Hanni Sondheimer Vogelweid, The Skates That Survived The Holocaust And The Sochi Olympics

In a sea of black, grey and white, one girl in a red coat. That iconic visual and moment depicted in "Schindler's List" that stays in our mind forever.

Born on October 5, 1923, in Berlin, Germany, 17 year old Hanni Sondheimer Vogelweid was living in Lithuania when World War II broke out and fled with her parents Moritz and Setty and her 14 year old brother Karl to Japan in an attempt to escape the 1940 Soviet occupation of Kaunus and eventually emigrate to the U.S. where her family had relatives. Her grandmother and great aunt's family weren't so fortunate. They ended up being in a work camp. Her voyage from Kaunus, Lithuania ended up being unsuccesful due to visa restrictions and Hanni and her family were forced to move to China, as they became officially stateless after leaving Lithuania. She journeyed from Kaunus, Lithuania to Shanghai, China with only a few personal belongings: a picture of Gary Cooper, a pair of red shoes and her leather lace-up figure skates.

From 1941 to 1946, Hanni and her family were forced to live and be interned in the Hongkew (Hongkou Qu) ghetto of Shanghai with other Jewish refugees. In 1946, Hanni married a U.S. soldier and safely emigrated from China to the U.S. and she arrived with the pair of figure skates that survived that harrowing trip from Lithuania to Japan to China to the U.S. "I couldn't bring much," explained Hanni in a narrative on file with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., where the skates and a collection of Hanni and her family's belongings are among the materials. "I loved ice skating and I could take my ice skates because I thought in America you can ice skate." Hanni's family arrived in the U.S. the following year.

Hanni, her parents, Moritz and Setty, and her 14 year old brother, Karl, fled Kaunas due to the Soviet occupation in 1940. They planned to emigrate to the United States, but visa restrictions made them take a difficult route through Russia to Japan. Classified as stateless refugees when they reached Japan in March 1941, they were deported to Shanghai where they survived the war in the Hongkew ghetto. Hanni married a US soldier and emigrated to the United States in 1946. Her family emigrated the next year. following the Soviet occupation in 1940. They planned to emigrate to the United States, but quota restrictions made them take a difficult route through Russia to Japan. Classified as stateless refugees when they reached Japan in March 1941, they were deported to Shanghai, China, where they survived the war in the Hongkew ghetto. Hanni married a US soldier and emigrated to the United States in 1946. Her family emigrated the next year.

The skates sit in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., serving as a haunting reminder of the life of one teenager who survived anti-Semitism in the German school she attended in Kaunus, a nerve-wracking trip via the Trans-Siberian Railroad, ship to Tsuruga, Japan, extreme poverty and near-starvation in Shanghai and a cross Pacific voyage from China to Comanche, Iowa, skates in tow. If that's not the definition of survivor I don't know what is.

Just four years before Hanni and her family had fled Lithuania, Sonja Henie was performing an exhibition at the Sportpalast in Berlin, one of her favourite rinks. Unexpectedly one evening, Hitler himself, Goring, Goebbels and other Nazis came to the Sportpalast to see her perform. When Sonja was told of Hitler's attendance, she found out where he was seated and skated full speed towards him, stopped right in front of him, gave the Nazi salute and in a loud voice shouted "Heil Hitler!" to thunderous applause and a blown kiss from the man who was responsible for the deaths of approximately 60,000,000 to 85,000,000 people worldwide during World War II. Despite claiming "I don't even know what a Nazi is" Sonja remained good friends with Hitler until his troops invaded Norway and again sported that salute at the 1936 Olympics in Germany.

We say that the Olympics aren't a place to get political. They sure were in 1936 and it's horrific to think that the most famous skater of Hanni's time was someone who publicly showed support of the Nazi regime... in Hanni's own country of birth. Albert Einstein once said that "peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding." That's really it. The Olympic Games are all about bringing nations and people together to do something positive together. It's a lot like going to a family or work event where you may not get along with everyone 365 days a year but you say hey, we're going to do something positive together damn it. In that long ago time, one skater won 3 Olympic gold medals and publicly supported Hitler and another ran for her life with her skates. Both of these ice loving ladies aren't with us anymore but I think there's still an important message in that connection. In 1936, Hitler used the Olympics as a platform to spread hate, bigotry and sneer in the face of human rights. The same thing is going on again in Russia right now, less than a hundred years later. I'm sure the next generation of skating fans would hate to be hearing the story of another Olympics taking place in the midst of hate and of a young GLBT skater fleeing Russia with HIS or HER skates just to survive. In Nigeria right now, a man received 20 lashes after an Islamic court in Bauchi convicted him of "homosexual offences". We've all seen the video of the Russian teenager splashed with urine by his peers who supported Putin's anti-gay law - which is also supported by none other than Public Chamber Of Russia member and 3 time Olympic Gold Medallist Irina Rodnina as well. I don't know about you, but in Canada we have this thing called human rights. I couldn't have more pride in Barack Obama for his decision to send openly gay athletes to Sochi as a peaceful reminder of human rights and in U.S. Figure Skating, Ashley Wagner and Jeremy Abbott for all of their recent statements in support of human rights. I'll even hand it to our Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who like Obama will not be attending the Sochi Games. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in the summer: "This mean-spirited and hateful law will affect all Russians 365 days of the year, every year. It is an incitement to intolerance, which breeds hate. And intolerance and hate breed violence."

As skating fans and human beings, we owe a little more to people like Hanni Sondheimer Vogelweid. With Sochi fast approaching, it's happening. There's not a boycott. The Olympics aren't moving. They're happening where they are whether we like it or not. My only hope is that people will continue to open their mouths and do so at the Games too. These are basic human rights we're talking about here. We wouldn't have gone to a KKK meeting and be "respectful of the host's beliefs" so as not to rock the boat, and I hope the people attending the Sochi Games aren't ruled by fear of their environment. This is the perfect time TO get a message across. If not then, when?

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": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

Interview With Jorik Hendrickx

In interviewing skaters from all corners of this big, beautiful world the same story always seems to ring true. No matter what the obstacles and challenges are, if you love skating enough you persevere. This case rings true for Belgium's Jorik Hendrickx, the 21 year old who hopes to represent his country at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia after securing that men's berth at last year's World Championships in London, Ontario. A consistent jumper who has placed in the top 10 at the European Championships and won international competitions such as the Cup Of Nice in France and Coupe du Printemps in Luxembourg, Jorik took the time from his busy training schedule heading into this week's European Championships where he'll be competing to talk about setbacks, his Olympic dream, skating in Belgium and more.

Q: You are not only a Belgian National Champion but have also had success representing your country in international competition and at the World Junior Championships, European Championships and at Worlds, where you have twice placed in the top twenty. What are your proudest accomplishments and most special moments on the ice so far?

A: It would be Worlds last year, coming back after an ankle injury and getting ready in 2 months. Even though my short program wasn't my best, I still performed a good long program and earned an international ticket for Sochi.

Q: What does a chance of representing your country in Sochi at the Olympics mean to you?

A: I'm still not sure if they will let me go but if I go it would just mean a lot to myself. It would be an appreciation of all the hard work I put into it and all the sacrifices I had to make for it.

Q: You are a student at Johan Cruyff University in Tilburg. How challenging has it been balancing school and skating and what's one thing you've learned ON the ice that has helped you in your studies?

A: Combining both is really hard and abroad in Holland the facilities were much better.  I took off this whole year to just focus on skating.

Q: Belgium has not won an Olympic medal in figure skating since Micheline Lannoy and Pierre Baugniet won the gold medal at the 1948 Winter Olympics in Switzerland. What do you think the future of figure skating of Belgium holds in store? How popular is skating there now?

A: Skating was getting more popular after some TV shows but there is no financial support and the sacrifices you have to make for it are mostly the reasons why they don’t get to the international level. My parents and I first had to put a lot of money into it before I got some financial support, as the support comes from the Belgian Olympic Committee and not from our Skating Federation. So the results need to be good and Olympic promising.

Q: If you could go back in time and change anything, would you?

A: Life is as it comes and I have no regrets from anything so far (besides breaking my ankle). I have had a lot of opportunities in my life from skating.

Q: If you had a week completely away from skating and the ice and could do ANYTHING, what would you do?

A: I never been on a real holiday! I would like to go on a beach holiday. I would also spend time with my family as I'm away a lot.

