Tuesday, 29 December 2015

The Skate Guard Janet Lynn New Year's Spectacular


"I don't skate for points. I skate for the love of skating." - Janet Lynn, The Milwaukee Journal, February 8, 1972
"Love skating for its own sake." - Janet Lynn, The Reading Eagle, January 27, 1973
"I guess there's some kind of love in me that I didn't manufacture myself. This is a talent God gave me, one which He helped me to develop." - Janet Lynn, Lawrence-World Journal, September 26, 1976

I am going to let all of you in on a little secret: I am a huge Janet Lynn fan! I guess the real question is "who in their right mind isn't?" For quite some time now, I have wanted to devote a blog to looking at Janet's larger impact in the figure skating world. A little lightbulb went off when I was trying to come up with ideas for a top ten countdown to ring in 2016 and I said to myself, "sweetie, why don't you take on the impossible task of doing a top ten countdown of Janet Lynn's all time best performances?" With a career as impressive as hers - an Olympic bronze medal, two medals at the World Championships, two medals at the North American Championships, five U.S. titles, wins at the World Professional Championships - it was obvious this wasn't going to be an easy task, so I figured I'd get by with a little help from my friends. Join us in cracking open a bottle of champagne and ringing in the New Year by revisiting some of the best performances from one of the most beloved skaters of all time!

10. 1971 U.S. FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS (FS)



At the 1971 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Buffalo, New York, Janet trailed Julie Lynn Holmes by a razor thin margin after the school figures. As an audience of over five thousand at the Memorial Auditorium hung on her every edge, she made the error of falling early on in her free skate on a triple toe-loop. In the Daily News on January 26, 1972 she said, "I didn't land right. I really didn't have enough guts going into it, if you know what I mean." Instead of give up, she fought back and that's what Allison Manley told me she loved the most about Janet when we talked about a similar mishap in the short program at the 1973 World Championships: "she got back up!" In fact, at those 1971 U.S. Championships, Janet skated so brilliantly throughout the rest of her program that she was able to win her third consecutive title ahead of nineteen year old Holmes and fourteen year old Suna Murray, receiving first place ordinals from six of the seven judges. So excited was she by her win that she danced until 12:30 in the morning that night and then, according to the Lewiston Evening-Journal on February 1, 1971, the next day "bounced joyously in a corridor to the music of the Gold Dance skaters while she awaited her cue to take to the ice for an exhibition of her championship talent."

9. 1970 U.S. FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS (FS)



In Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1970, Janet Lynn defended her U.S. title at the age of sixteen with what was beyond any doubt one of her finest performances at the U.S. Championships, skating to Debussy's
"Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune", Liszt's "Les Preludes", Adam's "Le Corsaire" and Beethoven's "Leonore Overture No. 3". Frazer Ormondroyd, who possesses one of the most enviable collections of historical skating video of all time and is quite the skating historian in his own right, expounded his choice of this performance as one of his favourites: "I think she skates her long program even better in 1970 than she did in Lyon in 1971, which was already brilliant. Her jumps are springy and airy and her speed and flow just jumps through the screen. Plus there is a youthful effervescence, a sort of carefree abandon, to the way she skates. By 1971, it is different. She's still brilliant but I can sense the expectation on her to be wonderful."

8. 1972 WINTER OLYMPIC GAMES (FS)



After the school figures contested in the Mihako Skating Rink at the 1972 Sapporo Olympics, Trixi Schuba had 9.0 ordinals. She decisively edged out American Julie Lynn Holmes for that lead with Karen Magnussen's 23.0 and Janet Lynn's 27.0 keeping them well back in third and fourth. With the scoring system as it was at the time, Schuba had the Olympic gold medal in the bag before she even took to the ice to perform her free skate. Rather than give up, Janet Lynn shone brilliantly at the Makomanai Arena in a pink dress, skating to Beethoven's "Leonore Overture" from "Fidelio". She made only one error. In the February 8, 1972 issue of the Sarasota-Journal, she explained, "I jumped up to go into a sit spin and I just sort of sat instead. It happens all the time. This is a slippery sport." The judges rewarded an otherwise stunning performance with the top marks in the free skate. In both technical merit and artistic impression, she received nothing lower than a 5.8. One judge even honoured her with a perfect 6.0 for artistic impression. However, her fourth place finish in the free skate coupled with Karen Magnussen's equally strong performance kept her in third place, earning her the Olympic bronze medal. In Kelli Lawrence's wonderful book "Skating On Air", Lynn debunked the myth that an error in the free skate had much to do with her final standing, instead blaming that pesky paragraph loop: "If you weren't balanced properly and ran out of momentum at the top of the loop, you got what looked like a little fish... and that's what happened to me. Everyone thinks it was the fall on the flying sit... but I knew it was at least partially the fish!"

