Interview With Elaine Hooper

One of the things I've always been fascinated with - in case you can't tell - is the history of figure skating. I believe that without learning about where you come from, you really have no clue where you're going. Many figure skating fans have really come to the sport after the 6.0 system and are largely or only familiar with the IJS/CoP system that's in place now. They know who Patrick Chan is, they know who Mao Asada and Yu Na Kim are, but they aren't as familiar with - or are maybe just detached from - the past and "the way things were". And there's nothing wrong with that. There is, however, incredible value in learning and incorporating the stories of skaters and competitions past into the way we view, coach, judge and enjoy the direction is going in now. I was thrilled when British skating historian Elaine Hooper took the time to speak with me  from her busy month, which has her not only researching but working on the British Solo Ice Dance Championships taking place in Sheffield and organizing the annual National Team Skating Challenge (NTC) the following week. I hope you'll enjoy her unique, educated and fascinating perspective on skating as much as I did:

Q: When and how did you first become involved with the sport and when did you fall in love with it?

A: When I was a small child, as a birthday treat, my parents took me to see “Puss in Boots” on Ice at the Gaumont Theatre in Southampton England. I still have the program. The skaters fascinated me and I decided there and then that I had to skate. I pestered my mother about it so much that a few days later she took me to the now demolished Southampton Ice Rink. I was very much a recreational skater and did not compete. I have always enjoyed skating but I really fell in love with it when watching John Curry perform, in the 1970’s . Before I had just been a fan. After I could not get enough of skating and began to follow the progress of particular skaters.

Q: Who are the three most compelling and interesting figure skaters of all time in your opinion?

A: I had always been in awe of the artistry of the late John Curry. He introduced a new dimension to men’s figure skating that previously had mostly been based on athleticism. He was wonderful to watch. For almost the opposite reason I would have include Midori Ito. Her triple-triple combinations and consecutive triple jumps were compelling and unseen in ladies competition before . She was very athletic and was often criticised for being a jumping machine but she really could skate. Her recent 2nd place in the Oberstdorf Adults Masters Class after such a long break from competing should inspire both current skaters and those retired from the sport that they can compete after an “amateur” career. It also endorses the case for a resurrection of professional competitions. My personal favourite, though, is Irina Slutskaya. Always with a smile on her face. She still holds the record for the most gold medals in the European Ladies Championship. Her interpretation of her music was spot on whilst still maintaining her technical skill. Her personality would shine through in her performance. I think that were Championships where she was under marked but at the time there were a number of other very talented ladies. And each one had to “up their game” to have a chance of winning.

Q: What can researching and studying the careers and stories of the sport and its skaters teach a new generation of skaters, coaches, judges and skating fans?

A: There are quite short memories amongst the skating fraternity. A few names will always be remembered and their stories pass into skating legend, but for most, when their involvement with skating is over their achievements quickly fade from public memory. Milestones that signal the change and the drive to move forward in our sport have been the result of someone or a group of people who have not been afraid to make unpopular but realistic decisions, sometimes earning censure from their own federations. I think it particularly important that the sport continues to evolve and move forward but that does not mean we cannot utilize the same skills and commitment to fulfil this as past generations did. They were striving for the same result and where they succeeded the next generation could do worse than be inspired by their dedication and commitment. The late Pamela Davis MBE persuaded me to become more involved with skating than being just a fan and a skating mum. I respected and admired her. Her judging career spanned 4 decades and she went from competing in the Worlds in 1949 to judging the Worlds by 1951. So much could be learned by anyone involved in the sport by taking a look at what she achieved and the many stories surrounding her. Also - look at the career of Joyce Hisey. I had the pleasure of working with her at the 1995 World Championships and 2001 Junior Grand Prix Final. I had not met anyone who knew so much about figure skating. I am sure she has many stories to tell that may inspire a new generation.

Q: Figure skating has enjoyed renewed success in Britain with events like Dancing On Ice and the tours that have resulted from the show. Do you think the fact that the upcoming season will be the final is really going to hurt skating's exposure in Britain?

A: There was a time when the major television channels broadcast ice skating in the UK. Sadly that has not been the case for many years. Major Championships are available on a sports channel for which we need to subscribe and also on the BBC on what we call the red button”. Only die hard fans would watch these or even know they exist for skating so the general public had not been exposed to skating for some time when “Dancing on Ice” hit our screens. There is evidence to suggest that the footfall in our rinks has increased by 40% since the first series and I have spoken to people in the rinks who tell that they only started skating because they saw it thought “I could do that” after watching the series. I do not think that interest will wain right away. I believe the rinks can ride the wave of the popularity of “Dancing on Ice” for a few years but after that, unless we produce another Robin Cousins or Torvill and Dean I think it will have an effect.

Q: I think it's incredible that Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean are not only still performing but are so relevant to a new generation of skating fans who weren't familiar with "Bolero", their amateur careers or even their 1994 comeback. What do you think is the secret to their longevity and continued success?

A: I think their secret is that they are truly amazing people. Very focused. By the time they “retired “ from skating together in 1998 they had been skating partners for over 20 years and in that time had developed a cohesion with each other and a charisma that exudes itself both on and off the ice. You cannot unlearn that and so it was no surprise that they have performed so well together from series 1 of “Dancing on Ice. “ The general public as well as the skating fans still want to watch them. There is nothing easy, simple and safe about the routines they now perform. They are so committed that they still that they still go for harder degrees of difficulty.

Q: Who are your favourite skaters competing today and who do you think (of today's skaters) will be remembered for years to come?

Now there’s a question. I have quite a few favourites. I really like Carolina Kostner. She is so friendly, polite and likable as well as a great skater. I am also a fan of Brian Joubert. At his best he was a joy to watch. Although he has suffered many injuries and inconsistent skating in recent years he is a real crowd pleaser. He has said that he will retire after Sochi. I will miss his contribution. I love to watch Davis and White and Virtue and Moir. Ice Dance has changed so much over the years and these couples exhibit what is good about it. It is difficult to quantify what makes a skaters name remembered but Evgeni Plushenko is a likely candidate for both the right and the wrong reasons. I watched his 2012 European Championship performance from a position very close to the barrier and observed that his footwork and other skating skills were still in evidence after the beak he took from competitive skating. Does the fact that the Winter Olympics are in Sochi have something to do with his desire to continue competing? Patrick Chan will surely be remembered. His ability is top notch, a great skater but I am sure the controversy surrounding his 2013 World Championship Gold will be discussed for years to come, not least as evidence in looking at ways to improve the IJS system.

Q: What is the secret to doing effective research and what advice would you give to someone interested in studying and writing or "vlogging" about skating's history?

