The 2014 NHK Trophy Competition

As they say, all good things come to an end and much like in Vanessa Williams' power ballad, the best was indeed saved for last. The final of six stops in this year's Grand Prix was the NHK Trophy in Osaka, Japan. Skaters from all over the world gathered in the Namihaya Dome in what was for all their final chance to attempt to qualify for the ISU Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, Spain in two weeks time. As with any of these event recaps, I'll post videos of some of the standout performances. Many of them might be geoblocked in your country, and for that I apologize. Around the time of major competitions, videos go up every minute and come down and get geoblocked just as fast. If you're unable to watch videos in your country, I've got some great advice for you. Go to YouTube, and under your search settings you can select 'Upload Date'. If you type in keywords for the competition or skater you want to see, you can narrow it down to 'Today' or 'This Week' and usually find just what you're looking for in minutes! And now, on to the event at hand...

Three men's spots at the Grand Prix Final would be left up to the results of the men's event in Osaka. The other three had already been claimed by Maxim Kovtun, Javier Fernandez and Tatsuki Machida, respectively.

When I interviewed Daisuke Murakami last fall, he was on the comeback trail. He told me "I was written off after my withdrawal from NHK and Japanese Nationals last year. My mindset this year was to strengthen and condition my body and start from the ground up starting with Regionals. Because I was held back physically compared to my competitors in Japan, I plan to take every competition this year and build within every competition and give my best performance at Japanese Nationals." Ultimately, Murakami finished a disappointing tenth in an incredibly deep field at that competition but his resolve to come back and fight was absolutely clear at this event. He came out in attack mode in his short program to "El Tango De Roxanne", landing a quad salchow/double toe combination, triple axel and triple flip and finishing third of the eleven men competing. In his restrained but elegant free skate to Rachmaninoff, he couldn't put a foot wrong! Two quad salchows, two triple axels, triple lutz, triple flip, triple loop... you name it, he did it and he did it with confidence and style. Really nice to see Murakami pull off a huge upset at this event and have his moment in the spotlight! I don't know about you, but if I was a bigwig at the Japan Skating Federation, I'd probably be kicking myself for not giving this guy a second Grand Prix assignment right about now... but what do you do? He won the 2014 NHK Trophy with a score of 246.07, ten points ahead of his closest competitor... and served the other Japanese men notice that he's once again a very real threat.

Russia's Sergei Voronov followed up his silver medal win at the Rostelecom Cup with a some more sterling silver in Osaka. Although he landed his quad combination in the short program, a missed triple axel saw him in fourth place with a score of 78.93. He rebounded with another technically outstanding free skate that featured a quad toe/triple toe and two triple axels. You really can't say anything bad about this guy technically - he can jump! In terms of the presentation however, like I said before, superfluous music cuts, Viktor Petrenko chicken legs and Sotnikova like showboating does not program make. To me, all that was missing was a Carlton Banks finger snap sequence. Going back to Evgeni Plushenko's "Best Of Plushenko" program, this was just too much of everything and not enough of something. The judges did get it right this time by giving him a PCS score of 77.38, the fifth highest of the men in the free skate, but if you want to look at comparisons, they gave the same program a higher PCS score than Jason Brown... in Russia. I don't know, forgive my cynicism... but that still makes me go hmm... His final score was 236.65 and he will join fellow Russian Maxim Kovtun at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona.

Japan's Takahito Mura won Skate Canada in Kelowna but up against such a strong field, it was hard to say how he'd fare here. The technical difficulty of his "Carmen" short program (quad toe/triple toe, triple axel and triple lutz) was enough to give him the win in that part of the competition, even if his PCS score wasn't up to snuff with either Hanyu or Abbott. His free skate was more of a grab bag of some nice jumps and some sloppy ones. He got in a quad toe/double toe, triple axel and triple lutz but misses on three jumping passes seemed to degenerate the flow of the minimally present choreography that was there in the first place and detract from the overall impression of the program. I don't think the music or the costume that looked like it had been pulled out of the back of Alexei Urmanov's closet helped any either. It just didn't do it for me. With a fourth place finish in the free skate and a higher PCS score than Murakami (yeah, about that...) Mura finished third overall with a score of 234.44... and earned a ticket to the Grand Prix Final.

In China, Olympic Gold Medallist and World Champion Yuzuru Hanyu injured himself badly and went out and skated a disastrous free skate replete with multiple falls. After Han Yan's participation at last week's Trophée Éric Bompard wasn't exactly a success story, I had my doubts Hanyu would be in top form at this event either. Sadly, he proved my suspicions right. In the short program, Hanyu imploded and had serious errors on two of his three jumping passes. Although his PCS score of 42.11 rewarded his musicality in the short program, the fact his TES score of 36.90 was the fifth highest of the close pack of men kept Hanyu in fifth heading into the free skate. When he came out and started his "Phantom Of The Opera" free skate with a doubled salchow and a fall on a triple toe, all I could envision in my head was this confused looking skater in China wrapped in a head bandage trying to fight his way through some losing battle. That said, the rest of the program was actually quite nice here... a triple axel/triple toe, triple lutz and two other triples made the best of a program that looked ominous at its beginning. With a third place finish in the free skate, Hanyu moved up to fourth overall with a score of 229.80... and earned a trip to the Grand Prix Final. The rebound here after the first two mistakes in the free skate aside, Hanyu managed this Barcelona ticket with four less than impressive performances. Part of me is reminded of when in 1997 the suggestion was made that a very injured Susan Humphreys stand on the ice for four minutes at the Lausanne Worlds to ensure a Canadian ladies spot for the Nagano Olympics. In the article linked, David Dore was quoted as saying "I didn't favor that. I think it's a back-door entry. I don't think it would make any of us proud and I don't think it would make Susan proud. Nothing is worth harming a person's health. I mean, she wasn't fit to skate." I don't think Hanyu necessarily looked unfit to skate in Osaka, but he certainly did not look fit to skate in China... and I'm conflicted about how I ultimately feel about his qualification for the Final as a result.

Four time U.S. Champion and Olympic Bronze Medallist Jeremy Abbott has an immense following in Japan and as usual, was a huge fan favourite at this event which he has won two medals at before (silver in 2010 and bronze last season). In Osaka, Jeremy delivered not one - but two - outstanding performances. His short program to "Lay Me Down" by Sam Smith was without question the performance of the night. It featured a solid triple flip/triple toe, triple lutz and triple axel, earning him a second place finish with a score of 81.51. His free skate to Samuel Barber's "Adagio For Strings" was an artistic tour de force, a perfect balance of technical difficulty and wonderful music interpretation. He completed six gorgeous triples and kept up the performance level from start to finish and earned an overall score of 229.65, which dropped him all the way down to fifth place underneath Hanyu despite earning the highest PCS score of any of the men in the free skate (83.86). At the end of the day, Abbott's performances here are to me what figure skating is about - interpreting music and telling a story on the ice. Competitive skating is fortunate to have him around for another year.

