Monday, 29 June 2015

Out With The New, In With The Old: Blog Announcements And Changes


Since I started writing this blog back in February 2013, I've interviewed hundreds of incredible skaters, reviewed competitions, written editorials and researched figure skating history... and I've loved almost every minute of it. That said, I wanted to announce some important changes that are coming with respect to content on the blog going forward. 

OUT WITH THE NEW

For starters, last season I spent hours upon hours recapping and reviewing current ISU competitions. Although I got to enjoy more than my fair share of phenomenal skating, I'd rather just enjoy watching some of the competitions this season at my leisure. Picking apart skater's "GOE" or "PCS" scores and lamenting over the IJS judging system isn't something that appeals to me personally nor is it a direction I want to take with the blog going forward. I want to again recommend Jackie Wong's Figure Skating Examiner site and Claire Cloutier's A Divine Sport blog. They are two of several sites that offer some wonderful resources in this respect. 

Standalone interviews are another area that I'm going to be stepping away from going forward although interviewing may continue to be a component of certain historical blogs when relevant. There are literally hundreds of amazing interviews with skaters from all around the world including dozens of Olympic Medallists and World Champions that will remain (with all of the content) archived in searchable format on the blog. I've saved some of the very BEST for last... and I think you're going to love the final two interviews with Olympic Bronze Medallist and European Champion Petr Barna and Olympic Gold Medallist, European Champion and World Professional Champion Robin Cousins. Although Petr's is short and sweet, I was so thankful for the opportunity. Robin's is quite in-depth and one that I have always wanted to do. Both will be posted this week. 

IN WITH THE OLD

So, you're probably thinking ''if he's not doing event recaps and he's not doing interviews... what IS he doing?" Oscar Wilde once said that "anyone can make history. Only a great man can write it." I don't think it will come as any shock to any of you that my real passion lies in researching and studying figure skating's rich history. Throughout the 2015/2016 season and beyond, you can expect and count on AT LEAST two new blogs a week exploring a wide range of eclectic stories from skating's rich and colourful history... everything from anecdotes to revisiting competitions, shows and tours of yesteryear to skater biographies, lesser known factoids and shocking stories. Rather than follow in the vein of the majority of 'mainstream' skating blogs out there, I will continue to take MY inspiration from wonderful podcasts that follow in the exact same structure like Stuff You Missed In History Class, Footnoting History, Nate DiMeo's The Memory Palace and countless others. Which brings me to my final announcement...


I don't think it's possible for me to be any more excited about this one! Later this summer, the blog is going to be collaborating with The Manleywoman SkateCast on a unique six part audio series about skating history called Axels In The Attic. Allison Manley and I will be sharing 6.0 absolutely unique and deliciously little known stories from skating's decadent history in short form podcasts that you can download from this blog, Allison's site and hopefully iTunes and Stitcher.

I hear from readers of the blog how they enjoy reading new blogs as soon as they come out, catching up on weekends, in bed or in the case of loyal reader Jim, reading on commutes to and from work. The Axels In The Attic podcast series will allow you to even more freedom during the busy summer months to listen on the go while you're out walking, camping, driving, biking or just being your fabulous selves in the sun and as the episodes are quite long form for blogs but short for podcasts, you'll only be devoting ten to fifteen minutes of your day to learning about figure skating history... which is nothing compared to the time I've been spending the last couple years, believe me honey. On the blog, each episode of Axels In The Attic will also be accompanied with show notes which will consist of the full text transcribed as well as pictures, videos, etc. when available and pertinent to the topic... so if you're a visual learner more than audio one, you've still got the option to read along as you always do on the blog.


Two last points to make about all of this exciting news! Number one... please forgive my (sometimes thick) Nova Scotian accent. Number two... I'm going to stress again that the subjects of the Axels In The Attic series are just unbelievably fascinating listens. As always on the blog, I will not ever ask for compensation for my time and efforts in putting this all together but as The Manleywoman SkateCast is listener supported and the hosting of audio files is just insane in terms of bandwidth, it would really make me smile if you supported Allison's project if that's something you're able to do. Even if you're not, enjoy this series as much as Allison and I have in putting it together for you!

I hope you appreciate the changes in direction I will be taking with the blog going forward! The best is absolutely yet to come and I want to thank you ALL for your support!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

He Had It Coming: Yvonne de Ligne, The Seventh Merry Murderess


Liz's husband Bernie liked to pop - not chew - his gum and it irritated her so much that she took the shotgun off the wall and fired two warning shots... into his head. Annie was dating a man named Ezekiel Young from Salt Lake City and found out he actually had six wives so she poisoned him with arsenic. June's husband Wilbur accused her of screwing the milkman and met his demise by running into her knife ten times. Hunyak, a Hungarian ballerina, didn't speak a lick of English but one thing was for sure. She wasn't guilty. Velma caught her husband and sister sleeping together. That didn't go so well for either for them. Mona's boyfriend Alvin Lipschitz cheated on her with both men and women. In the end, he met his end as the result of artistic differences: he saw himself alive and she saw him dead. Those six merry murderesses of the Cook's County Jail could have easily been joined by another murderess who loved to perform - figure skater Yvonne de Ligne.


Before we talk about what she did, let's talk about who she was. Born September 19, 1907 in Brussels, Belgium as Yvonne Geurts, she grew up in an affluent Brussels family and made her international debut as a competitive figure skater in Budapest, Hungary when the 1929 World Figure Skating Championships for women were contested. The first ladies singles skater from Belgium ever to compete at the World Championships, she finished in last place almost seventy two points behind the winner who was of course Sonja Henie. Success was slow and fleeting for the Belgian skater. Her best results were sixth place finishes ahead of future World Champions Cecilia Colledge and Megan Taylor at both the 1932 Winter Olympics and World Championships and a fifth place at the 1933 European Championships. That same year, she slipped to eighth place in a field of nine at the World Championships. By her final competition, the 1936 World Championships, she was one of the older competitors in the field and had dropped to eleventh place. de Ligne was certainly a skater who had her up's and down's but not one who in hindsight is well remembered historically.

For her skating, that is. A teenage bride, Yvonne was the wife of Belgian speed skater Charles de Ligne, who was a decorated World War I cavalry officer and owner of a successful seed business. His sporting career wasn't exactly as impressive as his wife's though; his dismal times from the 1936 Olympics in Germany gave him the unique distinction of being the slowest speed skater in Olympic history. It's a shame too, because maybe if he was a little faster he might have had the sense to get away from his wife. During World War II, the married couple had been leaders of the Belgian underground during the Nazi occupation, helping smuggle hundreds of Allied fliers, downed over enemy territory, and Allied secret agents to getaway boats in the English Channel. Behind closed doors however, the marriage of the two skaters was turbulent at best.

Yvonne fell in love with a Dutch figure and speed skater coaching figure skating at a club in Antwerp, Belgium named Jacob Hartog. While her husband was away, de Ligne moved Hartog into the couple's second home... because that's a great idea, right? Charles returned from a dangerous underground mission to the couple's suburban 'getaway cottage', found Yvonne and Jacob living there, there was a scuffle and Charles kicked Jacob out. Shocker, right? Not so much. Yvonne, then forty two, had developed an obsession for Jacob (who was ten years her junior) and was furious that her older husband put a stop to her live-in affair. Much like the merry murderesses of the Cook County Jail, was out for blood. In November 1944 she decided to do something about her little problem.

