Sunday, 29 June 2014

July: It's The Most Wonderful Month Of The Year!


You know how on Christmas between opening presents and carving turkey and refilling wine glasses, there just don't seem to be enough hours in the day? It's really the same way with every holiday if you think about it. We anticipate these special days eagerly, our mouths salivating weeks ahead of the delicious meals laid out in front of us are even going in the oven, let alone making their way to our tables and bellies... and poof! Just as the meat sweats and the turkey hangover kick in, the plates are being cleared and the holiday in question is one for the history books. Sound about right? Well, I thought we'd mix things up a little bit on the blog this year. You know me... Conventional just is not something I'm prepared to put on the menu. After doing Christmas In July last year, I decided... you know? With July 1 and Canada Day just around the corner, it would be really be pretty rude of me to offer you just one day of great Canadian skating content and then move on to something else while the fireworks are still fading from the sky. SO I came up with this fabulous little idea I think you're going to love.

We're not doing Canada Day on Skate Guard this year. We're doing Canada freakin' Month! Why not, right? With a HUGE special thanks to Skate Canada, Canada Month on the blog will feature interviews with members of Canada's 2014 Olympic and World teams! Alma, no need to check your battery - you heard that right! Rather than keep you in suspense, I'm going to tell you exactly who you'll be seeing interviews with (in alphabetical order):

GABBY DALEMAN



KAETLYN OSMOND



ALEXANDRA PAUL AND MITCH ISLAM



KEVIN REYNOLDS


There's SO much more! I've also got interviews coming with Alexandra Najarro, Veronik Mallet, Sasha Alcoloumbre, two time Canadian Champion Cynthia Phaneuf, 2001 Canadian Silver Medallist Jayson Dénommée, Michelle Leigh (coach to Canadian Olympians Elvis Stojko and Jennifer Robinson), 1998 Canadian Olympian Jeffrey Langdon and... WAIT FOR IT... I am hoping to have ready in time my interview with World Champion, two time Olympic Silver Medallist, eight time Canadian Champion and coach to Olympic Gold Medallists Yuzuru Hanyu and Yuna Kim...

BRIAN ORSER


Yeah, I am! I won't just be featuring interviews with great Canadian skaters during Canada Month... I've also got some new articles coming about Canadian skating history that you're going to just love. So now that I've got you all jazzed for Canada Month, I can't just leave you hanging... Why not take a look back at some of the great interviews with Canadians I've already done? They are ALL here in this list below:

Gary Beacom
Barbara Berezowski
Craig Buntin
Alaine Chartrand
Meagan Duhamel (last year's Canada Day interview!)
Ben Ferreira
Alexe Gilles
Garrett Gosselin
Vanessa Grenier And Maxime Deschamps
Victoria And Connor Hasegawa
Asher Hill
PJ Kwong
Christopher Mabee
John Mattatall
Christopher Nolan
Keyla Ohs
Karen Preston
Margaret Purdy And Michael Marinaro
Shawn Sawyer
Jeremy Ten
Linda Villella (Carbonetto)
Lance Vipond
Megan Wing And Aaron Lowe

My apologies to anybody I've missed! Somewhat like Gladys from Ellen's talk show, I love figure skating but I drink a little. Please bear in mind that although I already have most of these interviews finished and ready to go, a few of them are still as they say 'in the works' so if due to scheduling I am not able to get them all out in July, don't worry... they are all coming!

I'll also be re-sharing many of these above interviews I've already completed with Canadian skaters as well as a lot of the past articles I've written about Canadian skating history during Canada Month. You can't go wrong with a little Throwback Thursday action, now can you? At any rate, I'm a-cookin' somethin' right some special for you all up and I really hope that you're as excited for Canada Month as I am! It's going to be a time!

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 June 2014

Interview With Denis Ten


Dick Button, Kristi Yamaguchi, Paul Wylie, Natalia Bestemianova, Jozef Sabovcik, Meagan Duhamel, Elena Bechke, Trixi Schuba, Tim Wood... Olympic medallists ALL and each one of them wonderful, wonderful people I've been so fortunate to have become acquainted with through having the opportunities to share their stories in their own words on this blog. It's my absolute honor and privilege to be able to add one more name to that list of Olympic medallists I've been so fortunate to have chance to interview... in this case the current Olympic Bronze Medallist Denis Ten. A world medallist, international champion, three time National Champion of Kazahkstan, ambassador of skating in his country and absolute joy to watch, Ten rose to the occasion to win his country's first Olympic medal in history at the 2014 Sochi Games. What I think you're going to really appreciate from getting to know Denis a lot more through this interview is just how intelligent and fascinating a person he is. From talking about his past, present and future in skating to his background in music and his ancestor Min Geung-ho, Denis was so kind to share so much and he was just an absolute treat to interview. I think you're going to love it: 

Q: You've made history by becoming Kazakhstan's first medal winner at the Winter Olympic Games and World Championships. What did these moments mean to you and have things changed vastly for you in your life at home as a result?

A: Thank you! Of course, it meant a lot to me, to my family, coaches and the whole country. Kazakhstan never had figure skating before. I started skating at an open air rink and then my training location moved to a shopping mall until I turned ten years old. Looking back now, we can see that it was a long way to get where I am at the moment and I’m incredibly thankful to my parents for their unbelievable support throughout my career. Anyway, since 2011, when I won the gold medal at the Asian Winter Games (and it was held in Kazakhstan) the sport started getting recognition among people. The government built lots of wonderful ice arenas that are corresponding to the highest international standards. People got an opportunity not only to enjoy watching our beautiful sport but also to try skating themselves. Since 2011, the popularity of skating tremendously grew… officially one of the biggest ice rinks in Kazakhstan served over 200 000 people on public skating. Not to mention that in Astana alone we have about seven rinks and all of the learn-to-skate groups are overcrowded nowadays. Kids love figure skating. I really enjoy seeing such progress and I truly understand that from my point  it's a huge responsibility to present myself well at competitions as there are so many young skaters looking up to me. That is why my position in sport is not just an athlete but also as an ambassador of figure skating in Kazakhstan.


Q: What do you see as your biggest strengths and weaknesses both as a skater and as a person?

A: It's hard to say. I had to deal with so many challenges and in particular with injuries for last two years. These problems sometimes didn't let me train properly and also to compete well at international competitions. However, when it's a very important event I know how to get myself together no matter what's going on and I was always like that... in music school, in school and now skating. I think that this is my biggest strength.

Q: What does the future hold for you? Do you plan on going full steam ahead and working on new programs or is professional or show skating something you'd like to explore more?

A: It took some time to decide what was going to be next after the season was over. As I mentioned earlier, I struggled with injures for the last two years. In this way, this year was like a nightmare! I had one injury coming after another one. Just two weeks before the Olympics, I could barely walk as my ankle ligaments were completely damaged. It was a lot of stress. Did I mention that a few weeks before it happened my skates broke? I take my hat off to Mr. Carroll for being so patient with me! After the Games, I had some time to recover after injuries and to find myself doing other things. I've been pretty busy. I did some shows, lots of media activities and for the second time organized my own show which had great success. I got to hold a five day seminar for young skaters and their coaches in Kazakhstan after shows. Doing all these great things actually inspired me to keep competing for another four years. As you might know, Almaty (which is my hometown) is one of the bids for the Winter Olympic Games in 2022. I am an ambassador for the Bidding Committee and I truly hope that someday the Olympics will be held in Kazakhstan. I know we have a great chance and people have recently started to ask me "If we win, would you consider skating until 2022?" We will see. For now, my goal is PyeongChang 2018.