Canada had two representatives in the men's event in Osaka - Jeremy Ten and Elladj Baldé. Ten left room for improvement in his first assignment and Baldé had withdrawn from Skate Canada with a concussion. Baldé finished a strong sixth in this event with a clean short program that included a quad and a free skate that boasted a very nice quad toe, triple axel and five other triples. These were honestly two of the finest performances I've ever seen from him and he has a lot to be proud of with regard to his performance at this event! Ten had some nice moments as well, including a very credible go at the quad as well as a triple axel, two triple lutzes and a triple flip/triple toe in his beautiful free skate to "Hallelujah" but some jump problems kept him down in eighth place at this event... but you know what? He finished ahead of a World Junior Champion and the man currently ranked thirteenth in the world. That's nothing to sneeze at and Ten ALSO has plenty to be proud of in terms of the determination he fought through that free skate with.

Only two spots remained open in the Grand Prix Final that would be ultimately decided by the ladies results at this event, the other four slots all filled by Russian ladies: Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Anna Pogorilaya, Julia Lipnitskaia and Elena Radionova.

Gracie Gold may have won the bronze medal in Chicago, but in a distinctly deep field I was curious to see how she'd fare in Osaka. Spoiler alert: she did fantastic! A clean short program with a beautiful triple lutz/triple toe, triple loop and double axel earned her an ever so slight lead with a score of 68.16 that she was able to maintain in the free skate with a program that included two triple lutzes, a double axel/triple toe combination and a triple loop. She did fall on a triple salchow and double her triple flip attempt, but overall it was a good skate for Gracie and enough for the title with a score of 191.16 overall. I'm still not sold on the "Phantom Of The Opera" but that's a whole other story entirely. I'm just getting really sick of the music overload and like I've said before, unless you're Brian Boitano or Robin Cousins, it might not be the vehicle for you. That said, the results after this event's conclusion determined that both Gracie and fellow American Ashley Wagner will compete against a field of Russian jumping dynamos in Barcelona... so that should be very interesting.

I was heartily disappointed for World Silver Medallist Alena Leonova at Skate Canada. She skated a brilliant short program in Kelowna but a disappointing free skate dropped her down to sixth place. At this event, Alena again went out and delivered a flawless and thoroughly entertaining "Chaplin" short program with her usual flair and a triple toe/triple toe, triple flip and double axel to boot. Her score of 68.11 was just 0.5 behind Gracie Gold in the short... with a lower PCS score (what? WHAT?). In the free skate, like Gold Leonova wasn't perfect, but she fought through the performance even if the jumps weren't all there. Her opening triple toe/triple toe was nicely done, as was a triple flip/double toe later in the program. She was appropriately well rewarded for the strength of her choreography with a PCS score of 62.06 and although third in the free skate, her overall score of 186.40 was enough for silver. A great showing for Leonova and a firm message that she's still very much a name in the game.

Satoko Miyahara finished third at Skate Canada but on home turf in Japan, I expected her to pull out all of the stops. She stayed on her feet in the short program even if a couple of the landings looked very iffy and stood in fourth place heading into the free skate with a score of 60.69. Like her competitors, she wasn't perfect in the free skate but she did stay on her feet, perform a nice triple lutz and double axel/triple toe and keep the energy and attack going throughout her "Miss Saigon" program. Her technical score in the free skate was actually higher than any of the ladies including Gold, but a PCS score of 57.99 kept her in second in the free skate and third overall. Interestingly, this will be the first year in over a decade that a Grand Prix Final will be held without a Japanese lady competing but if you look at the strong performances of skaters like Miyahara, fourth place finisher Kanako Murakami, fifth place finisher Riona Kato and of course, Rika Hongo who took the gold at the Rostelecom Cup, I don't think it's fair to say that Japanese ladies skating is in any draught after the retirements of Mao Asada, Miki Ando and Akiko Suzuki. It's just another chapter starting.

Canada would be represented in the ladies event by Gabby Daleman. Her first Grand Prix event was the LEXUS Cup Of China, where she finished a strong fifth in her senior Grand Prix debut. Problems on all three of her jumping passes in the short program left her in seventh place with a score of 53.46 but great attack and difficulty in terms of her base mark in the free skate were her friend. She landed a nice triple lutz and a pair of triple salchows and kept on her feet in her double axel/triple toe attempt to move up from seventh to sixth place overall with a score of 164.74, ahead of some very talented skaters in their own rights like Polina Edmunds (eighth), Christina Gao (ninth) and Anna Ovcharova (eleventh).

Russians Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov and Chinese pairs Peng Cheng and Zhang Hao and Sui Wenjing and Han Cong having already secured their tickets to the Barcelona Grand Prix Final, it would come down to the results at this event to determine the three teams that would ultimately join them.

Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford convincingly won Skate Canada in British Columbia with an impressive score of 210.74. Believe it or not, even in their previous partnerships, neither Duhamel or Radford had ever participated in this particular Grand Prix event and did they ever make an incredible first impression. The picture of consistency, the Canadians again reeled off another clean short program with a throw triple lutz, side by side triple lutzes and a triple twist. Let's think about just how difficult that is for a second. Lutzes. Plural. Their score of 72.70 gave them a decisive lead heading into the free skate. Despite a fall on their valiant throw quad salchow attempt, Duhamel and Radford delivered a strong free skate with side by side triple lutzes but programs on some of their other jumping elements gave them a score of 199.78, which was enough for the gold medal even if it was a bit lower than in Kelowna.

Russians Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnoff rebounded brilliantly from a missed season due to injury with a spectacular win in Chicago at Skate America. Their short program here was indeed clean but they did look a little tight on a couple of the elements. Their score of 64.60 in that part of the competition gave them some ground to make up if they hoped to challenge the Canadians and unfortunately, they weren't able to do it. They finished third in the free skate but by 1.60 held on to the silver medal when programs on the opening side by side triple toe into triple toe sequence kind of snowballed into more programs. Like Duhamel and Radford, they too tried the quad salchow and I'm interested to hear your thoughts on the comparison of both attempts! They both looked gutsy to me! This team did rebound nicely with a throw triple loop at the end of their program but unfortunately, I thought as compared to Skate America the effect of the program suffered a bit with the mistakes from a PCS perspective at this event. Their final score was 183.60, over twenty five points back of their score at Skate America in Chicago.

At the Cup Of China, Xiaoyu Yu and Yang Jin won the silver medal but up against the Russians and Canadians at this event, things wouldn't prove to be as easy for the talented young pair. A problem on the throw in the short program kept them below their competitors but from a technical perspective, this pair really brought it in the free skate, their only mistake a foot down on their final throw, the throw triple flip. Their score of 182.00 was enough for bronze overall... and enough to assure that they'd join two other strong Chinese pair teams at the Grand Prix Final. Not too shabby, I'd say! My one criticism of this team really comes back to their short program... if you're going to pick really rich, textured music like that piece from Dead Can Dance, you need the costumes and expression to sell it a lot more. It's lovely choreography by David Wilson, but the skating needs to reach the performance level to really sell the program.

With four ice dance teams (Chock and Bates, Papadakis and Cizeron, the Shibutani's and Gilles and Poirier) already having qualified for the Grand Prix Final, two spots remained up for grabs.

