Saturday, 30 November 2013

Interview With Margaret Purdy And Michael Marinaro


With teams like Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini, Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler and Jamie Sale and David Pelletier being household names to Canadians everywhere, pairs skating is really a discipline that skating fans have a lot of love for in this country. 2 of the 6 pairs teams qualifying for this year's Grand Prix Final in Fukuoka, Japan are Canadian and the future of pairs skating is as bright as the present. Margaret Purdy and Michael Marinaro are two of Canadian pairs skating's bright new lights. The reigning silver medallists at the Junior World Championships, Purdy and Marinaro are a team to watch this season when it comes to the podium at Canadian Nationals. They took the time from their busy training schedule to talk about their goals this season, their partnership, travels, competing against the world's best and much, much more in this wonderful interview:

Q: You've had so much success in your skating careers already and you're both just getting started. You've won the Canadian junior title, two Junior Grand Prix events (in the U.S. and Croatia) and last season won the silver medal at the Junior World Championships in Milan, Italy. What do you think the key to your success has been and what do you believe is going to be your biggest goal and challenge this season?

A from Margaret and Mike: We have been together for seven years now so we understand and know how each other perform under pressure. We get along really well and we both have the same goals with our sport and the same work ethic. Lots of hard work and dedication we would say is the key to our success. Our biggest goal this season would be to place top 3 at Nationals with two good skates. Our biggest challenge this season was going from the Junior level up to the Senior international level. There were lots of changes with the size of crowds, media and lots of top teams.



Q: Canada is a country that's just full of pairs skating legends - Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini, Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier and countless others. Who is your favourite Canadian pairs team and why?

A from Margaret and Mike: Jamie Sale and David Pelletier would be our favourite Canadian pairs team because they are who we watched growing up.

Q: Of all of the places you've traveled so far, what was your absolute favourite?

A from Margaret and Mike: Italy was our favourite place to travel to. We had the chance to stay an extra 10 days and it was beautiful and there was fantastic food!  We also won the silver medal, so that memory will always make Italy special to us.

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

A from Margaret: I started dancing at the age of 3 and danced competitively.

A from Mike: I could roller blade at 14 months old.


Q: Margaret, I find it fascinating that you started your career as a hockey player and then decided to make the switch. Where did this decision come from and do you ever regret your decision?

A from Margaret: I started playing hockey from the age of 4-8 years. I took power skating with Scott Rachuk (who is one of my figure skating coaches now) and he suggested I try figure skating. I gave it a try and I loved it, so I started figure skating at the age of 8 and have not regretted it once!

Q: Mike, prior to teaming up with Margaret, you were paired up with Lindsi Disper. How did you and Margaret come to team up and what's one thing you enjoy the most about skating with her?

A from Mike: Margaret and I were teamed up by our coaches Alison Purkiss and Scott Rachuk. We skated together for an annual ice show at our club and then we all decided to skate the next season together. The best thing about skating with Margaret is she is very organized and always keeps us on track.

Q: Describe your absolute PERFECT meal - appetizer, dinner and dessert!

A from Mike: Appetizers would be Calamari and bruschetta. Course #1 would be any kind of pasta. Course #2: Lamb, potatoes, and asparagus. Course #3: Salad, broccoli and rapini. Dessert would be Baklava!

A from Margaret: Appetizer would be soup. The would be any sort of fish or seafood, with vegetables and sweet potatoes. Dessert? Anything chocolate!

Q: What do you consider the most challenging element in pairs skating - lifts, throws, side by side jumps, twists... or something else? How have you worked to improve your consistency on it?

A from Margaret and Mike: We consider the twist to be the most difficult element because the rules on the twist change each year (footwork into it, the mans arm coming down, the catch etc.) You always have to be changing or working on the twist to match the rules as well as working on the consistency of the element.



Q: What has competing against top ranked senior teams in the world taught you?

A from Margaret and Mike: Competing against top ranked senior teams in the world have taught us a lot. We definitely watched the top teams at the events we went to and tried to learn as much as we could from watching them since they have been competing at the senior level for a while. We were definitely motivated from competing against them to see where we want to end up and get to in our career. It taught us to keep doing what we are doing and working hard and one day we could be that top team.

