Saturday, 25 April 2015

Telling It Like It Is: The Infinite Wisdom Of Charlotte Oelschlägel


Who's ready for another trip in the time machine? This one will take you all the way back to 1916 and the cost of the book that I'll be quoting from today was a paltry (by today's standards) twenty five cents. That's right... a quarter. Try taking your quarter to Chapters and seeing where that gets you. The book in question is the "Hippodrome Skating Book: Practical, Illustrated Lessons In The Art Of Figure Skating As Exemplified By 'Charlotte', Greatest Woman Skater in the World" and as described, it is an instructional skating book authored by none other than the German professional skating legend Charlotte Oelschlägel, whose story was chronicled in detail in this April 2014 Skate Guard blog.

The recent blog offering some very sage advice from U.S. Champion Maribel Vinson-Owen was full of some wonderful timeless advice. As was the case of Maribel, Charlotte's voice is going to jump off the screen and resonate with you in very much the same way. I know it did with me. At times authoritative, humorous, delightfully old-fashioned and downright blunt, get ready for today's skating lesson from the one and only Charlotte:

"The arms should not be held close to the body nor should they be flung violently about. If the former position is taken the skater looks stiff and awkward. If too wide reaching out of the arms is permitted the skater appears to be grasping at imaginary straws like a drowning man. Both extremes are bad but of the two it is better to allow the arms freedom of poise and carry them gracefully extended than stiffly hung to the sides of the body. Fencing and interpretive or folk dancing furnish interesting examples of the right use of the arms during vigorous action. The individuality of the skater is often revealed by the carriage of the arms as much as by the tracing of the figures."

"The men ought to be told that there is nothing more ungraceful or unsuitable for skating that long trousers. Knickerbockers are tight fitting coats with just a bit of military cut are the right costume for the men who would skate well and look well. The best European skaters among the men all skate in woolen tights, but they are a little theatrical and do not always increase one's admiration for the wearer."

"Jerkiness and noticeable pause in the execution of the figures are bad form. The momentum should be continuous and even. Unless it is, the figure will be badly done and the balance interfered with. The whole print of the complete figure should be in the mind of the skater before he starts. Room for its execution should be found and even a clear idea of where the prints are to be made on the ice should be in mind."

"Do not be ashamed to ask questions of those who skater better than you do. Make pencil sketches of figures that interest you and write down the correct carriage of balance foot and arms until you have learned them."

"The plunge is the main thing in learning to skate backward. Make up your mind some fine morning that you are going to practise outside edges backward or inside edges backward all of the skating session of that day. Then do it. Skating is a matter of will power after all and not at all a matter of strength. I took up skating just because I was not strong and the doctors said it was outdoor life or a little narrow box for me."

"There can be no comparison between the delight of waltzing on ice and waltzing on a ballroom floor. There is an exhilaration and rhythm about ice waltzing which nothing equals."

"Certain programmes are generally followed in free skating. Starting with a series of running steps, to get momentum, then a long spiral and a spectacular jump, toe spins; large figures in the form of an eight, dance steps, a spectacle figure to time of music; finishing with a spectacular spin on one foot, crouched down close to the ice with the other foot curled about the skating foot in front: this makes a combination which suggests what can be done. The spread-eagle is another important figure to introduce into free skating programmes."


"Jumps and pirouettes, done by both partners or by one are also pair skating possibilities. One of the most spectacular pair skating jumps consists of a leap by the lady from the outside forward edge to the outside backward edge around her partner, or sometimes almost over his shoulder. This is done at high speed and is very pretty as well as very daring. This is true skating and at the same time acrobatic skating of the most difficult character."

"Encourage games and races and figure skating competition. Get up moonlight skating parties on the ice. String lanterns about and have a costume skating carnival. If the circumstances permit make a gigantic bonfire and provide hot coffee and other refreshments. In some parts of northern Europe large parties of young people skate great distances on the rivers, stopping at various towns for lunch and dinner and returning by train."

"Theatrical skating, such as I do, has to be fast and sensational."

"The selection of judges is most important. These should be themselves good skaters, familiar with the style of skating now generally accepted all over the world as correct... They should be encouragers of skating and do everything in their power to interest the competitors and the public in the event. Much of the interest in future depends upon the judges. No sport can long carry the handicap of unfair or biased judging."

Skating's Nostradamus? Perhaps Charlotte was. Her thoughts on judging do seem to be almost prophetic in a way in light of the judging scandals that would eventually rock the sport so incredibly that the IJS judging system would be adopted. I think her and I would be on the same page with regards to disagreeing with anonymous judging though, as she went on to say "The judges' cards should be carefully kept and shown afterward on demand." That said, I TOO would be absolutely fine with men skating in shorter pants. I hope Charlotte's musings on the art/sport have brought the same amused smile to your face that they have mine. As in life, some things change, but some things never go out of style.

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Thursday, 23 April 2015

Interview With Miriam Ziegler


To say the experience of representing your country at the Olympics is a rare dream come true for most figure skaters is definitely the understatement of the year. To be able to do it more than once in more than one discipline is surely rarer. Austria's Miriam Ziegler is a member of that elite club, having competed at the 2010 Vancouver Games as a singles skater and the 2014 Sochi Games as a pairs skater. Miriam was gracious enough to open up at length with me about her journey, discussing everything from her transition from singles to pairs skating with her on and off ice partner Severin Kiefer, her goals for the upcoming season, favourite skaters and much more in this must read interview:

Q: You've had an incredibly accomplished career as both a singles skater and a pairs skater, competing in the ladies event in Vancouver and the pairs event in Sochi as well as at the European and World Championships, winning four Austrian titles (two in singles and two in pairs) and competing in countless international competitions. I want to start by talking about your singles career. What were your proudest moments and the most challenging ones?

A: One of my proudest moments was winning the European Youth Olympic Festival in 2011. I was the first Austrian skater to ever win that title, which was probably the highlight of my singles career. At the Youth Festival, I first experienced the Olympic spirit and I was able to perform two perfectly clean programs. I absolutely loved being a part of this inspiring competition and I was hungry for more. The following seasons were particularly difficult for me, especially during the 2010 Olympic season, I was struggling with my confidence and I had a hard time coping with the fierceness of my fellow national competitors for the Olympic spot. After being called up to the Olympic team, external pressure combined with the expectations I had for myself became a big obstacle which unfortunately ended up influencing my Olympic performance. I missed two major elements in my short program but was actually able to focus on the positive aspects of the experience. When I got back home, I realized that not everyone shared my positive outlook and I found myself being influenced by the pessimistic perception of my performance by some. I took a step back from skating for a couple of months and then slowly started to train again but the fun never came back and I seemed to have lost the light- hearted approach to my skating.


Q: How did you reach the decision to ultimately focus all of your decision on your pairs career with Severin?

A: Even though I competed again in the 2011/12 season I was pretty much done with skating. Jumps were frustrating me and skating just wasn't as much fun anymore. I failed to reach the level I was at two years before and after one season of skating, I decided to quit. A year later, Severin asked me to have a tryout with him. I hadn't skated for a year and I was not in shape at all but pair skating had always fascinated me. I had never had the chance to try it, so I said yes. After a couple of tryouts, I knew that pair skating was what I had been looking for. I loved having someone else on the ice with me. Learning the pair elements was not easy and I enjoyed being challenged. Pair skating was the only thing that could have convinced me to come back to skating.

Q: At Worlds in Shanghai, you didn't have your best skate in the short program and unfortunately missed the cut for the free skate. What did you learn most from Worlds and this past season?

A: Even though I missed the side by side triple salchow (which was the first element) we still managed to perform the rest of the program very well. Therefore, I learned that mistakes can happen but that that does not mean that the rest of the program has to be bad. It is worth it to fight for every single element. I know that this was only our second season together and that the second season is always the hardest, especially when you had as good a season as we did last year. I learned that not always achieving your goals is a good thing because you can learn more from defeats than you can from victories and it makes me want to achieve them even more.