As winners of Skate Canada and the current World Silver Medallists, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje were the clear favourites for ice dance gold. The title wouldn't be a cake walk for the team though as they faced some excellent competition in Japan. Their score of 171.10 in Kelowna would be difficult for them to duplicate or exceed, They didn't quite do it, achieving a total winning score of 169.42,., but they didn't phone in their performances in Osaka either. Their free dance, in particular, is just simply put exquisite. Wonderful musicality and edges and interesting transitions and hold changes punctuate the choreography nicely and I love how the problem builds in intensity towards that final rotational lift. They'll move along to the Grand Prix Final along with Russian pair Elena Ilinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin, who edged into the final spot.

Russians Ksenia Monko and Kirill Khaliavan had a disappointing outing at their first Grand Prix event when they produced a strong second place short dance but pandered their way off the podium with a sixth place finish in the free dance. It was kind of the other way around at this event where they moved up in the standings rather than down with a second place finish in the free dance and a silver medal overall. I really liked how seamlessly this team worked their twizzles into their "Sarabande" free dance as well as the nice passion throughout, even if the program itself wasn't particularly innovative. Again, like I said at Skate Canada, I thought that Kirill really carried this team.

Americans Kaitlyn Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker were the surprise bronze medallists at this event, moving up from fourth to third based on the strength of their "Romeo And Juliet" free dance. As I've said many times before about this team, they somewhat remind me of a young Tessa and Scott and I really have to swoon over Jean-Luc's knees and edges. I'm actually quite a big fan of the free dance's lifts in particular and think this team is definitely one we'll see get rewarded more and more as the tides in ice dance continue to turn. Their overall score was 146.41 and the fact they finished ahead of the Germans at this event is a clear sign the judges like what they see.

Britons Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland performed well at the Rostelecom Cup, so well in fact they won the bronze medal there. In Osaka the team started strongly with a second place finish in the short dance, but their free dance just seemed a little off from start to finish at this event. The twizzles weren't their best and unfortunately a rather rough fall from Nicholas really disrupted the flow of the program... a shame because compared to how they skated at Rostelecom that Muse free dance has so much potential. A sixth place finish in the free dance dropped them down to fifth overall with a score of 137.88.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

'Tis The Cezanne For Art History: Gilbert Stuart's 'The Skater'

In 1775, American artist Gilbert Stuart left the United States bound for London, England and became an apprentice of fellow Anglo-American painter Benjamin West. His success was prodigal and as the student caught up to the teacher, West desired to sit for a portrait by his star pupil. This painting was so well received at the 1781 Royal Academy exhibition that Stuart was approached by a well to do Scotsman named William Grant who wished to commission a portrait as well.

When Stuart and Grant met to commence work on the portrait, Grant remarked that "on account of the excessive coldness of the weather... the day was better suited for skating than sitting for one's portrait." Rather than sit in the frigid cold, both men headed for the Serpentine River in London's Hyde Park and took to the ice to get their skate on. The artist turned out to be an artist on the ice as well, by accounts attracting an admiring crowd with his skating. However, the ice began to crack and Grant pulled Stuart to the shore by his coattails. When they returned to the studio, Stuart began to paint Grant's head but suggested instead a painting inspired by their icy adventure at Hyde Park. Grant consented and 'The Skater' was born from Stuart's memory of their experience. 

'The Skater' appeared at the following year's Royal Academy exhibition and was an instant hit... a first. Skating simply hadn't been greatly portrayed in classical art much previously. Notable exceptions were pieces by Pieter Bruegel de Elder, Hendrick Avercamp's "Winter Landscape With Skaters" (circa 1608), Adriaen Pietersz van de Venne's 1625 painting "The Four Seasons: Winter" and the nude man on the oversized skate on the right wing of the Triptych of the Garden Of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1500). Although previous pieces of art had depicted ice skating, none I was able to find focused so centrally on one single figure on skates. Art critic of the time John Collum wrote of Stuart's painting, "one would have thought that almost every attitude of a single figure had long been exhausted in this land of portrait painting, but one is now exhibited which I do not recollect before - it is that of skating." 'The Skater' kickstarted Stuart's career and he described his sudden success as being "suddenly lifted into fame by a single picture". Today, you can see Stuart's painting at the National Gallery Of Art in Washington, D.C. It is part of the American Collection, alongside works by Thomas Cole and Albert Pinkham Ryder.

The painting likely inspired artists to use skating as a medium for years to come, including Scottish artist Henry Raeburn's masterpiece 'The Skating Minister' which was created in the 1790's and not fully attributed to Raeburn until 2005. Skating would continue to inspire artists - visual, literary, musical and performance - for years to come. From skating's own Toller Cranston to poetry by William Wordsworth to music by composer Émile Waldteufel's Les Patineurs Waltz (Die Schlittschuhläufer-Walzer), skating has played muse to all walks of art and continues to do so to this day. Two time Olympic Gold Medallist Dick Button has one of the largest private collections of skating art going, including R. Tait McKenzie's 1925 bronze ice statue of Button's coach Gus Lussi 'The Ice Bird', an 1875 oil painting of a man skating in a kilt by John Gadsby Chapman and 1875 W.H. Willcox painting "Skating On The Schuyhill". The connection between art and skating has inspired a lovely book by two time World Champion Frances Dafoe called Figure Skating And The Arts that delves into this topic deeply... but trust me, art history and figure skating may well be making a reappearance or two in the blogs to come. 

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Interview With Bernard Ford

When I called Bernard Ford and said it was a pleasure to speak with him, his response was "you don't know that yet". I already knew I was in for a treat. With that wonderful wit that I grew up with in a British family, I instantly felt at ease speaking with a living legend. With four British titles, four European titles and four World titles to his credit, Bernard Ford and his partner Diane Towler-Green dominated the world of ice dancing in the second half of the sixties. They pioneered the sport by adding lifts, twizzles and dance spins to a discipline that had always been skated firmly with two feet on the ground. Towler and Ford won the demonstration event of ice dancing at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France and handily, the World Professional title after winning their last World title as well. Ford's true contributions to skating after ending his competitive career are simply staggering as you will learn more in this interview. He's coached Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall, invented a well known compulsory dance and continues to coach in Edmonton, Alberta. I think it's only fitting that you pour yourself a cup of tea and prepare yourself for an interview that is simply a must read.

Q: Not only did you win four British, European and World titles and a World Professional title, but you and your partner Diane Towler-Green were also the first 'unofficial' Olympic Gold Medallists when you won the ice dance competition at the 1968 Winter Olympic Games, which was a test (or demonstration) event. Looking back on all of these amazing accomplishments decades later, what moments stand out as your proudest ones... the most special memories?