A: As you know research takes a long time and it is important not rely on versions and interpretations of events that are not contemporary. Note any references used and try to access them yourself. You may interpret what you find differently. The internet is a very useful tool but unless you know where the material originated remember that it is not always entirely accurate so use as many different types of source material as possible. Collate as much information as possible. Organise it into a timeline and only use what is relevant to the task in hand. Then try to verify it. NEVER dispose of the material you have rejected. It may come in useful at a later date. Make the style of writing as interesting as possible. Just producing the facts is not entertaining so focus on one or two aspects. If the piece is too long you will lose the attention of the reader. If there is more to say keep it for another article or blog. Speak to older and retired skaters, judges, coaches and national federation officials whenever you get the chance. It is amazing what they remember and who they knew and skated with. Carry a note book or recording device and note everything they tell you. These can be some of your best primary sources even if it is years before you can use it. Do not underestimate the value of the World Figure Skating Museum in Colorado Springs. They have vast collections of skating historical material. I have a personal collection of magazines, programmes, photographs and books dating back to about 1900. I use these, as well as using external research . There are big gaps though and I am always on the lookout for additions to plug the gaps. Also, the British Library in London holds everything published in the UK and quite a lot from abroad. This includes books, newspapers, magazines, recordings etc. It has proved to be an invaluable research destination 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":

The World Professional Figure Skating Championships In Jaca, Spain

Photo courtesy "Ice & Roller Skate" magazine

In northeastern Spain, near the French border in the midst of the Pyrenees lies a town with ancient roots. Jaca, Spain was the fortified city out of which Aragon was developed. It was Aragon's capital until 1097 and its territory traces back to wars in the first century BC between Sertorious and Pompey. To this day, medieval walls and towers surround an eleventh century Romanesque cathedral in the town and the city's 16th century citadel remains a popular tourist attraction. The history and mystery of this beautiful area provided a backdrop for an event that changed the historical path of professional figure skating.

The Campeonatos del Mundo de Patinaje Artístico Professional Sobre Hielo, or World Professional Figure Skating Championships was an open professional figure skating competition held sixteen times between 1974 and 1998 and featured skaters from over thirty countries in that time. Competitors over the years in this prestigious competition which was broadcast widely in Europe have included Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini, Denise Biellmann, Liz Manley, Gary Beacom, Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding, Scott Williams, Paul McGrath, Lorna Brown, Doug Mattis, Petr Barna, Jozef Sabovcik, Charlene von Saher, Sandra and Val Bezic, Robert Wagenhoffer, Lori Nichol, Karen Preston, Brian Pockar, Calla Urbanski and Rocky Marval, Lisa-Marie Allen, Charlene Wong, Alexandr Fadeev and Sandra Garde.

The event was subsidized in part by the town of Jaca to aid tourism, with the remainder of the funds raised by the sale of television rights. The Summer 1980 edition of "Canadian Skater" magazine noted, "Three contestants in each category are invited, though expenses are only paid for the first two accepted. There is no national standing at stake, but a purse of 150,000 pesetas ($2,000) is first prize; the prizes are proportionately less foir second and third place. The contestants are chosen by the professional skating organization of their country, and the names then submitted to the World Professional Organization for acceptance... The judges are also chosen by their own national organization." In 1979, the entire four-day competition was aired on Spanish television... right down to the practice sessions. The judging panel consisted of six judges, each assigned one aspect of the skater or team's performance to evaluate (jumps, spins, originality of composition, etc.). The marks of the 'seventh judge' were the averages of marks by ten random audience members, who judged on Public Impression.

The first year the World Professional Figure Skating Championships was held in Jaca, Spain was 1974 and it was my absolute pleasure to speak with Lorna Brown, the first women's champion ever at this event. Now I'm going to tell you something - what an absolute pleasure it was to speak with this amazing person. She first pointed out something I didn't know. Jaca is actually pronounced 'Haca'. Who knew? She explained that the Jaca event developed from an earlier event held in Wembley, England and that in 1971, Australia's Reg Park and a man named Francesco Marquez worked to organize the event in Spain annually and got the city's mayor involved and arranged volunteers and a rink to hold the event. Another big name in the organization of this event was Mari Carmen.

Lorna Brown bested five other skaters to win the first title, and also had the experience of judging the competition ten years later. She explained that she had to qualify within her own country to be eligible to participate. That year, skaters were not required to skate two programs. Lorna performed one program, set to "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" which was beautifully edited and ended with the words 'transcend', 'purify' and 'glorious'. She described the program as "a feeling of entering into another dimension". After winning the competition, there was some drama as second place finisher Jennie Walsh of the U.S. refused to put her skates on when announced as finishing in second. "It kind of spoiled my experience of winning. She held up the presentation. A very, very bad sport. She was so sure she would win and was terrible to me because I beat her. Nothing much was made about it and we got over it. She eventually appeared with her shoes on and refused to stand on the rostrum on number two." Shades of Surya Bonaly at the 1994 World Championships.

Lorna (like myself) is a firm believer that events such as these are important and can totally happen again. "The PSA is so brainwashed by the ISU system that it's really hard to get them to support it. If they aren't running it, it's really hard to get them to be supportive. It's all politics - political power," she acknowledged. "All you need is one rink." She made a really good point I agree with completely. She pointed out that with things like YAS (Young Artists Showcase) which are done online primarily with the exception of the final, a lot of the leg work in organizing an event like this can be done ahead of time. You can accept applications online, do biographies of the skaters online and have the skating at a live event in a rink donated for a week, for instance. "We would want people like Stephane Lambiel, Daisuke Takahashi - but they don't have to be champions," she said. She also explained that skaters participating in a revival of an event like this would have to be true professionals and not be competing in ISU events. In other words, this would not be a pro-am. She made another great point that "there are so many more skaters than there ever was. A lot won't do it unless they get paid a fortune. It should be more honor than money, to get it started at least". She explained that when she competed and won in 1974, she paid her own flight and that for something like reviving an open professional competition to work, at first the right thing to do would be to ask skaters to maybe pay their hotel expenses or get a rink donated for a week. It would have to start small. We talked more about the skaters that an event like this would need to attract. Names we both threw out there (in addition to Lambiel and Takahashi) including Jeffrey Buttle, Jeremy Abbott, Emanuel Sandhu, Joannie Rochette, Shawn Sawyer, Misha Ge, Nicole Bobek and Shae-Lynn Bourne. Lorna pointed out that professional competition shouldn't be about who lands a quad and that someone like Shae-Lynn Bourne "can skate an AMAZING program without a jump at all!" For the very first champion of this event to say how much she'd like to see something like this resurface and help the sport grow speaks volumes about the open mind that people need to have about the way the sport is developing artistically and that reviving professional competition is only a pipe dream if people accept it as one. "Anything you can imagine, you can make a reality," said Lorna Brown, a beautiful skater who toured the world with one of the most artistic skaters of all time, the legendary John Curry.

Simone Grigorescu-Alexander. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Ten years later in 1984, Romania's Simone Grigorescu-Alexander bested thirteen other skaters from seven other countries to win the World Professional Championships in Jaca, Spain. The year previous she unfortunately had to withdraw and before that, in her visit in 1982, she finished second out of twenty competitors. Her fourth and final visit came during the last year the competition was held when it was revived for a final time in 1998 following the Nagano Olympics. "The last time I participated was years later and it was only for the joy of participation and not so much for the sake of the competition," explained Simone. "Jaca was a very special place and the championship was like no other I have ever taken place in. Very unique experience, very unique people and a wonderful feeling of collaboration and sharing rather than the elitist feeling lots of other pro championships have had. I miss it dearly and Pablo, its creator and driving force (he passed away much too early, years ago)." She elaborated on the feeling of comradery amongst the skaters participating. "In Jaca, though you were competing against one another, it felt like a team where everyone is pulling for everyone to skater their best performance and win the hearts of the judges and the crowd! Very special indeed!"