Q: How did you come to move your training base from Austria to Germany? 

A: Just before Worlds last year, we and Eva Sonnleitner decided to go our separate ways and Severin and I moved to Berlin to train there full time. Since then we mostly work with Knut Schubert, but Rico Rex is still there to help out. We are also working on our side by side jumps with Stefan Lindemann.

Q: What are your main focuses in training right now and what can you share about your programs and plans for the 2015/2016 season?

A: Our main goal for next season is to get the triple twist. The second goal is to improve our skating skills. In May, we will go to Vancouver to work with our choreographer Mark Pillay on our new programs. We will get two brand new programs, which we're really looking forward to. Our short program will be pretty jazzy but we have not decided on music for our free program yet. We hope that our new programs will be entertaining and more sophisticated.

Q: What is your favourite element and your least favourite as both a pairs and singles skater?

A: It is really easy to say that my most hated singles element is the double axel. It always felt as if I couldn't really control what was happening and that it was lucky when it worked. I still refuse to work on it in practice. It is harder to say what my favourite singles element is. I really like spins and my favourite jump is the loop. In pairs, I love to work on throw jumps but I don't like twists and death spirals.


Q: If you hadn't have become an elite level skater, what is another passion you would have loved to pursue on the same level?

A: If I wouldn't have become a figure skater I don't think I would do any other sport on that level. I would go to the gym from time to time but not much more. There was a time I really enjoyed writing poems. I think I would have saved money and then travelled the world while writing about it. 

Q: How would you spend your perfect day away from the rink? Where would you go, what would you eat and who would you be with?

A: My perfect skating free day is meeting some friends for brunch then sitting in a park in the sun all day (preferably in Vienna) and then ordering pizza and watching a movie at home with Severin, since he is my boyfriend as well. 

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

A: I think skaters are truly great if they have an inspiring personality. Since I don't know any past skaters personally, I can only talk about current skaters. I love Carolina Kostner. Her skating is phenomenal but she is also so kind and humble which makes her so fascinating to me. Another great skater is Jason Brown, who I think has the most interesting programs and transitions. I admire his attitude on as well as off the ice. Since I am now a pair skater as well, I will also name Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang as my favourite team. Even though they are completely different personalities, they match perfectly on the ice and I always get goosebumps when I watch them skate. 

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

A: Most people probably don't know that I am a soldier in the Austrian army as an athlete because this is how the government is funding their athletes. I was even trained to fire a gun.

Q: What is the best advice you can offer to anyone wanting to switch from singles to pairs?

A: I can recommend pair skating to everyone. Even though skating with someone else is sometimes hard, the work always pays off and accomplishing a goal with someone else is always a lot more fun than celebrating on your own.

But WAIT... there's more! If you call within the next thirty minutes, we'll throw in this link to the blog's Facebook page, which has news, features and videos that aren't on the blog for the low, low price of free. That's right... free. I don't do this for PayPal donations or profit of any sort. I write this blog because I believe in great skating - artistic skating - and want to share stories about the sport's history, its amazing skaters and areas of the sport you may not know enough about with as big of an audience as I can. All you have to do is "LIKE" it at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard. If you get ten friends to like, I'll throw in a big hug. And if you get one hundred friends to, let's just as I'm "that kind of girl". You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ohh_N.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Go Figure!: Breaking A Leg In North Hollywood


Getting up close and personal with skating legends in Hollywood? It sounds like something right out of the movies, but in fact, it's way classier than that. Starring in the most fabulous one man show since "Just Jack!", 1979 World Champion  Randy Gardner is embarking on a new adventure in the upcoming run of his play "Go Figure!" which opens Friday, May 15 at the NoHo Arts Center in North Hollywood, California.

The intimate production will feature guest appearances by Tai Babilonia, Dorothy Hamill and others to be announced. Future performances are also lined up in West Hollywood, Las Vegas and in Boston during the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships. The production is directed and co-written by Josh Ravetch, who directed productions featuring Dick Van Dyke and Carrie Fisher and will offer skating fans a candid, behind the scenes look at skating life. The show will offer audiences the chance to "experience this exciting world as never revealed before by those who actually lived it. Nothing is off limits in this raucous, tell-all, where at every turn of the blade, and for the first time in history, 'The skates come off and the truth comes out!'"

I asked Randy why he decided to go outside of his comfort zone and take on this new adventure. He explained that "this show is something so different for me. The thought of doing something so challenging really got my attention.  It's turned out to be one of the most difficult things I've ever done, but one of the most rewarding. It's a great way to share my story." We also talked about some of the aspects of his life that are explored in the production. Randy said, "from my discovering I was adopted at age forty, doing a search for my birth Mom and finding her, our relationship now, and to the unthinkable circumstances around my birth, Go Figure explores the world of professional sports, Olympic competition during the Cold War... and being a closeted young gay man during all of this."

Tickets for the North Hollywood shows, which will run from May 15 through June 14 with Friday and Saturday evening performances and a Sunday matinee, are thirty dollars. Dorothy and Tai are guaranteed to appear during the opening weekend only. Special VIP tickets are also available, offering skating fans an even more personal experience including preferred seating, signed photographs and a post show reception where fans can get up close and personal with Randy and guests. Tickets can be purchased online or by phone at (818) 508-7101 (extension 6). I don't know about you, but I WISH this was closer and I was able to attend. If any of the locations are in your neck of the woods, you really need to go because honestly, Tai, Randy and Dorothy Hamill? Come on. Fabulous. Need I say more?

What comes next? 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, 21 April 2015

Interview With Niki Wories


Dutch skater Niki Wories is certainly coming off a whirlwind season. After winning the junior title in her country back in 2013, she improved upon her silver medal at the Dutch Figure Skating Championships in 2014 with a gold in Den Bosch in January. We caught up early this month to talk about her season which included a senior Worlds debut in Shanghai, her training and goals looking towards next season, life off the ice and much more. The off season is a great time to get to know the names you'll be hearing a LOT more of next year and Niki Wories is definitely one of those names:

Q: You've had quite the season! After winning the silver medal at the Dutch Championships, last year you won your country's National Championships, won international medals at the Bavarian Open and Challenge Cup, competed at your first European Championships and your first World Junior Championships and World Championships. Reflecting on your career to this point and this season in particular, which moments are you most proud of and which have been the most challenging?

A: First of all, thank you for asking me to answer your questions. I love being able to do that for you! Yes, I never thought I would have quite the season as I had this year! I'm really proud of everything but especially the Worlds, because that is such a big step forward for figure skating in Holland. When I came out of the dressing room the day I had to skate my short, I was overwhelmed when I entered the arena. SO MANY PEOPLE were going to watch me! Eighteen thousand people compared to the something like five hundred people who visit the Dutch Championships in Holland is quite a difference, right? It was totally awesome. The most challenging was the Dutch Championships because there is so much pressure on you. Everyone expects you to do well, you know everyone and really want to make them proud!



Q: You're ranked thirty second in the world right now, which is actually pretty incredible. What are your main focuses in training right now looking towards the coming season so you can make it to the 2016 Worlds in Boston and improve upon that result?

A: Hearing that made me even more proud. Thirty second IS pretty amazing! Right now I am mostly focussing on my triple/triple and double axel/triple toe. I really want to be stable with the other triple jumps and my triple/triples. That is really a goal for next season.

Q: Have you started working on your programs for next season and if so, what can you share about them?

A: No, I haven't started yet. I don't even have my new music. In a few weeks, I will go to Canada to make my programs with Julie Marcotte! I am very excited about that and look forward to it very much. I am also going to train there for four weeks and that is amazing!

