Sunday, 31 August 2014

Interview With Luis Hernández


With six Mexican titles under his belt, I guess you could say the handsome and obviously talented Luis Hernández has a lot to be proud of. The twenty nine year old started his skating career in the U.S., worked with the brilliant Frank Carroll then made the brave decision to take a step into the unknown and represent his country of birth in competition. Luis took the time to talk to me about his competitive career, his decision to skate for Mexico, working with Frank Carroll and Alexei Mishin and much, much more in this must read interview:

Q: Your skating career has seen you win six Mexican national titles, represent Mexico at the Four Continents and World Championships and at many international competitions including the Finlandia Trophy and Ondrej Nepela Memorial. Reflecting now, what are your proudest moments and most special memories from competition?

A: There have been numerous special and satisfying moments through my career! One that stands out above all is Worlds in 2009 in Los Angeles. After barely being able to walk from being severely injured for years, my body had given in leading up to the championship. Before the short program, I had to look elsewhere for strength and I put myself in the hands of a higher power (whatever you want to call it). It was the Olympic qualifier and I wanted to make sure I could look back and say I tried my BEST without giving up. Reflecting back, I can sincerely say that (regarding the circumstances I was under) I truly performed to the best of my capability. It was a moment I will never forget as I strongly and vividly felt the power of something greater than myself. It was very much a life changing experience. Not to mention, it was very special to have endless amounts of friends and family there supporting and going through the roller coaster with me.


Q: Although you were born in Guadalajara, prior to competing for Mexico you actually competed in the U.S. on both the novice and junior levels before opting to represent Mexico in time for the 2005/2006 season. How did this decision to switch countries come about and was it an easy or difficult decision?

A: It was actually after U.S. Nationals in 2003 that I made the decision to switch. It was by far the hardest decision I had made up to that point in my life. I was approached by the President of the Mexican Skating Federation during a North American Challenge Skate (where I was representing the USA internationally). My sister had been skating in Mexico (practices I was dragged to as a baby) for many years before I began competing in the USA. Mr. Jose Luis Aguilar was a familiar face and at that event formally offered me to skate for my native country and "help to raise the level of figure skating in Mexico". It was also obvious that I would have many more opportunities to see the world and compete in the big events as I had always dreamed. I was very hesitant as my career was going well in the USA but agreed to give it deep thought. After about a year of thinking, I began to become impatient and had an enormous drive and curiosity to see the world. Being young and stubborn, I made a decision that was entirely mine and had no idea that I was in for quite a RIDE! After making the switch, I had not represented the USA internationally for a year (since 2002), yet was made to sit out completely from competition for two and a half years for reasons unknown to me to this day. Those two and a half years were some of the darkest times for me professionally and personally. I left the sport entirely before realizing that it was my innermost truth to skate. Skating was where my soul was happiest and therefore I would keep fighting.

Q: You have worked with some fantastic coaches including Frank Carroll, Alexei Mishin and Ken Congemi. What have each of the coaches you've worked with over the years taught you that's made you the skater you are today?

A: I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with amazing and legendary coaches. From each one, I learned something different, not only about skating but also about life. Ken Congemi was and is the most enthusiastic and positive minded coach I ever worked with. He ALWAYS means business when it comes to training. Being very artistically inclined, his more "common sense" approach to skating was amazing at keeping me grounded. I worked several summers with Alexei Mishin (in the United States and Europe). He taught me that genius comes in many different forms and that the rules of skating are not so BLACK and WHITE. His technique sometimes consisted of blurting out rhythmic words while performing one of his several dozen jumping exercises. He made skating more fun than it already was and put his heart into any skater he chose to work with. Undoubtedly my biggest influence came from Frank Carroll (whom I worked with from the age of fourteen until the age of twenty). He is and always will be a teacher that led by example.  Leading his life with the highest standards of integrity and devotion to his craft, he motivated me to strive for excellence in all aspects of my own life. As a more mature individual, I often look back and understand so much better what he so fervently tried to instill in me everyday for so many years: discipline, organization and attention to detail. His guidance and example are not only expressed by his teachings but are intrinsic to who he is.


Q: Federacion Mexicana de Patinaje Sobre Hielo y Deportes de Invierno is a relatively new player in the international figure skating community having formed in 1987. How is skating growing in popularity 'south of the border' and do you feel it is a sport that will continue to gain momentum in the coming years?

A: Figure Skating in Mexico is experiencing an incredible boom. To give an example, there are thirteen to fifteen rinks now in Mexico City alone and countless rinks throughout the country. From seminars I have personally taught and seeing the younger competitors, I can tell you that there is endless amount of talent. Time will tell if the lack of funding (to high level and emerging skaters) will affect the future and growth of the sport. In my opinion, this issue is one that needs some serious attention and review.

Q: Back in 2003, I spent a week in Cabo San Lucas and did NOT want to leave! In your opinion, what is the one place that people HAVE to visit in Mexico?

A: By far and above, Mexico City! It is my favorite city in the world and one full of magic, energy and culture. You have amazing architecture ranging from ancient pyramids and colonial cathedrals to the most sophisticated and modern buildings. Art in all forms is on display at the many museums, theaters and the opera house. Last but not least, the FOOD, the nightlife and the welcoming hearts of the people are what make the city what it is! I never fail to get excited just thinking of it!
   

Q: What are your goals for the future in terms of skating and is it something you think you'll be involved in long term after your own career ends?

A: My goals for skating are very different than they were as a young skater. I have no longer skated to prove anything to anyone. I learned the hard way to respect my body (battling hip deterioration since 2005) and to listen to its cues. Skating brings me great joy and acts as my compass in life. After my last national title in 2013, I decided to be where I am today, exploring what I want to do with skating next! I will always be a skater in my heart and because of that, I know I will never stray too far.  

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

A: My three favorite skaters of all time are Kurt Browning, Alexei Yagudin and Michelle Kwan. They are to me, real-life super heroes. They are people who touched my core and stood as pillars like beautiful architecture exemplifying excellence. They are warriors of life who had the guts to be authentic and to display not only their amazing moments of magic but also their biggest downfalls. They rose from the ashes time and time again and continue to motivate me simply by being who they are.
 
Q: What's one thing most people don't know about you?

A: (laughing) What a question! There are too many things and I can't pick just one! Although I have my very extroverted moments, I am in actuality, EXTREMELY introverted and mostly prefer to go quietly about my life. Oh! There we go! I guess that's one thing most people don't know about me!

Q: What do you love most about figure skating?

A: The freedom it gives me to fly and to simply be me.

