Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Interview With Roxanne Rheault


It's been a long road for 2011 Canadian Junior Champion Roxanne Rheault. Illness and injury slowed her progress in competition, but an impressive fourth place finish on the senior level at this year's Canadian Championships in Kingston, Ontario proved without a doubt that she is in it to win it and back in top form. I think you're really going to like this interview. Roxanne was refreshingly candid about her journey so far, goals for the future, life off the ice and much more. If you're not a fan yet, I guarantee you that you will be when you finish reading:

Q: You've had a momentous career to date, winning national titles in Canada on both the juvenile and junior levels and earning your best finish on the senior level (fourth place) at this year's Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in Kingston, Ontario. Of your accomplishments so far, what moments are you proudest of?

A: It always feels really good when you succeed because you know the hard work has paid off. The one that I'm the most proud of is probably this year. Considering the fact that it was a little difficult these past two years because of a mononucleosis and some toe and ankle injuries, I'm happy I have been able to come back stronger! The National Team has always been one of my dreams and now I can finally say that I am a part of it!


Q: You really upped the game technically this year, adding a triple/triple combination to your jump arsenal and going for the triple lutz and two triple flips in your free skate. What do you feel your strongest jumps are and on which have you been really hoping to improve?

A: My best jumps are the toe, the flip and the lutz. I'm working on my double axel/triple toe and triple toe/triple toe. It's getting better every day! What I improved the most this year is my consistency on all of my jumps and on my confidence. I'm still working on it with a mental trainer!

Q: You are coached by Annie Barabé, Sophie Richard, and Yvan Desjardins at the Champions Training Centre at Contrecoeur. What makes your skating club the best out there?

A: I think that we have a big and complete team with a lot of coaches that have their own speciality. Annie's team is recognized for the elegant and "polished" skaters but the most beautiful thing with this team is that we are basically like a family!



Q: What are your ultimate goals in skating and what are your focuses in training right now?

A: One of my goals is to be ready this summer and maybe get an international competition. I'm changing my short program and I would like to incorporate the triple lutz. Like I said, I'm working on my double axel/triple toe and triple toe/triple toe too.

Q: You've got a very elegant movement to your skating. Is dance something you'd ever pursue?

A: I have always been an artistic person that loves to dance on and off the ice. I planned to start doing ballet this year and if I had more time in my schedule I would like to do some other style of dance. If I wasn't a skater, I would probably be a dancer!

Q: On a stormy night, what book would you most like to be curled up reading and what would your midnight snack that went with it be?

A: I really like to read the same old book that makes me smile, dream and believe in my craziest dream over and over again. This book is "The Secret" and my snack would be slices of apple and hot chocolate.

From the vaults: Roxanne's winning performance on the juvenile level at Canadian Nationals in 2007

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

A: My favourite skater has always been Cynthia Phaneuf. Whenever she was skating, either she was having a good performance or a bad one, she was always giving her 100% to make everyone believe the story she was trying to tell by her skating. She was like a model for me and I was lucky enough to have the chance to skate with her. When I was younger, I also really liked Sasha Cohen for her unique skills of arabesque. I'm not a flexible person so I always found her amazing! Finally, I really like Kaetlyn Osmond. I think she is dynamic, powerful and she always gives a show when she`s on the ice!

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

A: I'm a comic, funny person but when I'm in front of people I don't know or in a public area, I become shy. But as soon as I'm comfortable, I start joking around and make everyone laugh. I think that's what I like the most in life: to make people laugh!

Q: What is the most important lesson skating has taught you?

A: Finally, the most important thing that skating has taught me is that if you believe you can do it, you will and if you do what you love in life with your heart, it always have better results.

Please be sure to check the hundreds of other skater, choreographer and expert interviews already on Skate Guard! There's also a ton of historical writing to keep you busy for a while. "Like" this blog on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard for all of the new interviews and writing as they get posted, pictures and news from the skating world and lots of great videos. You can also give me a follow on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/ohh_N. I love talking skating and would love to talk skating with you!

Saturday, 28 March 2015

The World Championships: The Good, The Bad And The #NoSheBetterDont


In the post U.S. and Canadian NationalsEuropean Championships and Four Continents Championships blogs, I introduced a new format for event recaps: The Good, The Bad And The #NoSheBetterDont. To repeat my reasoning behind the brevity, this autumn I spent hours upon hours recapping all six ISU Grand Prix competitions and the Grand Prix Final in detail. Here's the thing. Agonizing over Suzie Salchow's take-off edge on her flip and the level of her spin combination really isn't my bag any more than jamming my hand in a car door is. I wanted to enjoy the competitions for the rest of the season rather than extrapolate the results to death but still wanted to represent all the major competitions with content on the blog as well... which brings us to the final competition recap of the season. I'd say the last event recap but that would be a lie. I'll have a full review from the opening night of the 25th Anniversary of Canada's Stars On Ice tour in here in Halifax coming for you in May! This year's World Figure Skating Championships were a roller coaster of highs, lows and everything in between so I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and dive into the highlights of the Shanghai, China competition:


A FIRST FOR CHINA: The unprecedented boom in popularity of figure skating in the last decade is undoubtedly due to the success of Japanese, Korean and Chinese athletes in international competition. With packed arenas and passionate fans from Sendai to Seoul, it's easy to forget that all of his is a relatively new phenomenon. The 2015 World Figure Skating Championships actually marks the first time that China has EVER hosted the World Championships! The country joined the ISU in 1956 but it wasn't until the eighties when Canadian and American coaches helped develop the country's figure skating program and skaters started appearing in world competition. Yes, we've seen World Champions come out of the country (Lu Chen, Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao and Qing Pang and Jian Tong) but the fact remains that few major international competitions have been held in the country that houses the Great Wall. Only once since the event's creation in 1999 have the Four Continents Championships been held in China (back in 2003) and the country has never hosted the World Junior Championships. When Germany lost its Grand Prix spot to China in 2003, the Cup Of China became one of six static Grand Prix events to be held annually in the country. However, the first international competition of note to be held in China was actually a competition held as part of the inaugural Junior Grand Prix circuit back in 1998. Held in Beijing from October 21 to 25, 1998, the Junior Grand Prix China event was the seventh stop on that year's series and proved to be an excellent opportunity for young Chinese skaters to shine at home. In the men's event, the Chinese men (Zhengxin Guo, Song Gao and Yu Wang) actually swept the podium and Xiaodan and Hao Zhang won the pairs event beating pairs from Russia, Canada and the U.S. Young Huan Wang earned the bronze medal in the ladies event and Chinese ice dancers even produced a strong showing. The teams of Rui Wang and Wei Zhang and Lian Qi and Hao Goa finished fourth and fifth, respectively. Chinese skaters made a strong argument from the very start that they could rub elbows with the world's best on home soil and come out victorious. Even some of the skating world's future major players would also participate in that 1998 competition. Future World Champions Qian Pang and Jian Tong, Stéphane Lambiel and Jeffrey Buttle all competed in that event, as did future World Medallist Massimo Scali and U.S. Medallist Matt Savoie. Given the fact that this was the first World Championships to be held in China after a relatively short history of holding international competitions in the country, from a historical context the medal wins of Chinese pairs Wenjing Sui and Cong Han and Qing Pang and Jian Tong in their home country at this event was all the more impressive. The performances themselves were nothing to sneeze at either. In the words of Dick Button, "first rate, first rate."