Q: You attended music school and competed as part of a choir, winning the silver medal at the 2002 World Choir Games in Korea. How important is music to you in your life and what pieces of music or songs to you listen to constantly?

A: My Mom is a professional violinist. She graduated from the Kazakh State Conservatory and performed all over the world before I was born. So since I was a child, music would always take an important part in my development. I used to go to a music school where I studied piano and sang in the choir. Unfortunately I had to quit the music school when we moved to Moscow for training and I graduated only five grades. I used to hate solfeggio but now I really miss it. After Sochi, there was some time to do what I enjoy and I slowly started getting back to music. One of my friends is a very famous composer in Kazakhstan, Renat Gaissin. He is incredibly talented! He actually wrote the music for my skating show. So this summer, I got to the point to record the pieces I wrote and we could work together. Although, the tracks were a bit personal and I don’t think anyone will ever hear them, he found them to be "ingenious". That makes me feel a bit more confident that in the future I’ll make a return to my music school.

Q: You have worked with some of the best coaches and choreographers in the business - people like Frank Carroll, Tatiana Tarasova, Stéphane Lambiel and Lori Nichol. What has each brought to your skating that has helped you grow as an artist?

A: I am truly the luckiest athlete in the world to have an opportunity to work with so many great coaches. They all gave me a lot. I became a professional skater by training in Russia with Elena Buyanova and Tatiana Tarasova. It was a wonderful time and I'm really grateful to them for everything they taught me. It was a priceless experience. I grew as a skater by working with Frank Carroll, Lori Nichol and Stéphane Lambiel. Frank is the most polite and wise person I've ever met in my life. Lori is the biggest professional in the whole world of skating choreography and it is an honor for me to work with her for four years in a row already. As for Stéphane, he was always a skater I looked up to and when I met him I realized that he is the most gifted skater I've ever seen. The things he does are impossible to execute unless you’re HIM. He does all the triples both ways. Can you imagine? Starting in 2012, all my exhibition program are choreographed by Stéphane.

 

Q: Tell me about some of the friendships you've formed through competitive figure skating. Who are some of the nicest skaters you've met or worked with?

A: I’ll start with Stéphane. He is not only a skater or choreographer for me but also a great friend of mine. Even though he achieved so much in our sport, he remains as a very nice and easy person. We have so much fun together and the memories I have with Stef are just priceless. Carolina Kostner is also a wonderful person and friend. We stay in touch throughout the season and always support each other. There are actually way more people I want to mention but I am afraid there won’t be enough space on your website!

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

A: Alexei Yagudin... he's a legendary skater. He was always my idol but he is also an awesome buddy.
Stéphane Lambiel... as I previously said, he is the most gifted and talented skater I think. He is truly an artist!
And Yuna Kim. Just because.

Q: If you were stranded on a desert island and could bring only three things with you, what would they be?

A: Definitely not skates. It's a tough question. Maybe a solar power generator, a knife and… a friend?

 

Q: Your great-great-grandfather Min Geung-ho was a Korean independence fighter general during the era when Korea found for independence from Japan. What can you share about his story?

A: It's so inspiring. You know, when I was a kid I didn't even know about my grandfather. I always knew of course that I'm Korean but we never talked about him until 2010 I think. In January of 2010, the Four Continents Championships were held in Jeonju, South Korea. About a month before the event, the Korean channel KBS was filming a documentary about Min Geung-ho and his descendants and they wanted to film me as well. That was the time when my Grandmother told me all the stories about Min Geung-ho and I got so inspired! I couldn't believe that there was a real hero in our family's tree! After Four Continents, we went to Wonju with the TV crew to visit his tomb which is a very special place located on the mountain and has a huge territory. We also went to the monument of him which was constructed by the city in 1999 in honor of his patriotism. That inspiration made me interested in world history but in the Korean War of the 1900's in particular. I remember when I moved to the U.S., I would spent nights reading about him thanks to some fans who'd send me Korean-English translation of articles about him. His army was the largest in the country and had the strongest fighting spirit. They won around a hundred battles and most memorable fights were in Jeocheon, Jucksan, Janghowon, Yeoju and Hongcheon. "He was a man of integrity and fairness and held in great respect by his subordinates. Also he was a strong-willed commander with an excellent leadership skills and thus had many followers" it says on the monument of General Min Geung-ho. In 1962, he was posthumously awarded the Republic of Korea Medal of Order of Merit for National Foundation (the most prestigious civil decoration in the Republic of Korea) for his efforts for Korean independence. Only after getting to know the history better, I realized what he really has done for my second home country Korea and how great, smart and brave he was. In the beginning, I even felt ashamed that once there was one show where I was given to wear a headband which says Japan and back then I didn't know about my grandfather. When I got to know his biography better, I thought to myself "what if he saw it and got disappointed with me?". In the beginning, I got a bit frustrated but then I realized that the war is over and things have changed but since then I always skate with a thought of him. I try to be a worthy descendant and I want him to be proud of me.

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

A: Most of the people think I’m a very serious person but I bet they are wrong. Completely wrong.

Q: What do you love more than anything about being on the ice?

A: I might sound strange but in skating I enjoy only one thing and it's not about my feelings. I like bringing joy to people. When I see people enjoying what I do, that means I do it for something. I do it for the love.

If you enjoyed my interview with Denis Ten, the best advice I can give you is to take just a moment of your time and click through to this blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard and "like it" - you'll end up with daily figure skating news, videos and interesting articles right in your Facebook news feed, as well as new content and interviews on this blog as they happen. I'm also just in love with the Twitter - it's so fun! You can also tweet me at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog anytime you feel like talking about skating... that's what I'm here for!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Interview With Trixi Schuba


If you look at the documented history of figure skating (especially here in North America), it's fascinating to me how much we really know about so many of the sport's great Olympic gold medal winners but how comparatively little we know about others. Skaters like John Curry, Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Scott Hamilton, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean and Katarina Witt for instance have all been the subjects of books and documentaries. Their journeys both on and off the ice are ones we know well. Sadly, the story of Trixi Schuba, the two time European and World Champion and 1972 Olympic Gold Medallist is one that has never really been fully known to many. She was the queen of compulsory figures, often overlooked by skating fans and storytellers alike because her strength as a skater was in those school figures at a time when they counted for so much. The fact of the matter is that Schuba was so dominant and unstoppable in those figures that she won most competitions before the free skating even started. There's something to really be said for that, especially considering that she balanced her skating career with work during much of her career. I had the opportunity to finally catch up with Trixi while she was in Italy vacationing in late May and again after she returned to Austria. We actually first connected on my birthday and I can't think of a better birthday present than to have spoken with her. Prior to speaking on the telephone, we'd never actually talked before aside from via e-mail and she was one of the sweetest, most down to earth people I have had the good fortune of interviewing. We spoke about everything from her "amateur" and professional careers to her thoughts on the elimination of school figures and the ISU judging system, her involvement in figure skating today, an amazing and long overdue reunion of sorts and much more in this wonderful interview I guarantee will leave a smile on your face:

Q: You had such an amazing career in figure skating: six Austrian titles, two European titles, two World titles and the Olympic gold medal at the 1972 Winter Olympic Games in Sapporo, Japan. What are the proudest moments from your skating career?

A: Of course, the greatest accomplishment was the gold medal at the 1972 Olympics. When I became the 1971 and 1972 European Champion, it was looking very good that I could win also gold at the Olympics but I also knew that I would have a lot of competition from both Karen Magnussen and Janet Lynn. They were both competitors. Because of the school figures, I had so many points that it was obvious to me that I would win at that point. Nothing could top the Olympic win.