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

A: I'm inspired by a lot of skaters. Everyone has their qualities and I don’t really have only one or 3 favourites.

Q: What you say that your ultimate goal in figure skating is?

A: When I was fifteen I landed my double Axel. When I was sixteen I landed my first triples. When I was eighteen I learned triple/triples andone1 year later I accomplished the triple Axel jump. Everything went so fast and I never thought I would ever skate at the European Championships. Now I’m almost about to compete at my first Olympic Games. I always want more and more but sometimes I have to realize everything came so fast and be thankful for what I already accomplished. I would really like to perform a quadruple jump as I'm not capable of that yet.

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

A: When I started skating I wanted to become a hockey player.

Q: What makes a great skater?

A: Talent and motivation to work!

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": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

The 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

If the skating that we saw all week in Boston is any indication, the future may be bright in U.S. figure skating but the present is positively radiant. Like a perfectly simmered New England Clam Chowder, the skating was just delicious. The dust has finally settled and the endgame has been determined. After triumphant moments and crushing defeats, we now know who will be representing the U.S. at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia and who unfortunately won't. I want to preface my thoughts on the senior competitions first by congratulating the bright young stars and champions of the Juvenile and Intermediate divisions, Novice Champions Paolo Borromeo, Vivian Le, Ai Setoyama and David Botero, Gigi and Luca Becker and Junior Champions Nathan Chen, Amber Glenn, Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage and Kaitlyn Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Your accomplishments aren't merely stepping stones - they are beautiful accomplishments in themselves. I also want to encourage those of you who want to catch up on all of the Boston buzz you may have missed to check out Jackie Wong's Figure Skating Examiner. I follow a TON of blogs and skating news sites, and I have to applaud Jackie for always offering comprehensive coverage of eligible competitions free of bias and vitriol. Now for a few thoughts on show things went down in Boston:


The silver medal winning free skate from Zhang and Bartholomay that blew the roof off the rink!

Pairs skating in the U.S. has always had the ugly and largely undeserved reputation ladies skating earns in Canada. It's interesting having just interviewed Ken Shelley recently that you look back to that storied history of U.S. pairs skating you see Olympic medals in pairs skating in 1932, 1952, 1960, 1964, 1984 and 1988 but a drought ever since. That's not to say there hasn't been amazing skating - look at skaters like Todd Sand and both his partners Natasha Kuchiki and Jenni Meno and Kyoko Ina and her second partner John Zimmerman who won world medals since then. Whatever that stigma was, the pairs in Boston disproved. Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir led after the short program and despite errors in their free skate fought tooth and nail and even attempted (and rotated) a throw quad salchow. Caydee Denny and John Coughlin had a magical free skate but just weren't able to quite play catch up to Marissa and Simon overall. Felicia Zhang and Nate Bartholomay were outstanding in both their short program and "Les Miserables" free skate, fighting for every point and going clean, really giving the performance of the night in the opinion of most, finishing 2nd. While I think all of these teams really delivered and sent that message about the strength of pairs skating in the U.S., I gotta say - the 2nd place finish of Zhang and Bartholomay kind of brings home that message of how confusing this IJS system is to casual fans of the sport... when the "performance of the night" doesn't win, it confuses people and rightfully so but I really applaud U.S. Figure Skating by doing the right thing and sending them. I don't think anyone was screwed royally in the pairs judging OR Sochi team announcement. DeeDee Leng and Timothy LeDuc definitely win the award for most improved in my really gay opinion... the footwork is great and the throws look so much bigger. Also, I want to be Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim's triple twist when I grow up.


The depth in U.S. ladies skating right now is simply unending. If you look at how many of these ladies were trying (and landing) triple/triple combinations in the short program, especially the fact many of them are really fresh faces, it was almost like watching Japanese Nationals and seeing a field of skaters that would rival ANY international competition. My heart went out to skaters like Agnes Zawadzki, Courtney Hicks and Rachael Flatt, who really lost the competition with mistakes in the short program that really buried them somewhat in the standings. Not the way you want to go out and not an indication of how talented any of these ladies are. Nice to see Hicks really recover the most of the 3 of them. It's clear to me Rachael (for example) just loves skating but the fire wasn't there - that popped lutz in the short program wasn't from the same skater who won gold at this event in 2010. It was the complete opposite with 2008 Champion Mirai Nagasu. She was NOT going down without a fight and that's something I think is so important, even if she did skate to a twinkly elevator music version of "The Man I Love" and music from James Bond, God love her. She didn't quit after she got shafted in that free skate last year and seriously, that alone deserves mad props. Her free skate was exemplary and it was great to see her rewarded with another medal. I see a lot of hope for the future in Polina Edwards - anyone who can reel of a triple lutz/triple toe combination like it's nothing at age 15 is a skater we want to be paying close attention to. As for the puddle problems and ice quality in the free skate, TV contracts aside for safety and performance issues that ice should have been resurfaced again. This is skating, not synchronized swimming. If Jem was here, she would have said that was "outrageous. Totally, totally, totally outrageous". Ashley's free skate just broke my heart. The pressure on her must have been just ridiculous and I think that can be said for everyone but I don't think the ice quality can't be blamed for ANYONE'S problems in the free skate. Although Sasha Cohen (a former Olympic Medallist) was excluded from the 2010 Olympic team after a 4th place finish that year in her comeback, I think a case for Ashley being included was absolutely there, especially given her impeccable competitive history and the soup she skated in. I don't know... she's an adult among girls and I'm just so happy that U.S. Figure Skating did the right thing and included her. So incredibly sad for Mirai! If it were up to me, I would have sent Gracie, Mirai and Ashley but I think with Polina's technical arsenal and fearlessness there's definitely a case for her going as well. Gracie Gold, in winning her first national title, really lived up to those insane expectations she was getting last year from the media (social and otherwise) and skating community and delivered when she needed to. She wasn't perfect in the free skate, but who was really? At any rate, the ladies event was certainly full of drama, intrigue, glory and gut wreching disappointment just as any good Olympic year Nationals free skate has been in the past and will be going forward.


You could have punched Meryl Davis and Charlie White's ticket to Sochi quite confidently with a big "Hey Girl Hey!" LONG before the competition in Massachusetts even started but the importance of Davis and White and Virtue and Moir competing at their respective Nationals had a lot more to do with a final run through/fine tuning before a showdown on former Soviet soil. With the temperatures in both Canada and the U.S. this winter and the way these two teams interactions are edited on Tessa and Scott's W reality show, you really could call it a 'cold war'. As always, Davis and White dazzled and laid down two "first rate, first rate" Dick Button performances that really exemplified their strengths. As much as many may disagree, I still don't get that "ooo"/"aaa" feeling from their "Scheherazade" free dance as much as I'd like to but it's certainly a masterpiece. I don't think it has anything to do with the program composition, components or the way its interpreted - to me it's just the music. What interested me more that their win was how the battles between the other teams played out. As much as I'm a huge supporter/fan of Lynn and Logan (who were just FANTASTIC in both the short and free dances), I really have to applaud ALL of the top 6 teams. Ice dancing in the U.S. has never had this depth to the field and if it were up to me (which I wish it would be) 6 Olympic spots would be just fabulous in my books. At the end of the day, to no one's shock OR dismay Davis and White handily won another U.S. title in sublime fashion with a score of 200.19, bringing down the house and edging out Madison Chock and Evan Bates, Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue. These teams were just all so fantastic they all deserve hugs and/or Long Island Iced Teas... that's what I have to say about that... P.S. to Maia Shibutani - you only have to be 19 to enjoy a refreshing, healthy Long Island Iced Tea in Canada! Come do that Thriller face here girl! P.P.S. - I think they should include Hannah Miller as a special guest in that free dance: "Hannah Miller... In The Night! She Did A Double Axel On A Boot That Had A Knife!" No more Michael Jackson parodies, I promise. That would be just be criminal... SMOOTH criminal.