O CANADA: Based on the fact that Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford were undefeated all season, I think it's a safe bet to say that entering this competition they were the absolute favourites. Anyone with half a brain in their head knew that this was their competition to win or lose. They didn't phone it in though. They went out there and delivered programs of purpose and passion and skated like the World Champions they now are. Despite a bobble on the side-by-side spins and a hand down on a throw quad Salchow that was so big I thought it was going to go right out the rink, these were two performances that we will remember YEARS from now. Class acts all the way and just electric to watch! Their story is unconventional and full of perseverance, determination and anyone who skated lights out like they have all season not only deserves a gold medal but also a hell of a lot of respect. Did I tear up a little? Yeah I did.


GET INTO THE GROOVE: Fresh off her tumble down the stairs at the Brit Awards, Madonna (err... actually a damn good lookalike) was back in business in the kiss and cry with Georgian skater Elene Gedevanishvili, who ironically took a tumble of her own in her short program set to "Papa, Can You Hear Me?" from "Yentl". The lookalike might have actually been Elene's mother Maka, but my dark sense of humor can't help but wonder if the "pop goddess" might have relished in taking in a major international event where more people were falling than SHE was. Ashley, Gracie, Polina too. Elene Gedevanishvili, we love you. Vogue.

AGE IS JUST A NUMBER SWEETIE: If you read the figure skating message boards and social media, you know that there are more than a handful of skating "fans" who are more than happy to take it upon themselves to suggest skaters be sent out to pasture once 'they reach a certain age'. You know, to make room for the younger ones. I've personally never heard of a more illogical argument in my life. If you love skating, skate until your ninety five. Compete until you are ninety five. I've long argued this point and have got a few eye rolls along the way but you know what? Why should anyone give up something they love doing to appease an armchair critic? This year's World Championships sent a firm message that a skater's competitive career does NOT have to end in their early twenties. No less than FORTY of the competitors in Shanghai were twenty five years of age or older: Evan Bates, Chafik Besseghier, Alexei Bychenko, Anna Cappellini, Nicole Della Monica, Meagan Duhamel, Marco Fabbri, Elene Gedevanishvili, Matteo Guarise, Charlène Guignard, Ondřej Hotárek, Mitch Islam, Vanessa James, Yuko Kavaguti, Kiira Korpi, Takahiko Kozuka, Chris Knierim, Juri Kurakin, Luca Lanotte, Peter Liebers, Valentina Marchei, Dylan Moscovitch, Qing Pang, Andrew Poje, Eric Radford, Cathy Reed, Chris Reed, Adam Rippon, Alexei Rogonov, Barbora Silná, Alexander Smirnov, Nikolaj Sørensen, Jeremy Ten, Jian Tong, Alper Uçar, Aaron Van Claeve, Mari-Doris Vartmann, Sergei Voronov, Kaitlyn Weaver and Hao Zhang, Reading through that list of names, I guarantee you that you're going to find way more than one or two you love watching and would love to see compete at next year's Worlds, right? Seems to me it was sixty year old Annie Lennox who stole the show at the Grammy's. I thought so.


REWRITING THE UNWRITTEN SCRIPT: Although Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte were the defending World Champions heading into this competition, they finished third at the only Grand Prix event they ultimately attended this fall behind France's Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron and Americans Maia and Alex Shibutani. They didn't compete at the Grand Prix Final and settled for silver, again behind the quickly dominant French team. With France's top entry, Weaver and Poje and Chock and Bates being all the rage this season with international judges, the Italians seemed all but written off the podium before they even skated. Usually when that happens to a team, the skating suffers as a result of that pressure. Then the unexpected happened for this team in the short dance. They skated like World Champions. Sure, they might have not have won but in their Paso Doble the Italians skated like someone had lit a fire under them. They moved seamlessly, going from twizzles to their midline step sequence to their final element, the level four rotational lift, with control, power and a certain determination. The mere fact that the judges gave them the nod over the French, Russian and American teams who had bettered them earlier in the season in the short dance showed to me that their purposeful Paso didn't go unnoticed.


BRIAN'S BOYS: When I interviewed 1987 World Champion and two time Olympic Silver Medallist Brian Orser, he told me that his "favourite skaters of all time are Robin Cousins, Stephane Lambiel, Janet Lynn and Kurt Browning. BUT... today my favourite skaters are Yuzuru Hanyu, Javier Fernandez and Nam Nguyen." I don't think that Orser's impressive stable of elite men could have asked for any better showing at this event. Javier Fernandez, in winning Spain's first World title EVER, was resplendent. I didn't personally feel the judges got it right in the short program when they placed Hanyu over a flawless Fernandez, but I have to give them credit where it's due for making the right decision in the free skate, even if neither man was textbook perfect.


Equally as impressive in my opinion as the gold and silver medallists was Orser's third top male student Canadian Champion Nam Nguyen. I called it earlier this season that Nguyen would be right up there with them at the Worlds but faith in the talented sixteen year old seemed to wane a little after he placed eleventh at the Four Continents Championships. Finishing fourth in the free skate ahead of U.S. Champion Jason Brown and Russian Champion Maxim Kovtun with a score of 242.59, Nguyen moved up to an impressive fifth. Three skaters in the top five at Worlds? Orser isn't just doing something right... he's the coach to beat!


HISTORY FOR TUKTAMYSHEVA: Set to the strains of Maurice Ravel's "Bolero" made famous in skating circles by Olympic Gold Medallists Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, Russia's Elizaveta Tuktamysheva made history in her short program by becoming the first woman in history to perform a four triple short program featuring a clean triple axel. She's been upping her technical game at every turn and her work with famed Russian coach Alexei Mishin unquestionably paid off in her gutsy gamble to include the jump in the short in the first place. The only woman to attempt the triple axel in this event, she became only the fifth ladies skater to perform a triple axel at the World Championships, the first being of course 1989 World Champion Midori Ito of Japan. What does a triple axel look like in terms of a points advantage? Tuktamysheva lead after the short in Shanghai with a TES score of 44.09 to Elena Radionova, who did a triple lutz/triple toe, triple loop and double axel. The base value for the triple axel is 8.50 versus 3.63 for the double axel. Her positive GOE of 1.57 on the jump more than helped seal the deal... and that axel for the record was a BEAUTY! Her free skate wasn't perfect but it was absolutely deserving of the win in comparison to her competitors, I do have to say that I thought her PCS score of 65.99 was a little generous considering the movement in the program was more founded in flair than fine tuning. It was absolutely entertaining though and one has to remember that like Duhamel and Radford in the pairs event, this competition was hers to win or lose and she fought through that free skate just like they did to EARN the title. Not bad for a skater who was tenth at Russian Nationals last season, now is it? Her win was even more historically significant considering it was the first time a Russian ladies skater stood atop the world podium since Irina Slutskaya won in Moscow in 2005.


EXQUISITE CRAFTING: Norway's Anne Line Gjersem's short program to Celine Dion's "Fly", a piece of music first skated to by Olympic Silver Medallist Liz Manley and then popularized by Olympic Bronze Medallist Joannie Rochette, was just so gorgeous that I thought it warranted mention. I'd interviewed her twin sister and biggest competitor Camilla back in September who told me of competing against her twin "Skating is a huge part of our lives. We also have our rivalries but in a good way. We have always pushed each other and it's been healthy for our development and progress." Anne Line may have ultimately ended the competition in seventeenth place, but this beautiful program was a hook, line and sinker to me in terms of hitting home the point that lyrical music has been introduced to ISU competition for a REASON.


