Thursday, 19 November 2015

The 1985 World Figure Skating Championships


Built in the early sixties, the Yoyogi National Gymnasium played host to the swimming and diving events at the 1964 Summer Olympics. From March 3 to 10, 1985, a rink built over a swimming pool in the facility played host to a who's who of figure skating as they competed for top honours at the 1985 World Figure Skating Championships. The story behind the scenes was less than ideal. From complaints about the food to a forty minute bus ride from the hotel through the traffic filled streets of Tokyo, Japan to the athletes not even being able to get a second hotel key, it's a small wonder that so many spectacular performances were pulled off at the event. With a stack of no less than fourteen articles from the Montreal Gazette and The Globe And Mail and Lynn Copley-Graves' authoritative "Figure Skating: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice" in hand, I decided to dig up only the best stories for you all and take an in depth look at this exciting competition from decades past:

THE PAIRS COMPETITION


The short program in Tokyo was a bit of an upset as Olympic Bronze Medallists Larisa Selezneva and Oleg Makarov bested their teammates, Olympic Gold Medallists Elena Valova and Oleg Vasiliev. The required side-by-side jump for pairs that season was the lutz and Valova singled out of hers, giving Selezneva and Makarov a 3.6 point edge. All three Canadian pairs were coached by Kerry Leitch and trained at the Preston Figure Skating Club. In third after the short were twenty year old Katherina Matousek and twenty two year old Lloyd Eisler of Canada, followed closely by Cynthia Coull and Mark Rowsom, who skated a relatively clean program. Rowsom did admit that he ''did one fewer crosscuts than we were supposed to do at one point, but it wasn't anything serious.'' In fifth was the third Soviet pair of Veronika Pershina and Marat Akbarov, who also had an issue with popping the side-by-side jump. Newly crowned U.S. Champions Jill Watson and Peter Oppegard, coached by Louis Stong, sat in sixth ahead of Melinda Kunhegyi and Lyndon Johnston, who received a small deduction when Johnston caught on an edge on a sit spin and came out of the spin before his partner.

Matousek and Eisler

In the free skate, Valova and Vasiliev rebounded with a very strong performance for the win, landing side-by-side triple toe-loop's, a throw triple salchow and earning four 5.9's for artistic impression. Selezneva and Makarov had to settle for silver. Coach Tamara Moskvina noted that Valova and Vasiliev's program "was completely different from the one we used last year. After losing last year, I really wanted my pair to win the championship back; we worked hard on everything and added some more and difficult things." With Matousek, Lloyd Eisler won the first World medal of his career, a bronze, despite a miss from Katherina on the side-by-side double salchow and a two foot landing on the throw double axel. Of their free skate in Tokyo, he said, "We aren't happy with the way we performed tonight, but we sure have to be happy with the medal. It's a pretty good finish for having been out of competition for four months. We know we didn't do well tonight, but the marks held us up there. In competition up to now, we've been getting a 4-3 or 5-4 split in judges against us, so it's nice to have it go our way for a change. It's just great to win a medal." Katherina added that ''I just couldn't get into my knees tonight and, because of that, I did a lot of silly mistakes. I just couldn't get the feel of it. I was nervous tonight and that affected the program. Because of injuries, we haven't been able to train the program with all the throws in it. If we had had a couple of more weeks to train, we would have done better.'' Watson and Oppegard and Kunhegyi and Johnston moved up to fourth and fifth, with Coull and Rowsom dropping to seventh with a disappointing free skate where they missed both of their throws.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

"To win the title, I have to have great patience," said the winner of the compulsory figures, the late Olympic Bronze Medallist Kira Ivanova. While her early lead was a surprise to no one as she was well known as a figures specialist, it came as a surprise to many that seventeen year old U.S. Champion Tiffany Chin of Toluca Lake, California was sitting in second. She had been twelfth in figures at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo and a stress fracture had kept her out of the 1984 World Championships. She said, "I skated very well today. I like compulsories as much as free skating, but I trained hard for free." Olympic Gold Medallist Katarina Witt finished third, followed by Anna Kondrashova, Claudia Leistner, Switzerland's Sandra Cariboni and Debi Thomas. Nineteen year old Canadian Champion Elizabeth Manley found herself in tenth, while Cynthia Coull, skating double duty, trailed in eighteenth place after the compulsories. An injured Midori Ito was forced to withdraw before the competition even began due to a broken ankle.