Q: You currently train in Dordrecht with Astrid Tameling-Winkelman, who is a two time Dutch Champion in her own right. Why Dordrecht?

A: Yes, that is right. The club I am in now (in which she is teaching) is one of the best clubs in The Netherlands and she is one of the best coaches in the country.

Q: What three songs could you listen to on a loop all day long?

A: That would be "Break Free" by Ariana Grande, "Just The Way You Are" by Bruno Mars and anything by Michael Bublé. I love Michael Bublé!

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

A: I really like the skaters Alexei Yagudin, Stephane Lambiel and Javier Fernandez!

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

A: The thing people don't know about me is that I really want to be able to drive a motorcycle! I would love to ride it on a warm summer day. I think that would be so awesome!

Q: What has the whole experience of being a figure skater taught you about yourself?

A: I think skating has really taught me that if I really want something and I work very hard, I am able to reach it but only if I really want it. I will do almost everything to reach my goals and it feels so good when you reach them! My own self-made slogan is "change your mistakes into lessons, change your lessons into work and progress, and if you fail, then change yourself, because only you can change failure into success and that's how you'll WIN!"

If you enjoyed this interview with Niki, 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 tweet me at http://twitter.com/ohh_N anytime you feel like talking about skating.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

#ILikeBigBracketsAndICannotLie: An 1893 Judging Controversy No Other Brother Can Deny


You almost half to laugh and wonder if that's how it all would have gone down on Twitter. On January 21 and 22, 1893 in Berlin, there sure was an AWFUL LOT of drama for a competition consisting of but eight men performing figures. The competition in question was the 1893 European Figure Skating Championships, which were sponsored by the Berliner Eislaufverein (Berlin Skating Club) and organized by The German Empire's skating association.

An important preface to what went on in Berlin that January is a quick lesson in European politics. At the time of the event, The German Empire consisted of twenty seven territories, the main one being the Kingdom Of Prussia. At the time, Austria and Hungary were united constitutionally as the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Austria-Hungary) so technically the judging panel at this event was as stacked as they come. Two Austrian and two Hungarian judges meant four judges from the Austro-Hungarian Empire on the panel to the host country's two. The seventh and final judge on the panel at the event was from Sweden.

True to Murphy's Law, everything that had the potential to go wrong most certainly did. Adding to the chaos of a stacked panel, the ISU had only formed the previous year and in its infancy had not yet adopted any universal structure or criteria to give judges to work with. The Berliner Eislaufverein (chaired by the previous year's champion Oskar Uhlig) named Sweden's Henning Grenander as the winner, whereas the German Empire's Federation named Austria's Eduard Engelmann Jr. as the gold medallist. In his book "Figure Skating in the Formative Years: Singles, Pairs, and the Expanding Role of Women", James R. Hines explained that "the discrepancy resulted from different interpretations of the scoring rules, which could result in a tie depending on one's interpretation of them. In point totals, Grenander received 1,988, Engelmann 1,987, but if half-points were considered, the result was a tie. Compulsory figures, which Engelmann won, served as a tiebreaker. The problem was never resolved, but the published record of the ISU lists Engelmann as the champion, with a footnote in the past tense stating that 'The European Championship for 1893 had been declared invalid by the 1895 Congress.' The European Championships for the next two years experienced a marked decrease in participation, perhaps as a result of the scoring debacle." American skating historian Benjamin Wright stated that the confusion "nearly resulted in the demise of the fledgling union."

Wright was right. The event sparked major controversy and debate amongst office holders, so much so that office holders almost resigned but it WAS all an impetus for immediate change. By a mail vote, Swedish sports pioneer (and organizer of the Nordic Games) General Viktor Gustaf Balck was elected as ISU President and according to Ron Edgeworth's paper "The Nordic Games And The Origins Of The Olympic Winter Games", "one of his first actions in becoming President was to obtain the adoption of proper rules for the conduct of the competitions in both figure and speed skating at the next Congress."

So who really won in Berlin that year? Grenander? Engelmann? The four judges from Austria-Hungary who more than likely were favourable in their scoring towards Engelmann and bronze medallist Georg Zachariades? I think ultimately it took growing pains for the new organization to grasp that criteria had to be established for its judges in order for competitions to be more fair to skaters. It took decades but the one judge per country rule certainly made a difference as well. It is funny though. You look at questionable judging then versus now with this highly detailed IJS system and at least then the ISU truly debated systematic problems in judging in their Congress... and you knew who the judges were and where they were from.

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!

Friday, 17 April 2015

An Early History Of Japanese Figure Skating


With the World Team Trophy in Tokyo this weekend and Yuzuru Hanyu and his Winnie The Pooh plush toys in full force, I couldn't think of a more fitting time to share a look back at an early history of figure skating in Japan.

Fascinatingly, Japan's humble beginnings in skating seem to trace back to Manchuria, which was a volatile area in northeast China and Inner Mongolia in the 1930's and 1940's. In September of 1931, Japan's Kwantung Army invaded the area and established a puppet state called Manchukuo. Their occupation lasted until the end of World War II, and it could very well be during this era that Japanese skating blossomed. The Manchukuo National Physical Education Association was established in 1932 to promote sport and in his book "A Companion To Japanese History", William M. Tsutsui writes that "Kobayashi Hideo hints at the role of Manchuria, for example, in popularizing ice skating in Japan and nurturing some of the nation's early international competitors."

This 1931 British Pathe silent video shows ice skaters making the most of a tough winter

Kazuyoshi Oimatsu in 1936
That's not to say people weren't skating in Japan before the Manchu people helped popularize and support the sport. The Japan Skating Federation was formed in 1929 to serve as a governing body for both figure and speed skating. In Maribel Vinson-Owen's 1938 "Primer Of Figure Skating Book", making a case for written instruction in figure skating, then-USFSA President and former U.S. Ice Dance Champion Joseph Savage wrote "that figure skaters can learn in this manner was ably demonstrated by the Japanese 1932 Olympic Figure Skating team who had to learn skating from the written word" suggesting Japanese skaters of the era received written instruction on elite level skating during the era. The first All-Japan Figure Skating Championships were held during the 1929/1930 season in Nikkō, a city one hundred and forty kilometers north of Tokyo. The first Japanese figure skating champion was Makoto Kubo and five years later, Japan would hold its first ladies competition which was won by a very young skater named Etsuko Inada. 1932 was the first year Japan sent skaters to the Winter Olympics or World Championships and Kazuyoshi Oimatsu and Ryoichi Obitani finished ninth and twelth in the 1932 Winter Olympics and seventh and eighth out of nine in their first effort at the World Championships.

Etsuko Inada at the 1936 Winter Olympics with men's champion Karl Schäfer 
Inada would be the first female Japanese skater to compete internationally in 1936 when she competed at the EUROPEAN Championships, Olympic Games and World Championships and placed in the top ten at all three. At twelve, she was the youngest and smallest of all of the competitors at the 1936 Winter Games in Germany and was quite popular among the other athletes. The next Olympics were scheduled to be held in Sapporo, Japan and were cancelled due to World War II, but that or even World War II didn't end the skater's journey on the ice. As Japan and Germany were not invited to participate in the 1948 Winter Olympics in Switzerland, yet another precious chance for Olympic glory passed Inada by. She returned to competition in her late twenties in 1951 after many years away and reclaimed her national title in 1951 right before the 1952 Oslo Games but ultimately didn't make it to Oslo to compete. Inada turned to coaching students at the Jingu skating rink in front of the Prince Chichibu Memorial Sports Museum and coached several Japanese Champions including Junko Ueno and Miwa Fukuhara. Later in life, Inada opened a fashion boutique in Tokyo and she passed away of stomach cancer in 2003 in Chiba.

