The Triple Loop Tarot: A Three Card Spread

What many of you probably don't know about me is that I'm about as much the "new age" type as it gets. I'm surrounded by candles, incense, crystals, wood and rocks and when I take the time to write these blogs, I usually have Tracy Chapman, Natalie Merchant, Fiona Apple, Emm Gryner or something ethereal playing. My bedroom has three giant bookcases full of books which include a host of wonderful classics, an anthology of pretty much everything Margaret Atwood has ever written, a small and growing collection of historical skating books and hundreds and hundreds of books on everything from spirituality to reincarnation, life after death, holistic healing, angels, Tarot cards, numerology, astrology, dreams, angels, meditation, astral projection, karma and texts on just about every religion under the sun. I am fascinated by different viewpoints; I have this inner drive to delve into "the unknown".

I also have a treasured deck of tarot cards. The origin of Tarot cards remains vague and shrouded in mystery and more questions than answers. Some claim the cards to have originated with the ancient Egyptians, others with the mystery cults of the Mithras in the first centuries after Christ, while still others find parallels with pagan Celtic beliefs and romantic poetry cycles of the Middle Ages in Eastern Europe. The first documented decks of Tarot cards, however, are known to have come from the latter part of the 15th century and were painted in Italy. The new world-view of the time and the conflict with the Church that ensued placed the cards in wide disrepute  socially, and they became associated with 'the Devil', as did any form of divination or termed "witchcraft". Yet, their use has transcended and survived centuries and the cards have been used as counsel and forms of divination for people of virtually every religion, race and walk of life.

Now, before you all call me crazy, I have a story to share with you. I was extremely close with both of my grandmothers and idolized them, along with my parents, my whole life. They both passed away in 2007 within six months of each other when I was going through a really rough patch already and I had a really, really hard time with it. A few years later, I went to Kelliena, a wonderful and reputable psychic (not the first one I've been to) and not only was she able to tell me things about myself and my loved ones that had passed on that no one else would know, but she was not only able to clearly identify both grandmothers but know that I called them both 'Nanny'. There was no poking, there was no prodding, there was no leading me there... this was the real deal. Having had experiences with charlatans as well, I can tell you that with everything else in life, there are honest and dishonest people. This was honest and this was real and I treasure that conversation and experience.

I am not a psychic or a medium but I do absolutely believe in the power and the experience of divination. One of the simplest Tarot readings you can do is a three card reading to allow you to gain perspective on three key points and their connection, for instance, past, present and future, strengths, weaknesses and advice or opportunities, challenges and outcome. To lightheartedly apply the context of Tarot divination, I decided to do a three card spread and take a look at opportunities, challenges and outcome as they related to the life of one of the most iconic skaters ever in the history of figure skating, three time Olympic Gold Medallist Sonja Henie.


The Seven Of Pentacles (reversed) speaks to a return on an investment. It signals a need for clarity about what success means to the person and what the 'current situation' will provide for in the future. Such would certainly be relevant to the opportunities that Sonja Henie afforded in winning three Olympic gold medals and ten World titles. Henie's father, known to many simply as 'Papa Henie' was a wealthy furrier and both he and Henie's mother Selma had also inherited wealth as well. Her father had invested large sums of money in Henie's success, ensuring that she was educated by the best tutors and even hiring Russian prima ballerina Tamara Karsavina of the Imperial Russian Ballet to work with his daughter. In the height of their daughters success, both 'Papa' Wilhelm Henie and Selma gave up their own pursuits to travel exclusively with their daughter and act as agents, demanding 'expenses' for Sonja's exhibitions even under the strict "amateur" rules of the time that did not allow ISU eligible skaters to be paid for their performances. The fame and star success that Henie as a result of her competitive career more than returned on the investment her parents made in her skating. After turning professional following the 1936 World Championships, Henie became not only a star of the ice but of the silver screen and earned as much as two million dollars a year, making her one of the richest skaters of her time.


The Four Of Cups symbolizes re-evaluation; a feeling that situations or circumstances have lost their appeal or luster - and the senses of boredom, disillusionment or unfulfilled expectations. The card forces one to retrace their steps and look at the changes that need to made in order to have - or maintain - what is desired. The latter part of Henie's career was not all roses. In the early 1950's, after a decade long series of hit movies starring Henie had lit up the silver screen, Henie returned to the touring life and produced her own tours. Things weren't as they once were and challenges seemed to be at every turn. Having broken ties with Arthur Wirtz who acted as her financial advisor for years, 'Sonja Henie's Ice Revue' was in direct competition with Wirtz's shows who featured Canadian sweetheart Barbara Ann Scott. The market was becoming saturated, the collapse of a section of bleachers during a 1952 Baltimore shows left Henie's tour in legal and financial hot water and a later 1956 tour in South America was a flop. Henie was drinking heavily and it was affecting her ability to meet the demands of touring. Forced to re-evaluate the direction her skating and life was going at the time, she retired from skating in May 1956.


The Three Of Swords represents the process of sorrow or grief, and a lack of focus, of bitterness and of disappointment - also of mistrust. Henie, who was famously obsessed with money, status and in some accounts the possessor of a strong temper, was diagnosed by doctors with leukemia but her husband Niels Onstad reportedly kept the illness from her. Sonja was told she had anemia and the blood transfusions she was receiving regularly were for that reason alone. She planned to make a big comeback for a TV special, even taking to the ice to rehearse a program set to "Lara's Theme" from Dr. Zhivago but passed away aboard a flight to Oslo, where she was to receive another blood transfusion. Her will specifically disinherited all members of her family. Her two closest aides who served her for over twenty five years didn't receive a bequest. Instead, Henie bequeathed ten thousand dollars to the cemetery where her father was interred and sent her prized jewels to the Sonja Henie Foundation. Interestingly relevant to the process of sorrow and grief about one's life is this story I wrote for my Skate Guard Hallowe'en Spooktacular:

"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 57, 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?"

Henie's life, like the advice of the Tarot Cards, was shrouded in mystery, interweaving stories and thought provoking connections. Whether you believe in divination or not, the cards in this case certainly seems to help ME make sense of Henie's story.