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Friday, 29 August 2014

Why Aren't They Skating To This?: Pieces Of Music That NEED To Be Skated To


I don't know about you but personally I echo two time Olympic Gold Medallist Dick Button's sentiment when he famously said during the free dance at Skate Canada in 2003 that "every skater goes through a thousand CD's until they find the music that they want, and all too often they end up with Carmen". If not Bizet's "Carmen", then surely some other warhorse is on the musical menu every year more often than we'd like. In the 2014/2015 season, the culprit appears to be "Phantom Of The Opera". Despite a rule change to allow lyrics and open a whole new world of music to skaters, still skaters like Yuzuru Hanyu, Gracie Gold, Kanako Murakami, Takahito Mura, Michael Christian Martinez and Caitlin Yankowskas and Hamish Gaman flocked to Phantom Of The Freakin' Opera. I don't know. Call me old school (I am) but Brian Boitano and Robin Cousins set the bar pretty high with their interpretations of "Music Of The Night" and to me, it just seems anti-climactic to keep bringing it up after it's already been owned. Rather than be part of the problem and just complain endlessly about people overusing music, I decided to use the power vested in me as a figure skating blogger to be part of the SOLUTION and suggest 6.0 pieces of music that NEED to be skated to going forward:

"CARAVAN" BY PUCCIO ROELENS


Why: It's completely edgy and a completely 'out there' take on a Duke Ellington standard. If you insist on skating to something a million other people already have, why not go in a completely different direction and give it you're own spin?

Who Could Rock This: Jason Brown, Carolina Kostner, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje

"FOLLOW YOU DOWN TO THE RED OAK TREE" BY JAMES VINCENT MCMORROW


Why: It's hauntingly beautiful, no one has ever skated to do it and it creates such a sense of mood... a different time and a very darkly beautiful place. Vocals are allowed now... pick something that makes people's jaws drop with its beauty!

Who Could Rock This: Jeremy Abbott, Jeffrey Buttle, Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue

"WHIRL-Y-REEL" BY AFRO-CELT SOUND SYSTEM


Why: It's instrumental, it's edgy and it's got that driving Afro/Celt beat that just commands your attention. Denise Biellmann skated to it one time and Robin Cousins choreographed the program so it can be choreographed to brilliantly... mark my words!

Who Could Rock This: Ashley Wagner, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, Alena Leonova

"BLUES IN THE NIGHT" BY KATIE MELUA


Why: This cover of "Blues In The Night" is as steamy as I gets and just begs for long running edges and personality plus on the ice. It NEEDS to be skated to.

Who Could Rock This: Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Joannie Rochette, Shae-Lynn Bourne

"SWEET LULLABY" BY DEEP FOREST



Why: This music is edgy, different and completely made for movement. The balance of the instrumental and vocal segments is superb and the music just evokes that sense of imagination that captures your attention wholly.

Who Could Rock This: Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, Shawn Sawyer, Adam Rippon

SENIOR MEN'S FREE SKATES TO DONNA SUMMER MEDLEYS


Why: WHY NOT? I'd LOVE to see more senior men's free skates to "Bad Girls", "She Works Hard For The Money" and "Hot Stuff". Wouldn't you? If it's good enough for Rosalynn Sumners, it's good enough for the world's best men.

Who Could Rock This: Just about anyone, honey!

Did you enjoy this feature? Be sure to always check back for more skater interviews and writing about everything under the sun in the skating world. There is also a Facebook page connected to the blog where all blog articles and interviews are shared - as well as current skating news, photos and videos of amazing skating. Give it a "like" at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard. You can also follow me on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog. I love talking figure skating and would love to talk about the sport with you!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Interview With Jessica Mills Kincade


You know her, you love her and she's pictured here with her student Abby Smith! In Sarajevo in 1989, Jessica Mills Kincade unexpectedly found herself atop the podium at the World Junior Figure Skating Championships ahead of skaters who would become household names in years to come like Surya Bonaly and Yuka Sato. A very elegant, put together skater, Mills Kincade would go on to make another five trips to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in years to come and win the bronze medal at Skate Canada International in 1994 right behind Krisztina Czako and Laetitia Hubert. In this fascinating interview, we talked about everything from her competitive career to competing at the 1994 U.S. Championships in the middle of the Tonya/Nancy media hoopla to fashion and her Olympic medal winning siblings. You'll even learn what movie you can see Jessica in. Be a sweetheart and give it a read. You'll just love this interview!:

Q: You had so many wonderful moments in your career as a figure skater - six trips to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, the bronze medal at Skate Canada International in 1994 and of course, the 1989 World Junior title among them. Looking back on it all now, what are your proudest moments or mos special memories as a skater?

A: Winning Junior Worlds was the proudest moment for sure. There were a lot of special memories over the years. Traveling internationally to represent the USA and feeling a part of a team was always a lot of fun and very rewarding.


Q: Here's one thing I think is pretty incredible. Your sister is actually Phoebe Mills, who won the Olympic bronze medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul as a gymnast and your brother is Nathaniel Mills, who competed in the 1992, 1994 and 1998 Winter Olympics as a speed skater. Growing up was there any big sense of rivalry between you and your siblings and did you ever dabble in each other's sports?

A: Yes, we all started in speed skating together as a family. It was great fun practicing together and piling in our van to travel to races on the weekends together. My sisters Hilary, Phoebe and I started also started in gymnastics together. Miraculously, we were not competitive with each other. We loved Olympic sports in our family and it was a lot of fun sharing in each others dreams, goals and successes.

Q: You really showed a lot of commitment to skating and continued through to 1996, competing against everyone from Jill Trenary to Kristi Yamaguchi, Nancy Kerrigan, Tonya Harding, Nicole Bobek, Elaine Zayak and Michelle Kwan. I know it's been talked about to death, but in particular, what was the experience of competing at those 1994 U.S. Championships in Detroit like with the media firestorm regarding the whole Tonya/Nancy 'incident' brewing? 

A: Thank you. I'm sure the experience was different for all of the ladies competing in that event but when you are at that level (in an Olympic year) you have to come into the event with laser focus and be able to block out distractions. In the moment, the attack was a distraction and I blocked it out and stayed to myself.

 

Q: You got your Bachelor Of Arts in Fashion Merchandising and actually worked as a merchandiser in New York City in the intimate apparel industry for ten years. Was fashion something you were always passionate about and what are your thoughts on fashion in skating today?

A: I always loved clothes and style. I actually wanted to be an actress growing up. After skating and in deciding on a degree for college I came across fashion merchandising and gave it a try. It was a great fit for me right away. I think there is a natural relationship between skating and fashion. Competition dresses are like evening gowns and we often draw inspiration from the runway. Vera Wang, a former skater, designed skating dresses for both Nancy Kerrigan and Michelle Kwan. I would like to see more of those collaborations.

Q: You now coach skating at the Louisville Skating Academy in Kentucky. What is the best piece of advice you can offer someone looking to make the transition from skating themselves to coaching?