Ellery Queen's April 7, 1957 true crime article "Murder In The Underground" explained that "she knew that if passion stood out as the motive, she would be the obvious suspect. So she set about creating a false motive that would send the police off on a wild-goose chase. This woman built her false motive out of nothing less than a world war. In fact, out of the war Yvonne de Ligne manufactured two false motives, so that, if one failed, there would still be another between the police and the truth. The time was November, 1944... In this climate Yvonne de Ligne set her trap for the Belgian police. She was in a unique position to do so. She and her husband Charles were national heroes... One of the underground with whom the de Lignes had worked against the Germans was a chemist named Timmermans. Yvonne went to Timmermans and confided in him that Charles, her husband, was 'anti-Belgian' and was using his underground connections to betray honest patriots to the Gestapo. Timmermans was deeply disturbed. He could not believe that de Ligne was a traitor, but here was the man's own wife accusing him. The chemist decided to send her to see one of the most dreaded of Belgium's underground operatives, Armand Michiels, who specialized in executions of traitors. On the afternoon of November 14, 1944, Yvonne and Charles de Ligne cycled out of Brussels to their little love nest. Shortly after 7 pm Armand Michiels entered the cottage and pumped five bullets into de Ligne's heart -convinced that Charles had betrayed Belgium. It was not true. Convincing Michiels that it was, so that if the executioner were caught he might convince the authorities, had been merely one of Yvonne de Ligne's red herrings. The other Yvonne offered to the police in person, after the shooting - she suggested that her husband might have been slain by an agent of the Gestapo! It seemed plausible. During the occupation the Gestapo had suspected de Ligne's underground activities, but they had never been able to catch him at work. The fact that the killing had been done with a German Luger seemed a confirmation. What the police did not know at the time was that Yvonne had given Michiels 3,500 francs to purchase a German-made weapon. But the cleverest criminal plans have a way of collapsing under competent police investigation and the criminal's own carelessness. By the spring of 1945 Yvonne was openly and gaily consorting with Jacob Hartog. The police raided his rooms and found a bundle of love letters to Hartog from Yvonne, with damaging dates and other evidence of their illicit love affair. Timmermans was questioned and his testimony led to Michiels. And Michiels confessed to the killing."


Michiels was sentenced to a fifteen year term in jail. As noted in the April 1, 1946 clipping from The Milwaukee Journal above, Yvonne, the real mastermind behind the cold-blooded murder, escaped the death penalty. She was instead sentenced to life in prison. For his knowledge of his lover's plot, Hartog was sentenced to a three year term but was released after a year because of advanced tuberculosis and died shortly thereafter. Six years into de Ligne's term, she too was released and died of tuberculosis in 1952. Three skaters, one murder and a plot every bit as bizarre (if not moreso) than the 'whack heard around the world' when Nancy Kerrigan was attacked in 1994, don't you think? One thing's for sure, unlike de Ligne and the six merry murderesses of the Cook's County Jail, if I'd been there, if I'd have seen it, I would NOT have done the same.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Interview With Trevor Laak


In today's blog, I wanted to venture away from the usual fare on the blog for a bit and talk a little about an incredible resource that's very much out there and you may not even be aware of. Launched in 2008, iCoachSkating.com is probably the most comprehensive library of technical skating knowledge ever compiled. It's one thing to read about something but any of us who have ever laced up and got on the ice know that the majority of instruction you're going to receive and of course absorb comes from visual learning and actually getting out there and experiencing something. For those of you who are in no way familiar with what the site really is, it's a compendium of instructional videos from some of the BEST coaches out there walking you through (step by step) the elements of figure skating - from the bare bones basics to jumps, spins, footwork and even choreography and off ice training exercises. As a reader of the blog, you'll be familiar with many of the names. I've interviewed some of the featured coaches and choreographers like Michelle Leigh, Douglas Webster, Tom Zakrajsek and Sheila Thelen before. Whatever your background or interest level, some of the other names are just going to jump out at you: Frank Carroll, Pasquale Camerlengo, Kori Ade. In the words of Edina Monsoon, "names, names, names sweetie!" For a change, rather than me wax poetically about what makes this site relevant to EVERYONE (not just coaches and skaters) I thought I'd sit down and chat with the site's founder Trevor Laak and give you a first hand look at what makes iCoachSkating.com so important:

Q: Why did you decide to start iCoachSkating.com?

A: A: It was actually kind of a long process to develop the idea. Basically when I went from being a skater to a coach, I started to recognize that some of the things that I had been taught - or how I was taught - wasn't working with my skaters. For example, I was taught to step up into an 'H position' on an axel and if you watch in slow motion what actually happens with an axel, there is no 'H position'. I had a lot of questions and I started to seek information. I ran across Audrey Weisiger and the whole Grassroots To Champions team and I started to learn immediately from them. I had been doing a whole bunch of video analysis on my own before I met them and had developed all kinds of new teaching methods on my own but when I started to work with them I was like wow... I was like a kid in a candy store. There were so many new ideas and concepts. Essentially, I thought to myself if I'm so excited by all of this, there's got to be so many other people who are ALSO excited just to learn these new coaching techniques and ways of learning jumps and spins. So why don't we create an online resource that makes it easy for people to learn - that they can access at any time and from anywhere.  

Q: It's such an interesting concept and something that hasn't been done before and one thing that really stuck with me when I was watching the videos was the value of these videos as a training tool for coaches. Were coaches your initial target audience or were skaters or both?

A: My initial target audience was coaches and in fact, I didn't have a way to limit skaters and skating parents from joining the site but I made it clear that the focus was on the coaches. The reason I did that was that I suspected the people using the material would be just like me; they'd be coaches that wanted to be better coaches. We initially launched the site in June 2008 and by 2011, the site had tons of adult skaters on and skating families also and many were asking for additional information. I said 'well, are you a coach?' and they said 'no, but please let me fly under the radar because this is so valuable to me.' In 2011, that's when we opened it up to everyone because we found that especially adult skaters, they want to know details about the sport that they don't get from their own coach. It's been a great relationship with adult skaters all over the world. Skating families as well! We hear from them that it's helped them become better skating parents and helped them understand what their coaches are saying and in some cases it helps them make better coaching decisions in terms of maybe staying with a coach, changing coaches or just becoming more informed and being a more educated consumer.


Q: Do you have many younger skaters who are using the information or is mainly adult skaters?

A: I would say for the skaters on the site, it is definitely weighted toward adult skaters but we do have quite a few younger skaters on the site. For younger skaters, it really depends on their personality. Even with the best intentions of their parents, some just don't like to learn skating from a video. But others love the site and get a tremendous amount of value from it because it makes their own lessons with their coach that much more impactful. They tend to focus more on the right things. For some young skaters it works, for some it doesn't. That's one of the reasons we have a guarantee. If it doesn't work for you, no problem. You get your money back.

Q: Where the focus of what I generally write about is skating history, one thing that jumped out at me in reviewing some of the videos on the site is how wonderful it is to have this archival footage of coaches like Frank Carroll, like Charlie Tickner demonstrating their coaching techniques. Do you think that these videos have appeal to non-skaters or fans as archival material?

