Interview With Katherine Hill

After years of axels and sit spins, Katherine Hill took her love of figure skating to the dance floor, attending university and studying dance from choreographers like Billy Siegenfeld, Laura Wade, Jeff Hancock, and Molly Shannahan. Now a choreographer both on and off the ice, Katherine is a competitor in this year's YAS (Young Artists Showcase) 4. When she's not skating, dancing or choreographing, Katherine is the chair of the Stephanie Joseph Memorial Fund, an organization dedicated to celebrating courage among young people in the face of adversity. The Fund ( has hosted events such as skater meet and greets, skate-a-thons and even a 5K run. Katherine is also a choreographer for the Wake Up! Waltz project (, a Chicago based initative that performs free shows on rooftops for morning commuters... which I have to say is one of the coolest things I have heard of in a long time. I had chance to talk to Katherine about her dance background, choreographing for other skaters, Young Artists Showcase and much more! I just know you'll love reading her answers as much as I did:

Q: You have a B.A. in Dance and Communication Studies from Northwestern University. How has your formal education in dance transated to your work on the ice?

A: In every way possible! I had many reasons for pursuing a degree in dance but one of the major factors included an interest in learning why I liked to move the way I did. I wanted to understand why I preferred certain movement qualities and where those tendencies came from. Understanding dance history and the factors playing into artistic movement choices dramatically changed the way I view, appreciate, and create dance/skating. If anything, it has expanded my range of movement qualities, techniques, and interests. The dance world takes artistic risks constantly. I think figure skating needs more of this.

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievement as a skater/choreographer?

A: I have had the privilege to work with many talented young athletes. The key word is athlete because they have not yet discovered their artistic potential. I consider it my personal mission to enable them in personal expression via movement. I begin my work by bringing the skaters into the dance studio and asking them to dance for me. To interpret music and move; to improv. National and world ranked skaters have looked at me like I was crazy. As if I had asked them to jump off a cliff! Months later I make the same request and have watched these athletes become artists as they burst with expressive movement. Acting as a catalyst in skaters' discovery of expression is by far the most rewarding and interesting to witness.

Q: What are your favourite book and your favourite song?

A: Hmm... favourites are always hard. There are too many great things to discover! With that said, Charlotte's Web was the first book to ever make me cry and I will always always appreciate anything Beyonce put out in the world.

Q: What made you personally decide to participate in YAS (Young Artists Showcase)?

A: Oh, I could write an article about this! Essentially, YAS encourages everything I want to do with figure skating and want to see in the future of the sport. YAS provides an excuse to take risks and have fun. While I truly enjoy creating for competitive figure skating, the required elements, skater abilities, and more can cause the process to become somewhat formulaic at times. I see YAS as the perfect opportunity to throw away all frameworks. To truly start with a blank canvas (or sheet of ice). It keeps creative juices flowing.

Q: What makes YAS so important to figure skating right now? What can it help do to evolve the sport?

A: Again, I could write an article about this. I have always been drawn to skating's innate ability to fuse sport and art. Very few activities provide such an opportunity. A star running back friend once admitted he "wished he could play football to music like we do in skating." YAS is a great opportunity to foster the artistic expression in skating and highlight it's importance in differentiating our sport from others.

Q: When it comes to creating choreography, what components of crafting a new piece do you find to be the most fun and the most challenging?

A: I find it most fun to experiment. When you have time to say "try this... wait, that doesn't work at all... what if we did this?... oh, that's cool... but how does it connect...?" Essentially, taking the time to create movement organically and to work off what simply feels good to skate. The most challenging moment is marrying this experimental phase with my original vision. There is the vision and then there is the reality of what  functionally works with the resources available. Aligning the two creates the most work.

Q: If you were to create an original piece of choreography for any 3 skaters in the world, who would they be, what would the piece be about and what would you choose as your music and costumes for the skaters?

A: What an interesting question! While I have a million things I'd like to create and skaters I'd have a blast creating for, I am currently most interested in the collaborative choreographic process. I've always been equally excited by the process as much as the product. While I have had the incredible opportunity to work with many highly talented choreographers, I would love to continue learning and growing through time spent with those I have yet to meet. Kurt Browning and Christopher Dean have inspired me for years. As for the talent, I would adore the opportunity to work with Shae-Lynn Bourne again.

Q: Who do you believe are the greatest or most inspiring choreographers that figure skating has ever seen? What about the greatest or most inspiring skaters?

A: Choreographers above... although there are so many people putting out great work these days. Too many to name. As for skaters, Michelle (Kwan) was a role model through and through. I have always respected her honor, dedication, and class. She, by far, is someone to value in our sport for years to come.

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

A: My friends say I am somewhat of a human compass! I can always point you toward North regardless of location.

Q: If you could pick just one word to describe yourself, what would it be and why?

A: I will defer to friends and family on this one. Over the years, I have been told I am curious.

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 Jimmy Morgan

Hailing from the land of the cream donut (Homer Simpson drool), Boston's Jimmy Morgan is one of those rare hybrid skater/students who seems to be able to balance a full-time post secondary education with a career as an elite athlete... which leads us to explore the possibility he's in fact some sort of fabulous handsome robot. Robot he's not, but a skater who's going places he is. With his partner Alex Shaughnessy, he won a bronze medal on the novice level at U.S. Nationals in 2012 after finishing 5th as novices in 2011. Moving up to the junior ranks last year, Alex and Jimmy finished in the top ten in their third consecutive trip to U.S. Nationals. This interview with Jimmy takes a look at Jimmy and Alex's progress and plans for this season, Jimmy's remarkable balance of school and skating and how he maintains a positive attitude:

Q: In 2012, you and your partner Alex Shaughnessy won a medal on the novice level at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Having moved up and competed at Nationals as juniors last season, what do you consider to be the biggest differences and challenges from moving from novice to junior?

A: Aside from the obvious "we're doing harder stuff" answer, I'd have to say confidence. You are constantly being judged as a skater, whether you're on the ice or not. Being confident allows you to portray that you belong in the big leagues. My biggest challenge will be to become more confident in an area of skating that I have very little experience in: the big leagues.

Q: Will you be remaining as juniors this season or moving up to compete as seniors? What are your utmost goals for the 2013/2014 season?

A: We just passed our senior pair test! It was such an exciting day while being a big relief. Now, we can focus on improving our skating. The sky's the limit! We will be competing senior this year. We hope to make it to Nationals in our hometown this year.

Q: Do you think homophobia is a problem in skating and is it something you've ever encountered? What are your thoughts on the issues surrounding homophobia in Russia and the Sochi Games?

A: Homophobia is a problem everywhere, not just in skating. However, it's not the only type of discrimination in the world. People are discriminated against in countless other ways including their race, sex, and religion. Punishing the athletes who have worked so hard their whole lives by boycotting the Games is wrong, and could be more fairly resolved by allowing the athletes to choose on an individual basis.

Q: What can you share about your programs for this season? How did you decide on music and what do you like the most about your new programs?