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

A from Margaret and Mike: What we love most about being out on the ice is the feeling of freedom and accomplishing something new each day. The feeling of being out there with somebody else is amazing and being able to share the achievements and even failures together as a team and becoming better each day and year.

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Thursday, 28 November 2013

Compulsory Dances: Their History, Origins And Demise



Ice dancing today barely resembles what it once did. Twizzles, elaborate lifts... these staples and cornerstones of ice dance programs today really don't speak to what the discipline was really about when it was first contested as an Olympic sport at the 1976 Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria. Many new fans of the sport are unaware of the impact, weight and learning tool that compulsory dances truly played on the sport of ice dancing as they were incorporated with the original dance into a short dance in time for the 2010/2011 competitive season. Even prior to that, their profile and weight - and the number of compulsory dances performed in competition - was slowly eroded by time and ISU rule changes.

Just as compulsory figures were to free skating, compulsory dances taught ice dancers fundamental and really important lessons in skating and ice dancing technique: depth and control of edges, understanding and interpreting beats, tempos rhythms and measures, posture, carriage, holds, unison... the meat and potatoes (or TVP and gluten free rice cakes) of ice dancing, "if you were". There was really nothing artistic about them, but they taught the skaters the skills they needed so that they could skate with wonderful technique and really showcase their presentation skills in a meaningful way in their original (set pattern) dances and free dances. Compulsory dances are how skaters START TO LEARN those lessons about edges. I was never an ice dancer but I remember in our training sessions ice time always being broken down with patch (later "skating skills"), free skating (including program runthroughs), ice dance and precision (synchro) or group number practice for our annual Ice Show. Dutch Waltzes, Canasta's, Fourteensteps... I could still hum those annoying tunes in my head. Annoying tunes or not, they have made and broke ice dance teams over the years and really separated the strong skaters from the weaker.


Keeping in mind that social ice dance was performed long before ice dancing was first contested at the World Championships in 1952 or the Olympics in 1976, it's no surprise that many compulsory dances have their origins in the pioneering days of competitive skating. The first set pattern or compulsory dance was performed in 1889 in Vienna, Austria and was named The Scholler March after its inventor Franz Scholler. It was later renamed the Ten Step and later on, the Swing Fourteenstep. It is a dance that is skated mainly in a closed position to 4/4, 2/4 or 6/8 march music at 112 beats per minute and a dance characterized by easy flow achieved by knee bend and straightening in time to the music and is still a dance that is skated today.

Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean performing the Westminster Waltz

The Fourteenstep isn't the only well known compulsory dance to have been based on the Viennese style of skating. The Viennese Waltz, long skated in international and Olympic level competition, was invented in 1934 by Eric van der Weyden and Eva Keats, who also invented the Foxtrot that was first performed at Westminster Ice Rink in London in 1933. van der Weyden and Keats were true pioneers in the development of compulsory dances, also creating the Rocker Foxtrot and Westminster Waltz, however they were not the only ice dancers to develop majestic compulsory dances in the sport's history.

In 1963, Courtney Jones and Peri V. Horne created both the Silver Samba and Starlight Waltz, complex dances that remain popular as well. Even some of the sport's most decorated champions have had a very real role in developing patterns that would quickly become developed into compulsory dances. 1976 Olympic Gold Medallists, the late Lyudmila Pakhomova and Aleksandr Gorshkov, worked with Elena Tchaikovskaia to present the Tango Romantica which would later be developed as a compulsory dance by the ISU. The same was true for 1992 Olympic Gold Medallists Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, whose 1987 Golden Waltz created with Natalia Dubova achieved the same fate. Perhaps most currently relevant example of a pattern created by a successful team and developed into a compulsory dance is the Finnstep, which was based on the footwork in World Silver Medallists Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko's 1995 "Borsalino" quickstep and developed into its own entity through the cooperation of Rahkamo, Kokko, German Champions Kati Winkler and Rene Lohse and Martin Skotnicky. This light, airy quickstep is a key component of the short dances you're seeing all of this season and will cheer on at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The original Finnstep: Rahkamo and Kokko's "Borsalino" original dance