A: I think there is some aspect of historical value because coaches like Frank and Charlie for sure show the traditional style of coaching. That's how I was taught to skate, and I learned those same methods of teaching at every coaching seminar I would go to. But I'm also really excited to showcase many newer ideas on iCoachSkating. The vast majority of skating coaches already know how Frank Carroll teaches because he's spent years sharing his knowledge. I think the website is valuable to the average coach and skater because it contains lots of non-traditional ideas that they are not as familiar with.

Q: Obviously the technical side is your priority but is exploring teaching choreography and that side of it something you want to focus on more in the future?

A: It definitely is. I'm actually fascinated by the creative side of skating and have been heavily involved with Grassroots To Champions and Young Artists Showcase so I'm fascinated by the creative process. It's challenging to convey that information. I could sit down and talk with Pasquale Camerlengo. He's an international choreographer and has choreographed a number of really fantastic programs for the Japanese men, for example, and when you talk to him about the process, it's still sort of this high level discussion. In some ways, it would be more value if I could get a video of Pasquale working with one of those high level skaters so people could actually SEE the process because for some reason, when people talk about the process they often leave all sorts of details out. 'I see what the skater can do.' Well, what does that mean to the average coach? It means what's the vocabulary the skater has in terms of movement and how can I apply that? Often times, an average coach doesn't have a strong movement vocabulary themselves so they are at a bit of a loss to interpret what someone like Pasquale is saying.


Q: It's certainly a challenge with the IJS with rules constantly changing every season. Let's take spins, for instance. Has this posed an issue with developing content for the site? 

A: I think that's a really good question. Originally, we really wanted to provide information about the IJS and be like 'okay, here's the latest and greatest and here's what these rules mean' because honestly, it doesn't seem like anyone's really stepping up and providing that. You and I can go and read the rules and the way you may interpret it could be completely different than how I would. I mean, I could sit in a room full of top coaches and we'll all have different opinions about what those rules mean so it became clear pretty really on that that was going to be a dead end. I made sort of an executive decision to pull away from that and really don't have any IJS content on the site anymore. That's not to say we don't have training that's related to the IJS. We have a video on pretty much every spin position you can get into and how to teach those positions but we don't say what points they are worth this year and what combination of those positions are valid. We just help the coaches teach the positions so when they read the rules and have a clear interpretation of what the rules are, then they can apply the educational information that's on our website and help their skaters accomplish those elements to give them maximum points.

Q: Is pairs, for instance, something you'd ever consider branching out to?

A: I was a pairs skater and I'm absolutely fascinated by pairs and always have been. When I skated pairs, it was so much fun but the simple fact is that what I do takes time and effort and I have a limited amount of resources in terms of time and effort. The number of people in the U.S., Canada and around the world who would benefit from me putting out that information probably wouldn't be worth the time and effort. When it comes right down to it, if I publish something on pairs, probably one out of every ten might actually be interested in it or use it. It comes down to the question as to where I can really put in that time and effort to have the biggest impact on the sport.

Q: Wearing a skater's hat, what I love about these videos is that they really have the potential to supplement lessons. For instance, if you know that you're learning a flip/loop combination that day and only have say, a fifteen minute lesson, you can watch a video of a high level coach showing you the arm positions, what edge you should be on for take off, how you pick in for the flip and you kind of have a head start. Does that happen a lot?

A: That's another really good question. Originally, I would have thought the same thing. As it turns out, it's often more after the fact. For instance, the skater might have a lesson on back three turns from their coach and they didn't know they were working on back three turns in that lesson. But after that lesson, they get super motivated and want to know everything they can about back three turns and it seems to me, that's when they turn to us, use the search function and find the topic they're interested in. Others may be watching every video as it comes out and sort of storing that information away in their brains and going back and reviewing that information when they need it.

Q: One thing Sheila (Thelen) mentioned to me when I was speaking to her is the fact that a lot of younger or less experienced coaches have a hard time teaching a double axel, for instance, if they didn't have one themselves. Going back to what you were saying earlier about vocabulary, is that something you find with your coaching audience that's made the videos even more valuable?

A: Yes, it is. It's actually one of the most important functions that we play... allowing coaches to be even better coaches than they were as skaters. We think of teaching a double axel and if you can take that information and back out that information into how you teach an axel or even a waltz jump and you have the potential for that skater to make that much more progress when they do get to the double axel. What we're finding is coaches are not only better prepared when they are getting to double axels and triples that they themselves have never done before but the skaters themselves are ALSO better prepared because the skaters have the fundamentals in place so that a double axel or triple CAN happen.

Q: What is the price point on all of this? Are people paying for a monthly membership? A yearly one? How does that all of that work?

A: A monthly membership is $29.97 and an annual membership is $267.00 so you are saving more than 25% by joining for the whole year.

Q: Why should someone absolutely join?

A: I could give you the answer in one word and I'll give you the word and then explain it. The word is CONFIDENCE. We hear this over and over and over again not only from the coaches who are members of the site but also skaters and skating parents. When you have more information, it builds your confidence. For example, coaches who are on the site know that if they are teaching it the way some elite coach is, they are doing something right. In the areas they feel weak, they can strengthen those by going into the website and learning new ways to teach it so we are taking a weakness and turning it into a strength and that also builds confidence. It works similarly for adult skaters. They might tell us that their skating isn't improving as much as they thought it would, but they are developing confidence by knowing they are doing the right thing to get the progress that they want.  

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

That's The Way It Is: Skating To The Music Of Céline Dion


On her second English language album, Céline Dion debuted her song "Love Can Move Mountains". In the music video, she can be seen skating (on ROLLER skates) near Muscle Beach in California. Considering Céline's incredible popularity and influence on the music industry for decades, it's no surprise that her powerhouse voice has lended itself to many, many great figure skating performances. What better way to celebrate great skating and great music than to share five wonderful figure skating performances set to Céline Dion's music with you!

EMILY HUGHES - TAKING CHANCES



Using what is probably one of my absolutely favourite Céline songs as a backdrop, Emily Hughes dazzled skating to "Taking Chances" in this 2008 show. Featuring a nice triple toe-loop and double axel as well as a well-timed change edge spiral (who can go wrong with one of those?), I really think this is one of Emily's best programs and performances!

CARYN KADAVY - IT'S ALL COMING BACK TO ME NOW


In my February interview with Caryn, I asked her about this program, which to me is one of her most memorable. Caryn explained that "Brian Boitano invited me to do his Skating Romance show and I think it was Brian who picked out that song for me do at his event. I went to Connecticut to work with Lea Ann Miller and it all came together so fast with both of us working together on it. I loved Céline Dion, the program and the feel of the music. It was just a good combination of passion and was just skateable - it told a story. I think I do well if I FEEL the music and then it becomes more of a passion and a moment for me." This program certainly is a moment in every sense.

KRISTI YAMAGUCHI - THE POWER OF LOVE


Céline Dion's "The Power Of Love" is a classic and if anyone did it justice, it was Kristi Yamaguchi, although Rosalynn Sumners delivered an outstanding program to Jennifer Rush's version as well. Kristi had the jumps, the sensitivity to the music and choreography going on in every program she performed during her professional career, but I think "The Power Of Love" was such a wonderful reflection of her skating's wonderfully romantic side.

SASHA COHEN - TO LOVE YOU MORE



As Peggy Fleming commented during this performance, "there is one word for Sasha Cohen and that is exquisite". In this performance from the 2000 Keri Lotion Classic pro-am event, a fifteen year old Sasha interpreted Céline Dion's beautiful ballad "To Love You More". I remember someone skating to this in a show back in my own skating days and have always thought this piece of music was just stunning. The flexible spins and mean spirals are really the stars here... as often was the case with Sasha's skating. As always, Dick Button is right on the money when he says "she skates to the music. She also skates to more than just the music."