A: We are skating to an Argentine tango for our short program, and "Umbrellas of Cherbourg" for our long. We decided on the music after seeing Julie Marcotte in Canada and skating with her for a day. After seeing our past programs, and how we relate to each other, she knew exactly what she wanted to see us skate to. I love the challenge that these two programs bring to the table. The short program allows me to step outside my "romantic, I love Alex" comfort zone and do something different. While the long allows us to do what we do best!

Q: What do you enjoy most about pairs skating as opposed to singles skating? What is your favourite and least favourite element?

A: Pairs skating is so much more fun (sorry singles guys!)... but it's true. There's just something about being able to share the ice with someone that creates a contrasting dynamic that you just don't get in singles skating. My favorite elements are lifts. There's so many variations that each one can be unique. My least favorite elements are side by side spins. Getting those babies to sync up is a PAIN.

Q: What do you think are the most improved areas of your skating in the last 6 months?

A: We've improved our general skating and choreography a lot. Injuries allowed us to focus on what will make us a great senior team down the road. We worked on choreography and skating skills because in time, the technical side will come. Sometimes, you just can't work on your skating enough.

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

A: I'm a full-time student at BU, and I love it! It keeps me sane. I study P.R. at the College of Communication and it has been the most rewarding experience paired with skating. I was lucky enough to land an internship with the Boston 2014 U.S. Championships Marketing Team, and have been able to combine my expertise in skating with my knowledge from school. So, if you ever see @BOS2014 tweeting, make sure to say hi. (Psssst - It's me.)

Q: What is the most interesting thing you've learned about life by attending school and how have you applied that to your skating?

A: Find something that you love to do, and stick to it. I started out school as a chemistry major. Big mistake. I learned that standing in a lab all day was something that I did not enjoy. So, I went on to become a computer science major. Slightly less of a mistake, but I still wasn't enjoying myself. The day I found P.R., I knew that this is where I belonged. In the same way, I found my love for skating. I slowly weeded out what didn't interest me like soccer and karate to find the thing that I love to do most, and I'm stickin' to it.

Q: What would be your absolute favourite meal - appetizer, dinner and dessert?

A: Appetizer - It's a tie between a really delicious plate of fried calarmari with banana peppers, or the bread from Not Your Average Joe's. Dinner - ANYTHING with pesto on it. Seriously, I'm obsessed. Dessert - Mint chocolate chip ice cream is my jam.

Q: What's one song you can't get out of your head right now?

A: I love music, so I usually have at least ten songs floating though my head at any time. Right now, the concert in my head is featuring Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Emeli Sande, Green Day, Ke$ha, Matchbox 20, MIKA, and Fun.

Q: How do you think we can interest more people in the sport?

A: Skating needs to become more accessible. People aren't motivated enough to seek out skating. We have to go to them. So many of my friends from school, who wouldn't be caught dead in a skating rink, have become interested in the sport because they have been exposed to it through me. I think skaters ultimately need to become ambassadors for figure skating. Let's take it into our own hands and show that we participate in a really interesting sport!

Q: On those days when things aren't going well on the ice, what reminds you how much you love skating?

A: I have an awesome support team. Knowing that the people who care about me the most are behind me every step of the way allows me the security to allow myself to do it because I love it. My dad has always said, "Do it until it becomes a 'Have to Do'". I live by that motto. I started skating because I love it, and I will stop when I don't love it anymore. Having a bad day on the ice doesn't change the fact that I love what I do.

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 Stephanie Roth

Born in Red Bank, New Jersey, Stephanie Roth is the kind of skater who always marched to the beat of her own drum (which of course, I love!). Representing the Skating Club Of New York during her eligible career, she made five trips to the U.S. National Championships and is a former North Atlantic Regional Champion and U.S. Collegiate National Champion. Since ending her eligible career, she has been skating professionally - performing with Royal Caribbean cruise ships, Rosstyn Ice Shows and Rink Designs and Woodstock Ice Productions in addition to coaching. Most recently, she has put her choreography out there in Young Artists Showcase 4 (#MKYAS4 if you're on the Twitter). For more information on YAS, visit It was my pleasure to talk to Stephanie about her skating career, YAS4 and her thoughts on choreography:

Q: You competed on an elite level for many years in the U.S., appearing 5 times at the U.S. National Championships. What are your favourite memories from your competitive skating days?

A: My favourite memory was actually my last Easterns in 2008. I had gone to World University Games the year before and skated really great, but being in Italy I wasn't really able to share that with the skating family I had made over my 17 years of qualifying events and my long wasn't even filmed. I wanted that one great moment in front of a crowd who knew me and knew how long I pushed through in competitions. So, I competed one more year with just the hopes of making Easterns because the East Coast was stacked that year. I think somewhere around 9 or 10 girls had gone to Nationals or been on Team USA the year before. I was just happy to be there, I felt great, I had choreographed and been in love with both my programs and just knew it was going to be great memories. I ended up skating 2 of the best programs of my life and actually couldn't get off the ice before I started bawling my eyes out. I wasn't even expecting to make Nationals because the group was so tough, but what everyone lacked was 2 great programs. I was able to sneak in because of my consistency and not only that, I was the by far the oldest competitor at a week shy of my 25th birthday, so that was pretty awesome!

Q: In deciding to skate professionally, what have been both the most scary and rewarding parts of making that decision and living it out?

A: I think the most rewarding part has been the ability to experience skating through a new atmosphere. It's a different type of pressure, but it's a different type of appreciation as well. I worked on cruise ships at first, and some people were seeing a live show for the first time and were just astonished that we could stand up let alone jump and spin. I've also been able to make life long friends and learn new styles of skating I never thought I'd be capable of performing. That last part, the new styles, was equally the scariest. There were a few solos that were entirely out of my normal realm of ability or even preference, but it was my solo and I had to learn it and master it. Some of them took a lot of adjusting, but I did it, because I didn't want to let anyone down.

Q: What made you personally decide to participate in YAS (Young Artists Showcase)?

A: I've always loved choreography (whether it was for me of my students) but I definitely have a style I stick to. I am really hoping to learn more about what I'm capable of by being pushed out of my normal box.

Q: What makes YAS so important to figure skating right now? What can it help do to evolve the sport?

A: YAS is important because it is bringing new choreographers into the spotlight. I competed in a time where there were very few choreographers and their work was so obviously theirs. It's not that the work was bad, it was just stereotypical. Now I'm seeing so many different "artists" and that's what a choreographer has really become. The numbers are our masterpieces drawn from many more mediums from inspiration and it's really playing right into the IJS with the separate marks for not only choreography, but interpretation.

Q: When it comes to creating choreography, what components of creating a new piece do you find to be the most fun and the most challenging?

A: The most fun for me is creating a storyline to act out though the piece. I find you can draw your movement from how you would be acting. The most challenging for me is I tend to get repetitive with some moves, I find something I like and I marry it to that program, I have to stop and be like, no you've done this enough, go about it a different way! I sometimes also just go on autopilot and forget what I just did, so I've taken to filming myself so I remember what I liked and didn't!