Simone Grigorescu-Alexander offered some insight into the way the Jaca event was judged. "We had to skate a short and a long program. I think the short did have some requirements that were modeled after the competitive system of those times, like: one solo jump, one two jump combination, one Axel type jump, solo spin, combination spin and footwork sequence...perhaps three spins. Too long ago to remember. Rules, but very loose ones. The long program was whatever you wanted it to be! As far as I can remember, we were judged on various elements such as jumps and spins, choreography, musicality, interpretation, footwork and such. I do not remember how many exactly. Robin Cousins was a judge one year and may remember. Then, the last mark consisted of a group of 10 local people who were not knowledgeable about skating and their vote made up the popular vote. If you were able to entertain the locals, you could get a perfect 10 even if you performed no jumps or spins. The great thing about Jaca is that entertainment was the name of the game. We had no requirements that boxed the performer into a rigid and strict format. We had total freedom to create whatever we as artists felt would entertain the crowd. Yes, if you wanted to get decent marks in jumps and spins and in footwork and such you needed to show those elements but you knew that those were only a couple of marks... I have seen beautiful and engaging performances without any jumps and I have seen performances that had me roaring with laughter! These did not perhaps win but the prize money was minimal, thus you went to Jaca for the experience and perhaps to get a title... Mostly for the experience and as a creative outlet. Most performances that won combined all aspects of skating entertainment to win the judges and the public: jumps, spins, footwork, great musicality and musical interpretation of the piece, great choreography and were able to create a character that the public would enjoy! So much fun! I still have video from my last competition, of the men's event as I was already done. I am amazed at the quality of entertainment even to this day!"

When asked what figure skating is missing by not having open professional competitions like the U.S. Open and Jaca World Pro available to skaters of the current generation, the answers were resounding. Author and CBC Sports commentator P.J. Kwong explained, "Yhe thing that I always liked about the old pro-ams and even just the pro competitions is that it gives us a way to see our favourite skaters perform in a way that isn’t simply show skating. I think that bringing a legitimate pro competition to life would give skaters the chance to train with a goal in mind without having to commit for additional seasons. Good for the skaters who want to do it and great for the fans (like us) who would love one more chance to see them compete.” Debi Gold said "There are a lot of chorus and understudy skaters in Disney On Ice and Holiday On Ice that would love to do competitions like this. It would only help lift them to higher ranks in their touring companies. They have only their amateur laurels to rest on. Touring companies could send scouts to check out the competitions for new talent! Plus, having application only (rather than invitation only) pro competitions gives other pro skaters (not just high level pros) a chance to compete again - especially when they are medium-size fishes in small ponds like I was." Anita Hartshorn, who with partner Frank Sweiding won the pairs title at the 1988 U.S. Open and 1990 Jaca event, said "in my opinion, the lack of pro competitions has really hurt the popularity of our sport. Most of the skaters who are ready to leave the 'eligible ranks' but still would like to compete have nowhere to go. All professional skaters have less possibilities to expand their untapped potential of theatrically slanted competitive programs. Now that the ISU has approved the pro-am Japan Open, there is at least one competition for the audience to see their favorite skaters like Kurt Browning and Surya Bonaly compete. It doesn't matter how many shows you do, the feeling of doing a competition is different and everyone prepares harder for an event where you get judged." Former Jaca and U.S. Open competitor Craig Heath said, "I think there is a huge void. I was so fortunate to be able to participate. I have some of the best memories of my life from these competitions. I feel sad that the current skaters are not able to have that experience." Former Jaca competitor and U.S. Open Challenge Cup champion Doug Mattis said of professional competitions, "Absolutely there should be more pro skating competitions! I would love to see more that are specifically focused on artistic achievement... as well as some that would be specifically about jumps — like a skating version of golf’s "skins game." You land that triple axel the most times? You get the money. I think that kind of format would be fun—back-to-back with an artistic event."... And the message continued to come through loud and clear from every skater I've asked this question of. The figure skating world is ready for professional figure skating competitions to make a comeback and you're crazy if people think otherwise.

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":

Marina Anissina's Comeback: Fact Or Fiction?

Who doesn't love a good comeback story? Previously in my blog article Come Back, Come Back, Whoever You Are, I looked at 6.0 of  the most significant comebacks in the sport's history and after reading today of a very interesting comeback story today I felt a need to share my 2 cents. In an interview on the Russia 2 program "Great Sport", 2002 Olympic Gold Medallist Marina Anisinna appeared with her husband Nikita Djigurda to discuss a possible return to ISU competition in time for the Sochi Olympics.

Social media and online figure skating message boards have been abuzz today with this story, decrying the former Olympic and World Champion for her potential decision and calling the announcement out as a political manoeuvre and publicity stunt. One skating fan on the popular message board Figure Skating Universe joked that "the Russian federation might as well ask Pasha back, I bet she could still outskate most of these girls." According to translations of the interview, FFSG president Didier Gailhaguet asked Anisinna and her partner Gwendal Peizerat to return to competition following Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat's disappointing (and in my opinion, messed up) 6th place finish at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ontario. According to Anisinna's husband, Gailhaguet apparently stated that he and the team will negotiate regarding a contract, financial considerations and a final decision season. Anisinna, who has never competed under the new IJS/CoP system stated that she's unafraid of the new system but as she's a mother of 2, it would be a big change. Strangely, there doesn't even seem to be any mention as to whether or not Gwendal Peizerat has even agreed to or commented on this potential comeback. He is currently involved in politics in France's Rhône-Alpes region.

As for a comeback, it's not really as ridiculous as people are making it out to be in my opinion but after over ten years away from ISU competition, it would certainly be a stretch. The only skater that comes immediately to mind who have made comebacks after that long away from high level competition are Elaine Zayak, who returned to competition in 1994 after retiring from eligible competition in 1984. Skaters have certainly comeback after shorter periods away from the sport with varying success. And you have to look at someone like Evgeni Plushenko, who also competed in Salt Lake City and plans to be in Sochi as well but is recovering from injury and surgery and isn't to my knowledge even jumping again yet. If he's at that stage, if this comeback is for real, Marina and Gwendal would need to get cracking pretty damn soon. Learning two new programs that are constructed in a completely different way and would involve some pretty complex footwork would be HUGE and if they were to start soon and do this, they'd pretty much have to neglect everything until the Olympic Games to get their twizzles and choctaws in order.

Former competitors of the French skating diva didn't really have anything nice to say. Nikolai Morozov, who choreographed for Anisinna and Peizerat's long time rivals Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio, said "the statement is shocking. I don't even know how to comment that. However, I am certain this comeback is impossible." 1993 World Champion and prominent coach and choreographer Alexander Zhulin said: "Guess I should come back as well then. I'll start practicing immediately. On a more serious note it's a nonsense and as much as I like Marina I'm quite sure she will not come back. Hypothetically? I can't even imagine where she would be placed. Very low! The comeback is a bad idea, we should remember Marina as she was." Ilya Averbukh, who narrowly lost out an Olympic gold medal with partner Irina Lobatcheva in 2002 in a 5-4 split to Anisinna and Peizerat commented "I can only call it an idiotic PR that someone not too smart came up with. It's a joke and it's a shame Marina Anisinna allows her name to be trashed going so low, anyone in their right mind will tell such a comeback is impossible."

