The Other Olympic Gold Medallists

The roster of Olympic Gold Medallists reads like a who's who of figure skaters who have not only reached the pinnacle of success in their sport but have reached an almost legendary status in pop culture. Names like Dorothy Hamill, Brian Boitano, Kristi Yamaguchi, Katarina Witt, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean (among so many others) are not only known within the figure skating worldwide but worldwide even to people who have watched less than 5 minutes of figure skating their entire lives. People know who most Olympic Gold Medallists in figure skating are. However, there have been Olympic Gold Medallists in our sport that even the most avid fans know so little about. They haven't moved onto glamorous careers in broadcasting like Dick Button and Peggy Fleming, Hollywood films like Sonja Henie or modelling magazines like Evan Lysacek. They have, however, left an indelible imprint on the history of the sport and achieved personal goals and incredible heights of success. Let's take a look at 6.0 of the sport's Olympic gold medallists that we might not remember but certainly should never be forgotten:


One of the most fascinating parts of researching this article was sitting at a local library, sifting through old magazines on a microfilm scanner and happening upon articles from 1963 and 1964 about 3 time World Champion and 1964 Olympic Gold Medallist Sjoujke Dijkstra. Four years before Peggy Fleming won the 1968 Olympic Gold medal, Dijkstra made history by winning the first gold medal at the Winter Olympics ever for the Netherlands. To this day, she remains Holland's only Olympic gold medallist in figure skating. After winning the 1959 World bronze medal and 1960 Olympic silver medal behind Carol Heiss, Dijkstra's first world title was delayed by the horrific 1961 Brussels plane crash that killed the entire U.S. team and cancelled the 1961 World Championships. She won the following year, a title she defended for the next two years as well. An article from the March 15, 1963 issue of Time Magazine described Dijsktra's win at the 1963 World Championships in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy. Her performance at that event to Johann Strauss' "Graduation Ball" featured a huge double Axel, flying camel spins, flying sit spins and double toe loops: "The music leaped and the girl leaped too - a twirling double Axel that sent her hurdling through the air until she glided back on the ice." At 5'6" and 140 lbs, she was a more full figured woman than many skaters today. Sjoujke was an athletic skater who excelled at both figures and free skating. By the time of the 1964 Olympic Games, her skating was so popular in Holland that Queen Juliana of the Netherlands travelled to Austria to watch her compete. Delivering by all accounts the finest performance of her career, she won the first Olympic gold medal for her country since Fanny Blankers-Koen took 4 medals in women's track and field some time previous. Dick Button described Dijkstra as "tremendous. She has the strength of a man. She is probably the most powerful woman skater who ever existed". Not a flashy skater, Sjoukie was not afraid of a little hard work, stating "it's just working hard that makes you good." And work hard she did. On the road to her Olympic glory, she trained 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, 7 months a year. Her father was an Amsterdam doctor named Lou Dijkstra, a former speed skater who competed at the 1936 Winter Olympics. Early in her career, she broke a leg skating but persevered. By 10, she was training with Arnold Gerschwiler in Richmond, London. 2 years later she placed 14th at the European Figure Skating Championships. At age 13, she gave up formal schooling and with more time to focus on her skating, moved up in the ranks steadily under she achieved an Olympic dream. An article in a Dutch magazine pointed out another startling fact I had not previously been aware of - after compulsory figures at the World Championships in 1964, she was 59 points ahead of her closest rivals yet still delivered "a dazzling performance". She turned professional after winning her last World title and toured with Holiday On Ice from 1964 to 1972. In 1985, she became the figure skating advisor to the Dutch Skating Federation. She has done commentary for Dutch television and is a judge on the Dutch version of Dancing On Ice. She was inducted to the World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame this year.


Described by British sports journalist Howard Bass as having free skating that was "embarrassingly substandard", Schuba won the 1972 Olympic gold medal after achieving such a lead in compulsory 'school' figures that even with a 9th place finish in free skating, she still comfortably won ahead of excellent free skaters Karen Magnussen of Canada and Janet Lynn of the U.S. At the time of Schuba's win, compulsory figures accounted for 60% of the total score. A brilliant specialist in this area, her win sparked a controversy that led to the introduction of the short program to competition and the value of compulsory figures decreasing slowly over time until they were finally last skated at the Olympics in 1988. First winning a world silver medal in 1969, Schuba went on to duplicate that silver medal in 1970 and win the World Championships again in 1971 and 1972, in addition to her 1972 Olympic win in Sapporo, Japan. Schuba was no secret to hard work, taking over the bookkeeping of her family's Vienna lumber business after her father died when she was 13, while balancing school and skating at the same time. Following her Olympic win, she toured with Ice Follies and Holiday On Ice before beginning a career in the insurance field which she continues to this day. She is also a former president of the Austrian Ice Skating Association (the first woman to hold that position) and has been a formidable organizer and supporter of figure skating, Olympic and Paralympic athletes in her country.


Coming out of nowhere to win the world title in 1951, Ria Baran and Paul Falk (who would later simply be known as The Falk's after marrying), were the first skaters from East or West Germany since World War II to win a world title. Strong technically with an elegant style, The Falk's had an extremely short career that culminated in a second world title and the Olympic gold medal in 1952, ahead of Karol and Peter Kennedy of the U.S. and Hungary's Marianna and Laszlo Nagy. Following their undefeated amateur record and Olympic win, they pursued a brief professional career with Holiday On Ice. Suggested to be the first team to perform side-by-side double jumps in competition and the inventors of the lasso lift, The Falk's were also world roller skating champions! After ending their professional career, Ria Falk worked as a secretary before her death in 1986 at age sixty three. Paul Falk is still alive and well, and enjoyed a long career as a precision mechanic after hanging up his skates. He keeps active to this day by playing golf and resides in Germany.


The winner of the ladies title in 1952 was Great Britain's Jeannette Altwegg, a proficient skater who almost didn't end up involved in the sport seriously at all. In her teens, Altwegg made a difficult decision between tennis and skating after losing the junior finals at Wimbledon in 1946 by a narrow margin. The very next year, she was Britain's junior ladies champion. Coached by the legendary Swiss coach Jacques Gerschwiler, she was a strong compulsory figure skater than free skater thanks to Gerschwiler's expert instruction. Following up a 1948 Olympic bronze medal with the 1951 European and world titles, the then 21 year old Altwegg managed a win over free skating whizzes Tenley Albright and Jacqueline du Bief owing to her lead in that portion of the 1952 Oslo competition. Altwegg has lived a fascinating life, being born in India to a Swiss father and then being raised in Lancashire, England. After her Olympic win, Altwegg decided to forgo the nomadic travelling ice show life and opted to spend many years working with underprivileged children at the Pestalozzi Children's Village in Switzerland, where she met the father of her children. Her daughter grew up to up to be a World Champion curler, representing Switzerland. Now 82, Altwegg is a mother of and grandmother of 13. "My family has been and is my career" said Altwegg in a 2011 interview. Her and Madge Syers, the 1908 Olympic ladies champion, remain Britain's only Olympic ladies gold medallists to this day.


