Q: You started your career as an ice dancer and in the early 70's, switched to pairs skating and won a silver medal at the 1976 U.S. Championships with Alice Cook and represented the U.S. at the 1976 Winter Olympics with Alice Cook. You then stepped away from the sport for four years and came back with Lea Ann Miller to win four consecutive U.S. medals, compete at four more World Championships and place in the top ten at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. What brought you back to the sport?
A: After we went to the 1976 Olympics, my first partner Alice Cook felt she had reached her goal. My goal was to go on longer and do more. It took me three seasons to find Lea Ann. We first competed in 1979 and we ended up fifth. Then she took me skiing (she and her family had a ski place in Colorado) and she broke her back. She was in a back brace for four months. We skated in 1980 and she'd lost all her strength. It was a journey of coming back from that and for me, learning how to skate better. We took from John Renn, who was a ballet dancer but had worked with lots of skaters over the years. He re-taught me the dance aspect of skating but also jumping and rotations - how to not force jumps - it was a whole new world! I loved it and we stayed in touch with John as amateurs and professionals until he passed away. He never really had many students but the ones he had were always great, like the Militano's and Romayne and Steele. To this day, I still have a passion for skating, absolutely. Pairs skating especially.
Lea Ann and Bill competing at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. The duo would finish tenth overall.
Q: Turning professional in 1984, you competed professionally at the World Professional Championships in both Landover, Maryland and Jaca, Spain and toured with Torvill and Dean, Stars On Ice for several years. Around the time of 'the whack on the knee' skating - especially professional skating - enjoyed such a boom in popularity. Why didn't you continue?
A: First of all, we got lucky, very lucky as professionals. Things just seem to fall into place, first with John Curry and then touring with Torvill and Dean and then Stars On Ice for so many years. In 1994, I was living here in Tennessee and had just become engaged to my wife at that point in time. We were actually coaching at a different rink and came through and we were ten seconds behind the whack on the knee. We heard the screaming. We saw the outside door fly open. We had no idea until the next day when people called what had really gone on. It was really very bizarre. But as for why I didn't continue, I was teaching at the Broadmoor and then doing shows with Stars On Ice at the same time around then. We'd been with the tour for years and I really kind of wanted to settle down and close that door.
Poor quality but an excellent program - Lea Ann and Bill's program to music from "The Rink" at the 1987 World Professional Figure Skating Championships
Q: Of all of the programs you've ever skated, which was the most special?
A: I did like one of the last ones we did very much. Christopher Dean choreographed it and it was to music from an opera called Lakmé. Lea Ann and I did loops together. Chris loves to do long numbers; I think it was five minutes and twenty seconds or something like that, but we pared it down. It was one, if not, my most favourite.
Lea Ann and Bill performing at the 1994 Vail Festival On Ice to Lakmé, first choregraphed by Christopher Dean for the pair in the 1980's
Q: These days, you live in Tennessee and are the President of Avanta Skating Boots. What brought you to skating boot design and why do the wrong boots seem to be to blame for a lot of these Achilles injuries we are seeing?
A: It's really our fault - skaters of my time - skaters who wanted stiffer, stronger boots. We took away the articulation of the foot. These skaters are starting at a younger age and they don't have figures to do and we've seen so many chronic injuries from boots that are too stiff - skaters like Todd Eldredge and Tara Lipinski. It sort of comes full circle in that it took me a long time to get the patent (six-seven years). Now U.S. Figure Skating is saying - not directly - that it wants boots with a lower heel, that are flexible and lateral. It's very difficult to have a boot that's flexible and has resistance to jump landings but that's exactly what we hope to do. We are going to make custom boots the current way they are made and we're trying to make an excellent custom boot using materials other people are NOT using that are sourced from all over the country and also a stock and performance line.
Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why?
A: Based on personalities too, number one would be Scott Hamilton. As I've gotten to know Scott, I've found his personality is so huge and it covers his entire life. The more I know him, I admire him. Number two would have to be Toller Cranston, who couldn't be any more different from Scott. Toller had incredible artistry, was totally devoted to skating and was a lot of fun to be around. Number three - that's a tough one - probably Gordeeva and Grinkov. They were just incredible. They were with us on Stars On Ice for a year before they came back and competed again. They were really a remarkable couple and I really enjoyed watching and HEARING them skate. We were just so lucky to be around people like them.
Q: What's one thing most people don't know about you?
A: Probably that I played hockey first and didn't get into skating until age thirteen or fourteen and that was because of watching an ice show and seeing the pair team the Militano's who came to skate in show. I decided that was what I wanted to do.
Q: You wrote a wonderful post on Facebook about what I like to call 'the Ottavio Cinquanta problem': 'Dear Gale and Phyllis and all ISU Representatives and Council Members, The time has come to boldly take control of the sport that we all love and enjoy. The quiet waiting game has to end, time is of the essence. It is not about what is best for me, or for you, it is what is best for the sport of figure skating world wide. Knowing how things have worked in the past at the ISU it is not time to hide and think someone else will make those changes or that if you stand up you will be removed from ISU committees. It is time to rise up as one body and change the direction of both speed skating and figure skating for the better. It is hard to imagine how far our sport has deteriorated. For too long the ISU Council Members and Representatives have been party to the tail wagging the dog. The facts are clear, the leadership of Mr. Cinquanta has been disastrous and now he threatens to further destroy what he does not clearly understand. There are no excuses. I ask all skaters and those who love skating to rise up and be a part of this movement. If someone can get a list of all of the ISU Representatives we can reach out to them all. Since the petition regarding the Olympic Ladies event garnered two million votes can we not take the next step and demand the retirement of Mr. Cinquanta?' What can people do to pressure the decision makers to deal with skating's 'Ottavio Cinquanta problem' and why do you think that a lot of people don't take action? Is it apathy, fear or both?
A: A little bit of both. Traditionally, ISU Representatives and Council Members have always been afraid to say or do anything that will rock the boat because they feel their position will be at risk. Years ago, U.S. representatives would do anything so as to not disrupt their own ISU career. It's very clear to everyone that Ottavio Cinquanta obviously has no understanding of the sport and he just needs to be gone. As for the protest from the Korean Skating Union about what happened at the Olympics, the argument is crystal clear and the evidence is right in front of them. The problem is that he developed this system and the Russians were instrumental in putting it together. As a coach this system is good because you can see that a skater got this level on a spin or cheated a jump or whatever but on an international scale, we've lost our audience and it's less fair that in it used to be. When I posted that on Facebook, I thought 'what do I have to lose'? If you look at the response, especially from Sam Auxier who's probably going to be the next President of U.S. Figure Skating, it was all very supportive. I do think countries have had enough and could very much give him a no confidence vote. Canada would be a huge asset to have in our corner. I hope there's a ground swell. I have nothing to lose and we all have everything to gain. It would be great to get a ground swell from Canada, the U.S.A., Japan and Korea for instance to get him out of there with a no confidence vote.
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