AMURICA!: The U.S. figure skating team has plenty to be proud of. Their only medal was Chock and Bates' silver in the ice dance event - which I'll offer my opinion on later in the blog - but the team's overall showing was outstanding. In the men's event, Jason Brown delivered two outstanding performances to finish fourth overall and give the competition a much needed dose of big girl artistry. I couldn't have been more impressed with his performances! Adam Rippon, who dazzled at the U.S. Championships to earn his first ticket to Worlds since since 2012, also put out two fine skates to finish in eighth place overall. All three American ice dance teams placed in the top ten and pair Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim finished an impressive seventh in the pairs event. All of this said, you want to know who really impressed me?


The American ladies. Both Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner had more than one error in their short programs but were kept in contention on the strength of their second marks. I didn't quite know what to expect from the U.S. ladies in the free skate but boy, did they not disappoint. Of the three, Wagner certainly delivered the more mature, engaging performance but Gold and Edmunds both looked focused and confident. They delivered technically superb programs with clean triple lutz/triple toe combinations that earned positive GOE's. Gold and Wagner actually finished 2-3 in the free skate ahead of the silver and bronze medallists from Japan and Russia, which nails home the point that the international judges DO in fact appreciate the quality and fight in their skating. The depth in U.S. ladies figure skating may be considerable but these two talented skaters absolutely still in their prime and the cream of the crop.


IMPRESSIVE WORLDS DEBUTS ALL AROUND: From American men's skater Joshua Farris rebounding in the free skate to Canadians Alaine Chartrand, Seguin and Bilodeau and Ilyushechkina and Moscovitch to ladies skater Valentina Marchei who made the smooth transition to pairs skating with Ondřej Hotarek this season and so many more, the newbies at this year's made a very strong statement as well. No national bias I swear, but I thought the Canadian pairs a particular impression. Ilyushechkina and Moscovitch's lifts had me swooning. Alaine Chartrand's solid short program that included a double axel, triple lutz/triple toe combination (although the toe was called underrotated) and an easy looking triple loop couldn't have been a better birthday present for her. While experience pays off, sometimes sheer determination and skill speaks for itself too.


AND THE BEST MUSIC AWARD GOES TO...: Canada's Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau! From their short program that opened with the imagination capturing Appenzell yodel ""s'Rothe-Zäuerli" from the soundtrack of "The Grand Budapest Hotel" to their free skate set to a captivating arrangement of Peter Gabriel's music including "In Your Eyes" (which Canadian ice dancers Alexandra Paul and Mitch Islam also used beautifully this season), this young and promising team not only made an impressive top ten debut at Worlds but did it with music and programs that commanded attention. 


SLEEP DEPRIVATION: If you want to write about figure skating, you've got to watch a hell of a lot of it. Usually not a big deal, but when the competition is being held halfway around the world the not so slight time difference can be killer. A late night followed by an early morning followed by a nine hour shift followed by a five AM morning shift led way to three failed nap attempts, a 3 AM ladies free skate, a restless night of tossing and turning, the men's free skate and another failed nap attempt on Saturday. Figure skating, you may have officially messed up my internal clock but it's OK... I still love you.
THEY'RE COMING TO GET YOU, BARBARA FUSAR-POLI: Well, not so much anymore. The 2015 World Figure Skating Championships marked the end of a brilliant career for the always quirky and entertaining six time German Champions Nella Zhiganshina and Alexander Gazsi. My favourite program of theirs was of course their unique zombie themed free dance from two seasons ago. Although this team really wasn't able to generate that same level of excitement with their programs last season, they stepped things back up a notch THIS season and I was really looking forward to what was to be their swan song in Shanghai. By all accounts, their practices were going swimmingly but suspected food poisoning left Gazsi ill. They sadly withdrew before the short dance. I'm hoping this anti-climax won't really be the last we see of this envelope pushing duo, even if the performing we see them do in the future is as professionals.



KIIRA KORPI'S SHORT PROGRAM: If the three time European Medallist was giving her best interpretation of "A Day In The Life", that day was definitely a Monday! With a performance that made Lu Chen's 1997 "Take Five" short program look a hell of a lot less bad, Korpi crumbled in Shanghai and finished thirty first of thirty five competitors, failing to qualify for the free skate. She missed all three of her jumping passes, falling on the triple flip thus having no combination to speak of, popping her triple loop into a single and stepping out of that too and waxeling her axel into a failed single. Her TES score of 16.26 was the lowest of the night in the ladies short program. I honestly felt so bad for this girl. She just CANNOT seem to catch a break! In an interview on the Finnish Federation's site, Korpi said "I'm in shock. I wasn't able to skate under pressure after the first mistake I made. I've been feeling mentally tired this season." She also explained that her ankle still doesn't allow her to practice the triple lutz or any triple/triple combinations. One can only hope for better days for this lovely skater. I don't think they can get much worse than this one!



MISSED OPPORTUNITIES: My heart went out to Canadian Champion Gabby Daleman and Jeremy Ten, who both struggled with jumping passes in their free skates in Shanghai. The in-between's of their skating are both clearly a cut above many of their competitors and it was nice to see the PCS scores reflect that. Ten's "Hallelujah" free skate might have had the second lowest TES score of the event with -4.00 in deductions for failed jumping passes but his PCS score was still higher than seven of his competitors. The same can be said for Daleman, who ultimately finished twenty first with a free skate PCS score of 44.27 which was higher than six of her competitors. Even if the jumps didn't go their way, that didn't stop either skater from staying committed to delivering their programs with the same intensity and dedication to choreography. I really think that's a sign of dignity and class. Missed opportunities maybe... but failures they were not.

A NO GO FOR COOMES AND BUCKLAND: First Nick, then Penny... British Champions Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland's bad luck started (or should I say continued) when they announced the week prior to the World Championships that they wouldn't be able to compete due to Penny's illness. After being forced to withdraw from illness at the European Championships as well due to Nick falling ill, this couldn't have been a more disappointing end to their season. It's a damn shame. I quite like this team and thought their Muse free dance this season showed some great potential when I saw them perform it at the Rostelecom Cup. Drink lots of green tea and come back and wow us next season... please!



A PETER GRIFFIN "COME AAAAAAAAAN!" MOMENT: If I was going to point out one skater who I thought got royally screwed and lost in the numbers game in Shanghai, it would be France's Maé-Bérénice Méité in the short program. Her highest finish at Worlds was eleventh back in 2013 but this is a skater with an impressive track record internationally including a top ten result at last year's Olympics but the judges have seemingly been paying her less and less attention as the years pass by at the big events. In her short program, she finished twelfth with a score of 57.08 despite landing a triple toe/triple toe, triple flip and double axel and was placed behind a Russian skater who fell so hard on her triple loop it looked like she hit her head on the ice and Americans Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold, who (to be fair) both made more than one error. I'm not suggesting that Méité's performance was top five material, but what I am suggesting is that she skated well on the day in question and others didn't. One only has to look to something as simple as Hanyu beating Fernandez in the men's short program to know that a couple of points fairly distributed to skaters can make all the difference. Méité could have used a little more love from the judges in Shanghai for putting a really fine effort out there. I was happy to see her make the top ten with a free skate that showed a lot of fight.