A: Doing a skill and teaching a skill are two completely different things. So, you have to come in with patience and gradually figure out your methods.

Q: You performed professionally with the Ice Theatre Of New York, who I am actually a big fan of. What are your thoughts on the state of professional skating today and is getting back into performing professionally something you'd ever do again?

A: I would love to see a company like Ice Theatre Of New York become a national tour. I remember seeing John Curry's show when I was young which was done on a stage - like you would see a ballet. It was absolutely amazing. I wish my students now would have an opportunity to see such artistry on the ice but there is nothing like that out there that is done in a big way. Of course, you have to have the audience to sustain it which is where the problem is. There seems to be more success in artistically driven professional shows in Europe, where skating is a more popular sport than it is in the U.S. Do I think about performing again? The answer is yes. I think about it often in my dreams.

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

A: Scott Hamilton. He has such an amazing life story. He loved performing which made it so much fun to watch him as a professional and he has done so much to give back to the sport. Brian Boitano and Michelle Kwan - both for their technical ability, consistency and artistry.

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

A: I was an extra in the first Home Alone movie. There was a brief skating scene in all of the movies. I also competed in both figure skating and speed skating in the 1991 U.S. Olympic Festival (winning a gold in the team relay event).

Q: Looking back on it all now, what would you say your biggest strengths and weaknesses as a skater were and what was the biggest lesson figure skating taught you?

A: I think my biggest strength was that I cared about the total package. I had athletic ability and I gave equal attention to the artistic side. My weakness was mental toughness, or lack thereof which lead to inconsistency at major competitions. Skating taught me about sacrifice. You have to be willing to sacrifice to be successful at anything. You also have to make sure you surround yourself with people who understand your goals and support you.

If you enjoyed my interview with Jessica, be sure to always check back for more skater interviews and writing about everything under the sun in the skating world. There is also a Facebook page connected to the blog where all blog articles and interviews are shared - as well as current skating news, photos and videos of amazing skating. Give it a "like" at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard. You can also follow me on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog. I love talking figure skating and would love to talk about the sport with you!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Anne Frank And Bernd Elias: Skaters In A Dangerous Time


In my September 2013 article Finding Peace On The Ice: Figure Skating And World War II, I looked at the impact of World War II on the international figure skating community. More specifically in my January article Hanni Sondheimer Vogelweid, The Skates That Survived The Holocaust And The Sochi Olympics, I looked at the story of Hanni Sondheimer Vogelweid, a German born teenager that loved to skate who escaped from the Soviet occupation of her hometown of Kaunus, Lithuania to America via Japan and China. Her remarkable story of survival is almost mind blowing, yet I couldn't go back and think about the other side of the coin when I recently watched a documentary about the betrayal of Anne Frank's family purporting (and arguing very well) that Dutch nazi Tonny Ahlers was indeed the one that had betrayed the Frank family. Anne Frank's courageous story was shared through her diary "Anne Frank: The Diary Of A Young Girl" which was first published in Holland under the title "Het Achterhuis" in 1947 and is one of the most enduring and haunting stories of our time. In watching this documentary and thinking back to the book and fellow Gemini Anne, I couldn't help but think about how one young Jewish girl who loved skating survived and after that horrific experience of going into hiding in a secret annex in her father's factory, another young Jewish girl who loved skating met her end in a Nazi concentration camp seventy years ago.

In her diary on July 11, 1942, Anne wrote: "Our little room looked very bare at first with nothing on the walls; but thanks to Daddy who had brought my film-star collection and picture postcards on beforehand, and with the aid of a paste pot and brush, I have transformed the walls into one gigantic picture. This makes it look much more cheerful…" Among those photos that Anne used to color her grey world while she was in hiding with her family were three pictures of Olympic Gold Medallist Sonja Henie of Norway, who sadly and ironically had publicly supported Adolf Hitler with a Nazi salute at the 1936 Winter Olympics right in Anne's home country. Anne was a keen skater herself, taking lessons at the Apollohal ice rink and fantasizing in her diary about a skating performance with her cousin Bernd 'Buddy' Elias, a figure skater who played a clown in skating shows and actor. Anne drew a picture of a blue fir-trimmed skating dress with a matching hat to complement her dream of skating with her cousin after skating one time together before she was forced into hiding. In a January 1941 letter from Amsterdam to her cousin Elias, Anne wrote "Bernd, maybe we can skate as a pair together someday. But I know I'll have to train very hard to be as good as you are". Shortly after Anne penned this letter, the rink closed to her with a sign that said "NO JEWS ALLOWED". The same sign would be seen in schools, libraries, cinemas and cafes. Anne's turn on the ice and dream of skating with her cousin wasn't to be.


Anne's October 18, 1942 diary about skating with her cousin (not published in the abridged version) brings a tear to your eye: "Bernd is busy teaching me figure skating and I am going to be his partner because his partner happens to be away, we make a lovely pair and everyone is going to be mad about us we sent five photographs to the office 1. Anne doing a turn 2. Anne arm in arm with Bernd left foot forwards 3. Anne waltzing with Bernd 4. Anne with Bernd doing the swan 5. Anne from the left, Bernd from the right blowing a kiss to each other. There will be a film later for Holland and Switzerland, my girl friends in both Holland and Switzerland think it's great. It's in three parts. 1st part - Anne on skates. First you see her entering from one side while her partner enters from the other side with a blue skating dress trimmed with white fur with white pockets and a zipper and a belt with a bag. Then they do the swan together and Anne does this tremendous leap in the air. Later they waltz and joke about the lessons. 2nd part: Anne making a visit and at school. Busy at the tea table in the small room with Kitty and two boys including Bernd then at school surrounded by a noisy crowd of children and all sorts of silly scenes e.g. in bed with Daddy and at table. 3rd part: Anne's wardrobe the 8 new dresses skating dress which is a present a white one and shoes."

On March 8, 1944, Anne's dream of skating again was still very much alive. She wrote "the night before last I dreamed I was skating right here in our living room with that little boy from the Apollo ice-skating rink; he was with his sister, the girl with the spindly legs who always wore the same blue dress. I introduced myself, overdoing it a bit, and asked him his name. It was Peter. In my dream I wondered just how many Peters I actually knew!" She went on to talk of Peter kissing her but then saying he didn't love her and waking up and realizing it was only a dream. Sadly, the ice Anne longed to carve out part of her future on would also be a dream that would not prove to be a reality.