In the early fifties, an American man named Jack B. Johnston won the Japanese men's title. Nami Yasufuku at the Nagoya University Library found a March 12, 1953 article in the Asahi shinbun newspaper stated that Johnston "had won the U.S. Championship of pair skating. He was affiliated with Kyoto skating club at 1952/1953. Other players came short of the pass mark to compete the championship and only he got score over 4.0. He was the first foreigner to win the Japan Figure Skating Championships." Interestingly, according to Karen Cover (U.S. Figure Skating's historian) there are no records of Johnston ever winning a U.S. pairs title on any level so one has to wonder who Johnston was or what background he had before claiming the Japanese title that year. Miho at the Japan Foundation in London also wasn't able to find anymore information about this mystery man. Although his identity and story seem to be shrouded in mystery, his contribution to Japanese skating remains one for the history books.

Nobuo Sato and Miwa Fukuhara skating in 1964

Four years after Johnston's win, a young man named Nobuo Sato would go on to dominate Japanese figure skating for a decade, winning ten consecutive Japanese titles and competing at two Winter Olympics and six World Championships. He would finish as high as fourth in a field of twenty at the 1965 World Championships in Colorado Springs. After retiring from competition, Sato married two time Japanese ladies champion Kumiko Okawa and the couple had a pretty talented daughter you might have heard of... I don't know... Yuka Sato? Ring a bell? Mr. Sato was inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame and has coached a who's who of skaters including his daughter Yuka, Mao Asada, Miki Ando, Lucinda Ruh, Takahiko Kozuka, Fumie Suguri and Yukari Nakano. He's seen generations of skaters come and go including the reign of arguably Japan's most famous and well known skater Midori Ito. On Ito, Mr. Sato said in a 1989 edition of Asiaweek: "Ito was born with talent that can't be learned through training."

A young Midori Ito landing ten double axels in a row!

Whether through natural talent like Ito's or success achieved through arduous work on the ice like most skaters, Japan's skating community has continued to prosper under Sato's watchful eye and today Japan stands as one of the sport's superpowers with its first Olympic gold medals in history earned by Shizuka Arakawa and Yuzuru Hanyu within the past decade. The country continues to pump out talented athletes like nobody's business and you know what? That's really not bad for a country that certainly gave the rest of the world a thirty plus year head start when the competitive skating boom all began, now is it?

Did you enjoy this blog about early Japanese skating history? What comes next? 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!

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Interview With Juanita-Anne Yorke


Winning three back to back South African titles from 1990 to 1992 might appear to be the highlight of Juanita-Anne Yorke's skating career on paper but her accomplishments in life go far, far beyond that. Although she missed the 1992 Olympics in Albertville as a result of a boycott on South African athletes in international competition, Juanita-Anne was part of the first contingent from her country to skate at the World Championships in twenty three years that year. Her subsequent life in law enforcement is every bit as fascinating. As much as we hear of 'bad cops' in the news, here's a great one who is committed to making a difference in the world. I think you'll really enjoy this interview!:

Q: Family plays a huge role in the support of any athlete. Was this the case for you as well?

A: Firstly, let me say thank you for interviewing me. It has been a long time since my last interview as I have been out of the sport for a while. I was going to continue to coach but decided to rather dedicate my life to all South Africans in the fight against Crime. My mother was always supporting me as was my father right throughout my skating career. I have three sisters as well and they too gave up long hours so that I could further my career in Figure Skating. God bless my family.

Q: What first brought you to the sport and got you hooked?

A: What first got me hooked... My cousin Melanie came home one day with a new pair of ice skates and being the Curious George that I was having my roller skates on asked my cousin "And what are those?" After she explained, we all decided to go ice skating as it was a very hot day in South Africa. I remember this clearly because it was too hot to even roller skate. So that Saturday morning, we went skating and I have never actually left the ice since. It was such a beautiful feeling to skate on that ice that day that I could not resist but begged and pleaded with my father Vincent Risden Yorke who was Managing Director of Renown Meats at the time to let me take up the sport. Imagine an eight year old negotiating a sport with her dad who is a director of a company! The ice gave me absolute freedom to show and express myself as a hyperactive child and yes, I am still an ADHD adult and have loads of energy at age forty two!

Q:After a twenty three year boycott as a result of the apartheid in South Africa, entries were initially slated from South Africa for the 1992 Albertville Games. Winning that year's National Championships at age nineteen, you were one of four figure skaters that were supposed to sent from your country to compete. What can you share about the Olympic experience that never happened?

A: Unfortunately, we never made the Olympics which Greatly saddened me due to the fact the Sport Moratorium that had not yet been lifted. I must Admit when I was handed my Protea Colours Blazer that replaced the Springbok Blazer, I was extremely proud and I know my Dad would of been as well but he had unfortunately passed away from a heart attack in 1990. I am very happy that my mother, Joyce Elizabeth Yorke, lived to see it though. She passed away in 1997 from cancer. I framed the blazer now and It will hopefully one day find its way to the Hall Of Fame.


Q: Although you didn't make it to Albertville, you were indeed part of the first South African contingent since 1968 at the World Championships that year in Oakland, finishing thirty ninth. Having trained in Colorado as a young skater, was the experience of competing at a World Championships in America particularly special for you?

A: In 1992, the World Figure Skating Championships were held in Oakland. I realized what Carlo and Christa Fassi had meant about training hard for eight hours a day! "Live, sleep, eat and breathe figure skating" would of been the more appropriate advice. To skate at world level, you really must have guts, determination, a solid eating plan, a lot of patience and nerves of STEEL! I remember opening the Worlds and it was amazing. That day was the first time in my whole skating career where I can truly say I actually felt nervous. There I was all of nineteen and I was living my dream, entertaining an audience of most probably like eight thousand people. The Colosseum was huge and I felt like a Gladiator that day as if the whole of South Africa depended on me. I went out and skated the best that I could for my country and I felt proudly South African. So maybe I was not as great as all the other skaters but I still did my best with the training that I had been provided, and you cannot do better than your best! The people were amazing and the team that was at Worlds were the cream of the crop of South Africa. I know I thanked the Worlds organizers but WOW... they really were the greatest when it comes to event planning. Truly! I would also like to thank America for having me. They have a beautiful country and I would visit again any day! Going back to Colorado Broadmoor ice arena was absolutely fantastic, and to think that I - me - Juanita-Anne Yorke - actually stayed at Beatty Hall where Ice Castles was filmed? That was awesome. I felt like a princess.

Q: What can you share about your decision to retire from the sport?

A: Why I retired from the sport? First off, a figure skater never truly retires. I still go and ice skate at the rink at Forrest Hill in Centurion as I have moved to the capital city of Pretoria in South Africa. The real reason why I gave up the sport was to care for my sick mother who was diagnosed with cancer just after we got back from the World Figure Skating Championships in 1992. That is why I never came back for a rematch. I also do shift work now at Crime Stop South Africa so it is very difficult to actually set up a coaching system where I could dedicate the necessary hours to my skaters. I am a perfectionist by nature and I believe in structure and order. If I could, I would build my own ice rink in my back yard. I truly miss the ice. It's a part of me that will never ever go away. I am a figure skater forever in my heart. If life had given me the opportunity then, I would have most probably made it to the 1998 Winter Olympics but my book of life was not written that way. We never question God; we just accept the book the way that it is written! It was a very easy decision to make because my family comes first always. To all my fans, sorry if I let you down. I'm sure you understand the circumstances that were consequentially great for a nineteen year old to make life changing decisions and in actual fact there was no choice in the matter.

Q: You've served as an officer with the South African Police Service and as you mentioned earlier, you now work with Crime Stop South Africa. What drew you to law enforcement and what have been the most rewarding and (alternatively) disheartening parts of the jobs?