With a short career that ended as quickly as it started, 19 year old Manfred Schnelldorfer of Germany made a splash in 1963, when he won the bronze medal at the World Championships behind Canada's Donald McPherson and France's Alain Calmat. The following year, the elegant skater surprised everyone by winning the 1964 Olympic title ahead of Calmat and 14 year old Karol Divin. A former architecture student, Schnelldorfer has lived a fascinating live since his surprise Olympic win. He skated in professional ice shows, acted, had a pop music career, coached figure skating and acted as a sports teacher. Like The Falk's mentioned earlier, Schnelldorfer was also a champion roller skater as well. Now a married father, Schnelldorfer lives in Munich, Germany and is a business owner.


With 8 national titles, 5 European titles and 3 World titles to his credit, it was no surprise when Czechoslovakia's Ondrej Nepela brought home the gold medal at the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan. His career featured 3 trips to the Olympics (his first in 1964 at the age of 13) and ended in 1973 with a final world title in his home town of Bratislava, in what is now Slovakia. The first and only men's skater to this day to win a World title in figure skating, the very handsome Nepela was a figures specialist but not a one sided one whatsoever. Although he had a small frame, he was a brilliant free skater too. He had great height and consistency on his jumps and was well known for being calm and collected in the heat of any competition. He turned professional in 1973, touring for 13 years as a principal soloist with Holiday On Ice then began a coaching career in Germany, coaching Claudia Leistner to her European title in 1989. That same year, he lost his battle with AIDS at the age of 38. To this day, this beautiful skater is remembered in his home country with a memorial competition - the Ondrej Nepela Memorial. Previous winners include Michael Shmerkin, Stephane Lambiel, Carolina Kostner, Julia Sebestyen, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy and Marina Anisinna and Gwendal Peizerat. Nepela's skating was underrated and his life short lived but the legacy he has left for both his country and the sport, through this memorial event, is an everlasting one.

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 Johann Wilkinson

Ever since South Africa first became a member of the International Skating Union, figure skating has been slowly developing in a country you wouldn't normally think of when it comes to developing competitive skaters. With skaters like Dino Quattrocecere, Shirene Human and others helping pioneer the international exposure of South Africa's athletes in the mid 1990's, training conditions and coaching have likewise improved for South African skaters. With South Africa's National Championships starting this weekend, it only makes sense to check it with one of the elite athletes competing at this event. I had chance to speak with Johann Wilkinson, South Africa's junior men's champion who is looking to defend his title at these Nationals. This talented 18 year old talked about skating in his country, the upcoming National Championships, his role models, programs for the upcoming season and more:

Q: In winning South Africa's junior men's title, you obviously reached a goal. What are your future goals in skating?

A: My future goal is to defend my title well at the next Nationals and hopefully improve on my score at home and abroad. The next step would be testing for senior and moving up the season after next. If I can do that, I'll be happy and if I can produce a gold winning performance it will be an absolute bonus.

Q: What are your programs for the upcoming season?

A: Seeing that we are in the Southern Hemisphere our seasons are a little odd and our 2013 Nationals are this coming Sunday through Tuesday. So for the short program, it will be "In The Mood" by Glenn Miller and for the free skate "The Feeling Begins" by Peter Gabriel.

Q: What new elements are you working on that you hope to perfect in the future?

A: I have been working on the higher triples, namely the triple flip and triple lutz. Also, to slight embarrassment, the spread eagle. I just can't seem to do it!

Q: Who are your role models in South African skating and worldwide?

A: I must say that I have SO many role models in skating that include both male and female skaters for a whole range of different reasons. Highest on the list I will have to say Gareth Eckhardt and Lejeanne Marais (South African skaters.) As for the world, definitely Evgeni Plushenko and Kurt Browning.

Q: What can you tell us about how skating has progressed in your country?

A. This is a tough one. Skating has been up and down in he last few years as our resources have become more limited but lately skating has improved a whole lot. Competition has become more fierce and the fighting spirit is now a welcome addition. Our skaters have been putting their best foot forward and skating is taking a turn for the better. We have a good system here and with it a great support base and an awesome training atmosphere, especially here in the Ice Station in Cape Town.

Q: What are your hobbies off the ice?

A: Hobbies? That's when I get time! I'm a home-schooled student and spend a lot of my time training and studying at the rink. I generally hike with friends or just mess about with anything interesting that I have a liking for at that particular time.

Q: What is your favorite movie and one movie you haven't seen but would love to?

A: There are SO many amazing movies! I'm a series person myself but I am absolutely in love with any fantasy movies like the "Harry Potter", "Lord of the Rings" and "Pirates Of The Caribbean" movies etc. "Life of Pi" and "Oblivion" are movies I am still dying to watch.

Q: What is the most challenging part of competing and the most rewarding?

A: I must say for me the most challenging part of competing is the mental aspect. I frequently 'psych' myself out and end up losing focus. Then again, those moments when you pull yourself towards yourself (as my coach Dantin Broodryk puts it) and get the job done and get it done well... it is the best reward there is.

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word, what would it be?

A: It will have to be a SUPER long word. Something like "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious"! Or just "interesting".

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 Tanya Street-Burgess

In 1991, Tanya Street-Burgess won the U.S. Novice title in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Three years later she found herself withdrawing from the 1994 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships after falling very ill, but not before being very directly impacted by the infamous "Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan scandal" that rocked the figure skating world that year. The following year, she found herself at Nationals, competing against the likes of Michelle Kwan and Nicole Bobek. A former student of Carlo and Christa Fassi who has since long retired from competition, Tanya is a mother and figure skating coach. I had the chance to catch up with her and talk about her skating career, coaching, how the 1994 scandal affected her personally, her favourite things to eat and listen to, and much more: 

Q: In 1991, you won the U.S. national novice title in Minneapolis. What did winning a title at the national level mean to you at the time and looking back, what does it mean to you today?

A: Truthfully, I was shocked. I had taken a lot of time off that year for financial reasons and had barely made it out of Sectionals. There were so many skaters at Nationals with good triples and my triple toe was only landed on a good day. I went to Minneapolis with low expectations and was just hoping to place in the middle of the pack. When the day came, I drew first to skate so I wanted to set the bar for my competitors. I had planned a pretty tough SP with two double axels. It was skated flawlessly. It was how I had planned to skate it! The rest of the group wasn’t so lucky. Watched some of my scariest competitors fall multiple times. When the results came out, I was in 2nd place and skating in the last warm-up! Then, for the free skate we threw in the triple. Really had nothing to lose and still it was a dream to earn the gold. I landed my triple toe and it was the best it had ever been! After placing 4th in the free skate, mathematically and surprisingly I ended up 1st place! Looking back, I was not the best skater that year but it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I was able to find a sponsor for my skating and was able to stay on the ice that following year. That helped boost my skating career landing the rest of my triples that following year and placing me in a league with skaters I had looked up to for years.