Although the 53rd Ordinary Congress of the International Skating Union in Barcelona, Spain in 2010 marked the end of the compulsory dance era, it's beautiful to see that these dances have lived on in different incarnations. They're still important parts of the short dance. Many have been given different spins... they've inspired teams to go back and revisit traditional Tangos, to develop free dances based on Rhumbas and Paso Dobles of yesteryear and given them their own interpretation. They are still a part of skating, but in a way that perhaps audiences can relate to more. Although there was so much skaters and audiences alike could learn and glean from these dances, there was a certain monotony to watching the same thing over and over again. I swear to Jebus, you'd think you were watching IJS free skating! Whether you miss them or you're happy they're gone, one things for certain: ice dancing would never be what it is today without compulsory dances.

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

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Interview With Christina Gao


What kind of introduction do you give a skater with the kind of success story that balances an education at Harvard University with an elite skating career that has seen her finish in the top 5 at the last 4 consecutive U.S. Figure Skating Championships and travel to Korea, Belarus, The Netherlands, Japan, France and everywhere in between showing off her spectacular triple jumps, gorgeous edges and more stage presence that you can shake a skate guard at? I'm not sure how you'd do her justice, but you could start by introducing her as Christina Gao. Success has been slow, steady and spectacular for the Bostonian skater, who went from winning the U.S. junior bronze medal in 2009 to standing on the second tier of the Skate America podium four seasons later. With her eye firmly an Olympic dream which is very much within reach, Christina took the time to talk about her career, working with both Brian Orser and David Wilson, Gagnam Style, Janet Lynn, her new foray into music and much, much more:

Q: You've had so much success and consistency in your career. You've finished in the top five at the last four consecutive U.S. Nationals, won the silver medal at Skate America, competed at the Four Continents Championships, Junior Worlds and both the Junior and Senior Grand Prix Final... what have been your proudest moments on the ice?

A: My proudest moment on the ice was probably 2012 Skate America because that was the first competition I had after starting college. It was a tough transition but I feel like I showed myself how strong I was by being able to handle the stress of changing training locations, starting a full course load, and getting used to new coaches. I had a lot of people telling me I wouldn't be able to handle it all and that competition was definitely a highlight in that I feel I proved a lot of people wrong.


Q: This season, you won the bronze medal at the Ondrej Nepela Memorial and gave very strong efforts at both of your Grand Prix assignments, finishing 4th at Skate Canada and 8th at Trophee Eric Bompard. Looking towards Nationals and beyond, what are your biggest goals for the rest of your season and what do you think are the biggest improvements you've made this year?

A: I want to put out two strong programs at the U.S. Championships in January and see where that takes me. I have worked so hard on the choreography of my programs and I really want to put it all together with my jumps and spins and wow everyone with how different my skating is this season.

Q: You spent two seasons living in Toronto and being coached by 2 time Olympic Silver Medallist Brian Orser. What was working with Brian like? What did you most have in common and what was the biggest lesson you learned from him?

 A: I really enjoyed working with Brian and I cherished my time in Toronto. I learned how to be a consistent competitor and I feel I learned how to handle my nerves and skate on a bigger stage.


Q: You've had a long time working relationship with choreographer David Wilson. Looking back at the programs you worked on with him, what would you say your favourite is? How would you describe working with David?

A: I loved my "Yellow River Concerto" program because I thought that piece of music was beautiful and David's choreography was beautiful as well. Working with David was so much fun because he is so goofy and always makes me laugh.

Q: I certainly applaud your dedication to both skating and your education. Studying at Harvard University and competing on an elite level is nothing short of astonishing if you really step back and think about it. What would have been your second choice if you had to study something else?

A: I love Harvard and I believe I truly have the best of both worlds. I am so grateful for the opportunities I've been given and I just want to take full advantage and enjoy every moment. I haven't yet decided what I want to study at Harvard; I'll decide when I return! I love the city of Boston and there is nowhere else I would rather be!


Q: I loved your "Gangnam Style" exhibition program! What made you decide to go in this direction and how did this program come together?