Q: After winning the 1972 World title, you retired from competitive skating and toured with Holiday On Ice and Ice Follies for several years before turning to a career in the insurance industry. Where did your decision to turn professional come from and why didn't you continue with professional skating or return to it?

A: I knew at the beginning of the season, that it will be my last year and also the ISU changed the regulations cutting it down from six to three school figures and adding the short program so I went into professional skating. I also knew 1972 would be my last year anyway even if I won the Olympics or not and it's always better to end on the top. First I had Ice Follies from 1972 to 1973, then from 1973 to 1974 the Holiday On Ice in the United States and then I returned to skate with the European Holiday On Ice from 1974 to 1978. Already winning the European, World and Olympic titles, there was really no more for me to reach; it was the time to quit.


Q: An interesting question that was posed to me by Frazer Ormondroyd to ask you was that you performed the double Axel in practice but didn't include it in your competitive programs. Why was this?

A: First of all, I really didn't like the double Axel jump very much. I had so many bad falls on it in practices and I was a little afraid to put it in my program and do it there. It was also really not necessarily for me, being so far ahead in the school figures.

Q: You have been very active in supporting figure skating and sport in general in Austria. You're currently on the board of the Graz Skating Club and have previously served as president of the Austrian Ice Skating Association and have sat on the boards of both the Austrian Olympic and Paralympic Committees as well. What are some of the most inspiring things you've seen through your involvement in these organizations?

A: Well, I was for quite a long time not involved in skating. In 2002, they asked me to become President of the Austrian Ice Skating Association but that didn't last for a very long time. I often felt I was fighting against other officials. After 2006, I was not welcome anymore as the President of the Austrian Figure Skating Association. I saw too much of the sport. I also became a controller in the Austrian Olympic Committee until 2009. These positions allowed me to become a little more involved again. The Grazer Skating Club, where I am the Vice President, is wonderful. They really appreciate and want me involved and are thankful for what I do. I'm from Vienna, and not even my ex-Viennese club Wiener Eislaufverein has really shown any appreciation. I'm happy to support the people in Graz and I do have some skaters in Graz I help behind the curtains that come to me for advice and help. That makes me so proud. Now I am on the board of the Paralympic Committee in Austria and also help at the Special Olympics in Austria and internationally. On another note, I am very passionate about school figures and would love to maybe work with more skaters and talk to them about why they are important to improving your skating.

Q: Earlier in your career, you were coached by 1952 Olympic Silver Medallist Helmut Seibt, an accomplished skater in his own right. What was working with Helmut Seibt like and what influence did your coaches have on your career?

A: Helmut Seibt was my first coach and was very good. He taught me the love of compulsory figures but he left Austria in 1962. I then worked with Inge Solar for one year and then changed to Hilde Appeltauer from 1964 to 1970. After the Worlds in 1970, I didn't feel very comfortable with her anymore. She was never optimistic or positive and always made me feel down. It wasn't psychologically a good experience. Then in the spring of 1970, things changed and I worked with Leopold Linhart for the final two years and it was amazing that I was able to reach all of my gold medals with him in this short time.

Q: What is your favourite book, your favourite song and your favourite meal to eat?

A: I don't know if I have a favourite book, but I read a lot nowadays. I am trying to develop myself a little more and have an opinion that the whole body exists in mind, body and soul and am always trying to improve these sides of myself and learn. It's been interesting for me to develop in this way. When I'm not reading books like these, I might also read a crime book or something. I enjoy classical music. That's more for me than the new sounds. That's not my music. As for food, I was eating almost everything, but I have changed now to a more vegan diet. I feel now much better and it was the right time to improve my way of life.

Q: When was the last time you skated and would you ever get out and perform for an audience again?

A: No, no, never! I am sixty three and I am only on the ice skating once a year now. We have every year a very big competition in Graz, the Icechallenge, which is also in the ISU calendar and at the ice gala I announce the show. NO jumps, NO spins because I don't want to end up going in the hospital!

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

A: I have no idea what they know and don't know! I suppose sometimes it's necessary for you to have some secrets in your life. I have a dog (Cosima) and she's here vacationing with me in Grado, Italy, which isn't far from Venice. I stayed at this same hotel when I was here at age four with my parents. It's beautiful, a family friendly hotel; very old fashioned and nice.

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

A: I can just say my favourite. My mother and I watched Sjoukje Dijkstra skate at the 1964 Olympics in Innsbruck and I thought that it would be fantastic if I once competed at the Olympics after watching her skate there. I was lucky enough to get to do it twice - finishing fifth in 1968 in Grenoble and four years later, winning gold in Sapporo. What I thought was wonderful is that after all these years, I was able to meet Sjoukje Dijkstra and she was a hero to me. She's just a normal person like you or I and it is just fantastic to become a friend of your hero.

Q: You've been hailed by many as the greatest 'compulsory figures' skater of all time. What were your feelings when compulsory figures were eliminated from international competition in 1990 and what are your thoughts on how skating (and the way it is judged) have changed over the years?

A: Well, I felt really sorry when they were eliminated because in my opinion, school figures are the basis for being a good skater. You have to learn strong edges on both sides and perfect those skills. I was sad when they removed the figures from world competition and also sad when they changed the judging system in 2002 after the Salt Lake City Olympics because of the scandal between Russia and France. Don't ask me how the new system works. Its is not so easy to understand. Last year Doug Wilson wrote a book "The World Was Our Stage" and did a chapter on Janet Lynn and I. It was really, really a nice chapter. Janet Lynn also read it and said it was fantastic. What's really an interesting story is that after Doug wrote this book, Janet Lynn, Karen Magnussen and I all reconnected after forty years. We are all in touch and all have the exact same opinions about the changes in skating today; we all feel the same way. The three of us reconnecting is all because of Doug's book.

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 June 2014

Interview With Jordan Moeller


Some skaters just exude potential and if you're talking about U.S. men's skating in the here and now, Jordan Moeller is absolutely one of those skaters. After performing a very strong free skate to take the silver medal in the junior men's event at the 2014 U.S. Championships in Boston, Jordan went on to represent the U.S. internationally at the World Junior Championships in Bulgaria where he finished in the top ten in his first trip to the event. Jordan took the time out of his training and preparations for next season to talk about everything from competing at the World Junior Championships to training alongside Jason Brown, new programs, Blades Of Glory and much more in this interview that's bound to make you root for him next season:

Q: Your accomplishments so far - at nineteen - are just remarkable. You've won medals on both the novice and junior level nationally, have won both Regional and Sectional titles, a gold medal at the Gardena Spring Trophy and have represented the U.S. on both the Junior Grand Prix Circuit and at the World Junior Championships. Putting it all together and looking back so far, what are your proudest moments and most special memories?

A: It has truly been quite a journey so far and I could not be more thankful for the opportunities I have had in my sport so far. There have been quite a few moments that I would classify as special, one of them being my National silver medal at the junior level this past season. In the past, I have struggled with the pressure of competing on big stages. This year, however, I was able to overcome a disappointing sixth place short program and rise up to the challenge of the long program. I proved that I could pull myself back together and earned the silver medal overall. Another special moment (and probably my favourite so far) happened at the 2014 World Junior Championships. This was my first trip to the World Junior Championships. I had been practicing my short program with a triple axel leading up to the competition and was planning to go for it on the world stage. I could not have picked a better setting to land my first triple axel in competition. This, followed by a clean short, was my proudest moment of my career so far.

Q: You train alongside Jason Brown and like Jason, work with Kori Ade and Rohene Ward. How have Jason, Kori and Rohene each pushed you to become the wonderful skater you are?