Q: You won four Sectional and five Regional champions during your skating career and were on the U.S. international team from 1993-1996. What was the experience of competing internationally like and how did it differ from skating within your own country? What was the most interesting aspect of it?

A: Competing internationally was like achieving a childhood dream of mine. I had never flown out of the country before and yet I was being flown out to represent our country. I had no idea who my competitors were so it was neat to see the other countries young elite skaters. It was like any other competition with a few good skaters and a few others that maybe weren’t given the same opportunities we had growing up. I was able to compare my skills with these skaters around the world. Representing the U.S. was an amazing experience and was glad I was given the opportunity to go.

Q:  Having competed against skaters like Michelle Kwan, Nicole Bobek, Tonia Kwiatkowski and Kyoko Ina at the national level during the era of the dramatic Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding story, was this distracting to your skating at the time or was the popularity that the sport enjoyed after the tragedy something that drove your passion for what you were doing?

A: It was a good distraction for us. Again, a "no pressure situation". I had some great practices and enjoyed talking to Tonya, Nicole and others in the locker rooms. I was supposed to be on Nancy’s practice when the incident happened but I became ill and skipped going. I went to the hotel gym and walked the treadmill that day and remember seeing Nancy, her coach and another person walking around the pool area like it was any other day. I noticed that on the TV in the gym was a breaking news story and Nancy was on it! There was no volume so I still had no clue what was happening. I left to go to the room and had all kinds of people calling from the press asking “What did you see?” and (since my name is Tanya) “Why did you do it?”. A friend of mine was even taken to the police station for questioning since he had been in a restricted area looking for me when I didn’t show up for my practice. Unfortunately, I became very ill that evening and was taken to the hospital. I wanted to compete so badly. I was the underdog and so was Michelle. She was young and it was her time.

Q: Who are your favourite skaters competing today - and of all time?

A: There are a few! Right now, a few of my favourite skaters are Charlie White and Meryl Davis. I saw them at Nationals this year and they are amazing! Ground breaking for U.S. ice dancing. In the ladies division, Gracie Gold reminds me a lot of myself back in the day. I watch her jump and wish I could do it all again one more time. For skaters in the past, Scott Hamilton! I got to skate with him in Sun Valley and he was very supportive to the skaters on the practice. He’d skate up to me after I landed a jump and would say “Great job!”. Kristi Yamaguchi also. They were so nice and that was probably one of my most memorable practices ever. Also, Caryn Kadavy. Before I made it big, I used to live in Rockford, Illinois. There was a stretch of time that I’d see Caryn practicing on the same public sessions that I would be on. I knew who she was but was very shy so I kept to myself. One day I was working on a jump and was falling on it over and over again. She skated up to me and gave me some advice, asked what my name was very supportive telling me to keep at it. I couldn’t believe she was talking to me!

Q: Who are three singers you absolutely love?

A: Jimmy Buffett - I am originally from Florida and a southern gal. Grew up listening to Jimmy. Elton John - I could listen to him all day! Freddy Mercury - what a voic and a musician! He’s the reason I started listen to rock. My kids grew up listening to Freddy. My son even named his turtle “Freddy Mercury”.

Q: If you had to eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

A: OK, this is a tough one. I love sushi and I can always fall back on a good pizza. But I would vote my one time meal to be fajitas. Especially if I can get the margarita on the side!

Q: Do you think skating has progressed or regressed in recent years and what are the new challenges of teaching the sport under the new judging system?

A: A little of both. As a coach, I love seeing the protocol at the end of an event. The skaters (and coaches) then see their strengths vs. weaknesses. On the other hand, the new judging system takes away from the artistic creativity of a program. It’s like seeing a camel spin and watching a good skater perform one holding a nice position for 10 or 15 revolutions. Instead, it’s the cookie cutter camel that wins with all of the same variations that everyone else in the group is trying.

Q: What is the best and worst thing to ever happen to figure skating?

A: The best thing I can think of would be Hollywood. They single handedly grew figure skating and made Sonja Henie a household name. Through that growth, ice show tours were born and girls and boys all over the world wanted to skate. So many opportunities were born! Other than the 1961 plane crash and the French judge that loved to take bribes, the worst thing that happened to figure skating is the dropping economy. For the competitive skater, it’s very expensive. I had a team of skaters 10 years ago going out to Sun Valley for a week or two and they were paying my way to go! Now I can barely get one to commit to a camp in the next town over. Team sports are less expensive and more and more kids seem to be going that route.

Q: What do you do for a living today and is your passion for figure skating still as strong as it was when you were competing?

A: I am still involved in figure skating and play many roles! I am first and foremost a skating coach and love helping kids in our area learn to skate. I raised three national competitors and two junior national competitors out of a small city in Iowa. Thirteen years ago, this city didn’t have a rink. And now we have national competitors! Also, I am a technical specialist for the new judging system so I get to see the callers point of view and have learned quite a bit. And finally, I am a skating mom. My daughter, Carly, is at the Pre-Pre level and is by far the hardest student to teach! Very talented but very strong minded and doesn’t like taking Mom's advice.

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 Tugba Karademir

Turkey is probably one of the last countries you'd think of when it comes to producing elite figure skaters, but Tugba Karademir was the first to make that breakthrough. Making history by becoming the first figure skater to represent Turkey at the Winter Olympic Games in 2006, she repeated that feat by again qualifying for and competing in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia. During her career, she competed in 8 World Championships, 9 European Championships, a wide range of international events including Skate America, Skate Canada and the NHK Trophy and was Turkey's national champion. Retiring after the 2009/2010 figure skating season, Tugba is now a respected coach in Canada, coaching at the Mariposa International Training Centre in Ontario alongside the likes of Doug and Michelle Leigh, Lee Barkell, David Islam, Robert Tebby, Steven Cousins and Markus Leminen. I had chance to catch up with Tugba and discuss her skating career, Olympic experience, her favourite skaters of today and what she is up to now:

Q: You twice had the opportunity to represent Turkey at the Winter Olympic Games (becoming Turkey's first figure skater that competed at the Olympic Games), and were Turkey's flag bearer at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. What was the Olympic experience like for you?