 A: I wanted to do something fun and something I have never done before so I decided to pull together a program to "Gangnam Style"! It was a really popular song at the time, so I thought 'why not?!' I actually put it together in one night because I decided to do it right before the gala at Trophee Eric Bompard last year. I love the program and I have so much fun performing it every time!

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

A: I love Michelle Kwan because she is a legend. She was able to touch everyone when she skated and it was truly magical. Yuna Kim is amazing because I saw her train every single day leading up to her Olympic win. I saw her struggles and triumphs and it was a great learning experience. Janet Lynn. I love watching figure skating from a long time ago and I feel like it is truly classic. Figure skating has definitely evolved as a sport, but I love watching the timeless Janet Lynn hit beautiful lines and classic moves.

Q: If you could go anywhere in the world you haven't been yet, where would it be, who would you take with you and why?

A: I would love to go to a tropical island like Bora Bora. I would take my family for a little bit and then swap out and take my friends. I want to spend time with my family but then I want to have fun with my friends!



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

A: I have a lot of time on my hands at the moment because I am currently on a gap year to train for this season. To fill my time, I have been teaching myself how to play guitar. I love watching documentaries. I can wiggle my ears. And I have do the cup rhythm like in the movie Pitch Perfect.

Q: When you have bad days, either in training or competition, what do you tell yourself to get yourself motivated?

A: I remember how much my family has sacrificed for this sport and I take a step back and think about everything I am grateful for. Sometimes, it is easy to make my problems seem so big, but in the grand scheme of things, I am very lucky to have the opportunity to train every single day towards one of my biggest dreams. On the hardest days, I tell myself that I truly love to skate and that in the end, I will be glad to have pushed myself!

 But WAIT... there's more! If you call within the next 30 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... 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, it's 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: http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard. If you get 10 friends to like, I'll throw in a big hug. And if you get 100 friends, let's just as I'm "that kind of girl".. haha. You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The History Of The Canadian Professional Championships


I sincerely believe how important it is that the history of competitive professional figure skating be preserved, not only because it was a venue that allowed skaters to continue to gain exposure and finally earn some money for their skating after their eligible careers had ended, but because it allowed skaters the unique opportunity to create challenging, unique and entertaining programs (mostly) free of any of the constraints and strict regulations of eligible competition. In my previous three part piece on open professional competitions, I shared the story of the U.S. Open, Jaca World Professional Championships and the American Open Pro Championships. I also wrote a piece sharing the history of the Miko Masters professional competition in France. I wanted to start examining the histories of other professional events as well and to share the stories of some of the other major professional events that have offered some of the best skating the sport has ever seen and figured what better place to start than right at home here in Canada. In 1994, Dick Button's Candid Productions was one of a small circle of organizers that worked feverishly to create even more professional competitions for skaters than previously existed. After the Nancy/Tonya debacle and the Lillehammer Olympics, TV audiences (and networks) couldn't get enough figure skating and dozens of new events were created to satisfy the popularity of the sport with audiences at the time. The Canadian Professional Figure Skating Championships one of these new events organized by Candid Productions that started in 1994. From 1994 to 1997, it was held as a professional event but in 1998, the format was changed to a pro-am model that allowed both "amateur" and professional skaters to participate. Over the years, five different Canadian cities all played host to the event (Hamilton, Ottawa, Kitchener, Mississauga and Red Deer) and many of the world's best professional (and "amateur") skaters battled it out in the 2 part competition, which featured a technical and artistic program... and later an ISU short program and interpretive free skate. Let's take a walk down memory lane and relive a competition that produced some of the best skating the sport has seen.