Jeremy Abbott's record breaking short program

The silver medal winning free skate from Jason Brown that had me in tears

I make no secret about my love for Jeremy Abbott's skating. He's really one of only a real handful of current skaters who seem to be able to deliver a meaningful performance with some meat and potatoes and true depth and performance quality with this IJS system that really stymies the choreographic process. Leading up to this competition, all I could think of was... 2 spots, Jeremy needs to be one of those 2 skaters. Among the rest of the men's field with that kind of depth, there were at least a dozen other skaters I would love to have seen in that second spot. Jeremy's short program was literally the stuff magic was made of. I haven't seen a performance under the IJS system that has inspired me that way in years... or ever. To come back and nail it like he did, blowing the roof off of the arena in Boston and skating lights out - almost hitting 100 points in the short - resonated such a positive message about how truly fantastic Jeremy is when he's on. He's really a class ahead of any competition you can throw his away. Sorry bout it. That performance to me was akin to watching Rudy Galindo at the 1996 Nationals - a magical breakthrough when it mattered most! At the end of the day, only 2 men are to earn golden tickets to the Sochi Olympics... and no, neither of them are Evan Lysacek or Johnny Weir, who I half expected to crash the ice halfway through someone's program for a photo op... you never know girl. Stranger things have happened, like the time the flasher went on the ice when Michelle Kwan was out there. Overall though, SO many impressive skaters and moments... Doug Mattis' Robbie, Sean Rabbit, Grant Hochstein, Josh Farris, Ricky Dornbush, Stephen Carriere, Tintin... I mean Ross Miner's "Boston Strong" tribute to the people of Boston and the Marathon Bombing victims... the list just goes on and on. I was a little heartbroken to see Adam Rippon have an off competition - the overall quality and elegance to his skating is just over the moon fantastic. I am in the throws of a mad love affair with Jason Brown's "Riverdance" free skate and to go out and deliver that kind of PERFORMANCE when it counted most and be received like that just speaks volumes about what kind of skating people really appreciate. Jason's not a legend in the making - he's the right here and right now and I can't say enough wonderful things about him. At my first Provincials here in Nova Scotia in 1997, I skated to the same exact same music for my artistic program choreographed by my coach Katy Leask (Martins). That music and program were really, really dear to my heart and to see someone take that music and do THAT with it quite honestly left me in tears today. The fact that it beat a quad jumping Max Aaron spoke a lot as well. Speaking of Max Aaron, he came back and couldn't have done anything MORE in his free skate - he's a jumping beast and his presentation has improved by split jumps and bounds. I have no words when it comes to Jeremy coming out and doing it AGAIN in the free skate when it counted more than anything. I've grown to be friends with Jeremy's Mom Allison and we've talked about so much and I really feel so much emotion over this victory. Just wow. So that was my secret cryfest of the day - Puffs should be sponsoring me, not U.S. Figure Skating. I'm tellin' ya girl! The big winners were Jeremy and Jason... and you know what, that couldn't have made me a happier person. If anyone deserved those moments, it was them and all of us watching. After watching both of them skate in Boston, my faith in "amateur" skating is restored. Just like that. For once, I'm speechless...

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": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

The 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Meagan and Eric's triple twist! The competition couldn't have been any more exciting if it tried at the 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in Ottawa, Ontario. Just as the U.S. Championships celebrated 100 years, so did Skate Canada's national figure skating competition. I mean skating - NOT figure skating - new Skate Canada CEO Dan Thompson said "it's just a way of creating a more focused consistent brand message for Skate Canada as the governing body and as a Skate Canada event," in a recent statement to the Associated Press). Something something marketing something something 'brand'. At any rate, what happened on the ice was what the national competition that played a major role in selecting Canada's Sochi team is what really mattered. The event became a community affair, with free skating lessons being held in conjunction with a 15 minute outdoor event called "Canada Skates! 100 Years Of Champions" set up at Ottawa's city hall that featured some of Canada's best skating to choreography by Olympic Medallist and World Champion Jeffrey Buttle. I spoke to Canadian Silver Medallist and Stars On Ice cast member Shawn Sawyer on Friday, who told me he was "very excited about this first day of competition! Meanwhile I am performing in a small outdoor production at City Hall. We will be doing it four times a day for today and tomorrow and then will be the opening act for the skating gala on Sunday!" The competition itself was full of highs and lows for the hundreds of ridiculously talented skaters involved. Here are a few brief thoughts from yours truly on how it all played out:


Like the battle in Boston with Meryl and Charlie playing the role of The Untouchables, that's really how many skating fans looked at this competition for 2010 Olympic Gold Medallists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. And why not, really? They're Olympic Gold Medallists and World Champions... and now stars of their own reality show on the W Network... which a lot of people are already all jazzed about after only 1 episode. Things weren't absolutely smooth sailing - they were disappointed with their short dance and the twizzles in the free dance were off, but really they skated so well at the end of both days that these kind of details really seemed trivial. There's still work to be done if they seriously want to challenge Meryl and Charlie in Sochi and they have a short amount of time to do it - a medal is CERTAINLY in their future though. They faced some serious competition from Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje though, whether people recognized it as that or not - Kaitlyn and Andrew are really top notch skaters that deserve every little bit of credit sent their way. The real question mark and the battle came down to who would grapple onto that podium in that third spot. With a score of 170.64 to Gilles and Poirier's 164.52, when the dust settled it was the exquisite Alexandra Paul and Mitch Islam who nabbed the third spot... with both teams skating so well. Canada has come a LONG way in the ice dancing field compared to how things were 20 years ago and we can thank teams like Bourne and Kraatz, Dubreuil and Lauzon and Virtue and Moir for that. I think we're going to make a strong statement in Sochi, and I also think the world needs to really consider Weaver and Poje when they think about that statement.


When Kaetlyn Osmond won the Skate Canada Challenge leading into Nationals this year, I regained the hope that had wavered a little after a rocky start to her season. Kaetlyn's a skater with every bit as much natural talent as ANYBODY, and it was a joy to see her lay down the law when it counted, going clean with a triple/triple in the short and nailing 6 triples and earning a standing O in the free to win her second consecutive National title. Gabby Daleman really was amazing as well, showing such strength in her podium repeat. Amelie Lacoste skating her first clean short program at Nationals in years brought a smile to my face - I don't think a lot of people really counted her in when they should have. When you have skaters like Kaetlyn, Amelie, Gabby Daleman and Veronik Mallet all going clean in their short programs, that sends a huge message to the rest of the world that hasn't really been 'heard' in years - Canadian ladies skating is NOT in a sorry state whatsoever. We've got names, names, names sweetie dahling and they've got the goods. These aren't those inconsistent 'lean years' of the 90's and we can't keep typecasting Canadian ladies skating like than anymore. It's not a fair assessment by any stretch of the imagination.


I make no secret of my fandom of Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford and why would anyone? They are really skaters that when they're on show to anyone just how incredibly talented they truly are. You can't put a price tag on what they go out there and do, and competing against wonderful teams on home ice like Moore-Towers and Moscovitch and Lawrence and Swiegers is no easy feat. It never has been for Canadian pairs skaters. We have such a rich tradition of pairs skating greatness here, and Nationals is really as difficult as any international outing for these pairs. What Meagan and Eric accomplished in Ottawa was nothing short of record breaking... literally. Their confidence and technical prowess just shined and their overall total of 213.62 broke the Canadian pairs title. Can they be the first Canadian pairs team since Jamie Sale and David Pelletier to stand on an Olympic podium? Yes, they absolutely can and I absolutely hope they do. Moore-Towers and Moscovitch also made a great case in Ottawa as well too, earning 209.44 points to put them closely behind Duhamel and Radford. You also really have to give some love to Paige and Rudi - they have a quiet confidence in their skating and some wonderful elements when they hit them... plus he's really a whole lot of pretty. The Canadian pairs boys in general are - can we have a calendar of hot Canadian men of pairs figure skating? I'd buy the bejesus out that!