Remember how I mentioned that forty minute bus ride from the hotel to the arena earlier? Like something out of an episode of The Amazing Race, Finnish judge Giordano Abbondati (a former two time Olympian for Italy) almost missed judging the ladies short program altogether when he decided to travel by taxi to the Yoyogi National Stadium after attending a reception. The driver misunderstood his directions and took him first to the wrong rink, then to a swimming pool and finally to a police station where with the help of officers he was able to explain to the taxi driver where he needed to be.


In the short program, Katarina Witt gave a strong performance to take the lead over Chin, whose "Swan Lake" program was well received by judges. Chin said, "I went on the ice to do what I always do, nothing particularly special. It went well, I think." Kira Ivanova was in surprisingly good form, finishing third in the short program, maintaining her overall lead and very much keeping herself in the gold medal conversation. Kondrashova and Thomas finished fourth and fifth in this segment of the event, with Coull and Manley in ninth and tenth.

Nineteen year old Katarina Witt gave the finest performance of her career to that point in the free skate, landing a triple loop/double toe combination and three more triples to edge Chin, who singled a triple salchow attempt and fell on her double axel. Ivanova faltered as well and settled for bronze. After medals were awarded, Witt remarked, "When I saw Tiffany skate and when she fell, then I thought I would win. The judges have the last word though. All three of us, Kira, Tiffany and myself, had a chance to win going into the free skating and when I went out on the ice, it was to do my best and I think it was the best that I can do right now." Although Debi Thomas beat Anna Kondrashova in the free skate, she remained in fifth behind the Soviet skater. Elizabeth Manley was disappointed with her free skate, where she fell on the first of four planned triples (the lutz) and aggravated an existing injury to her left ankle: "I felt good going into the program, I had a beautiful double Axel. The triple Lutz was right there, my edge just slipped on me. Then going into one of my butterfly jumps a little bit later, I hurt my foot and I couldn't get any strength out of it that's why I couldn't try any more triples in my program. I don't want it to sound like I'm making excuses, but it really did happen and I'm sort of glad that this is the last competition of the season for me. My figures and short program here were good, it's my long program that wasn't good and I can't be too upset about it because my foot was bothering me."

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

"Fourth, behind Orser, Fadeev and Sabovčík," predicted twenty two year old newly crowned U.S. Champion Brian Boitano on February 2, 1985. Miss Cleo he was not.


The men's compulsory figures took seven and a half hours in total to complete and when the dust settled, the Soviet Union's Alexandr Fadeev was atop the leaderboard, followed by Jozef Sabovčík (who was recovering from a one hundred and four degree fever), France's Fernand Fédronic, Orser, Boitano and Soviet teammate Vladimir Kotin. Although at a disadvantage with ground to make up in the short program and free skate as usual, Brian Orser was optimistic, saying that "there's a lot of pressure. The ones who can handle that the best are the ones who come out on top. A lot of people can do excellent figures in practice, but you put them in front of judges and it's a different story. I was guilty of that in the past. I'm getting a grip on that. I was very satisfied. I laid down three consistent figures, all basically the same, and kept a grip on things... I'm very confident. I still have a lot of work to do; it's not finished yet. Figures are over now and they're history and I go on to the next segment. And after that I go on to the free program and take what I deserve."

Orser's prediction, like Boitano's following the U.S. Championships, wouldn't prove to be exactly correct. In front of two thousand spectators, Fadeev (who practiced five hours a day) dazzled and maintained his lead with a flawless short program, earning four 5.9's, three 5.8's and two 5.7's. He said, "I think I skated well today, but this ice is a very difficult surface for me to skate on. In order to win, I must beat my rivals - Orser and Sabovčík - but I feel very confident. I am planning to jump the quadruple jump in the free competition." Orser, who finished second in the short program with five 5.8's, moved up to third overall. He said with disappointment: "'I was hoping that I would skate well and that's what happened. But I was hoping that I would win the short to be able to have a better shot at the gold. Yes, it's frustrating. But I can't be thinking about all the what if's. What if I had fallen? I could have been away down in tenth.'' Boitano landed his trademark triple lutz, moving up to fourth place overall just behind Sabovčík and his teammate, Mark Cockerell, landed a solid triple lutz/double toe combination to finish seventh in the short program and move all the way up to eleventh after finishing sixteenth in the figures.