Q: If you were to create an original piece of choreography for any 3 skaters in the world, who would they be, what would the piece be about and what would you choose as your music and costumes for the skaters?

A: Anyone that knows me knows that I am basically a punk rocker and have an instant gravitation towards any skater that can relate to me music wise. I grew up training with Shaun Rogers and I met Colleen Maguire and Josiah Modes through Royal Caribbean and I would love to put a number together for them. The piece would be edgy and unconventional and I'd like to make it like a mock audience at a rock show with mosh style choreography, big leaps, crazy lifts, throws, and flips and would have to set to something fast, maybe a little offensive, I'm gonna have to say American Idiot by Green Day.

Q: Who do you believe are the greatest or most inspiring choreographers that figure skating has ever seen? What about the greatest or most inspiring skaters?

A: I grew up working with the Ice Theatre of New York and really anyone that has been at the helm of that program has brought amazing things to the skating world. I admire that program because instead of being at the elite somewhat unreachable level, their performances are all over the city and consist of all different types of skaters who have had different careers. It takes a certain something to be an ITNY performer, but it's a different something than we see in out elite athletes. I like that their program acknowledges that skating isn't all about the big tricks

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

A: Hmm... I guess that I have 16 tattoos! It's also kind of my dream to choreograph a rock n' roll on ice show! I've always been this oddball skater, I grew up competing against the baby ballerinas, being their age, but 5'8 kinda put me in my own outcast league which was fine, because I was the girl backstage listening to punk rock and metal to get ready to compete while most of the skaters were into whatever big pop sensation was the thing. And ya know what? I made it my own way and I want skating to embrace the oddball...if they're talented, why should it matter?!

Q: What are your favourite book and your favourite song?

A: My favourite book would be Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore and I can't believe I have to pick just one song! I will have to go with a tie...The Devil in Stitches by Bad Religion and The Nerds, The Freaks, and The Romantics by the Bouncing Souls.

Q: If you could pick just one word to describe yourself, what would it be and why?

A: Unconventional. Like I said before, my first trips to Nationals were in the baby ballerina era. I skated to dark movie themed music like Pirates, Batman, and Once Upon a Time in Mexico. I was determined to make my goals my own way and people to this day still talk to me about how powerful I was and I revel in it. I don't think skating needs to fit in a pretty little box with a pink ribbon anymore...there's nothing wrong with glitter, but I think that glitter can be intertwined with studs.

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 Alexe Gilles

After winning the 2008 U.S. Junior ladies title, Alexe Gilles' skating career took off. The following season she won the Junior Grand Prix event in South Africa, finished 2nd at the Junior Grand Prix event in Mexico and won the bronze medal at the Junior Grand Prix Final. She has joined the world's best in competitions such as the Four Continents Championships, Skate America, Skate Canada and Trophee Eric Bompard. Now representing Canada along with her twin sister Piper, Alexe made her first trip to Canadian Nationals this past season. In this interview, she talked about her transition from skating for the U.S. to Canada, her training and new programs, relationship with her sister, thoughts about the judging of the sport and much more:

Q: After winning the 2008 U.S. Junior title, you continued to compete for the U.S. until you switched countries in 2012 and began competing for Canada. What were the main reasons for coming up and competing here and what are the main differences you perceive between both federations and National Championships?

A: One of the main reasons I switched to Canada was because my sister was competing up there and I had been thinking about switching for a little while before then. I also had a better chance at competing internationally with Canada but I still had to wait a year to be released from the U.S. Both federations are great and Skate Canada has been very helpful and patient through this process. Unfortunately, I do not know them as well as I know U.S. Figure Skating. The National Championships are very similar but each have different perks. At the U.S. Championships, the stadium size was bigger than Canadian Nationals, but both are about the same size now. The fans are equally great and supportive, but for some reason the Canadian Nationals feels a little calmer or less nerve-wracking than U.S. Nationals. I don't know what it is but U.S. Nationals feels like people are always watching your every move and Canada you have times like that but you also have a little more time to breathe.

Q: Your sister is Piper Gilles, who competed at the World Championships this year with Paul Poirier. What is your relationship with Piper like and how are you most alike and different?

A: My relationship with Piper (my twin) is really close. We have been through practically everything together. We have been living away from each other since we were 17 which was really hard at first, but now when we get together for holidays and competitions we really enjoy and cherish the moments together. We do have some differences though! I am about 4 inches taller than her but she is blonder than I am. She is very much a dancer! She is way more out there than I am but she can also be quiet. I am more shy at the beginning but once I know someone a little better I have a very funny sense of humour and am sarcastic at times, so we balance each other out pretty well.

Q: Do you prefer Coca Cola or Pepsi?

A: I am strange with the whole Pepsi and Coke. I don't drink much of either, but when I do I like regular Pepsi over Coke but Diet Coke over Diet Pepsi! So I would say both!

Q: You were coached by 1994 World Champion Yuka Sato and her partner Jason Dungjen. What was working with Yuka and Jason like? 

A: I am currently not coached by Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen. I am working with Christy Krall and Damon Allen. Bob Emerson put me on the ice at this past Nationals. Working with Yuka and Jason was great for that point in my career. I learned a lot about myself and what I wanted with them and Yuka helped guide me in the right direction. I am so happy to be working with Christy and Damon though. They have known me since I was a little girl and I feel comfortable working with them because they are both so knowledgeable and we communicate very well.

Q: What can you share about your new programs for the 2013/2014 season and your goals this year?

A: My short program this year is a mix between "Sophisticated Lady" and "My Heart Belongs To Daddy" by Duke Ellington and my long is a Budapest and Hungarian Tango (concerto). My goals are a little bit up in the air right now. I have been struggling with tendinitis in my right knee (landing leg) and so the pressure coming down and on some take offs are forcing me to do everything I can off ice to heal it and cut back on jumps. So, I am mostly focusing on getting healed as of the moment and hopefully I will be ready for the season!

Q: What do you perceive as your biggest strength and your biggest weakness as a skater?

A: I believe my biggest strength is my height and strength. I can get those long lines that others cannot and I also have a great presence on the ice. One of my weaknesses is my height as well. It is more difficult getting into the power angles and smaller positions for spins. I wouldn't say it's a terrible weakness but it can be a little easier for shorter girls.

Q: Who are your favourite Canadian ladies skaters and why?

A: One of my favourite Canadian ladies skater has been Joannie Rochette! I loved her skating! She had a great strength and she had powerful moments. I looked to her as someone I wanted to resemble my skating after. She is also very kind off the ice. I always thought that she showed great respect and I want to do that on and off the ice as well!

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

A: Oh Gosh, one thing people do not know about me... hmm. I am a twin. I am one of five kids in my family. We have five toy poodles (Missy, Bronco, Lily, Lincoln and Squeaker). They are awesome! I still share a room with my sister at home, when we are both there anyway which is only a week or two each year.