A: I could not ask for a better team to train with. Jason, Kori and Rohene have all been in my life for about seven years now. Each are a blessing in their own way. Jason is one of the hardest workers we have in this sport. It is great for me to be able to train along side of him and see him push himself to the max each day. In turn, this pushes me to work harder everyday in order to reach my full potential. Kori is one of the most kindhearted people I know. With her wisdom and no-nonsense work ethic, I have been able to get to where I am today. She is very knowledgeable of the sport and always brings great ideas to the table. With all of the serious training everyday, however, she still manages to find ways to keep things fun and entertaining while pushing us to our limits. Rohene is absolutely brilliant with his choreography. It is amazing to be able to watch the wheels turning in his head as he is creating a program. I always love seeing what he will bring to the table each year. On top of being a great choreographer, he is also good at playing drill sargent. I cannot count how many times I left the ice dripping sweat. Keep in mind that Monument is not a warm rink! My team has been behind me through it all and I could not ask for a better group of people.



Q: I read that your inspiration to compete internationally was the film Blades Of Glory. That's
awesome! Would you say you're more of a Chazz Michaels or a Jimmy MacElroy?

A: Blades of Glory has been one of my favourite movies for a long while now. I truly admired the accurate portrayal of our sport and competition. It is a masterpiece for the ages. I would have to say that I have a little bit of both Jimmy MacElroy and Chazz Michael Michaels in me. I think I have the grace and compassion of MacElroy, followed by the ferocity and charisma of Michaels. When combined, these attributes would certainly be enough to raise me to the top, ahead of, say, the pair team of Fairchild and Fairchild.

Q: What's the plan for the 2014/2015 season? What are your goals and focuses in training and what can you share about the programs you'll be skating?

A: I am very excited for the 2014/15 season. This will be my first year at the senior level and I cannot wait to see what it has in store for me. The only competitions that are concrete so far are the 2014 Broadmoor Open and the 2014 Glacier Falls Summer Classic. As far as my programs are concerned, I will be skating two very different programs from last year. My short program music is entitled "Wakare No Kyoku" and is from a Japanese Anime called "Fullmetal Alchemist." It is a piece that is based from a Chopin symphony and was choreographed by Katherine Hill. I will be a young man who, after many years of separation, is reunited by fate with a lost love. My free program, choreographed by Rohene Ward, is entitled "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from the Peer Gynt Suites. I will be portraying an aged, mad king that is in a state of longing for his rightful place on the throne. I am really looking forward to debuting these programs!



Q: You've been traveling to Chad in the summers to help build houses for blind children and have done conservation work with the endangered kakapo owl parrot. First of all, who are you? Sally Struthers? That's insane! Good for you! Secondly, what's the most rewarding part of your work in Africa and what keeps you coming back to do this amazing humanitarian work?

A: My trips abroad have been wonderful experiences. It really makes me happy to be able to help out around the world in order to make it a better place. One specific memory I have of Africa is of a young boy named Yannick. I had just entered his hometown and this little boy ran to me with a huge smile on his face and gave me the biggest hug he could muster. I made friends with many of the children there and, although my time is always short, I really enjoy being able to see smiles across their faces.



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

A: During my rise in the skating world, I have looked up to several skaters. I have always admired Daisuke Takahashi's ability to entrance an entire crowd as he becomes one with the character in his choreography. Michelle Kwan has always been a great face for figure skating. She is a true model of a champion through victory and defeat. Another skater I have looked up to for a while is Midori Ito. She is an explosive skater that can still remain graceful through adversity.

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

A: One thing that many people do not know about me is that I have a collection (not a huge one) of Japanese Manga that is on my bookshelf. Every now and then I enjoy immersing myself in another world and books are the easiest way to do that.

Q: What's your favourite song to rock out to?

A: Right now? The answer to this question changes so frequently! I have been listening to "Modern Age" by Anberlin a lot lately. I have been a huge Anberlin fan for a long time and I hope I can see them perform someday.

Q: If you had to eat one food and one food only every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?

A: I would have to go with steak. The carnivore in me is feeling hungry.

Q: What do you love the most about figure skating?

A: Skating has been a great outlet for me throughout my life. I have always loved being able to allow myself to move however I may want. Having a pair of blades strapped on my feet has made that feeling so much easier to accomplish. I feel that I express myself best when I am on the ice.

Didn't you just love this interview with Jordan? In order for this blog to reach a wider audience, I could sure use a little help. All you have to do is "LIKE" the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard for instant access to all of the new blog articles, features and interviews as they are made available. I also share daily updates and headlines from the skating world, videos and much more that's not here on the blog, so if you love figure skating as much I do, it would really be rude not to get on that inside edge! You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog. If you know someone who loves skating, tell them! It's all about getting a dialogue going on! Fabulous skating is too fabulous to keep secret. Am I right or am I right?

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Interview With Fabian Bourzat


I'll make no bones about it. France's Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat are one of my absolute favourite ice dance teams in recent memory. There's such conviction, imagination and complexity to their work. In a lot of ways, they've taken things from other French ice dance greats - teams like the Duchesnay's, Anissina and Peizerat and Delobel and Schoenfelder - and built upon those great exploratory choreographic styles, creative lifts and footwork sequences and brought that to to the now. The fact that they've decided to retire from "amateur" competition leaves me more than a little sad. That said, 'as they say' all good things must come to an end and Nathalie and Fabian's career has most certainly been chock-full of the stuff dreams are made of. Teaming up in 2000, their more than a decade long career saw them win two junior and five senior French ice dance titles, seventeen medals (five of them gold) at Grand Prix events, five consecutive medals at the ISU Grand Prix Final, two European titles, two World medals and three trips to the Winter Olympic Games. Finishing just off the podium in fourth place with a magical free dance that I certainly feel deserved them a medal at the Sochi Winter Olympics in February, I really feel Nathalie and Fabian proved time and time again throughout their career that they EARNED their spot in the history books among ice dance's elite. It was my pleasure to catch up with Fabian around the end of May to speak with him about everything from his competitive career, his future, his opinion on the criticism that he and Nathalie received for going to perform in North Korea, the iconic free dance to "The Mummy" and so much more in this must read interview:

Q: Fabian, thank you so much for agreeing to do this. You're fantastic! To say you and Nathalie's competitive career has been incredible is really the understatement of the century. You've won two medals at the World Championships, two European titles, competed at three consecutive Olympic Games and have won five French titles, five medals at the Grand Prix Final and thirteen other Grand Prix medals. Looking back on your competitive career, what would you have to say are your proudest moments and most special memories?

A: There are just so many moments but I would say our first time qualifying for the Olympics, our first European title, moving to Zhulin and Igor and the response of the audiences in Nice and Saitama during our free dances have stood out the most.


Q: Over the years, you have worked with a who's who of ice dancing: Igor Shpilband, Angelika Krylova, Pasquale Camerlengo, Alexander Zhulin and Muriel Boucher-Zazoui among them. Looking back on your whole journey and experiences working with so many talented coaches and choreographers, why was Igor Shpilband ultimately the coach for you and Nathalie?

A: Well, we've learned from the best as you said but Igor was the last touch to our skating skills and he and his team brought back the envy of skating. As we trained for so long, the passion faded and we got it back in the last eight month of our career.


Q: I'm not going to sugar coat things. I have always been a HUGE fan of you and Nathalie and in my opinion, both your Fosse short dance and "Le Petit Prince" free dance this year were nothing short of brilliant. If we're talking about a performance making you FEEL something and having the whole package, I really feel that you both deserved Olympic medals and a World title this season. Having had time to digest and process it all, how do you feel about Olympics and Worlds?

A: We did what we had to do. We were dedicated in practice and happy to compete each time. We did the job by delivering strong performance and if we didn't get rewarded so be it.