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 Henna Lindholm And Ossi Kanervo

Finnstepping their way onto the podium at the Bavarian Open, Finns Henna Lindholm and Ossi Kanervo became the first ice dance team since legendary ice dancers Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko to win a senior ice dance medal in international competition in almost twenty years. The duo has won three Finnish titles and Ossi even earned honorable mention in my coverage of the ice dance competition at the 2014 World Championships. A couple to certainly watch, it was my pleasure to speak with them about their success story, working with Rahkamo, Kokko and Maurizio Margaglio, their goals and more in this Finntastic interview:

Q: Teaming up in only 2008, your career has really been such a success story so far. You've won three Finnish national titles, competed at three European Championships and just made your second trip to the World Championships. You've also had some great outings in international competition including medal wins at the Nordic Championships, Bavarian Open and Cup Of Nice. What are your proudest and most special moments so far in competition and what have been the biggest challenges or hurdles?

A: We're proud of every Finnish national title we have won and a very special moment was getting to the podium at the Bavarian Open 2014. It was the first ISU international competition podium for a Finnish ice dance team in seniors since Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko so it was proud moment for Finnish ice dance and all the work we have done so far. Of course, we are proud anytime when we represent Finland. The 2012/2013 season was difficult for us. We were not able to perform our best in competitions and we were second in Finnish Nationals and didn't go to Europeans or Worlds.

Q: I really enjoyed the Finnstep section in your Short Dance this season set to music by Duke Ellington and Frank Sinatra and found it fitting that you'd previously worked with Susanna Rahkamo. The Finnstep being invented by Rahkamo and Petri Kokko, European Champions and fantastic skaters in their own right, did you have chance to speak with Susanna and Petri about the dance and how has their skating influenced your career?

A: Susanna and Petri are fantastic people and every time they see us skate, they give feedback. Susanna was working on the Finnstep with us during the season. She gave lot of great tips and advice for the Finnstep. We wanted to do a great Finnstep because we wanted show our respect to Susanna and Petri and for all the work they have done.

Q: You are coached by World Champion Maurizio Margaglio. What is your relationship like with Maurizio and how has he brought out in the best in you as a team?

A: He's an awesome coach and our relationships is working great. He has coached us now for three seasons and we have learned to understand each other better and better. He is really good at seeing the big picture. We are really happy for all the work he has done for us and the whole of ice dance in Finland. He is challenging us and pushing us out of comfort zone.

Q: How have skaters like Laura Lepisto, Kiira Korpi and yourselves brought popularity to skating in Finland and do you see the sport growing in the coming years in your country?

A: Laura Lepisto and Kiira Korpi have made skating really popular in Finland and almost everybody knows who they are. There are a lot of single skaters but the ice dance is still in a state of grow and I think we need to achieve more to get more attention. Of course, we are working to get Finland among the top nations in figure skating!

Q: What do you see as your strengths and weaknesses as an ice dance team - and as people?

A from Ossi: We are hard working. We set our goals and we give 100% to achieve them.

A from Henna: We work really hard. I'm pretty stubborn, which is sometimes a strength but unfortunately also a weakness sometimes.

Q: What are your goals for the 2014/2015 season and what areas do you most plan of focusing on in your training?

A: Our main goals are winning Finnish Nationals and being in the top fifteen at the European Championships and in the top twenty at the World Championships. We hope to improve our ISU ranking and get into the Grand Prix circuit. Our new programs are a work in progress at the moment.

Q: Who are your three favourite ice dance teams of all time?

A from Henna: My favourites are Virtue and Moir, Davis and White and Faiella and Scali.

A from Ossi: My favourites are Torvill and Dean, Fusar-Poli and Margaglio and Virtue and Moir.

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

A from Ossi: When I was six years old, I did my first main role in our club's spring show. I started skating only year before.

A from Henna: Besides skating, I´m studying cosmetology.

Q: What do you love most about ice dancing?

A from Henna: I love that you have a partner to share everything from the practice to competitions with. I love doing different characteristics of different dance styles and my favourite elements are absolutely the lifts.

A from Ossi: I really like that you have your partner with who you can share all ups and downs.

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":

Juri Scheljabuschski's "Katok"

In these days of 3D, HD, DVD, AC, DC and all of that technological mumbo jumbo, it's really hard to imagine that a crudely animated 1927 film about an ice skating stick figure would have ever been a smash hit. Well, it was. Juri Scheljabuschski's "Katok" ("Ice Rink") was a classic example of early Soviet animated films and one of - if not the earliest - animated film pieces storied around ice skating.

The protagonist of Scheljabuschski's popular film was a small stick figure with only a line for a body, arms, boots and a winter hat. The plot of "Katok" follows this little skating ice figure as he spies on a stick-figure woman skating with as much grace as a stick-figure can have with a Rubenesque NEPman who (having already paid for his ticket to skate) felt he had 'first dibs' on the female stick-figure gracefully performing on the ice. Without enough money to pay his admission to the skating session, the stick-figure 'hero' tries to enter the rink and is stopped by both a portly guard. The stick-figure hero does find a way past the forces preventing him from skating that day with the help of a big, strong man (who doesn't love one of those?), creates a single skate for himself and provides a bit of slapstick when he enters the ice rink and the 'public eye' on his one skate and inadvertently wins a skating race.

Scheljabuschski's "Katok" (also sometimes translated) as "On The Skating Rink" has all of the characteristics of Berlinale Soviet animated films of the era. It shows the natural oppression of the capitalist system, the comedy of the dominating class' extravagance and the success of the underdog or trickster. The success of 'the trickster' was a central theme in animated Russian film after film during that era. Emelya, Ivan Durak, Karlsson and Shapokliak are all examples of animated tricksters that found success in Russian animated films of the era.

Following the success of "Katok", Juri Scheljabuschski went on to find success in other film projects including the 1930 Soviet film "The New Life (Drugaja schisn)" about how a gold boom provided an era of luxury for the people of Azerbaijan. Although many of his other works had a more serious tone, his lighthearted "Katok" remains an old favourite and it no doubt drummed up interest in ice skating amongst the Soviet people in between World War I and II. The Soviet Championships in figure skating had only been held beginning in 1920, and during that period, skaters like pairs team Maria Laskevich and Igor Vonzblein, Yuriy Zel'dovich, Ivan Bogoyavlenski and Tatiana Tolmacheva (Granatkina) would hold court in skating circles.