7. 1973 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (FS)



In perhaps one of her most beloved performances at the World Championships, Janet rebounded from a disastrous twelfth place short program to deliver an ethereal and inspiring free skate at the 1973 World Championships. Her effort won her the free skate and two perfect 6.0's from the Austrian and East German judges. The scene was described in the March 1, 1973 issue of The Gettysburg Times thusly: "The capacity crowd of 11,000 in Bratislava's Winter Stadium reacted with rapture at the ballet-like free skating of the Rockford co-ed. They chanted 'Janet, Janet' and threw carnations pinched from the arena's decorations when Miss Lynn was presented her silver medal... Miss Magnussen wept at the awards ceremony when her nation's flag was raised and the anthem 'O, Canada' was played. She pulled Miss Lynn and bronze medallist Christine Errath of East Germany up to her level of the victory platform." On the courage to go out and skate her heart out after her heartbreaking short program, Janet beautifully said in The Argus Press on March 2, 1973, "I love skating. I loved skating even Wednesday night. I hurt inside from the way I skated, but I realized I still have a life to lead."

6. 1971 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (FS)



In Lyon, France in February 1971, Janet finished fifth in the compulsory figures but won the free skate with an absolutely jaw dropping, flawless performance. When Trixi Schuba, Julie Lynn Holmes and Karen Magnussen were announced as the medallists, the audience erupted into a chorus of boo's. Kelli Lawrence and Janet Lynn recalled the scene: "When the booing failed to subside, renowned skating coach Pierre Brunet approached Lynn on the sidelines and coerced her up to the edge of the ice so she could appease the crowd, a coercion that was captured by the TV cameras... As it turns out, the move remains something she regrets doing. 'Basically I was told to go and take a bow,' Lynn explains. 'I have not been in touch with Karen or Trixi, but I've apologized to Julie [Holmes] for that because it was wrong for me to do that. I was a young girl; I should have had better judgment and said no, but my superiors told me that's what I needed to do. It was wrong to take away from their time, and what they had absolutely earned,' she laments." This particular incident was absolutely a catalyst in the introduction of the short program and the international figures .vs. free skating debate. However, the ever humble Janet had nothing but praise for her competitor and friend Schuba: "Trixi deserved every gold medal she got, under the rules we had at the time. Her figures were unbelievable. I'd stand there looking at them saying: You've got to be kidding me! Something can actually DO that?! Trixi should absolutely be praised for what she's accomplished."

5. 1981 WORLD PROFESSIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS (TP)


After skating with Ice Follies for two years, retiring, getting married and becoming a mother, Janet Lynn's triumphant return to competition at the 1981 World Professional Figure Skating Championships in Landover, Maryland was the stuff dreams are made of. I spoke with two time World Bronze Medallist and North American Champion JoJo Starbuck, who was actually an All Stars teammate of Janet Lynn at the competition about her favourite Janet Lynn programs and she said, "I have three! "The Blue Danube" (by John Curry) and "The Sound Of Music" - both done in the World Pro competitions, and of course Afternoon of a Faun from the early 70’s in competition." Ironically, all of JoJo's picks made the list and I personally feel this particular piece was one of Janet's strongest as a professional. I think I've watched it about ten times.

4. 1973 U.S. CHAMPIONSHIPS (FS)



At the Metropolitan Sports Center in Bloomington, Denver, Colorado's Diane Goldstein won the school figures. However, a sixth place short program dropped her down to third heading into the free skate. Trailing after figures, Janet actually lost the short program to Dorothy Hamill. In the January 27, 1973 issue of The Reading Eagle, her coach Slavka Kohout explained, "Janet probably didn't skate as well as she could have. It's good ice, but a springy one. She went up higher than she wanted, and came down later than she wanted on her double axel jump." Janet said, "I was glad I didn't win the short program because I didn't think I deserved it." Dorothy Hamill reflected on the win with gratitude in her book "A Skating Life: My Story", stating: "It was a milestone for me. Janet Lynn had been my favourite skater and my inspiration since I had seen her skate in Lake Placid when I was ten years old. Now, just five years later, I had won the short program and had beaten her. It was the first year of the short program, and it was to my advantage because now my weakness, figures, counted for only 40 percent of the total score whereas before it had been 60 percent. I have Janet to thank for that monumental change in skating." However, Dorothy's luck was short lived. Resplendent in yellow, Janet rebounded with a flawless free skate to Ravel's "La Valse" and Debussy's "La Mer", earning three 6.0's for artistic impression. Her fifth U.S. title win equalled Peggy Fleming's recent record of five U.S. titles. Frazer Ormondroyd counted this performance as one of his favourites, expressing that "1973 Nationals is just a triumph of choreography, execution and musicality. She biffed her second double axel in Bratislava at Worlds even though she had better lines there. Janet lost a LOT of weight between Nationals and Worlds; the difference in her physique is startling. Plus the yellow dress at Nationals is... not good but the choreography and intent of the program are quite simply light years ahead of their time - maybe they stand alone. I honestly cannot think of another ladies program so artistically complete."