The name everybody's lips is gonna be... Roxy... I mean Patrick. Patrick or "PChiddy" has been and is the big name in Canadian men's skating and I think with Sochi approaching everyone was so curious to see how he fared at the Nationals leading up to the Olympics where he is certainly an Olympic gold medal favourite. He certainly didn't disappoint, but he wasn't perfect either. Nailing a quad toe/triple toe in his short program, he went on to double his axel and lutz. If you put that performance up against what Jeremy Abbott did in the short in Boston, it just doesn't compare. Does that mean that Chan is beatable? He was always beatable! Anybody is. Does it mean he'll be beat? It all comes down to who lands those jumps over two programs when it counts in Russia and it always has. There's always been an attitude and concern among skating fans about "Chanflation" - inflated scores, especially at home at Nationals and there was as always a bit of that going on in this case, but he still demonstrated that the quality of his skating really is of that superior level that it does deserve marks - marks like that? I don't know. That said, he did nail quad/triple combinations in both programs and really... I think that shows you can jump. There's no denying that he is a fantastic skater and will still be a skater to beat when it comes down to the wire in Sochi. A lot of credit needs to be given to Kevin Reynolds. He didn't even HAVE a season coming into this event due to the boot problems that completely destroyed the momentum he wanted to ride after last season, but he fought like a trooper, even with issues on the quads that have really been his claim to fame and was able to secure that silver medal. It's really going to be intensive training over the coming weeks to pull in together in Russia though, but I have faith he can do it. Liam Firus was wonderful in claiming the bronze - a message that future is here. Another skater from the present to watch in the future: Nam Nguyen!

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": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

Interview With Ken Shelley

I've interviewed dozens upon dozens of skaters, coaches, choreographers, fans, skating historians and just about anyone could imagine involved in the sport. You know what? I can honestly say that most of them have been absolutely a joy to interview. Four time U.S. Champion, two time World Medallist, 1969 North American Champion and two time World Professional Champion Ken Shelley was absolutely no exception. Just days before he was ready to leave for Boston and the 2013 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships, the living legend of skating - and yes... he and JoJo Starbuck completely are - took the time to talk via phone with me and share his story. From learning to skate in a living and dining room to four U.S. titles, two trips to the Winter Olympics (he finished fourth in both singles and pairs at the Sapporo Games), a long professional career and a farm in New York state, Ken's life and story is anything but cookie cutter and nothing less than fascinating. Happy Nationals week to my U.S. skating friends and hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did!

Q: You won four National titles (three as a pairs team with JoJo Starbuck and one as a singles skater) and represented the U.S. at two Olympic Games and the North American and World Championships. What are your proudest moments from your "amateur" career?

A: Well, you know skating was very good to me. It presented a lot of opportunities. I was and am still not a very competitive person. We always knew if we did well - skated well and placed - other opportunities would come to us. I think that was our motivation: that there was something else to come. People have always asked me because I did two events how I did it. When you're out there with somebody else it's a lot more fun. When you're out there holding someone else's hand there's an extra security. In a way, the pairs was easier. We started when we were seven, grew up together and had issues here and there but we always got along and we always had a lot of fun. I did better with solo skating as I got older. When you go out there and you come out and have done it by yourself, it's always very gratifying. All of it was great. When we went to our first Olympics, we were 16 and had no thoughts that we would eve make it. A lot with skating is hard work. It's talent and timing. All of those things work with you or against you.

JoJo and Ken's winning program at the 1972 U.S. Nationals

Q: How did you manage to devote enough training time to both disciplines, especially with the amount of time really needed to perfect compulsory figures?

A: In reality, back then we did 3 or 4 hours of patch every day. That was still very much part of it. The free skating was like an hour and 45 minutes to 1 hour of pairs. Things have changed and evolved so much. What they do now - I sit there and am like I can't believe what they're doing! I don't coach so I'm not like at the rink everyday so when I go, I'm awed and fascinated by it all and I think they're just incredible athletes. Every generation has improved on the last and the training and off ice is so much better. When I skated the adage was the more you skated, the better you'd be. There wasn't a lot of off ice training. We'd take ballet and had a fellow who'd help with lifts on the floor but there was no weightlifting, upper body, running, cycling... nothing like that. With figures, I had to put in the time like everyone else was putting in time. People have asked me - how did I do it? Because I always did. I didn't know anything different. When I only did one event at a competition, I always felt like I wasn't busy enough! It was what you did, what you had to do and you put in the time.

Ken's winning free skate at the 1972 U.S. Nationals

Q: When you turned professional, you toured with Ice Capades and competed professionally, winning the 1981 and 1983 World Professional Championships. The first time I really became acquainted with your skating - long before the days of YouTube - was in watching the broadcast of the 1997 Legends Of Figure Skating Competition from Little Rock, Arkansas, when you and JoJo returned to competition for the first  in over a decade and honestly really wowed the audience. What was the process of training 3 programs for a professional competition like after all of those years and how did it all come about?

A: To be honest, I can't even remember what that competition was. I have a terrible memory first of all. I give kudos to Rick Dwyer because he still skates every day and just as well as he did umpteen years ago but he never quit and that's the secret to a long successful skating career... if that's what you want. I love to skate. When I skated, I always had a great time. I also got into producing and choreographing - the show biz was what I enjoyed the most. When I was a kid, my parents had taken me and my family to see the ice show in Los Angeles. The magic, lights, music, costumes... I just thought this was the greatest thing. For my 6th birthday I was given ice lessons at a studio rink in an old house. The ice was L shaped. I actually started skating in a living room and dining room - 20 X 20 - really a tiny piece of ice. They built another studio behind it and that was called The Big Rink and was about  30 X 40. They only taught show biz skating, no figures or anything like that... and that's how I came to skating. We'd do a little show once every six months or so. In one of these shows, they put JoJo and I together as a pair in a quartet. They eventually went bankrupt. We still wanted to skate so we went to Iceland (owned by Frank Zamboni) which was way bigger - 100 X 200. We had no IDEA what a club was or how it worked. I was about 11 then. We had no idea what patch was or anything like that. I said "when's the next show?" All we wanted to do was be in show biz. That's where our heart was. After everything, when we left show I went back to school. JoJo and I would live in different cities and get together and rendezvous and practice. When professional competitions came about, absolutely nobody wanted to do them because no one wanted to compete against anyone again. It took Dick Button the longest time to get people convinced and how they started was with teams. The red against the blue team or whatever and then he finally got people to agree to compete against each other. I worked in theatre for many years and would creep back into skating now and again. It got tougher every time. Sometimes I'd get mad at myself because skating was always joyful and positive for me and it got harder. We did our always did our best though. When we had opportunities that came up, we'd train and be serious. If we were going to be out in front of people, we'd try to do the best we could. Every time as we did it getting older, it was a little more frightening and difficult. The last time was about five or six years ago and I said to JoJo, "I really can't do this anymore". But when we knew we had to do something, we were serious about it because we wanted to do the best job we could do, even if that meant private ice time in the middle of the night.

Q: You have worked in theatrical management - with Broadway shows and the American Ballet Theatre. What do you find skating and theatre have most in common?

A: Because I still work a little bit in theatre, it's fascinating because you can have two years to prepare and put in one hundred percent but at eight o'clock on Wednesday night as an example, the show's going to go on no matter what and at eleven it's over. It's funny in that way that in all types of show biz it comes up and down. I think the most remarkable thing in working in show business is the level of talent and creativity that goes into it. People don't realize it. The better it is, the harder they work to make that magic.

Q: As a technical specialist in both singles and pairs, you've certainly seen first hand the ins and outs of the "new" judging system. What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of IJS as a judging system compared to the 6.0 system you competed under?

A: It has pushed the sport but has not connected totally with the fan base for some reason. I think for the skater and the coach, it's marvellous that they can really see what the officials liked and didn't like. It really gives you a report card as opposed to 4.8, 4.6. But for general audiences, there's no one they can boo or cheer anymore. If it does get a high number, unless you know it's a high number you don't know what that number means. Unless you know the system, you don't know if it's good or bad. With calling, you have to use your best judgement. You call it as you see it and do your best job. It's disappointing to me as someone who loves the sport that it doesn't have the same viewership and passion, but everything happens in cycles. It's a different world and things change and they move on and that's how you have to look at it. The exciting thing is that the skating itself has never been better. I went to Worlds the last 2 years and you're sitting there and you're just awed. Your jaw is wide open and the true champions are the ones that get the technical and have that quality artistry and are somewhat consistent... those are the people that if they can pull it off, they do it.

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

A: I have a little office with some of my skating memorabilia up. I have my favourite skaters right up on the wall. Ronnie Robertson, who was a competitor in the fifties, a silver medallist to Hayes Jenkins and a fantastic show skater was one. The Jelinek's, a Canadian brother/sister pair... when they skated they had a "I love to skate", such a zest for skating. You could see they had the greatest time of their lives. Cathy Steele and Phil Romayne... Cathy married Willy Bietak of Willy Bietak Productions. He was from New York, she was German. They had both had different partners before then they found each other. They were an adagio team in Ice Capades for many years...