A: I never know how to talk about the Olympics. It wasn't an Olympic event but we did have the top ten teams in the world so I guess it's 'unofficial'. To be honest with you, coming from my background in Birmingham - very industrial, low end - meeting The Queen was to me almost like Britain landing a man on Mars. Some of the skating achievements were hard work but meeting The Queen was a direct result of skating and it was quite incredible. We were invited to a cocktail party at Buckingham Palace. We were there with sixteen to twenty people in groups. She entered and went around and met everyone. I was around nineteen or twenty maybe and I didn't know so I just moved around from group to group and she was moving around the room in a circle as well. She never got to the group we were in. She eventually said, "Can I meet these people?" so a man came over and said "The Queen would like to meet you now". It was quite something. We went to Buckingham Palace and met her a second time at an Investiture and the third time I met her was the 100th anniversary of the National Skating Association. It was a dream and each time, I was never prepared. As for skating memories, I think the time we came fourth in Europeans in Moscow in 1965 was quite a big thing for me - to actually appear in front of so many people and to be approached in the street. It was like being a pop star. Winning first world medal as well as at the 1968 World Championships in Geneva - to get a bunch of 6.0's under the old system was quite something. You can never take things for granted but things were really quite different then. If you won the European Championships, it was a foregone conclusion you were to win the Worlds as well... but you still had to work very hard for it.

Q: You are a pioneer when it comes to ice dancing. You and Diane introduced elements like lifts, twizzles and dance spins to a discipline that had never seen anything like that previously. At the time, was there a lot of resistance to what you were doing to change ice dance or did people genuinely just appreciate the direction you were taking in revolutionizing the sport?

A: I'm a totally honest person and I have to say we had friends from Canada who had come to England who were competing professionally who were doing lifts. We were not the first to do lifts but we were first to introduce them to amateur skating. I would never take credit for inventing them. There was support but also a lot of resistance - "rules are meant to be meant not broken"... that sort of thing. You just remove yourself from that and let other people debate it. That's what judges are for. If they're talking about it, it means something.

Q: You were coached by the great Gladys Hogg - who also coached legends like John Nicks, Jean Westwood and Lawrence Demmy and Courtney Jones and his two partners June Markham and Doreen Denny. What made Gladys Hogg such a legendary and successful coach and are there aspects of her teaching style that you find yourself using in your own coaching?

A: I was just a kid at the time and I started off traveling from Birmingham to London. I grew up skating in club competitions with John Curry. I would beat him in the free skate and he would always beat me in dance which is the irony of the whole thing. My parents would drive me down to London every Friday night. It was a whole day trip back then, not like it is now. It was about six or seven hours of driving. I'd go to have lessons w Miss Hogg. My mother asked Miss Hogg to watched my dancing. She just picked Diane off the session, tried us out and spotted that this was going to work. She said to my parents - "you better make this work". I honestly don't ever remember any lessons because she was such a great coach. She bred into you a way learning without ever making you feel like you were taking a lesson. She obviously taught a great technique too. It was just bred into you.

Q: Let's talk a bit more about your singles career before you went to go skate with Miss Hogg and were teamed up with Diane. Was singles skating something you wish you could have pursued more?

A: I was a terrible competitor but really a good free skater. I was just sort of a disaster in high level competitions but in local club competitions I would do well. Birmingham in the 1960's really produced so many important skaters. There was John Curry. There was Janet Sawbridge, who went on to partner Torvill and Dean together. I used to skate with Pamela Davis, who went on to become the coach of Robin Cousins. It was a booming center of developing talents at the time. I don't regret what I did but I didn't enjoy being alone on the ice in competition. The singles skating was part of the secret about my dance success. I was a man and I could skate.

Q: When you were competing obviously there was a huge emphasis on the compulsory dances. Do you agree with their elimination from competition and what do you think about the way ice dancing is being judged today?

A: When we started coaching, I knew a lot of judges. When I first came to Canada, there were a few people who kind of saw me as a guiding light so I was in a position where I could speak to judges frankly and say "I don't understand something - what is the difference between a 5.5 or a 5.8?" Why judge one team who does sixty five lifts against another who does like three? If you're a judge that likes lifts maybe, but it all seemed sort of off balanced to me. Eventually when I was living in Seattle, I came back to Toronto to do a level four coaching seminar. I was working with a coach there and we had a long discussion about programs. I thought they should all have set elements - this many lifts, this many footwork sequences, those sorts of things. With this discussion, I initiated a conversation about this new judging system! The fact we brought coaches in with callers... I didn't invent the new judging system but I did initiate the thought process that got the ball rolling. As for the compulsory dances, they are like doing scales on the piano. Although juniors and seniors now do the short dance they still have to do compulsory dances as they are coming up and the compulsory dance is part of the short dance. As long as they're involved somewhere, that's great because they are the very basic elements we use for guidance.

Q: Over the years, you have had your fair share of experience not only coaching but also in judging professional competitions. What was the judging experience like for you and being a former World Professional Champion yourself, do you feel that competitions for professional skaters without ISU rules are something that should make more of a comeback in the future?

A: I always regret because my partner was not interested in doing shows. I enjoyed touring, skating shows and exhibitions so for years and years I could never go and watch shows and professional competitions. I always ended up crying because I was never allowed to perform like that. I just got backroaded in coaching. As much as I enjoyed judging those professional competitions, it was also painful. All we have now is ISU competitions but at the end of the day, I don't know where those kids go who have a talent beyond that other than skate on ships. There are so many skaters with so much talent with nothing to do when their time competing comes to an end. On one side of the scale, we have all these coaches but the other side of the scale is becoming so light. There are no venues for these people to work. I find it very frustrating. I see it as just a matter of time until it comes back again. It's very difficult. Ice shows are not what they used to be. It's not the best situation.

Q: Since you emigrated here to Canada in the early 1970's, you've done so many remarkable things - coaching Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall, co-founding the York Region Skating Academy in Richmond Hill and inventing the Cha Cha Congelado compulsory dance among them. How hard was the transition from your own skating career to being on the other side of the boards?

A: When I first came to Canada, I was working at the Cricket and Granite Clubs as a club coach. I had sort of removed myself from the competitive side altogether. I was just glad to earn money and send it back to my parents. We were not a wealthy family by any stretch of the imagination. I always felt like I owed them. I was earning a good living and taking care of them. There were certain people in the Association who always tried to keep one of my legs in competitive skating. I always wanted to be involved but one side of my head said that's over and the other side was saying I could make difference and do some good. 

Q: How did you come to work with Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall?

A: Rob McCall and Marie McNeil would come down with three other teams from Halifax in the summers and I would help them as much as I could. Barbara Graham got in touch with me and said Tracy Wilson and her partner Mark Stokes were left without a coach, free dance... nothing, could I help? They moved up and won  the Junior Championships that year and then Mark quit. Tracy, of her own volition, phoned Rob McCall and asked him if he would skate with her. They came back to Toronto and I started teaching both of them together.

Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why?

A: I guess there are four. John Curry would be one. He did so much for the sport along with Robin Cousins. They were both British male skaters coming through from England, but they revamped the very thought of what figure skating was. Torvill and Dean of course. They were a breath of fresh air, a guiding force and gave ice dance a level of credibility where other disciplines would respect and watch what we did. I would have to say John Nicks as well because he's from Brighton and Miss Hogg taught him and his sister. He went to South Africa and then went to the States. It's rare a World Champion produces that many champions. He just really led and developed pairs skating.