The first year the Canadian Professional Championships was held was in 1994 and it was certainly a meeting of two generations of professional skaters. On one hand, you had veteran professional skaters like Robin Cousins, Scott Hamilton, Brian Orser and Rosalynn Sumners and on the other hand, you have skaters who have just turned professional like Kurt Browning, Yuka Sato, Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler and Mark Mitchell and on another hand, like some sort of messed up octopus, you had Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov and Elaine Zayak returning to the professional ranks after reinstating and competing as "amateurs" during the 1993/1994 season. The pairs event was a fierce competition between rivals Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov and Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler. The 2 time Olympic Gold Medallists proved they were worth their mettle and bested the popular Canadian pair, who stole the show with their "Patricia The Stripper" artistic program. Christine Hough and Doug Ladret finished third, ahead of 1984 Olympic Gold Medallists Elena Valova and Oleg Vasiliev. Valova and Vasiliev had recently divorced and were planning for this to be their final competition together. They did retire from competition, but appeared together to compete again in 1997, at the Legends Of Figure Skating Competition where they finished 2nd. In the ladies event, Josee Chouinard surprised everyone by turning in a very solid (and beautiful) artistic program to "Moon River" from Breakfast At Tiffany's and won the competition ahead of 1981 World Champion Denise Biellmann (who was virtually unbeatable that season), 1994 World Champion Yuka Sato, Liz Manley, Rosalynn Sumners and Elaine Zayak. The men's competition was won by Scott Hamilton, whose "Cuban Pete" artistic program was pretty much unbeatable. Mark Mitchell finished a very strong 2nd, showing his technical skills and elegance. In 3rd (surprisingly) was 4 time World Champion Kurt Browning. His first season as a pro, Kurt was still overcoming injury and finding his legs in a completely different world - he soon became unbeatable but the 1994/1995 season was not his best. Robin Cousins and Brian Orser followed in 4th and 5th that year.

The following year was a hugely competitive one. 1984 World Champions Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini made their first of three consecutive appearances in the pairs competition, taking the title with two solid performances and besting World Champions Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler (1993) and Radka Kovarikova and Rene Novotny (1995) and Canadian Champions Christine Hough and Doug Ladret in the process. In the men's event, Kurt Browning and Scott Hamilton again went to head. Much more confident in his skating as a professional, Kurt shone in his programs "That's Entertainment III" and "Brick House" and was able to overtake the 1984 Olympic Gold Medallist Hamilton who shone as well in his "Hair" program. 1985 World Champion Alexandr Fadeev finished 3rd ahead of Jozef Sabovcik, Mark Mitchell and Gary Beacom to round out the men's competition. Like Browning, 1994 World Champion Yuka Sato was also settling in nicely to her new role as a professional skater. She rebounded to overtake Liz Manley, who was brilliant in the technical program despite being sick as a dog that year. Denise Biellmann finished 3rd, ahead of Caryn Kadavy, Karen Preston and Rosalynn Sumners in the ladies event.

In 1996, the competition moved to Ottawa, the home of Parliament Hill, and two new champions were crowned. In the pairs event, Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler were again crowd favourites but finished 2nd for the third consecutive year, this time outranked by 1992 Olympic Silver Medallists Elena Bechke and Denis Petrov, whose classical style and technical prowess were rewarded by the panel of judges. Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini finished 3rd, while U.S. Champions Calla Urbanski and Rocky Marval found themselves in 4th. In the ladies event, U.S. Open Champion Caryn Kadavy found herself in the lead with two solid performances to "Toccata and Fugue" by Vanessa Mae and Celine Dion's "It's All Coming Back To Me Now". Again rounding out the top three were consummate professionals Denise Biellmann and Liz Manley, solid as always. Returning to the professional ranks after a disappointing comeback attempt the previous season that saw her miss the Canadian World team, Josée Chouinard finished 4th ahead of World Champion Rosalynn Sumners and Canadian Champion Karen Preston. Kurt Browning was the only repeat champion, this time stunning with his new "Serenade To Sonia" and "Summertime" programs and handily winning against Jozef Sabovcik, Gary Beacom and 2 time Olympic Silver Medallist Brian Orser.

The 1997 Canadian Professional Championships again switched venues and cities, this time moving to Kitchener. Josée Chouinard delivered two delightful and tongue-in-cheek programs to "Downtown" by Petula Clark and comedian Meryn Cadell's "The Sweater" and asserted her dominance in the ladies field, beating 2 previous champions (Caryn Kadavy and Yuka Sato) and perennial competitors Rosalynn Sumners and Liz Manley, who was suffering from an injury that year. Speaking of injury, Jozef Sabovcik had to withdraw from the men's event after the technical program, again leaving 4 men to contest for the title. They were all on their "A Game" though, Kurt Browning winning his third consecutive Canadian pro title despite OUTSTANDING performances from Brian Orser, Rudy Galindo and Gary Beacom. After three back to back second place finishes, Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler finally took home the crown, finishing ahead of World Champions Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini and Radka Kovarikova and Rene Novotny. This would prove to be Underhill and Martini's final competition.