LEGENDS OF THE FALLS: This just wasn't Anna Pogorilaya's competition, which only adds fuel to my personal fire that the Russian Federation should have sent World Silver Medallist Alena Leonova to compete in Shanghai. They didn't, but that doesn't mean I'm going to shut up about it. Poor Anna not only had that epic fall in her short program (which I mentioned when talking about Méité) but followed that bruiser up with epic falls on her second triple lutz attempt and the triple toe-loop on the back end of her double axel combination. Based on her positioning on take off and in the air, there were another two other jumps in that free skate she was damn lucky to have landed on her feet on. These weren't just falls. They were FALLS! Just looking at her lutz technique and the lean, I think it's time to change the technique before girl seriously injures herself because that was just plain scary to watch. 


BAD DEPENDING ON WHERE YOU LIVE: 2015 marked the first time since 2008 than no Russian pair stood on the podium at the World Championships, when of course Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, Dan and Hao Zhang and Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison were the medallists. The Russian men and ice dance teams were also not able to crack the Cinquanta code to the podium this year. This was all quite interesting to me considering that Russia was victorious in the team event in Sochi and has long been historically known for the depth of their talent pool. I think the country's showing in the ladies event however more than made up for it, don't you?


THE MUSIC OF THE.... NIIIIIIIIIIGHT: Olympic Gold Medallists Brian Boitano and Robin Cousins both gave haunting interpretations of Andrew Lloyd Webber's haunting song "Music Of The Night" during their careers as competitive professional skaters, so good in fact that anyone who knew enough to know to leave well enough alone probably never would have picked up the "Phantom Of The Opera" soundtrack and said "do you know what would be a good idea for a program this season? Phantom?" No, just no. The Phantom's emerged fast and furious all week in Shanghai. Two of the three Japanese men's competitors (Yuzuru Hanyu and Takahito Mura) used Webber's score for their free skate as did teammate Kanako Murakami in the ladies event. Think it stopped there? Not even close sweetie. The Philippines' Michael Christian Martinez and America's Gracie Gold were also among the Phantasmic family. There would have even been representation in the pairs and ice dance events had the Austrian pair or Polish and South Korean ice dancers qualified for their respective finals. This warhorse was the clear 2015 program of choice and much as podcaster extraordinaire Allison Manley kindly pleads skaters to "never skate to Carmen", this Canadian blogger is Phantomed out. Going through music for 2016? Don't even think about it sweetie. Slowwwwly, gennnnntly, put that CD your pocket... if you don't, I'll stick my finger in a sockkkkkket!  



BRONZE FOR RADIONOVA: I'm sorry, but the skating skills of this precocious jumper are not of a senior standard and her free skate at Worlds was like watching a commercial illustrating everything I detest about what the IJS system stands for and demands. She finally showed signs of humanity here and unravelled on some of her jumping passes to finish sixth in the free skate with a score of 121.96 in that portion of the event but the strength of her short program score was somehow enough to keep her on the podium. The fact that her PCS score of 61.95 was still the fourth highest of the night was a joke to me as the foundational skating skills, musical interpretation and expression of other skaters that are even in her age bracket like Edmunds and Miyahara were on a different level entirely. Can this girl jump? Yes. However, like Japan's Rika Hongo, some care needs to be paid to completely redeveloping her posture, edges and understanding of movement to music before I'm going to be able to take her seriously. Hongo has been improving in this area as the season has gone on. Radionova sadly in my opinion has not. I want this skater to prove me wrong next season. I really do!


THE TWIZZLE AND LIFT COMPETITION: When IJS was introduced, great care was given by "the powers at be" developing the system to be incredibly specific when refining the technical criteria of ice dancing. Like in the singles and pairs event where jumps, spins, throws and lifts take center stage and are assigned levels and GOE's, the same thing obviously goes on in ice dancing. Great pains have been made to quantify the unquantifiable and as a result ice dancing has become more about the twizzles, lifts and various step sequences that about the whole package. And of course, the secret to success is somehow managing to find a way to check of the boxes and get those levels while still demonstrating musicality, good edges, speed, posture, balance, chemistry, choreography and creativity. That's the idea on paper. In winning every event they've entered all season, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje have clearly demonstrated that whole package with exquisite programs performed with finesse and flair. In Shanghai, they got nitpicked at every corner. After finishing second in the short dance with the performance of the night, they came out and performed their gorgeous free dance to "The Four Seasons" as well as they have all season, They were rewarded with the third highest PCS score with marks for skating skills, transitions/linking footwork/movement and composition/choreography lower than both the Americans and Gabriella Papakadis and Guillaume Cizeron that won. 



Don't get me wrong here. I think the French team is pretty fantastic and their free dance was an absolute pleasure to watch. They've improved by leaps and bounds this season, but even with that said a meteoric jump from thirteenth the previous year to first isn't a reason to say "Look? Now skaters aren't judged solely on their reputation and they can make these big moves! Isn't that wonderful?" Give me a break. I can hear the crickets as well as you can. It's still ice dance and it's still unheard of. Comparing the 2014 free dance PCS scores from Worlds to the 2015 scores, you'd think they'd improved so exponentially that they were juggling bicycles on stilts during a twizzle section expertly timed to a 2/4 beat.

Add to the PCS scores level three's on the circular and diagonal in hold step sequences and a -1.00 deduction for an extended lift and poof! It's all explainable, right? Wrong. 


To add insult to injury, the silver went to the Americans. You know how it is. If you're from Canada and cheering for Canadians and not a huge fan of the skating of the top Americans, you're going to hear about it. If you're like me you might even have a chuckle at the decades old double standard. It's all a trope. The fact of the matter is I have watched Chock and Bates' free dance set to "An American In Paris" start to finish a handful of times this season and right from the first time I saw them skate it at Skate America, it didn't work for me. They're without question a talented team with good lifts, speed and edges but the choreography by Igor Shpilband is unimaginative, contrived shtick. You know how Disney makes these straight to video films and they're probably on The Land Before Time 25 now? I just feel like this team is capable of so much more than the same generic cliché free dances we have seen from them the last three seasons. This team has every reason to be pleased with the execution of their free dance and result in Shanghai with the exception of those twizzles which they got off very easy on. However, I thought the program lacked creativity and sincere passion as compared to either Weaver and Poje's or Papadakis and Cizeron's performances... and wouldn't you know it? The Choreography and Interpretation marks were generous as always. That said, their short dance which earned them 74.47 and the lead in that part of the competition was the best performance I've seen from them all season hands down even if that program isn't my cup of tea either. Their first twizzles were so on point they could have been in a freaking instructional video. I just sincerely fear this may be next:


Now that we've all learned about double dream feet, let's get back to the ice dance event. It was nice to see Gilles and Poirier rewarded with a sixth place finish after their incredible growth this season but must have been a bitter pill for the Shibutani's to swallow going the classical route this season to appease the judges and ultimately finishing fifth with their finest free dance ever on the World stage. 


One of the most egregious examples of utter foolishness in my opinion was the skewering of Alexandra Paul and Mitch Islam. Dropping from eighth to thirteenth place was quite the slap in the face for a beautiful team and free dance. Their PCS score was actually higher than at Four Continents so it looks like the level on their midline step sequence and the twizzles are what did them in. I don't know about you, but the more ice dance is technically quantified the more frustrating it all becomes to me. The eternal optimist in me is grateful for the phenomenal skating but the realist sees an Italian referee and a result that doesn't reflect the bigger picture of the performances we saw out there.

MINIMUM SCORES AT THE "WORLD" CHAMPIONSHIPS: In an obvious effort to save money, in recent years the ISU introduced a Minimum TES requirement for skaters to be even eligible to compete at the World Championships (below table courtesy good ol' Wikipedia):

Minimum technical scores (TES)
DisciplineSP / SDFS / FD
Men3464
Ladies2747
Pairs2543
Ice dance2939
Must be achieved at an ISU-recognized international event
in the ongoing or preceding season.
SP and FS scores may be attained at different events.