A: The Olympics were a huge dream come true for me. Being able to lead one’s country into the stadium at the Games is one of the biggest honors that can be bestowed upon an athlete and it was one of my proudest moments. I will never forget the atmosphere and the way the crowd welcomed the teams. It was such an emotional high for me. I am very fortunate that I was able to live out this dream twice. I get chills whenever I think about it! There was another side to this emotional high as well. It was also the most stressed out I have ever been in my life. The experiences I had there taught me a lot about myself and I am now able to handle many aspects of life with a very different perspective than I would have had I not been through these events.

Q: Tell me a little about the history of skating in Turkey and what training conditions, coaching and national competition was like there.

A: Skating in Turkey dates back to the days when my parents used to watch the European and World Championships on the one channel they had. Skating was huge on Turkish National TV but we didn’t even have a rink of our own. In 1990, one finally opened in the capital where I lived. My friends and I were practically the first generation to grow up in a rink. It was great fun at first but as we progressed, we became aware of how little opportunity there was as far as training ice, coaching, role models etc. It was a tough environment to succeed in and my parents and I found the solution in moving to Canada, known for its prowess and dominance in this sport.

Q: In moving to a different country to pursue your passion, I can only imagine the culture shock. What did you miss most about home and embrace most about Canada?

A: I missed my family, the food and the language the most. Those who know me will gladly tell you that I am a very talkative person and coming to a country where I wasn’t comfortable with the language was tough at first. I loved Canada for how inclusive everyone was but I think that The Mariposa School of Skating in Barrie where I made my home, had a huge part in that. They promptly put a Turkish flag up at the rink as soon as I arrived and I thought this was such a gracious thing to do.

Q: How did you deal with nerves and/or stress in competition?

A: There’s a loaded question! I got better at it as time went by but I definitely enlisted the help of former skaters who had been there. Luckily, Barrie had an abundance of successful skaters who were willing to share their expertise. I also had help from a great performance coach, Peter Jensen. He worked his magic with me before the short program in Torino when I was having such a hard time landing jumps in my programs in practice. Outside the solos I was fine but once the music came on, they would disappear. It was such a tough time for me but having lots of resources helped.

Q: You are now a respected coach here in Canada. Do you miss competing and do you still skate yourself?

A: I would love to skate more but I have a very busy coaching schedule and I recently finished my undergrad and got my PMP designation. I miss competing very much. I miss the people I would see at various competitions. I miss the regimented schedule I had to go through. There is comfort in figuring out what training schedule works for you and executing that year after year with a single minded focus on a goal.

Q: You competed at 7 European Championships and 7 World Championships, which is incredible by the way. What were your favourite memories from those competitions?

A: So many to name here, but I loved the cities we visited. I got to see parts of the world and meet people I never would have had the opportunity. I am grateful for all of that. I find that I am a much more tolerant person because of it.

Q: Who are your favourite skaters right now and who do you think will be on the ladies podium in Sochi?

A: I love to find the best in every skater. I think it’s the coach in me coming out. It is so easy to break something down and so hard to build it that when I think of a Mao Asada, I appreciate the powerful knees and ankles she has. When Yu Na Kim skates, I can’t help but be in awe of the sheer ease with which she moves and makes everything look so easy when I know she is executing elements which most men have a hard time getting round. I love Carolina Kostner’s speed and she is such a great person.

Q: What did you learn most from YOUR skating experience that you now teach your students?

A: I learned that mistakes happen but it is how you handle them that matters. I try to tell my skaters that this is the case in life as well as sport. It was one of the hardest things to learn for me and I believe of utmost importance.

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 Grant Hochstein

Competing this year at his 8th U.S. National Championships (having competed in the novice, junior and senior ranks), Grant Hochstein is not only an experienced athlete but a determined one. He was twice won the U.S. Collegiate Championships and placed 5th at the Junior World Championships in 2010, a remarkable feat indeed. He has also finished 5th at the Junior Grand Prix Final the same year and has competed internationally at events such as Skate Canada, Finlandia Trophy and the Ondrej Nepela Memorial in Slovakia. At 5'5", Hochstein is a small but mighty powerhouse of a skater with big triple jumps and a modest sensitivity for music. Coming into his own just in time for the Olympic season, Hochstein hopes to again crack the top 8 at the U.S. National Championships and we all, I'm sure, can't wait to see him do it! I had chance to interview Grant about his future goals, training environment, opinions on the judging of the sport and much more:

Q: Mastering the triple axel was something that really has given you an edge you can use to move up in the rankings. When did you first land this jump and how comfortable have you grown with it since then?

A: Triple axels have been on and off since the summer of 2009, which is when I landed my first one. However, moving to Peter (Oppegard) and Karen (Kwan) has really helped me to make it more consistent. I feel confident going into the jump and don't doubt my ability to do it anymore. They have given me a much more sound technique on the jump and expect me to do it all the time.

Q: You have a gorgeous line and musicality on the ice - you remind me a lot of Shawn Sawyer actually! Is the artistic side of skating something that has come naturally to you?

A: First of all, thank you for the compliments. I haven't always been known for being an artistic skater and I don't know I've ever actually gotten the recognition from the judges for my artistic side. However, the simplicity of skating is what I love so much. I enjoy just putting on random classical pieces and making up programs for fun. There is something special about putting emotion and your heart into your programs. That is something that I have always tried to do.

Q: How important is having a sense of humor in life?

A: It's really important to have a sense of humor, especially in skating. If you can't joke around and make fun of yourself, you will never truly enjoy life. We are all under so much pressure, that without that sense of humor, we will crack and our skating will suffer.

Q: You represent the Skating Club Of New York, a club which obviously has a lot of history behind it. How would you describe your coaching and training environment?

A: Well, it's an interesting situation for me, because I don't actually train at the skating club of New York, I train in Los Angeles. But when I was making the move away from Michigan, I tried to look objectively into which club would be the most beneficial to me. SCNY has been nothing short of amazing to me. I've never been part of an organization that is so supportive of it's athletes. Like you said, there is so much history with the club, that I was honored when they accepted my membership request. Training in LA with Peter and Karen has been great. Again, when I wanted to make a change away from home, I really needed to look at which coaches could offer me the most and which athletes I would be training with. I was so impressed with what Karen and Peter did with Caroline Zhang in the 2011/2012 season, that they were definitely among the front runners. When I went to try out, I was so impressed by the level of skating and the support everyone has for one another at East West. Karen and Peter offer me a great balance too. Karen is goofy and free spirited and Peter is much more serious and structured in his lessons. I think I need that in order to succeed. Karen also does my choreography and I think she is brilliant.

Q: How has the sport of skating changed for the better and/or worse since your first trip to U.S. Nationals as a novice in 2005?