3. 1982 WORLD PROFESSIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS (AP)



Going back to JoJo Starbuck's favourite performances, Janet's elegant performance to Johann Strauss' "The Blue Danube", choreographed by John Curry and skated at the 1982 World Professional Figure Skating Championships in Landover, Maryland is really the embodiment of everything that made her skating so unique and special. American Open Champion Doug Mattis loved it and shared that he "skated on sessions with her in Denver summer/fall of 83 and she skated that program with no warm up perfectly every day. (She warmed up off the ice.)" World Champion Randy Gardner (a Pro Stars teammate of Janet at this event) called "The Blue Danube" in "magnificent", saying that "all skaters should watch this! Her flow across the ice is unequalled with her speed, control and quality and skill, all in one. So refreshing to see. [It] gives us hope that pure figure skating can and will be done in the future."

2. 1973 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (EX)



When I asked Frazer Ormondroyd what his favourite Janet Lynn performances was, he shared with me a gem of a program I'd never seen before. If this video was an old Beta or VHS tape in my hands, it would have easily been worn out by now. I assure you of that! Her exhibition to "Vilja Song" from Franz Lehár's "The Merry Widow" (skated at the 1973 World Figure Skating Championships in Bratislava) was actually quite unique and different from many of her other pieces in its construction and keeps me coming back and looking at it differently. Her encore to "Shaft" is an absolute must see as well.

1. 1983 INTERNATIONAL PROFESSIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS (AP)



Again going back to JoJo Starbuck's favourites, Allison Scott echoed her choice of "Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune" as one of Janet Lynn's most amazing performances: "'Afternoon of a Faun' is the one I associate with Janet. So many great programs but it is always the first that comes to mind." I loved seeing the piece skated as an exhibition during her amateur days, as did Frazer Ormondroyd: "There's just a purity to it that is extraordinary. She seems to have so much time for everything. It's one of those once-in-a-lifetime heart-stopping performances where your life seems to stop momentarily as you watch. Literally nothing else matters... it still transfixes me every time I watch it." I personally believe that when she revived as a professional piece near the end of her performing career, the growth, maturity and nuance in the program had developed extensively. Olympic Gold Medallist Robin Cousins agreed: "We're well after her competition days were done but she returned to the pro events with one of her amateur show programmes. Better in ’83 than it had been in her heyday! It's quintessential Janet, the joy, the effortless control of every move and a pure performance in every sense." Whether you prefer the earlier version or its rebirth as a professional piece, it's impossible not to adore this program.

I've interviewed hundreds of skaters and one of the questions that I always asked was who THEIR favourite skaters were. Again and again, like clockwork... Janet Lynn, Janet Lynn, Janet Lynn:

"Janet Lynn was my idol. When I was twelve, Janet competed in the 1968 Olympics. I loved the way she moved across the ice." - Suna Murray
"She was ethereal on the ice. Her calm, her beautiful lines and beautiful jumps were the epitome of ice skating to me." - Linda Villella
"Janet was a combination of Dorothy, Peggy and maybe Katarina Witt. She had all of the interpretive qualities and the power and energy, yet she had this delicacy about her. I remember specifically becoming aware of the ballet side of her skating. Janet had that. Her feet were magnificent and nobody has come anywhere close to that. I remember a footwork sequence she did where she got a standing ovation almost in a wave while she was going down the rink doing to a step sequence. It was one of the most incredible things I've seen." - Tim Wood
"Janet Lynn... the edges with effortlessness, the transparency of her expression that came from a heart of faith and moved all who watched her to the core." - Paul Wylie
"Oh, that half the skaters in the world could perform with such pure joy and natural emotion." - Robin Cousins

That's just the tip of the iceberg, I assure you. However, I think the one person who summed it up best was a skater that I always dreamed of interviewing one day but sadly never got a chance to. In his 1975 book "Toller", Toller Cranston said it perfectly: "She has a quality about her that almost defies description. There is something almost mystical in the way she moves, the flow of her hair, the delicate motion of her arms, the dream-like fluidity. She is a beautiful wraith... I sincerely believe that Janet Lynn is the greatest female skater the world has ever seen." I sincerely believe that Toller was right. Hope you all enjoyed this collection, Happy New Year to you all and let's carry this love and passion for figure skating's wonderful history into 2016!

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4 comments:

  1. I have been telling people for years that Janet had a show number to The Theme from Shaft and nobody believed me.

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    1. Well, you can thank Frazer for that one! Definitely unexpected.

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  2. I definitely remembered watching Janet Lynn’s Madison Square Garden show skating to the tune of: ‘Shaft’ ABC’s Jim McKay was doing a running commentary on it. Whether it was in competition, exhibition, or show skating, Janet Lynn was one of kind, and truly something to behold.

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    1. Well said and thanks for sharing this memory. I never had the pleasure of watching her perform live and can only dream of just how fabulous that would have been.

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