Q: When you're not on the ice, what are your favourite things to do with your time?

A: When I am not on the ice, I love to hang out with my friends and family. We go to the movies, go swimming, go snow and water skiing, hike, do yoga and biking - just anything to stay active and hang out if we are super tired after skating.

Q: What is your most embarrassing moment... and what is your favourite moment in your life so far?

A: Oh my... something embarrassing. Okay. Well, on my birth certificate I was a boy until I was about 9 years old. No one every caught it until I went to my first Regionals and was signed up in the Pre-Juvenile boys category. I was so upset! My parents, schools and other competitions never caught it! It was a long process to get it fixed because 9/11 had just happened and we had to get a lot of paperwork changed which was very difficult. It is all fixed now! My favourite moment so far has been winning my Junior National title. I had a blast at that Nationals. My performances were some of the best performances I have done in my career and that moment I landed the second triple lutz I was on fire. I was just giving it my all and for it to come together then and get that reaction was and still is amazing! I was so happy!

Q: If you could travel to any place in the world you haven't been to, where would it be and why?

A: I have been very privileged to have travelled to so many places around the world with figure skating! I would say I want to travel to Japan or Australia. I have heard Japan and the fans are so amazing over there and Australia because who wouldn't want to go to Australia! No, I want to go there because I have a few friends from skating that are from there and I want to help skating out there and see the different environment down there.

Q: The "new judging system" has received both a lot of praise and criticism. What do you think are the best and worst parts about the way skating is judged in 2013? What would you change or keep the same if it was solely up to you?

A: I think the new system has some negatives and positives. There are always going to be criticism about any way people judge. I believe it has helped since the 2002 Olympics, but it is very hard for the public to understand how it actually works. We have been working and progressing since the we changed systems and it is still confusing to skaters and coaches! If I could change anything about the new system it would to let the skaters (and choreographers) have more freedom! We can't express too much without being conscious about the time or pattern or which spin and position are we allowed to do next to get the most points. That is what can make it interesting but as well as very repetitive. Before, you could do three turns and toe steps and people went crazy! We are losing a lot of fans because we are too technical now. Don't get me wrong or anything because when someone does a clean program with 7 or 8 triples that is incredible itself but we miss the personality that came with the old system.

Q: What is your favourite part about being on the ice?

A: My favourite part about being on the ice is EVERYTHING! I love my boots and blades and being able to glide along and spin, jump, do spirals, footwork and stroking! It gives a sense of freedom and it is hard to duplicate anything like that off the ice! I think as I have grown up and matured more I appreciate all the little things that I can do on the ice because I won't be able to do everything when I'm 72! I will still probably try and skate but I will be a little more fragile then and wouldn't want to risk anything too serious. Skating really does teach you a lot and prepares you for anything life throws at you!

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

The First Annual Skate Guard Hallowe'en Spooktacular

It's the ghost wonderful time of the year! Hallowe'en has once again fallen upon us and all of you loyal Skate Guard readers know that means. It's time for a yearly Skate Guard tradition... The Annual Skate Guard Hallowe'en Spooktacular! Dim the lights enjoy this creepy collection of darker stories that have peppered skating's history through the years!


The Wollman Ice Rink/Central Park Pond at the southeast corner of the New Park, near 59th Street, was one of the few places that Janet and Rosetta Van Der Voort, the daughters of an overprotective wealthy helicopter pilot, were allowed to leave their home unaccompanied. The 19th century sisters lived in a brownstone mansion 14th Street just off of Fifth Avenue in Central Park South and were known to spend hours skating figure eights on the frozen pond every winter. They had no friends or close relatives and died within months of each other in 1880. "The sisters grew so close as they grew older that they spurned all potential suitors, dying as spinsters," reported a 1997 New York Times article. "But, as legend has it, the Van Der Voort sisters, decked out in the same red and purple outfits they wore more than 100 years ago, sometimes return to the pond to figure-skate, in the summer as well as the winter, haunting parents on Central Park South who continue to keep their daughters prisoner." Another variation of the story has the sisters skating in another part of the park. "Their ghosts were first spotted during World War I skating side by side on the frozen lake in Central Park," wrote Dennis William Huack in his book Haunted Places. "They were both dressed in huge bustles: one in a red dress, the other in a purple dress. The skating ghosts have been seen many times since, their silver skates gliding just above the ice in a never-ending series of figure eights." Many others believe that the story is an urban legend. Folklorist Libby Taylor wrote, "There's just one problem with this story. Wollman Rink was built in 1949, not the 1800's". That's not to say that the sisters didn't skate in Central Park during their lifetimes. After all, if you love skating enough you'll take ice time where you can get it.


Since opening its doors in 1982, Milford Skating Center in Milford, Delaware has employed dozens and played host to countless skaters. According the rink's owner Carmen Kemper, Skates at the rental counter tumble off of their racks ad land right side up on the counter several feet away. Cold spots plague the rink's DJ booth and music blares even when the P.A. system is turned off. A popular DJ manned the booth before dying unexpectedly. Rick Coherd and his team at Delmarva Historical Haunts investigated the site, using tools such a EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena) and EMF (Electro Magnetic Field) meters and infrared cameras. In his investigation, Coherd's team revealed that "they observed some paranormal activity including unexplained sounds of movement, strange activity with electronic devices and even recognized voices". Is this young DJ the ghost of Milford Skating Center or is it someone else? Prior to being opened as a skating center by Charles Wahleg in 1982, the site was once a pharmacy and automotive shop dating back to the 19th century.


They called it "The Miracle On Ice" when the 1980 U.S. hockey team defeated the Soviet team at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, New York, but in November 1995, 2 time Olympic Gold Medallist Sergei Grinkov passed away of a heart attack in the very same building while practicing for that year's Stars On Ice tour with his beloved wife and skating partner Ekaterina Gordeeva. According to local accounts, ever since Grinkov's tragic death many skaters claim to feel Sergei's presence in the rink where he passed away, especially early in the morning or late at night. There isn't much more here to substantiate this "feeling" than hearsay, however. In her book My Sergei, Katia talks about a dream where Sergei visited her. "The next day, I felt much better having told my mother about the dream, and I was smiling all day. It was February 4, Sergei's birthday, and it was like he didn't want me to be sad on his birthday. Before this dream, I'd blamed myself for his death, but afterward, it was like Sergei had told me, 'This is what I wanted, so leave me. Release me." The overwhelming release of emotion left in that space when Ekaterina skated alone for the first time in Sergei's Celebration Of A Life show with his family and friends present most certainly was that release and had to have imprinted that space with its pure love, beauty and sense of home on the ice and may leave skaters visiting with the feeling of a presence.