It wouldn't be until 1964 when Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov won their first of two consecutive Olympic gold medals in pairs skating that the Soviet/Russian stronghold in figure skating would begin... and you have to wonder if "Katok" inspired some of the skaters before them to sneak into an ice rink and pave the way.

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 Stéphane Walker

Two time Swiss Champion Stéphane Walker is most certainly a skater to watch. He's represented his country on some of the world's biggest stages, medalling internationally at events like the Gardena Spring Trophy and Warsaw Cup and representing Switzerland at the World Junior Championships, European Championships and World Championships, where he this year qualified to compete in the free skate. The promising twenty three year old took the time away from his busy life of studying and skating to talk to me about his career to date, focuses in training, favourite skaters, coach Myriam Loriol-Oberwiler and more in this great interview:

Q: You've had such a successful career to date, winning two Swiss National titles and medals at both the Gardena Spring Trophy in Italy and Warsaw Cup in Poland as well as representing Switzerland at the World Junior Championships as well as the European and World Championships. What would you say are your proudest or most special memories from your skating career so far?

A: There are so many good memories. The first time I landed a triple jump was just a great moment for me. I realized that I would be able to jump triple jumps and this would bring me on a new, higher level. Also, with the first triple Axel I perfectly landed was a great feeling, almost greater because I worked so hard on this jump... almost 4 years! Of course, to win my first Swiss title was a nice feeling too. It took me several attempts to finally stand on the top of the podium. This past 2013/2014 season makes me very proud. I achieved (in my opinion) so much. In April 2013, I was third at Gardena Spring Trophy. Even if it was not a very big event, it was an awesome feeling to be (for the very first time) on an international senior podium and scoring 193 points. I couldn't believe that I was third. I checked the result sheets several times. It shows me (or confirmed) that I do have the capacities for making good results. Then, Warsaw Cup was just another great moment in my skating career. I finally managed to do both programs almost clean, won the competition and on top of it got the points for worlds. That was great! Finally, the world Championships in Japan... it was a very nice and special experience for my first participation far away from home and first time in Asia. I went there without having practiced my programs for two weeks because of injuries. I couldn't put on my skates. It was too painful. Therefore, I'm so proud and happy for reaching the final and doing a personal best in the short program even if I used all of my resources for the short. Unfortunately, I couldn't show what I am  'normally' able to do in the free.

Q: You're coached by Myriam Loriol-Oberwiler, a former Swiss National Champion herself in 1982 and 1984. What is your relationship like with Myriam and why is she the best coach for you?

A: It is a good and close relationship with my coach because we spend much time together in competitions and training. We have experienced a lot of things with all the travelling around the world. We could almost write a book with all our experiences! She already 'saved my life' when I had a bad infection during a Junior Grand Prix event in Cape Town. She is best coach for me because she has great experience as an athlete (she did the Olympics in Sarajevo, Worlds etc.), is an ISU technical specialist, judged many competitions including the 2010 Olympics and therefore knows by heart the whole rules and is one of the best coaches in Switzerland.

Q: Who is your favourite singer, actor and writer?

A: My favourite music band is Maroon 5 but I don’t really have a favourite singer. I like Adele, Lady Gaga and James Blunt. One of my favourite actors is Robert Downey Jr. and I also really like Natalie Portman. I am definitely not a bookworm. I don’t have a favourite writer.

Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and who is one skater whose style you most respect or want to emulate in your own skating?

A: I like Evan Lysacek because he is rather tall for an ice skater but is able to do awesome performances on the ice with nice jumps. It gives or gave me hope that it's possible even if I'm tall. I really like Jeffrey Buttle's style but I love Carolina Kostner. She is a great artist. She respects every single note of the music. She has so much speed and beautiful jumps with the perfect position in the air. I would love to able to one day interpret the music like she does.

Q: What is the most beautiful place to visit in Switzerland?

A: There are so many beautiful places in Switzerland. It's a beautiful country and I think it's worth visiting the whole country. Of course, my favourite place is my hometown (Sion) which is located in the middle of a valley (therefore the canton is named Valais in french). It is surrounded by the Alps.

Q: Looking towards the 2014/2015 season, what are your main goals or objectives and how are you working to achieve them in training?

A: For the next season, I wish to improve my skating skills and interpretation... the second part of the mark, the components. I will also work harder on the quadruple jumps. I would like to represent Switzerland (as I did this year) in the major events of the season (Europeans and Worlds). I know this means much work. I will continue to work my body in off ice training) and also continue to take dance lessons. Perhaps I also will increase the practice hours on the ice.

Q: What are your favourite quotes?

A: "A champion is someone who gets up when he can't.", "Persistence can change failure into extraordinary achievement." and "If you train hard, you'll not only be hard, you'll be hard to beat." by Herschel Walker. It's funny because has the same name!

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

A: That I'm first of all a student in economics at University of Neuchâtel and that figure skating is my hobby. I create the many parts of my own programs, for examples the steps.

Q: What do you love most about being on the ice?

A: I am a rather shy and introverted person. I need a space for feeling good, being efficient and creative. Figure skating offers me the perfect opportunity. The ice is a place just for me alone when I skate, with enough freedom for being creative. I just love everything about figure skating.

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 Zhang

After only skating for three years and at the age of seven, Stephanie Zhang was named to China's national figure skating team. Only two years later, the precocious young skater would move with her family at Australia and by thirteen, Australia offered her citizenship based on her skating talent. Her career on the ice not only saw her win two Australian national titles and six Australian junior titles but another four national medals as well.  Stephanie represented Australia at the Four Continents and World Championships as well as the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City and 2002 Goodwill Games, and did so with big, consistent triple jumps and confidence galore. Perhaps most remarkable about her story is her return to competitive skating (and the national medal podium in Australia) after a TEN YEAR ABSENCE during the 2012/2013 competitive season. Stephanie took the time to talk about her skating career, return to the ice and what she's doing now in this wonderful interview:

Q: Born in China, you're a former member of China's national team but moved to Australia at a young age and started skating for Australia. What memories do you have of your childhood in China and what was moving to a new country like?

A: Where I am from (Harbin) has bitter cold winters so I will never forget that. Being a little girl at the time moving to Australia, to me it was a whole lot of new things and experience to take in. It was quite exciting and at the same time very scary especially with not being able to speak English.