Q: What's one thing most people don't know about you?

A: The size of my feet? I have no idea! Anyone that's creative loves to create. My life has been so much creativity and misery at the same time. If I'm not creating, I'm in the depths of depression. I am always looking for the next creative challenge. When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a missionary in Africa. I could have left England and gone to the U.S. and made a lot of money... but I came to Canada and wanted to do some good and help people. I'd like to think I do good work, but it's just the challenge of using your brain, using music and trying to pull something out of nothing that keeps me going.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Skating Blogs Without Music Only Lead To Treble

It seems like as long as skaters have been skating to music, they've been making it off the ice as well. It doesn't really come as any great surprise to me that so many skaters have found such great success in the world of music considering what a great ear for music skaters really have to have in order to interpret it.

Let's take a look at just a small sampling of some of the skaters who have, in the sport's history, ventured into the music world.

A great place to start is with 1964 Olympic Gold Medallist and World Champion Manfred Schnelldorfer. After turning professional following his Olympic and World title wins, Schnelldorfer became immensely popular in West Germany not only as an actor with roles in films such as Holiday in St. Tropez and Spukschloß im Salzkammergut but as a pop singer as well. From 1964 to 1966, Schnelldorfer released hit singles including "Wenn Du Mal Allein Bist", "Traurigsein Bringt Nichts Ein" and "Dich Hab' Ich Gesucht". And who could forget the musical stylings of Emmerich Danzer? When he wasn't winning his three World and four European titles, this Austrian Champion was finding moderate success with his hit "Sag es mir" which peaked at number eighteen on the Austrian music charts the spring after he won his final World title in 1968. I still say he and Elton John should have dueted on "Hold me close, young Emmerich Danzer." Schnelldorfer and Danzer weren't the only World Champions from the sixties to take a stab at singing. Two time Olympic Silver Medallists Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler also BOTH found success as actors and singers in the sixties. Here's Bäumler singing up a storm:

Eight time Italian Champion Matilde Ciccia may have made history with partner Lamberto Ceserani as one of the three Italian teams who participated in the first official Olympic ice dance event in 1976, but like Kilius, Bäumler and Schnelldorfer, she also found herself pursuing both musical and acting careers after her competitive career winded down. In addition to acting in the films "Sbirro, la tua legge è lenta... la mia no!" and "Zappatore", Ciccia was out on vinyl in 1981 with her two track record "Roller Go", where she was pictured in roller skates. It featured the title track and the B-side "L'Estate Che Verrà". It's kitschy as anything but it's charmingly steppy at the same time!

Now it's time for one of my personal favourites! Who could forget when Katarina Witt teamed up with Loop (which included a former La Bouche singer and one of the 'real Milli Vanilli singers') to present her deliciously Eurodance hit "Skate With Me" in 1995? While the lip sync in this clip would definitely not cut the mustard on RuPaul's Drag Race, this song is deliciously toe tapping and I think someone totally needs to skate to it. I'm looking at you, Ashley Wagner!

A three time Canadian Champion and So You Think You Can Dance? Canada finalist, Emanuel Sandhu also made a foray into the music world when he released the song "Burn Up The Floor" and took to the ice to skate to it in 2007. Very much in the vein of someone like Shawn Desman, Sandhu showed that he is by no means a 'one trick pony'. Anyone that can skate, dance and sing on a high level deserves major props.

Bringing things full circle much like Sandhu, Eric Radford composed a beautiful piece of music called "Tribute" as a dedication to his late coach Paul Wirtz and used it to deliver not one but TWO tear jerking performances at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia with partner Meagan Duhamel. Creating music is one thing, but the experience of bringing the music and the skating together is another entirely. The music and the program that was skated to it was simply put... just beautiful.

There are so many other skaters whose musical journeys I'd love to talk about - Robin Cousins' career on Broadway, Denis Ten's compositions and Elvis Stojko's single "Let Me Be The One" among them -  but I think my interview with skater and composer Tim Dolensky reminded that much like in the case of Eric Radford or Emanuel Sandhu, the marriage of one's own music and movement is simply put something very special. I'm really awestruck by it all. Strike up the band!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

The 2014 Trophée Éric Bompard

"Four down, two to go!" That's what I said when I sat down to put fingers to keyboard to start putting together this recap of the fifth stop on this year's ISU Grand Prix. This year's Trophée Éric Bompard competition was held at the Meriadeck Ice Rink in Bordeaux, France and much like the four Grand Prix events that preceded it, featured a dazzling cast of the world's very best skaters. As always... a little disclaimer. Please keep in mind with all the coverage of any competition on Skate Guard as always I'll post videos of some of the most standout performances. Many of them might be geoblocked in your country, and for that I apologize. Around the time of major competitions, videos go up every minute and come down and get geoblocked just as fast. If you're unable to watch videos in your country, I've got some great advice for you. Go to YouTube, and under your search settings you can select 'Upload Date'. If you type in keywords for the competition or skater you want to see, you can narrow it down to 'Today' or 'This Week' and usually find just what you're looking for in minutes! And now, on to the event at hand...

Russia's Maxim Kovtun won the Cup Of China event ahead of an injured Yuzuru Hanyu, but I can't say that his performance in the free skate there reached out and grabbed me in any way, shape or form. When he lands his jumps, they're certainly beautiful but the musical interpretation kind of always seems to leave a little bit to be desired when he skates I find. The problem in China was that he didn't land all of the jumps and got propped up with that second mark. His short program in Bordeaux started out well with a quad/triple combination but falls on his second quad attempt AND the triple axel really left a flat impression at the program's end but nonetheless Kovtun was still up there in sixth place after the short... naturally ahead of Adam Rippon who delivered a lovely performance because, you know, that just makes sense... In the free skate, there's no questioning that he delivered the goods technically. Two quads, two triple axels and three other triples to boot certainly make for an exciting program and a deservedly high TES score. The third highest PCS score of the night though? Again, I don't think so. As great a skater as this guy is, I can't agree with that kind of judging. He won his second Grand Prix event and a ticket to the Grand Prix Final with a final score of 243.35.

Japan's Tatsuki Machida won Skate America with two outstanding performances and three quads. You gotta hand it to Machida... he's a very consistent skater who doesn't seem to have any trouble delivering when it counts and after winning both his Grand Prix assignments last year, I certainly had every expectation he'd fare well at this event. In the short program, he had errors on two of his three jumping passes but his PCS score was enough to keep him ahead of Konstantin Menshov, who delivered a spectacular short program with two different quads. In the free skate, he again unravelled and although he did land five triple jumps and has quite a fine program, I personally don't feel that his PCS score of 84.00 (the highest of the men) should have been higher than Denis Ten's, speed not withstanding. It's an apples or oranges type thing, though. I do think with all of the mistakes this silver medal and score of 237.74 was a little bit of a gift here. Machida's just so much better than the performances we saw here.