In Benton, Pennsylvania, what is now Ricketts Glen State Park doesn't just play host to old-growth forest and rushing waterfalls. Ghost stories are abundant in the locale. The Susquehannock people who once inhabited the area told tales of evil spirits who roamed the nearby Sheshequin Path. A boy on the property met a tragic death when the tree he was chopping at a lumber company suddenly toppled on him and a white tree that never produced any leaves grew on the spot of the tragedy's place. Nothing supposedly was ever able to grow near this "ghost tree". The ghost tree story never deterred a young family who were staying in a lakeside cabin, who looked on their young son went out on the ice on Lake Jean to test out his new skates, which he'd received as a Christmas gift. They rushed to his rescue and both parents and the young son all perished in the freezing lake waters. Urban legend has it that if you go out on the lake where they fell through the ice, you might catch a glimpse of them looking out at you through the water. According to locals, strange lights can also be seen on the lake and whispers can be heard in the wind.


Photo courtesy Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, UCLA Library. Copyright Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library. Used under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

In the height of 3 time Olympic Gold Medallist Sonja Henie's career in 1939, a 7 bedroom, 8 bathroom mansion was built at 243 Delfern Drive, across the street from the real Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, California by Old Hollywood architect Paul Williams. Dubbed Chez Henie by the superstar that contracted the house's design, this mansion was every bit as luxurious as you'd expect. A sweeping circular driveway, a dramatic staircase, a swimming pool, sunken tennis courts and even a small private indoor skating rink built in the house's attic were included in the house's design. Actress Connie Stevens purchased the home in 1974 for $250,000 (a complete steal) from Sonja's late husband, Niels Onstad. Over the years, the home has been leased to legendary musician Herb Alpert and even played host to the filming of the motion picture Postcards From the Edge, based on Carrie Fisher's novel about a smart, drug prone actress much like Carrie herself and her intense Debbie Reynolds-like show business mother. In a feature on BIOGRAPHY's Celebrity Ghost Stories, Stevens recounts the sounds of someone walking around in the attic and going upstairs to investigate and finding beautiful old drawings of little Norwegian children playing and having fun and the remains of an old skating rink upstairs. Stevens believed it was an insight into Sonja's soul. Never having had children of her own, being childlike and loving children, this very well could have been Sonja's tribute in a way. She believes that the spirit of Sonja lives on in that attic, which was converted to a roller skating rink for Stevens' daughters. Attic lights flick on on their own, especially when Connie has guests are over for outside parties. About a year before her Sonja's death on October 12, 1969 at age fifty seven, she was planning on making a grand comeback in the form of a television special she was planning right up until her death. She went to the local rink at least 3 times a week getting back in shape, skating with one of her old skating partners from the early days, enjoying herself and completely unaware that the tiredness from her believed anemia was actually leukemia, a fact her husband and personal secretary never told her about, right up until the day of her death. Is the ghost in the attic really the ghost of Sonja Henie, still drawn to her attic ice rink and oblivious to her illness?

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 Other Olympic Gold Medallists, Part 3

One of the most fascinating aspects of figure skating is its rich and complex history, layered with stories of triumph against diversity, personal sacrifice, judging scandals and record breaking "firsts". I am and always have been a huge believer that every skater, judge, coach and fan that has ever become involved in the sport has added something to its history that can never be taken away. It's all part of an intricate web. Earlier this year I spent an afternoon in a library with a microfilm scanner, a stack of dusty reference books and a mission: to tell the stories of the Olympic gold medallists in figure skating that we know little about. I wrote part 1 and part 2 to an article called "The Other Olympic Gold Medallists", which was really well received by a lot of you and got to thinking... you know what girl? Let's talk about some more of these great champions who won Olympic gold... and not the ones we already know the stories of, the other ones whose stories we don't but SHOULD know. Without further ado, 6.0 more stories of The Other Olympic Gold Medallists:


Only one of three skaters in history to win 3 Olympic gold medals in figure skating, Irina Rodnina is a pairs skating LEGEND. Interestingly enough, she's also the only skater other than Artur Dmitriev to win Olympic gold medals in pairs skating with more than one partner - and she was the first to do that as well. The story of her first partner, however, is a fascinating one. Alexei Nikolaevich Ulanov won four world titles and an Olympic silver medal with Rodnina for the Soviet Union but what happened after his Olympic win was something straight out of General Hospital. Ulanov was a famous womanizer. While still competing with Rodnina, he was caught in a hotel room with his biggest competition, Lyudmila Smirnova, who with partner Andrei Suraikan had won the silver medal at the Sapporo 1972 Olympics. A law in Japan prohibits a man and a woman who are not related to be in the same hotel room, and expulsion from the country and international scandal were only squashed by an assurance to Japanese officials that Ulanov and Smirnova would marry right after the 1972 Olympics. After winning Olympic gold, not only did he part ways with Rodnina, but he also married and teamed up on the ice with Smirnova and was back the next year to compete against his former partner and HER new partner Alexander Zaitsev. His partnership with Smirnova didn't ultimately last on or off the ice. He competed with Smirnova at the 1973 and 1974 European and World Championships, winning medals but not defeating his former partner. Ulanov and Smirnova did have two children together but divorced. His daughter, Irina Ulanova used to skate with Maxim Trankov, who's one of the main contenders for Olympic Gold in Sochi. Ulanov moved to the U.S. in 1995 and is currently living and coaching in South Florida.


In today's figure skating world, country swapping is the norm as skaters are always looking to take advantage of family and other connections, often to get a leg up. After all, if you live in a country like the U.S., Canada, Japan or Russia, your chances of making a world team are a lot less than representing, say, Uzbekistan. Changing countries was not however the norm in the 1920's, but the husband and wife team of Ludovika and Walter Jakobsson came together to do just that. Ludovika Eilers was born in Potsdam, Germany in 1884 and began her career as a singles skater, winning a bronze medal at the World Championships in 1911 representing Germany. The same year, she married her Finnish skating partner Walter Jakobsson. The Jakobssons won Olympic Gold at the 1920 Winter Olympics in Antwerp, where Ludovika was the only German born athlete at the Games. They continued to compete after their Olympic win, winning a third World title in 1923 and a silver medal at the 1924 Winter Olympics as well. Jakobsson was an engineer by trade and also an amateur photographer and member of the Fotografiamatörklubben i Helsingfors ("Helsinki Amateur Photography Club"). His speciality was dark city scenes with special light effects like rain or mist. Walter passed away at age seventy five in 1957 and was survived by his wife Ludovika, who passed away in 1968 at age eighty four. Both lived in Helsinki until their deaths.


After winning the European and World Championships in 1947 (the European Championships that year being the first international competition after World War II), Belgium's Micheline Lannoy and Pierre Baugniet appeared at the 1948 Winter Olympic Games and made history by winning the first Winter Olympic gold medal in history for their country. They retired from their two year career never having lost a competition. Following their win, Lannoy later emigrated to Canada where she married and lived for the rest of her life. Baugniet passed away in 1981 in his early fifties.