Although I certainly wouldn't be so harsh and would personally love to see them return, I don't want to see it be at the expense of Pechalat and Bourzat - who I really enjoy. They're a talented team who have been putting together some good material for next season, including a free dance inspired by "Le Petit Prince" choreographed by Julien Cottereau. Didier Gailhaguet and the FFSG have been rich in controversy and political head games for years, long before the 2002 Salt Lake City judging scandal and since as well. His notorious treatment of certain skaters who were either not in his or the international judges favour is certainly well rumoured and I sincerely hope that this isn't a publicity stunt. It's only going to make him look even sillier than he already does. Unfortunately, it's going to make Marina (and Gwendal, by association) look just as silly.

The U.S. Open Professional Figure Skating Championships

In 1981, a new event debuted at the University Of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania called the U.S. Open Professional Figure Skating Championships. It was sponsored and produced by the PSGA (Professional Skaters Guild Of America) and chaired by David Lowery during it's first year. Featuring reigning World Professional Champion Scott Cramer, Olympians Stacey Smith and John Summers and Sheryl Franks and Michael Botticelli, the top three finishers were eligible to represent the U.S. at the World Professional Championships in Jaca, Spain that year if they chose. Former PSA (Professional Skaters Association) executive director and author Carole Shulman explained the "U.S. Open began as a result of the World Professional Championships being held annually in Jaca, Spain. For a couple of years skaters were hand picked but we decided a better process was to hold a competition and have the winners represent the U.S. It was enthusiastically received so in 1981 was held and quickly grew in stature."

This event developed into an annual event and was led by whomever was the current PSGA president. "It started very small as there was minimal prize money and a lot of expense for the skaters," explained Shulman. The U.S. Open consisted of a Challenge Cup and Masters Cup round of competition. Carole Shulman explained "the Challenge Cup was always a part of the U.S. Open. We had events for men, ladies, pairs and dance. It was open to any interested professional skater. The top 3 or 4 in each category would advance to the Master Cup and compete against titled international skaters in each respective category." Similar to one of the qualifying round formats used by the ISU, skaters who had been invited based on their merits, fame and/or resume pre-qualified for the Masters Cup round. In ISU competition, these skaters would have been seeded based on results the previous year as opposed to invited, but you get the idea. Top skaters from the Challenge Cup round moved on to the Masters Cup round (criteria varied from winning the Challenge Cup, placing in the top 3-5 and achieving a certain score from year to year). The judging was at times different than many other professional events out there in that judges were assigned a specific aspect to evaluate. A judge each was assigned to spins, jumps, moves, choreography, musicality and artistry, and 10 audience members worked together to represent a seventh 'public opinion' judge mark. Judges were invited by the PSGA. Some well known coaches who judged were Don Laws, Sandy Lamb, Ron Ludington, Kerry Leitch, Red Bainbridge, Barbara Roles Williams, Kathy Casey, Pieter Kollen, Walter Muehlbronner and Tom McGinnis. Skaters were scored out of 10.0. "Before 1984 I was a judge," explained Shulman. "When I became the executive director, it became my job to produce the event, find prize money, promote and grow the event... and try to get television coverage!"

The U.S. Open was first shown on ESPN in 1988 and continued to be picked up by major television networks until the 1994/1995 season on CBS, USA, and TBS. The 1988 event in Daytona Beach, Florida was hosted by skating legend Jojo Starbuck and was an open competition for any performing or teaching professional skater. Each winning skater or team won $5,000, with second prize being $3,000 and third place being worth $1,000 in 1988. Competitors over the years at this event included Dorothy Hamill, Liz Manley, Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini, Scott Hamilton, Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin, Kitty and Peter Carruthers, Rosalynn Sumners, Jozef Sabovcik, Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding, Natalia Mishkutenok and Artur Dmitriev, Paul Wylie, Brian Orser, Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, Caryn Kadavy, Maya Usova and Alexander Zhulin, Susanna Rahkhamo and Petri Kokko, Rudy Galindo and hundreds of other fabulous, fabulous skaters. Speaking of fabulous, Doug Mattis said of this event, "I did U.S. Open three times and loved each experience." Carole Shulman said that there were certainly some standout performances over the years: "Absolutely. In the Challenge Cup, it was the performance of Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding that really launched their professional career and they went on to win the Master Cup. In the Master Cup the performance of Dorothy Hamill in Seattle really stands out."

Funding and televising an event like this was no easy task. Funding in early years came exclusively from the PSGA and later the PSA, but "we did in later years work with various management companies that provided guaranteed income for the event," explained carole Shulman. In 1995, things started to change. The U.S. Open did not have a television contract for 1996 but with their partner, Sports Marketing Marque Group, the 1997 U.S. Open competition was broadcast on UPN in 1997 and NBC in 1998. There was no 1999 U.S. Open, as the Marque Group paid the PSA $100,000 and walked away, being bought by SFX for $100 million. Sadly, Dick Button sold Candid Productions to SFX as well. Candid Productions, Button's brand was responsible for events like the Landover World Professional Figure Skating Championships, Challenge Of Champions, Canadian Professional Figure Skating Championships and U.S. Professional Figure Skating Championships. SFX sold to Clear Channel, who did nothing with the brand. Clear Channel paid $3 billion to SFX skating and took on $1.1 billion in SFX debt. Things went downhill fast behind the scenes for professional skating. Since then, a U.S. Open competition has very sadly not been held.

In 1980, Debi Gold started skating at the age of 9, late by competitive standards at the time. Her competitive background as an amateur was in showcase competitions, where she had moderate results. Her goal after finishing high school was to audition for the Ice Capades. Her parents insisted, however, that she go to college instead. "After I finished college at age 21, I could no longer compete with the 12-13 year olds in my category (novice), and had to be 25 to be an 'adult skater', so I turned pro, joined the Professional Skater's Association and began coaching," Debi explained. "I still enjoyed competing, and the local showcase competitions (Crystalline Classic in Santa Rosa, CA; Silver Skate Showcase in Stockton, CA; and Sacramento competitions at Iceland Ice Arena) began offering "Young Professional" categories in their competitions because there were several of us who were all of an age that wanted to play." Gold attended several PSA events as a demonstrator for her coach Jayne Throckmorton, as well as bringing skaters of her own. Someone from the PSA's local board of directors mentioned the U.S. Open as something she should consider, as it would beef up her skating resume. "I wasn't highly tested as a skater (the last test I passed was Intermediate Free in 1989, 2nd Figure around the same time), and I couldn't boast any high-level students at the time. I looked up the information and it looked like fun," explained Debi. Having never competed in anything larger than a local showcase competition, Gold had no concept of how large scale and fiercely competitive the event would be. "I had it in my head that it would be slightly bigger than I was used to, with all the girls hanging out in the dressing room chatting, sharing each other's eyeshadows, and cheering each other on. FOR REAL, that was my thought process. The naivete of a 22 year old". As Gold was young, newly married at the time and VERY poor (her words, not mine), she had to make a difficult choice of bringing either her husband or coach to the 1994 U.S. Open event, her first professional competition. Sophie's Choice resulted in her bringing her husband.