Q: You indicated prior to Worlds in Saitama that you planned to retire from competition and pursue coaching with Shpilband. Is that still the plan and do you and Nathalie plan on continuing to perform together in professional shows and tours in the future?

A: Of course! We actually just performed in Denis Ten's show then we are off to Japan for Fantasy On Ice beginning of June and again at the beginning of July. The rest of it is still ongoing.


Q: I loved your "Mummy and Pharoah" program. You started off skating a "Mummy" exhibition piece in 2007 and it later developed into a competitive program for you during the 2011/2012 season that won you a European title and your first medal at Worlds after three consecutive top five finishes in the years leading up those 2012 Worlds in Nice. Where did the inspiration for the "Mummy" theme come from and who decided to translate it into a free dance?

A: It has been a long time since anyone explored Egypt in figure skating so we decided to go for it, plus I really loved the 2nd part of the exhibition to Martin Solveig. We both thought of it as a program that could be a good free dance because in exhibition you don't go as far in research as for a competitive program. We already worked with Kader Belmokhtar on the exhibition and it was a pleasure to work again with him that season.

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

A: (laughing) Maybe that I might be smart actually!


Q: In 2011, you and Nathalie got criticized in the New York Times for performing in North Korea along with several other skaters. You responded by saying "traveling there was not a political act at all. We came as open-minded people, who wanted to discover and exchange." What did you take from this rare experience of going behind those 'closed walls' and what did you learn about figure skating in North Korea? 

A: First of all, it was not the first time we had performed there and we were able to witness the way the country has evolved. It's so annoying to me that people criticized that choice because what a leader is doing in a country such as North Korea shouldn't impact or prevent the citizens from opening up to different aspects of the world. We are sportsmen and artists above all and we don't pay attention to narrow minded people like that. We brought music they've never heard, daring costumes and we gave them a peak at what's going on somewhere else. We were able to convince the North Korean Figure Skating Federation to send their sportsmen abroad with the help of other skaters... which happened in Nice.

Q: You've competed against the some of the best of the best since 2000 - Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov, Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas, Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder, Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski and so many other great teams. Aside from yourselves, who are the nicest people you've competed against? The most fun? The most fiercely competitive?

A: Well, we spent quite some time these past six years with Virtue and Moir and Davis and White and we always have fun moments around each other. The nicest ones are definitely Patrice and Marie-France. We trained with them and they exchanged a lot with us in our beginnings as a team. The most fiercely competitive one? I have no clue, probably our elders but were not that close to them.


Q: If you were stranded on a desert island and could only bring three things with you, what would they be?

A: One girl, some music and a boat to escape!

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

A: Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay and Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean for what they brought to ice dance



Q: What's the biggest lesson that figure skating has taught you as a person?

Discipline is the most important but also being able to overcome everything.

Did you enjoy this interview with Fabian? In order for this blog to reach a wider audience, I could sure use a little help. All you have to do is "LIKE" the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard for instant access to all of the new blog articles, features and interviews as they are made available. I also share daily updates and headlines from the skating world, videos and much more that's not here on the blog, so if you love figure skating as much I do, it would really be rude not to get on that inside edge! You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog. If you know someone who loves skating, tell them! It's all about getting a dialogue going on! Fabulous skating is too fabulous to keep secret. Am I right or am I right?

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

ISU Congress, Janine In Apartment 3B And A Solution


Anna McGoldrick's musical tours aren't the only unnerving thing to come out of Ireland recently. When it comes to the push to reform the current state of skating, part of me feels compelled to offer some comment on the recent #CinquantaGate vote at the ISU Council in Dublin to retain anonymous judging. Another part of me just doesn't want to talk about it anymore. I wouldn't say I'm throwing my arms up in the air in exasperation. I'm simply accepting the reality that the governing body of figure skating continues to demonstrate zero desire to change or address the issues that are pissing off the general populace.

JANINE IN APARTMENT 3B

Imagine you lived in an apartment building and the landlord's daughter lived in apartment 3B. We'll call her Janine. After being 'that person' who complained to the landlord ten times about their disruptive daughter making too much noise, nothing happened and nothing was done. When an effort to voice your concerns ultimately is treated with dismissal time after time, a time does come when you have to say 'this isn't going to change. I'm moving on.' Are we even remotely surprised things went down the way they did with the ISU Congress vote on Anonymous judging and the dismissal of the Korean Skating Union's grievance about the ladies results in Sochi? No. Are we surprised that South Korea (the country that submitted the protest against Russian judge Alla Shekhovtseva) voted to KEEP anonymous judging? To say that it is perplexing at best is an understatement. We couldn't feign surprise however if we were in the shoes of the tenant packing their belongings in boxes as Janine stayed put in apartment 3B banging on pots and pans at all hours of the morning. 

REAL TALK

In my opinion, anonymous judging is completely unacceptable and unaccountable. Transparency is really the only fair way to go. I think the cookie cutter choreography, aesthetically craptacular spins and awkward looking footwork sequences IJS has inspired are pretty unpleasant too for the most part. That said, figure skating is not dead though nor is all of the skating coming out of IJS skating poor. All it takes is - for example - watching Jason Brown's free skate at 2014 Nationals to see that all has not 'been lost'. There are a million other examples of skaters who have excelled and skated masterpieces in a judging system that almost seems to work against creativity in choreography. I think with lyrics next season, we are going to see many more. Still with those who flock above the sea of sheep, who's to say if they'll earn enough points with their Riverdance or Bolero or Lilies Of The Valley to finish ahead of a fourteen year old with some kickin' triple/triples flailing their arms around in a complete disconnect to their music? 

A SOLUTION

One part of the solution as I now more clearly see it is not to attempt to lobby these federations and the ISU to reform what they clearly seem to think is just fabulous anymore. Like Janine's mother (the landlord) they don't all really seem to want to hear it, now do they? After all, who are we but the people paying their bills by attending events, keeping figure skating in the public consciousness and paying for subscriptions to sites like IceNetwork, right? What do we know?

As I alluded to though, there is a solution right now and that solution comes from professional skating. If even five to six live professional competitions with none of these IJS rules and judges that are well known former skaters and coaches resurfaced again, we just might be onto something. Why can't the PSA revive the U.S. Open? Where's the next Candid Productions or Michael Burg? Now - let's look at the good once again - YAS, Quest For Creativity, ice theatres, Sun Valley, Stars On Ice, all the great shows in Asia right now... Artistic skating is indeed alive and thriving in various formats and we owe very much to the people who are making that happen. Translate that into a competition model (or a professional Grand Prix type series) without a million rules that allows skaters to prudently and creatively present work that's uncluttered and entertaining while still challenging them technically but not promoting a quad race. Why not? Why not give skaters an alternative? Not a pro-am sanctioned by the ISU, not an adult competition run by the ISU that forces professional skaters to be judged by this system of their own design... But honest to goodness professional competitions that have nothing to do with the ISU or any of its member federations. To prove that an event like this would be successful, I'm going to invent a fictional professional competition.