Olympic Bronze Medallist and World Silver Medallist Denis Ten had a rough outing at Skate America and finished just off the podium there, in fourth with a score of 224.74. He told me in my interview with him that he's very much in it for the long haul and that "my goal is PyeongChang 2018". Ten's short program at this event was outstanding. A quad toe, triple axel and triple lutz/triple toe all punctuated the refined choreography set to the vocals Joseph Callejia in his program brilliantly. A score of 91.78 placed him at the top of the leaderboard entering the men's free skate. I have to honestly say that I LOVE Denis' free skate this season. The choreography is nuanced, musical and original and it's just such a cut above what we saw from the other men at this event. I was so excited when I saw him land that quad/triple at the start of his free skate but with all of the pops he really left so many points on the dinner table and ended up dropping to third with an overall score of 236.28. I can't wait to see that free skate at it's best when he peaks though. Imagine it with all of the jumps landed... that's world title material right there.

Richard Dornbush was one of the men affected by the horse and pony show of a men's free skate at the Cup Of China. He won the bronze medal there and delivered quite a strong performance in the free skate, despite losing to a clearly very injured Yuzuru Hanyu who fell times and looked seriously disoriented after his warm up collision. It was clear with one look at him he was under the weather at this event and to go out and skate a clean short program in a Grand Prix event when you're not feeling your best is no small accomplishment. In the free skate, he unravelled though and dropped behind his teammate Adam Rippon who fared SO much better at this event than he did at Skate Canada... which made me really happy to see! Unfortunately, Douglas Razzano had some technical difficulties at this event and wound up in tenth place. There's another one who's a joy to watch when he's on!

After a rough short program that was in my opinion grossly overscored and then a nasty collision with Yuzuru Hanyu at the Cup Of China, Han Yan was back to compete at this event and his participation really revived the discussion about what happened in China and the ISU's typical avoidance and silence on hot button issues. Sochi anyone? The fact that in China he missed all three jumping passes yet still finished in third place in the short program there with a PCS score of 39.78 (ahead of a clean Misha Ge) and now in France landed one of his three jumping passes this time and earned a lower PCS score is just amusing to me. I'm sorry. His free skate wasn't much better (a little bit, a little bit of cold) and he finished off the day with a score of 216.85... in eighth place. As for that whole Cup Of China Yan/Ge scoring business, expect to hear more of that in a bit. I've got a blog on the way that takes a look at that, among other PCS scoring related issues.

Elena Radionova, Elena Radionova... Let me have a sip of a coffee. OK, you know what? ll give credit where it's due. This girl can jump and she can spin too. There's no denying that. Unfortunately her basic skating skills, posture, body line and musical interpretation leave a lot to be desired. This is figure skating, not figure jumping... and I can't say I agree whatsoever with the kind of PCS scores in any of the categories that are being doled out here. Radionova won both segments of the competition with technically challenging performances and a score of 203.92. Her free skate included a triple lutz, triple lutz/triple toe and triple loop/half loop/triple salchow combination. That said, her PCS score in the short program was only deemed the third best of the twelve ladies competing but in the free skate the judges rewarded her with the highest PCS marks over Lipnitskaia and Wagner. The illusion of art and art itself are two quite different things and I can't say that Radionova's technical prowess and youthful exuberance quite match up with Wagner's verve... but that's me.

After unravelling on some of the jumps in the free skate at the Cup Of China and finishing second to Tuktamysheva (and getting fined for missing the award ceremony), Julia Lipnitskaia proved she was indeed human. Who knew?! I jest. As with Radionova, I've been critical of Lipnitskaia's generous PCS scores and I think justifiably so, so entering this event I looked at the list of ladies competing and just assumed the title would go to whichever Russian lady stood up on the most triple/triple jump combinations. As we saw with Radionova's win, I was right. Lipnitskaia looked very on point in her short program (finishing second with a score of 66.79) but in the free skate she threw some points away. A double axel/triple toe/double toe was followed by a double axel/triple toe. She went on to attempt two triple flips, neither in combination and tack a double toe on the end of her final jump, the triple lutz. It was actually quite a gutsy skate technically but again, in terms of a whole package I'm not sure I'm buying it yet. Lipinitskia held on to second place in France with a score of 185.18.

After winning the silver medal at Skate Canada, two time U.S. Champion Ashley Wagner entered this event as the reigning Trophée Éric Bompard Champion but obviously faced some serious competition here. On her programs this season, she told me in our recent interview that "This year, my maturity was something that really came into play when trying to choose pieces of music. Some of these girls weren't even alive when I started skating, and they'll keep on getting younger and younger from now on, so it's up to me to find a way around that. I have a lot of experience in the sport and Raf and I decided it was time to showcase that. We chose pieces of music that were very strong and emotional, even passionate." In winning the bronze medal with a score of 177.74 at this event and even giving a valiant attempt at a triple lutz/triple toe in the free skate - at the END of her program - Wagner reaffirmed that the somewhat forced storyboards of U.S. ladies figure skating in 2014 don't always reflect reality. I really do feel that if she builds on these early season successes, Wagner could very well be again the frontrunner come U.S. Nationals. Time shall tell.

After a sixth place finish in the free skate, Courtney Hicks rallied back with a very gutsy free skate that included two triple flips and two triple lutzes to move up to fourth place overall in Bordeaux with a score of 172.58. After her disappointing sixth place finish in an Olympic year, I have to say that Hicks is looking to be in VERY good shape this season and her name is very much in the "medal conversation" heading towards the U.S. Championships.

France's Maé-Bérénice Méité finished ninth at Skate America in Chicago and competing on home soil hoped to put together two solid performances in this event. In my interview with her, she told me that the world needs "more tolerance... and optimism!" and it seems fittingly optimistic that she trained even harder after Skate America. The hard work paid off in a fifth place finish in her home country with a score of 169.46. A triple salchow/triple toe and double axel/triple toe highlighted her free skate and a step out on the landing of her triple lutz was her only noticeable error in that portion of the competition. The judges seem to be lowballing her a little on the second mark this season so I'm hoping that by the time of Europeans these programs will develop further and rack up some more marks. Although she's known as a powerhouse of a jumper, we have to consider that if some of the world's top men who barely acknowledge their music whatsoever consistently gain high PCS scores, there's a double standard going on here a little... when the Russian dynamos get those marks and other "technicians" like Méité don't.

Finishing fourth at Skate America less than five points shy of the bronze medal there, Samantha Cesario was definitely another skater to watch at this event. In my interview with her earlier this year, she told me "one of my main goals is to perfect a triple/triple and up my technical side to keep up with the talent we have here in the U.S. as well as internationally. Another main goal is to improve on my skating skills and speed while continuing to bring entertaining programs to the audience. I think the new program I am currently working on is something a little different for me and I hope it shows off my skating in a fresh and fun light." Easing up on the technical content in both programs didn't do her any favors in this event, but she stayed on her feet and looked confident and classy throughout this event. Cesario finished the event with a score of 161.70 in seventh place.