A: Gosh, so much has happened since my first Nationals. It's hard to believe that I've been to nationals 8 times! The IJS is definitely a change. I'm more of a 6.0 fan, but it has definitely forced the skaters to broaden their horizons in the things they have to do in skating. I would, however, like to see a freestyle skater dominate again, like Michelle Kwan did. Nobody has, or will for that matter, do more for our sport than she has.

Q: Who are three famous people, dead or alive, you'd most like to meet/have met?

A: Of course, meeting and getting to know Michelle Kwan has been so amazing for me. It is because of her that I skate. She's such a brilliant and caring person and I think in this sport, we have all been blessed to have witnessed her skating. As a history major, my favorite historical figure has been Marie Antoinette. So much has been written about her, and so much that isn't true, that I would love to sit down and get to know what she was really like, and witness the amazing pressure she must have been under. Finally, I think any Christian alive would give anything to meet Jesus Christ and to learn from him. The amazing thing about our religion is that if we open our hearts and really listen, we can do just that. Each day we should learn from him and what he has taught us to strive and be better people. So, to meet him in the flesh would be the most amazing gift in life.

Q: What is your favourite song?

A: I have different songs, for different moods and situations. Of course, I'm a big Britney Spears fan. I also really like Maroon 5 and Kelly Clarkson. Before I compete, I always listen to "Lose Yourself" by Eminem.

Q: Who do you perceive as your biggest competition?

A: This is a good, and challenging question to answer. The U.S. has such a strong field of senior men, that you can't really pick just one person. I've grown up competing against Adam, Ricky, Armin, and everyone, so it's kind of cool to see everyone stick it out and keep going for it.

Q: What is your favourite program you've skated to to date and have you started working on programs for next season?

A: Hmm... I think my favorite program has to be my "Sleeping Beauty" short program from the 2009/2010 season. That was the program that I won the short and Junior Worlds with and skated it clean every time I competed except once. It's always been special to me. This season I'm really excited for my long. It's going to be awesome! Choreographed by Karen Kwan, too!

Q: Among the skaters you compete against, who are your favourite to watch?

A: I think of the people I compete against, I most admire Adam Rippon. He has a flow and a passion for skating that is really great. He's also a nice person. There are so many guys who forget that they are regular people and Adam doesn't. I admire that.

Q: What are your goals for the upcoming season and what kinds of things are you focusing on going into the upcoming season and skating towards the 2014 U.S. Nationals and Sochi?

A: Goals for the season... To land quad toe consistently, all year. To break back into the top 8 at nationals. To be proud of the effort I put out at competitions, and to finish the season with no regrets. We never know how long we have with the sport and I think we should be making the most of it, each and every day.

Q: Who are your favourite skaters of all time?

A: Of course, I most admire Michelle Kwan. Her 1998 Olympics long program is the reason I started skating. I always gush about her and the type of person she is, so I won't do too much of that here, but I am constantly in awe of the legacy she has left and is continuing to leave. I also think Matt Savoie and Alexei Yagudin were incredible. I think Tim Goebel didn't get the credit he deserved for all of the great things he did for skating. In training with Caroline Zhang on a daily basis, I have really grown to respect her as a person and an athlete. She is so talented and such a hard worker. I hope she makes the Olympic team!!

Q: How has figure skating changed your life? What do you love most about it?

A: Skating had been, probably the most influential thing in my life for the past 14 years. I definitely wouldn't be living in L.A., that's for sure. I wouldn't have been able to travel the world and do the things I've done without skating. I've learned so much about resilience and determination. It has taught me that nobody what anybody else thinks, if you believe in yourself, that is enough. I love training every day and then going to competition knowing you are ready. I love the feeling you get when you finish and know you couldn't have done anything more. I love being alone on the ice, right before your music starts. I don't know if I can even say why, but there is a special and magical feeling about that moment. Skating truly has been special for me.

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":

Power And Politics: Political Messages In Figure Skating Programs

Rudy Galindo performing at the 1998 Keri Lotion Classic

Betsy Cooper, Program Director of the Chamber Dance Company (CDC), eloquentally stated “as an ephemeral art form, people tend to let dance wash over them like a sunset, and don’t necessarily expect more of it than to be poetic, but dance is a medium that is as potent for social commentary as the spoken and written word.” And like dance, the expression and artistry of figure skating has allowed figure skaters in recent years the opportunity to make political statements and motions for change in the world through their performances. Let's take a look at 6.0 figure skaters who have used their craft to speak of the world's political climate and the injustices in it.


Perhaps the most politically charged figure skater out there, 2 time Olympic Gold Medallist and 4 time World Champion Katarina Witt used many of her extremely popular programs to bring to light issues in the world she was very passionate about. When she returned to competition during the 1993/1994 season, the free skate she performed at the 1994 German National Championships, European Championships and Olympic Games was set to a special arrangement of Pete Seeger's "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?", dedicated to the people of Sarajevo where she won her first Olympic gold medal in 1984. From 1992 to 1996, Sarajevo suffered the longest siege of a major city in the history of modern warfare. Between both sides of the conflict, 8,339 soldiers were killed or deemed missing and 11,541 civilians were killed, including over 1,500 children. Katarina's decision to publicly protest the destruction and horrors in Sarajevo on a grand scale at the Winter Olympic Games grew international attention in exactly how bad things were. Katarina went on to skate many other political programs in her career as a professional - the feminist "I Belong To Me", a haunting program in dedication to the victims of World War II to music from "Schindler's List", and "Sister's Keeper", a dedication to women suffering injustice worldwide, including the women of Bosnia among these dynamic and intense pieces.


At the 1990 World Figure Skating Championships in my hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay performed a free dance to music from "Panpipes Of The Andes" called "Missing". Choreographed by 1984 Olympic Gold Medallist and world reknowned choreographer Christopher Dean, this beautifully constructed program did not win the competition but won the hearts of skating fans worldwide, so much so that people still talk about this program to this day. They followed "Missing" with "Missing II" in 1991, winning the world championship ahead of rivals Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponamorenko. The title of both programs referred to the film "Missing", which focuses on the topic of forced disappearance during Chile's Pinochet regime, were thousands were 'disappeared' by the Pinochet security forces. The horrific atrocities that occured as a result of forced disappearances and the Caravan Of Death were largely publicized to the general public as a result of the Duchesnay's moving and artistically advanced program, which was full of depth and expression to the core. At the time, the Duchesnay's made a point of distributing to audience members and media at that World Championship free dance a pamphlet that fully explained the program and it's political story.


In winning the 2002 Olympic title, France's 2000 World Champions Marina Anisinna and Gwendal Peizerat used a dramatic and theatrical program that shared a message of peace and liberty. "Libertas", which included the spoken word of American clergyman, activist and African American Civil Rights movement leader Martin Luther King Jr. as part of their Olympic free dance. The passionate performance set to music overlaying King's iconic 1963 "I Have A Dream" speech radiated a message of peace and freedom on the grandest sporting stage the world has, and as a result their performance reached television audiences worldwide with this powerful and timely message, considering the program was skated at the height of the American "War On Terror".