Let's say someone funded an event similar to the Landover World Professional Championships that survived and thrived for decades. In 2014, who would compete? The possibilities are endless: Alexei Yagudin, Jeffrey Buttle, Stephane Lambiel, Johnny Weir, Evan Lysacek, Shawn Sawyer, Joannie Rochette, Surya Bonaly, Kurt Browning, Shizuka Arakawa, Sasha Cohen, Kimmie Meissner, Sinead and John Kerr, Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov, Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas, Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre, Ryan Bradley, Philippe Candeloro, Sarah Abitbol and Stephane Bernadis, Zabato Bebe, Adam Blake, Ilia Kulik, Ekaterina Gordeeva, Shae-Lynn Bourne, Sarah Meier, Laura Lepisto, Irina Slutskaya, Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin, Michael Weiss, Elvis Stojko, Alissa Czisny, Takeshi Honda, Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski and countless, countless others who are actively performing in shows could easily fill out those rosters. Take many crazy talented skaters who have recently left or are still among the ISU ranks and would easily flourish in a professional format and you have an easier crazier competition... skaters like Jeremy Abbott, Yuna Kim, Carolina Kostner, Patrick Chan, Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, Qing Pang and Jian Tong, Akiko Suzuki, Mao Asada, Rachael Flatt, Daisuke Takahashi, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, Alena Leonova, Tomas Verner, Brian Joubert, Evgeni Plushenko. I purposely included dozens of skaters here and could have gone and on and on. The fact of the matter is that there is a very real case for professional skating competition in 2014 and no shortage of skaters who could really shine if it came back. The skaters could have complete technical and artistic freedom to include the jumps they wanted to, feature moves like backflips and Detroiters and use props, costuming and lighting that allowed them to fully express their music, skate entertaining programs and draw the audience in. I think we really have to critically think about what we want to SEE in a figure skating competition to realize that professional skating competitions returning are the answer.

Last year, I wrote a three part article called Return To Open Pro Competitions (part one, part two, part three) that took a very in depth look at the U.S. Open, Jaca World Professional Championships and American Open. In putting these articles together, I heard so many wonderful arguments for just why OPEN professional competitions would work in this day and age as well:

WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING

When asked what figure skating is missing by not having open professional competitions like the U.S. Open and Jaca World Pro available to skaters of the current generation when writing these articles, the answers were RESOUNDING. Author and CBC Sports commentator P.J. Kwong explained that "the thing that I always liked about the old pro-ams and even just the pro competitions is that it gives us a way to see our favourite skaters perform in a way that isn’t simply show skating. I think that bringing a legitimate pro competition to life would give skaters the chance to train with a goal in mind without having to commit for additional seasons. Good for the skaters who want to do it and great for the fans (like us) who would love one more chance to see them compete.” Debi Gold said "There are a lot of chorus and understudy skaters in Disney On Ice and Holiday On Ice that would love to do competitions like this. It would only help lift them to higher ranks in their touring companies. They have only their amateur laurels to rest on. Touring companies could send scouts to check out the competitions for new talent! Plus, having application only (rather than invitation only) pro competitions gives other pro skaters (not just high level pros) a chance to compete again - especially when they are medium-size fishes in small ponds like I was." Anita Hartshorn, who with partner Frank Sweiding won the pairs title at the 1988 U.S. Open and 1990 Jaca event, said "in my opinion, the lack of pro competitions has really hurt the popularity of our sport. Most of the skaters who are ready to leave the 'eligible ranks' but still would like to compete have nowhere to go. All professional skaters have less possibilities to expand their untapped potential of theatrically slanted competitive programs. Now that the ISU has approved the pro-am Japan Open, there is at least one competition for the audience to see their favorite skaters like Kurt Browning and Surya Bonaly compete. It doesn't matter how many shows you do, the feeling of doing a competition is different and everyone prepares harder for an event where you get judged." Former Jaca and U.S. Open competitor Craig Heath said, "I think there is a huge void. I was so fortunate to be able to participate. I have some of the best memories of my life from these competitions. I feel sad that the current skaters are not able to have that experience." Former Jaca competitor and U.S. Open Challenge Cup champion Doug Mattis said of professional competitions, "Absolutely there should be more pro skating competitions! I would love to see more that are specifically focused on artistic achievement... as well as some that would be specifically about jumps — like a skating version of golf’s "skins game." You land that triple axel the most times? You get the money. I think that kind of format would be fun—back-to-back with an artistic event."... And the message continued to come through loud and clear from every skater I've asked this question of. The figure skating world is ready for professional figure skating competitions to make a comeback and you're crazy if people think otherwise.

YEAH, WELL WHO'S GOING TO DO IT? HUH?

So you're sitting there reading this thinking "well, this is all well and good but who's going to put these competitions together? You didn't think about that, did you?" For years, the Professional Skaters Guild Of America and later the Professional Skaters Association financed the U.S. Open competition. Television stations like FOX and CBS could potentially be receptive to broadcasting events such as these that provide great entertainment and are relatively low cost to produce as compared to high budget series, reality shows and sporting events. They did for years and years before. The game's changed with the internet now too. There's no reason at all professional competitions couldn't live stream from a website... and viewers could even have a live vote like on the Great Skate Debate and in YAS. Touring companies like Holiday On Ice or Disney On Ice or even Stars On Ice could put something like this on. There's Scott Hamilton. He tried to get something going as well. I think the ticket is not trying to co-operate with the ISU to make these events happen, it's just accepting that there's always going to be frustrations when it comes to anything Cinquanta has his hands in and like a true autocrat, he has no intentions of going anywhere until he's good and ready. If the prize money was minimal and an event like this was minimal to start with, I don't think it would cost a fortune. If you'll excuse me I guess I'm going to have to scare up a man with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel who wants to 'save figure skating'. I'm not sleeping with him though. One of you guys is going to have to do it.

If you enjoyed "ISU Congress, Janine In Apartment 3B And A Solution", the best advice I can give you is to take just a moment of your time and click through to this blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard and "like it" - you'll end up with daily figure skating news, videos and interesting articles right in your Facebook news feed, as well as new content and interviews on this blog as they happen. I'm also just in love with the Twitter - it's so fun! You can also tweet me at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog anytime you feel like talking about skating... that's what I'm here for!

Monday, 16 June 2014

Interview With Lejeanne Marais


Fresh off the 2014 South African Figure Skating Championships in May, South Africa's Lejeanne Marais has represented her country internationally since 2004 and has done so while not only putting countless hours on the ice training hard at the ice but also studying architecture at Tshwane University Of Technology in Pretoria, South Africa. Both have paid off in dividends. In addition to recently winning her sixth national title, Marais has also started working at an architecture firm. She took the time to talk to me about her competitive skating career, love affair with architecture, her favourite skaters and much more in this fantastic interview:

Q: You've won the South African national title five times and represented your country at four World Championships, seven Four Continents Championships and international competitions from Germany to Turkey to Mexico and everywhere in between. What are your proudest or most special moments from your competitive skating career?

A: There are three competitions that really stand out: the Youth Olympic Festival in Sydney. Australia, the Winter Universiade in Erzurum, Turkey (the opening and closing ceremonies where held in a huge stadium packed full of supporters and the atmosphere was electric, as well as staying in a 'student Olympic Village' amongst athletes from different winter sport disciplines) and the 2012 World Championships in Nice, France where I qualified through the preliminary round was also a highlight in my career.

Q: You were solely coached by your mother before deciding to also work with Laurent and Natalie Depouilly. How hard is separating your relationship as mother and daughter from your relationship as coach as student?

A: My Mom and I have an amazing relationship. She is my best friend, mom and coach and somehow it manages to work perfectly. We do have our disagreements on the ice, especially when I was younger, but we make a point not to take anything from the ice rink back home.

Q: You studied architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, South Africa. What draws you to architecture and what do you consider the three most stunning or fascinating pieces of architecture that have ever existed?

A: I have grown up taking an interest in architecture. My Dad is an architect and has always made me notice and appreciate my surroundings. I have been especially fortunate to travel all over the world and see in real life what many other people would only be able to see on the internet. I was fortunate to visit The Walt Disney Theatre by Frank Gehry when I was at the World Championships in L.A. I went to the Sydney Opera House by Jorn Utzon when I was on the trip to the Youth Olympics and then the multiple buildings in Dubai such as the Burj Al Arib which I had seen when we flew through Dubai enroute to a competition. There have also been many other amazing cathedrals and of course the architecture in Europe is something to admire.