Canada's Veronik Mallet finished tenth at Skate Canada and after Alaine Chartrand's bronze medal win at the Rostelecom Cup, I was crossing my fingers and toes and hoping that she'd live up to her wonderful potential and lay down two solid skates in Bordeaux. She struggled a little in both programs here but did manage to move up from eleventh to tenth place after the free skates were all said and done. Although she backed off a little in the latter part of her free skate, she did go for the lutz, flip and loop and hey... nothing wrong with that! Her final score was 139.64.

The overwhelming favourites in the pairs event were Russians Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, who were fresh off a convincing win at the Rostelecom Cup in their home country. They did so by posting the highest score we'd seen from any of the pairs competing on the Grand Prix this season, and while their programs are in my opinion a huge improvement on their material last year, I never seem to be able to find that emotional connection in their skating or relationship to the music I see with Kavaguti and Smirnov or the excitement that we all see in Duhamel and Radford's skating. They went clean in winning the short program with triple toes and a throw triple lutz and attacked their free skate as well, completing a throw triple lutz and throw triple salchow as well as both of their side by side jump passes. Their final score of 209.81 decisively won them their second consecutive Grand Prix event.

China's Wenjing Sui and Cong Han were on fire at this event. Their short program to "Stray Cat Strut" was effortless and clean as a whistle and in their free skate set to the music of Tchaikovsky was exceptional. Like the Russians, every single jumping pass in both phases of the competition was executed flawlessly so it's no wonder their overall score of 200.68 wasn't really that far back from the Russians. While their quad twist is definitely an "ooo! aaa!" fireworks type moment, that tano twist in their short program is just as much of a highlight in my eyes.

Americans Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim finished just off the podium at Skate America in Chicago so hoped to rebound and post a strong result as the only American pair here. Although they were didn't claim the bronze medal which was won by China's Xuehan and Lei Wang, their free skate was quite strong and boasted side by side triple salchows and a throw triple loop. They ALSO landed their throw triple flip in both programs, so easy does it now... I think Denney and Frazier have some competition brewing.

Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro made their Grand Prix debut at Skate Canada and finished sixth of the eight pairs competing with a score of 158.82. As far as a competitive debut, it wasn't perfect but there was certainly potential there and as someone watching, I wasn't expecting them to come to this event and kill it. New partnerships take time and there's a huge learning curve to learning to perfect each element with somewhat new. Considering that many of the newer partnerships we've seen this season in pairs haven't exactly been smooth sailing, I think these two are actually doing pretty damn good in comparison. They did improve slightly on their Skate Canada score although they finished seventh at this event. With two side by side triple toes landed as well as both throws in the free skate, I certainly don't feel this team is on the same uphill battle as many of these other new pair teams this season. Once they find their stride and gain more confidence as a pair, the little kinks will iron themselves out. Their score in France was 159.13.

After winning the Cup Of China ahead of the reigning world champions, France's Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron entered this event on their home soil as the odds on favourites despite being up against two Canadian teams who had outranked them at last year's World Championships, a very strong American team, the Spaniards and Italians. One of two teams coached by Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon competing at this event, the attention not only to correct technique but put to presentation from this team is very evident. Their short dance score of 64.06 gave them a precarious lead of the field but their free dance sealed the deal. Their twizzles were excellent as was the first lift and I have no argument with this team winning here. Their final score was 166.66 and they'll be in Barcelona for the Grand Prix Final.

Canada's Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier finished a strong second at Skate Canada in Kelowna but were almost twenty points behind the French team with a score of 152.60 so certainly hoped to make up some ground at this event. They did. Their short dance earned them a score of 61.90 and second place but their very ballroomy free dance again didn't have the same magic that their "Hitchcock" free dance did for me. Piper looked a bit off of the twizzles in the free dance but I did find that they looked a little more confident here. Their free dance score of 95.68 was a new season's best and their total score of 157.58 was enough for second place here... meaning we'll be seeing them in Barcelona for the Grand Prix Final as well!

Americans Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue finished third at Skate Canada and have a really unique and refreshing free dance this season which is a modern interpretation of "The Great Gatsby" depicting the relationship between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. The reviews have been really mixed but I actually like it... because I get what they are trying to do. I see a lot of Navarro and Bommentre in this team in that they are taking risks and experimenting and seem to be creating a body of work and not just very clinical "West Side Story"/"Carmen" type free dances. I'm not saying the free dance was textbook technically - there is room for some growth - but a season's best free dance score of 91.92 is still nothing to sneeze at. Coupled with their short dance score, Hubbell and Donohue won the bronze medal.

I think Spain's Sara Hurtado and Adrian Diaz are just fantastic. When I interviewed them last year, they told me their biggest goal was to be Olympians and not only did they achieve that in Sochi but a thirteenth place finish of the twenty four teams competing was absolutely nothing to sneeze at. This season, their free dance to "Atonement", "Meditation" and an original composition by Karl Hugo is a wonderfully abstract and intense piece with some innovative lifts and good edges but at both the Skate Canada Autumn Classic and Skate Canada International, they lost some ground with fifth place and eighth place finishes. As usual, the lifts were a highlight with this pair and the judges finally decided to cut them a LITTLE slack on the rest of it and dish them up a new season's best score in the
free dance. Their final score of 146.10 may not have been enough to move them up on the podium but the programs themselves (both of them) were a pleasure to watch.

Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam were tenth at last year's World Championships and their fifth place finish at Cup Of China with a score of 140.46 wasn't truly indicative of their talent, in my opinion. The ice dance field at their first Grand Prix outing was particularly deep and I was excited to see how they'd fare here in a more even playing field with their "Nocturno" and "Farruca Y Rumba" short dance and Frank Sinatra free dance. Unfortunately, they really seem to be losing some ground with the judges... and fast. Their final score of 138.99 is ten points back of their personal best from last year's Worlds and with Piper and Paul having such a massive lead on this team at this event, this team is going to have to dig in their skates and pull out all stops at Nationals. They've certainly got the talent to do it.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Interview With Aleksander Liubchenko And Jean-Denis Sanchis

Gorgeous shirtless men lifting each other? Sign me up! Ukraine's Aleksander Liubchenko and France's Jean-Denis Sanchis have only been skating together as an acrobatic duo for a short time, but they are already earning a huge fan following in Europe and abroad and taking artistic and professional skating by storm. I was fortunate enough to speak with them leading up to the Xtreme Ice World Skating Championships in Russia, one of the few true live professional competitions out there offering an opportunity to acrobatic skaters worldwide to showcase their talents and compete in an ISU free zone of real creativity. We talked about their careers in competitive skating, what brought them together, how they learned some of the death-defying tricks they perform and much, much more. Get ready for an interview you are going to just love!

Alexandra Ilina photo
Q: Together you form one of the world's top acrobatic skating teams. What can you share about your skating background before you got into acrobatic or extreme skating and how you started in that vein of performing?