A: In 2001, I joined the South African Police Services and I became a reservist. At the time, I had also joined up for Shaolin Kung fu to keep my mind and body fit. I was unfortunately a victim of crime where they had broken into my house and cleared me out literally. When the policeman arrived, we had a chat and I will never forget his words: "Why don't you join as a reservist and help us fight crime!" I was still a spoiled brat I think at that stage so I was actually very upset because they had stolen my Mom's bangles. I said "take anything like my TV, but leave my family heirlooms out of the picture." I asked the policeman how to join and to make that difference and he said I ought to go down to my nearest police station and apply... so I did! I joined on my birthday, the eighth of April 2001, and loved the work so much that I went permanent on the twenty third of December, 2002. I was part of the fifth of January intake of 2003 and I had an absolute blast training for three months at Pretoria West SAPS College. I felt like I was training for skating every day. Very structured and very disciplined just like my sport! I also like to help my members in the community so I am making a difference every day in a lot of peoples lives. I can truly thank my mother and father for bringing me up in the correct way so maybe one day I can save even more lives. Being a policewoman is a true calling. You have to be dedicated and love your job or don't do it! It's that simple. I believe in serving and protecting so that the children and all South African citizens have a safe environment to live in and a better and brighter future.

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

A: First off, Kristi Yamaguchi. Having skated with Kristi at Worlds and sharing the ice with her I can truly say she is my idol. If I were to have a mentor it would be her. She is so graceful and an absolute beautiful person. Even though we were competing against each other she would find time to help me. Thanks Kristi for the help then - I will never forget it! Secondly, Dorothy Hamill. In South Africa we used to watch the NutraSweet World Professional Figure Skating Championships and Dorothy was always so graceful and she made skating look easy. Her technical side was also quite great to watch and I learned a great deal off ice just watching the show over and over and over again. I would go try it on the ice and my coach Karen Huth would ask me what in the world was I trying to do that day the we would work on the move. Thirdly, Scott Hamilton. I was personally trained by Scott Hamilton when he came to Sun City, South Africa years ago. I don't even think he will remember it but anyway! He has always been my mentor on the technical side. He taught me how to do the real fast spins that he is famous for and thanks for that, Scott. When I was at Worlds, it was great seeing him again. Last but not least my two favourite ice dancers of all time are Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean. It was great to meet Christopher at the World Championships in 1992. To finally see the 'Perfect Six' live. wow! WOW... now that's skating! Amen!

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

A: (laughing) I drive a motor bike and I am sure if my mother was still alive she would argue that It's a coffin on wheels and I should buy a car! The one thing most people don't know about me is that I'm still weight conscious after all these years, but luckily I'm hyperactive so I can still shed weight fast.

Q: When is the last time you were on the ice?

A: The last time I was was on the ice was last week, but competitively? 1994.

Q: What is the biggest lesson figure skating has taught you in life?

A: The biggest lesson that figure skating has taught me is how to live life! It taught me structure. Every jump is structured in a specific way, if you lean too much into the loop for example you will fall so don't do it that way! The police service is structured as well with hierarchy of ranks. Skating taught me balance and patience. When it was still FIGURE skating, we did the rockers and the early morning five o'clock without coffee figure eights and traced our circles and used a scribe. It taught me balance which I still have today and use it everywhere I go... even on my motor bike. Who knows, maybe one day you will all see me at Motor Cross? The other life skills that figure skating has taught me are discipline, timorousness, how to deal with difficult situations and making them easy because there is always a reason why something happens. Figure skating really taught me a lot about life, because it still is a part of my life. When I was at Worlds in 1992, I learned how to be a representative for my country at nineteen. It really is immense pressure on anyone of that age. Thanks to that life experience I now continue the good work in the South African Police Service and last year in October Crime Line hosted the Crime Stoppers International Conference held in Cape Town which I too was blessed to be a part of. It was so amazing to meet so many different people with a similar skill set to mine. Thanks to my experience in world events, I managed to speak as a Warrant Officer to high ranking officials with grace, discipline, respect and ease. I have to thank that experience in America for helping this humble South African to be a better person. God bless you one and all and I hope that you are all still sending your tip offs to Crime Stoppers. I'll be protecting you all from afar. For anyone that submits a tip, I salute you. You are my hero!

If you enjoyed reading this interview with Juanita-Anne, 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!

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Interview With Ali Demirboğa


Following in the figure eights of Tugba Karademir, the skater who really helped put Turkey on the map as a 'figure skating nation', twenty four year old Ali Demirboğa has been making his very own name in the sport/art with impressive performances in international competitions for the last ten years, including multiple trips to the European and World Championships. This Turkish Champion took the time to share his story with me in this recent interview, talking about everything from the unique challenges his country faces in developing skaters to the ups and downs of his career, competing against his idol, his favourite skaters and much more. You're bound to enjoy this one!:

Q: You have won the Turkish National title five times and represented your country internationally at four European Championships, two World Championships as well as at over twenty international competitions. Looking at your skating career so far, what are your proudest moments or most special memories? 

A: When I was first national champion in 2010, I realized that I had the chance to go to the European Championships. I said "Oh my God! I'm going to watch Evgeni Plushenko live!" Unfortunately, our federation decided not to take me to the Europeans that year because I wasn't experienced enough. I was very sad and I thought I would never be able to watch him live. Two years later at the 2012 Europeans in Sheffield, I was going to compete and when I heard that Plushenko was ALSO competing I was head over heels, I couldn't believe it. At the competition, I made it past the preliminary round with a free skating score of 93.99 and I earned the right to compete for short program. This is where my highlight of the story began. As we drew our assignments for the short program it turned out that I was going to be in the same warm-up group with Evgeni. When I was skating, he stood at the side of the ice since he was next. I couldn't even skate. It was very overwhelming. He was clapping for me and he was watching me. It was a unbelievable moment for me.

Q: Turkey is a relatively new player on the international figure skating 'scene'. What are training conditions like in Kocaeli and elsewhere in Turkey and how much competition do you face from other men's skaters in your own country?

A: Turkey's conditions getting better every year. We had only two Olympic size ice rinks five years ago but there are seven right now. There will be twelve to thirteen ice rinks in a few years. We still have a lot of losses but I believe that Turkey going be a top ten country in figure skating in the next ten years. We now have four or five strong competitors at Nationals every year.

Q: You're coached by Rana Belkis Gocmen but you've also done some training at Alexei Mishin's summer camps. What makes Alexei Mishin such a respected coach and what makes your own coach the best person for you to be working with?

A: Alexei Mishin means experience, quality, perfect technical style and discipline. To be short, he is almost everything for figure skating. I first learned how to skate with Rana Gocmen in 1999 so that has meant we have been together for sixteen years. When I started skating, I was a young skater
and she was a young coach. Sometimes we both learned things together and now she is one of the best coaches in all of Turkey. She is perfect!



Q: What are your ultimate goals in figure skating and will you continue to train towards the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics?

A: Yes, I will continue until 2018 and I am going to try to make it to the Olympics. The PyeongChang 2018 Olympics have always been my ultimate goal as a figure skater. Hopefully I can go.

Q: What do you see as your strengths and weaknesses as a skater and a person?

A: As a figure skater, my strengths would have to be my ability to deal with the mental preparation and performance involved in the sport. İ have a tendency to rush in to my jumps while performing my programs and this is definitely my weakness and something I need to better prepare for. As an individual, I can be emotional in my decision making and life in general. I find this to be my weakness. My strength is definitely my personality and character.

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

A: My favourites are first of all Evgeni Plushenko because he is a legend. Four Olympic medals is incredible. He is the best jumper I have ever seen and so creative. My second favourite would be Daisuke Takahashi because his skating skills and abilities are amazing. His choreography is pleasant and he becomes tremendous as soon he gets on the ice. Third would be Patrick Chan. He is probably the best combination of the technical side and the movement.