Of the practice sessions, she recalled: "My jumps were better than they were as an amateur. I finally was landing a double salchow and double loop pretty consistently, but that week in Worchester, I fell apart and was crashing on everything on the practice ice sessions. My poor husband could only watch, video it, and play it back for me to analyze; but he was no help on fixing anything. Doug Mattis and Paul Wylie were in the arena during one of my disastrous sessions, and Paul called me over at one point and told me, 'Honey, you're dropping your whole left side in your jumps.' Thank goodness I had some help! I ended up pulling the doubles out of the program at the very last minute, I decided to showcase my axel instead of crashing on everything else and ruining the flow of the number. That hurt me points-wise; I probably would have inched up a point or two on difficulty - but my coach wasn't there for the last-minute prep/pep talk."

Regarding the backstage atmosphere, she remarked "I found all the girls in the competition to be friendly, but standoffish; I made a couple friends based on the fact that my choreographer, Jon Johnson (who passed away in January 2012) worked with them in the Ice Capades and other shows - Lisa Ware and Rory Flack Burghart (and I'm still friends with Rory and have done several local shows with her)." Compared to the World Professional Championships in Jaca, Spain, which she won in 1984, Simone Grigorescu-Alexander echoed the feeling Debi Gold had expressed about the atmosphere at the U.S. Open event: "Though it was a very good competition and offered the viewers a lot of great skating, I can say it did not create the same feeling of coming together to share talent and the performance (as in Jaca). It felt like any other elite competition where everyone (and their agent) was there for themselves."

Gold recalls being given two passes to watch the Masters Cup competition in Boston as part of her entrance competition and appreciating that perk. Her memories of the Challenge Cup process are much like many competition when it comes to the application process. "I had to apply and pay a fee (I don't remember how much it was); I got a package in the mail with hotel, practice, and local information. At the competition we were placed in 4 or 5 skater heats based on random draw; we had a 5 minute warmup before our heat, and a 15 second intro while we were announced so we could take a partial lap and take a breath before we had to be in place for our music. I did a lot of pacing around the backstage area and only saw two or three skaters before my warmup," remembers Gold. Only limited spots from the Challenge Cup moved on to the actual Masters Cup competition and competed against the more well known professional stars. Of the overall experience, Debi remarked that "for skaters of my caliber, this was the only pro competition that wasn't invitation only - and I would never have been invited to the others since I was such a small fish. I was hoping to place and have it look good on my resume - I placed 12th (out of 14? 15?) and was WAY out of my depth. But the experience of even trying to compete at that level was helpful to me. I got to practice with some of the top skaters of the time - Paul Wylie, Urbanski and Marval - and I got to meet other pro skaters who were coaching and still competing." Now a mother of 2 and a reinstated amateur who returned to skating in 2009, Gold continues to perform in shows and compete in adult competition. She said "social media is really the mechanism that brought me back to skating, and I'm glad to be back!"

I asked Carole Shulman if she thought we'd ever see an event like this again. "Sadly, I don't think so." she replied. "It was enormously expensive to produce. The finances were dependent upon a strong sponsor and to some degree a full house. The other factor was that after the judging scandal in Salt Lake City, skating lost a bit of its luster that it is still trying to regain today." That's not to say that it can't. What made this event so special was that it was inclusive. If you wanted to skate to opera, you could. If you wanted to do Broadway music, you could. If you wanted to be completely avant garde, you could. You didn't have to do triple axels, awkward footwork sequences or conform to the masses. You could be the best version of yourself. Carole Shulman said it best when she said "the U.S. Open provided a platform for professional skaters to perform and compete during a time that ice shows were downsizing or folding. The Challenge Cup was very exciting because back in the days of figures, many great freestyle skaters never made it to the top and with the U.S. Open they were able to make a name and a career for themselves. Also, it provided yet another medium for professional skaters to perform and to be seen. It was truly an extraordinary event." An extraordinary event it indeed was.

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 Kate McSwain

A senior level figure skater and choreographer, Kate McSwain is one of the most important names you're going to need to remember when you're talking about the artistic revolution of the sport of figure skating which is now underway. An immensely talented choreographer, her own background as a skater earned her 3 gold medals at the National Showcase Artistic Competition and a bronze at ProSkater's Virtual Skate Off original performance competition. She has worked as a yoga, pilates and dance instructor for the last 6 years in addition to traveling the country working with VERY talented skaters including Jeremy Abbott, Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, Adam Rippon, Rachael Flatt, Alex Johnson, Drew Meekins, Wesley Campbell and many others. Her Sk8tivity program and work with Young Artists Showcase (YAS) and American
Ice Theatre (AIT) cement the fact that Kate is a skater and choreographer with the RIGHT vision about where the sport needs to be heading and I hope you'll enjoy Kate's answers to my questions as much as I did!
Q: Tell me about your background in skating, what first drew you to the sport and what drew you to choreographing for other skaters.

A: I began skating late - around age ten - but quickly became serious, moving from my hometown in Kentucky to train and compete for 10 years out of the Detroit Figure Skating Club, followed by the Dallas Figure Skating Club, and finally the Broadmoor Figure Skating Club in Colorado Springs. When I retired from competition, I began pursuing a Theatre degree from the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, which I obtained in 2008. I have known I wanted to be a choreographer since I was thirteen, so for half my life now. That is why my parents and I continued the difficult path of travelling and living apart so I could train; we all wanted to prepare me for a career in skating. Through the five years I spent working with my coach Allen Schramm - an artistic pioneer in skating in the seventies and eighties - my artistic skills and movement vocabulary were moulded and refined. Since I have graduated, I have been continuing my education and shaping my artistic philosophy by doing a Master Choreography Techniques (MCT) class with Jodi Porter of American Ice Theatre, who has also become my mentor. I also learned from Audrey Weisiger and through my participation in Young Artists Showcase (YAS). It is now my personal mission and passion to educate young skaters about how to create quality movement while skating, using tools and terms that allow them to identify the muscles they use to move with their core bodies. This is why I choreograph: I really want to help revolutionize the way skaters are being taught to move.

Q: What do you like most about the YAS project and why should more people get involved? In what capacity will you be involved with YAS4?

A: YAS is an innovative and challenging platform and opportunity for aspiring skating choreographers. There are not a lot of places a choreographer can have the freedom, support system, or professional feedback that YAS offers its contestants. As more young choreographers participate in YAS and more people watch and support it, only then will skaters, coaches, judges, and audiences begin to see the difference between high-quality, full-body movement, versus more simplistic skating. This concept is what we YAS alumni and other supporters of the education and promotion of quality artistic movement have begun to call the "artistic revolution." We believe a fundamental change is needed so that genuinely artistic skating - or the ART of skating - is understood and appreciated by professionals, taught to young skaters, and performed by trained artists. I hope to participate in YAS4! The last time I participated in YAS was the inaugural year (2010), and I hope to challenge myself and continue to develop my craft through the five challenges in the competition this summer. I always want to keep myself sharp, and make sure I am staying fresh with my movement and choreo choices, and I believe YAS4 will inspire me and help me refine my skills.