Q: You have twice won Australia's National Championships (1999 and 2000) and have won Australia's junior title six times. After a ten year absence from the sport, you returned to competition last season and won your sixth medal at the senior level in your country. What did you do when you weren't skating competitively, what prompted you to decide to return to the sport and how hard was training to get in competitive form?

A: I never really gave up skating in my head for all those years. I just thought it would be a great self challenge to see if I still had got what it takes. Although it is extremely hard to be working a full time job and training at an elite level, after ten years off and barely skating during that time it took me three months to get all my triples back and it was in time for Nationals. Lots of sweat and no tears!

Q: What was going from competing under the 6.0 system to the new judging system like for you?

A: Personally I feel it's taken a bit of the athleticism out of the sport. In saying that, I'm aware everything is being judged in a more intriguing light. It certainly forces the skaters to improve their skills as a whole.

Q: You have competed at the Junior World Championships, Four Continents Championships, Goodwill Games, World Championships and in 2002 represented Australia at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. What are your favourite memory from these competitions and what did you love most about the Olympic experience?

A: I enjoyed each competitions in its own way, but I have to say I liked Junior Worlds because the skaters were more likely to be around the same age as me. With Worlds and other senior championships and even the Olympics, at the time it was a bit overwhelming competing with all my skating idols. It was such an honor to be skating for Australia at the Olympics, a country I've lived in most my life now. You should come and visit!

Q: Will we see you competing next season?

A: I am not sure if I have enough time to be training and working full time this year.

Q: In what area has your skating most improved over the off season?

A: I am not sure about improving but I do feel that I enjoy the sport a lot more than while I was younger. It wasn't always about winning competitions this time around.

Q: When it comes to other skaters, who is your role model in the sport?

A: Michelle Kwan. No doubt!

Q: In 2007, the fatal crash of the Merinda near the Sydney Harbor Bridge claimed the lives of four members of Australia's figure skating community and injured two others. What kind of an impact did this accident leave on the skating community?

A: It was and is a very sad tragedy. I know all of the members involved on a personal level so it was hard for me.

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

A: I'm constantly eating food!

Q: What are three things you most want to do in life that you haven't yet - three things on your "bucket list"?

A: To learn how to fly a plane, to own an ice rink in my back yard and to learn to surf.

Q: What do you enjoy most about skating?

A: Since I start skating at a very young age, it's now imprinted in my DNA! I feel lost if I don't do something skating related in my life. So now, I'm also a coach and hoping to pass on my knowledge to the younger generation of skaters. Skating gives you the arena to freely express yourself and that's what I love the most.

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 Elena Bechke

Elena Bechke's story is one of perseverance. Struggling through the early part of her career, she rose to the occasion so many times with partner Denis Petrov, winning the World bronze medal in 1989, two medals at the European Championships, the 1992 Soviet title and ultimately, the Olympic silver medal at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. Turning professional following that year's World Championships, Bechke and Petrov went on to be one of the most successful professional pairs teams of all time, finishing second at the World Professional Championships five times and ultimately winning the World Professional Championships in 1996. They toured with Stars On Ice for seven years and won the U.S. Professional Championships, Canadian Professional Championships, U.S. Open Professional Championships, Challenge Of Champions and ESPN Pro Championships, a later incarnation of the Legends Of Figure Skating Competition. Their skating was everything pairs skating should be: daring, difficult, beautiful and artistic. Now remarried and a mother of two, Bechke lives and coaches and North Carolina... and her daughter Sophia is an up and coming skater in her own right. Elena took the time to talk about both her "amateur" and professional careers, relationship with Petrov, Stars On Ice, her children and much more in this must read interview:

Q: Your skating career was filled with so many amazing moments - medals at the Olympics, World Championships and European Championships and wins at the World Professional Championships, Challenge Of Champions, Canadian Professional Championships, U.S. Open and countless other professional competitions. What are your proudest moments and most special memories from both your "amateur" and professional careers? 

A: Probably the 1992 USSR Nationals. Denis and I won... finally, and it was last in history USSR Nationals because after that there was no more USSR. The Olympics... big time! I managed my nerves and did my best! Also, the 1996 World Professional Championships... we won and we did perfect!

Q: You toured with Stars On Ice for seven years. What did you enjoy most and learn most from your time on tour?

A: I loved every minute of my seven years with Stars On Ice. I learned how to be your best every show and how to share your talent with spectators. I learned and improved my English. I loved traveling on a private jets, going to beautiful American cities and traveling with the best skaters in the world.

Q: Before skating with Denis Petrov, you were won Skate Canada and a medal at the 1986 World Championships with your first partner Valery Kornienko, who was twenty years your senior. What were the high and low points of this partnership and what brought you to Denis Petrov? How did your coach Tamara Moskvina become involved in the process?

A: I always was with Tamara Moskvina. She coached me with Valery too. We were 1986 European Bronze Medalists and traveled a bit within the former USSR. When Valery decided to stop skating, Tamara advised me to try Denis as a skating partner. She knew what she was talking about!

Q: You competed at a time in Soviet pairs skating when you were up against SO many great teams at home, Gordeeva and Grinkov, Mishkutenok and Dmitriev, Shishkova and Naumov and Eltsova and Bushkov among them. How much pressure was there in competition at the Soviet Nationals and what did you learn from your competitors that improved your own skating?

A: There was SO much pressure that at times I did not want to compete. I always wanted to do my best but because of my nerves I had a few very rough events. I learned a lot from Gordeeva and Grinkov. They were my idols. I could watch them skate every day. I also learned how to be tough and positive when things are not that easy. Competing against great skaters helped me to become a stronger person.

Q: You and Denis married in 1990 and divorced in 1995. How challenging was balancing your personal relationship with Denis while still skating together every day on the ice?

A: It was not that hard. We were great friends but were just too young to take care of each other's emotional needs.  

Q: Do you and Denis still speak and would you ever consider skating together again?

A: We do not stay in touch and I'm not sure why. He is in China and I am in the U.S. I wish I could talk to him and just see how he is doing. There is no skating together in the near future.

Q: On your father's side of your family, you are of Hungarian heritage. Have you visited Hungary and what cultural traditions from Hungary and Russia do you celebrate in your life today?