In the free skate, Fadeev gave one of the finest performances of his career in front of a crowd of four thousand, landing his triple axel in combination under the diving boards as well as five other solid triples including a triple lutz/triple toe. He earned all 5.8's and 5.9's with the exception of one 5.7 for artistic impression for his effort. Despite a strong effort, Brian Orser's figures and short program results meant he was skating for silver before he even took to the ice and silver was where he wound up. Boitano's finish was better than he prophesized. A third place finish in the free skate to Sabovčík's disappointing sixth gave Boitano the bronze. Canada's other entries, Neil Paterson and Gordon Forbes, ended up in tenth and seventeenth overall. There could be no accusation of bias from Canadian judge Norris Bowden, who placed Boitano ahead of Orser in the free skate. Judges from the U.S., France and Finland joined him in giving Boitano second place ordinals for a 5-4 split.

In his book "Jumpin' Joe", Sabovčík recalled, "during the warm-up, I performed a clean quad, which was shown on television, and although I was planning on putting one in the program, again I fell apart. My triple Axel didn't work, so I omitted the quad, substituting it for a triple, and died about halfway through the program... The nature of my long program didn't help either. I had gone back to classic rock, using excerpts from songs like The Rolling Stones' 'Paint It Black', Procol Harum's 'Whiter Shade Of Pale' and ending with Led Zeppelin's 'Whole Lotta Love'. The music was great but I didn't like the choreography. It seemed disjointed and I was uncomfortable with the movements."
Likewise, In his book "Orser: A Skater's Life", Brian Orser reminisced on an equally challenging event: "Overall, it was a terrible week in Tokyo. I was sick. The rink was too far from the hotel and could only be reached through clogged traffic. The rink itself was cold and wretched. It was actually the swimming pool from the 1964 Olympics and it made a terrible THUNK sound when you came down on the ice, which was too hard. And aesthetically, it was a mess - a terrible streaked-blue color. It was also quite a distance from the stands, which destroyed any chance to establish a rapport with the crowd, a disappointingly small one. Everyone else had to put up with the rink conditions too, of course. and it sure didn't bother Fadeev. It just wasn't my week... I had learned a lesson in Tokyo: nothing comes easily."

A JUDGING SCANDAL?

The Montreal Gazette, on March 8, 1985, reported that Brian Orser was the victim of a back room deal struck between Soviet, American and Swiss officials: "The main crux of the alleged deal was that the U.S. judges would promote Soviet Alexandr Fadeev in the men's division, in return for favours from Russian judges for American Tiffany Chin in the women's competition. What the Swiss were to receive in the deal no one could quite explain. As ammunition for their claims, Canadian officials point to the marks Orser received from the Swiss judge in Monday's compulsories. She had him 18th in the first figure (he finished fifth) and eighth overall (he placed fourth). As well, there was Chin taking second place in Wednesday's figures, a discipline in which she was 12th at the Olympics. Still, the Soviets and Americans agree on things about as often as the Toronto Maple Leafs have won the Stanley Cup in the past decade. And, in the view of knowledgeable observers, Fadeev skated at least as well if not better than Orser in the short program Tuesday to take an insurmountable lead. In yesterday's long program, there was no doubt the Soviet performed more capably. Of course, Soviet and American officials offer vehement denials any deal took place. And while that may indeed be true, the most important and telling fact of all, perhaps, is that such a thing could take place... Officials, including judges, do some strong lobbying for the skaters from their respective federations. The Soviets, for example, have rented almost an entire floor at the Takanawa Prince Hotel here, which has been dubbed 'Caviar Row.'  David Dore, the past president of the Canadian Figure Skating Association, said Canada's problem may well be that it plays by all the rules. 'We have to be realistic. Maintaining all your principles is not going to win it.'"

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION


Olympic Silver Medallists Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin dominated the ice dance competition from the very beginning, winning the Viennese Waltz, Yankee Polka and Blues with first place ordinals from eight of the nine judges. In a close second were, of course, their teammates Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, who had won the bronze medal behind B&B in Sarajevo. Americans Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert stood in third in their fifth trip to Worlds, followed by Canadian Champions Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall, who earned particular praise from reporters for their Viennese Waltz. Making their World debut, their Canadian teammates Karyn and Rod Garossino were surprised with their tenth place finish and looked forward to their original set pattern dance with confidence. Karyn said, "We know we have an excellent OSP so we should be able to hold our spot. We are pleased with the choreography of it and how we can perform it and that it's appreciate by audiences and the judges. What happens to placings is up to the judges and we'll leave it to them."