Although this ruling eliminated the need for skaters (or unseeded skaters) to have to tire themselves out by competing in an initial Qualifying Round or Preliminary Round, in effect this not so brilliant move from the ISU vastly limited the number of ISU member nations to even send ONE skater or team to the World Championships to thirty seven. Thirty seven? Depending on the source, there over one hundred and ninety countries in the world and seventy three of those countries are ISU members. That effectively means that thirty six countries didn't get to even send a single entry to the WORLD Championships. Talk about inclusiveness. If many countries aren't even going to bother to offer decent television coverage of the competition itself, I'm not quite sure what all the hoopla is about in terms of saving money anyway, right? As I wrote when talking about the EXACT SAME ISSUE in the Four Continents blog: "If you're just going to cut half of the skaters after the short program anyway and get rid of qualifying rounds, I don't see what the harm is in allowing them the opportunity to go and LEARN from skating against some of the world's best. I'm reminded of Père Henri's wonderful sermon from the end of the movie Chocolat: 'Listen, here's what I think. I think that we can't go around... measuring our goodness by what we don't do. By what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think... we've got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create... and who we include.' Cinquanta doesn't get it... not by a long shot." It's easy to sit back in our armchairs in countries with outstanding training centers and resources and say that maybe the skaters who didn't meet these TES scores "aren't good enough", but that's completely missing the point as far as I'm concerned. 

If you enjoyed reading my take on the 2015 World Figure Skating Championships, 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 "like it" - you'll end up with daily figure skating news, videos and interesting articles right in your Facebook news feed, as well as new content and interviews on this blog as they happen. 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!

Thursday, 26 March 2015

"I've Cried Enough For All Of Us": The Mabel Fairbanks Story


"Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but it has not solved one yet." - Maya Angelou

When I started compiling materials to write about the subject of today's blog, I listened to a podcast from Sister Thunder Radio and was moved profoundly. The host passionately said, "Can you IMAGINE loving something so much, going to buy your own skates, teaching yourself, and then can't be allowed because of your skin color?" Many articles tend to gloss over the sheer magnitude of what Mabel Fairbanks did for skating but this podcast host spoke with wonder. That's the kind of wonder I experience as I write this, for Fairbanks' story is just truly awe inspiring.

Mabel was born on November 14, 1915 in the Florida Everglades and would later be nicknamed 'Swanee Snowbanks' by a manager because of where she was born. She didn't know her father and her mother died at the age of eight. Orphaned, she stayed with a teacher who treated her "like a maid". She was sent to New York City to live with her older brother, but shortly after arriving his wife kicked her out. Homeless. she slept on stoops in Central Park until a affluent young mother found her and offered her a job babysitting. She watched other people her age skating on a small pond that wasn't far from Central Park's Harlem end and was so taken by the sport that she became determined to take it up herself. Using the money she earned babysitting, Mabel bought a pair of used skates at a pawn shop that were two sizes two big and stuffed them with cotton so they'd fit, and headed out skating on the pond. She struggled with the sub par ice conditions and an onlooker suggested that she'd fare better at an actual rink. To say Fairbanks, who was of African American and Seminole heritage, wasn't exactly accepted with open arms was the understatement of the century. She was told that "blacks didn't skate there" and didn't get to skate that day. Now living with an uncle, he constructed a 6 X 6 foot rink in her bedroom made of wood, tin, dry ice and water for her to practice on at home. Practice she most certainly did. 

Eventually she found herself at the Gay Blades Ice Casino on Broadway and 52nd Street. Ronald A. Scheurer's 1997 article "Breaking the Ice: The Mabel Fairbanks Story" offers a great description of what happened next: "A persistent cashier kept telling her that colored people weren't allowed in, and a just-as-persistent Fairbanks kept returning to the rink. One day the sympathetic manager, who was standing nearby, told the cashier to let the kid in. Well, Fairbanks wasn't exactly a kid by this time, but she was small, and packed inside of her warm clothes, she could pass as one. Over the pedestal and onto the ice, she ignored the stares and ridicule of others, skated her own way, and soon caught the attention of the all-white staff. Maribel Vinson (nine times U.S. Ladies Champion) recognized Fairbanks' talent and started offering her advice on technique. Howard Nicholson, another well-known coach of the era, joined Vinson in contributing to Fairbanks' development. Fairbanks also benefited from watching and listening while the white children received formal instruction. She copied and practiced their moves."

I want to get a few things across here. This wasn't the bible belt; this wasn't Alabama, Tennessee or Arkansas. This was New York City and the racism wasn't watered down any less in the least. Maribel wasn't permitted to teach Mabel on the regular sessions, so she stayed behind and coached Mabel for free because she saw something in her. She believed this young girl deserved the right to skate. Maribel did this at her own risk. When you have rinks blatantly posting signs that say "no Negroes allowed", not only was Mabel at risk of being booted out of there at any minute, Maribel was in real danger of losing her job and/or students for helping Mabel... and that's a big part of this story that's not given much contemplation. Also, Mabel just wasn't a good skater, she was a DAMN good skater. In 1943, Time Magazine wrote that "experts rate her superior to most amateur whites". Yet, Mabel couldn't test or compete. Want someone to point your finger at? Look no further than the two men who held the presidency of U.S. Figure Skating from 1930 to 1937 in alternating terms: eight time U.S. Champion Sherwin Badger and former pairs skater Charles C. Rotch. They called the shots at the time. They could have changed things if they wanted, but they didn't. This isn't really about finger pointing though, because right down to the cashier who wouldn't let Mabel in to skate to the parents and fellow skaters who viewed her with derision, racism was and is a societal problem... not just an issue of a couple jackasses being jackasses. At any rate, the ever determined Mabel didn't give up hope of being able to compete with her peers and even tried to do something about it. She is quoted in the 1998 LA Times article "The Ice Mother Blazed The Skating Trail For Others" as saying "I wanted to train for the Olympics. So I went to black doctors, lawyers, teachers, anyone I could think of who might help fund lessons and everything I'd need. They all said, 'Go away little girl.' " She tried to compete in the Olympic Trials and was again told to take a hike. By now most people would have hung up their skates and said "fuck this shit" but Mabel wasn't having it one bit.


She turned to professional skating and repeatedly got the same old story she'd be hearing for years. Quoted in Darryl Lyman's book "Great African American Women", Mabel said "I remember they said to me, 'we don't have Negroes in ice shows.' But I didn't let that get in my way, because I loved to skate." Did she give up? What do YOU think? A 1998 LA Times article explains "She earned money by being the only black skater in some of the many small ice shows performed in nightclubs during that era. She was never a part of the cast, she recalls, but was always billed as the 'extra added attraction.' And she was not permitted to perform the dazzling, world-class manoeuvres of which she was capable, she says, because 'none of the white skaters wanted to be outshone by someone black.'" Taking to the road, Fairbanks toured with Rhapsody On Ice in Mexico. She also made a name for herself skating in of all places, Cuba. World Champion Randy Gardner explained to me that "Mabel's professional skating career was during the time where there was segregation in this country and abroad. I remember her telling me that when she would do shows, during the breaks or at dinner time, she would have to sit outside away from the other cast members to eat her meal. But, Bob Turk (who later became producer and director of the Ice Capades) would go out and sit with her during those times so she wouldn't have to be alone. Even going through those experiences, she had so much spirit and drive, I guess she had to create a survival technique in order to succeed in a prejudice world. And she did!" The discrimination in her career as a professional skater didn't stop though. She contacted three time Olympic Gold Medallist Sonja Henie, who she'd idolized after watching her film "One In A Million" as a younger skater, about performing in one of her shows and Sonja declined too. Fairbanks turned to coaching.