21 years before Vern Taylor landed the first triple axel in competition, David Jenkins, the younger brother of Hayes Alan Jenkins was "landing them like nobody's business". I totally felt like Dick Button saying that! "Good for you, Lucinda Ruh"... Anyway, back to what I'm saying... David Jenkins was not only a very strong jumper but a very good all around skater like his brother. Picking right up where Hayes left off, he won 3 World Championships from 1957 to 1959 and then returned to the winter Olympics to win gold in 1960, following up his bronze win in 1956. He turned professional following his 1960 win, taking a leave of absence from his studies at Case Western Reserve Medical School to appear in the Ice Follies tour. David Jenkins is now seventy seven and a retired gastroenterologist living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In a 2010 interview on the anniversary of David's Olympic win, his older brother Hayes said "David won the Olympics while he was in medical school [at Western Reserve], and that accomplishment has never gotten the attention it deserved. I could not have competed and gone to law school at the same time, and I couldn't see how he could do it, but he did."


In an interview with Barbara Berezowski earlier this year, she talked about being the first ice dance team to compete in the Winter Olympics. Barbara's accomplishments not to be overlooked, her biggest competition at those Innsbruck Games were the Soviet pair of Pakhomova and Gorshkov. First competing together at the European and World Championships in 1967, Lyudmila and Alexandr quickly rose to the upper echelons of ice dance, reigning supreme at the World Championships in 6 out of their 9 appearances. Not long into their partnership, a budding relationship developed between the two. He proposed marriage and she said she'd only marry him if they became World Champions. The team performed in the ice dancing demonstration at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, won their first World title in 1970 and married later that year, keeping with Lyudmila's promise. Following their win at the 1975 Europeans, Gorshkov underwent a lung operation with their coach Elena Tchaikovskayadonating blood. They flew to the 1975 World Championships but during the first practice session, Gorshkov had trouble breathing and needed to be given oxygen. The team withdrew and rumors in the Soviet Union circulated that Gorshkov had died on the flight back. Still very much alive, they returned the next season to win Olympic and World gold. They retired from competition, having a daughter in 1977. Pakhomova began coaching in Soviet Russia, her former students including Igor Shpilband and Natalia Annenko and Genrikh Sretenski. In 1979, Pakhomova's health problems began and she was eventually diagnosed with leukemia. She continued to get out on the ice despite her illness and passed away at age 39 on May 17, 1986 in Moscow. Following Pakhomova's death, Gorshkov later served as the chairman of the ISU's Ice Dance Technical Committee. In June 2010, he was elected president of the Russian Figure Skating Federation. He later remarried to Irina Ivanovna Gorshkova.


Like Ludowika Jakobsson who was mentioned earlier, Herma Planck-Szabo found success as both a pairs and singles skater, winning 2 World titles in pairs with partner Ludwig Wrede and 5 in singles skating. The Viennese skating sensation came from  a family of figure skaters. Her mother, Christa von Szabo, was a two time medallist in pairs skating at the World Championships and her uncle Eduard Engelmann Jr. was a three time European Champion in singles skating who built the first artifical ice rink. Her cousins were Engelmann's daughter Helene Engelmann, who won the 1924 Olympic pairs title and Christine Engelmann, who married two time Olympic Gold Medallist Karl Schäfer. Talk about keeping it in the family girl! According to German skating historian Matthias Hampe, she was the first skater to be systematically trained at such a young age. She was two when she began skating. In addition to winning her seven World titles, she won the gold medal in singles skating at the 1924 Winter Olympics, making her the first lady to win gold in the Winter Olympic Games (Madge Syers had won the first ladies figure skating Olympic title... at the Summer Olympics in 1908). At those Olympics, Planck-Szabo helped modernize ladies skating by wearing a skirt cut above the knee first, before Sonja Henie later popularized the idea. After being undefeated for five years straight at Worlds, she retired in 1927 after being beaten by Sonja Henie. The result, at any rate, was suspicious as the panel of judges consisted of three Norwegians, one German and one Austrian. The Norweigan judges all voted for Henie. The previous year, Szabo had issues as well. Her good friend and former competitor Fritzi Burger said in a 1994 interview that "she was putting on her skates and she noticed that someone had cut around the boot; the sole was nearly coming off. They postponed the beginning of compulsory figures until the boot could be repaired." Szabo had her suspicions. She thought she saw a member of the Norwegian delegation in the hall as she returned to her hotel room the night before the competition but nothing was ever proved. These experiences left Szabo disillusioned with skating (rightfully so) and sadly she never skated again. She died at age eighty four in Rottenmann, on the border of Austria and Slovenia.

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 Yebin Mok

Currently an early favourite in the MK Young Artists Showcase 4, Yebin Mok's story is a compelling one. From her childhood in Korea to her rise as a top contender on the senior level in the U.S. and a successful international competitor to her professional career, coaching and choreography, she is a skater who has come full circle in the sport and continues to push the envelope at every (three) turn. I had chance to talk with Yebin about her eligible career, involvement in YAS, the Sochi Olympics, ladies skating in the U.S. and her vision for the sport:

Q: You were born in South Korea and emigrated to the United States when you were 7. What are your memories of your childhood in Korea and what was the experience of coming to a new country like?

A: I remember the four seasons in Korea. I remember playing in the snow with my sister in the winter and going to the community garden with my grandmother when it was warm. Most of my memories of Korea are with my grandmother who raised us while our parents were working, and recently when I had returned to my hometown in 20 years, it felt so strange and I felt like such a stranger being there without my grandmother there. I finished 1st grade and came to LA. I didn’t speak a word of English, didn’t even know the alphabet.  But within 6 months I was speaking English and was able to communicate.

Q: During your eligible career, you placed in the top ten at the U.S. Championships three times in a row, won medals internationally at 2 Junior Grand Prix events and the Golden Skate Of Zagreb and skated to a 5th place finish at the 2003 World Junior Championships. What do you consider your favourite memory from your competitive skating days and why?

A: My favorite memory has to be 2003 U.S Nationals – Short Program.  Just the circumstances were quite memorable. I happened to be last skater in the last group, and somehow Michelle, Sasha, Sarah, and I were all in the last group for the short program. I remember just being in the dressing room after the warm-up and hearing Michelle finish and literally felt like thunderous vibrations through the whole building and me thinking, 'I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to do it' and almost cried because I was sooo scared and nervous. I remember as soon as I got on the ice, people started to leave the venue and their seats because they watched all the high contenders. I just let it be, whatever was happening and was able to zone in and skate the best that I ever had and got my first standing ovation. That was awesome. It’s unforgettable for me. One other time was in Croatia for the Golden Spin of Zagreb. I will say that, that whole week is what I expect heaven to be like! I skated perfect every practice session, every triple jump, every spin, and nothing could make me fall and every thing was so easy. I felt so invincible. And there, I decided this is what heaven is like.

Q: After last competing during the 2007/2008 season, you turned professional and toured as a principal skater in Holiday On Ice's productions of Energia and Speed and performed aboard the Royal Caribbean International cruise ships Explorer Of The Seas and Oasis Of The Seas. How do you feel that you have most improved as a skater since turning professional?