A: I have never been there. The only Hungarian items I know these days are my last name and some great dishes my Mom cooks. My dad passed away in 1993.

Q: You have had so many fabulous programs over the years - "You Don't Bring Me Flowers", "The Young Lady And The Hooligan", "Whole Lotta Love" and "Blue Danube" among them. What were your favourite programs to skate and what is one piece of music you would love to skate to even now?

A: "Flowers" for sure. One of the best ever. The "Hungarian Dance" of 1999/2000 was just perfect. "Creation of the World" was simply unbelievable. I can watch those programs every day and still feel proud of Denis and I and all our coaches and choreographers.

Q:  What is your favourite movie, song and book?

A: Sleepless in Seattle and Nicholas Sparks books. He is from North Carolina as well. I love Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. My favourite song is "Just The Way You Are" by Bruno Mars.

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

A: Kristi Yamaguchi. She was the most disciplined athlete in the world. Paul Wylie. The most passionate skater of all times. Scott Hamilton. The most creative and engaging skater and person I have ever met.

Q: You remarried in 2001 and now are a mother of two and a skating coach in North Carolina. How has life changed for you since your skating career ended and what do you consider most important in life now?

A: My kids Alex and Sophia are my world and my happiness. My family is the most important part of my life.  

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

A: I am very insecure at times. I come across as I know it all but I really do not. I come across as a tough Russian woman but I really am not. I have my weak moments.

Q: If you could tell one person struggling with their confidence on the ice something, what would it be?

A: Let your skating come from your heart. Skate from your heart. Listen to your heart.

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 Zamboni Zodiac: Astrology In Figure Skating

"We are born at a given moment, in a given place, and like vintage years of wine, we have the qualities of the year and of the season in which we are born." - Carl Jung

No, it's not the dawning of the Age Of Aquarius, sunshine. It's time for The Zamboni Zodiac... a look at how astrology relates to figure skating and an in depth picture not only of how figure skaters relate to their astrological signs but what qualities that they possess as astrological signs that both help and hurt them in the figure skating world! When I sat down with a lap full of books (lucky seven to be precise) and decided that I'd write about this, I actually didn't even imagine how much certain skaters would really relate to their signs. I was just honestly so amazed that I'd found a way to combine my love of astrology and skating (next I've got to figure out a way to combine Hollandaise sauce and gravy)! I found it so interesting to research this (you wouldn't believe!) and I honestly think you will too. Astrology, the search for meaning in the sky, has been around for well over 25,000 years in some form or another - perhaps much, much longer. It existed in ancient Sumeria, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Arabia, Europe, India, Asia and Mesoamerica in so many different forms and has survived war, feast, famine and religious persecution. It's so much more than some horoscope in a newspaper. If you really study and acquaint yourself with astrology, it is an art and science... much like skating. Is it a coincidence that much of skating's 'royalty' fall under the regal sign of Leo? That one of the most fun skaters ever to grace the sport is a Gemini? It's up to you to be the judge as The Zamboni Zodiac paints its picture:


Sonja Henie

Pioneering and courageous, it's no surprise that 3 time Olympic Gold Medallist Sonja Henie was an Aries. Arians are also known to be aggressive and selfish at times, which would certainly explain her determination at all costs to be the most successful skater of her time, male or female. The sign is also known for its sense of adventure and confidence. Debi Thomas and Elaine Zayak, World Champions both, are Aries and are fine examples of skaters that were fearless and full of energy on the ice. Janet Lynn and Stephane Lambiel, also Aries, were certainly courageous and pioneering in bringing to the ice intangible and ethereal artistic qualities that other skaters in their respective eras were not always sporting. Arians are also known to be very active people, avid learners that have the ability to laugh at themselves when things don't go the way the way they want to, certainly qualities any coach would love to have in a student.

Famous Arians: Maya Angelou, Johann Sebastian Bach, Charlie Chaplin, Elton John


Toller Cranston

Taureans are known to be very patient and reliable people. They'd have to be. Many famous skaters that are Taureans have had careers that have required more persistence, determination and patience than most. Look at skaters like Jamie Sale, who's a Taurus and had to fight her entire career to finally achieve the success that she was destined for. Another example of this persistence and determination in a skating Taurus is Lloyd Eisler, who made three trips to the Winter Olympic Games and fought through injury and judging controversy with his partner Isabelle Brasseur throughout their highly successful career. Taureans are always very well spoken as well. If you take that into account, it's no wonder both Toller Cranston and Rosalynn Sumners enjoyed great success as skating commentators after their "amateur" careers had ended. Taurus is "the sign of the bull" and therefore is well known as a sign that is very stubborn by nature at times... and a stubborn determination is certainly a quality that will help skaters "stick to it" and endure success as they take the long road to achieving their dreams. Let's hope Taureans Ashley Wagner and Tessa Virtue will be entertaining us for years to come!

Famous Taureans: Cher... bitch (hair flip), Eva Peron, William Shakespeare, Leonardo di Vinci 


Kurt Browning

Geminis always get along with other Geminis. I should know, I am a textbook one. We also don't shut up. So, if I was at a party with fellow Geminis Jeremy Abbott, Tara Lipinski, Evan Lysacek, Maya Usova and Katia Gordeeva, it would probably be hard to get a word in edgewise. We're a fun bunch but we also are very nervous and inconsistent by nature, a trait that can certainly be deadly in nature. Look at fantastic skaters like Tomas Verner and Steven Cousins who we always cross(ed) our fingers for and have issues with consistency when it comes down to competition at times. We're a very physically expressive sign. We talk with our hands as well as our mouths and are all about communication and having a sense of humor. You'll notice Gemini skaters as a rule will be very expressive with their arms. If you think about all of those qualities, Kurt Browning being a Gemini should be absolutely no surprise to you whatsoever. One downside of Geminis as a rule is that we tend to hear what we want to hear. We tend to absorb information on more of a subconscious level. One big upside however when it comes to skating is that once again, we love more than anything to have fun and make life fun even when it isn't.

