Wednesday, 1 January 2014

A Fireside Chat With Doug, Allison And Ryan


Allison Scott and I both know a thing or ten about skating. As a huge fan of the sport and the parent of a U.S. Champion and Sochi hopeful (Jeremy Abbott), Allison has broken down the 'Suzanne Bonaly Stage Mom' stereotype and welcomed us into her world, allowing us every opportunity imaginable to laugh and learn about skating with her through her blog Life On The Edge Of Skating. With Is That A Skate Guard In Your Pocket Or Are You Happy To See Me?, I've put almost a decade of my own experience on the ice and in judging skating (as well as closely following the sport for 20 years) into play and delved into interviews with some of the sport's yet and focused on celebrating professional and artistic skating and looking at skating's fascinating and storied history. "Our blogs are so different. You do interviews and commentary; I editorialize and try to teach through experience and humor. We both have very different perspectives," explained Allison. What do you get when you put these two crazy bloggers together? Trouble. What about when you add you add everyone's favourite person Doug Mattis and his little dog Ina Bauer too to the mix? You've got a fireside chat of epic proportions where we will be reflecting on another year past and a new year of figure skating just on the horizon. Allison and I bravely put our faith in Doug's hands and with a glass of only the finest boxed wine as our guide, turn the tables and bare all in this fireside chat about figure skating!

Allison: I must begin this Fireside Chat by stating up front (and to NO ONE’s surprise), I am a HUGE fan of men's skating. Ladies: don’t be offended, but you've been athletically and artistically flaunting it for years. Now, in my mind, it’s the era of the men. So if my answers seem heavily weighted – deal with it. I love you ladies, but in my book the guys rule the pond – from plumage to PCS – this is a “man's world” under IJS. I’m not saying it is right. I’m just sayin'...

Ryan: We have to talk to about MEN a lot? Well, that's just horrible... you know how I feel about men! Can't stand them... haha. Bring on the men... I mean questions!

Allison: Both are just fine with me... So Douglas - bring it on!

Doug: What skating rule would you add or change if you could? (Everything from the rational to fantasy-land-funny is in play!)

Ryan: First question and not a hard one to answer... in one of the very first blogs I wrote when I started the blog, I talked a little bit about the judging system that would be perfect in my eyes. Here's how I see it. In the short programs for singles skating, you do a jump combination consisting of a triple and a double, a triple and a triple or a quad and a triple or a double if you're fancy like that, and a spin combination, a layback spin or sit/back sit for the men, a spiral sequence (yes, men too!), one footwork sequence and a flying spin. Sound familiar? No double/double combinations and solo jumps in a senior short program. We all know which senior ladies I'm talking about. In the free skate, my suggestion for a well rounded is this: 2 spins, 1 crazy Tatiana Tarasova footwork sequence, a lutz, a flip, a loop, a salchow, a toe, an axel (ONE of those jumps in combination) and 1 repeated jump (also in combination). This way skaters have to demonstrate they can perform each and every jump. If you can't do a triple, you do a double. If you cheat anything, you get a ZERO. This is why we have a testing system. How we would judge this you ask? On a scale of 1-10. It's like 6.0, only that 40% of the score is technical and 60% artistic. And keep the technical specialists and slow-mo replays to really examine these jumps. These judges NEED to know if a skater is flutzing or cheating jumps. Sorry, but I'm old school. If you cheat your triple lutz, you get a zero. I'd rather see a clean double any day in a free skate. 

Allison: Agreed on the clean jumps, Ryan, but there are several additional things I’d change: First, I’d eliminate the 'pancake spin'. While I love pancakes that are Weight Watchers 'Friendly' (and I do have a recipe for anyone who might like it), I have a SERIOUS dislike for any spin that has skaters effectively smelling their skates and chewing on their boots. As a parent, I KNOW what those skates smell like and I can tell you that hockey players have nothing on figure skaters when it comes to stinky skates! I don’t care how you try to hide it - wet cow is wet cow. Every time I see that spin, I want to pass along a container of Gold Bond Foot Powder – or an industrial can of BBQ sauce. I would also let the skate fans weigh in on the scoring. Now THAT would be revolutionary! Let the judges score and then factor in the fan scores. Use the 6.0 system for fans; throw out the high and the low (scores, not fans – though, on occasion, that might not be unreasonable) and figure out some unfathomable algorithm that brings you the winner.     