Bernd Elias talked of his own skating and acting career and memory of his beloved cousin Anne in a 2008 interview with PR.com: "I started skating at age 4, and as I was very agile and had a good sense of humor, when I was 14 I started doing comedy on ice with a friend. We gave exhibitions in Switzerland already during the war. After my schooling I went to drama school and started my career as an actor in Switzerland. But, I still did skating whenever I had the time. My partner went to England on business and came in contact with the producer of English ice shows, who offered us a contract. We accepted. Thus, I started my career as an ice comedian which lasted 14 years, mostly with Holiday On Ice. We toured the whole world; the Bolshoi Ballet, to the U.S. and we in Moscow with special performance for Chruschtschow. In 1961 I quit and returned to acting. I was very lucky and played many leading roles at some of German's most renowned theatres in Berlin, Hamburg, Bremen and Stuttgart. I also played musicals, [including] one leading part at the Shaftesbury theatre in London (Canterbury Tales), as well a part in "La belle Helène" at the festivals in Aix en Provence and Salzburg in French. Besides I was cast in many television productions in Germany. Right now I am performing in a comedy at a Basel theatre, but we will have our last performances soon. I already signed for a production at this theatre for next winter. Television offers are coming along too, but right at the moment I have no such plans. I am still active on stage and TV, but my life and work is mostly for Anne Frank and the Fonds. Quite often I go to schools and lecture about Anne and the Holocaust."

Sadly, Anne Frank's story echoes that of another figure skater who fought for his life and lost the battle in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. 1931 and 1932 Norwegian Figure Skating Champion Per Jacobsen fought for Norway in the battles in his country's Oppland District and joined the Resistance movement and an intelligence operative called Skylark A when Nazis invaded his country. After saving the life of resistance fighter Max Manus by smuggling in a fish line that Manus used to escape from a hospital under Nazi custody, Jacobsen was captured himself and imprisoned at Grini Concentration Camp from August 1942 to July 1943 before being shipped to Germany and sent to the Nacht und Nebel camp Natzweiler - Struthofwhere where he survived for almost a year until he died on June 13, 1944. Like Anne, Per Jacobsen would never return to the ice that he so dearly loved but is remembered in Manus' post-war book as "a grand companion, an ardent idealist and one of the silent heroes that undertook the biggest efforts."

Anne and Bernd were indeed skaters in a dangerous time that would never reunite on the ice. Anne's tragic death in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Nazi Germany in March 1945 ended that dream but it only seems fitting that today in the winters skaters can skate right past the Anne Frank House museum on the frozen Prisengracht canal in Amsterdam and pay their respects to a wise and courageous young woman - and skater - who dreamed despite her situation of life and skating beyond the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust. Lest we forget.

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, 24 August 2014

Interview With Morgan Matthews


From Chicago, Illinois, born and raised... in the ice rink is where she spent most of her days! Morgan Matthews' career as a competitive ice dancer was really quite the remarkable one. After winning the U.S. Junior title in both 2003 and 2004, she went on to find herself atop the podium at both the Junior Grand Prix Final and the World Junior Championships. In 2006, the Four Continents Championships silver medal was all hers. Along the way in her journey, she even defeated a pair of future Olympic Gold Medallists in competition - both Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Meryl Davis and Charlie White. Morgan was gracious enough to take the time to talk about her competitive career, citizenship issues, the skaters that inspire her most and much, much more in this interview I have a feeling you're really going to enjoy:

Q: You had crazy success during your competitive career - two U.S. junior titles, a win at the Junior Grand Prix Final, the 2005 World Junior title and a silver medal at the 2006 Four Continents Championships among them, as well as of course representing the U.S. at the 2006 World Championships in Calgary, Alberta. Looking back on it now, what are your proudest moments or most special memories from your career as a competitive ice dancer?

A: My most proud moment was winning the 2005 World Junior title. My partner, Max Zavozin, and I were extremely determined to win that medal. Our top competitors that year were Virtue and Moir, so as you can imagine we were very nervous. We had to skate our best every time in order to win. When the time came, it was one of those rare moments in which everything worked out exactly how we had hoped. That was definitely the peak of our career together.


Q: Before turning to ice dancing, you were were actually a pairs skater and you finished fifth on the novice level in 1999. How hard was making the transition from pairs skating to ice dancing?

A: From around 1997 to 2002 I trained in singles, pairs and ice dance. I liked pairs, tolerated singles, and loved ice dance. Therefore, when the right partner came along I was happy to shed the other two disciplines.

Q: After your partnership with Maxim Zavozin ended in 2007, you teamed up with Leif Gislason and applied for a release to represent Canada but were denied by U.S. Figure Skating and ended up continue to compete for the U.S. even though Kaitlyn Weaver was released around the same time to Canada. Do you think things could have gone very differently if you had have in fact been released or is it all water under the bridge now?

A: Leif and I were a great match on the ice, but the odds were stacked against our partnership. Even if the U.S. had granted me release, it would have been nearly impossible for me to have gained Canadian citizenship in time for either the 2010 or 2014 Olympics. Also, the injuries that caused me to retire would have eventually gotten in the way of our success. Our partnership aside, I hope that in the future more multinational teams are allowed to exist. Kaitlyn Weaver was fortunate enough to apply for release early in her career. The success that her and Andrew Poje have gained ought to inspire federations to be more accommodating to ice dance and pair couples comprised of skaters from separate countries.


Q: You later teamed up with Elliot Pennington but ended your career in 2009 while dealing with a serious injury. How hard was the decision to entire for you and how rewarding has the decision to continue in the skating world on the other side of the boards been?

A: Elliot and I were also a good match, but my injuries were too severe to overcome. It was very difficult for me to surrender to my injuries, even though I really had no choice. Elliot supported me through that period, which I am grateful for. Coaching has been a great resource for me while I put myself through college. Recently, I've enjoyed teaching and choreographing for several solo ice dancers. The Solo Ice Dance Series fills a major chasm in ice dance. Now all these girls and boys who haven’t yet found partners, or have no intention of finding one, can create programs and enjoy competing on their own.

Q: What's at the very top of your playlist - the songs and musicians you could listen to over and over?

A: My taste in music changes frequently. My current playlists include a lot of edm/alternative bands like Disclosure, CHVRCHES, and Seven Lions. However, for some reason I can’t stop listening to "Fancy" by Iggy Azzelea. Please don't judge me, it’s a phase!

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

A: I was raised vegetarian. Three years ago I tasted bacon for the first time. It was a life altering experience. I also speak Russian.

Q: Who are your three favorite ice dance teams of all time and why?

A: My all time favorite ice dance teams are Grishuk and Platov, Angelika Krylova and ANYONE and Torvill and Dean. Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze are another favorite of mine, but they are not ice dancers. Lastly, allow me to take this opportunity express my love for Hubbell and Donahue. In my opinion they are the most undervalued ice dance team currently skating.

Q: What do perceive as the biggest issues that are facing figure skating right now and quite frankly, do you think that the judging system currently being used is helping or hurting the sport's present and future?