Rudy Galindo not only made history with his huge upset at the 1996 U.S. National Championships with the skate of his life and perhaps everyone else's on top of it, but he also made a huge statement on December 12, 1998, when he became the first figure skater broadcast on a U.S. television network performing a specifically gay-themed program to Melissa Manchester's cover of "Over The Rainbow" at the Keri Lotion Figure Skating Classic pro-am competition. Dick Button matter of factly stated that the rainbow flag that Galindo was skating with was "the symbol of the gay and lesbian movement" and without the bravery and unapologetic skating and personality of Rudy Galindo, skating fans and TV audiences worldwide would never have been truly exposed to their first gay, "loud and proud" skater. Galindo's story has touched members of the figure skating community worldwide and inspired a new generation of skaters to realize that despite what family members, coaches, fellow skaters or judges think, there is nothing more important in this world than being and loving yourself.


As The Beatles were to Britain and the world's music scene, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean are the absolute same to Britain and the world's figure skating scene. Their programs were always full of depth and interesting stories, and a fine example of a politically motivated story was not only their "Missing" program that Dean later developed into Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay's famous "Missing" programs, but their 1990 program set to The Beatles' "Revolution No. 1" (as opposed to No. 9) and John Lennon's "Imagine" that won them the 1990 World Professional Figure Skating Championships. Of the program Sandra Bezic aptly commentated "we've seen the violence of revolution, now it's peace, unity and hope".


Always theatrical and never predictable, 1988 Olympic Gold Medallists Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin have always been known for their dramatic and story based programs. Their "Rasputin" program, in particular delivered the very political and fascinating story of Russian mystic Grigori Rasputin, whose influence over the Romanov family affected both the political scene of the time and the relationship of the Russian Orthodox Church and the state. The story of his rise to power and his dramatic murder is not only historical but very political nature and the bravery and depth to which Natalia and Andrei brought the story to life in this program was not only a huge undertaking but a huge message to convey. They certainly excelled.

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":

Professional Figure Skating Competitions: What You Didn't Know

"The stuff legends are made of" (literally), professional figure skating competitions not only brought figure skating to a wider audience, but gave figure skating room to develop and grow artistically. At the same time, participants had the opportunity to take their skating to a different level of growth and earn much deserved prize money. At the time, prize money was not offered (or offered in extremely minimal amounts) to ISU eligible competitions. As a result, for nearly a century we saw some of the best skating ever come out of professional competitions, as many of the events were invitational and hosted figure skating legends, including Brian Boitano, Dorothy Hamill, Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov, Kurt Browning and so many others. Today, let's take a look at some very interesting records of professional figure skating competition that you may not know about!


In 1931, the first "World Professional Competition" was established in Great Britain. Having organized a competition for male instructors of the sport earlier in the year, England's National Skating Association organized an open professional competition for men, ladies and pairs skaters, adding ice dancing at the 1939 event. These professional competitions continued through 1956. Mostly show skaters participated, and competitors at these events included Sonja Henie's coach, Howard Nicholson, Swiss brothers Jacques and Arnold Gerschwiler, 1936 Olympic Silver Medallist and 1937 World Champion Cecelia Colledge and 1953 World Pairs Champion Jennifer Nicks (who won the title with her brother John, who has coached many of skating's elite over the years including Peggy Fleming, Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner and Ashley Wagner). Also competing were Herbert Aylward, Marilyn Hoskins, PSA founder Gladys Hogg, Ronald Baker, Len Liggett and Pamela Murray, among countless others. In the 1960's, this competition moved to Spain, the forerunner to the highly successful Campeonatos del Mundo de Patinaje Artístico Professional Sobre Hielo (World Professional Figure Skating Championships), which was organized by the Imperial Professional Figure Skating Associaton and ran from the 1960's. Until last held in 1998, the Jaca world professional event was one of very few professional competitions historically that has offered ALL professional skaters an inclusive opportunity to participate.


In 1965, ABC's Wide World Of Sports made history by broadcasting "the first of it's kind", the 1965 World Professional Invitational Championships, held in Lake Placid, New York. With more than $5000 in prizes which certainly was a respectable sum at the time - on the line, professional competition was a new concept to North American audiences. In a pre-competition interview, 1962 World Champions Otto and Maria Jelinek of Canada, who were competing in the pairs event explained and demonstrated the difference between a lot of the 'legal' moves used in ISU competition and the 'illegal' moves used in professional skating. At the time, lifts could only go up and down with no carrying, and the Jelinek's demonstrated a banana lift and a leap of faith, which would become staples in professional figure skating competitions for years to come. In addition to the Jelineks, the competition featured 1960 Olympic Bronze Medallist and 1962 World Champion Donald Jackson, who won the men's competition with a program that featured 2 double axels, an array of other double jumps and a huge single axel with his legs tucked up to his knees. He outskated fellow Canadian Bill Neale, a former teammate of Jackson's who competed at the Canadian National Championships, North American Figure Skating Championships and World Figure Skating Championships as well. Although there was a noticeable lack in the choreography department, with almost no arm movement or real choreography between the elements, Neale skated cleanly as well, landing a double axel, double lutz, one and a half flip into double flip and performing an axel sit spin, good footwork and interesting spin variations. 1962 U.S. Men's Champion Pieter Kollen finished third in the men's event. Interestingly, Kollen, who skated in both men's and pairs skating (with partner Patti Gustafson) as an amateur, was part of the first team to perform a throw axel jump.


1984 World Pairs Champions Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini hold the distinction and honour of being the skater or team to win the most world professional pair titles. They won Dick Button's World Professional Figure Skating Championships a whopping 7 times and also won the 1984 World Professional Figure Skating Championships in Jaca, Spain following their 1984 world title, totalling 8 World Professional titles for this team. With great athleticism, musicality and connection on the ice, it's no surprise this team holds this honor. Their winning programs at these competitions reads like a history of their huge repertoire of legendary programs: "On My Own", "When A Man Loves A Woman", "Unchained Melody", "It Had To Be You" and "Yesterday" and many more audience favourites. Brian Boitano follows closely behind with the most men's titles at 6, followed by the most ice dance titles (at 5) with Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean. Among ladies skaters, 3 different ladies are essentially tied with winning the most World Professional titles. Dorothy Hamill, Kristi Yamaguchi and Yuka Sato have each won 4 titles apiece.