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

A: İ guess there is nothing that people don't know about me. I love to live with everything in full view.

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

A: I am always saying that figure skating isn't my favourite sport. Actually, I love to play soccer. Until I was fourteen years of age, I skated and played soccer at the time. I quit soccer and focused on skating because it was clear to me that there was something different that was keeping me focused on figure skating instead of soccer or other sports. This is the only sport that I can present myself with the music.

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Sunday, 12 April 2015

Remembering The World Cup Of Figure Skating

Perhaps the most decorated and hotly contested title in competitive professional figure skating's history was Dick Button's World Professional Championships, known affectionately to many skating diehards simply as "Landover" because the event was consistently held in Landover, Maryland for so many years, but it was absolutely not the only fish in the sea. Many promoters and event organizers were anxious to have their piece of the pie and agent Michael Rosenberg's first step into the professional competition world, The World Cup Of Figure Skating competition, was for a time a worthy Canadian adversary to the Landover event.


First held in late December 1988 in Ottawa, the World Cup was a made for television CTV professional event that was sponsored by the Campbell Soup company. It offered a purse of two hundred and fourteen thousand dollars in prize money to competitors, who were required to skate technical and artistic programs under theatrical lighting. Judging was on a 10.0 scale; among the judges was Olympic Gold Medallist Barbara Ann Scott. In the event's initial year Olympic Bronze Medallist Toller Cranston took the men's crown, beating Brian Pockar by three tenths of a point. Robin Cousins, who withdrew from the event due to torn tendons in his back, was replaced by Gary Beacom in the men's event, who received a standing ovation from the crowd with a jumpless artistic program. The 1988 World Cup event marked the professional competitive debut of 1988 Olympic Silver Medallist Liz Manley. Despite a hairline ankle fracture suffered that August hampering her training time, Manley was able to pull off a win ahead of three outstanding U.S. competitors: Rosalynn Sumners, Elaine Zayak and Tiffany Chin. The first pairs and ice dance winners were Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini and Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert.


In December of 1989, the event returned to Ottawa's Civic Centre. Withdrawing on the Friday before the competition due to a respiratory illness, Pockar was replaced by Robert Wagenhoffer, who was selected by Rosenberg on the basis of his win at the World Professional Championships in Jaca, Spain. Wagenhoffer competed against Olympic Gold Medallist Robin Cousins and a pair of Olympic Bronze Medallists (Charlie Tickner and Jozef Sabovcik) for the twenty five thousand dollar prize men's title that year. Cousins proved victorious. In the ladies event, Manley successfully successfully defended her 1988 title, competing against former rival Tracey Wainman and Americans Linda Fratianne and Tiffany Chin. Pairs competitors that year were Underhill and Martini, Americans Jill Watson and Peter Oppegard and Natalie and Wayne Seybold and the relatively unknown team of Irina Korina and Viktor Yelchin, who had only defected from the Soviet Union to the U.S. two months prior to that year's competition. The ice dance competition at the World Cup was only ever a two way race and the competitors during the second year were again Blumberg and Seibert and Canada's Lorna Wighton and John Dowding.


The December 9, 1990 edition of the World Cup was held at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium. A September 1990 Martin Cleary article from The Ottawa Citizen offered more than one reason that Rosenberg ultimately decided to move the event from Ottawa to Kitchener: "Kitchener outbid Calgary and Vancouver to stage the third World Cup of Figure Skating... 'The problem with Ottawa was the conflict with hockey (Ottawa 67's),' (Michael Rosenberg) said. Rosenberg said CTV, the broadcasting network, also was anxious to move it outside Ottawa.... 'Let's move it around like the World Cup of skiing," Rosenberg said in an interview Monday. 'It's time to move on and try a different market. We had a wonderful offer from Kitchener.'" Liz Manley returned to defend her title that year for a third time and the event marked the professional competitive debut of 1985 World Champion Alexandr Fadeev.

Rosenberg thereafter used to the World Cup name to launch a highly successful tour called World Cup Champions On Ice that played to theatre venues throughout Canada and the U.S. In a 1993 Los Angeles Times article, Rosenberg explained that he "wanted to play theaters with an ambience of Broadway - touring markets that were not used to seeing so many Olympic and World champions." The tour was adapted for television and broadcast on PBS, but due to copyright issues the skaters performances were overdubbed with instrumental 'muzak' instead of the music they used on the tour. Skaters included Liz Manley, Caryn Kadavy, Alexandr Fadeev, Jozef Sabovcik, Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, Simone Grigorescu-Alexander, Tracey Wainman, Elena Valova and Oleg Vasiliev, Petr Barna, Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding, Charlie Tickner and Grzegorz Filipowski. The tour played to fifty nine cities in its first year alone, grossing over four million dollars in profit and was choreographed by World Champion Randy Gardner and Manley's choreographer David Gravatt. Skaters and choreographers alike appreciated the unique challenges of a stage show setup. In 1993, Gardner said "Theater choreography is a little more tricky because you have to do more in place. In an arena, you skate out and do backward crossovers. The patterns are different. You always have to play the front, and you have to make sure everyone's on the correct angle." Kadavy said "Some people think this is a little easier, because you're not moving as much but it's just as much of a workout. It's a matter of pacing yourself. I love to skate big, so I have to keep it scaled down. But it's fun and challenging at the same time. And it's more intimate than arenas." Olympic Gold Medallist
Ponomarenko noted that "the people notice everything - the curtain, the lights. The people sitting close can see our emotions, and we can see their faces. It's much more fun for us, and it's new for the audience; they've seen arena shows before."

The 1993 tour was the final of three World Cup tours and 1993/1994 season would have undoubtedly been a busy year for Rosenberg, who as an agent represented a who's who of figure skaters, including Tonya Harding until the November before "the whack heard around the world". He used the success of the World Cup competitions and tours as a springing board to launch literally dozens of made for TV professional competitions in the wake of the explosion in figure skating's popularity following the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer... and the wonderfully creative skating that those competitions brought out was what ultimately drew me to the ice myself. I'll always remember watching that PBS Muzak broadcast though. The music was terrible but it didn't matter. The choreography was out of this world and the skaters exciting and engaging. And professional skating - the artistry, entertainment, costumes, lighting and flair - remains as exciting to me now as it did then... certainly a hell of a lot more interesting than any IJS footwork sequence or edge call. The World Cup proved that great skating alone is what people really want to see.

If this feature on the World Cup Of Figure Skating competition and tour was right up your alley, stay tuned to http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard and http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca for more skating history as well as interviews, 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!

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Heinrich Harrer And Sir Basil Gould: Walking On Knives In Lhasa

Heinrich Harrer photo; published in National Geographic

In 1946, Austrian mountaineer, explorer, champion skiier and author Heinrich Harrer first laid eyes on Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet. On the run from a World War II British prison camp, he endured a harrowing journey over sixty one mountain passes in twenty one months before arriving in the city of gold. A 2006 article in The Economist published shortly after his death in 2006 explained that Harrer "had travelled by yak and on foot; he was now verminous and starving, in rags of sheepskin, crippled with sciatica from sleeping on frozen ground, and without a rupee to his name. But gold shone ahead of him."

Taking refuge in the city usually strictly off limits to foreign visitors, Harrer made fast friends with none other than the Dalai Lama and in a few short months, became his photographer and teacher. Early in his stay, he built a skating rink on a frozen second of the Kyi River below the Potala Palace and reportedly introduced the art of "walking on knives" - ice skating - to the Lhasan people. The 2006 Economist article explains "the Dalai Lama, who could not see the rink through his telescope, sent a request for a cine-film of the skaters. Then he asked for a cinema. Mr Harrer built him one, running the projector off an old Jeep engine, and discovered at his first proper audience with the living Buddha that the boy had already dismantled and re-assembled it, all by himself."