A: I'd like to see a more modern artistic presence in figure skating. All the Balanchine gets tiring to watch. Allowing vocals in music should help but that won't be enough. Many skaters are turning to show skating because they are bored with the rigidity of competitive figure skating. As for the judging system, the IJS seems to be an improvement over the 6.0 system... but the day when everyone is happy about the judging system in figure skating is the day when pigs start flying. That said, I think that less restriction on music, choreography, and overall program content would be a welcome change.

Q: What do you love more than anything about ice dancing?

A: I love the creative process. My favourite time of year used to be the off season, when I'd get to help pick new music, choreograph new programs and design new costumes. Singles and pairs skaters do all of that as well, but for ice dancers the process is more extensive.

Didn't you just LOVE this interview with Morgan? 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!

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Interview With Sonia Lafuente


Following in the footsteps of great Spanish ladies figure skaters before her like Yvonne Gomez and Marta Andrade, Sonia Lafuente has carved out a very impressive career for herself and put Spanish ladies figure skating back on the map in recent years. In addition to three Spanish national titles, she's represented her country on the world's biggest stages - the European Championships, the World Championships and even the Olympic Games. With a cool confidence on the ice, she's really proved that she's a skater not to count out over the years. Battling back from a difficult season last year that saw her drop to 32nd at the World Championships in Saitama, she's ready to rally back to the form that saw her finish in the top fifteen at the 2012 World Championships. We talked about her training, favourite memories, training in Canada and much more in this fabulous interview:

Q: Your career has been incredible so far. You've won three Spanish national titles, represented your country at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, seven European Championships, seven World Championships, four World Junior Championships, on both the Junior and Senior Grand Prix Circuits and have won gold medals at the Golden Spin Of Zagreb, Dragon Trophy in Slovenia and Merano Cup in Italy. Reflecting, what are your proudest moments or most special memories from your competitive career so far?

A: There are a lot of great moments and amazing memories: the first medal on the Junior Grand Prix series, my first Europeans, first Worlds... but if i had to choose one it would be the Olympic Games. It was amazing from the beginning. The olympic village, the ice rink, sharing those moments with so many athletes, walking behind the Spanish flag in the opening ceremonies... it was unbelievable!

Q: You train alongside fellow Spaniard Javier Fernández and also work with Brian Orser (a World Champion and two time Olympic Silver Medallist himself). How motivating is training alongside Javier and what do you enjoy most about training with Brian?

A: Training at the Toronto Cricket Club is incredible. There are so many skaters and such a high level of skating. Javier and Yuzuru train here and just skating with them and sharing the ice makes you work harder every day. Of course, you also learn things from them. My main coach inside the club is Ghislain Briand but I also work with Tracy Wilson and Brian Orser. Every bit oof advice I get from them is helping me improve on my skating, from jumps to spins to stroking. I really appreciate the work and time they spend with me.


Q: What's your favourite jump and spin? Your least favourite?

A: For jumps, I would say my favourite jump is the loop, although it also gives me trouble sometimes (laughing). My least favourite would be the salchow. We've never been very good friends! With spins, my favourite would be the layback but I can't practice it too many times because it is really hard on my back. My least favourite one would be the flying sit spin.

Q: Do you think you'd be a better pairs skater or ice dancer? Which do you enjoy watching more?

A: I think a pair skater. I'm used to jumping and also ice dance requires a lot of interpretation and I'm not as good at that. I don't think I prefer one before the other. They both have great things... the flow and elegance of the ice dance and then pairs skating... it's so spectacular.

Q: Looking towards the next season, what are your current goals and what can you share about your new programs?

A:: Last season was a difficult one for me so my main goal for the next season would be to go back to my highest competitive level. About my new programs, I can say that I'm very happy and I love both of them. I did the short program with David Wilson and the free program with Jeffrey Buttle. They're both very different but both have so many great ideas. It was a pleasure to work with them both.

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

A: Figure skating is a very small sport in Spain. It's hard to fight against soccer or tennis, but it is also true that during the last few years the attention that the media is giving to it has improved. Javier's recent results have really helped on that and also having a team that is growing and improving every year.

Q: If you'd never taken that first glide on the ice, do you think you would have been as successful in another area of life as you have been in skating?

A: I started skating very young. I was only four years old. I don't know if I would've come this far in a different sport but I would've practiced something else for sure because I was a very energetic kid!


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

A: If as "things" i could choose people i would bring my family, both my parents and my sister. Now that i'm living in Toronto and i'm far from them I've realized how much you can miss your people!

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

A: Carolina Kostner for her elegance and speed on the ice, Michelle Kwan for her appearance every time she stepped on the ice and Patrick Chan because of the control he has when skating. It feels to me like he's flying.

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

A: (laughing) I can be nice! Some of my friends have told me about the first time they saw me and how they thought I was a very serious person or even a little bit disagreeable. That's because I'm shy at first! Then, luckily for me they realized I love to talk and laugh!

Q: What do you love most about figure skating?

A: I think figure skating is such a complex sport. There are so many aspects you have to control. You have to not only be an athlete but be able to jump, spin and get through the programs. You also have to be able to make it look elegant and easy.

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, 19 August 2014

It's Fun To Stay At The YMCA: Charles C. Russell's Unbelievable Feat

Ripley Archives photo
With all of the unbelievable stories I come across when looking for things to write about or in doing interviews with so many cool people in the skating world, I sometimes feel like the blog itself is one big version of Ripley's "Believe It Or Not". On May 18, 1939, a man from Chicago DID in fact capture the attention of the good folks of Ripley's "Believe It Or Not" by performing an unusual feat on skates that I think it's safe to say no one's attempted since.

Charles C. Russell is described in the book "The World Of Ripley's Believe It Or Not" as "an ice skating and barbell instructor at the South Chicago 'Y'". Let's slow that train down before it even leaves the station. Ice skating and barbell instructor? That's quite a combination, now isn't it? Apparently it IS fun to stay (and play) at the YMCA. Putting his skills both on skates and in weightlifting to good use, Russell achieved the bizarre feat of hoisting a bar over his head with a woman seated on either end (a total of 265 pounds) while wearing ice skates. To top it all off, both woman played ukuleles while raised in the air. Russell clearly outdid himself. In a previous similarly incredible effort, while on skates he raised his sister with one hand and twelve cups of hot coffee with the other. Talk about a double double! 

Although Charles C. Russell's incredible feat is not known by many in skating circles today, we were importantly reminded many years later of just how much fun it is to stay at the YMCA with Rudy Galindo's campy and simply fabulous Village people program. If you don't feel like weightlifting in your ice skates, you simply can't not give yourself a smile and enjoy Rudy's program one more time. I'm sure Russell would have loved it.



Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Interview With Vadim Shebeco


Not all figure skating fairy tales begin and end in the "amateur" world, among the watchful eye of a panel of ISU judges ticking off lutzes and layback spins. Former Soviet skater Vadim Shebeco ended his amateur career a pauper in the dissolving Soviet Union and by way of Central America, Mexico and a high speed car chase, began his own "American dream" that saw him evolve from pauper to prince in Ice Capades, earn two university degrees, teach english and begin a successful career as a figure skating coach that has seen him coach in both Delaware and California. Vadim took the time to talk about his "amateur" and professional careers, the Ice Capades and life today in this short but sweet interview:

Q: In 1991, you made the Soviet national team just at the time the USSR was falling apart and were competed during your "amateur" career against great Russian and Soviet skaters of the time like Viktor Petrenko, Alexei Urmanov, Alexandr Fadeev and Viacheslav Zagorodniuk. What are your proudest memories from this time in your skating career? 

A: Prior the 1991/1992 season, I was skating in pairs for about three years. In my final year as an amateur skater, I've decided to go back into singles, despite the fact that my idea of doing so wasn't taken really seriously by my coaches. I had to get all of my jumps back (since that wasn't the priority in pairs) and make them all consistent. I had to restart training in a different way. It was hard at the beginning, but I did that anyhow because I knew that I had more of a future in singles than in pairs. All of it was happening in a very, very short time and the Cup Of Russia was coming up that I was hoping to make it to. I got the jumps and all the rest of my elements back but didn't have a program nor the music yet. And so happened... I found out that made it to the Cup Of Russia pretty much right before the competition. That was definitely an interesting situation. The night before I left Moscow to fly to compete, I borrowed one of my friend's music for my short program and the other friend's music the long program. I'd heard the music before since I was skating with both of them in CSKA, but how I was gonna go about it during the actual competition seemed a little bit more challenging to me without having actual programs. Of course, a lot of my friends knew my current programless circumstances, so most of them went to see how I was going to improvise on the spot and what would happen. The competition went really well for me considering that I had to get back in 'jumping shape' in almost no time with no programs and somebody else's music at a pretty big competition. I placed in second place overall.


Q: You decided to leave the Soviet Union in hopes of starting a professional career. By way of Mexico, you fled to Canada in disguise with less than $1000 in savings, the clothes on your back and 8 year old skates and auditioned for Ice Capades, winning the starring role of Prince Charming alongside 1976 Olympic Gold Medallist Dorothy Hamill and 1988 Olympic Silver Medallist Liz Manley. How scary was the whole experience of embarking on a whole new life?

A: Right when I got back home to Moscow, I got a good offer to turn pro and with the whole country falling apart and both of my parents losing their jobs, I took it. A short while later, I left Russia and went to Central America and later Mexico, where I was touring for about a year. Meanwhile, I really wanted to and was hoping to see if someday I could get a job with the Ice Capades. It was like my dream. One day I found out that I've got that job. It was one of my happiest days of my life at that point. My producers in Mexico weren't very fond of that idea and I had to escape. I literally escaped from there with $750.00 in my pocket and just the skates in my hands and nothing else. It was a full blown escape with a car chase, me hiding in some small motel in Guadalajara and trying to dye my hair blond that turned red and so on. When I finally got to Canada where the rehearsals were held, the manager of the show (Bob Gallagher) picked me up. From what it appeared, he was expecting me to have some baggage, but I only had skates in a plastic bag. I didn't really speak any English, so the first couple of months were pretty interesting. But little by little, everything settled in its places.


Q: What were your most memorable experiences touring with Ice Capades?

A: Working there among all these amazing skaters and with such great choreographers like Tim Murphy and Nathan Birch was everything I was only hoping for, and to top it all up... to skate with Dorothy Hamill was a dream come true.

Q: After your touring career ended, you became an American citizen in 2003, turned to a coaching career and went back to school, earning your second university degree. What have you found to be the most rewarding aspects about your life as a coach and today?

A: To try to answer your other question, Ryan, yes... after finally settling down after many years of traveling, I'm coaching in northern California. I love what I do, and think that I'm incredibly lucky to do what I do and was able to do what I did. I'm really thankful to both of my parents who were always and still are very supportive and I think if it wasn't for my Mom and my Dad, I would never have such a great profession now in the first place. Looking back as to whether I regret turning pro or not, it's hard to tell. I'm trying not to think that way too much. I had a great professional career and I also had to do what I had to do when I turned pro and both of my parents lost their jobs during collapse of former USSR. That is that.

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.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Interview With Angela Wang


After medalling on the novice level nationally at the 2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Angela Wang has slowly climbed the ranks in U.S. ladies skating and made quite the impression along the way. During the 2012/2013 season, she won the Junior Grand Prix event in Croatia and finished third at the U.S. Junior Grand Prix event, qualifying her for the Junior Grand Prix Final that season where she placed a very strong fourth place. She has twice finished in the top ten on the senior level at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and her consistent jumps coupled with a wonderful sense of musicality have really made her the kind of skater you can't help but pay close attention to. Angela took the time to speak with me in July about her competitive career to date, new programs for the upcoming season, Chinese heritage, love of animals and much more in this wonderful interview:

Q: What I've noticed about your skating career so far hasn't just been your success to date. Medals in international competitions on the Junior Grand Prix are extremely impressive but in your case I don't think they tell the story. If you look at your performances at U.S. Nationals over the last few years, you really got to see such an elegant, mature performer out there. What are your proudest accomplishments to date - the performances that stand out as the most special in your mind?

A: I think the most memorable performance for me so far in my career would have to be my long program the first year I competed senior at the U.S. Championships. I felt very comfortable on the ice and was just excited to be making my senior debut, and I think that led me to put out a solid performance.


Q: You've actually competed on the juvenile, intermediate, novice and junior levels at Nationals before moving up to compete on the senior level at U.S. Nationals during the 2011/2012 season. That's QUITE an accomplishment. Was growing up in front of judges and audiences from such a young age something that was always easy or did it have its ups and downs?

A: It certainly had its ups and downs. I've always loved performing for other people, so it came more naturally to me, but it definitely was not always easy. I was lucky to have a great group of people help me through the process.

Q: Last season you ended up falling out of the top ten at Nationals, which I don't think is any indication of your talent. What is your plan for next season in terms of coming back fighting and how have things been going in training?

A: First of all, thank you. Last season was definitely rough for me, but I do believe it was a valuable one in terms of growing and maturing. I am extremely excited about this upcoming season; I've got a great team supporting me and I am so grateful for that. Training has been going very well. I can’t wait for the season to start!


Q: What can you share about the programs you'll be skating next season and the choreography process?

A: I am absolutely thrilled with both of my programs this year. Rachael Flatt choreographed my short program to "Paint It Black". It's a different style for me; it’s sharper and edgier than what I’m used to performing, but I’m so excited about it. Tom Dickson choreographed my long. I’m looking forward to performing both of my programs this season.