 

Q:  From 2010-2013, you decided to keep the same free skate for three seasons. What did you love about "The Holiday" program that made you decide to keep the program and allow it to continue to develop?

A: I absolutely love the music. It allowed me to go into my own world and to just enjoy what I was doing instead of worrying about what step or element came next. I was also very fortunate to work with Shanette Folle in 2012 and she choreographed a new short program to new music and then choreographed a new free program to my existing music.

Q: What are your goals and plans for the 2014/2015 season and beyond when it comes to competitive skating? Have you given thought to or started working on new programs?

A: I am very excited to see what this season brings in terms of vocal music but I have not yet given much thought to new programs as I have been so busy with the South African National Championships. This has been a very long season and unfortunately a very difficult one as I have been battling with an injury. I have the start of a fracture in my lower spine - an Odema bone - and it has been giving me pain since August of 2013. At the moment, I am managing it as best as I can but I cannot afford to take six months off of training as I have been advised by my specialist. I plan to take a couple weeks break now after Nationals to allow it to start recovering.



Q: What can you tell us about how skating has progressed in your country?

A: Skating in South Africa is progressing in leaps and bounds. We are getting a lot more international interest and a lot of the up and coming skaters are looking very promising. We are still in a constant battle with the ice rinks in South Africa to get the figure skaters more training time but we are slowly making progress. Unfortunately all the ice rinks are public rinks and from 8 AM to 5 PM they are off limits to figure skaters so we need to train before the public comes from 5 AM to 8 AM and then some evenings from 5 PM to 7 PM if the hockey players haven't booked the ice.

Q: What is the most challenging part of competing and the most rewarding?

A: The most challenging part is that you only get one chance - four minutes - to prove yourself and to represent all the hours and hours of training. The most rewarding is when you skate a clean program and the absolute enjoyment of it all. There is no better feeling than standing on the ice in your end position and knowing you did it brilliantly.

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

A: Carolina Kostner is one! I have been very fortunate to get to know her and not only is she an amazing skater but also such a great person. Also, Gracie Gold for her precise and beautiful jumps and Alena Leonova for the way she pours all of her being into every move she performs on the ice.

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

A: I am getting married in April 2015 to a triathlete and South African half Iron Man competitor, Bryce Hennessy. We are both obsessed with sport so we get along very well!

Q: Life is full of 'love/hate relationships'. What do you love the most about figure skating and what
do you like the least?

A: I love the challenge of figure skating. It is so technical and requires so much attention to detail. I love trying new things and I love the way landing a triple feels. What I don't like about figure skating is that everyday is never the same, sometimes an element is so easy it requires such little thought and the next day it a struggle to do the same thing. It is like the famous speech 'Inch By Inch' from the movie Any Given Sunday. Life is all about inches and you need to fight for those tiny inches in order to succeed because in the end of the day it is that one inch that sets you apart from the other person who let that inch slip away.

In order for this blog to reach a wider audience, I could sure use a little help. All you have to do is "LIKE" the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard for instant access to all of the new blog articles, features and interviews as they are made available. I also share daily updates and headlines from the skating world, videos and much more that's not here on the blog, so if you love figure skating as much I do, it would really be rude not to get on that inside edge! You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog. If you know someone who loves skating, tell them! It's all about getting a dialogue going on! Fabulous skating is too fabulous to keep secret. Am I right or am I right?

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Maya Angelou And A Day Away From Figure Skating



Every human life has value and every person has an important story. You know, it's funny... as a society that's been 'raised by the media', we at times feel so connected to those people who have achieved fame as a result of their talent or good work that when they pass away, we mourn and remember them almost like a dear friend sometimes. Think about it though... especially in the case of the artists we've lost in our lifetimes whose art has touched us personally. We have enjoyed private moments with their music and books, we have danced to their songs, we have admired their speeches and artwork; we have cheered them on from the sidelines. Simply put, something they said or did or in their lives touched us on some deeper level and made us feel connected with them personally. A prime example of one of these people who touched so many of us was Maya Angelou, who passed away on May 28, 2014 and will be forever remembered for not only her poetry and writing but the full, robust and passionate life she lived. Angelou wore countless hats in her eighty six years - writer, actor, fry cook, sex worker, civil rights activist, director, journalist, chanteuse, nightclub dancer, producer and public speaker - and drew from all of these experiences a profound understanding of the world we live in that she passed on to us through poetry and prose. I'm proud to say that I have four of her books in my extensive library: "Poems", "Wouldn't Take Nothing For My Journey Now", "Singin' And Swingin' And Gettin' Merry Like Christmas" and "The Heart Of A Woman" and I just cherish her writing and strong voice. So what does Maya Angelou have to do with figure skating you ask? Where could he possibly be going with this one? I want to talk about 'a day away' from figure skating and I'll start by sharing Maya's "A Day Away":

"A DAY AWAY" BY MAYA ANGELOU

"We often think that our affairs, great or small, must be tended continuously and in detail, or our world will disintegrate, and we will lose our places in the universe. That is not true, or if it is true, then our situations were so temporary that they would have collapsed anyway. 
Once a year or so I give myself a day away. On the eve of my day of absence, I begin to unwrap the bonds, which hold me in harness. I inform housemates, my family and close friends that I will not be reachable for twenty-four hours; then I disengage the telephone. I turn the radio dial to an all-music station, preferably one, which plays the soothing golden oldies. I sit for at least an hour in a very hot tub; then I lay out my clothes in preparation for my morning escape, and knowing that nothing will disturb me, I sleep the sleep of the just. 
On the morning I wake naturally, for I will have set no clock, nor informed by body timepiece when it should alarm.  I dress in comfortable shoes and casual clothes and leave my house going no place. If I am living in a city, I wander streets, window-shop, or gaze at buildings. I enter and leave public parks, libraries, the lobbies of skyscrapers, and movie houses.  I stay in no place for very long.
On the getaway day I try for amnesia. I do not want to know my name, where I live, or how many dire responsibilities rest on my shoulders. I detest encountering even the closest friend, for then I am reminded of who I am, and the circumstances of my life, which I want to forget for a while.
Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us. We need hours of aimless wandering or space of time sitting on park benches, observing the mysterious world of ants and the canopy of treetops. 
If we step away for a time, we are not, as many may think and some will accuse, being irresponsible, but rather we are preparing ourselves to more ably perform our duties and discharge our obligations. 
When I return home, I am always surprised to find some questions I sought to evade have been answered and some entanglements I had hoped to flee have become unraveled in my absence. 
A day away acts as a spring tonic. It can dispel rancor, transform indecision, and renew the spirit."

A DAY AWAY FROM FIGURE SKATING
Whether we are skaters, coaches, choreographers, judges, writers or simply lovers of the sport, it's so easy to get so incredibly consumed by and wrapped up in figure skating. Why? It's pretty damn amazing and attractive to those of us who have such affection for it. I don't skate or judge anymore and after being 'removed' from the sport for so many years. I don't think I really had any clue what I was really getting myself into when I decided to dedicate myself to writing a blog about the sport I love. Between writing, conducting and editing interviews, researching and sharing news from the sport, I won't lie... I spend a lot of time doing what I do. I'm taking just a day away today, like Maya Angelou suggests, to smell the roses and take some time for myself. We all need to take that day away and that time for ourselves sometimes and I urge you all to make that time for yourselves sometime soon too. After a day of 'breathing', I'll be back, renewed and ready to write up a storm again. As Maya also said, "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you" and I have so many more stories to share.

