Sunday, 12 April 2015

The World Cup Of Figure Skating Competition

Perhaps the most decorated and hotly contested title in competitive professional figure skating's history was Dick Button's World Professional Championships, known affectionately to many skating diehards simply as "Landover" because the event was consistently held in Landover, Maryland for so many years, but it was absolutely not the only fish in the sea. Many promoters and event organizers were anxious to have their piece of the pie and agent Michael Rosenberg's first step into the professional competition world, The World Cup Of Figure Skating competition, was for a time a worthy Canadian adversary to the Landover event.


First held in late December 1988 in Ottawa, the World Cup was a made for television CTV professional event that was sponsored by the Campbell Soup company. It offered a purse of two hundred and fourteen thousand dollars in prize money to competitors, who were required to skate technical and artistic programs under theatrical lighting. Judging was on a 10.0 scale; among the judges was Olympic Gold Medallist Barbara Ann Scott. In the event's initial year Olympic Bronze Medallist Toller Cranston took the men's crown, beating Brian Pockar by three tenths of a point. Robin Cousins, who withdrew from the event due to torn tendons in his back, was replaced by Gary Beacom in the men's event, who received a standing ovation from the crowd with a jumpless artistic program. The 1988 World Cup event marked the professional competitive debut of 1988 Olympic Silver Medallist Liz Manley. Despite a hairline ankle fracture suffered that August hampering her training time, Manley was able to pull off a win ahead of three outstanding U.S. competitors: Rosalynn Sumners, Elaine Zayak and Tiffany Chin. The first pairs and ice dance winners were Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini and Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert.


In December of 1989, the event returned to Ottawa's Civic Centre. Withdrawing on the Friday before the competition due to a respiratory illness, Pockar was replaced by Robert Wagenhoffer, who was selected by Rosenberg on the basis of his win at the World Professional Championships in Jaca, Spain. Wagenhoffer competed against Olympic Gold Medallist Robin Cousins and a pair of Olympic Bronze Medallists (Charlie Tickner and Jozef Sabovcik) for the twenty five thousand dollar prize men's title that year. Cousins proved victorious. In the ladies event, Manley successfully successfully defended her 1988 title, competing against former rival Tracey Wainman and Americans Linda Fratianne and Tiffany Chin. Pairs competitors that year were Underhill and Martini, Americans Jill Watson and Peter Oppegard and Natalie and Wayne Seybold and the relatively unknown team of Irina Korina and Viktor Yelchin, who had only defected from the Soviet Union to the U.S. two months prior to that year's competition. The ice dance competition at the World Cup was only ever a two way race and the competitors during the second year were again Blumberg and Seibert and Canada's Lorna Wighton and John Dowding.


The December 9, 1990 edition of the World Cup was held at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium. A September 1990 Martin Cleary article from The Ottawa Citizen offered more than one reason that Rosenberg ultimately decided to move the event from Ottawa to Kitchener: "Kitchener outbid Calgary and Vancouver to stage the third World Cup of Figure Skating... 'The problem with Ottawa was the conflict with hockey (Ottawa 67's),' (Michael Rosenberg) said. Rosenberg said CTV, the broadcasting network, also was anxious to move it outside Ottawa.... 'Let's move it around like the World Cup of skiing," Rosenberg said in an interview Monday. 'It's time to move on and try a different market. We had a wonderful offer from Kitchener.'" Liz Manley returned to defend her title that year for a third time and the event marked the professional competitive debut of 1985 World Champion Alexandr Fadeev.

Rosenberg thereafter used to the World Cup name to launch a highly successful tour called World Cup Champions On Ice that played to theatre venues throughout Canada and the U.S. In a 1993 Los Angeles Times article, Rosenberg explained that he "wanted to play theaters with an ambience of Broadway - touring markets that were not used to seeing so many Olympic and World champions." The tour was adapted for television and broadcast on PBS, but due to copyright issues the skaters performances were overdubbed with instrumental 'muzak' instead of the music they used on the tour. Skaters included Liz Manley, Caryn Kadavy, Alexandr Fadeev, Jozef Sabovcik, Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, Simone Grigorescu-Alexander, Tracey Wainman, Elena Valova and Oleg Vasiliev, Petr Barna, Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding, Charlie Tickner and Grzegorz Filipowski. The tour played to fifty nine cities in its first year alone, grossing over four million dollars in profit and was choreographed by World Champion Randy Gardner and Manley's choreographer David Gravatt. Skaters and choreographers alike appreciated the unique challenges of a stage show setup. In 1993, Gardner said "Theater choreography is a little more tricky because you have to do more in place. In an arena, you skate out and do backward crossovers. The patterns are different. You always have to play the front, and you have to make sure everyone's on the correct angle." Kadavy said "Some people think this is a little easier, because you're not moving as much but it's just as much of a workout. It's a matter of pacing yourself. I love to skate big, so I have to keep it scaled down. But it's fun and challenging at the same time. And it's more intimate than arenas." Olympic Gold Medallist
Ponomarenko noted that "the people notice everything - the curtain, the lights. The people sitting close can see our emotions, and we can see their faces. It's much more fun for us, and it's new for the audience; they've seen arena shows before."

The 1993 tour was the final of three World Cup tours and 1993/1994 season would have undoubtedly been a busy year for Rosenberg, who as an agent represented a who's who of figure skaters, including Tonya Harding until the November before "the whack heard around the world". He used the success of the World Cup competitions and tours as a springing board to launch literally dozens of made for TV professional competitions in the wake of the explosion in figure skating's popularity following the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer... and the wonderfully creative skating that those competitions brought out was what ultimately drew me to the ice myself. I'll always remember watching that PBS Muzak broadcast though. The music was terrible but it didn't matter. The choreography was out of this world and the skaters exciting and engaging. And professional skating - the artistry, entertainment, costumes, lighting and flair - remains as exciting to me now as it did then... certainly a hell of a lot more interesting than any IJS footwork sequence or edge call. The World Cup proved that great skating alone is what people really want to see.

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