Ryan: I totally agree with you about involving fans in the judging process. You can have as many of these 'You Be The Judge' things that networks might put on their websites to get skating fans to understand the current judging process, but not to insult anyone's intelligence... most casual skating fans still aren't going to get it. Keep it simple and have an audience 6.0 thing... I love it!

Doug: What skater past/present would you most like to meet (and why)?

Allison: I have met nearly everyone. That’s such a blessing of being where I am today – OLD! However, I would love to meet Axel Paulsen and sit next to him while he’s watching what happened to the jump that bears his name. Same with Lutz and Salchow. Can you imagine what they’d say? "Oh sweetie... I never intended my jump to look quite like THAT! What ARE you thinking?! You really need to go practice your figures first before you even attempt that again. Really!" Finally, I would bow down with great respect and gratitude if I could meet John Curry. If I make it to heaven someday, I hope I can get a front row seat to watch him skate in person. I never had that honor when he was alive. I missed my one opportunity because I was sick. I've never forgotten that.

Ryan: Skating was so different back then that I think the creators of those jumps would either just be in awe or mortified! It's hard to say. John Curry would definitely be in my top three list too as really, no one moved like him... and I don't think a lot of people realize what he had to overcome to even BE a skater... without his mother, it wouldn't have happened like it did as his father was so discouraging of him even taking dance lessons. John would definitely be on my list but for me, number one would be Dick Button. Not only is he a 2 time Olympic Gold Medallist and someone who revolutionized skating by performing the first double axel and triple loop, he's also someone who really changed professional skating by providing careers to so many professional skaters with Candid Productions and giving them opportunities to have 'defining moments' after their "amateur" careers had ended with things like Landover and the Challenge Of Champions and so many more professional competitions and shows. Some of the best skating I've ever seen came out of these competitions, and they really were some of the building blocks of giving professional skating a venue and a future. And the commentary! I DO give a rusty hoot about that - it was always just first rate, first rate. Dick is not only HILARIOUS but incredibly knowledgeable and insightful about the sport. I'd just love to sit and talk and laugh with him and find out how he really feels about all of the people in the sport that he's encountered over the years. There's just something about him I adore.

Doug: Male and female skater (or team) that make you swoon?

Ryan: Well, I don't swing roll in the direction of the ladies so that Dutch Waltz will NOT be happening but I think Katarina Witt is just drop dead gorgeous. Like Catherine Zeta-Jones "giiiiiiiiirl... look at you" gorgeous! As for men, there is NO ONE that loves men more than me... or is a bigger cougar than me. Well, there's probably tons of people who do, but you know what I mean. I don't think I could pick just one... back in the day, I always thought Alexandr Abt and Ilia Kulik were right some cute. I guess I must like my White Russians as much as I like my Pinot Grigio. Stephane Lambiel isn't hard on the eyes either... and John Kerr! Hey Girl Hey! As for skaters currently competing today, I've got about a list of 50 but I think Ross Miner, Stephen Carriere, Brian Joubert, Eric Radford, Jeremy Abbott, Garrett Kling and Adam Blake are all really good looking guys. In the words of Rose Nylund, they 'really melt my Haagen-Dasz". There's also something about 90's Petri Kokko with that crazy hair that just intrigued me in a "you need to take your shirt off" kinda way.

Allison: EASY! I swoon over Robin Cousins (he knows it now since I finally got to tell him in person, and with more than a bit of a blush – he’s sweet when he blushes!); Kurt Browning (but don’t tell him that, please – okay, you can tell him but wait until I’m not around to blush). I swoon over Richard Dwyer (but he knows that since I’m one of his greatest "stalker" fans). I absolutely love Jeff Buttle, Stephane Lambiel and OH-SO many more (yes, Scott, I love you too – and Mr. Button, Shawn Sawyer, and many more that I can recount here without making this the skating version of "War and Peace").  I’ve been known to swoon over some guy named Mattis, too. Oh wait, was that "swoon" or fall down at his feet? I've done both – though I would not categorize the falling as genuflecting, just not watching where I was walking when Doug decided to take us through a "shortcut" on the way to the car late at night after An Evening on Ice in L.A. a few years back!  Like Ryan, I don’t swoon over the girls… well, maybe over a few like Carol, Tenley, Janet, Dorothy, Kristi, Peggy and Michelle- though 'swoon' might not be the appropriate term. "Honor, respect, and revere" are more like it.