Broadcast on CBC in 1982, Labatt ProSkate was the first international professional figure skating competition held in Canada. A unique concept for a professional event in that the competition itself was a tour held in 4 different cities - Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton and Toronto, the competition was televised from the tour's last stop in Toronto. Featuring great skating including exhibitions from Dorothy Hamill, Peggy Fleming, John Curry and Jojo Starbuck, the competition part of the tour featured some of the era's top professional skaters. The ice dance competition at Labatt ProSkate was won by 1981 U.S. Bronze Medallists Kim Krohn and the late Barry Hagan, followed by 1975 Canadian Junior Champions Judie Jeffcott and Keith Swindlehurst and Shelley MacLeod and John Rait, the 1980 World Professional Ice Dance Champions. The pairs event was won by 2 time Canadian Champions Candy Jones and Don Fraser, who outskated Shelley Winters and Keith Davis and Janet and Mark Hominuke for the title. Among the ladies, 5 time U.S. Champion and fan favourite Janet Lynn won the competition, defeating Romania's Simone Grigorescu, Canada's Lynn Nightingale, Holland's Dianne De Leeuw, Canada's Heather Kemkaran and America's Kath Malmberg. The men's event was won by 1976 Olympic Bronze Medallist Toller Cranston, who placed ahead of 2nd place finisher David Santee, 3rd place finished Ron Shaver and others. The event was certainly a first for Canadian audiences and undoubtedly started a storybook romance between the CBC, professional figure skating and Canadian fans of the sport.


Eager to capitalize on the popularity of professional competitions with TV networks and audiences alike, the United States Figure Skating Association got in on the mix with a whole new type of event, a pro-am competition that pitted elite ISU eligible or "amateur" skaters with seasoned and popular professional skaters. The first of many USFSA sanctioned pro-am events to follow came on November 23 and 24, 1992 in Hershey, Pennsylvania when the 1992 Chrysler Concorde Pro-Am Challenge was held. Rules of pro-am competition dictated that in the technical program, professional skaters and amateur skaters alike had to perform required elements but allowed more freedom in the artistic program. This allowed both amateur and professional skaters to shine in at least one phase of the competition and challenged them likewise to focus on upping the ante technically and/or artistically in the other phase of the event. Only men's and ladies skaters competed in the initial pro-am event, with Nancy Kerrigan winning the ladies competition ahead of famed rival Tonya Harding, Caryn Kadavy and Rosalynn Sumners. The men's event was won by Paul Wylie, ahead of Mark Mitchell, Scott Hamilton and Todd Eldredge. The first pro-am competition to include non-American skaters was the 1995 Metropolitan Open (or "Best Of The Best") competition held on September 22, 1995 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Skaters from the U.S., China, Russia and the Czech Republic were all represented.

As you can see, there's a lot more history than meets the eye to professional figure skating and its competitions. Events like the World Professional Figure Skating Championships, Legends Of Figure Skating Competition and Challenge Of Champions put food on the tables on the skaters that competed for years as amateurs, many making difficult sacrifices to continue. Events like the Jaca World Professional competition, U.S. Open and Scott Williams' American Open Pro Skating Championships offered figure skaters who wouldn't normally necessarily be invited to other professional competitions a chance to shine and gain exposure. Many of the sport's best skating was done at these events by skaters that were not household names and had better than household name skating. It has bothered me for years when skating fans dismiss these events as "cheese fests" or "fluff". Without the boom of professional figure skating competitions in the 1990's and many of the great events that were televised as a result, we wouldn't have had the privilege to see some of the most artistic, original and compelling skating that the sport has seen. And today, with no one realizing or filling the void that these events have left in the sport, competitive figure skating is missing something huge that no awkward CoP step sequence, "level 4 spin" or triple/triple combination can fill. It's up to us as fans to let promoters and organizers of figure skating events and organizations like the Professional Skating Association (PSA) and Pro Skaters know we want professional figure skating competitions to make a Cher like comeback. And I totally flipped my invisible hair and went "HOAAAAA" when I typed Cher, because I'm that kind of homo. It would be rude not to.

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 Sean Rabbitt

Some of the most exciting skaters out there aren't necessarily the ones that have won every medal out there. Some of them are the skaters that entertain us every time we watch them! Always full of energy and charisma on the ice, Sean Rabbitt is a skater that will certainly factor into the mix next season at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston. Having first competed as a junior at the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, he went on to compete as a senior at the national level in 2011 and 2013. A previous finalist in YAS (Young Artists Showcase), Sean's choreographic skills and shining personality on the ice always make him a treat to watch. I had the chance to interview him about his skating career and his plans for the upcoming season!

Q: What is the most interesting experience you’ve had since you started skating?

A: The first question and it’s a hard one... I think over the years I have had many interesting experiences, but the first thing that comes to mind when you say interesting is my well known fall during my Michael Jackson short program at the 2011 U.S. Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. That whole trip, now that I really think about it, was an interesting experience within itself. Long story short, I had the flu, didn’t skate much, and went out and stayed on my feet (jump wise) but then got too ahead of myself and fell on nothing! And that isn’t the first time! Now that I think about that, I have done that a few times in competition. haha

Q: What skaters do you most admire and respect? Who are your favorite skaters to watch that you have competed against?

A: I really admire many different skaters for many different reasons, but to pick two, Robin Cousins and Daisuke Takahashi. They both have great technical execution as well as having the ability to capture an audience regardless how they “compete” that day, they have the all-around package that I admire in a skater. As for who my favorite skaters to watch that I have competed against are, I would have to say I really enjoy watching my training mates. The group of skaters that I skate with is a very tight group. We train together 5-6 days a week and spend a lot of time together away from the ice. So when we are competing, although we are competing against each other, it is a lot of fun to cheer each other on and have that comradery.

Q: Have you ever considered pairs skating or ice dancing?

A: Actually, not many know this but I have tested through my Novice Pair test! I competed in Juvenile pairs for 3 years at the US Junior National Championships (2002-2004), and then during my 3 years of competing in Junior Men, I decided to test up and try my hand at pairs and after a few tryouts decided to stick with my singles.

Q: What I totally love about your skating is your excellent interpretation of music and presentation. Do you think musicality and presentation are something that can only come naturally or can it be taught?

A: I am flattered by this question, and I feel that musicality and presentation are something that comes naturally to me, and for many who are artistic skaters - it comes naturally to them too. But I think for those who are not as skilled in it, they can be taught how to interpret the music and present out to the audience. I think it’s tough, but I believe anyone can be taught to do anything.

Q: You are fluent in both English and Japanese. How did you learn Japanese and has it opened up your world view more?

A: I learned Japanese by taking some college classes, and finished all 4 levels that they offered. From there I practiced with my brother who is also fluent in Japanese, and with his wife who is Japanese. I think it has taught me to be very open minded and respectful to other people and their cultures, not just Japan, whether it be food, ways of life, or even just ways of interaction with others.

Q: What is your favourite and least favourite skating element to perform?