Famous Geminis: Bob Dylan, Judy Garland, John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe


Michelle Kwan

If you tell a Cancer that they can't do something, they'll respond "why not?" and go out and do it. Dick Button certainly did when he was the first skater to land the double axel and triple loop, win 2 Olympic medals, become an iconic skating commentator and basically invent competitive professional skating. They're also very intuitive and imaginative people, ruled by emotion. They're traditionally negated as being a moody sign in astrology, but Cancers will actually try very hard to get OUT of their moods. If you look at their sense of intensity and imagination, could you even be the least bit surprised that Johnny Weir, Laetitia Hubert, Anita Hartshorn, Alexander Zhulin, Maria Butyrskaya, Angelika Krylova and Lucinda Ruh are all Cancers. They're not the only ones. Some of the biggest names in skating are also Cancers, like Michelle Kwan, Kristi Yamaguchi, Victor Petrenko and Barbara Underhill. Cancers are sympathetic, kind and emotional people and these are also traits that really carry over onto the ice, of course, as well. I could certainly never imagine telling any of them they couldn't do anything. One thing's for absolute certain. I don't think I'd ever want to head to head in a skate-off with a Cancer. They'd win. 

Famous Cancers: Princess Diana, Franz Kafka, Helen Keller, Antoine de Saint-Exupery


Dorothy Hamill

Leo is the purple sign: the color of royalty. How befitting that skating royalty Christopher Dean, Robin Cousins, Dorothy Hamill and Peggy Fleming are all Leos. Although at times considered to be dogmatic and "pompous" by some, they are a sign that's full of wonderful qualities that would certainly help anyone in the skating world. They take constructive criticism well. They are broad-minded, creative and full of enthusiasm. They're honest and warmhearted. Just ask skaters like Liz Manley, Paul Duchesnay, Marie-France Dubreuil, Tanja Szewczenko, Povilas Vanagas, Midori Ito and Josee Chouinard. Are these not skaters that not only have all of these qualities but we can't help but just adore? In the world of competitive skating, however, Leos have one quality that needs to be "kept in check". Leos have a tendency to constantly compare themselves to others. They'll obsess as to why they aren't 'better'. When they are able to keep this in check, they can certainly use this sense of comparison to better themselves as athletes, but if they let themselves worry too much about the competition, their sights may settle right on the gold... the Gracie Gold. After all, that girl is on fire.

Famous Leos: Napoleon Bonaparte, Julia Child, Madonna, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis


Scott Hamilton

Being analytical and meticulous are qualities that help any skater succeed in competitive figure skating. Being observant of one's competitors and reflective about the bigger picture of your performance are certainly things that help you win the mental game that IS competition. Virgos also finish what they start, which certainly boded well for 2010 Olympic Gold Medallist Yuna Kim, who again returned to the Olympic medal podium at the 2014 Games in Sochi in glorious fashion with a flawless performance. Another Virgo, 1996 U.S. National Champion Rudy Galindo certainly finished what HE started. Virgos are smart cookies who are very practical by nature, making them skaters who are not only aware of how to excel in competition but how to train as well. Think about John Curry, Todd Eldredge, Scott Moir, Jeffrey Buttle, Tim Goebel, Matt Savoie, Irina Rodnina, Petr Barna, Tai Babilonia... these are highly intelligent people who were/are very focused, well spoken and intelligent about the way they trained and competed. It's also no shocker that one of the skating world's most famous and successful members - 1984 Olympic Gold Medallist Scott Hamilton - is a Virgo!

Famous Virgos: Agatha Christie, Queen Elizabeth I, D.H. Lawrence, H.G. Wells


Brian Boitano

The sign of the Libra is the Scales Of Justice. Libras are very "middle of the road" people who see both sides to any argument... they are mediators and very expressive people. They are also absolutely committed to achieving their goals. Mao Asada and Nancy Kerrigan are both Libras and skaters that in their own unique ways have shown their undying commitment to their skating goals throughout their careers. Libras are also great lovers of beauty and this would certainly translate to their commitment to artistic excellence on the ice. Jayne Torvill, Sergei Ponomarenko, Elena Berezhnaya, Brian Boitano... these are skaters who all have demonstrated time and time again their commitment to presenting programs that were truly works of art when completed. In winning Olympic gold in Sochi, Maxim Trankov is a Libra who showed his commitment to an idea and that idea was this past season's "Jesus Christ Superstar" free skate this season. The Scales Of Justice certainly slanted in his favor, now didn't they?

Famous Libras: Ray Charles, Jesse Jackson, Barbara Walters, Sigourney Weaver


Evgeni Plushenko

A lot is said about Scorpios and a lot of it isn't good: that they are shrewd business people, that they are ruled by sex, that they have criminal minds. They're ruled by Pluto, the ancient god of the underworld and the dead. Their symbol is the sometimes fatal scorpion. Giiiirl! You'd swear they were all politicians and movie stars! Scorpios have very strong wills and are very self-willed. They are skaters that push themselves to the limit... more than any coach, choreographer or audience could. They are purposeful and fiercely determined to achieve their goals. Evgeni Plushenko... he's a Scorpio. I don't think there's a better poster boy. If you think in a million years that Evgeni wasn't gunning for Sochi to achieve a personal goal, I think you're kind of blinded. Like Plushenko, Emanuel Sandhu is a Scorpio. So is Paul Wylie. So is Adam Rippon. So is Ryan Bradley What all of these skaters actually have in absolute common is the fact that they stuck with their goals to succeed long after people had perhaps written them off, with great success actually. Charlie White, interestingly, is also a Scorpio, as is Sasha Cohen. If you draw the parallel between all of these skaters, there seems to be such a determination and focus on the end goal. That determination worked for Charlie White, Alexei Urmanov, Anton Sikharulidze, Ingo Steuer, Tatiana Totmianina, Xue Shen and Oksana Baiul... just ask them - they have the Olympic medals to prove it.

Famous Scorpios: Marie Antoinette, Ruth Gordon, Rock Hudson, Sylvia Plath


Katarina Witt

Sagittarians are very philosophical by nature. Like Virgos, they are also very analytical, which certainly is huge when it comes to having a bigger picture in skating than the outcome of one practice session or one competition. One of the main things they really have going for them is a positive outlook and a sense of optimism not shared with every other sign. David Pelletier, Lu Chen, Randy Gardner, Katarina Witt, Meagan Duhamel, Surya Bonaly, Miki Ando... are these not skaters you often see with a big old smile on their face? Sagittarians are NEVER boring, with great senses of humor like Geminis... they always have people migrating around them. They're also late bloomers by nature, which would certainly explain Oleg Protopopov, who's still wowing crowds in his 80's at the Evening With Champions shows at Harvard University long after his Olympic wins in 1964 and 1968 with his wife Ludmila. Their intellectual approach to any situation and friendly make them the kind of people who enjoy hear speaking in interviews - look at people like Caryn Kadavy, Jennifer Robinson and Brian Orser and think about them in interviews. Friendly, smiling and completely on the ball. Understanding and analytical, they are one of the most likable signs!