JOANNIE ROCHETTE - VOLE



If this collection of skating divas skating to Céline Dion ballads doesn't already have you reaching for Kleenex box, you might want to take a cue from Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia and break out the cheesecake. This is an eating your feelings kind of blog. In all seriousness though, I saved this particular performance for last because I wanted to just fawn over it a little extra. I saw this live at Stars On Ice back in 2006 and I think it's one of Joannie's most special pieces. After she lost her mother Therese in Vancouver and went on to turn in not one but TWO courageous and phenomenal performances at the 2010 Olympics, she dedicated this program to her mother and this program couldn't have been more touching if it tried.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Interview With Claire Cloutier


Less than a year ago, Claire Cloutier of Salem, Massachusetts started writing her blog "A Divine Sport" and I have to say, I think she's been doing a fantastic job. For those who aren't familiar, she focuses mostly on competitive pairs skating from a very analytical perspective and has a really refreshing take on things. She's also done some wonderful editorial pieces and approaches her subjects from a place of respect, offering intelligent insight into the sport and its 'players'. We talked about how the digital age has changed the way that people digest information about figure skating, why she decided to get into blogging, her plans for the future of her project, favourite skaters and much more in this interview I really enjoyed. Get to know the person behind a name I have a feeling you'll be hearing a lot more of!:

Q: Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview! I want to start by talking a bit about your background in skating. I understand that you've been a huge fan of the sport since back in 1991. Have you ever skated yourself and is judging something that you ever considered exploring?

A: Well, skating is something that I did as a kid. I took lessons for a few years and learned all the basics. You know, basic jumps, crossovers, turns, that kind of thing but I never competed or did any testing. As an adult now, I'm kind of trying to get back into my skating. I've been skating for a couple of years now and I'm working on hopefully taking the pre-preliminary moves in the field and freestyle tests. Judging is something I have thought about, probably more in the past than now. As I've learned more about the sport and skaters, I feel like judging is such a responsibility. It can have such a big outcome for skaters. I think I'd almost be nervous about trying it but it's certainly interesting.

Q: You started writing your blog "A Divine Sport" back in October and I have to say that in terms of critically analyzing competitive pairs skating in particular, it's one of the most well written skating blogs I've seen come out in the last several years! How did you reach the decision to start blogging about figure skating?

A: It was something I'd been thinking about for a while. I'd been active on skating forums for quite a long time but I was having the feeling that there were subjects that I might like to explore in a little more depth than you typically see on a forum. What I have to say really pushed me to really start the blog was Ottavio Cinquanta and his proposal last year to possibly eliminate the short program. So you can blame it on Cinquanta! When he came out with that proposal, I realized this was something I felt really strongly about, was opposed to and wanted to speak up about, but I didn't really have a forum to do that so I decided I'd like to have a place online on an issue when I felt like I had something to say.

Q: Just as NPR and public radio have really taken off, independent blogs and podcasts have become a very real part of the figure skating 'media' landscape and with that, there has certainly been a bit of the good, bad the and the oh sweetie no... I like to think of it as there being something for everyone. That said, I'm quite curious to also ask you what you have found to be the biggest CHALLENGES of blogging about figure skating to be because let me tell you, after talking to many bloggers and podcasters who write about different topics entirely, I have personally found that it's a different beast ENTIRELY. What are your thoughts?

A: For me personally, my biggest challenge is the time to do the research and the writing. Very specific to skating, for me the hardest thing is finding that fine line between writing in a way that's interesting yet still being fair and considerate of other viewpoints. I want the blog to have a point of view but yet I don't want to be personally attacking any skater or anyone in the skating world. It's such a small world and people are so interconnected that you just want to sort of respect everyone's efforts and what they're wanting to do.

Q: It certainly IS a small world after all and that's certainly something you have to always consider. So... you've waxed quite poetically about the problems the current anonymous judging system has generated for the sport: "I don’t like seeing so many unhappy, sad faces after performances. I don’t like seeing so many robotic, mechanical, uninteresting programs. I love competitive figure skating, but I feel like something needs to change. I think many others feel the same. The product we have now - competitive skaters’ programs and performances - could be so much better. The IJS needs major reform, in my opinion. I would never want to see the sport return to 6.0. But there’s got to be a middle ground somewhere that will take us back in the direction we want to go: Toward skating that is technically accomplished  - but also beautiful, memorable, and joyful." If you could change one thing and one thing only about the way the sport is being judged, what would it be?  

A: If I could any change one thing like this moment, I think it would be reducing the penalties on underrotations in jumping. I think that's one thing I would change right this moment mainly because I think it's having a very negative impact on ladies skating specifically. Underrotations aren't really much of a factor in pairs and even in men's, it's not nearly as much as it is in ladies. When the ISU rolled out the IJS, they weren't really marking underrotations and who knows? It could change tomorrow and negatively impact the other divisions too.

Q: Speaking of judging, going all the way back to 1991, could you pick one judging result from a major competition that you would have reversed or changed?

A: That is easy and for me, like for a lot of people, it would definitely be the ladies event in Sochi. I definitely feel Yuna Kim should have been the Olympic Gold Medallist in Sochi. I've always been pretty honest about that. Obviously not everyone's going to agree with me, but that's definitely the one I would change. Going all the way back to 2007 Worlds, I would have liked to have seen Mao Asada be the World Champion that year.

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

A: My favourite skater of all time definitely is Kristi Yamaguchi. She was the skater that made me a fan of the sport and brought me into the sport and I loved her skater as an amateur and a professional. She was so strong and consistent when she was competing and I really admired her composure when she was competing. Artistically, I loved the precision and delicateness of her style and how she explored so many musical styles and tried to grow as a professional. Second would have to be Gordeeva and Grinkov. To me, they're definitely the best pairs team of all time and I still cry whenever I see their 1988 Olympic long program. It was just so perfect. For a third choice, I have to pick two people. I might pick Yuna Kim. She was such an interesting skater and the speed and technical brilliance. I kind of think of her like a diamond - not always the most emotionally available skater but just so brilliant. But you know, I can't think really think of Yuna without thinking of Mao. I always kind of always put them together because they competed together for so long. Mao, I love, because she's always the most sheerly beautiful, graceful skater maybe that I've ever seen.

Q: How do you feel about a skater like Michelle Kwan?

A: I loved Michelle. Looking back on her programs now, I'm just so impressed with the emotional quality and so many of the different things she DID with her choreography.

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

A: I'm kind of very competitive and a little rebellious.

Q: Nothing wrong with that! I think I fall under both of those categories as well. What can we expect on "A Divine Sport" blog over the summer and during the 2015/2016 season?

A: I'm still kind of working on ideas. For next season, I'd definitely like to hopefully continue my pairs coverage as people are still interested in it. I really enjoy it. I like pairs and I like writing about it. My dream actually is that I would like to doing a few interviews, maybe with some skaters but I'd really love to start talking with some coaches and choreographers and exploring that perspective. Coaches have so much to say. If I am able to get any interviews going, I think that's where I'd like to concentrate initially. It would be a dream to talk to someone like Julie Marcotte, who does pairs choreography for Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford and some of the American pairs and just to hear how she decides on music and comes up with choreography... I just think that would be so interesting.