A: I would say I’m a better skater now than I have ever been. I feel most free to express who I am on the ice. I learned what the word, “professional skater” means. Before, I thought professional skating was for skaters who gave up on competitive skating, and they were not good enough for the competitive circuit. I think in the U.S, there is a bit of stigma that comes with being a “show” skater, and I think that’s why not many, wonderful skaters go on to do shows and just opt to go straight into coaching. But in Europe, professional skating is celebrated and looked up to. They spend a lot of investments on creating great art, which was  an eye opening world to me. Before I went on tour, I coached full time and during this time the principal offer had come to me. I asked Frank (Carroll) what I should do, and he told me, "Go! It will make you see the world, experience skating in a different light and it will make you even a better coach.” And he was/is so right.  I feel like I experienced the complete package of a skating career; beginner, competitor, professional, now coach/choreographer. I learned so much on the road, that I know I could not have learned had I not experienced it.I learned that in professional skating there is no room for, “this or that doesn’t feel right…" It’s just got to be done. I wish I knew this when I was in amateur skating. 

Q: Coaching and choreography in California has developed into your work with Young Artists Showcase. Back for more in Young Artists Showcase 4 (yeah, that totally rhymed), you absolutely blew my mind with your first challenge, which was based on the The Mevlevi Sema Ceremony (Whirling Dervishes) of Turkey. Where did you come up with the idea for this piece and how did it come from being an idea to a reality? It is absolutely hauntingly beautiful!

A: When we had to do the ethinic/cultural challenge, it was the most difficult to find a concept. There was no way I could do an African dance nor shake my booty like in a latin dance, or create a stunning flamenco without training in that dance. I’d feel like a fraud or just a pretender. So I researched and researched. I was interested in Mevlevi Sema after seeing a Youtube video of them, but I felt like it was too sacred and I would do ill justice if I’d go with the concept. But I let go of labels of the fact that I’m not from Turkey, and I connected with the very core of why they had this ritual, and that was something I could be real, and connect with. It was about love, letting go of false self and returning to True…

Q: Why is something like YAS so important to the sport, especially right now?

A: YAS is so important to the sport because THIS is what makes skating and our sport so unique and so special. THIS is our oxygen for skating. This is what creates breath. I really feel like the new template for skating moves are really limited and suffocating. And YAS offers this beautiful playground where we as artists can grow.

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

A: I’m also a certified yoga instructor. I really love reading yoga sutras, and meditating and wine.

Q: What are your three favourite movies of all time?

A: I’m a terrible chick flick lover… When Harry Met Sally,  Bridget Jones' Diary, You’ve Got Mail… see? All chick flicks…

Q:  If you could do choreography for any skater in the world, who would you pick, what would the music be, and what would the program be about?

A: I realized that I don’t have a specific skater or music. I think I have more of a vision, where I see a whole show! I have a script and a layout of the show I wrote that I would love to see happen in Vegas. It’s where dreams, fantasies, naughtiness, illusions come to life.

Q: With three spots available to the U.S. ladies this season and skaters like Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold, Agnes Zawadzki, Christina Gao, Courtney Hicks, Ashley Cain, Mirai Nagasu and so many others in the hunt, what do you think the ticket will be to securing a ticket to Sochi?

A: I think it’s going to come down to consistency in the season with Grand Prix events. They are going to send someone who is solid through the season in my opinion.  If no one is consistent than I suppose it’s up for grabs! And someone who is technically solid with levels!

Q: What are your opinions on the international scandal surrounding the Sochi Games right now?

A: It’s unfortunate and really sad. I can’t believe that this is an issue in 2013… Shouldn’t we all realize that we are all equals by now?

Q: What skaters or choreographers deserve a lot more credit? Who's fantastic that you'd just love to rave about?

A: I want to rave about Simone Grigorescu-Alexander - amazing choreographer, skater, and my idol who choreographed Energia and Speed. I want to rave about (the late) Robert Wagenhoffer. He literally makes me cry when I watch him skate, and I wish to bring that sort of magic when people watch me skate. I want to rave about our new up and coming amazing chorographer and friend, my brain twin, Adam Blake.

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years and how will skating factor into that?

A: In 10 years, I’ll be 39! So I’d like to have a family and be a Mom. But I would also like to create a skating academy where kids are able to nurture their natural talents with skating; if competitive skating is it, then being the best in that, if professional skating is what they want to pursue, then being the best professional skater ever lived, if it’s choreography then teaching them tools to do that, ect.
Just creating an environment where the kids can be the best of what they desire without feeling, it’s a second option, if they don’t win something. I’d like to create a skating/cirque show in Vegas or Paris. That would be my dream.

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 Royal Skating Mishap That Could Have Changed History

Eleven years after the first skating club in England was formed in London, a misadventure on the ice almost changed the course of history and the succession of the British Monarchy.

German born Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel; later The Prince Consort) was the husband of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and was a keen skater. In early 1841, Queen Victoria commissioned Wilson Skates to make a pair of skates for her and Prince Albert a pair of ice skates. Wilson Skates had previously been commissioned by the royal family to make skates for King William III.

One day shy of their first wedding anniversary on February 9, 1841, Prince Albert was skating on the frozen lake at Buckingham Palace. In Queen Victoria's diary, she recorded that "the ice cracked, and Albert was in the water up to his head, even for a moment below. In my agony of fright and despair I screamed and stretched out my arm... My Dearest Albert managed to catch my arm and reached the ground in safety."

Prince Albert recounted the same story to Duchess Caroline of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg on February 12, 1841: "The cold has been intense... Nevertheless, I managed, in skating, three days ago, to break through the ice in Buckingham Palace Gardens. I was making my way to Victoria, who was standing on the bank with one of her ladies, and when within some few yards of the bank I fell plump into the water, and had to swim for two or three minutes in order to get out. Victoria was the only person who had the presence of mind to lend me assistance, her lady being more occupied in screaming for help. The shock from the cold was extremely painful, and I cannot thank Heaven enough, that I escaped with nothing more than a severe cold." At that particular point in time, no male heir had been born and had Albert drowned, the entire succession would have been different... and there would have been no Queen Elizabeth II!

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

Interview With Penny Coomes And Nicholas Buckland

Only outnumbered by Russian and former Soviet teams, the Union Jack has been raised on the top of the podium at the World Figure Skating Championships in the ice dancing discipline a total of 17 times. Following in the footsteps of brilliant and captivating British ice dance teams like Jean Westwood and Lawrence Demmy, Diane Towler and Bernard Ford, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean and Sinead and John Kerr cannot be an easy feat by any stretch of the imagination. That said, with interesting and diverse programs and unquestionable technical skill, 3 time and reigning British champions Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland seem poised to do just that. With a 5th place finish at the European Championships last year, Penny and Nick have established themselves as a team to beat in international competition: a team on the move. They have progressively risen in the standings at both the European and World Championships every year and have posted strong results in Grand Prix events as well. Qualifying their country a spot at the 2014 Winter Olympics, this team hopes to make a second trip to the Olympics a reality this year and they have the skills and programs to do it. It was my pleasure to interview this talented team about their career to date, goals for the upcoming season and much, much more:

Q: You competed in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, finishing in the top 20 and have made 3 trips to the World Championships and 4 to the European Championships. What have you learned most from competing on an elite level for so long and how do you apply the lessons you've learned to the ice every day?