She moved to Los Angeles in 1940 and continued to break down barriers. Ignoring the signs of "colored trade not solicited" displayed in many rinks, she embarked on a lucrative coaching career in California at the Hollywood Polar Palace and Iceland. She taught a who's who of Hollywood how to skate - Natalie Cole, Eartha Kitt and her daughter Kit, Dean Martin's whole family, Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby's granddaughter among them. She also coached an impressive roster of elite competitive skaters and mentored skaters like Debi Thomas, Kristi Yamaguchi, Rudy Galindo and Scott Hamilton. Just incredible skaters. If someone was too poor to pay for lessons, she taught them for free, she let them stay with her at her Laurel Canyon home... that's what kind of woman Mabel was. She continued to fight for the rights of black skaters her whole life, petitioning the Culver City Skating Club to admit Richard Ewell III to its membership in 1965, making him the first black skater to gain admission to a U.S. figure skating club. The next year, she coached Atoy Wilson to become America's first U.S. champion of color when he won the novice title at the 1966 U.S. Championships. She also coached Ewell and Michelle McCladdie to become America's first black pair team to win a U.S. junior title in 1972. When Rory Flack wanted to quit skating at the age of thirteen because of the racism she was experiencing, Fairbanks urged her to soldier on. Tai Babilonia, who we'll get to in a minute, said it well in her 2009 interview with Allison Manley on The Manleywoman SkateCast: "She had not just black skaters, but Latino skaters, Asian skaters, rich, poor, the Hollywood elite, they all gravitated toward Mabel. Mabel kicked down that big rainbow door."
Back to Tai, Mabel was the person that was credited with first pairing World Champions Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner. In a recent interview, Tai shared the impression that Mabel made on her career with me: "Mabel was not of this planet. She was unique, eclectic, one of a kind, motivating. I could go on and on. In the late sixties, in her locker in the back room at the rink in Culver City, she had at least four pairs of skates in different colors. I think they were Harlick's made especially for her? I never asked. A pair were pink and that's why I wear the pink skates - to honor her. She had flaming red hair, her wardrobe was different and eclectic. It looked part couture, part old pieces she had... just a mix and match of everything. It's so hard to explain her but she really liked to stand out and she knew how. She lived in Hollywood and the house is still there. For a lot of her students it was like our second home. We'd stay there after skating Friday nights and have sleepovers and she'd drive us to the rink the next day. I have magical memories of that home. She lived a block and a half north of Sunset Boulevard. It was just so normal for us. On ice, she was very much a disciplinarian but just so motivating!" Randy told me "I started group classes with Mabel when I was seven years old. She exuberant, colorful and fancy. I had never really met anyone quite like that before. Her personality made her classes and private lessons so much fun. I couldn't wait to get to the rink to take her class. Mabel was the one that paired up Tai and me for the local skating club show. She took a chance, I guess, but she really encouraged us to skate pairs, but neither of us really wanted to do it. After all, I was ten years old and Tai was eight. Later in life, when she had retired and health issues arose, she never forgot to call me during all the holidays, especially Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Those calls made me feel like I was special, just like she always had when I was young boy beginning to skate."

Tai echoed the incredible impression that Mabel made on her life both on and OFF the ice: "She changed my life, my family's life, she changed Randy's life. Who knew it would start with something as simple as 'hold his hand and skate around the rink together'... To say that we are still holding hands so many years later, that's so powerful to me. I am so grateful for the lessons from her that I learned that I still use in my skating life and everyday life and as a mother, person and a woman. She never backed down and that's what I loved about her. You don't back down. You learn from that. She fought for herself but more than that she fought for us. She was a remarkable woman."


Fairbanks never married but devoted her entire life to skating. Her students became almost like surrogate children to her and she coached until she was seventy nine years old! At the 1997 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Nashville, she was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall Of Fame, a moment that meant just so much to her and the students lives that she touched. On the induction, Tai explained "That was HER moment! I was there and Atoy was there. I've never seen her happier than that night.  Mabel getting that induction and to be there for her and walk her out on the ice, that is up there in the top three moments of our career, because without that, we wouldn't even be talking."

Sadly, Mabel was diagnosed with the neuromuscular disease Myasthenia gravis in 1997 and in mid-2001 with leukemia. She passed away in Burbank, California on September 29, 2001, the same month as the 9/11 attacks in the city she grew up as a young skater. Tai kept in touch with Mabel until the day she passed. She told me that she received a call from Atoy Wilson letting her know that Mabel had just passed away and rushed to the hospital right away to sit with her. "I felt she was still there and to be able to sit and have that final conversation... that was a very special moment."

In an interview three years before her death, Mabel said, "if I had gone to the Olympics and become a star, I would not be who I am today." If Mabel hadn't done everything she DID, FIGURE SKATING wouldn't be what it is today. 


I want to close this blog with a quote that was shared in the podcast about Mabel's life that I mentioned earlier. It comes from Jackie Robinson, the first person of color to play Major League Baseball. He said "a life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives." As I researched 
Mabel's story and talked to Tai and Randy, I have to admit that I teared up more than once. Then I found a quote in the 1998 L.A. Times article from Mabel which I could almost hear echoing through time like a voice in my head from someone I'd never met: "Don't cry dear... I've cried enough for all of us." Thank you, Mabel Fairbanks, for having an impact on MY life... and for never backing down.

Enjoy this feature on Mabel Fairbanks? Have I got JUST the thing for you! A Facebook page that supplements this blog and shares daily skating news, videos and features as well as all of the newest articles and interviews from the blog with you. All you have to do is click 'LIKE' at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard. If the Twitter's more your cup of tea, check out http://twitter.com/ohh_N and give me a follow! I love talking about skating and would love to do it with you. Now that just sounded dirty... But you know what I mean!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The Brilliant Brunet's


Simply put, no French pairs team in history has ever replicated the achievements of the husband and wife team of Andrée (Joly) and Pierre Brunet. As a pairs team, they won eleven French national titles, a European title, four World titles and three consecutive medals (the latter two gold) at the Winter Olympic Games.

What made The Brunet's dominance even more incredible was that during their tenure, they also both dominated the singles competitions at the French Championships as well. Andrée won ten consecutive national titles from 1921-1930 and Pierre won seven men's titles to boot after claiming the silver medal in his first effort at age seventeen in 1923. Even more mind blowing was that during their career as a pair in international competition, they were only ever defeated twice: at the 1924 Olympics and the 1925 World Championships.

Born in June of 1902, Pierre Brunet got his start as a skater at the age of nine when he came to Paris from Northern Paris with his father, a French industralist. His New York Times Obituary describes his beginnings as a skater: "Playing hooky one day, he stumbled upon a frozen pond in the Bois de Boulogne and was so enchanted by the novel sight of the skaters that he promptly went home, got his savings and bought himself a pair of skates and a book of instruction." According to Steve Milton's book "Figure Skating's Greatest Stars", "Brunet was a 19-year-old engineering student at Paris Technical Institute when he met Andrée Joly on Paris' only indoor rink... 'When I saw a couple engaged in skating pairs for the first time, I gave up the idea of engineering,' Brunet recalled to New Yorker magazine in 1954. 'I could see that there was so much to be done,., from an engineer's point of view.'" And invoke change was exactly what these two did.