Check out Claire's blog at https://adivinesport.wordpress.com! If you enjoyed reading this interview, the best advice I can give you is to take just a moment of your time and click through to this blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard and click 'like'. You'll end up with daily figure skating news, videos and interesting articles right in your Facebook news feed, as well as new content on this blog in real time. I'm also just in love with the Twitter - it's so fun! You can also tweet me at http://twitter.com/ohh_N anytime you feel like talking about skating... that's what I'm here for!

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Interview With Larry Holliday


Chicago's Larry Holliday has been a fixture in competitive skating in the U.S. since his first trip to the U.S. Championships in 1982, where he finished fifth in the novice men's event behind a twelve year old Rudy Galindo. Since then, he's competed professionally and at eleven U.S. Adult Championships, maintaining a high standard and actually becoming a BETTER skater as he got older. It was a treat to have chance to speak with him about his experiences in "amateur", professional and adult competitions, talk a little about his fascinating journey and his favourite skaters and even glean some wonderful advice for adult skaters. You're going to love this interview!:

Q: You first competed at the U.S. Championships back in 1982 and continued competing nationally until 1994 despite really facing some serious challenges in terms of being able to fund your training expenses. Looking back now, what are your most special memories from that chapter in life and moments were the most truly difficult?

A: Special memories from my standard track competitive days are many but I would have to say meeting all of the skaters throughout the nation on my various travels would be high on the list. Taking a solo road trip to Lake Arrowhead, California from Chicago back in June 1987 was also a highlight and working with Robin Cousins that summer was very special. And of course, making the U.S. national team in 1990 and competing at skate Canada. I never put much thought into any of the hardships because I enjoyed the sport so much. I did have many bouts with tendinitis that took me off the ice from time to time, so I guess that would have been my biggest hardship during my earlier years.


Q: You participated in the U.S. Open Challenge Cup back in 1997 and then returned in May for its revival in Minnesota - giving a wonderful performance I might add! What did you think of the new format and why is an event like this (in contrast with adult competitions) something skating needs right now?

A: The new format for the U.S. Open is great and I will use it to perform programs that are daring and out of my comfort zone. The sport needs this format because with it, a skater can be vastly creative. Creativity is what the sport is all about and even though you can be creative at the Adult Championships and standard track events, those events are still limited to very strict rules in order to win.

Q: You actually retained your eligibility to start competing at the U.S. Adult Championships back in 2002 and won an incredible six gold medals at that event over a ten year span. In doing so, you really upped the ante technically and helped set a high standard for your competitors to meet by adding triple jumps to your programs. Why did you decide to come back to competitive skating and what has kept you pushing yourself all of these years?

A: I came back to competitive skating because my students at the time pushed me into it! They kept begging me to skate and show them jumps so I got back into shape. I continue on simply for the fact that my body can still do it and I don't want to have any regrets knowing that I could have done more. I also really love the challenge of seeing if I can do it again. Can I land that triple again? Can I win another event again? Can I stand on that podium again? I always believe I can do it. There is also a great variety of music that I have yet to interpret and so I relish the though of doing more programs until I have interpreted every piece of music in existence! I'm tired of thinking about that one!

Q: Do you feel that racism is something you have ever encountered personally as a skater?

A: Racism in skating has never existed for me. Publicly or privately, I never encountered it. Maybe it was behind the scenes but it never stared me in the face. As a kid growing up in Chicago, I went to William B. Ogden School close to downtown Chicago and diversity was great; same with the rinks in the area. I always felt like a part of the skating family all over the country.

Q: When you competed at the 1990 U.S. Championships in Salt Lake City, that was the last year that school figures were on the docket as part of the 'main event'. You've always been known as a very strong free skater and I'm curious to hear what YOUR thoughts were when they were removed from general competition and on their resurgence in popularity today with the World Figure Championships set to take place in August? 

A: I was very different from a lot of skaters when it came to figures. I LOVED THEM! I could trace for hours... and I did! I think I was the third to last to skate the figures in Salt Lake in 1990. Paul Wylie was last, but as I left the ice that day, I remember distinctly being sad about it all but also not really caring if we had them or not in competition. I always thought they were a great training tool - probably the best training tool available - but I never thought they should be combined with the free skate. I heard about the World event and was thinking about doing it. I think it's great! Another event for skaters to perform.


Q: In life and skating, who has been your biggest role model?

A: My mother would be my biggest role model. She sacrificed everything so that I could skate! End of story.

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

A: Three favourite skaters of all time... Charlie Tickner would be one. I grew up watching that guy and I wanted to skate like him so badly! He was always on and always a great statesman for the sport. Michelle Kwan, simply for the fact of being major consistent. Not an easy task at that level of skating. She also took the time back in 1997 to work with a student of mine and was so generous with her time. Peggy Fleming, because of the simplicity and style in which she performed. Of course, there are MANY others, but you asked for three.

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

A: Most people don't know that if I wasn't a skater, I would have loved to be an astronaut or an astronomer.


Q: If you could give one piece of advice to someone thinking about lacing back up as an adult and getting back into competitive skating, what would it be?   

A: A piece of advice if you are lacing up the skates to get back into competition as an adult... What are you waiting for? It's the best thing since apple pie! Also, go slowly, don't rush into anything, easy on the stretching as well. If something hurts - even a little bit - don't push through. Heal and recover. We may be adults but we still have time.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Skating In Sonja's Shadow: The Erna Andersen Story

photos from New York Public Library collections

Three time Olympic Gold Medallist Sonja Henie's story is one of the most documented in all of figure skating history; it has been the subject of documentaries, books and endless fascination. However the tale of Erna Andersen, a fellow Norwegian skater from Sonja's era followed the same trajectory so closely that the parallels are almost eerie.

Born in 1915 (three years after Sonja), Erna Andersen was an architect's daughter who learned to skate at the age of five. She trained alongside Sonja Henie at the Oslo Skating Club. She won her first junior competition at the age of twelve. In addition to her skill as skater, she was also an accomplished skier. The September 3, 1939 issue of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle recalled that Andersen "was a sturdily-built little girl with unusually supple and graceful muscles and she learned fast. By the time she was 15 she was winning figure skating and skiing contests all over Norway and three years later she was the first and (to this time) only girl, who ever skied behind a flying airplane. She did this on Lake Landesen by holding on to a rope tied to a plane while it circled the lake four times. 'The airrrrplane,' says Erna, 'got so high vunce it almost took me up into the air also.' It's a good stunt to think about, she adds, but she's not particularly anxious to try it again."

Far left - Erna Andersen, far right - Sonja Henie

As amateur skaters, Henie and Andersen would share the same coach (1920 Olympic Bronze Medallist Martin Stixrud) but Andersen was unable to duplicate her club mate's success. After winning five Norwegian titles from 1925 to 1929, Henie focused her attention on the international outings only and left the battle up to the other Norwegian ladies skaters at the National Championships. For five consecutive years, Andersen won the silver medal at Nationals but unlike Susan Lucci years later at the Emmy's just couldn't translate it all into an eventual win. Although never competing at the European Championships, Andersen DID compete at two World Championships. In 1933 in Stockholm, she finished a distant last to Henie's first but the next year in front of a hometown crowd in Oslo finished tenth of thirteen skaters. Like her competitor Liselotte Landbeck of Austria, Andersen also tried her hand at speed skating while still competing as a figure skater, winning a silver medal in Oslo in 1932 in Norway's national speed skating championships for women. She competed in five hundred, one thousand and one thousand, five hundred meter races to accomplish this feat. 