Q: What skater would you most like to meet that you haven't yet? Choreograph a program for?

A: I would love to meet and talk to Toller Cranston or the late John Curry. I would like to pick both of their brains and know what millions of ideas they have to expand the art in figure skating. They were the beginnings of the artistic movement, and I wish I could have the opportunity to learn from them in person. Jeffrey Buttle, Stephane Lambiel, Joannie Rochette, and Meryl and Charlie are the skaters I wish I could choreograph for! All of these skaters are legends, and watching them skate is an experience that one will never forget. They are the types of skaters that will continue to push the artistic envelope in skating.

Q: What is the most overused piece of music in figure skating?

A: There are so many! "Carmen", "Ave Maria", "Firebird", "All That Jazz", "Phantom of the Opera"…and I could go on because, unfortunately, there are lots. It’s time for change. And I hope the new rule permitting lyrics after this season will really help widen music choices and increase creativity in choreography, both of which will hopefully significantly expand figure skating's (sadly) dwindling audiences.

Q: What can you tell us about your choreographic process?

A: My process is different depending upon the piece, the audience, and the amount of time I have to prepare. When time allows, I choreograph everything in my head beforehand and draw it out on paper with all the counts and formations so I feel prepared when teaching it to the skaters. I definitely prefer to have the spatial design and highlights of a piece outlined first, and to fill in the movement later using improvisation and work with the individual skater to identify his/her unique strengths.
Sometimes, though, especially when I am on a tight deadline, I create by improvisation and trusting my gut. Overall, the integral part of choreography that inspires me the most is allowing my body to be completely free and move to the music as if my movements were playing the notes as I hear them.

Q: Who's your skating idol? Who's one skater you love that not many people may know about?

A: My idol is Michelle Kwan because she is the whole package, both on and off the ice. She moved audiences through her musicality and fluidity, and at the same time, she is as classy, positive, and polished as they come. She is a wonderful role model for young skaters. Currently, my favorite skaters are Meryl and Charlie. Their level of artistry in skating is, in my opinion, absolutely flawless.
As for lesser-known but also excellent skaters, I love Wesley Campbell, Alex Johnson, Hannah Miller, Jonathan Cassar, Garrett Kling, Adam Blake, Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, Kim Navarro and Livvy Shilling. (I can’t just pick one!) These skaters are all talented, passionate, and eager to learn. With these skaters’ energy and enthusiasm—and many others like them—we will be able to continue to move the “artistic revolution” further along.

Q: What are your goals these days and where do you see yourself in five years?

A: My goals are to continue choreographing for elite competitive skaters, ensembles, and large productions, always challenging myself by being open to growth and development and constantly working to improve, never plateau. In addition, I would like to establish a company branch of American Ice Theatre (AIT) on the East Coast, opening another venue for professional skaters to perform and for young choreographers to present their work. This branch of AIT would also educate young training skaters on how to move their bodies using classes and resources such as my “Sk8tivity” artistic clinics, the newly re-launched Ricky Harris Clinics, as well as the Master Choreography Techniques online class I mentioned, put on by AIT. Above all, I hope I help move the level of artistry in the sport higher, because I am just very passionate about making the effort to supply skaters from a young age (as low as Pre-Preliminary) with the tools they need to skate properly, using their full bodies and understanding movement that starts from the core. Only then will we see the next generation arise, both expecting and executing higher standards of artistry.

Q: What are your thoughts on professional figure skating? It was MASSIVE in the 1990's and professional figure skating competitions are few and far between these days.

A: I think professional figure skating is a wonderful outlet for spectators of the sport and I would love if it had a resurgence! However, I think there should be a lot more outlets for amateur skaters to pursue success and accomplishment through skating as well. In addition to professional skating competitions, I would like to see more emphasis overall on other possible future paths for skaters—such as synchro, professional ice theatre companies, show skating, and test track. I think that if parents and skaters approached the sport with fewer expectations of the Olympics and greater awareness of the many opportunities and benefits to the other avenues as well, the sport would have many more participants and spectators. As a side note, I also think a reality TV show such as "So You Think You Can Skate" could be hugely popular, since it would have already professionally trained skaters competing on an artistic level. I really hope we can turn over a new leaf with the popularity of the sport and I think the first step is envisioning and popularizing more paths than just the classic competitive track.

Q: What's your favourite song and why?

A: The answer to this is constantly changing because I think it’s really important to stay connected to fresh, contemporary artists in order to keep skaters and audiences interested. I try to find new artists and different sounds all the time, but that requires ongoing research and keeping my library up-to-date, both of which require time and money! I will say that some of my all-time favourite artists are Xavier Rudd, Mika, Beyonce (she never gets old!), Amy Winehouse, Yann Tiersen, Paloma Faith, Mumford and Sons, Miss Li and - of course - Barbara Streisand.

Q: What has been the most memorable experience you have ever had on the ice?

A: The opportunity to skate this past March at the Rockefeller Center in New York City with the New Voices in Figure Skating show presented by YAS and Ice Theatre of New York was absolutely a dream come true for me on every level. I had the chance to perform with one of my best friends and fellow choreographer Garrett Kling, and at the same time got to showcase some of my choreography at the most famous rink in the world. I will never forget taking my beginning pose and looking up to see the famous New York City skyline—it gave me a joy and an excitement I have never experienced before.

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":

Madge Syers, The Mother Of Figure Skating

Long before Yuna Kim landed a triple Lutz/triple toe combination, before Michelle Kwan mesmerized audiences with her interpretation of the music of Eva Cassidy; long before Katarina Witt, Dorothy Hamill, Janet Lynn, even Sonja Henie, came a woman who single handledly changed ladies figure skating as we know it with her determination and pioneering spirit. The very first woman to strike Olympic gold in figure skating was also the very first woman to compete in an ISU Championship.

Florence Madeline 'Madge' Syers changed the course of history in 1902, when she bravely entered the world of competitive figure skating, competing against the men and winning the silver medal behind Ulrich Salchow, who ironically stands alongside Madge in the record books as the first men's Olympic gold medallist in 1908.

Madge was one of fifteen children of a disgraced and bankrupt property developer from Kensington and was a distinguished swimmer and equestrian before taking up the sport of figure skating. She was introduced to the less rigid Continental Style made famous by skating pioneer Jackson Haines by her future coach, husband and pairs partner Edgar Morris Wood Syers when she was but a teenager. In 1899, the couple married and began competing both individually and as a pairs team. They wrote their first two books about the sport together, one of them instructional and the other a volume of poetry.

Madge and Edgar Syers

Discovering that the ISU's rules did not specify the gender of the participants, her 1902 trip to the World Championships would not have happened without the urging of her husband and coach Edgar. Officials were surprised by Madge's grand entrance to a sport dominated by men but her skating ability spoke for itself. Helping her cause was the fact that Edgar and Madge were influential members of Great Britain's National Skating Association, the hosts of the 1902 World Championships.