The Brunet's were every bit as groundbreaking as they were unbeatable. They invented mirror skating, the term coined to describe performing side-by-side movements in opposite directions (such as jumps and spins) in unison and Andrée broke convention of the times by wearing black skates like her partner's and wore black instead of the customary white dress of the time to match her partner's costume. They were lauded for being the first team to present a more complete package. American judge Joel Liberman wrote: "They have everything: program, rhythm, speed, style and personality. One cannot think of them apart. Even their separating moves are part of a pairs picture." Though their performance of the first one handed lift in ISU competition was a technical innovation, Pierre Brunet himself once famously said that skating was becoming "a sport for kangaroos" in reference to the drive to add more and more athletic jumps to programs.


Marrying in 1929 halfway through their competitive career, the pair soldiered on, winning their final World title in 1935. They turned professional prior to the 1936 Winter Olympics in Germany, refusing to participate or support the Nazi propaganda that was thematic in those Games. They toured for a time, performing in Canada and throughout Europe including a run in Rhapsody On Ice at London's Royal Opera House in 1937 alongside professional star Belita before emigrating to the U.S. in 1940 and taking up coaching. Their son Jean-Pierre Brunet was a very successful skater in his own right who won two U.S. pairs titles with his partner Donna Pospisil in 1945 and 1946. Tragically, the summer after he won his second U.S. pairs title, he was tragically killed in an automobile accident at the age of nineteen in his prime. This loss would have unhinged many parents but as coaches, The Brunet's were every bit as unstoppable as they were competitors. 

They taught at the New York Skating Club's rink at the old Madison Square Garden and later in Long Island, Illinois and Michigan, Among their pupils at one point or another were some of the sport's most iconic champions, names like Carol Heiss Jenkins, Donald Jackson, Janet Lynn, Gordon McKellen, Alain Giletti, Alain Calmat, Scott Hamilton and Dorothy Hamill. Olympic Gold Medallist Carol Heiss Jenkins spoke of her time with The Brunet's in her 2012 interview with Allison Manley for the Manleywoman SkateCast: "So I was a member of the Brooklyn Figure Skating Club until I was about six, and someone said to my mom, you should get in touch with the Brunets. And by the time we joined the Skating Club of New York, we were all skating. I didn’t take from Mr. Brunet right away. I started with his wife Andrée, everyone had to start with her and you had to be just a little bit better. I do remember very clearly skating around him when he was giving lessons, I was probably a real pest, so he would see me and notice me because I wanted to take from him so badly. So finally after about a year of taking from Mrs. Brunet, my mom said I would get a tryout lesson with Mr. Brunet, and oh my gosh, I was just beside myself. And I had Mr. Brunet as my coach for all those years, from when I was six and a half, and he was the only coach I ever had, except during the summer when he didn’t teach and we would go away and take from someone else for a few weeks... Pierre was a second father to me, and I can say that now because as the years went by, my mother became ill, and he comforted me during my mother’s death. I trained six days a week, I didn’t always have a lesson every day, but he was always in the rink nearby. And as the years went by we had some heartaches and tragedies, his son being killed in 1948 at the age of 18, and then my mother’s death. And then the wonderful times, winning my first national championship, getting my axel, getting my double axel clean, winning the world championship, and of course the Olympics. As I got older and thought back to the lessons at the rink, he would talk about politics, he would talk about what was going on that day, and if you didn’t know what was going on, he told you to read the newspaper." Scott Hamilton too spoke of his time working with Pierre Brunet in his book "The Great Eight": "I was intoxicated by everything Pierre offered... He would come to the rink every day, dressed formally in a white shirt, jacket and tie, and he spoke with a thick, French accent. He did everything as classy as it could be done. He introduced me to structure and discipline in my skating for the first time. I responded very well to his coaching style." Pierre Brunet continued to coach star pupils until his retirement in 1979 although his wife retired earlier due to a back injury suffered in a car accident. One moment that stands out when thinking of Pierre Brunet is his recognition of Janet Lynn's amazing talent, for it was he that encouraged her to go out and bow to the appreciative audience when she didn't medal at the World Championships despite giving an otherworldly free skate.

Dismayed by the elimination of compulsory figures in world competition the year previous, Pierre Brunet passed away of Parkinson's Disease at his home in Boyne City, Michigan on July 27, 1991 at the age of eighty nine. Andrée too, would pass away at age ninety one in Boyne City in 1993. Though Abitbol and Bernardis claimed bronze in 2000, the Brunet's remain to this day the only pairs team in history from France to win a World title and their contributions not only to skating but to coaching many of skating's greatest stars were absolutely vital.   

In order for this blog to reach a wider audience, I could sure use a little help. All you have to do is "LIKE" the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard for instant access to all of the new blog articles, features and interviews as they are made available. I also share daily updates and headlines from the skating world, videos and much more that's not here on the blog, so if you love figure skating as much I do, it would really be rude not to get on that inside edge! You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ohh_N. If you know someone who loves skating, tell them! It's all about getting a dialogue going on!

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Proof Is In The Precedent: A 1955 Switcharoo


If you don't share my opinion that the gold medal at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games should not have been shared and should have instead been awarded solely to Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, I guess we're going to have to agree to disagree. Interestingly, what many people MAY not know is that there is absolutely precedent for something quite similar happening quite some time ago. However, since the results of the competition in question were not on an Olympic or world stage or on live internet streams and network television it is a story that remains largely unknown to many.

In 1955, what was then known as the Federal Republic Of Germany (West Germany) held their National Championships in Krefeld, a city just a few kilometers from the Rhine River more known for its twelfth Century restored Burg Linn Castle then its figure skating involvement. Most of that year's Nationals actually went on without incident and were actually held in Berlin. Marika Kilius and Franz Ningel won their first of three consecutive West German pairs titles together, Rosi Pettinger won her first of two national ladies titles and Hedwig Trauth and Wilhelm Trauth emerged victorious in the ice dance event. Only the men's event was held in Krefeld and only the men's event was bungled up... badly. Manfred Schnelldorfer (who would go on to become Olympic Gold Medallist years later) was awarded his first national title at the age of twelve ahead of Düsseldorf's Tilo Gutzeit and Werner Kronemann. That was that. Both Schnelldorfer and Gutzeit went on to compete at that year's European Championships in Budapest, Hungary, where Gutzeit outranked the twelve year old Schnelldorfer and earned a spot at that year's World Championships in Vienna, Austria. Several months down the road (after the Nationals in Krefeld and both Europeans and Worlds were held), Werner Rittberger (judge, referee and the inventor of the loop jump) acted upon his suspicion that something was amiss in the scoring of the men's event in Krefeld. He recalculated the results of the men's competition and confirmed his suspicions. The results were corrected and Gutzeit and Schnelldorfer physically exchanged their silver and gold medals.

It's funny... because you think about what went on in Salt Lake City and most recently, last year at the Sochi Olympics with the ladies competition and you have to remind yourself that the results are NO FAULT of the skaters. I still personally don't think Adelina Sotnikova or Yuna Kim's performances were as gold medal worthy as Carolina Kostner's on that given day if you're talking about the whole package and performance and not all these IJS mathematical spreadsheets... but I digress.