Q: What is your favourite movie... one you could watch over and over again?

A: Shakespeare In Love. I love Shakespeare! You know, years ago in 1979 there was a show on Canadian TV called Stars On Ice. One of the people that worked on it - I'm not sure if they were the choreographer or producer? - was the fellow who put JoJo and I together in that little studio in Downey, California. He invited us to come up and tape two thirty minute shows. This was a variety show on ice and they were shown on CTV or CBC? I can't remember. I came up and filmed one and then I had 4-5 days off and they were going to shoot another 1 after. I had always heard about the Stratford Festival. I thought I'd go and see some Shakespeare so I took the train from Toronto and went to Stratford. You'd stay in someone's home when you went because there were only 2 hotels or something. It was like a revelation. I loved it. I have gone back to the Stratford Festival EVERY summer ever since. Shakespeare In Love was just so wonderfully written intertwining stories.

Ken Shelley, Freddie Trenkler and JoJo Starbuck. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

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

A: I grew up in southern California in suburb of L.A, and when I left the ice show I went to New York City and now I have a farm in upstate New York and I have a horse named Waldemere. I have even ridden with the local fox hunt. I've had the best of all worlds! I had never ridden a horse seriously or taken lessons until I was fifty. Dick Button also has farm forty five minutes south of here - Ice Pond Farm. He's an amazing gardener. I talked to him on the phone recently and he said, "I have a book for you" and I thanked him so much. Dick said, "you may not thank me after you see what I've written!"

Q: What's the most important thing in your life at the end of the day?

A: I thank my lucky stars every morning I wake up. I enjoy my family and friends and wow... yeah. I think that's it. This week is great fun because I'm going to get to see people I don't see all the time. I'm going to Boston with my long time partner JoJo. We live pretty close to each other but don't see each other all the time and it's always so much fun. We're having a big Ice Capades reunion this coming summer and I'm looking forward to that too.

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": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

One Hundred Years Before Boston: The 1914 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Jeanne Chevalier and Norman Mackie Scott

One hundred years ago in New Haven, Connecticut, the very first International Figure Skating Championships of America was held "under the auspices of the International Skating Union of America (I.S.U. of A.), the governing body for both speed and figure skating during the early 1900s. The competition was created to promote the international style and attempt to streamline figure skating in the United States. As a result of the direction brought by the I.S.U. of A... the United States Figure Skating Association was formed in 1921 to govern the sport and promote its growth nationwide," according to U.S. Figure Skating. This competition, which is recognized as the first U.S. Figure Skating Championships was not only a historic first and starting point in U.S. figure skating history, but a competition full of stories and names like you wouldn't believe.

Theresa Weld Blanchard and Nathaniel Niles

The first U.S. men's and pairs champions weren't Americans at all, but Canadian figure skaters by the name of Norman Mackie Scott and Jeanne Chevalier who won the Canadian men's title and pairs title respectfully the same years they won the American titles. The silver medallist in the men's and pairs competition and the ladies champion (and the top American born finishers) were Nathaniel Niles and Theresa Weld Blanchard.

Theresa Weld Blanchard and Nathaniel Niles represented the Skating Club Of Boston, which is a really interesting connection considering one hundred years later and only days away, Boston is playing host to the U.S. Championships. Theresa, who hailed from Brookline, Massachusetts, in fact won the U.S. title six times but never competed at a World Championships. She did however thrice compete at the Winter Olympics, winning bronze in 1920 in ladies singles, finishing fourth in 1924 and tenth in 1928. In pairs with partner Niles, she was fourth, sixth and 9th at the same consecutive Games. The duo of Weld Blanchard and Niles even excelled at ice dancing as well, winning 5 U.S. ice dance titles to complement their nine pairs titles together. When her own skating career concluded, Weld Blanchard (known as Tee Blanchard to her many friends in the skating community), put pen to paper and served  as volunteer editor of the United States Figure Skating Association's official publication, Skating magazine; first jointly with Niles from the magazine's founding in 1923, and then as sole editor after his death in 1931, up until 1963. The magazine was originally published out of her home. She also acted as the first chairperson of the association's Professionals Committee from 1937 to 1947.

Theresa Weld Blanchard

Here's where things get interesting... and they really have little to do with skating! Edith Eliot Rotch, who won the silver medal in the ladies competition in 1914 competing against Weld Blanchard, had previously won the U.S. National mixed doubles title on the tennis court with Weld Blanchard's future partner Nathaniel Niles. Niles was a VERY accomplished tennis player in his own right, competing on a national level through to 1918. He was inducted into the New England Tennis Hall of Fame posthumously in 2000. What's interesting in this partnership on the tennis court between Rotch and Niles isn't just that Weld Blanchard and Rotch competed against each other at those U.S. Championships in 1914, but that Rotch and Niles later went to head to head on the ice, competing against each other for the U.S. pairs titles in 1920 and 1922. Rotch later joined Weld Blanchard and Niles in serving on the Publications Committee that actually resulted in Skating magazine being formed. This is where skating comes full circle... former partners competing against each other aren't the new concept that pairs skating fans think they are - this all started 'when it all began'. 

Nathaniel Niles on the tennis court

If only one could ask Scott, Chevalier, Niles, Weld Blanchard and Rotch what they thought of today's skating with its overhead lifts, triple twists, death drops and quadruple toe-loops. With the elimination of compulsory figures from world competition in 1990, skating today hardly resembles what it would have then. TES and PCS scores, indoor competitions and the dominance of youth - not to mention the costumes - would surely be a complete culture shock to their systems. We anxiously await to see how Jeremy Abbott, Ross Miner, Max Aaron, Adam Rippon (or "Alex Rippon" if you read Boston.com), Jason Brown, Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold, Agnes Zawadzki, Christina Gao, Castelli and Shnapir, Scimeca and Knierim, Denney and Barrett, Davis and White, Lynn and Logan, Hubbell and Donahue and hundreds more of America's best skaters fare at what for many will be the most important competition of their careers leading into the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. As we do, we look back to a different, simpler time in the sport when away from TV cameras in icy rinks the skating pioneers that started it all had defining moments of their very own.

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": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

Le Patin Libre And Figure Skating As Fringe Art

Founded in 2005, Le Patin Libre started as a small collective who first gave demonstrations of its artistic skating performances on frozen ponds in Quebec. It's first show was in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu in early 2006. Since then, they've presented Fringe type skating and performance art pieces that range from an adaptation of "The Pied Piper Of Hamelin" tale transcribed onto the ice to a Christmas story with a violin soundtrack composed by one of the troupe's members to extreme and "tap" skating shows in non-traditional venues not just in Quebec but in Europe as well. They're skating's true nomads, the Vianne Rocher's of the frozen stage. As in the movie Chocolat, "the clever north wind was not satisfied. It spoke to Vianne of towns yet to be visited, friends in need yet to be discovered, battles yet to be fought..." The story of Le Patin Libre is full of new people, places and things and a journey that's really just getting started.

On their website, Le Patin Libre explains "What started as a little spontaneous explosion is now refined into an intelligent artistic project. 'The new skating style' slowly became a new performance art form in its own right.  At the base of our work, there is one great question: 'what is skating?'. Until now, our research projects always bring us back to the same thing: glide. Glide is the possibility to imprint movement on immobile bodies. It is the uniqueness of our dance. It is the magic we play with, until it becomes a vertigo, for our own enjoyment and the one of our public."

The group consists of five core members: founder Alexandre Hamel, fellow Canadians Taylor Dilley, Pascale Joidon, Jasmin Boivin and France's Samory Ba. "We do everything, from skating to street postering and tour organizing," explained founder Alexandre Hamel. "All our artists except one are ex-figure skaters. Jasmin Boivin is an urban ice dancer, never figure skated."

Le Patin Libre's most recent touring venture is called Skaters Anonymous. The work was originally performed under the working title "The Rule Of 3" in 2012 and January of 2013, but is now being exhibited as a touring production. It was debuted by the group in Montreal in March of 2013 then later the group traveled to Berlin, Germany in July of this year to present their work there. The group has travelled, studied and performed in England and France and the group even traveled to the small French islands of Saint-Pierre-Et-Miquelon to exhibit their non-traditional skating/performance art pieces.

