. That very same year, the Montreal Skating Club offered an amateur competition that was "open to the world".

By the 1880's, Canada had its own early skating star, Louis Rubenstein of Montreal. Rubenstein travelled to St. Petersburg, Russia where the first 'unofficial' World Figure Skating Championships. He was also the winner of the U.S. Amateur Skating title in 1885 and 1889. Another skater of the era, George Meagher of Montreal, won another open competition in 1891 that was also claimed as a World Championship. Rubenstein was instrumental in the establishment of The Amateur Skating Association Of Canada in 1887. In 1903, Governor General Gilbert Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, 4th Earl of Minto presented the Minto prizes to figure skaters that excelled in compulsory and special figures. In 1911, the countries first artificial skating rinks appeared in British Columbia. In 1914, the Figure Skating Department of the Amateur Skating Association of Canada held the first official annual Canadian Figure Skating Championships. Rubenstein served as this Association's first president and held that position until 1930. In 1939, the Association became known as the Canadian Figure Skating Association, which was renamed Skate Canada in 2000. The rest 'as they say' is history.

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.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Spotlight On Olga Markova


At the risk of sounding like some old prospector of yesteryear spinning yarns by a campfire... "do you know what's wrong with figure skaters today? They've lost their spunk!"... Not that I recall any old prospectors picking figure skaters' spunk as a hot campfire topic of conversation, but you know what I mean girl. In a different time (not so long ago) there used to be a lot more skaters that were serving up individuality and their own bold style; showcasing something unique that you couldn't quite put your finger on. One of those skaters that I don't quite feel has ever been recognized fully for her one of a kind style on the ice was St. Petersburg, Russia's Olga Dmitriyevna Markova.

When the Soviet Union finally collapsed on December 26, 1991, figure skaters from former Soviet countries went through a very uncertain time. The last Soviet Figure Skating Championships were held in Kiev, Ukraine in 1992 and the skaters competing went on to represent not the Soviet Union but a "Unified Team" consisting of six of the fifteen former Soviet republics (Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Armenia) at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. Former Soviet republics Estonia and Latvia fielded their own competitors at those Games. With the Soviet Union being such a super power for years, there was certainly an adjustment period for those new republics, particularly in ladies figure skating. When Natalia Lebedeva turned professional in 1990, Yulia Vorobieva (who later competed for Azerbaijan) was the best finisher at the 1991 World Championships. At the 1992 World Championships, many skaters who had competed under the "Unified Team" at the 1992 Olympics went on to represent the Commonwealth Of Independent States at the 1992 World Championships. Of the ladies representing that team at the 1992 World Championships, Tatiana Rachkova was the best finisher, in 13th place. There was certainly room to grow for these skaters.

Olga's short program at the 1993 European Championships

A lot happened in a year. By the time the 1993 World Championships rolled around, there was no more "Unified Team" or "Commonwealth Of Independent States" being represented. Competitors skated under the flag of their own republic. Russia, the Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Lithuania, Belarus and Uzbekistan all fielded their own competitors. While the young Ukrainian orphan Oksana Baiul stole the show and won her first world title seemingly out of nowhere, Russia's Maria Butyrskaya had a rough skate at those World Championships and failed to even advance from the Qualifying Rounds. With coveted spots at the 1994 Winter Olympics on the line, she effectively took a spot away from the Russian ladies skaters in Lillehammer with her less than stellar performance. That same year, Olga Markova finished 4th at the first Russian Figure Skating Championships held since 1915.

Olga's free skate at the 1994 European Championships

The following year (without a trip to the Lillehammer Olympics to contend for) Olga Markova made a bold statement, winning the Russian national title ahead of Butyrskaya and a young "upstart" named Irina Slutskaya. She went on to compete at the 1994 European Figure Skating Championships, where she claimed the bronze medal with an outstanding skate, placing ahead of Butyrskaya, Tanja Szewczenko, Krisztina Czako, Anna Rechnio, Marina Kielmann, Laetitia Hubert, Marie-Pierre Leray and even 2 time Olympic Gold Medallist Katarina Witt. That same year, she made her debut at the 1994 World Figure Skating Championships, where she finished a very respectable 10th. The following season, Olga Markova was all business. Despite finishing 2nd at the Russian Championships, she earned the silver medal right behind Surya Bonaly at the 1995 European Championships and seemed poised to challenge for the gold at the 1995 World Championships in Birmingham, England when she delivered one of the finest skates of her career and finished 2nd in the short program, right behind Nicole Bobek.