If you enjoyed "Maya Angelou And A Day Away From Figure Skating", the best advice I can give you is to take just a moment of your time and click through to this blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard and "like it" - you'll end up with daily figure skating news, videos and interesting articles right in your Facebook news feed, as well as new content and interviews on this blog as they happen. I'm also just in love with the Twitter - it's so fun! You can also tweet me at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog anytime you feel like talking about skating... that's what I'm here for!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Interview With Paul Binnebose


Paul Binnebose's story is quite simply put one of the most inspiring stories I've ever heard in the world of figure skating. Just at the peak of his career, the World Junior and U.S. Medallist seemed poised to make a move in the U.S. pairs skating ranks just when the unthinkable happened - a horrific practice accident that saw Paul seriously injure himself to the point that he had to have emergency brain surgery and be put in an induced coma. His heart stopped twice. Although he still now suffers facial paralysis and other effects of his accident, incredibly Paul returned to the ice and the skating world. He is now a proud father of two and popular coach in the Denver, Colorado area who has a new outlook on life and an admirable perspective on the challenges life has given him. It was an absolute privilege to speak to Paul about his competitive career, the accident that changed everything, the current judging system, fatherhood and much more in this interview you're going to want to stop everything and read:

Q: Your competitive career started off so strongly. You won the bronze medal on the junior level at the U.S. Championships with Jacki Davidson, then teamed up with Laura Handy and won the Nebelhorn Trophy, the silver medal at the World Junior Championships and the bronze medal at the 1999 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on the senior level. What are you proudest of when thinking your competitive career?

A: I have a long winded response for you, get ready here it comes! My competitive career began long before Jacki. When I was twelve, I was working on a triple toe. When I took off and pulled in the blade on my left foot went through my right boot and my feet were stuck together, when I hit the ice my legs got stuck in the ice. I broke my leg in early June 1990. I was in a cast from June to the very start of September. I got out of my cast and got straight to work. By April, I won the Juvenile/Intermediate Nationals in intermediate boys figures. It was only the second time that competition was held. The next year I started skating pairs with a young lady named Nicole Bateson-Rock. We started working very hard and I was competing in singles as well. When the season was over, Nicole and I had won the triple crown (Regionals, Sectionals and Nationals) and I won a bronze medal in novice men's figures. Because of traveling logistics, Nicole and I didn't have a second season. I went on a partner search and started skating with a girl named Sara Ward. She had no pair tests so we had a lot of ground to cover to say the least. We worked as hard as we could, but after the last test session of the summer we didn't pass our junior pair test. That meant I needed to go back to the same event I had just won and Sara and I both knew what was expected of us for the year. At the close of the season, Sara and I had done exactly what Nicole and I had done the year before. That was the first time that a skater won Nationals back to back years with different partners. Sara and I stayed together and knew we had a leap to make so we could make a splash in juniors. That season had the improvement we were looking for, we went to Germany and skated in Blue Swords and finished sixth. We also were named on the U.S. Figure Skating World Junior team where we placed ninth. We finished out the year earning a bronze medal at the 1994 US Championships. Even though that year was full of success and improvement, I did not believe that Sara had the potential for more difficult jumps. So, against the advice of my coaches I never went back to Delaware from Nationals. I drove to L.A. and found a new partner. That is when I began skating with Jacki Davison. We spent our first year training out on the west coast. By the time Nationals came around, the disrespect that I had shown to my former coach was paid back in spades. Jacki and I were ninth in the event I had just won bronze in the year before. So with my tail between my legs I went back to Delaware and took Jacki with me. After that season, my coach felt that Jacki didn't have the body style that was needed to succeed and I switched to a girl named Tristan Vega. We trained that summer and fall, but injury kept us from competing at 1997 Nationals. After the season, a girl that I had competed against in years prior became available. In the spring of 1998, I started skating with Laura Handy and during our time together we won International medals, a World Junior medal, and we were characters in the fall heard around the world. The truth is, I have only fallen on one lift. It was a big one, but it wasn't a habit of mine. The proudest moment of my career came more than ten years after it was over. When I admitted to myself that everything that was given to me was a gift from God, and NOT because I had done a thing.

Q: The accident saw you have emergency brain surgery, be put in an induced coma and your heart stop twice. I can't even begin to imagine that. How do you put it all in perspective? What did you take from it all spiritually and personally?

A: The accident was a coming of age for my soul. It was a tragic, upsetting, faith testing event for everyone that was close to me. I count it as a blessing that God did not have me go through any of that. I do not even remember skating the day of the accident. I went to bed on September 28th and had some amazing experiences about God and life, then I woke up and found out what had happened. Even though I had questions about what had happened, I was answering questions about what is going to happen. No one can be where I have been and not be sold out to Jesus Christ.



Q: Returning to the ice after the accident... was there a fear there? 

A: I never had any fear about going back to the ice. I have been a skater longer than I can remember. I was thrilled to go home.

Q: You're now coaching and living in Denver, Colorado. What is the most rewarding part of coaching?

A: Anytime I get to see a skater "get it", and I know that I helped make that connection it's amazing. Helping somebody become successful makes me feel success when I see them make it. If only we could get the whole world to seek that kind of satisfaction.


Paul's sons Ethan and Eli
Q: Through coaching, you not only met your wife but the mother of your children. How did the two of you connect?

A: Lisa and I trained together in Delaware. She is an amazing woman and she loves BOTH of our sons with no equal. Ethan is four and Eli is two.

Q: Figure skating has changed so much since you competed, with the 'new' judging system, anonymous judging and so many rule changes along the way. What do you think of it all? Do you think the sport is in good or bad shape?

A: I love skating, but I do not subscribe to any group. Skating has only changed the judging system so they could confuse the people involved. In my opinion, this new judging system is just as corrupt as the old one. We just haven't broken the code..... Yet.

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

A: One of my three favourite skaters is Joel McKeever. He taught me that you can and should keep your cool when things go wrong, or even when they go right. He taught me the only one in control of me is me. Shepherd Clark is another. He taught me that you can maintain a constructive attitude about yourself no matter what is going on. He taught me that you need to respect yourself, no matter what they say. Scott Wendland as well. He taught me to keep improving yourself even if you can already land all the jumps in your long. He taught me to keep improving even when people are telling you that you have what you need. These are my favorite skaters because they all had a lifelong effect on the way I approach problems in my life.

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

A: Most people don't know I'm divorced. You never saw that coming did you?

Q: What advice would you give someone fighting back from something like you have had to in life?

A: As far as people that have trials to overcome... never quit. Doctors told my family that IF I came out of my coma, I would be in a hospital for the rest of my life because of the oxygen deprivation the two times I was dead. Humans are NOT in control. I try to stay away from religious dogma; that scares people away. What I can tell you is that if you breakdown the word universe into its latin parts 'uni' is one, and 'verse' is spoken sentence. So with one spoken sentence God created everything. Also, for every person that is here saying "I can't believe they're gone", there are more than twice as many saying "Here they come". Ryan, thank you.

Did you love this interview with Paul as much I did? Well, don't just stand there! In order for this blog to reach a wider audience, I could sure use a little help. All you have to do is "LIKE" the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard for instant access to all of the new blog articles, features and interviews as they are made available. I also share daily updates and headlines from the skating world, videos and much more that's not here on the blog, so if you love figure skating as much I do, it would really be rude not to get on that inside edge! You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog. If you know someone who loves skating, tell them! It's all about getting a dialogue going on! Fabulous skating is too fabulous to keep secret. Am I right or am I right?