Under both the 6.0 and IJS judging systems the sport has seen PLENTY of controversial results and we'll be seeing them until 2394 when Evgeni Plushenko and Evan Lysacek's descendants are announcing their comebacks for the upcoming Olympics on the planet something or other. I think the lesson to be learned from this story is that it only takes one person in the position of authority who recognizes that something is wrong to dig a little deeper and enact real, quantitative change when the results don't end up how they are supposed to. Bravo to Werner Rittberger and to Manfred Schnelldorfer and Tilo Gitzeit - West German Champions both. To me, a fair result is a fairytale ending and a city sporting a gorgeous and historic castle with a moat couldn't have proved a more fitting backdrop if it tried.

Definitely food for thought as we head into this week's World Figure Skating Championships in Shanghai, where Ottavio Cinquanta's anonymous judging system is once again sure to cause more controversy. When does it not?

In order for this blog to reach a wider audience, I could sure use a little help. All you have to do is "LIKE" the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard for instant access to all of the new blog articles, features and interviews as they are made available. I also share daily updates and headlines from the skating world, videos and much more that's not here on the blog, so if you love figure skating as much I do, it would really be rude not to get on that inside edge! You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ohh_N. If you know someone who loves skating, tell them! It's all about getting a dialogue going on! Fabulous skating is too fabulous to keep secret. Am I right or am I right?

Monday, 23 March 2015

Interview With Marie-France Dubreuil


There's a moment in every skater's career when all of the hard work seems to culminate one magical, perfect performance that literally leaves your jaw on the floor somewhere. Emotion and a connection to the music takes over and you know that you've been witness to something truly special... and timeless. That's how I felt when I watched Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon's silver medal (and free dance winning) free dance at the 2006 World Figure Skating Championships in Calgary, Alberta and how I felt watching so many of their performances throughout their long and accomplished career. With two World medals, five Canadian titles, a Four Continents title, medals at the Grand Prix Final and eleven Grand Prix events to their credit, Dubreuil and Lauzon were top contenders at almost every event they entered for close to a decade. It was a privilege to have chance to talk to Marie-France, now a professional skater, coach, choreographer and mother, about her competitive career, motherhood, coaching and life today in this must read interview. You'll love it, mark my words!:

Q: Your career has just been incredible! Five Canadian titles, two medals at the World Championships, four medals at the Four Continents Championships (including gold in 2007) and wins at Skate Canada, the NHK Trophy and the Bofrost Cup On Ice. Looking back on your competitive career now, what moments stand out as the most special or your proudest memories of them all?

A: There were two moments in my career that made me feel like I really achieved something special. Both happened in Calgary: our first Canadian title and our first medal at Worlds. The Saddledome has been mythical for so many Canadian skaters and it was for us too.


Q: I have to say, I still find myself going back and watching your "Somewhere In Time" free dance. It's just SO beautiful! Where did the concept for this particular program come from and how did it develop to get to the incredibly high level of performance that it was at by the time of the World Championships in 2006? 

A: "Somewhere In Time" was one of my favourite movies when I was younger and the first movie I cried to... probably because of the music. So, as we where looking for music for the 2006 Olympic year, I played that soundtrack for Patrice and he loved it right away. We then decided to ask our friend, famous Canadian choreographer David Wilson, to help us put it together and that's how magic happened. David doesn't normally work with ice dancers so it was sort of a gamble but we joked around thinking that if between the three of us we can't create a masterpiece... then nobody can. And we did!

Q: After such an up and down season with the injury and withdrawal in Torino and the silver medal at Worlds, you returned the following year and really dominated every competition you entered. Did you ever consider staying in until the 2010 Games in Vancouver or was it simply put time to step away?

A: 2005 to 2007 was so high in emotion and our hard work and sacrifices finally paid off during that time period. The only thing missing was an Olympic medal... but at this point I didn't enjoy training as much anymore and felt we accomplished what we wanted to do in our eligible career. Doing the Olympics in our own country would have been an awesome experience but when the heart is not there anymore it's definitely time to step away. Our previous experience taught us that you don't stay just to participate at Olympics, it's the journey there that's important and in that regard we feel that we've done it all.


Q: Not only are you and Patrice skating partners, you're married, you're parents and you coach and choreograph together. Not many people get to have that experience of getting to share their love of skating with the person they love! How do you balance your personal life with your life in the sport?

A: Balance is like happiness. You work at it all your life! I prefer to focus on what makes me joyful and complete. Long ago we decided to do skating at a level very few people reach and we decided to do the same with coaching. We dedicate a lot of time to our job but we are very passionate people and we couldn't do it any other way. When our daughter Billie-Rose showed up in our lives, she became our priority but from the beginning she also became part of our figure skating life. We toured while I was pregnant and at only seven months she was with me on Battle Of The Blades. Right away, she loved the artistry of figure skating. Billie-Rose is not even four and gives us her opinion on music and movements! She's very instinctive and a little artist in the making so I do take her opinion tenderly and seriously.


Q: Speaking of coaching, you've got an incredible roster of students right now including Sara Hurtado and Adrià Díaz, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron and Elisabeth Paradis and Francois-Xavier Ouellette. What is your philosophy as a coach and how rewarding is it to see your coaching pay off in the results these incredible ice dancers have been getting lately?

A: I learned so much in my career. I was blessed with wonderful coaches and mentors that made us grow not only as skaters but also as people. My goal as a coach is to make my skaters reach their full potential as athletes AND as individuals so they can stand strong on their two feet on and off the ice.



Q: You've done some pretty amazing things as a professional skater including touring with Stars On Ice and appearing on three seasons of Battle Of The Blades where you skated into the top three with your hockey player partners ALL THREE TIMES! This December, you went to Illinois to skate in the Shall We Dance On Ice show with skaters like Davis and White, Anissina and Peizerat, Belbin and Agosto and Sinead and John Kerr. Is touring or competing professionally something you'd do if the opportunity arised or are shows your preference? 

A: I am a natural performer and always will be. My career as a performer is more or less over but once in a while when my agent has an interesting offer that can be worked around my coaching schedule, I do it. Shall We Dance was a great concept and I was thrilled to be a part of this show and to skate one more time with my husband. Patrice and I hadn't performed together in five years so we tried to enjoy ourselves and disconnect from our coaching duties for two days.




Q: If someone was coming to Marie-France Dubreuil's house for a fabulous dinner, what would be on the menu?

A: Champagne and oysters to start followed by maple wild salmon with organic salad and vegetables! Sorbet and berries for dessert or maybe Patrice's famous gluten free brownies.


Q: Who are your three favourite skaters (or ice dance teams) of all time and why?

A: Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov were my absolute favourites. As competitors, they were great. Perfect classical lines and effortless speed but to me as professional skaters they reached a level of artistry and intimacy in their already perfect skating that will probably never be matched. Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean because their skating is smart. Brilliant and intricate with a perfect understanding of the blade movement on the ice. Needless to say, Christopher's work is phenomenal! I would love to borrow his brain during any choreography session. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir because they are a mix of my two favourite teams. Beautiful lines, great technique, effortless skating and a real connection between them that makes you forget they're on skates. On top of that, they're the nicest people you'll ever meet!

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

A: Music has a lot of influence on my mood and I listen to a wide variety through out the day. Hip hop in the morning to pump me up as I drive to the rink, classical music or jazz when I drive back home to relax and disconnect from coaching and hard rock when I clean the house!

If you enjoyed the interview with Marie-France, stay tuned to http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard and http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca for more skater interviews as well as articles, commentary and special features! You can also follow me on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/ohh_N for skating tweets and whatever else I've got on the go. It would be rude not to!