A from Penny: Nick and I were lucky enough to compete at quite a few major events while we were ranked number 2 in Britain under John and Sinead Kerr. We were able to attend these competitions just to gain experience without too much pressure. After skating with each other for 8 years now and experiencing all of our ups and downs throughout the seasons together we have become and stronger team. We know how to work smarter to get the most out of each and every training session. I think that in particular qualifying and competing at the 2010 Olympic Games not only made us more hungry but it has given us a bit of an advantage going into this season. We know what to expect now, and we will perhaps be a little less starstruck than the last time. Competing in Vancouver made our dreams a reality, and we feel very honored to be able to do that again.

Q: Coming from a British family - my grandparents were from England and my father and uncle were born there - I have a lot of love for British skaters. As the defending British ice dance champions, you follow in the footsteps of Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean. What is it like being compared to these skating legends and what do you appreciate most about them?

A from Penny: Nick and I have looked up to Torvill and Dean our whole lives. They were revolutionary in ice dance during their time, and they still are relevant now. Nick and I still watch their programs for ideas. We were actually lucky enough to skate with them last year at the Olympic Torch Gala in Nottingham. To be compared to the greatest ice dance couple of all time is nothing but an honor.

Q: How did you both meet and what is one thing about you most people may not know?

A from Nick: We both met when Penny’s step father came to coach at the National Ice Centre in Nottingham. Penny was then part of the skating school the same as me and she ended up at the same school too! We started skating together when  I decided I no longer wanted to free skate and we got on really well from day one. We enjoyed skating together and that’s why we are still going strong today. One thing you may not know about me is that I have a talented younger brother who is a junior skater at the moment. He and his partner are ones to look out for in the future.

Q: An error late in your program at Worlds cost you a little bit. What exactly happened in the free dance?

A from Nick: During Worlds, I experienced a heart arrhythmia, which I am in the process of getting sorted out. It's something that happens very rarely (maybe once or twice a year) but when it does happen it causes a racing heart and dizziness. Experiencing this meant that we ended up missing our spin in our free dance, which lost us points, and therefore dropping us three places. It’s nothing life threatening but something the doctors think that I can learn to control if I find myself in a similar position in the future.

Q:  How do you think Dancing On Ice has helped figure skating and ice dancing in Great Britain? Do you think this next season being the final one will hurt the sport?

A from Nick: I think Dancing In ice has done so much for the sport during the time it has been on ITV. I think the fact that it has finished is a real shame but I think in the years to come we will see a boost in high level skaters as a result of the increased levels of participation from Dancing on Ice.

Q: What has been your favourite program you've ever skated to?

A from Penny: Nick and I have been lucky enough to love and enjoy all of our programs but my favourite is easily our new free dance for this season. I found the music when we were looking for music for last season but we wanted to save it for the Olympics. Nick and I are skating to music from Cirque du Soleil's Michael Jackson Immortal Tour. It's very challenging but I can't help but smile when The music comes on. We both thoroughly enjoy skating to it. You know it's the right piece when it gets you inside.

Q: When it comes to technique, what do you believe is the most improved area of your skating since last season's competitions?

A from Nick: I think we have worked on and improved our “overall package” since last season. I feel we have improved in lots of different areas making us a stronger team overall. We’ve strengthened our weaknesses and taken advantage of our strengths! We’ve put everything into this seasons programs that we strongly believe are our best so far.

Q: When you're not on the ice, how do you both enjoy spending your free time?

A from Penny: I really enjoy cooking and baking. I also Skype with my family and friends back home.

A from Nick: To relax, I like to play golf and also play video games with my brother!

Q: What ice dancing teams (of all time) do you most look up to?

A from Penny: There have been so many great teams! I believe you can learn something from everyone. But, I most look up to Torvill and Dean, Platov and Grishuk, Davis and White and Virtue and Moir.

Q: What are your ultimate goals looking towards Europeans, Sochi and Worlds?

A from Penny: This season is important for everyone. Nick and I hope to have great preparations leading to each competition this season. We don't like to think about placements; we think that if your prepare right and skate as you do in practice the results will take care of themselves. As always we are looking to improve our skating skills and share performances the audience will enjoy.

Q: You have skated to everything from Jennifer Lopez to Basement Jaxx to The Lion King and Riverdance in the last few seasons. Why is it important to keep your programs fresh, edgy and innovative and what can you reveal about your new programs for the 2013/2014 season?

A from Penny: Thank you! Nick and I always take time when we are selecting our music for the season. To us, it's one of the most important times! We try to choose something that the audience knows and likes but to put our own spin on it. I spoke before about our Michael Jackson free dance. We choose to use the Cirque music as its composed little differently. We love it. Our short this year is to Fred Astaire's "I won't dance" but again, we managed to find a version from "Step Up 3" which is a little different and more current. We also chose to mix this with a Swing by an alternative hip hop group Jurassic Five. We hope to offer something traditional with a twist.

Q: You are coached by 2 time Olympic Gold Medallist and skating legend Evgeny Platov. What is Evgeny like off the ice, what is his coaching style like and why is he the best coach for you?

A from Nick: Evgeny is a very understanding coach. He knows when to push you and he knows when you need a rest. He is very good at structuring the preparation to a competition and above all he is a master at teaching skating technique. We have learnt so much from him from all of his experiences and they are invaluable when applying them to our own skating careers. It puts his heart and soul into teaching us and we feel because of this we get so much from him that we doubt we could get from anybody else.

Q: If you were going on a month long trip and could only pack three things, what would they be?

A from Nick: If I was going on a month long trip, I would have to pack my trainers because I cant deal with painful feet! I would also pack my iPhone because I have literally everything on there I need and its my life line to my family back home in the UK. The last thing I would pack would be my passport because if I was going on a month long trip it would have to be somewhere tropical!

A from Penny: Tea bags! I love tea. My iPad, so I can keep in touch with my family. And Nick.

Q: What do you love most about skating more than anything else?

A from Penny: I am lucky enough to travel the World and do what I love every day, but my favourite part is the feeling I get when I'm exhausted at the end of the day when I know I've worked hard. The feeling you get after all the runthroughs, when the lift you've been working on for weeks finally works, and after I finish skating at a competition. It's the best feeling in the world.

A from Nick: I love skating because it provides me with a freedom you cant get from anything else. When I’m on the ice I forget about everything and focus only on what I’m doing. Its real escapism and because of that I think I will always be part ice skating in some shape or form.

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":