Q: You work with some of the very best in the business - Christy Krall, Damon Allen, Tom Dickson, Catarina Lindgren, Janet Champion. What have your coaches and choreographers taught you on the ice that has helped you as a person off of the ice?

A: My coaching team is absolutely phenomenal. They've taught me so much about myself and have helped mold me into the person I am today. I cannot thank them enough for that. I think the most important thing I've learned from these past few years working with them is that skating is just skating. No matter what happens, life goes on. Go into everything fully determined so that you can walk out with a smile on your face, knowing you did everything possible to have the outcome your desire.

Q: Your parents moved to the U.S. from China two years before you were born. How significant is Chinese culture in your life and is China a place you could ever see yourself living or spending any amount of time?

A: The Chinese culture certainly played a role in how I was raised. My parents and I recognize and acknowledge the big Chinese holidays and special occasions by making a Skype call to my relatives who still live there, but we don't habitually have a celebration ourselves. I would love to spend time in China someday. There is such a rich history and culture and I think it would be fascinating to learn more about the place my family is from.

Q: What movie do you think you've watched the most times? What about a song or piece of music you've had on repeat more than once?

A: I don’t watch a lot of movies, but I have seen Mean Girls more times than I can count. It’s such a funny and quotable movie! As for music, I have to admit that I have a slight obsession with Ed Sheeran. His voice is absolutely incredible - and on top of that, he’s got a great personality as well. I'm so in love with his new album! I can guarantee you it will be on repeat for the next few months.

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

A: Michelle Kwan, Yuna Kim and Meryl and Charlie. Need I explain why?

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

A: I love, love, love animals, especially dogs. I will literally stop mid-conversation to walk over and pet a stranger's dog.

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

A: I love the feeling of gliding across the ice. There’s so much freedom, yet you’re in total control.

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?

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Interview With Béla Papp


The great balancing act of school and skating is something Finland's Béla Papp knows all too well. The 2011 Finnish Champion lives and trains in Canada while pursuing a university degree at Simon Fraser University. You might say skating is in his blood! His four siblings all have skating backgrounds as well, his sister being two time Finnish Medallist Beata Papp. On the comeback trail from injury, Béla's passion to succeed is greater than ever and I was fortunate to have had chance to talk to him about everything from moving to a new country to his skating goals for this season to growing up in a skating family. You'll love this one!:

Q: You've had a really wonderful career so far. You've won the two Finnish junior titles as well as the senior national title and have represented Finland at the 2011 World Championships as well as at four consecutive World Junior Championships, not to mention a number of other international events from Australia to Romania. What are your proudest moments or most special memories from your competitive career so far?

A: One of my most proudest moments was when I won my first senior national title in Finland in 2011. It was a great feeling and training had really paid off. What made it more special was the fact that I did not have a good short program and was fourth after it, I believe. I just really wanted to show everyone what I was capable of doing in the free program and went out there and was able to perform a clean program. Another proud moment I had was when I was able to represent my home country in the World Championships. It was a great honor and an even greater experience to compete against the best skaters in the world.


Q: Although you were born in Kuopio, Finland, you actually live, train and study here in Canada - in British Columbia actually. Was there much of a culture shock moving from Finland to Canada in 2007 and what do you love most about here and miss most about Finland do you find? 

A: There wasn't too much of a culture shock when I moved from Finland to Canada. The biggest difference that I realized was the multicultural aspect that especially Vancouver has with all the different cultures and ethnic backgrounds. The thing that I love most about Canada is the fact that people are very friendly and easygoing so it was an easy transition. The things that I miss most about Finland are family and the friends that I grew up with. Also every time I go back to Finland I fall in love with the scenery as it is beautiful there.

Q: You have worked with Joanne McLeod, alongside a host of other great skaters including Olympic Silver Medallist Kevin Reynolds. How do you feel having the right training environment motivates you daily to improve and grow stronger as an athlete? 

A: I don't train with Joanne McLeod anymore. I made a switch to training with Bruno Delmaestro in the Coquitlam Skating Club a few years ago. Things didn't work out with Joanne and I. The training motivation that I have now is greater than ever. I try and go on the ice everyday with a great attitude and always trying to give 110% to achieve my daily and seasonal goals. I believe that these qualities have made me a stronger athlete and of course the love for the sport. I had the chance to train with Kevin Reyonlds and Jeremy Ten when I still skated with Joanne. Kevin and Jeremy are both great friends of mine and great skaters whom I look up to in both on the ice and off the ice.



Q: After not competing during the 2012/2013 season, you came back and finished third at your Nationals this past season. What can you share about your goals for this next season and the programs you will be skating? 

A: After recovering from my lower back surgery (L5 bilateral pars repair) I was motivated to get back into training and prove to everyone that I was still able to compete at a high level. My goals for this season are to skate as well as I personally can at each one of my competitions as well as to achieve the World Score. Another important goal that I have set for myself is to be able to compete for the title again at my Nationals. My short program for the upcoming season is bluesy with lyrics. It is a different style that I have previously skated to and I really like the challenge, because it makes me work hard on my presentation skills and hopefully it will reflect in my competition scores. My long program starts off with a classical side of music and then turns into tango and intense music towards the end, which I personally love because I can go full out in performing it in front of a crowd.

Q: Describe the ultimate day in your life. What would you eat, what music would you be listening to and where would you go? 

A: The ultimate day in my life would probably be hanging out with my closest friends and going to the beach or cliff jumping at some of the local locations and just enjoy life with great friends. I would most likely be having a barbecue at the location and making burgers and listening to hip hop or electronic music.




Béla and his sister Beata
Q: Your siblings Beata, Bettina and Benjam all figure skate as well. Is sibling rivalry something has gone on often between the four of you or are you generally just very supportive of each other? 

A: Beata and Benjam are currently skating with me, but my younger sister Bettina has retired from skating. We have an encouraging relationship when we are on the ice and support each other as much as we can during training and competition. Of course there is some sibling rivalry especially between my brother who is five years younger than I am and his personal goal is to beat me one day. I have promised to have at least one competition with him sometime in the future when he gets his triple jumps.

Q: How do you think figure skating needs to change or grow to become more popular with the wider audiences of today and draw in more fans? 

A: I believe figure skating is moving the right way although individual perspectives differ with the new judging system. I have noticed that especially in my home country the trend of figure skating has bloomed and they are doing a lot of cool new things to get younger kids to start figure skating. I think that people just need to give the sport a chance and go watch a high level event to truly know what the sport is all about to really appreciate it to the fullest and get the whole experience.

