Less than a year ago, Claire Cloutier of Salem, Massachusetts started writing her blog "A Divine Sport" and I have to say, I think she's been doing a fantastic job. For those who aren't familiar, she focuses mostly on competitive pairs skating from a very analytical perspective and has a really refreshing take on things. She's also done some wonderful editorial pieces and approaches her subjects from a place of respect, offering intelligent insight into the sport and its 'players'. We talked about how the digital age has changed the way that people digest information about figure skating, why she decided to get into blogging, her plans for the future of her project, favourite skaters and much more in this interview I really enjoyed. Get to know the person behind a name I have a feeling you'll be hearing a lot more of!:
Q: Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview! I want to start by talking a bit about your background in skating. I understand that you've been a huge fan of the sport since back in 1991. Have you ever skated yourself and is judging something that you ever considered exploring?
A: Well, skating is something that I did as a kid. I took lessons for a few years and learned all the basics. You know, basic jumps, crossovers, turns, that kind of thing but I never competed or did any testing. As an adult now, I'm kind of trying to get back into my skating. I've been skating for a couple of years now and I'm working on hopefully taking the pre-preliminary moves in the field and freestyle tests. Judging is something I have thought about, probably more in the past than now. As I've learned more about the sport and skaters, I feel like judging is such a responsibility. It can have such a big outcome for skaters. I think I'd almost be nervous about trying it but it's certainly interesting.
Q: You started writing your blog "A Divine Sport" back in October and I have to say that in terms of critically analyzing competitive pairs skating in particular, it's one of the most well written skating blogs I've seen come out in the last several years! How did you reach the decision to start blogging about figure skating?
A: It was something I'd been thinking about for a while. I'd been active on skating forums for quite a long time but I was having the feeling that there were subjects that I might like to explore in a little more depth than you typically see on a forum. What I have to say really pushed me to really start the blog was Ottavio Cinquanta and his proposal last year to possibly eliminate the short program. So you can blame it on Cinquanta! When he came out with that proposal, I realized this was something I felt really strongly about, was opposed to and wanted to speak up about, but I didn't really have a forum to do that so I decided I'd like to have a place online on an issue when I felt like I had something to say.
Q: Just as NPR and public radio have really taken off, independent blogs and podcasts have become a very real part of the figure skating 'media' landscape and with that, there has certainly been a bit of the good, bad the and the oh sweetie no... I like to think of it as there being something for everyone. That said, I'm quite curious to also ask you what you have found to be the biggest CHALLENGES of blogging about figure skating to be because let me tell you, after talking to many bloggers and podcasters who write about different topics entirely, I have personally found that it's a different beast ENTIRELY. What are your thoughts?
A: For me personally, my biggest challenge is the time to do the research and the writing. Very specific to skating, for me the hardest thing is finding that fine line between writing in a way that's interesting yet still being fair and considerate of other viewpoints. I want the blog to have a point of view but yet I don't want to be personally attacking any skater or anyone in the skating world. It's such a small world and people are so interconnected that you just want to sort of respect everyone's efforts and what they're wanting to do.
Q: It certainly IS a small world after all and that's certainly something you have to always consider. So... you've waxed quite poetically about the problems the current anonymous judging system has generated for the sport: "I don’t like seeing so many unhappy, sad faces after performances. I don’t like seeing so many robotic, mechanical, uninteresting programs. I love competitive figure skating, but I feel like something needs to change. I think many others feel the same. The product we have now - competitive skaters’ programs and performances - could be so much better. The IJS needs major reform, in my opinion. I would never want to see the sport return to 6.0. But there’s got to be a middle ground somewhere that will take us back in the direction we want to go: Toward skating that is technically accomplished - but also beautiful, memorable, and joyful." If you could change one thing and one thing only about the way the sport is being judged, what would it be?
A: If I could any change one thing like this moment, I think it would be reducing the penalties on underrotations in jumping. I think that's one thing I would change right this moment mainly because I think it's having a very negative impact on ladies skating specifically. Underrotations aren't really much of a factor in pairs and even in men's, it's not nearly as much as it is in ladies. When the ISU rolled out the IJS, they weren't really marking underrotations and who knows? It could change tomorrow and negatively impact the other divisions too.
Q: Speaking of judging, going all the way back to 1991, could you pick one judging result from a major competition that you would have reversed or changed?
A: That is easy and for me, like for a lot of people, it would definitely be the ladies event in Sochi. I definitely feel Yuna Kim should have been the Olympic Gold Medallist in Sochi. I've always been pretty honest about that. Obviously not everyone's going to agree with me, but that's definitely the one I would change. Going all the way back to 2007 Worlds, I would have liked to have seen Mao Asada be the World Champion that year.
Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why?
A: My favourite skater of all time definitely is Kristi Yamaguchi. She was the skater that made me a fan of the sport and brought me into the sport and I loved her skater as an amateur and a professional. She was so strong and consistent when she was competing and I really admired her composure when she was competing. Artistically, I loved the precision and delicateness of her style and how she explored so many musical styles and tried to grow as a professional. Second would have to be Gordeeva and Grinkov. To me, they're definitely the best pairs team of all time and I still cry whenever I see their 1988 Olympic long program. It was just so perfect. For a third choice, I have to pick two people. I might pick Yuna Kim. She was such an interesting skater and the speed and technical brilliance. I kind of think of her like a diamond - not always the most emotionally available skater but just so brilliant. But you know, I can't think really think of Yuna without thinking of Mao. I always kind of always put them together because they competed together for so long. Mao, I love, because she's always the most sheerly beautiful, graceful skater maybe that I've ever seen.
Q: How do you feel about a skater like Michelle Kwan?
A: I loved Michelle. Looking back on her programs now, I'm just so impressed with the emotional quality and so many of the different things she DID with her choreography.
Q: What is one thing most people don't know about you?
A: I'm kind of very competitive and a little rebellious.
Q: Nothing wrong with that! I think I fall under both of those categories as well. What can we expect on "A Divine Sport" blog over the summer and during the 2015/2016 season?
A: I'm still kind of working on ideas. For next season, I'd definitely like to hopefully continue my pairs coverage as people are still interested in it. I really enjoy it. I like pairs and I like writing about it. My dream actually is that I would like to doing a few interviews, maybe with some skaters but I'd really love to start talking with some coaches and choreographers and exploring that perspective. Coaches have so much to say. If I am able to get any interviews going, I think that's where I'd like to concentrate initially. It would be a dream to talk to someone like Julie Marcotte, who does pairs choreography for Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford and some of the American pairs and just to hear how she decides on music and comes up with choreography... I just think that would be so interesting.
Check out Claire's blog at https://adivinesport.wordpress.com! If you enjoyed reading this interview, 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 click 'like'. You'll end up with daily figure skating news, videos and interesting articles right in your Facebook news feed, as well as new content on this blog in real time. 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!