The group's choreography and performances promote strongly the belief that skating can truly be presented as contemporary dance to more diverse audiences than those who would typically frequent ISU eligible competitions and mainstream touring productions like Stars On Ice and Disney On Ice. Group founder and performer Alexandre Hamel explains that Skaters Anonymous is "is a heartfelt ode to the beauty of the strange, to the grace of the wounded and the victory of the extraordinary over the banal." The dark comedy on ice Skaters Anonymous depicts the story of 3 men following a therapy intended to rid them of an even stranger addiction. The piece satires their past lives as lycra-clad ISU eligible competitive figure skaters and the 75 minute long piece certainly intends a strong message of the importance of individualism. "We are not figure skaters anymore," explained Hamel.  "This is really important. I want to dissociate our work completely from figure skating. We use the same medium but what we do is completely different. Intentions are different. The attitude is different. The esthetics are different. Our public is different. We are to figure skating what contemporary dance is to social dance. I also want to completely dissociate us from the 'on ice' show business. From Disney On Ice to the most "artsy-looking" project.... We are out of there. Artistry and creativity IS NOT important in competitive figure skating. In competitive figure skating, what is important is to execute perfectly technical element in a pretty outfit, while smiling and showcasing a style that will please 9 judges, often with no artistic or academic background. Choreography is barely a decoration, the icing on the cake. It is not the substance." Hamel also pointed out the respect he does have for competitive figure skating. "I have lots of respect for that. After 15 years of figure skating, I know how tough it is."

Hamel shared his views on professional skating. "Artistry and creativity IS NOT important in professional figure skating. In the 'on ice' show business, what is important is to be sexy, romantic and please the aging audience who likes that kind of entertainment. This word is important: ENTERTAINMENT. Again, I have lots of respect for that. The lives of most people are miserably grey and boring. Thank God some flying ice-nymphs in sparkly outfits and some macho hip-thrusting studs can get us out of there for 2 hours for the price of a ticket! Artistry and creativity is the very base of what we are doing, with Le Patin Libre. We don't care if you like or not what we do. We don't care if you don't clap. We don't care if no bank wants to sponsor us. We don't care if what we do is can't be formatted into a reality-TV show. We are exploring how human bodies can move using ice and blades. And yes, it is not pretty, sometimes." Hamel is by no means shy: "We also have things to say. And yes, they offend some people. But we are not there to entertain them, we are there to do what we are compelled to do by our very nature: real art. And we use our talent as ice skaters to do so."

Le Patin Libre is confidently marketing what they are doing well and have partnerships with Arts sur glace and Le Conseil des Arts et Lettres du Québec in Quebec and Sadler's Wells Theatre in London. They continue to study dance and theatre throughout their travels to improve their craft, have worked with skating greats Gary Beacom and Paul Duchesnay, dueled on ice with Shawn Sawyer and are really doing some amazing things on skates. Fringe Festival/busker style skating? Hostels with backpacks filled with granola and figure skates? Skaters not afraid to take risks and be big, bold and brave on impromptu outside and plastic rinks? Sign me up!

THIS is what we need more of. This is the kind of stuff that makes me beam. This is what we as skating fans NEED to be encouraging and creating. If your skating or your child's skating or your student's skating isn't fulfilling them, encourage them to create their own venue and opportunities like Le Patin Libre. Just because you're 16 and can't land that double lutz or get out of Novice or qualify for Sectionals doesn't mean that you have to stop skating. What it may mean is that there's more to your skating than a 9th place result or a failed silver dance test. It might mean that there's another direction; another dimension so many of us can't seem to conceive. It's not laid out for us or made as accessible as competitive skating. It's a road that you not only have to explore but in many instances create yourself. And all it takes is your love for the sport, some good choreography, good ideas and the drive.

Legendary Japanese author Natsume Sōseki once wrote that "art begins with the expression of the self and ends with the expression of the self". This quote is especially true to skaters like Le Patin Libre's troupe members. They learned to create art by skating within the structured system we all have a love/hate relationship with and ended that chapter by once again rediscovering their selves and a deeper art through this new chapter. I hope to see more and more skaters make their own opportunities going forward. It's not about making money, it's about making art. And all that art on ice truly requires is a pair of skates, a frozen stage and an audience. We must not forget that. It's the essence of the magic of skating. The magic of no rules.

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": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

A Fireside Chat With Doug, Allison And Ryan

Allison Scott and I both know a thing or ten about skating. As a huge fan of the sport and the parent of a U.S. Champion and Sochi hopeful (Jeremy Abbott), Allison has broken down the 'Suzanne Bonaly Stage Mom' stereotype and welcomed us into her world, allowing us every opportunity imaginable to laugh and learn about skating with her through her blog Life On The Edge Of Skating. With Is That A Skate Guard In Your Pocket Or Are You Happy To See Me?, I've put almost a decade of my own experience on the ice and in judging skating (as well as closely following the sport for 20 years) into play and delved into interviews with some of the sport's yet and focused on celebrating professional and artistic skating and looking at skating's fascinating and storied history. "Our blogs are so different. You do interviews and commentary; I editorialize and try to teach through experience and humor. We both have very different perspectives," explained Allison. What do you get when you put these two crazy bloggers together? Trouble. What about when you add you add everyone's favourite person Doug Mattis and his little dog Ina Bauer too to the mix? You've got a fireside chat of epic proportions where we will be reflecting on another year past and a new year of figure skating just on the horizon. Allison and I bravely put our faith in Doug's hands and with a glass of only the finest boxed wine as our guide, turn the tables and bare all in this fireside chat about figure skating!

Allison: I must begin this Fireside Chat by stating up front (and to NO ONE’s surprise), I am a HUGE fan of men's skating. Ladies: don’t be offended, but you've been athletically and artistically flaunting it for years. Now, in my mind, it’s the era of the men. So if my answers seem heavily weighted – deal with it. I love you ladies, but in my book the guys rule the pond – from plumage to PCS – this is a “man's world” under IJS. I’m not saying it is right. I’m just sayin'...

Ryan: We have to talk to about MEN a lot? Well, that's just horrible... you know how I feel about men! Can't stand them... haha. Bring on the men... I mean questions!

Allison: Both are just fine with me... So Douglas - bring it on!

Doug: What skating rule would you add or change if you could? (Everything from the rational to fantasy-land-funny is in play!)

Ryan: First question and not a hard one to answer... in one of the very first blogs I wrote when I started the blog, I talked a little bit about the judging system that would be perfect in my eyes. Here's how I see it. In the short programs for singles skating, you do a jump combination consisting of a triple and a double, a triple and a triple or a quad and a triple or a double if you're fancy like that, and a spin combination, a layback spin or sit/back sit for the men, a spiral sequence (yes, men too!), one footwork sequence and a flying spin. Sound familiar? No double/double combinations and solo jumps in a senior short program. We all know which senior ladies I'm talking about. In the free skate, my suggestion for a well rounded is this: 2 spins, 1 crazy Tatiana Tarasova footwork sequence, a lutz, a flip, a loop, a salchow, a toe, an axel (ONE of those jumps in combination) and 1 repeated jump (also in combination). This way skaters have to demonstrate they can perform each and every jump. If you can't do a triple, you do a double. If you cheat anything, you get a ZERO. This is why we have a testing system. How we would judge this you ask? On a scale of 1-10. It's like 6.0, only that 40% of the score is technical and 60% artistic. And keep the technical specialists and slow-mo replays to really examine these jumps. These judges NEED to know if a skater is flutzing or cheating jumps. Sorry, but I'm old school. If you cheat your triple lutz, you get a zero. I'd rather see a clean double any day in a free skate. 

Allison: Agreed on the clean jumps, Ryan, but there are several additional things I’d change: First, I’d eliminate the 'pancake spin'. While I love pancakes that are Weight Watchers 'Friendly' (and I do have a recipe for anyone who might like it), I have a SERIOUS dislike for any spin that has skaters effectively smelling their skates and chewing on their boots. As a parent, I KNOW what those skates smell like and I can tell you that hockey players have nothing on figure skaters when it comes to stinky skates! I don’t care how you try to hide it - wet cow is wet cow. Every time I see that spin, I want to pass along a container of Gold Bond Foot Powder – or an industrial can of BBQ sauce. I would also let the skate fans weigh in on the scoring. Now THAT would be revolutionary! Let the judges score and then factor in the fan scores. Use the 6.0 system for fans; throw out the high and the low (scores, not fans – though, on occasion, that might not be unreasonable) and figure out some unfathomable algorithm that brings you the winner.     