When her competitive career ended, Andersen attended college and started making a name for herself in professional shows in Great Britain. While in England, Andersen also coached skating at the Empire Pool (Wembley Arena) in London. Her performances in England were described by a London correspondent in the March 5, 1936 Sydney Morning Herald: "She is a marvel of lightness and grace, and seems at times not to be on ice, but on air, and the rhythmic rapidity of her movements is incredible." Like Henie, who too skated on the silver screen, Andersen appeared in a skating film in England. The March 30, 1940 edition of The Ottawa Journal posits "six years ago, when skating was at the height of its popularity in Britain, Miss Andersen appeared in the first British skating film." 


In 1938, she came to the New York and quickly made a splash. She was touted by newspapers and journals alike as being every bit as exciting as Henie. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle explained that "she came over on a visit and had no idea she'd be doing any ice skating here. But she couldn't keep away from the ice. It wasn't four days after landing that she sought out the rink at Madison Square Garden to try a few spins. Robert J. Sipchen, builder and owner of Sun Valley Village, at the Garden at the time, saw her executing difficult turns and pivots. Then and there, he signed her for his Sun Valley show. Erna recently introduced a new number, her own interpretation of the Merry Widow Waltz on skates. Crown Prince Olav of Norway came to Sun Valley to see Erna when he visited the fair." 

Audiences loved her in the Sun Valley exhibit at the New York World's Fair. A June 16, 1939 Alice Hughes article in The Reading Eagle noted that "while the great Henie practiced all day, the little Andersen went to school. 'Mamma thought skating was something for out of school hours,' the girl says. Thus Sonja got the hop on her, and was a champ while Erna was still hard at her practice. But Erna has caught up... She is a blonde flash of beauty on the tiny rink at the Sun Valley show. How she can skate - on a hunk of ice that looks no bigger than a party tablecloth!... A lovely flame in poetry when Erna darts on the rink."


Andersen wasn't just popular, she was also apparently really, really good. A December 1940 LIFE Magazine article applauded Andersen's skating skill: "Erna Andersen's high jinks on ice are notable because they combine grace with speed. Most skating stars are either fast or graceful. Erna uses interpretive ballet technique with skating speed, easily performs leaps." She popped up in a variety of club carnivals in both the U.S. and Canada including the Minto Follies in Ottawa, a County Fair in Pennsylvania and was even the head of a Civic Night Parade. She was also particularly complimentary towards North American skaters stating that "the standard of skating on this continent is higher than in any other country in the world." 


So we already know they were both blonde Norwegian skaters who grew up with the same coach in the same club, competed against each other, both appeared in skating movies and both came to the U.S. and became overnight sensations. Now, get this one. Paula Pyzik's 2004 "Notable Sports Figures" biography of Sonja Henie noted that "another measure of her worth is that in 1940 her legs were insured by Lloyds of London for $5,000 per week." If you want to believe the the Sunday, February 11, 1940 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle's claim that Erna Andersen's legs too "were once insured for fifty thousand dollars", go ahead. I'm not sure how I feel about that particular claim. Genuine maybe, but one-up-manship perhaps? That said, Andersen's legs WERE apparently award winning. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle explained that Andersen was "selected by a committee of famous illustrators as the possessor of the 'Legs of Tomorrow.'" The committee apparently consisted of James Montgomery Flagg, Dean Cornwell, John LaGatta and Arthur William Brown. Andersen's legs were described by Flagg as "the most beautiful legs I've ever seen. Better even than Marlene Dietrich." Andersen WAS featured prominently fashion advertisements for Munsingwear Foundettes undergarments. Perhaps it's possible that someone just had a bit of crush. Who knows?

That's where Erna Andersen's story seems to fade away into the annals of figure skating history. What happened to her after coming to America and wowing audiences as the next great Sonja Henie isn't something I have the answer to... but I do know that the parallels between her and Sonja Henie's lives up until that point are uncanny. Described in many accounts as having a larger than life personality much like Sonja, one can only hazard a guess that whatever road she skated in life she continued to make every bit as grand an impression.

Bet you are wondering what comes next on the blog? MORE interviews, MORE skating history, MORE interesting articles for you to read, that's what! Stay tuned to the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard and my Twitter feed at http://www.twitter.com/ohh_N and thanks as always for your support and most importantly... spreading the word!

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

A Bicycle Built For Two: The Johan Peter Lefstad Story


Johan Peter Lefstad was born on August 1, 1870 in Thjem and spent much of his youth in his father John Paulsen Lefstad's workshop in the Bakklandet suburb of the city of Trondheim, which is in central Norway. The area where his father's workshop was situated was largely industrial and although shipbuilding was the focus of much of the work in the area, a young Lefstad found himself surrounded with the tools he needed to produce bicycles and spinning tops. At twenty two years of age, he started his own business called Lefstad Sport Business which produced spinning tops and skates and imported and repaired bicycles. Versatile in his work, Lefstad really was a jack of all trades.

His fascination with spinning tops and production of skates seemed a natural fit, because when he wasn't devoting his time to his work, Lefstad was busy - you guessed it - skating! Lefstad was an active member of  the Trondhjems SK skating club in his home city and in January 1893, he made the trip to Berlin as the only Norwegian skater to participate in the European Championships held that year. He finished in last place, but the results of this competition were later declared invalid in the 1895 ISU Congress due to irregularities. Two years after he opened his own business, he entered Norway's national championships for figure skating. He skated away with the first 'official' Norwegian men's title in Hamar in 1894 and followed that win up with another six national titles from 1895 to 1904, four of them in his hometown.

In February of 1897, the World Championships were held in Stockholm, Sweden and Lefstad made the trip from Trondheim to compete. In what was only his second international competition, he amazingly won the bronze medal behind Gustav Hügel and Ulrich Salchow, easily outranking his closest competitor for the bronze, Sweden's Thiodolf Borgh. The following year, the European Championships were held in Lefstad's hometown of Trondheim and he won the silver medal. That same year, he married Annamarie Vinge.

In 1900, Lefstad made his final international appearance (and only one on the continent) when he travelled to Berlin for the European Championships. He just missed a bronze medal to his Trondhjems SK training mate Oscar Holthe. The European title that year again went to Ulrich Salchow, who had beaten Lefstad in 1898.

An avid sportsman, Lefstad turned his attention from skating to both skiing and cycling and represented the Trondhjems Velocipedklub and Trondhjems Skiklub in competition as well. In 1903, Annamarie and Johan Peter became parents of a son named Ola Gunnar. His Lefstad Sport Business which he had opened on April 7, 1892 developed into Lefstad Bicycle Factory. Although he had been importing bicycles to Norway from Austria since 1888 (before his business even opened) manufacturing his own bicycles was an entirely different ballgame and one in which Lefstad found considerable success.


In 1905, a bicycle he produced won him a national bicycle design contest and in 1910, he even produced his own motorcycle: the Nidaros. By the twenties, Lefstad had two successful bicycles on the market - one also named the Nidaros and a more economical model named the Styria. In 1930, Lefstad won a gold medal at the Trøndelag exhibition for his Nidaros bike. By the mid thirties, prior to World War II, the factory was producing over two thousand bicycles a year.