Famous Sagittarians: Ludwig von Beethoven, Winston Churchill, Bette Midler, Frank Sinatra


Patrick Chan

Capricorns persevere. They are very willful and are all about endurance. They are intellectualized people who also have an underlying emotional sign but they are really very gutsy, gritty fighters which make them some of the most exciting competitors to watch. Meryl Davis, Joannie Rochette, Aliona Savchenko, Shawn Sawyer and Shizuka Arakawa are all Capricorns and skaters who we've seen 'dig a little deeper' with our own two eyes more than once. They love obstacles and crave challenges. What's that? Patrick Chan's a Capricorn? You don't say! Capricorns not only seek out a good challenge but they plan meticulously for it. Like Sagittarians and Virgos, Capricorns have great memories and are detail oriented. If you're a competitive skater, they are the people you want to watch out for. They're prepared.

Famous Capricorns: Joan Of Arc, Marlene Dietrich, Martin Luther King Jr., Elvis Presley


Yuka Sato

"When the moon is in the second house... THIS IS THE DAWNING OF THE AGE OF AQUARIUS... THE AGE OF AQUARIUS... AQUARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRIUS!" Ignore the imaginary haze of smoke, Joni Mitchell and hookah pipes... it just got a little psychedelic for a moment apparently. Back to our regularly scheduled blogging... Aquarians are insightful and make excellent teachers. They sop up knowledge like a baguette to gravy, which really makes sense in a skating context... many of skating's Aquarians have gone from great students to careers as fabulous coaches and choreographers. Carol Heiss Jenkins, Shae-Lynn Bourne and Yuka Sato are prime examples of that. They command attention, which in the context of skating make them the true movie stars of the ice. Philippe Candeloro, Olga Markova, John Kerr, Eric Radford, Alexandr Fadeev... all skaters you really can't keep your eyes off of if you were to watch them perform. They come across as stern sometimes but it's really just that that they are really quite introspective sometimes. There is usually much more to Aquarians than meet the eye - they are complex people... people of substance that honestly often give people the wrong impression about them. The real truth of the matter is that they're really good people.

Famous Aquarians: Lewis Carroll, Carol Channing, Abraham Lincoln, Virginia Woolf


Daisuke Takahashi

Pisceans are probably the most fascinating and compelling sign in the Zamboni Zodiac, which seems appropriate they're often saved for last. They are very aware of their bodies and often have the deepest, most expressive eyes. When it comes to that awareness of their bodies, it's interesting to note how many dancers are Pisceans. They tend to be naturally quite streamlined and agile. What's also compelling about Pisceans is their imagination and depth. Gary Beacom, Petri Kokko, Stannick Jeanette, Daisuke Takahashi, Pasha Grishuk... artists all... are Pisceans. You also have skaters with very balletic lines on the ice like Radka Kovarikova, Charlene Wong and Denis Petrov. One thing I think you'll find very interesting is that Alexei Yagudin and Max Aaron are Pisceans, and it's interesting in that these are people who really excelled technically in the initial phase of their careers but became much more aware of their bodies and how to move them artistically as things processed. It's all about a bigger picture and Pisceans are almost as stubborn (but not quite) as Taureans, so they have that fire to stick with it until they achieve whatever it is they set out to.

Famous Pisceans: Edgar Cayce, Albert Einstein, Vaslaw Nijinsky, George Washington

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 Ivan Righini

Competing for Russia for six years boded well for Ivan Righini, who wasn't Ivan Righini back then. Ivan Bariev won two Russian junior men's titles and placed as high as sixth on the senior level in Russia and seventh at the World Junior Championships in 2008 before deciding to represent Italy, the country of his mother's birth during the 2013/2014 season. Ivan adopted his mother's former surname Righini and found expeditious success representing his new home in winning the Italian Figure Skating Championships on his very first try. He also won the Bavarian Open international competition and incredibly placed thirteenth at his first senior World Figure Skating Championships this past season. A very strong technical skater, Righini's future in figure skating looks much brighter these days and I think he's certainly a skater whose name we'll be hearing a lot more from. He took the time to talk about his transition to competing for a new country, first World Championships, future in skating and much more in this interview I think you'll quite enjoy:

Q: You twice won the Russian junior title and won four medals on the Junior Grand Prix and competed internationally for Russia for some years before deciding to obtain a dual citizenship and represent Italy internationally (the country of your mother's birth). What brought on this decision and was it a difficult or an easy process?

A: It was pretty hard! For one moment, I wanted to stop skating but then I said to myself that it's kind of silly to stop after skating such a lot of years for nothing. The decision was made so unpredictably and now I'm happy to introduce Italy!

Q: You recently placed thirteenth at the 2014 World Championships in Saitama, Japan with some GREAT skating there. What are you most proud about your first trip to Worlds?

A: I'm so proud of myself that I could control my nerves in front of such a big crowd! For me, in the short program I was really shocked. I had never been to such a big competition so it was a big stress, but in the free I felt myself so comfortable. I did actually everything I could with one small mistake and skated easily. So I think debut was approved!

 Q: Looking forward to next season and beyond, what are your goals in skating and how will you work in training to achieve them?

A: My goals for next season are to put the quad in both programs, to compete on a hard level and to be for sure in the first ten on the Worlds and first five in Europeans. I am soon starting already to make new programs.

Q: What's your favourite Russian food and your favourite Italian food?

A: Russian food? I think it's pelmeni and borscht. For Italian food, I prefer pasta and pizza and I love seafood!

Q: What's the most difficult jump or jump combination you've ever landed?

A: The most difficult jump I tried was (a long time ago) the quad loop and hardest combination was triple Axel/triple toe/double loop.