Ryan: That sounds like it would hurt come spring! I'm with you on Shawn Sawyer. Any man that can contort like a pretzel like that seems like he'd be a good time. And he's not hard on the eyes either!

Doug: Favorite competition moment you witnessed? A personal victory that was most thrilling, unexpected, most meaningful to that skater, etc.?


Wesley Campbell at the 2013 U.S. Nationals

Allison: I don’t actually remember those moments when it comes to my own skater. Watching my kid skate well is like having an out-of-body experience, or a serious case of amnesia. I actually have to go back and watch on YouTube and pinch myself to remember I was actually there. Over the years, I have collected a number of serious bruises doing that. Some of my favourite memories were not in competitions, though: Seeing Nathan Birch skate to "Walking in Memphis" during a show in Aspen. I can’t hear that song without thinking of him. During the same show, I got to see Dorothy do improv to "Unchained Melody" on a practice session. There were only a few of us in the old Aspen rink. The condensation formed a fog and Dorothy floated around the ice like an angel to a Righteous Brothers tape on a lousy sound system. It didn’t matter. We all stood absolutely silent and in awe. It was one of the most personal, powerful skating moments I can remember. Some top competition moments of late: Any of John Coughlin’s skates in pairs because he’s like another son since I’ve known him all his skating life. Jonathan Cassar and Wesley Campbell’s last competitive skates in Omaha. Alex Johnson’s breakthrough skate in Omaha, too. They’re like my kids. I love my boys!


Tanja Szewczenko at the 1997 Champions Series Final

Ryan: You saw Dorothy Hamill skate to "Unchained Melody" in the fog? That's like the skating equivalent of skating you saw an angel. I wasn't there and didn't witness this with my own two eyes but just picturing it gives me goosebumps. Watching Dorothy skate IS what I picture an angel would skate like. There's something almost otherwordly to her grace. Jeremy should be on anyone's list period. When that boy skates up to his potential, he's really quite honestly magical to watch. For me, this is a two way tie. Liz Manley's winning free skate (yes, it won the free skate) at the 1988 Calgary Olympics will forever be engrained in my mind as that 'magical moment'. Having gone through hell and back to get to that moment and that time and being sick as a dog when she did it, anyone would be lying if they didn't get tears in their eyes watching that performance for the first or the fiftieth time. There was just something so magical about it - she just COULDN'T put a foot wrong and was too cute for words! I just love Liz and have so much respect for her. The other one that I don't think a lot of skating fans who have just started following the sport would really be familiar with but just reduces me to a blubbering mess every time I watch without fail is Tanja Szewczenko's free skate at the 1997 Champions Series Final. This was somebody who easily could have DIED months earlier due to a very deadly combination of viral and blood infections caught at the same time and really wasn't in great physical shape as a result, and she used EVERY fibre of her being to put the skate of HER life out there in front of a hometown audience. Landing jump after jump and holding on - and that music - just created a moment that really moved me profoundly. I actually skated to the same music as my free skate music the next two seasons because I fell so in love with it! You know what, and there's a third one too... only because this was a tear jerker too... Rudy Galindo at the 1996 U.S. Nationals in his hometown of San Jose. That was MAGIC!

Allison: ABSOLUTELY Rudy's skate in San Jose, a place known for magical skates that I didn't actually see and had to watch on YouTube.

Doug: If skating were an actual soap opera, what would the title of that show be?

Allison: Skating ISN'T a soap opera? Hmm... How about "As The Blade Turns (in your back)" or "The Young And The Flutzes" or, with all the injuries lately "General Hospital", though that one’s taken.

Ryan: I love "As The Blade Turns (in your back)" Isn't that the freakin' truth? Just sayin'... "Gays Of Our Lives?" "The Bold And The Bedazzled?" I'm not much of a soap opera person despite growing up watching episodes of General Hospital and reliving the drama of the Quartermaines and the Baldwins. Skating already IS an actual soap opera as far as I'm concerned. There's cattiness, cheating (come on! you should really look at some of those landings!), hot men, plunging necklines and more plot twists that you can shake a scribe at. I'd call it "As The Twizzle Turns".