The event may have stayed at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Complex the following year but everything really did change. The advent in popularity of pro-am/open competitions struck the 1997/1998 professional circuit hard. Even the World Professional Championships that year weren't strictly professional. While the upside was that "amateur" skaters got to earn some much needed funds to offset their training costs, the popularity of pro-am/open events caused a host of other problems: the overall entertainment level of the programs went down, the events became jumping contests, the professionals got mad and the ISU got mad too, because eventually skaters started bowing out of Grand Prix events in favor of pro-am competitions. Who could blame them? They got the glory and the money at a much more reasonable cost. It didn't take a 5-7 triple free skate to win at a pro-am competition, it took a 3-4 triple interpretive free skate. The Canadian Professional Championships became the Canadian Open, and was one of the few pro-am events to survive for any real length of time in an era where professional and pro-am competitions were starting to drop like flies (or a few people's pants I know after a few Smirnoff Ice)... Ice dance made its debut at the event, with the newly formed 'superteam' of Maya Usova and Evgeny Platov beating Canadian Champions Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz on home ice. With the withdrawal of Angelika Krylova and Oleg Ovsiannikov, Italians Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio were third. In the pairs event, it was 1997 World Champions Mandy Wötzel and Ingo Steuer who won the title with their "Out Of Africa" and "Mandy" programs, fending off challenges from Sargeant and Wirtz, Shishkova and Naumov and the newly formed pair of Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman. A diverse field of both "amateur" and pro stars were on hand in the men's competition... Brian Orser, Eric Millot, Michael Weiss, Steven Cousins, Jeffrey Langdon... but Kurt Browning again beat them all, winning his fourth consecutive title at the event and debuting his wildly successful "Rag/Gidon/Time" clown program. The showmanship of 1995 U.S. Champion Nicole Bobek was rewarded in the ladies event when she took home "the crown" ahead of last year's champion Josée Chouinard and Karen Preston, who saw her best showing in this event when she finished third with a fabulous program to Erykah Badu's "Certainly". Tonia Kwiatkowski and Elizabeth Manley finished 4th and 5th, respectively.

You might wonder exactly how pro-am/open events under the auspices of the ISU and Candid Productions were judged. Here's a primer, circa 1998:

"Part 1 - 1st Interpretive Free Skating Program ("Technical Program")
The 1st Interpretive Free Skating Program ("Technical Program") consists of a variety of skating moves and elements selected for their technical difficulty, as well as their value in enhancing the skaters' interpretation of the music and artistry. Credit for all elements - jumps, spins, and footwork elements are based on their quality and difficulty, and choreographic and musical effectiveness. The program should be an integrated exploration of the chosen music, not merely a collection of pleasing or spectacular moves assembled to entertain an audience, with emphasis still being placed on skating skills. There are no restrictions on jumps with three or more rotations or on the number of jump sequences and jump combinations for the 1st Interpretive Free Skating Program. The Judges will be instructed to give important consideration to the quality and difficulty of the elements (jumps & spins) in the 1st Interpretive Free Skating Program.

Part 2 - 2nd Interpretive Free Skating Program ("Artistic Program")
The 2nd Interpretive Free Skating Program ("Artistic Program") consists of a variety of skating moves and elements selected for their value in enhancing the skaters' interpretation of the music and artistry as well as for their technical difficulty. Credit for all elements - jumps, spins, and footwork elements are based on their choreographic and musical effectiveness, quality and difficulty. The program should be an integrated exploration of the chosen music, not merely a collection of pleasing or spectacular moves assembled to entertain an audience, with emphasis still being placed on skating skills. The maximum number of jumps with three or more rotations, including those executed in a sequence or combination is as follows: Ladies: three different jumps with 3 or more rotations. Men: four different jumps with 3 or more rotations. No restriction on spins.