A: Everyone says we perform all the elements so we have to like them all... LIES!!!! Haha! I overall enjoy performing all elements but my favorite elements are triple-triple combos, and spread eagles. My least favorite element I would have to say is the lutz. Although I feel I am good at them and execute them well, we have a love/hate relationship.

Q: Young Artists Showcase is a wonderful new project that has really encouraged skaters to develop their artistic skills and take risks. You are a former finalist! Describe your experience with YAS and why you think it is helping the sport.

A: I think the creation of YAS is a large stepping stone to the choreographic side of this sport. I enjoy choreography and choreographing and it gave me the chance to showcase what I can offer to this sport as a choreographer and not just a skater. Since my participation in YAS many new doors have opened for me as a choreographer and I feel really grateful for it!

Q: What are your goals for the upcoming 2013/2014 season? Have you started working on new programs as of yet and what choreographers will you be working with?

A: For the 2013/2014 season I would like to incorporate a triple axel as a part of my jump arsenal but would also like to really show a new maturity to my skating without changing the personality that people, such as you, really enjoy about my skating! My short program is completed and is to “Who Wants To Live Forever” by David Garrett,  choreographed by Justin Dillon. I really want to show that I am not just a fun skater, but can also show a modern lyrical side to my skating. For my free skate, I am working with Cindy Stuart, and we are in the middle of choreographing to “Sing Sing Sing, Part 2” from "Fosse". So far, what we have is a lot of fun.

Q: What are your long term goals in the sport?

A: My long term goal in this sport is to compete internationally for the U.S. as well as be a role model for the up and coming skaters of this sport. I also want skaters to realize that just because you don’t start out at the top doesn’t mean it’s not possible to get to the top and to stick with it and persevere.

Q: What’s your favourite book?

A: I have read a lot of books recently and most recently read a book called "Shanghai Girls" that my grandpa recommended, and it’s about two young women who grew up in pre-communist China, in a very wealthy family, and lost it all in the communist takeover. Another book that I am reading now is called "Wheat Belly", which discusses how wheat has been used as a filler in many foods and is the cause of much of the rising obesity rate in the US.

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

A: I think due to social media, I am an overall open book, but I think many don’t know that I am an awesome cook.

Q: What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given when it comes to figure skating ?

A: The best advice I have ever been given is to be in the moment and breathe. Don’t focus on things you can’t control. You can only control what you are doing in that moment. Breathing.. it’s just important!

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 Michael Kuluva

If fabulous is your thing, then you'd just love Michael Kuluva. From 1989 to 2001, Kuluva competed at the national and international level as a figure skater. Turning professional, he toured as a principal skater with both Holiday and On Ice and Disney On Ice. He has skated on Good Morning America, The Today Show and Live With Regis And Kelly. Retiring from skating in 2009, he studied fashion and started his own fashion label, Tumbler And Tipsy, and has since exhibited his work at Los Angeles Fashion Week, New York Fashion Week, in print and on television. Cute as a button, his creative and fashion forward work has been praised by celebrities and skaters worldwide - from Lil Kim, Lance Bass, Cazwell, and RuPaul's Drag Race contestant Shangela to figure skating icons Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski, Sarah Hughes and Sasha Cohen. Whether on the ice or the runway, Kuluva is a larger than life personality you just can't help but smile watching! I had the pleasure of interviewing him and asking his thoughts on figure skating, fashion and the connection between both worlds:

Q: What was your absolute favourite moment during your skating career?

A: There are so many amazing moments from skating to sold out arenas around the world with thousands of people watching to training an amateur with my coach Frank Carroll alongside fellow skaters Michelle Kwan and Timothy Goebel.

Q: In touring as a principal with Holiday On Ice and Disney On Ice, what were the main differences between both shows?

A: Yes, there is a huge difference between both shows. Disney On Ice is an amazing production however you do not portray yourself, you are going to portray a Disney character which can be difficult. Thankfully enough, Disney came out with a character that fit me like a glove, Dash Parr from the movie "The Incredibles". Holiday On Ice with Robin Cousins, gave me the opportunity to really skate as myself not as a character with specific lines. I was able to grow as a skater by making my skating more mature plus I was able to try new artistic creations with that production company.

Q: Did you enjoy performing professionally more or less than competing as an ISU eligible skater?

A: I LOVED performing as a professional skater more than competing at the higher levels in amateur skating because I was able to have fun. I was able to skate for fun not worrying about the judges thought or if "I didn't land this jump tonight my career is over". I would be more at ease being a professional, getting paid to skate, traveling the world plus getting to live a life people dream of.

Q: Your fashion label, Tumbler And Tipsy, has been incredibly successful. How did you transition from skating into the fashion world?

A: While I was with Holiday On Ice in Paris, France, I was able to go Paris Fashion Week with a friend. I met Roberto Cavalli and spoke with him for a few short minutes and he gave me the fashion bug. I wasn't sure exactly at first what I wanted to be in the industry however I knew fashion was something I wanted to pursue. Once I returned home from my European tour with Holiday On Ice, I then applied and got accepted into the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) where I pursued an intern at a luxury fashion label while starting Tumbler and Tipsy.

Q: Who do you think are the most fashionable skaters in the skating world today?

A: Skaters are super fashionable and I love that! They love the glitzy glam look that is almost an "old Hollywood feel", however I would have to say currently my top 10 most fashionable skaters are... 1) Johnny Weir 2) Sasha Cohen 3) Tara Lipinski 4) Adam Rippon 5) Mirai Nagasu 6) Sarah Hughes 7) Kristi Yamaguchi 8) Brian Boitano 9) Dorothy Hamill 10) Tai Babilonia.

Q: What are your thoughts on the current state of the figure skating world and who are your favourite skaters to watch compete today?

A: The current skating today has changed a lot since I was competing however I hope we can build the sport up once again with new amazing talent like Adam Rippon, Mirai Nagasu, Ashley Wagner and Max Aaron.

Q: What is one place in the world you'd most like to visit someday and haven't as of yet?

A: I would love to go visit my family and friends down under in Australia! Then I think I'll hit up New Zealand and Fiji while I am around that area.

Q: If you had to be stranded on a desert island with 3 celebrities, who would they be and why?

A: I think I would love to have someone definitely funny on the island with me to entertain me like Kathy Griffin, a person who has survived on an island before - Bradley Cooper - and then my Olympic boyfriend Russ Witherby.

Q: How can the fashion world learn from figure skating and vice versa?

A: Figure skating and fashion go hand in hand actually. Most skaters work with designers for their costumes whether you are an amateur skater or professional. We are all creative in this sport and in fashion so when both come together, its easy to process. We are very visual people.

Q: What is your personal mantra?

A: Love the life you live - live the life you love.

Check out Michael's website for Tumbler And Tipsy at

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":