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

A: I'm kind of a bad guy!

Q: If you could change anything about the way skating is judged, what would you change?

A: I actually like how everything is now. Maybe the points were so high in last time.

Q: If you could meet any figure skater in the world that you haven't, who would it be and why?

A: I already met my idols, Alexei Yagudin and Stephane Lambiel. I would like to meet Philippe Candeloro one time because I love the way he skated.

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

A: Alexei Yagudin has always been my idol. Stephane Lambiel's skating is just phenomenal and Patrick Chan has great skating.

Q: Describe your perfect day away from the rink - where would you go and what would you do?

A: My day would start by not waking up too early, having a great breakfast, then a walk in the center of Moscow to meet my friends and talk with them and then go back home, buy some food and watch movies.

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

A: I love figure skating! I love the crowd and feel how they cheer for me. I love to show myself!

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":

V Is For Vivacious: The Vera Hrubá Ralston Story

Every so often a skater's story comes along that is so compelling that it sounds like something straight out of a Hollywood movie. In the case of Vera Hrubá Ralston, figure skater turned Hollywood actress, the Hollywood movie analogy doesn't fall far from the skate guard.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Born in Prague in what was then Czechoslovakia in 1919, Vera Hrubá was the daughter of wealthy jeweler Rudolf Hrubá. She grew up in a Catholic family on the Berounka River and like many young skaters, enrolled in ballet classes before translating her love of movement to the icy dance floor. Her story (even from childhood) was far from traditional though. Before even taking up skating at the age of thirteen, she had already took up the habit of smoking and much of her early instruction on the ice didn't come from a skating coach but from her own brother. In four short years, she improved by leaps and bounds so much that it was her who represented Czechoslovakia at the 1936 European Figure Skating Championships and Winter Olympic Games. While at those Winter Games in Germany, like winner Sonja Henie she had an encounter with Adolf Hitler. Unlike Henie (who enthusiastically gave the Nazi salute), Hitler asked her if she would like to "skate for the swastika."She responded: "I looked him right in the eye, and said that I'd rather skate on the swastika. The Führer was furious."

After finishing seventeenth at those Games, Vera's competitive career only continued for less than a year more and saw her finish seventh at the 1937 European Figure Skating Championships in her home city of Prague. Following that competition, Vera toured the U.S. in ice revues and was offered a screen test for RKO Pictures but turned it down as she was engaged at the time. Her engagement fell through when her fiancee's parents refused to let him marry her as he was half-Jewish and her family was Catholic. On the fifteenth of March in 1939, Vera and her mother narrowly escaped the Nazi takeover of Prague by getting on the last airplane out of the city and flying to Paris, France. From France, they traveled to New York by boat and Vera's story took more than a few more interesting double twists and three turns.

Upon arriving in New York, Vera took up in residence among ice comedians and skating champions in the Ice Vanities Of 1939 tour. In 1941, she received 2400 marriage proposals when a Chicago newspaper ran a story that she may have to return to Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia when her visitor's permit expired. Later that year, her transformation from professional figure skater to movie starlet would begin when Herbert J. Yates, the president of Republic Pictures would cast her in his film "Ice-Capades".

Her film career would be widely criticized by film critics and public alike, her thick accent and mechanical delivery the brunt of many a joke. By 1943 however, Yates was offering her a long-term movie contract and she chose to Americanize her last name by adding Ralston... after the breakfast cereal. It was Yates' determination to make Vera a star that made her a star. He pumped Republic Pictures money into her career and even threatened exhibitors by withholding popular Republic films unless they played her pictures. She started by taking roles that played on her aptitude for skating (much like the hugely popular Sonja Henie skating movies of the period) but 1944's "Lake Placid Serenade" was to prove one of the last roles centered around Vera's skating. In 1945, she starred alongside legendary actor John Wayne in the film "Dakota". Despite the fact her film career was founded on Yates' determination to make her a star, director Joseph Kane said that "Vera could have made it rough on everyone, but she never took advantage of that situation. Although she never became a good actress, she was cooperative, hardworking and eager to please." The following year, she reunited with her father, became an American citizen and took up residence in Sherman Oaks, California.

Vera Hrubá Ralston and Roy Rogers

Two years later, Yates left his wife and four children to be with Vera. Yates' interest in Rudolf Hrubá's daughter was met with disapproval. Yates was forty years Vera's senior and her father would not prove supportive of the unlikely couple's relationship, opting instead to return to his native Prague. On March 15, 1952, Vera walked down the aisle and married Yates at the Little Brown Church In The Valley in North Hollywood.

The following years would include annual European trips with Vera's mother, one of which would earn Vera a special audience with Pope Pius XII in Vatican City. The newlyweds took up residence in Santa Barbara and her movie career continued with moderate success until she was featured in her last film "The Man Who Died Twice" in 1958. It wouldn't all be roses over the coming decade though. Yates would be the target of a suit by two Republic stockholders who claimed he used company assets to promote his wife as a star and in the spring of 1962, the couple would briefly estrange only to reunite months later. The following year, Vera's father would pass away in Prague and three years later, her husband Yates would pass away in the couple's Sherman Oaks home after suffering nine heart attacks. He left his wife half of his $10 million dollar estate and she suffered a nervous breakdown, travelling to Hawaii to recuperate.

Vera returned to California with her mother but in January 1973, that relationship also ended when her mother passed away in Los Angeles. The same year, she remarried and left her Hollywood life of glitz and glamour behind, marrying a Santa Barbara businessman named Charles Alva. Unlike Yates, Alva would be more than ten years Vera's junior.

In February 2003, her memories of a life on the silver screen and an Olympic figure skater a thing of the distant past, Vera passed away in Santa Barbara after a long battle with cancer. Although posthumously ridiculed by being included as a candidate for "The Worst Actress Of All Time" by the authors of the book "The Golden Turkey Awards" (which was instead won by Raquel Welch), Ralston's compelling story is one of a rich and unconventional rise to the middle during a golden era when the lines between figure skating and Hollywood blended and blurred. Skaters became movie stars, movie stars became skaters and in turn, many people took to the ice to experience their own taste of the magic. An unlikely star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, Vera's impact on the silver screen is still one that's enduring and is proof and parcel that sometimes sheer will can be the deciding factor between success and obscurity.

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":