A 1955 National Geographic article by Harrer "Escaping from internment in India to the sacred capital of Tibet, an Austrian became the Dalai Lama's trusted tutor" provided more information about Harrer's reported introduction of skating to the Tibetan people. The article explains that Harrer organized skating parties with the Lhasan people after finding several pairs of ice skates left in the city by British diplomats and that the reason the Dalai Lama, who lived much of his life in isolation from the Lhasan people, could not see the skating parties on the Kyi because his view was obstructed by Chagpori Hill, which is pictured in Harrer's photo. The skaters pictured are Wangdula, a monk officer and close friend of Harrer, a member of India's mission in Lhasa and Lobsand Samten, the Dalai Lama's own brother.

Harrer achieved greatness in his long life (he lived to be ninety three) and was part of the four man team that made the very first ascent of the North Face of Switzerland's Eiger mountain and the author of "Seven Years In Tibet", the 1952 book about his experiences in Tibet that was later turned into a popular film starring Brad Pitt. Despite his remarkable achievements and experiences, he was indeed a Schutzstaffel sargeant and a member of the Nazi Party, which he later described as an error he made in his youth when he had not yet learned to think for himself. After seven years in Tibet (you know, like in the book), Harrer mountaineered in Alaska and the Andes, won two Austrian national golf titles and even explored the Amazon River with King Leopold III of Belgium - yes, the same King Leopold III we talked about earlier in the story about in the story about Liselotte Landbeck. It all comes back to skating, doesn't it? Funny that.

Harrer's reported introduction of ice skating to the people of Tibet left a legacy that continues to this day in the Buddhist community. The video below shows monks and citizens alike ice skating around the statue of Guru Rinpoche on the lake outside the temple at Lerab Ling, a Tibetan Buddhist Retreat Centre near Montpellier, France.


Here's where things get interesting. Let's back that train up a little. Heinrich Harrer arrived in Tibet in 1949, right? Remember those skates he found that were left in Lhasa by British diplomats that he reportedly used to teach the Tibetans how to ice skate? Well, they weren't just skates left behind in someone's luggage nor skates only used by those British diplomats. The BFI National Film Archive hosts three silent films shot by Sir Basil Gould. Gould took up post as the Political Officer of Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet in 1935. In one of the videos of his diplomatic visits to the Tibetan city from 1936 to the early 1940's, we see... yes, you guessed it... children playing on the ice on their shoes and one of them flying by on what appear to be ice skates. It's right at the very end of the video for those of you in a hurry to read on, but take the time and watch! It's a cool video!


All of this poses an interesting question - if it wasn't Harrer who introduced the children of Lhasa to ice skating was it Gould or one of his contemporaries? It's quite the mystery and there's really a certain intrigue and charm to the whole idea of monks ice skating in Tibet, isn't there? One thing is for sure. As we see ice rinks popping up in some of the more unexpected areas of the world like Brazil and Argentina, India, the Middle East and several very warm weather parts of Africa, skating is becoming a more international sport by the day and the glide of an edge is proving to be a universal language that people from all corners of the the world can appreciate.

If the feature "Heinrich Harrer And Sir Basil Gould: Walking On Knives In Lhasa" was right up your alley, 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!

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Interview With Lorraine Borman


PSA Master Rated Coach Lorraine Borman may not have seen it all, but she's sure seen most of it. She not only coached Rosalynn Sumners from the grassroots level to a World title and Olympic silver medal in the eighties but was also the coach of one of the most brilliant choreographers figure skating has EVER seen: Brian Wright. Now working with skaters in Mexico, she continues to inspire a new generation of skaters to achieve their goals in the sport. It was my privilege to have the opportunity to talk to Lorraine about everything from her coaching philosophy to working with Roz to the state of figure skating today. Grab yourself that cup of tea you've been craving and settle in for an absolutely must read interview!:

Q: You're a PSA Master Rated Coach with almost fifty years of experience in your field. What is your coaching philosophy?

A: First and foremost, I want my skaters to enjoy the journey no matter how far it takes them and the passion for skating. I like to develop the skating skills and component mark almost before the technical aspect. To me, to watch a skater just skate with beautiful edges and grace excites me more than a quad jump even though a quad is impressive. The skater should be a package and with all qualities in technique and artistry. Last but not least, parents invest a lot of money in their skater and the skater invests themselves into the coach, therefore it is the coaches responsibility to make sure that the skater gets 100% of the coaches competence and attention.

Q: What keeps you motivated to get out there on the ice?

A: What motivates me to on the ice everyday is a very easy question to answer. First it is my love for the sport and all that is encompasses. Second is coaching students that are willing to put effort into achieving their goals. I love what I call 'sponge students' or those who absorb everything you are teaching them and transferring it to the ice. Skaters that are willing to learn, show constant improvement, and have the proper perspective on the sport and are a pleasure to be associated with.

Q: How did you end up coaching south of the border?

A: My husband and I moved to Merida, Yucatan to retire and believe it or not, there is a nice size mall rink here in Merida. Well, there was no retiring for me when there is a rink in near distance to me.

Feature from the 1984 Olympics that includes footage of Lorraine and Rosalynn working together

Q: I want to continue, of course, by talking about your work coaching and choreographing Rosalynn Sumners. You trained her to win the World Junior title, three U.S. titles, Skate America, the 1983 World title and of course the 1984 Olympic silver medal. What made and makes Rosalynn such a special skater and what can you share about your time working with her that still resonates with you today?

A: Rosalynn is a talented athlete who fell in love with skating and had a burning desire to be the best she could be. We took the journey from beginning to end together. Rosalynn's trust in me as her coach and my belief in her as a skater is what made her a champion. She had a work ethic that no one else had and loved to come in and train everyday. As a young skater, her energy and personality made it very easy to choreograph for her and train her. Her loyalty and trust in me is what is the glue for us still today.

from the January 18, 1984 New York Times article "The Zayak-Sumners Matchup" by Neil Amdur

Q: There was certainly a lot of media coverage at that time that centered around an intense rivalry between Rosalynn and Elaine Zayak. Was it invented or something tangible in your opinion?

A: The media coverage of Elaine and Rosalynn is really what created the rivalry and because of that it made it tangible. I always coached Rosalynn to focus on herself when competing and if she did the job she was capable of, the outcome would be satisfied. We never thought about "we have to beat Elaine", she was just one of many competitors in the competition.

Q: I've always been just jaw on the floor in awe of the choreography that Brian Wright created. You coached him at the Seattle Skating Club and I actually found a quote from a 2003 Seattle Post article where you said "The first time he tried a triple loop, he landed it. The first time he tried a triple toe, he landed it." What made Brian Wright so special as a student and a person?

A: Brian Wright was a very special person on and off the ice. He was extremely gifted in athleticism and just loved to skate for enjoyment and perform. We were very close when he was young and taking from me and we would play all the time to different music and different styles of skating on the ice. He really embraced the idea of being different and exploring. Brian had a great sense of humor and we had many, many laughs. He touched many people and he is sorely missed.

Q: Having obviously spend hundreds of hours teaching both, what are your thoughts on the current IJS system as compared to the 6.0 system? What works and what doesn't?

A: Oh boy... IJS versus 6.0. I now believe the new system has improved the judging of skating but it still has a way to go. The ISU changes rules far too much within the four years between Olympics. I believe if the ISU decides rules after the Olympic year, these rules should stay for four years and not change every year. Small changes my be necessary but every year they change the spin rules and I feel that the skater doesn't have time to develop these new rules every year. I also did not like the footwork rules for a long time because everyone looked the same but choreographers are getting more innovative and are making the footwork a little more interesting.

Q: What can you share about your own skating career?