Olga's short program at the 1995 World Championships

Her performance in the short program at the 1995 World Championships was set to "Harlem Nocturne", and to those who aren't familiar, I'd have to put to this in my top ten list of the best short programs I've seen under the 6.0 system. In silver and black, she landed a gorgeous triple lutz/double toe combination, footwork into a triple loop and a fine double axel in a program peppered with strong spins, avant garde choreography and a spectacular spiral sequence to boot, replete with Natalia Bestemianova's famous "Besti squat", a move that Markova often included in her programs. Although only 5'2", there was something about Markova's long legged style that you couldn't quite put your finger on. She presented herself in such a way that it was almost like watching Lisa-Marie Allen, who was 5'10". The extension of her arms and free leg made her look statuesque; her icy glare reached the back row. Even after her best skates, she barely cracked a smile. She was all business. She returned for her "Miss Saigon" free skate without the same consistency she showed in her short program and dropped to 5th overall when favourites Lu Chen and Surya Bonaly rebounded after minor mistakes in their short programs.

Olga Markova's free skate at the 1996 Champions Series Final

The following three seasons proved disappointing for Markova. Establishing herself in the 1994/1995 season as a skater to beat proved a difficult 'act to follow'. Injuries and inconsistency seemed to plague her. Despite hanging on and qualifying for the Champions Series (Grand Prix) Final the next two season, she failed to ever reclaim her Russian National title. She missed the World Championships altogether in 1996 and when she returned in 1997, she finished a disappointing 12th. During the 1997/1998 season, she showed some promise of perhaps playing spoiler at the 1998 Russian Figure Skating Championships when she finished 3rd at the 1997 Cup Of Russia ahead of Surya Bonaly and Nicole Bobek, but a 9th place finish at the 1998 Russian Figure Skating Championships effectively ended her eligible career.

Olga's short program at the 1997 European Championships

Turning professional, she went on to finish 2nd at the 1998 World Professional Championships in Jaca, Spain ahead of Canada's Liz Manley and to compete at the Miko Masters competition in France and the American Open Pro Figure Skating Championships as well. When her performing career ended, she choreographed for skaters such as World Junior Champion Kristina Oblasova and coached Mexico's Adrian Alvarado and Russia's Sofia Biryukova. She currently acts as one of Russia's ISU Technical Specialists in singles skating.


What I think really made Olga such a standout skater in her era was so much more than "the jumps". Even evident after she started struggling with the consistency of her jumps following the 1995/1996 season was this larger than life quality to her skating, this dramatic flare and intensity that made each of her (ELIGIBLE!) performances so enthralling from an artistic standpoint that to watch her performances now - even pushing 20 years later - there's a timeless quality to her skating that you can't help but appreciate. If you look at not only Olga but other ladies skaters of the era like Laetitia Hubert, Vanessa Gusmeroli and Surya Bonaly who took risks and weren't afraid to be a little different on the ice, you see the clear lesson to the ladies of today. All four of these ladies reached the top five in the world, all by daring to be a little bit different from the flock. As difficult as it is to maintain individuality and still fit in the many, many, many expectations both technically and transition wise in the IJS system, there's still room to be creative. All it takes is the RIGHT music, the RIGHT choreographer and the RIGHT attitude.

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, 22 September 2013

Interview With Shawn Sawyer


Every so often a skater comes along that is simply too good for anything competitive figure skating can offer. Their skating is simply bigger than any confines you can put on it. Early in his eligible career, Shawn Sawyer won the Canadian Novice and Junior title. He went on to win 4 medals on the Senior level at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships from 2005 to 2011 and represent Canada at the World Junior Championships, Junior and Senior Grand Prix events, the Four Continents Championships, World Championships and Winter Olympic Games. Not bad for a skater from one province over (Shawn is originally from New Brunswick and now lives in Quebec)! Although his competitive career was nothing short of very impressive, it only took watching one of his programs (even early in his career) to know that Shawn had something extremely special that couldn't be judged by 6.0's, GOE's or PCS scores. His edge control, beautiful spins, flexibility, creativity, interpretation of music and dramatic flair on the ice all were things that really made him stand out as a skater that had so much more to offer than any quad or list of triple/triple combinations and footwork sequences many other skaters would reel off. Turning professional after his silver medal win at the Canadian National Championships in 2011, Shawn has shared his gift with a whole new generation of skaters through his work as a choreographer. He has toured all over North America as one of the biggest audience favourites with Stars On Ice and performed as a professional skater in countless shows including Holiday Festival On Ice and Celebration On Ice, dazzling fans with his backflip, signature spirals, Biellmann spin, Cantilever, triple jumps and edgy and innovative choreography. One thing about Shawn's skating that resonates with me personally is that he's exactly the kind of skater I would have loved to have been (and aspired to be). To me, things like hydroblading, spirals, flexibility, moves in the field, interpreting music and finding unique and interesting variations and ways of doing things were more interesting and exciting than any jump. It was my absolute pleasure to have chance to interview Shawn and ask him about his connection with Toller Cranston, his eligible career, how he comes up with his programs, his future and much, much more:

Q: The first time I saw you skate was on Toller Cranston's special in the 90's. You were only young but it was very apparent that you had something VERY special. How did your skating attract Toller's attention and what has your friendship been like over the years?

A: As Toller said, he discovered me but as a young skater I had no clue who he was so in a way we discovered each other! We did not spend much time together prior, during and after the show but we connected on such a level that whether we spend time together or not it would not change our strange relationship. I say strange because after the show everyone pointed out our resemblance and decided he was my real father. I was OK with that! I have learned a lot from the few words that he carefully mentioned to me... but those are secret!


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

A: My three favourite skaters of all time are of course Toller Cranston, Kurt Browning and Michelle Kwan. I don't think I need to explain that answer!


Q: You have won the Canadian Novice and Junior men's titles and four Senior medals at the Canadian National Championships from 2005 to 2011. What do you consider your proudest moments in your competitive career?

A: My proudest moments in competition as a 4 time Senior National Medallist are my qualification to the Olympic Games and my farewell season of 2011 with my own crazy creation of the "Alice In Wonderland"/Mad Hatter long program. I was not much of an exciting competitor. I always did my job, looked focused and prepared but inside I just wanted to perform on a professional level. My Mad Hatter program was the perfect balance that I needed to meet my own criteria and those of the judging system.


Q: I know you are very busy with coaching, choreography and performing and I can't imagine you have a ton of free time! What do you most enjoy doing most when you have a little time to yourself? 

A: In my spare time, what I most enjoy is walking my Chinese crested dog and getting home to a nice glass of red wine.




Q: Between your Cantilever, backflip, spins and spirals, you're one of the most exciting skaters to watch! Are all of the flexible "tricks" like the backflip and Cantilever that you use to highlight your programs as scary as they look?

A: I include a lot of difficulty and risk to my performances with my many unique tricks. Yes, they are very hard and I do need to keep in perfect shape to perform them to my standards. I am very flexible but to this day I still stretch religiously every day. The backflip is SO much fun and I love the international response that i get from it. The Cantilever will be the number one reason if you see me in a wheelchair before my 30's. I like to innovate, transform and customize skating moves. Spins, jumps and field moves are a perfect way to showcase every skaters unique way of performing them. I just decided to bring them to a high risk level.


Q: Where is the most interesting place in the world you have visited and what is one place you haven't that you'd love to go?

A: The most interesting place I have visited is Puerto Rico. It was SO nice - warm and perfect! I really want to visit Australia, not only for the country but mostly for the never ending plane ride. I love flying!



Q: For starters, I just LOVE your skating and I adore your "Alegria" program... as well as the "Carmina Burana" butterfly program and the White Stripes programs you skated at this year's Stars On Ice here in Halifax. I was in the front row here my mother and we both just loved both program! Where do you get your ideas for your programs, how do you put together choreography and what are some of your craziest program ideas that you haven't skated to just yet?

A: When it comes to my concepts for my programs, it is very easy. I get ideas all the time, all day long. I let them flourish in my head and decide to try it or discard it. For every program you see me do, there are about ten programs that are discarded. I do take a monstrous amount of time preparing for them, but once I lay it down on the ice I feel confident and ready to show my new baby! I love to come up with new stuff all the time and skating allows me to create more and more ways to reinvent myself and my skating.



Q: Who are your three favourite singers and why?

A: My top three favourite singers are... number one... Amy Winehouse. Love every single note that came out of her fragile frame. Second, Lady Gaga, because like me she is nuts! Thirdly, Marilyn Manson... Shocking, extravagant and questionable.


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

A: One thing people don't know about me is that I quit skating five minutes before each performance! I get really really, really stressed and I just want to kick my skates off and drive back home as soon as possible... but once I am on the ice I am the happiest person in the world!


Q: What are your plans for the upcoming year? Will we will see you back in Stars On Ice and other shows?

A: My plan for the upcoming season is to perform as much as possible! I hope to create new concepts and enjoy the time with my dog and my red wine!

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.