Ryan: I totally agree with you about involving fans in the judging process. You can have as many of these 'You Be The Judge' things that networks might put on their websites to get skating fans to understand the current judging process, but not to insult anyone's intelligence... most casual skating fans still aren't going to get it. Keep it simple and have an audience 6.0 thing... I love it!

Doug: What skater past/present would you most like to meet (and why)?

Allison: I have met nearly everyone. That’s such a blessing of being where I am today – OLD! However, I would love to meet Axel Paulsen and sit next to him while he’s watching what happened to the jump that bears his name. Same with Lutz and Salchow. Can you imagine what they’d say? "Oh sweetie... I never intended my jump to look quite like THAT! What ARE you thinking?! You really need to go practice your figures first before you even attempt that again. Really!" Finally, I would bow down with great respect and gratitude if I could meet John Curry. If I make it to heaven someday, I hope I can get a front row seat to watch him skate in person. I never had that honor when he was alive. I missed my one opportunity because I was sick. I've never forgotten that.

Ryan: Skating was so different back then that I think the creators of those jumps would either just be in awe or mortified! It's hard to say. John Curry would definitely be in my top three list too as really, no one moved like him... and I don't think a lot of people realize what he had to overcome to even BE a skater... without his mother, it wouldn't have happened like it did as his father was so discouraging of him even taking dance lessons. John would definitely be on my list but for me, number one would be Dick Button. Not only is he a 2 time Olympic Gold Medallist and someone who revolutionized skating by performing the first double axel and triple loop, he's also someone who really changed professional skating by providing careers to so many professional skaters with Candid Productions and giving them opportunities to have 'defining moments' after their "amateur" careers had ended with things like Landover and the Challenge Of Champions and so many more professional competitions and shows. Some of the best skating I've ever seen came out of these competitions, and they really were some of the building blocks of giving professional skating a venue and a future. And the commentary! I DO give a rusty hoot about that - it was always just first rate, first rate. Dick is not only HILARIOUS but incredibly knowledgeable and insightful about the sport. I'd just love to sit and talk and laugh with him and find out how he really feels about all of the people in the sport that he's encountered over the years. There's just something about him I adore.

Doug: Male and female skater (or team) that make you swoon?

Ryan: Well, I don't swing roll in the direction of the ladies so that Dutch Waltz will NOT be happening but I think Katarina Witt is just drop dead gorgeous. Like Catherine Zeta-Jones "giiiiiiiiirl... look at you" gorgeous! As for men, there is NO ONE that loves men more than me... or is a bigger cougar than me. Well, there's probably tons of people who do, but you know what I mean. I don't think I could pick just one... back in the day, I always thought Alexandr Abt and Ilia Kulik were right some cute. I guess I must like my White Russians as much as I like my Pinot Grigio. Stephane Lambiel isn't hard on the eyes either... and John Kerr! Hey Girl Hey! As for skaters currently competing today, I've got about a list of 50 but I think Ross Miner, Stephen Carriere, Brian Joubert, Eric Radford, Jeremy Abbott, Garrett Kling and Adam Blake are all really good looking guys. In the words of Rose Nylund, they 'really melt my Haagen-Dasz". There's also something about 90's Petri Kokko with that crazy hair that just intrigued me in a "you need to take your shirt off" kinda way.

Allison: EASY! I swoon over Robin Cousins (he knows it now since I finally got to tell him in person, and with more than a bit of a blush – he’s sweet when he blushes!); Kurt Browning (but don’t tell him that, please – okay, you can tell him but wait until I’m not around to blush). I swoon over Richard Dwyer (but he knows that since I’m one of his greatest "stalker" fans). I absolutely love Jeff Buttle, Stephane Lambiel and OH-SO many more (yes, Scott, I love you too – and Mr. Button, Shawn Sawyer, and many more that I can recount here without making this the skating version of "War and Peace").  I’ve been known to swoon over some guy named Mattis, too. Oh wait, was that "swoon" or fall down at his feet? I've done both – though I would not categorize the falling as genuflecting, just not watching where I was walking when Doug decided to take us through a "shortcut" on the way to the car late at night after An Evening on Ice in L.A. a few years back!  Like Ryan, I don’t swoon over the girls… well, maybe over a few like Carol, Tenley, Janet, Dorothy, Kristi, Peggy and Michelle- though 'swoon' might not be the appropriate term. "Honor, respect, and revere" are more like it.

Ryan: That sounds like it would hurt come spring! I'm with you on Shawn Sawyer. Any man that can contort like a pretzel like that seems like he'd be a good time. And he's not hard on the eyes either!

Doug: Favorite competition moment you witnessed? A personal victory that was most thrilling, unexpected, most meaningful to that skater, etc.?

Wesley Campbell at the 2013 U.S. Nationals

Allison: I don’t actually remember those moments when it comes to my own skater. Watching my kid skate well is like having an out-of-body experience, or a serious case of amnesia. I actually have to go back and watch on YouTube and pinch myself to remember I was actually there. Over the years, I have collected a number of serious bruises doing that. Some of my favourite memories were not in competitions, though: Seeing Nathan Birch skate to "Walking in Memphis" during a show in Aspen. I can’t hear that song without thinking of him. During the same show, I got to see Dorothy do improv to "Unchained Melody" on a practice session. There were only a few of us in the old Aspen rink. The condensation formed a fog and Dorothy floated around the ice like an angel to a Righteous Brothers tape on a lousy sound system. It didn’t matter. We all stood absolutely silent and in awe. It was one of the most personal, powerful skating moments I can remember. Some top competition moments of late: Any of John Coughlin’s skates in pairs because he’s like another son since I’ve known him all his skating life. Jonathan Cassar and Wesley Campbell’s last competitive skates in Omaha. Alex Johnson’s breakthrough skate in Omaha, too. They’re like my kids. I love my boys!

Tanja Szewczenko at the 1997 Champions Series Final

Ryan: You saw Dorothy Hamill skate to "Unchained Melody" in the fog? That's like the skating equivalent of skating you saw an angel. I wasn't there and didn't witness this with my own two eyes but just picturing it gives me goosebumps. Watching Dorothy skate IS what I picture an angel would skate like. There's something almost otherwordly to her grace. Jeremy should be on anyone's list period. When that boy skates up to his potential, he's really quite honestly magical to watch. For me, this is a two way tie. Liz Manley's winning free skate (yes, it won the free skate) at the 1988 Calgary Olympics will forever be engrained in my mind as that 'magical moment'. Having gone through hell and back to get to that moment and that time and being sick as a dog when she did it, anyone would be lying if they didn't get tears in their eyes watching that performance for the first or the fiftieth time. There was just something so magical about it - she just COULDN'T put a foot wrong and was too cute for words! I just love Liz and have so much respect for her. The other one that I don't think a lot of skating fans who have just started following the sport would really be familiar with but just reduces me to a blubbering mess every time I watch without fail is Tanja Szewczenko's free skate at the 1997 Champions Series Final. This was somebody who easily could have DIED months earlier due to a very deadly combination of viral and blood infections caught at the same time and really wasn't in great physical shape as a result, and she used EVERY fibre of her being to put the skate of HER life out there in front of a hometown audience. Landing jump after jump and holding on - and that music - just created a moment that really moved me profoundly. I actually skated to the same music as my free skate music the next two seasons because I fell so in love with it! You know what, and there's a third one too... only because this was a tear jerker too... Rudy Galindo at the 1996 U.S. Nationals in his hometown of San Jose. That was MAGIC!

Allison: ABSOLUTELY Rudy's skate in San Jose, a place known for magical skates that I didn't actually see and had to watch on YouTube.

Doug: If skating were an actual soap opera, what would the title of that show be?

Allison: Skating ISN'T a soap opera? Hmm... How about "As The Blade Turns (in your back)" or "The Young And The Flutzes" or, with all the injuries lately "General Hospital", though that one’s taken.

Ryan: I love "As The Blade Turns (in your back)" Isn't that the freakin' truth? Just sayin'... "Gays Of Our Lives?" "The Bold And The Bedazzled?" I'm not much of a soap opera person despite growing up watching episodes of General Hospital and reliving the drama of the Quartermaines and the Baldwins. Skating already IS an actual soap opera as far as I'm concerned. There's cattiness, cheating (come on! you should really look at some of those landings!), hot men, plunging necklines and more plot twists that you can shake a scribe at. I'd call it "As The Twizzle Turns".