A: I was born in Calgary, Alberta and raised in Kelowna, British Columbia. I started skating at four years old and Barbara Ann Scott opened our new ice arena when I was four. Kelowna was a small town when I grew up and we only skated six months of the year. My defining moment of skating is when I saw the World Figure Skating Championships in Vancouver. I was twelve years old and I said to my mother, "I am going to coach a World Champion".

Lorraine with other coaches in Mexico

Q: And you did. Of the skaters competing 'at the top' today, who excites you the most to watch?

A: There are so many good skaters today but I just love Tatsuki Machida, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Denis Ten.

Q: What about your three favourite skaters of all time?

A: I have four most favourite skaters. Rosalynn Sumners, Torvill and Dean, Robin Cousins and Janet Lynn. The commonality of these skaters are power, consistency and wonderful performance quality.

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

A: What most people don’t know about me is that I used to be a hurdler in track and a competitive swimmer. Also, I am now becoming a budding artist.

Q: What's the biggest lesson that figure skating has taught you about life?

A: The most valuable lesson figure skating has taught me is to never give up and any to be able to cope with tough life lessons.

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!

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Interview With Danielle Earl


Aside from the odd say something selfie, I can't say I have much experience in the photography business. That's actually putting it mildly. In honesty, I pretty much can't snap a good picture to save my life. That's probably why I'm even more in awe of the brave souls that spend hours upon hours in cold ice rinks with camera in hand taking beautiful pictures of skaters. Danielle Earl from Waterloo, Ontario is quickly making quite the name for herself for doing just that. It was my absolute pleasure to have chance to talk to his new kid on the skating photography block about why she does what she does, her background in figure skating and so, so much more in what is actually the first interview with a skating photographer I've had here on the blog. I think you're going to love reading!:

Q: Believe it or not, but you're the first photographer that I've interviewed on the blog. No pressure or anything. First questions first, what first drew you the art of photography?

A: I'm flattered that I;m the first one! No pressure, eh? Originally, what drew me to photography was trying to help out a friend, but after I continued for a while it ended up being the challenge of freezing the perfect moment in time though my go-to answer is that I just really like pushing buttons and taking pictures means I get to make my living pushing a button; BEST JOB EVER! Now, I find it is less about the technical aspect of photography (because really, it's pretty much just dealing with varying degrees of crappy lighting) and more about the connections I make with the skaters and their families and the memories that I am able to capture. It can be about celebrating the great moments and finding the positive in the not so great moments. Maybe I just like to have the ability to freeze time.

Q: What can you share about your own background in skating? Were you a skater yourself and how did you get started in the figure skating photography business?

A: I skated from age four to eighteen with very little success. I was in the STARSkate stream but rarely competed and never really got a consistent axel or double jumps, though I like to think that I may have landed a couple of double toes at some point. I basically skated for fun and exercise and the social aspect of it all. I ended up quitting because I had a weird freak fall at an ice show rehearsal when I was about sixteen and I ended up seriously injuring my tailbone, which caused (and still causes) me severe back pain. Naturally, since I wasn't really able to skate much, I transitioned into the photography side fairly easily. I have taken photos of skating since I was fourteen. I started out taking a photo of my friend's pair tryout for her Mom to put on Facebook and was immediately hooked. I used every opportunity that I could to get to the rink and practice taking photos, mostly Saturday night pairs sessions at the Kitchener/Waterloo Skating Club. I still try to get to the rink to watch and photograph when I have a free weekend. The Western Ontario Section sponsor photographer hired me when I was fourteen and I worked for him for about five years, which was when I decided that I was going to commit myself full time to building a business. Here I am, just chugging along and hoping for the best!



Q: What have been the most rewarding and in contrast frustrating parts of what you do?

A: Oh man. The most rewarding…. Easy. The people. All of the wonderful skaters and parents and people that I've met over the past few years have made this so, so worthwhile. It's not easy to spend fourteen plus hours a day standing rinkside with hardly any breaks but when I see people's reactions to my photos, the hard stuff becomes less hard. I've seen many a parent cry with pride over photos that I've taken of their child. The ability to give that gift to someone is incomparable. Also, on a purely selfish note, I always just feel so privileged to be able to capture the culmination of all the hard work and dedication skaters put into this sport. I am forever in awe of what skaters of all levels can do and I'll never get over how lucky I am to be trusted to capture that talent, work ethic and drive in a photo that lasts forever. The most frustrating part of what I do is trying to educate people on photo etiquette. By that, I mean trying to educate people that what I do and what other photographers do is a commodity and that, as hard as it may be to understand, taking my images for free is not okay. That's the most frustrating part because I never want to offend someone and call him or her out for taking a photo without paying for it, but at the same time I need to stand up for myself and say "Hey! This is how I make a living and the more photos you steal, the less I'm going to be able to afford to travel to competitions and photograph you in the future." It’s a bit of a struggle for me at the moment.

Q: You've obviously had chance to meet a who's who of Canadian figure skating through the work you do. What is the funniest experience you've had with a skater?

A: This is actually such a hard question! I can’t pinpoint a specific experience that has been the most hilarious. I have great moments all the time with skaters and I feel like to pick one out of the crowd would be belittling all the other funny moments I've had with other people.

Q: Where you are not only taking great pictures of skating but also in turn watching a hell of a lot of it, you've obviously got an opinion like me, Tom, Dick Button, Harry and everyone else. What direction do you think the sport needs to go in to ultimately get more bodies in those seats at competitions again?

A: I think that it comes down to the skaters being more accessible, but in a positive way. When I edit photos I watch a lot of YouTube so that I can stay focused on the task at hand. I suspect this is a product of the technology era I was born in, but it works for me! One of the YouTube channels I watch is the Broadway.com channel and they have top Broadway stars doing weekly vlogs to show the behind the scenes of their show and the theatre and the people they work with to make the shows so amazing. To me, this bring a whole new level of accessibility to the stars and people end up getting invested in their lives, which in turn can make them want to see the show which equals more bums in seats. In skating times past, the atmosphere between competitors was not always civil, which provided drama and intrigue for the casual watcher. Who doesn't know the Nancy and Tonya story? Now, the skaters are all friends for the most part, so that drama and excitement is mostly gone. This is where something like what Broadway.com is doing with their vlogs would be really cool. It would be up to the athlete to get the footage and then they can send it to someone somewhere to get it edited and uploaded once a week to give people something to get invested in. The only thing people are currently investing in is the expensive tickets to see the skaters that they hardly know anything about other than their skating stats and the tiny glimpses they get on Twitter and Facebook. I think social media is very powerful and has the power to draw in a younger, broader audience if used appropriately. I also think that if ticket prices were a little lower then they would sell more as well, but of course that's usually based on the venue cost.

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

A: My answer to this is always "the one I’m currently watching", which is completely true, but I do have a particular fondness for Tessa and Scott. There's something magical about them on the ice that I just can't explain. I'm also a big fan of Katia Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov in pairs, Patrick Chan in men as well as Sasha Cohen and Joannie Rochette in women. That's definitely more than three but I honestly can’t pick!

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

A: I am probably one of the most shy, introverted people you will ever meet and I get very anxious and nervous when talking to people, so if I ever say something really dumb when speaking to you it's because I'm mentally freaking out. Also, I was a choir nerd in high school and I am obsessed with musicals. My sister and I have seen "Anne Of Green Gables" in Charlottetown ten times. I have a secret dream of being in a production one day. I'm currently obsessed with the soundtracks from "Matilda: The Musical" and Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Cinderella".

Q: What are the biggest lessons that both figure skating and photography have taught you in life?

A: The biggest lessons I have learned… definitely the power of hard work, practice, patience and perseverance even when things aren't going your way.

Want to check out Danielle's work? Visit her website at http://www.danielleearlphotography.com. I think you'll be quite impressed!

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