Doug: Top three triple Lutz jumpers? Top three laybacks?

Ryan: Nicole Bobek! Oh, you said LUTZ... with an L. I actually ADORE Nicole Bobek... haha. Triple lutzes? Brian Boitano's Tano triple lutz is just fantastic and classic and deserves to be on that list, as does Adam Rippon's Rippon Lutz. The third person I'd have to put on that list would be Midori Ito. Her jumps were just HUGE and so secure period and when she nailed a huge lutz (or any triple for that matter) you couldn't help but be in awe. As for best layback spins, I'd have to go with Lucinda Ruh, Nathalie Krieg and Alissa Czisny. They're all such whirling dervishes and can spin 'like nobody's business' - which totally just sounded like something Dick Button would say.

Allison: Triple lutzes? My son, Adam Rippon, Brian Boitano. Top three laybacks? Alissa Czisny, Jason Brown, Rohene Ward. I am NOT kidding here!

Ryan: Agree with you here on all counts! I always wished I could master a layback, but I think if I tried it today, it would just be the ONCE.

Allison: And if you did, Dick Button would say your free leg was dangling and your toes were not pointed...

Doug: Skating performance (show or competition) that most moved you with its emotional content?


Paul Wylie's silver medal winning free skate at the 1992 Olympics in France

Allison: The most emotional one moved us to a hospital in San Jose for five days. I’m looking forward to actually SEEING it in Boston because "Redemption" holds a lot of meaning in our home. The one I watch again and again is Paul Wylie's free skate at the 1992 Olympics. I actually have a VHS (you remember those, right?) that is queued up with a big note on it that says “DO NOT REWIND!”

Ryan: I'm not as young as you think there sweetheart! I don't only remember VHS (I had boxes and boxes of skating tapes on VHS) but I even remember BETA... which was actually way better as far as I was concerned. I think the only reason we got rid of ours was because you couldn't rent (or buy) movies for it anymore. You're right about Paul in Albertville too... that was a MOMENT. I watched Jeffrey Buttle skate to "In This Shirt" by The Irrepressibles at Stars On Ice this year and you could hear a pin drop. In recent memory, that was one of the most moving things I've seen. Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini's "Have You Ever Been In Love?", Tai and Randy's "Love" program for her father and Michelle Kwan's "Fields Of Gold" are all also programs that really touched my soul. And that's just off the top of my head - If I counted the number of times a skater had me in tears, Puffs would be sponsoring ME, not skating competitions. Hartshorn and Sweiding's "1492" and "Enigma" programs moved me in a different emotional way and really influenced me as a skater personally and the more I learned about not only them but Brian Wright's brilliant choreography, the more emotionally impacted I was by how soul stirring a wonderfully theatrical performance really is.

Allison: I got to meet Brian Wright in Aspen. He was such an incredible talent and a major influence on so many skaters and choreography as a whole. I'm okay with that...

Doug: With all the love in your heart for that skater - the funniest costume you’ve ever seen?

Allison: Oh... so... many... Ilia Kulik is number one. Yellow with black polka dots? Really? This was NOT a Project Runway moment. And who was it who wore the candy cane one year? I hate to tell you that I don’t remember girls' costumes. I get blinded by the bling. I know which ones I love; I tend to quickly forget the rest. I’m just happy I didn’t have to pay for any of them!

Ryan: Ilia at the Nagano Olympics. God love ya... but sweetie, no. What the bejesus WAS that? An American In The Paris Zoo? I think that deserves a refill on the wine.

Doug:
Pick one of your favorite pieces of music and the skater (from any time period) that you’d most like to see skate to that music.

Ryan:
I narrowed it down to three because one just wouldn't be fair: Toller Cranston skating to Nina Simone's "Dambala", Jeremy Abbott skating to James Vincent McMorrow's "Follow Me Down To The Red Oak Tree" and Shawn Sawyer skating to "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'" by The Scissor Sisters. I could go all day. More people need to skate to Annie Lennox, Tracy Chapman, Natalie Merchant, Fiona Apple, Emm Gryner and Lindi Ortega.

Allison: "My Way" and have Toller Cranston and Gary Beacom skate to it. That would make my life!