Having survived two World Wars and found great success not only in business but in figure skating as well, Lefstad passed away at the age of seventy seven on Febuary 7, 1948 in the same city he grew up, fell in love with his wife, skating and bicycles. The next time you go out for an evening bike ride, think of Lefstad. He's no longer a historical footnote in a figure skating record book, he's now a skater with a story.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

The Skate Runners: Norway's Skating Military


As we learned in "The Qianlong Emperor And Wu Tongxuan: Chinese Skating's Royal Connection" and the most recent Skate Guard blog "Don Frederic And The Dutch Musketeers: A Battle On The Ice", skating and the military haven't exactly been strangers over the years. Considering the climate and the country's important role in the historical development of the sport, it can hardly come to anyone's surprise that the Norwegians too have a military skating tale in their dusty history books.

Edward L. Gill's 1862 book "The skater's manual, a complete guide to the art of skating; with rules for plain and fancy skating; hints to beginners; sketches of the skating clubs and ice-ponds of New-York, Brooklyn and Jersey City; rules and regulations of the Central park skating-pond; fashions for ladies' skating costumes; together with four interesting matter" (how's that for a title?) tells the story of a regiment of soldiers called The Skate Runners who were stationed in Drontheim, Norway in the early eighteenth century who used both skis and skates to do their dirty work.

Gill explained that The Skate Runners "wore long gaiters, for travelling in deep snow, and a green uniform. They carried a short sword, a rifle fastened by a broad strap passing over the shoulder, and a climbing staff seven feet long, with an iron pike at the end. They moved so fast in the snow that no cavalry or infantry could overtake them, and it did no good to fire cannon balls at them, as they went two or three hundred paces apart. They were very useful soldiers in following an enemy on a march. They could go over marshes, rivers and lakes, at a great rate."

The Skate Runners had a significant connection to the aftermath of a regicide. When King Charles XII Of Sweden was shot and killed in 1718 (some believe by his own men in a coup) "one of The 'Skate Runners' carried the news four hundred miles twelve hours sooner than a mail messenger, who went at the same time. There were then seven thousand Swedes laying siege to Drontheim. When the news came, they broke up their quarters and retreated as fast as possible. They were obliged to go over the mountains, and the snow was deep and the weather exceedingly cold. Two hundred 'Skate Runners' followed hard after them, and came up with them one very cold morning. But all the troops were dead, having been frozen in their tents, among the mountain snow drifts. They had burnt every morsel of wood - even the stocks of their muskets - to warm themselves."

"The Saturday Magazine, Volume 8" published in 1836 confirmed that the troops in fact did use crude skates for a good part of their journey when crossing ice. This article added that "it was natural to think of forming a military corps of skaters... During the former wars with Sweden, all the Norwegian light troops... have been particularly trained to the use of these kind of skates... Previous to the union between Norway and Sweden, there existed in Norway two regiments of skaters - one in the district of Drontheim, and in the other in that of Aggerhuus" but explained that military losses by the Norwegians drastically reduced the number of skating soldiers. How and when The Skate Runners finally dissolved is a puzzle I couldn't quite solve but nevertheless one has to admire the daring and perseverance of the great outdoors for a cause they believed to be important. Another one for the skating history books!

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Saturday, 13 June 2015

Don Frederic And The Dutch Musketeers: A Battle On The Ice


Centuries before Philippe Candeloro won his second consecutive Olympic medal with his interpretation of "The Three Musketeers", a real battle that mimicked the Frenchman's dynamic choreography on the ice played out, musketeers and all. In his 1898 book "The Rise Of The Dutch Republic", John Lothrop Motley explained that in December 1572 "Don Frederic was the murderous son of the Duke of Alva, and commander of the troops who had just butchered nearly every citizen and soldier in the city of Naarden. After leaving the city in, ashes, Don Frederic departed for the front at Amsterdam to meet with his father." To explain, Don Frederic was then the leader of the Spanish army and like father, like son, both played integral parts in attacks and sieges on the Netherlands.


In her article "The Struggle Between Spain And The Provinces Grows Desperate", Mary Macgregor elaborated that "Alva was indeed vindicating the power of the Spanish arms. Mons was taken, Mechlin sacked, and now Don Frederic was ordered to reduce the northern and eastern provinces. The dread of Alva was on the cities, and Don Frederic met with little resistance from those which but lately had received the Prince of Orange with acclamations. Zutphen in her hardihood attempted to resist the entrance of the King's troops, and terribly did she suffer for her daring. Alva ordered his son to kill every man and to burn every house to the ground. Without a moment's warning Don Frederic ordered the garrison to be massacred. The citizens were stabbed in the streets, or hanged on the trees of the city, or stripped naked and turned out into the fields to freeze to death in the wintry night. Five hundred burghers were tied, two and two back to back, and drowned in the river Yssel, while a few who escaped were afterwards dragged from their hiding-places and hanged by their feet upon the gallows, some of them suffering days and nights of agony before they died. What the fate of Zutphen had been was for days unknown, no one daring to go near the city. 'A wail of agony was heard above Zutphen last Sunday,' wrote a count to his friend, 'a sound as of a mighty massacre, but we know not what has taken place.'" That count may not have known what happened in Zutphen but it certainly wasn't good - and we can say in looking back at the facts that both Don Frederic and his father the Duke Of Alva showed no mercy to the citizens of the land they seeked to control. It actually sounds simply horrific.

Things had by this point escalated greatly and although Don Frederic may have won the war to date, he would eventually come to lose the battle. A fleet of armed vessels belonging to Holland had been frozen in the ice near Amsterdam. Confident and clearly full of the same bloodlust that found him "success" (if you want to call it that) in Naarden, Don Frederic dispatched troops over the ice to attack the ships. The Dutch ships were ready for the Spaniards though. They had dug a wide trench around the whole fleet of ships and created an icy fortress. Out came a troupe of skilled and well-armed musketeers who advanced wearing SKATES. Things got fast, furious and quite ugly and the Spaniards were no match for the experienced Dutch military skaters. They caused them to retreat and left several hundred Spaniards dead on the ice. Imagine! Of that initial battle, Alva said "Twas a thing never heard of before today, to see a body of arquebusiers (musketeers) thus skirmishing upon a frozen sea." Things improved even more the coming days. A rapid thaw allowed the Dutch ships to break free from the ice and escape to Enkhuyzen... and a successive frost left any chance of pursuit by Don Frederic's troops impossible. The incident became known as The Battle of Ijsselmeer.

Much like this father, Don Frederic and the Spaniard forces were completely taken aback by the completely foreign concept of being attacked by a group of very proficient skaters and quickly came to realize that in this less temperate, more wintry climate they would need to keep up with the Joneses. The Duke Of Alva commissioned seven thousand pairs of ice skates for his soldiers and ensured that they were adequate - or in many cases proficient - skaters. You know though, if you look at this time in history and the brutality with which the Spanish treated the Dutch in the manner of war... you really have to really cheer on this Dutch victory on the ice. It was one of few victories at the time and it was a decent - and very intelligent - one. You also in a way have to applaud Spain's patience. They never did conquer Holland but for thirty years they tried. That's persistence.