In true eighties ice dance fashion, not a single placement changed from the compulsory dances through the OSP with the exception of the teams in fifteenth and sixteenth places swapping spots. Bestemianova and Bukin earned ten 5.9's for their "Carnival Night" Charleston inspired Quickstep which raised many eyebrows. You know, the usual, tired 'overdoing it' arguments we often heard about this team. Bestemianova said, "It's a very difficult OSP. I think we can win if we are only confident in ourselves." Klimova and Ponomarenko's "Hello Dolly" OSP was well received by judges and audience alike, giving them the nod over Blumberg and Seibert. The late McCall, who with Wilson delivered a more ballroom version of the dance, remarked "We're satisfied; we're moving up, but it's a slow move. It's like the tortoise and the hare. But, if all things had stayed the same, we would have been fifth this year, not fourth. Only one couple (Olympic champions Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean of Britain) above us retired, remember.''


Bestemianova and Bukin's "Carmen" was regarded by many as the finest free dance of their eligible career and it was that program that earned them thirteen 5.9's and two 6.0's (the only two sixes awarded at the World Championships in 1985) and their first World title. In "Tracings" magazine in 1985, Frank Loeser described B&B's "Carmen" as "a frenzy of movement, the least dominant feature being the carving, gliding edge that traditionalists so seek. Conventional ice dance steps pop up in this Soviet pair's programs as though in parentheses - as traditional passages between extended poses, crossovers and perilous toe-runs... [Natalia's] performing ferocity makes her a terror to be subdued... Gloomy Bukin can appear as the perfect nemesis, a malevolent force accepting the challenge of a red-head fury." Mixed opinions on this controversial dance have remained persistent over the years... and for the record, I love it. Lynn Copley-Graves makes an excellent point in her description: "Andrei's brooding, ominous presence, heightened by medieval shoulder extensions on his costume, and Natalia's anguished facial and body language permeated the rink right up to the rafters, such that her death on his knee seemed the climax of an exorcism. 'Carmen' was B&B's 'Barnum' - as potent in its imagery as the circus theme of [Torvill and Dean] and as worthy as 6.0's in its deviation from pure dance as was the circus program. In later years, the free dances of B&B would become more traditional, less thematic, retaining the energy of 'Carmen' but rehashing the movement type, lacking the power of plot and innovation of the successor to 'Barnum', 'Bolero'. 'Carmen' was B&B's apotheosis, their mark on the evolution of ice dance that allowed them a place alongside [Towler and Ford's] 'Zorba' and 'Barnum' in the Free Dance Hall of Fame."


Klimova and Ponomarenko's Latin American free dance was well skated and enough for the silver, but a far cry from their later work. Blumberg and Seibert, skating their "Fire And Ice" free dance remained in third, and like B&B, critics seemed to either love the program or hated it. It was a more athletic, edgy performance than their "Scheherazade" free dance, and in "Tracings" magazine, Mary Clarke lampooned the piece, saying it was "nearly a parody on what has been used to excess by other couples." Wilson and McCall, skating a quieter, elegant program to "Movements" by André Gagnon, delivered (in the eyes of the Canadian press) an effort more deserving of bronze. I actually liked both. Perhaps one of the most underrated free dances of the event (and season) was Karen Barber and Nicky Slater's "Dragon Dance". Despite their effort which was extremely well received by the audience, they remained in sixth behind West German's Petra Born and Rainer Schönborn, who were criticized widely that season for lifts that pushed the limits of legality in their "Slow Dancing In The Big City" free dance. Free dancing in 1985 was at the height of scrutiny following Torvill and Dean's "Bolero" the year before and as teams slowly started testing the waters and pushing boundaries, many started to question the direction of ice dance going forward. At the conclusion of the event, a meeting of coaches and ISU officials addressed the acrobatic direction ice dance was headed in, and it was made very clear that while theatrics were in, acrobatics were out. In the years to come, teams (as we well know) continued to push and the judges pushed back.

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