Wednesday, 7 June 2017

The 1993 Challenge Of Champions


Held December 17, 1993 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Ontario, the 1993 DuraSoft Colors Challenge Of Champions marked the eighth edition of an annual professional competition that spanned the globe. Presented by Dick Button's Candid Productions company, previous versions had been held in Paris, Moscow, Oslo, Barcelona and Los Angeles. Unlike the World Professional Figure Skating Championships which had been held a week prior in Landover, Maryland, the Challenge Of Champions required skaters to perform only one competitive program as opposed to two, although skaters did perform an exhibition program following the competition. Over two thousand spectators flocked to the Gardens in the midst of their last minute holiday shopping that year.


The event was broadcast on both ABC and CTV, with Brian Orser performing double duty on the Canadian broadcast, where he both commentated and competed. Many competitors boasted a high level of technical content in their programs. Paul Wylie told "Toronto Star" reporter Frank Orr, "I don't do quite as many triple jumps as I did in so-called amateur skating but I still have the triple Axel in my program, not an easy jump. Kristi Yamaguchi added, "I'm still doing difficult flips and triple jumps because the audience expects such things when it's a skating competition. I like the calibre of my program now. It's not a breeze but a tough, competitive skate." The judges for the event included Barbara Ann Scott, Toller Cranston, Barbara Wagner, Bernard Ford, Ron Ludington and Sergei Chetverukhin. When Barbara Ann Scott was announced to the Canadian audience, she received a round of applause that surpassed any given to the competitors. Let's take a look back at how this event played out!

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION

Initially, the ice dance competition in Toronto was slated to be the first showdown as professionals between Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko and Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay. When Isabelle suffered a foot injury just prior to the event, Canadian Champions Michelle McDonald and Martin Smith were called in at the eleventh hour to replace them. Skating to "The Brides", a piece by Wojciech Kilar from the soundtrack of "Bram Stoker's Dracula", Klimova and Ponomarenko received eight perfect tens, easily besting Natalia Annenko and Genrikh Sretenski, Judy Blumberg and Jim Yorke and McDonald and Smith.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION


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Earning a slew of 9.9's and two perfect 10.0's for her program set to Chopin's "Fantasie-Impromptu", 1992 Olympic Gold Medallist Kristi Yamaguchi performed four triples and a double Axel on her way to defending the Challenge Of Champions title she'd first won the year prior in Los Angeles. Her only error was a slight bobble on her final spin. 1981 World Champion Denise Biellmann placed second, earning marks ranging from 9.7 to 9.9 with an avant garde program to Heitor Villa-Lobos' "Bachianas Brasileiras No.5". She performed two triples, along with a double Axel, double Salchow and double flip. Midori Ito and Liz Manley, competing against each other for the first time since the 1988 Olympic Games in Calgary when both women stole the show from the favourites, rounded out the field. Skating to "The Skater's Waltz" by Émile Waldteufel, Ito stepped out of her triple Axel attempt and popped a triple Lutz into a single before rallying back with a double toe/triple toe combination, triple loop and double Axel, earning marks ranging from 9.5 to 9.9. Manley skated beautifully to Strauss' "Die Fliedermaus", stepping out of an early triple Lutz attempt but performing two triples, a double Axel and two double flips. She received all 9.7's and 9.8's for her effort.

THE PAIRS COMPETITION


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Although four pairs competed in Toronto, there really was Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini... and then everyone else. The 1984 World Champions flew through their program to Frank Sinatra's "Fly Me To The Moon", nailing a triple twist, a throw triple Salchow, side-by-side double flips and a throw Axel along the way. They were the only competitors in the event to earn a standing ovation, and received all 9.9's for technical merit and 10.0's across the board for artistic impression on the way to winning the Challenge Of Champions for the third time. After winning, Martini told "Toronto Star" reporter Frank Orr, "Get a wall of 10's and it's special, no matter what point you're at in your career. It's something that doesn't happen very often so you enjoy it." Elena Bechke and Denis Petrov, Elena Valova and Oleg Vasiliev and Christine Hough and Doug Ladret rounded out the field.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION


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Skating to music from the "Henry V" soundtrack, Paul Wylie defended the Challenge Of Champions title he'd won the year prior in Los Angeles with by far the most technically demanding performance of the entire competition. Though Wylie stepped out of both of his triple Lutz attempts, he performed four triples (one of them a gorgeous Axel) and a double Axel cleanly and received seven 6.0's for his effort. Skating to Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 2", Robin Cousins finished second, weaving a spell with his trademark slide spiral, backflip and spins in both directions. He performed two double Axels and three other double jumps, earning marks ranging from 9.7 to 10.0. Though he landed two triple jumps, two double Axels and a backflip of his own, Brian Orser earned only 9.8's and 9.9's for his program to Van Morrison's "Moondance" and finished third.

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Despite finishing last, 1992 Olympic Bronze Medallist Petr Barna skated one of the most quirky, imaginative performances of his professional career, sporting white face paint and a 'deck of cards' style shirt while performing a triple toe-loop, double Axel and two other jumps with a rose in his hand. The judges weren't overly appreciative of his effort, giving him only 9.7's and 9.8's.

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