Doug: Top three triple Lutz jumpers? Top three laybacks?

Ryan: Nicole Bobek! Oh, you said LUTZ... with an L. I actually ADORE Nicole Bobek... haha. Triple lutzes? Brian Boitano's Tano triple lutz is just fantastic and classic and deserves to be on that list, as does Adam Rippon's Rippon Lutz. The third person I'd have to put on that list would be Midori Ito. Her jumps were just HUGE and so secure period and when she nailed a huge lutz (or any triple for that matter) you couldn't help but be in awe. As for best layback spins, I'd have to go with Lucinda Ruh, Nathalie Krieg and Alissa Czisny. They're all such whirling dervishes and can spin 'like nobody's business' - which totally just sounded like something Dick Button would say.

Allison: Triple lutzes? My son, Adam Rippon, Brian Boitano. Top three laybacks? Alissa Czisny, Jason Brown, Rohene Ward. I am NOT kidding here!

Ryan: Agree with you here on all counts! I always wished I could master a layback, but I think if I tried it today, it would just be the ONCE.

Allison: And if you did, Dick Button would say your free leg was dangling and your toes were not pointed...

Doug: Skating performance (show or competition) that most moved you with its emotional content?

Paul Wylie's silver medal winning free skate at the 1992 Olympics in France

Allison: The most emotional one moved us to a hospital in San Jose for five days. I’m looking forward to actually SEEING it in Boston because "Redemption" holds a lot of meaning in our home. The one I watch again and again is Paul Wylie's free skate at the 1992 Olympics. I actually have a VHS (you remember those, right?) that is queued up with a big note on it that says “DO NOT REWIND!”

Ryan: I'm not as young as you think there sweetheart! I don't only remember VHS (I had boxes and boxes of skating tapes on VHS) but I even remember BETA... which was actually way better as far as I was concerned. I think the only reason we got rid of ours was because you couldn't rent (or buy) movies for it anymore. You're right about Paul in Albertville too... that was a MOMENT. I watched Jeffrey Buttle skate to "In This Shirt" by The Irrepressibles at Stars On Ice this year and you could hear a pin drop. In recent memory, that was one of the most moving things I've seen. Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini's "Have You Ever Been In Love?", Tai and Randy's "Love" program for her father and Michelle Kwan's "Fields Of Gold" are all also programs that really touched my soul. And that's just off the top of my head - If I counted the number of times a skater had me in tears, Puffs would be sponsoring ME, not skating competitions. Hartshorn and Sweiding's "1492" and "Enigma" programs moved me in a different emotional way and really influenced me as a skater personally and the more I learned about not only them but Brian Wright's brilliant choreography, the more emotionally impacted I was by how soul stirring a wonderfully theatrical performance really is.

Allison: I got to meet Brian Wright in Aspen. He was such an incredible talent and a major influence on so many skaters and choreography as a whole. I'm okay with that...

Doug: With all the love in your heart for that skater - the funniest costume you’ve ever seen?

Allison: Oh... so... many... Ilia Kulik is number one. Yellow with black polka dots? Really? This was NOT a Project Runway moment. And who was it who wore the candy cane one year? I hate to tell you that I don’t remember girls' costumes. I get blinded by the bling. I know which ones I love; I tend to quickly forget the rest. I’m just happy I didn’t have to pay for any of them!

Ryan: Ilia at the Nagano Olympics. God love ya... but sweetie, no. What the bejesus WAS that? An American In The Paris Zoo? I think that deserves a refill on the wine.

Pick one of your favorite pieces of music and the skater (from any time period) that you’d most like to see skate to that music.

I narrowed it down to three because one just wouldn't be fair: Toller Cranston skating to Nina Simone's "Dambala", Jeremy Abbott skating to James Vincent McMorrow's "Follow Me Down To The Red Oak Tree" and Shawn Sawyer skating to "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'" by The Scissor Sisters. I could go all day. More people need to skate to Annie Lennox, Tracy Chapman, Natalie Merchant, Fiona Apple, Emm Gryner and Lindi Ortega.

Allison: "My Way" and have Toller Cranston and Gary Beacom skate to it. That would make my life!

Ryan: Why YEEEEEEEES! Get them both on the phone and make them do it now! This would be nothing short of epic and would make my life too! Both on the ice at the same time! Seriously, that's like the best idea of life. I'd say I could imagine it, but the best part about those two is that I don't think anyone could.

Doug: Discuss what it is about skating (inherent properties) you think that will continue to keep it popular in years to come.

Allison: Like all sports, the popularity of skating waxes and wanes. The pendulum has been swinging to its low point for a number of years now with a lot of blame - rightfully or no - being put on the IJS. There’s been a lot of noise about IJS. No one understands it because there isn't a topping out point like 6.0. But if people were to be honest, no one understood 6.0 either. It’s just that it was less than 10.0 so it was within the realm of comprehension – and you could make really cool signs for competitions. In my mind (and the Asian and European fans get this completely), what will bring the sport back and keep it popular moving forward is the perfect blend of athleticism and artistry. The few skaters who are from the "old school" and still competing are struggling with making the transition; so are the coaches, choreographers and the judges. But in my mind there is that perfect point when everything comes together; when the artistry transcends the scoring to create that "WOW" moment we all want so desperately. It’s there. It may be hidden behind TES, TSS, PCS and other unfathomable nomenclature to the general masses, but believe me it is there. Look - we don’t need another scandal. We don’t need a Throwback Thursday to days gone by. The system is what it is. The ones who take skating to the next levels will be the ones who recognize that and don’t look to "hold back the ocean", but choose to go with the flow. The ones who will be the next superstars will not only go with the flow, they’ll wax up their boards and hang 10 on the big waves! It’s coming. I can see it now. No crystal ball required. It may seem like a dream in the mist, but once the fog lifts, skating will have a bright, bright sunshiny day again – and very soon.

We'll have to agree on some points and disagree on others. I think when you have 99 skaters all skating the same choreography to different music (and not really interpreting the music) and 1 skater for every 100 really interpreting the music, you have a superstar in a sea of clones. What worked about the 6.0 system was the comparison between skaters. If Jimmy landed 5 triples, he got a 5.7 for technical merit and if Timmy landed 6, he got a 5.8 for technical merit. If Jimmy was the better performer and got that 6.0 to Timmy's 5.7 for presentation, he won. Any person off the street could relate and understand a system like that, albeit superficially. No one "off the street" understands when they see what happened in the men's free skate at Worlds last year... or in the ladies free skate at U.S. Nationals last year for that matter. I'm not saying the 6.0 system was perfect or that the IJS one doesn't have it's strong points, but in order for anything to appeal to the masses and gain a greater fan base, people "off the street" need to be able to comprehend how the sport is judged, even superficially to really follow the sport and embrace its appeal. Skating will NEVER lose its appeal as long as there are passionate skaters interpreting music they are passionate about with passion. It's the relationship between music and skater that gives skating its appeal and the freedom of having this canvas of ice to tell any story you could dream of. As long as skaters don't get lost in the gymnastics-like world that is "IJS skating" and never forget that the best gift they can give themselves and any audience is the gift of a performance and a real moment - whether in front of no one but a camera or a packed audience - then skating will not only remain popular for years to come but will grow in popularity but the day. Mark my words.

Allison: And thus ends our Siskel and Ebert moment regarding your judging. We'll call this "Point (your toes) and Counterpoint, (off your) Rockers and Choc-Talks." It's better to agree to disagree, my friend, particularly when it is done with humour, respect and deep love. Happy New Year! May 2014 be kind; may the ice always be Zamb'd and may all skaters give us more art, sport and things to talk about!"

Allison Scott's fabulous blog Life On The Edge Of Skating is also really required reading for 2014 if you aren't reading along already! Full of humour, honesty and a refreshing view on both the figure skating world and life, I guarantee you've going to love it. You can also follow Allison along on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/PCFClub. American Open Professional Champion, U.S. Junior Men's Champion and Professional Skating Coach Doug Mattis on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/DougMattis. If you aren't following him already, get out from under that rock and prepare to laugh!

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": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.