Madge and Edgar Syers

Dressed to the nines in a full length skirt, satin blouse, pearl necklace, hat and leather gloves, Madge took on three men and was only topped by one, the eventual ten time World Champion Ulrich Salchow. As the legend goes, Salchow apparently presented Madge with his gold medal. What you have to keep in mind about all of this is that although the women's suffrage moment was alive and well in Great Britain at the time, it wasn't until 1928 that the Representation Of The People Act was passed, allowing all women over the age of twenty one in the United Kingdom to vote was passed. The first large procession or demonstration by the National Union Of Women's Suffrage Societies wasn't held until 1907, so that certainly gives you an idea as to how daring what Madge was doing really was in that time period in her country.

Madge and Edgar Syers

Following her iconic first visit to the 1902 World Figure Skating Championships in London, the ISU was prompted to discuss and debate the topic of women competing against men at their 1903 Congress. The main concerns were that a woman wearing a dress as opposed to pants prevented the judges from seeing the feet, that a judge might judge or favour a woman he was involved with romantically and "it is difficult to compare women with men". In a vote of six to three (all men, of course), the ISU Congress voted in favour of barring women from competition completely.

Madge wasn't daunted by this sexist decision though. It only seemed to empower her. She shorted her dresses to a mid-calf length to show her skates fully and dispel that particular concern. In doing so, she started a new fashion trend. By 1988, Katarina Witt took it a step further and only wore a sequined bodysuit decorated in blue ostrich feathers.

Madge competed elsewhere, winning the 1903 Swedish Challenge Cup against a mixed field. She won again the next year, beating her husband and coach Edgar. She also entered the 1904 European Championships, but was forced to withdraw following the compulsory figures due to injury. Long story short, Madge wasn't going anywhere.

The topic of women in competition was revisited in 1905, and with the lobbying of the National Skating Association things went differently this time. A separate event was created known as "the Ladies' Championship of the ISU" and was held at a different date and location from the men's World Championship. Who else but Madge won the first and second ladies titles, finishing first in Davos in 1906 and Vienna and 1907. These events would later be recognized as World Championships.

Madge Syers

The very first time figure skating was contested at the (Summer) Olympics, Madge was ready and raring to go. The figure skating events were held in London in October 1908 at the Princes Club. She both the compulsory figures and free skating with first place ordinals in both segments from all five judges and became the first Olympic ladies champion. Official reports described her as "in a class all by herself" and as having "excelled in rhythm and time-keeping, and her dance steps, pirouettes" and also stating that "the wonderful accuracy of her figures, combined with perfect carriage and movement, was the chief feature of the morning's skating." Remarkably, her very well received skating in the singles event was coupled by a bronze medal in pairs skating with her husband Edgar.

Madge and Edgar Syers

Not long after the 1908 Summer Olympic Games, Madge retired from competitive figure skating due to her failing health. Madge and Edgar co-wrote a third and more influential book, "The Art Of Skating (International Style)", which was published in 1913. Conflicting contemporary sources alternately claim she died of heart failure caused by acute endocarditis or that she died while giving birth. What we do know with certainty is that her date of death was September 9, 1917 and she was only thirty five at the time. She was survived by her husband, who passed away in 1946 at the age of eighty two. He lovingly penned the poem "To My Lady's Skates": "The praise of glove, of fan, or shoe, full many a ode relates; May not my muse, with theme more new, Commend my Lady's Skates? Eff little feet to guide these blades My Mistress fair provides; And, sweetest of our glacial maids, On them serenely glides."

Madge Syers

Posthumously, Madge was inducted to the World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame in 1981. We can't look at where we are without looking back at skaters like Madge who changed the face of the sport as we know it. Just as times were so very different then, they are so different now from how they were even 20 years ago. In 1993, who would have predicted the IJS system, the rise of social media, YouTube, the complete eradication of professional figure skating competitions, multiple quad jumps in one program... times have changed and they will continue to but one thing that has been consistent throughout the history of the sport has been change, and Madge made one of the first and most instrumental ones.

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 Anita Hartshorn

I'll never forget the first time I saw them skate. It was 1995 and I was doing what any self respecting skating fan in 1995 did on a Saturday afternoon: channel surfing skating. That's right... You had to choose between which skating event you wanted to watch on television back then. More often than not, you'd have to videotape one channel while watching another, and you'd still be missing at least one or two events altogether.

CBS was broadcasting the 'Riders Ladies Figure Skating Championships', a professional competition where twelve women competed in two qualifying competitions and the top four skaters in each group advanced to the final round. The first qualifying event (held in Mankato, Minnesota) also featured a pairs competition pitting Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini, Christine Hough and Doug Ladret, Calla Urbanski and Rocky Marval and a fourth pair I wasn't familiar with at the time, Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding. Performing their dramatic "1492: Conquest Of Paradise" program where Anita portrays a a ship and their masked program to Enigma's "Sadeness", I was instantly in love with this pair's skating. It was what resonated to me as interesting, creative, entertaining and what I thought skating should be. With programs that were jam packed full of unique elements, interesting choreography and that had concepts, that told stories, and had the costumes to go with them... that was the whole package.

Over the coming years, I'd watch them tell the "Titanic" story, perform with a torch on the ice to Vangelis' "Voices" and earn their place among the world's best professional skaters by winning the Legends Of Figure Skating Competition. Their "Mustang Sally" program was even referenced on FOX's American Dad. World Professional Champions, U.S. Open Champions, Trophee Lalique champions... What always made Anita and Frank so special was the fact that they always have and continue to push the envelope and make entertaining audiences their first priority. Their skating was instrumental in influencing my own skating. I learned that while jumping wasn't my forte, I could hone other moves like spirals and hydroblading and make feeling and interpreting the music number one. When I first got it in my head I was going to blog about figure skating, interviewing this team was definitely at the top of my bucket list! I was fortunate enough to catch up with Anita in between "Relight My Fire" shows at Phantasialand park in Brühl, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, where Anita, Frank and their production company Glacier ICE are performing straight through until November.

Q: I must confess I don't know a lot about your early careers (as amateurs) though I know that you and Frank teamed up as professionals and got your start doing events like the U.S. Open  & World Professional Championships in Jaca, Spain. Can you tell me about your own start in the sport, turning professional and how you two met?

A: We have known each other since we were children! Originally, we were both from Chicago, Illinois. In the 60's there was only one main indoor rink in Chicago that had competitive skating sessions - Rainbo Ice Arena. We both skated there. I was a singles skater and Frank was doing singles as well as pairs with his sister, Beth. We lost track of each other when Frank moved to Colorado Springs to train and I moved to Milwaukee to go to college. We met again in 1987. I was the rink director of a small outdoor rink in Racine, Wisconsin. I had enough money in my budget to hire another "act' besides Elaine Zayak for the grand opening of the rink. I found Frank and asked him to pair skate with me and told him I would give us our first paying 'gig' together. He had a long list of terms that I had to agree to before he would skate with me! After a few months of skating together, we started dating and became engaged in May 1988. Now I like to say that we have been 'happily unmarried' for 25 years.

Q: What about the early part of your career and your own individual backgrounds?