Ryan: Why YEEEEEEEES! Get them both on the phone and make them do it now! This would be nothing short of epic and would make my life too! Both on the ice at the same time! Seriously, that's like the best idea of life. I'd say I could imagine it, but the best part about those two is that I don't think anyone could.

Doug: Discuss what it is about skating (inherent properties) you think that will continue to keep it popular in years to come.

Allison: Like all sports, the popularity of skating waxes and wanes. The pendulum has been swinging to its low point for a number of years now with a lot of blame - rightfully or no - being put on the IJS. There’s been a lot of noise about IJS. No one understands it because there isn't a topping out point like 6.0. But if people were to be honest, no one understood 6.0 either. It’s just that it was less than 10.0 so it was within the realm of comprehension – and you could make really cool signs for competitions. In my mind (and the Asian and European fans get this completely), what will bring the sport back and keep it popular moving forward is the perfect blend of athleticism and artistry. The few skaters who are from the "old school" and still competing are struggling with making the transition; so are the coaches, choreographers and the judges. But in my mind there is that perfect point when everything comes together; when the artistry transcends the scoring to create that "WOW" moment we all want so desperately. It’s there. It may be hidden behind TES, TSS, PCS and other unfathomable nomenclature to the general masses, but believe me it is there. Look - we don’t need another scandal. We don’t need a Throwback Thursday to days gone by. The system is what it is. The ones who take skating to the next levels will be the ones who recognize that and don’t look to "hold back the ocean", but choose to go with the flow. The ones who will be the next superstars will not only go with the flow, they’ll wax up their boards and hang 10 on the big waves! It’s coming. I can see it now. No crystal ball required. It may seem like a dream in the mist, but once the fog lifts, skating will have a bright, bright sunshiny day again – and very soon.

Ryan:
We'll have to agree on some points and disagree on others. I think when you have 99 skaters all skating the same choreography to different music (and not really interpreting the music) and 1 skater for every 100 really interpreting the music, you have a superstar in a sea of clones. What worked about the 6.0 system was the comparison between skaters. If Jimmy landed 5 triples, he got a 5.7 for technical merit and if Timmy landed 6, he got a 5.8 for technical merit. If Jimmy was the better performer and got that 6.0 to Timmy's 5.7 for presentation, he won. Any person off the street could relate and understand a system like that, albeit superficially. No one "off the street" understands when they see what happened in the men's free skate at Worlds last year... or in the ladies free skate at U.S. Nationals last year for that matter. I'm not saying the 6.0 system was perfect or that the IJS one doesn't have it's strong points, but in order for anything to appeal to the masses and gain a greater fan base, people "off the street" need to be able to comprehend how the sport is judged, even superficially to really follow the sport and embrace its appeal. Skating will NEVER lose its appeal as long as there are passionate skaters interpreting music they are passionate about with passion. It's the relationship between music and skater that gives skating its appeal and the freedom of having this canvas of ice to tell any story you could dream of. As long as skaters don't get lost in the gymnastics-like world that is "IJS skating" and never forget that the best gift they can give themselves and any audience is the gift of a performance and a real moment - whether in front of no one but a camera or a packed audience - then skating will not only remain popular for years to come but will grow in popularity but the day. Mark my words.

Allison: And thus ends our Siskel and Ebert moment regarding your judging. We'll call this "Point (your toes) and Counterpoint, (off your) Rockers and Choc-Talks." It's better to agree to disagree, my friend, particularly when it is done with humour, respect and deep love. Happy New Year! May 2014 be kind; may the ice always be Zamb'd and may all skaters give us more art, sport and things to talk about!"

Allison Scott's fabulous blog Life On The Edge Of Skating is also really required reading for 2014 if you aren't reading along already! Full of humour, honesty and a refreshing view on both the figure skating world and life, I guarantee you've going to love it. You can also follow Allison along on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/PCFClub. American Open Professional Champion, U.S. Junior Men's Champion and Professional Skating Coach Doug Mattis on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/DougMattis. If you aren't following him already, get out from under that rock and prepare to laugh!

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2 comments:

  1. Please keep doing this, ladies and gentlemen! We need more conversation like this!

    ReplyDelete
  2. SO glad you enjoyed it! LOTS of really cool stuff planned for 2014... trust me. ;) What's the funniest costume YOU'VE ever seen?

    ReplyDelete