A from Aleksander: I began to skate when I was four years old because my father wanted me to become a hockey player. For this age, there was no difference in ages with the figure skaters and hockey players and I skated just to twelve years old in men's skating. I had all doubles and two triple jumps. After my federation decided to change my sport career, they gave me to the ice dancing. I can tell you that I was sure that ice dancing was not sport but after the first week of training, I understood that skating skills wise it is very, very difficult. I skated in Ukraine in the ice dancing pair and I made fix or six Junior Grand Prix and a lot of international competitions. I won a lot of them but after I decided to change my country because my Federation can't propose for me something great after my sport career. After two years of problems with Visa I came to France to skate with a French girl named Sarah Robert Sifaoui and so that's how I met JD. I made my first backflip on the ground at fourteen years old in the summer camp with my ex team so when I came to the new club in Bordeaux, I saw one crazy guy who made a lot of things on the ice and he is not so tall. I proposed just for a joke to make one lift from the pair skating but without technique or physical preparation and with our difference of weight of 15 kg (me 75 and he 60) it was not possible. We worked a lot and we learned some things I remembered from Besedin and Polishuk because when I was young I saw that they have already have been skating together and made a lot of things, so I proposed to make something like this. Our first presentation on public date of our acrobatic pair was on April 23, 2013.

A from Jean-Denis: I begin to skate ten years ago in Bordeaux Sport Ice just for fun at the beginning, I had my first partner at twelve years of ago and then when I was eighteen I was looking for a new partner and found Maria Stepanova from St. Petersburg but she did not have a Visa to change countries. In September 2012, I was at the Conservatoire de Bordeaux in contemporary dance C3 second year, to spend a DEC (Diplôme d'Educator Choreographer). In February 2013, Sarah Robert Sifaoui and Aleksander Liubchenko changed figure skating club from Paris and moved to the hometown of Sarah: Bordeaux. I sometimes helped Sarah and Aleksander in search of lifts, in the lobby. Sarah was extremely compact and agile but I saw HE easily did the work as a partner and he wasn't afraid of elements.

Q: How do you even create and perfect all of the crazy acrobatic tricks that you do? I imagine a lot of work happens off ice but have you worked with other male/male acrobatic pairs to perfect all of these risky elements as well?

A from Jean-Denis: One day Aleksander offered to me jokingly to do lifts. We learned a little technical ground is still hard PHYSICALLY to make up. Before, we could only do a backflip on the ground but we were excited about being acrobats on skates like Besedin and Polishuk.

A from Aleksander: Before we watched the tricks and elements in some videos, so for the beginning for us it was a joke and we worked together just when we wanted and in the garden or on the street but after invitation for the gala of the champions on the Grand Prix in Paris, we understood that it is interesting a lot of people and we began to have fans. We understood that we must work more and make more crazy things for impress public. So, in January 2014 we found one training place in our city and began to train and we had the progress but not so fast. In August 2014, we had found another place with a coach and real acrobats who won the French Championships and they were third in the World Championships in 2014. They are really great so we began to train with them and very, very fast we learn elements with high difficulty (like Besedin and Polishuk) but to transfer all of this on the ice we need more time, but you will see all this one day!

Q: You'll be joining skaters like Philippe Candeloro, Zabato Bebe, Marie-Pierre Leray, Annette Dytrt and Yannick Bonheur, Akop Manoukian and Aidas Reklys, Ievgen Lukashenko and Anton Kovalevski and American Open Champions Vladimir Besedin and Alexei Polishuk at this year's Xtreme Ice World Championships in Russia. What are your goals and secret weapons for this competition?

A from Aleksander: We are ice dancers, so no one from this competition can show more skating skills than we. This time we are changed and worked on our choreography a lot, so you will see something extraordinary. We have three new, new elements for example a backflip from my shoulders and two acrobatic lifts with the speed. Our goals are very simple. We want to WIN and now we are sure that we can!

Q: Aleksander, you hold the Guinness World Record for the longest ice skating backflip, which was done on the set of the CBBC show Officially Amazing in June of this year. Where did you get the idea to attempt to hold this record and how did you first learn the backflip?

A from Aleksander: I had learned my first backflip before our first presentation together. I could do it on the ground but on the ice it is different. You need to have good coordination. I did my first backflip perfectly for two days of training and for the next two days JD made exactly the same. I had sent one letter in June 2013 with one question to Guinness if anyone already had this record. I had an answer that Robin Cousins had the record in 5.48 meters which is really long. I wasn't sure I could beat it so I didn't answer Guinness. In May 2014, CBBC contacted me and proposed to me that I try to beat it and I said okay. I had a problem with my knee from the gym when I made the record. The exit was very bad the first two times. I tried to beat the record three times. The first time I made 5.28 meters. Here I realized all of the cameras from CBBC are on me and other French channels as well and I must win the record. The second time I had 5.50 and I won by .02 but understanding it was so close, I took the jump a third time with speed and got 6.09 meters, beating an Olympic Champion.

Q: How can "regular" skaters get more involved in acrobatic skating? There isn't exactly a how to book!

A from Aleksander: When I will put all of the gymnastic elements on the ice, I hope to open an ice acrobatic school but the message for now for everyone is try and don't be afraid.

A from Jean-Denis: There is a lack of skaters trying to repeat and improve acrobatics on ice. We aim at this, of course. but use common sense and self-preservation instincts to protect ourselves when doing acrobatic tricks like all of the world's best skaters like Philippe Candeloro, Surya Bonaly, Kurt Browning and others. We find working in the gym on new elements is important. We work on things in the gym to stop rotation of the body for fear of injury and proficiency. We use a special retainer for the neck. The MOST significant thing is stability. When we first transferred moves to the ice common sense and self-preservation instincts were not working and the first elements that were transferred to the ice FORMED the basis of fear. You have to spend the time in the gym practicing because when you perform adrenaline just rolls over you. If you stand on bare shoulders, the weight of the sharp blade and the risk of slipping and your carotid artery is very dangerous. You already know about the specifics of the lifts but speed with these tricks can cause injury. When you jump a somersault on the ground your feet and shoulder width are apart and you have to break up and wait when you turn. On the ice when you stick and you stick your toe pick and it is not parallel to the ice, there is an issue. To show acrobatics, you must test yourselves. Aim farther into the forest for the more wood!

Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why?

A from Aleksander: First, Kurt Browning. I think he is the best single skater ever. He made jumps but his performances and skating skills are great. I want to skate on the same ice with him! Secondly, ice dancing couple Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat. Then, pair skaters Volosozhar and Trankov. They are amazing. It is like Kurt Browning but in pairs. Of course, also my first coach who learned me basic skating in my home town in Kharkow, Tatiana Vasilievna Grusheva.

Q: What's one thing most people don't know about you?

A from Aleksander: We first made backflips with the blades for the ice dancing (MK Dance). I have education of the artists of ballet (classic choreography). I have finished ballet school and college so I am choreographing ballet classic and I am coaching now with JD and studying choreography.

Q: What do you love most about figure skating?

A from Aleksander: It is the speed... and the possibilities on the ice.

A from Jean-Denis: I love to and want for the future to push my abilities to maximum on the ice with Aleksander, to go to the highest possible level by showing you that skating can be more than what one sees on TV to give you always more fun!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Featured Post

Pre-Order Your Copy of "Jackson Haines: The Skating King"

  "Jackson Haines: The Skating King" won't be available for purchase until November 1, but the good news is that you can place...