A: Frank was a national senior competitor in both singles and pairs.  He was the silver medallist at the U.S. National Championships in senior pairs with Gail Hamula, finishing right behind champions Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner. Frank and Gail represented the U.S.A. at 2 World Championships. Frank is also a graduate of University of Northeastern Illinois and he was a competitive swimmer before ice skating took all of his free time. My family lived an hour from the ice rink, so I was a "test"  skater, as I did not skate much in the winter but would attend a skating camp for the entire summer to train and pass my tests. I have my gold level in freestyle, dance and pairs as well as my Canadian gold freestyle test. I started coaching when I was 18 years old and attended the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. I was in the Fine Arts program with a major in dance and I used my schooling at the university to increase my skills as a coach. I passed my PSA master rating exam in figures and freestyle back in  1988. I love coaching and both of us are still members of the PSA and keep our CER ratings up as well.

Q: You have so many iconic, incredibly  creative programs that have pushed the boundaries of artistry, theatre and  entertainment - Voices, 1492, Enigma, Titanic.. So many others!  What have been your favorite programs to skate and  why?

A: I think that our Enigma - "Sadeness" and “1492” are audience favorites. When we presented these numbers at the pro competitions most of the other pairs teams were doing sexy or lovey dovey programs, so the audience and the TV  directors were really ready to see something different! We had been living and working in Italy for 3 years and I fell in love with the masks from Carnival and the theatrics of the live operas, all of which we incorporated into these programs. "1492: Conquest Of Paradise" won us 1st place at the Trophee Lalique in Paris, France. We performed a new program this past winter in Germany to "Hallelujah" by Alexandra Burke. She won the English TV show "X- Factor" with this song. The audience reception to this program was fantastic.

Q: Who are your role models in figure skating and among today's skaters, who are your favorites to watch and cheer on? 

A: I love skating PERIOD! I cheer anyone who has a good skate and I feel bad for those that don't have a good day.

Q: You were complete stars of the professional skating boom of the 90's, competing in many professional  competitions and winning events like the Legends competition. Has the lack of professional competitions hurt the sport or just pushed it in a different  direction?

A: In my opinion, the lack of pro competitions has really hurt the popularity of our sport. Most of the skaters who are ready to leave the 'eligible ranks' but still would like to compete have nowhere to go. All professional skaters have less possibilities to expand their untapped potential of theatrically slanted competitive programs. Now that the ISU has approved the pro-am Japan Open, there is at least one competition for the audience to see their favorite skaters like Kurt Browning and Surya Bonaly compete. It doesn't matter how many shows you do, the feeling of doing a competition is different and everyone prepares harder for an event where you get judged.

Q: What was the experience of creating some of your most amazing programs with Brian Wright like?  

A: Brian  was a genius! We would arrive with 2 choices of music and concepts and play them both for Brian, then he would select the choice he preferred. It was team process with us coming up with the music and concept, Brian doing the choreography, with costume designers from Los Angeles, and music editing done in San Diego. We had competitions such as the U.S. Open, World Professional Championships in Jaca, Spain, Miko Masters in Paris, Trophee Lalique, Legends Of Figure Skating Competition, Riders Cup and others to show off our work.

Anita, Frank and Brian Boitano

Q: Who do you work with now? 

A: In terms of ice choreographers, lately we have worked with Simone Grigorescu, Lori Benton and Doug Webster. We have worked with dance and theater choreographers as well. While we were in Berlin, we worked with World renowned dance choreographer and director Marc Bogaert. Marc helped us with our company's ice portion of the "Winter  Traume" spectacular at Friedrichstadt-Palast. Last year in Eilat, Israel we performed two comedy numbers as "Big Girls". We loved the ability to make the audience laugh and the children smile! I see us doing more on ice comedy in the near future! On these performances we worked with famous Israeli director Hanoch Rosenn, 'the prince of mime'.

Q: You have performed in Guam, Israel, Europe, North America and everywhere in between. What was your favorite  place you've traveled to and what are some of your favourite memories?

A: Hard questions as we have performed in over 8,000 shows and traveled to more than 17 countries for our work. Frank has been to every state in the U.S.A. except Louisiana. We have been in many interesting locations but we do have some favourites! Performing at Friedrichstadt-Palast in Berlin was AMAZING. This theater has the largest stage in the world! We shared this huge stage six nights aweek for 18 months with 100 dancers, musicians, singers, comedians and acrobats. Our company co-produced the ice section of "QI" with the theater. Performing on the outdoor rink in the summer in Sun Valley, Idaho is always magical. We share the ice with so many amazing skaters. The Sandcastle Theater on the island of Guam was amazing as well. We could walk to work via the beach every night. Performing at the Royal Garden Hotel in Eilat, Israel was also something. We lived one block from the Red Sea! Our  favourite arena would probably be Bercy which is located in the heart of Paris where we won Trophee Lalique the only year they sponsored a pro competition. The French loved our "1492" number! We skated in the ceremonies at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics - LIVE TV for millions of people, in a stadium that held 80,000 energized and screaming fans! Just thinking about it gave me goosebumps! Skating outside in front of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas for NBC's “Too Hot To Skate”...  performing at the Shubert Theater in Boston in “Footloose On Ice” with Nancy Kerrigan and Scott Davis... I could go on but I'll stop.

Q: How challenging has having your own production company been and what have you learned most from  the experience?  

A: You are responsible for everything and the last ones to get paid. We love show business, so spending countless hours on the  production process is rewarding for us when we see the end product on opening day. Fortunately with Frank’s past experience as treasurer of Ice Capades and assistant manager of “World Cup Champions On Ice” he understands production economics very well.

Q: What are  your thoughts on the ISU's 'new' judging system and how can it be improved or changed?  

A: The IJS system changes every year. I think today's skaters have better spins and footwork sequences but it has also stifled creativity. Our concern is that the general public still does not understand the current judging system and thus they do not watch the skating competitions.

Q: The headbanger... The Detroiter... The leap of faith.. The neck spin. When you are doing these incredibly difficult and gravity defying adagio moves, what's the closest call you've had?

A: While  performing in a Sun Valley show we were entering into a bounce spin (headbanger) and right as Frank took that hard back inside edge to pull me off my feet he stepped onto a gum wrapper that had blown out onto the ice! We  both fell hard but fortunately we came out of it with only some bruises as well as bruised egos. One other scary moment was when a helicopter tried to land on the ice while we were performing in a show on the Sun Valley outdoor rink! Turns out the helicopter pilot thought the rink was the landing pad for the  hospital. Fortunately, we have never had a bad accident. We try to be a proactive as possible by trying out things in advance, training programs, as well trying doing dress technical and lighting rehearsals. Frank is checks the ice conditions before every  show!

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

A: Mmm.. that I'm really ninety nine years old and just look really good?

Q: What has kept you motivated on the ice for so many years (and still at the top of your game)?  It's really honestly quite incredible.  

A: We love to skate, including the sometimes boring process of training and we love to skate together. And I must say, we have been blessed with good luck and good health all these years.

Q: What is your motto or mantra in life?  

A: Move it or lose it!

Q: What would you tell someone that wanted to pursue what you are doing in life?

A: Work hard, utilize every opportunity that comes to you, be verbally thankful to all of the people that help you along the way  and show true gratitude to the Ice Goddess as she commands respect for the slippery surface we call our stage.

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":