I think it's funny too because when I think back to Philippe Candeloro's "The Three Musketeers" program (even that very theatrical costuming) I look to years later and the huge influx of "Pirates Of The Caribbean" programs we saw over a decade later - Alena Leonova and Javier Fernandez' interpretations being among the very best choreographically. What's really quite cool in this context is that battle-ready type program from Fernandez of Spain was such a breakout piece for him and the first season he performed that free skate, he became the first Spanish man to compete at the Olympic Games in over half a century. Fernandez placed a respectable sixteenth at those Vancouver Games, ahead of skaters like Stefan Lindemann, Brian Joubert and Tomas Verner. The Netherlands didn't even have a men's entry... a far cry from the earlier days of figure skating where skaters like Sjoukje Dijkstra and Dianne de Leeuw won their country Olympic medals. When it comes to the battle on the ice in THIS century, it appears that through the ages, Spain has been doing a pretty good job of playing catch up to their former ice rivals - hell, Fernandez is the reigning World Champion! With a whole new generation of talented Dutch skaters on the rise though, perhaps in the future the tides will shift. Skating history has a funny way of repeating itself.

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Thursday, 11 June 2015

Interview With Severin Kiefer


Back in April, it was my absolute pleasure to present an interview with two time Olympian Miriam Ziegler. I figured it would just be rude not to talk to the other half of this talented partnership, Ziegler's talented partner (both on and off the ice) Severin Kiefer. This twenty four year old skater, like his partner, got his start as a singles skater in Austria and actually won two Austrian junior men's titles and three senior medals without a partner before teaming up with Stina Martini and later with Miriam Ziegler. I think you're going to find Kiefer's inside view on the sport refreshing! We talked about transitioning to pairs skating, balancing an on and off partnership and updated us on the hard work he and Miriam have been doing during the off season. Enjoy!:

Q: One thing I think is so remarkable about your skating career (much like your partner Miriam) is that you have balanced both a highly successful singles and pairs career at the same time. As a singles skater, you've won eight medals at the Austrian Championships on the novice, junior and senior levels and a silver medal internationally at the Mladost Trophy in Croatia. What would you say have been the proudest and most challenging moments from your singles career?

A: First of all, thank you for doing the interview! Like you said, I had the chance to compete for Austria in many international competitions on almost every level more or less successfully. I wouldn't, however, compare my singles career to that of Miriam. My proudest moment was probably coming third at the 2008 Triglav Trophy and earning my first international senior medal just after competing in my first ISU Championships, the 2008 Junior World Championships. My most challenging time came the season after that when I couldn't seem to make any progress particularly in competition. That season had its climax in a disastrous free skate at Nationals in which I failed to land a single triple jump and was rightfully not chosen to go to Junior Worlds. I was lacking the necessary maturity to deal with the situation at the time and was seriously considering quitting figure skating until a new opportunity arose in pairs.


Q: Before teaming up with Miriam, you had an accomplished career with Stina Martini. You were three time Austrian Champions and of course competed for two seasons at both Europeans and Worlds together. What do you look back at most fondly about that time?

A: Neither Stina nor I had any prior experience in pairs skating before our coach at the time, Eva Sonnleitner, had the idea for us to try skating together. We had a massive task ahead of us, which I think we mastered fairly well, considering we were the first Austrian pairs team in over a decade and the circumstance of there not being pairs coaches in Austria. What was really helpful starting out was being able to participate in the ISU Pairs Development Camp in the spring of 2009 in Berlin where both our coach and ourselves could learn the basics of pairs skating. We ended up coming back to Berlin several times over the following seasons to get help from Rico Rex and now a full time coach of Miriam and I, Knut Schubert. We were sort of thrown into the deep end by entering the Junior Grand Prix scene right off the bat in 2009. Our first ever pairs competition was the Junior Grand Prix in Dresden in early October which was absolutely nerve wracking. Having the responsibility of another person was overwhelming for me but competing in a big event like this certainly made me stronger for challenges ahead. In the following seasons, we competed at multiple ISU Championships which was an absolute dream come true for me but at some point I realized that with double jumps, our potential was very limited. We failed to get the required technical score to qualify for the 2013 World Championships in both programs and considering the stagnation in our development, I felt that it was time to make a change.



Q: Since teaming up with Miriam, you have won another two Austrian pairs titles and had some wonderful successes internationally. What are your goals looking forward to next season and how has training been going lately?

A: We have quite a bit more time to work on new elements this off season, which we are really excited about. Last year, we had to take some time off in spring to recover from a very demanding season starting with the Olympic qualifier in September through competing and experiencing the Sochi 2014 Games and after that getting our energy back up for the 2014 World Championships in Saitama. Our goals for next season are first and foremost getting the triple twist into both programs and adding a second consistent throw triple jump to our repertoire. Training has been really exciting, as we are working on a lot of new take-offs and variations in lifts and intricate transitions between elements.

Q: How do you and Miriam balance a relationship both on and off the ice and make that work?

A: Miriam and I spend close to twenty four hours a day together and quite honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way. Our on ice relationship is very professional. We have a pretty good way of separating our on ice partnership with what we have away from skating and don't let problems that occur on the ice interfere with our relationship off the ice. We have very similar taste in music and movies, we both love to cook and just have very similar interests which is certainly a plus.


Q: The 2015/2016 season is going to be a fierce one in terms of competition. You're going to be up against of course the reigning World Champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford and the Olympic Gold Medallists Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov will be making a comeback. Throw in three very strong Chinese pairs and Stolbova and Klimov and it's shaping up to be quite a season already. How do you plan on making your mark ?

A: It's going to be absolutely fascinating how next season turns out at the top! It seems like our discipline is heading towards more and more quad throws and twists as well as more difficult side by side jumps. Like I said before, our primary goal is getting the triple twist in our programs as well as making the programs more sophisticated and interesting. We are working on a few other technical things too but I don't want to give everything away right now. Next season is probably a little early for us to be competing with the top teams you have mentioned but we are working towards being in that discussion. We're both still young, especially in terms of pairs skaters, and we know that we have potential to improve every aspect of our skating and will try and maximize that.

Q: If you could be a superhero, what would your super power be?

A: It probably would be the power of persuasion.


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

A: Steven Cousins is one of the most entertaining skaters I've ever seen. Growing up, I loved watching him on TV and I actually got to know him as a person when I was training in Barrie, Ontario in 2007. With there only being very few Europeans there at the time that shared a passion for soccer, we would play together on the weekends. Javier Fernandez is a phenomenon to me. I've known him since we were about twelve years old spending summer training camps together and competing against each other. Watching him develop in the way he did over the last eight years was just astounding. I was so happy to see him win the world title this year especially after missing out on an Olympic medal in Sochi. Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang have also just blown my mind this past season as both their programs were up there with my favourites alongside the short program of Sui and Han and Jason Brown's free skate. The way Cheng has developed as a skater has given that team a whole new dimension and Hao is just such a nice skater to watch and cool guy to see at competitions.

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

A: One thing people may not know is that I am very politically interested and currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in political science.


Q: What is the biggest lesson that skating has taught you about life?

A: It's so true that you learn a lot more from failures than you do from successes in that I've learned to put things into perspective and take positives out of almost every situation... however dire they may seem. Pairs has really taught me a lot about relationships and psychology. As a singles skater, I only had to worry about myself (and to a lesser extent about my coaches) but in a pairs team so much depends on how you interact and react to each other. I am quite an analytical person which has helped me immensely in dealing with difficult situations on the ice. I believe that skill, which I have developed over the past couple of years, will be very helpful later on in my personal as well as professional life.

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