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

A: Growing up my favourite skaters were Evgeni Plushenko and Brian Joubert. I really liked the European style that they had while skating and the athleticism that they brought to the sport. Currently my favourite skaters are Yuzuru Hanyu, Denis Ten and Maxim Kovtun. They're all young athletes with such great talent and it motivates me to get on the level that they are on at the moment
.
Q: What is one thing most people don't know about you? 

A: A thing most people don't know about me is that I'm really easygoing and love to meet new people. People are used to seeing me as a very busy individual always either studying on campus or at training. I guess that goes to pretty much all the student athletes.

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

A: The thing that I love more than anything about figure skating is when you are able to have the skate of your life at a competition that really matters after hours and hours of working towards that goal and finally achieving it. That is one of the best feelings to have as a figure skater.

Didn't you just LOVE this interview with Béla? 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!

Monday, 11 August 2014

Triumph And Tragedy: Talking John Curry With Author Bill Jones


I don't think anyone could argue that 1976 Olympic Gold Medallist John Curry was not one of the most important, significant and influential skaters of the twentieth century and for that matter, of all time. Not only was his skating magnificent, his work as a professional skater and choreographer completely revolutionized what many even considered possible on ice. Simply put, there's something about John Curry's skating that words don't seem to do any real justice. In his brand spanking new book "Alone: The Triumph and Tragedy of John Curry", Bill Jones takes on the daunting challenge of doing justice to the life story of one of skating's most enduring and enigmatic stars.

Although the book won't be released in the U.S. until January 2015 on Amazon.com, it is currently available on the British incarnation of Amazon and here in Canada, you can pre-order your copy and have it in no time flat: it will be released in Canada on August 26, 2014. This quite frankly though is not a book you want to be waiting on. You're better off just paying the international shipping and going the UK Amazon route. You'll thank yourself for it. I spoke to Bill Jones, the author of the book about what inspired him to tell John's story. "I've been a documentary filmmaker all my working life. That is until I wrote my first book four years ago, "The Ghost Runner". That effort won me a major literary award, and I badly wanted to write a second book and found myself thinking back to the night I watched John Curry at the Olympics in 1976. Something about him had always stuck with me, and as I knew nothing about him, I decided to look closer. Thank God I did. Although it's taken me almost three years, I'm very proud of the result and think John's courage - in respect of both his skating style AND his sexuality - should be read about by people today. Don't forget he came out as gay, less than 24 hours after winning the Olympics. In 1976! Even today, many public figures don't have the guts to do this. Curry also told the world he had AIDS when people like Freddie Mercury and Nureyev were trying all in their power to keep it a secret. Incredible, incredible guy."


Coming back to the challenge of putting a skater so enigmatic's story to paper, we talked a bit more about why John's story was so compelling: "Of course, John was a brilliant skater - a genius, and innovator, a risk-taker, a visionary. But what makes him fascinating for a biographer are the extraordinarily complex facets of his personality. At the outset of this project, one of his close friends said: 'How do you write a book about a black hole'? Very soon, I understood the wisdom of that remark. Curry was oblique, secretive and ferociously private. He was also rootless - never owned a home or lived anywhere for long - and his constant seeking movement made him even harder to pin down. But when I did - thanks to over three hundred private letters - I was fascinated by his dark, demanding, driving, unforgiving psyche. This wasn't mere prurience. Curry's loneliness and unhappiness are bound up in so many of his greatest pieces of choreography. Very often he is telling us something on the ice. Such as his maligned reworking of the Icarus myth which he explained with the wry aside : 'Everyone wants to fly too close to the sun'. Undoubtedly Curry flew too close and like thousands of men of his generation, he was burned." In this statement to John's contraction of HIV and AIDS which tragically led to his death in April 1994 at the age of forty seven.



As Jones described Curry as "oblique, secretive and ferociously private", I wanted to ask him more about the challenges of taking on a biographical project like this. "The challenge lay in his secrecy," Jones reiterated. "Diaries he had kept had been destroyed as had many letters. Thankfully, I found boxes of his papers at his former family home (in Warwickshire, England) and these were full of vital keys to his life. His passports especially - blizzards of red ink and stamps - gave me the precise route map of his life. Talking to over one hundred of his contemporaries opened him up piece by piece. As did the help of his family, who enabled me to get a glimpse of a childhood which ended in 1965 with his father's suicide. It would be fair to say that John was not an easy nut to crack! Another major challenge was putting into words the liquid beauty of his skating. Hopefully, I've pulled this off, especially with my description of his gold medal winning skate in 1976." Jones' effort to talk to a who's who from the skating community who were connected to John including his dear friend and contemporary Lorna Brown, Dorothy Hamill, Toller Cranston, Jojo Starbuck and Robin Cousins allowed for a real insight into not only John's character but his wide reaching impact on the figure skating community.

In this information age where we are fortunate to have a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips, I wanted to ask Jones what fans of John's would be most surprised by when reading the book: "I think fans of John's skating will be shocked to learn of the mental torment he was in, for almost all of his life. Curry was a depressive, lonely man who never established a lasting relationship. He was also ferociously tough on coaches, fellow skaters and managers. His journey was strewn with casualties. The outcome, however, was a body of work which no one will ever equal. His 1984 shows at the Royal Albert Hall and the New York Met, for example, were quite literally jaw-dropping. They were also cripplingly expensive and left his company over one million dollars in debt; a financial catastrophe from which he never really recovered. I think fans will also be upset to read of his final years, resigned to his fate, but happy not to be weighed down by the pressures of his skating life."


Going back to what made Curry simply this larger than life, SPECIAL skater, Jones commented that "from what I've seen of skating recently - and I don't pretend to be a student of today's whiz kids - it all seems a little tacky and tricksy, and I wonder where the subtlety has gone. But then Curry had to fight to skate the way he wanted, and as a child had really wanted to be a ballet dancer so his motivation was entirely different. Skating for him was a second choice which he worked tirelessly, and brilliantly, to subvert. Anyway, I do hope people read this book and spread the word. Sadly it will make people cry, but it will also make them head for YouTube to see what all the fuss was about. And if they do, my job is done!"

It was my pleasure to connect with Bill Jones and really garner some insight into his motivation to tell this important story. I have to honestly say that this is a story that needs to be out there and that people really need to take the time to read. E.A. Bucchianeri wrote that "an artist should paint from the heart, and not always what people expect. Predictability often leads to the dullest work, in my opinion, and we have been bored stiff long enough I think." In a time when skating is at this dire crossroads where the artistic movement to reclaim ownership of the ART of skating seems pitted against a judging system that almost cruelly discourages any form of creativity, I think reading about and learning from the story of one of the sport's greatest artists and true masters is just so very important. The more and more I think about it, "the sport of figure skating" is becoming a broken record we need to stop trying to change. "The art of figure skating" is what needs our undivided attention and Curry's legacy and body of work can truly serve as a wonderful source of inspiration, vision and hope... for skating's overall future.

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