Marking of the 1st Interpretive Free Skating Program ("Technical Program")
Credit for all elements - jumps, spins, and footwork are based on their quality and difficulty, and choreographic and musical effectiveness. The program should be an integrated exploration of the chosen music, not merely a collection of pleasing or spectacular moves assembled to entertain an audience, with emphasis still being placed on skating skills.

    1.    The first mark is for the skating techniques, the second is for presentation.
    2.    In marking the skating techniques of the program, these aspects must be considered:
    a)    quality and difficulty of elements;
    b)    the ease, flow, glide, sureness, power and depth of the edges;
    c)    ability to vary the speed and direction of the skating;
    d)    variety of expressive and innovative moves;
    e)    the succession of movement within the program;
    f)    utilization of space and ice coverage;
    g)    style;

    3.    In marking the presentation of the program, the following aspects must be considered:
    a)    interpretation of the music and rhythm;
    b)    musical timing and understanding of the phrasing of the music;
    c)    use of entire body to develop the artistic and music expression;
    d)    creativity;
    e)    choreography - art of arranging movements;
    f)    variation in tempo, tension, emotion, movements;
    g)    suitability of music to the skater;
    h)    internal motivation of movements and expression projected to the audience.

Marking of the 2nd Interpretive Free Skating Program ("Artistic Program")
Credit for all elements - jumps, spins, and footwork are based on their choreographic and musical effectiveness, quality and difficulty. The program should be an integrated exploration of the chosen music, not merely a collection of pleasing or spectacular moves assembled to entertain an audience, with emphasis still being placed on skating skills.

    1.    The first mark is for the skating techniques, the second is for presentation.
    2.    In marking the skating techniques of the program, these aspects must be considered:
    a)    the ease, flow, glide, sureness, power and depth of the edges;
    b)    ability to vary the speed and direction of the skating;
    c)    variety of expressive and innovative moves;
    d)    the succession of movement within the program;
    e)    utilization of space and ice coverage;
    f)    style;
    g)    quality and difficulty of elements;

    3.    In marking the presentation of the program, the following aspects must be considered:
    a)    interpretation of the music and rhythm;
    b)    musical timing and understanding of the phrasing of the music;
    c)    use of entire body to develop the artistic and music expression;
    d)    creativity;
    e)    choreography - art of arranging movements;
    f)    variation in tempo, tension, emotion, movements;
    g)    suitability of music to the skater;
    h)    internal motivation of movements and expression projected to the audience."

Now that you've had your judging lesson, let's return to our history books and the 1999 Sears Canadian Open competition, this time held in Mississauga. This year's event was truly a Canadian affair, with only 8 of the 18 skaters or teams participating NOT hailing from Canada. After losing last year to Nicole Bobek, Josée Chouinard was back and meant business. Like a fine wine, Josée's skating really got better with age and so did her consistency later in her pro career as she shook off the nerves that plagued her chronically throughout her "amateur" career. She won her second title at this event ahead of Jennifer Robinson, the skater that beat her when she attempted her comeback to ISU competition during the 1995/1996 season, as well as Angela Nikodinov, Karen Preston (appearing in her final Canadian Pro/Open competition after not missing a single year since 1995), Surya Bonaly, Liz Manley and Hungary's Diana Poth. In the ice dance competition, Bourne and Kraatz also came back from a second place finish at this event the previous year to take the title with their "Hotel California" program, ahead of last year's champs Usova and Platov and Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe. Among the pairs competing, soon to be Olympic Champions Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze were the winners ahead of Sargeant and Wirtz and Americans Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, now professionals. Despite facing the ultimate competition from a trio of Canadian skating legends (Kurt Browning, Brian Orser and Elvis Stojko), Todd Eldredge did the near impossible, he dethroned the four time defending champion of this event on home turf and toe-looped his way to the top of the leaderboard at this event with a very strong program to "The 13th Warrior".

In 2000, the competition returned to where it all began - Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario and one of the most stunning upsets in pro-am competition ever arguably took place. In the ladies competition, the unthinkable happened when Canadian Champion Josée Chouinard went head to head with skating legend Michelle Kwan and won the war! In winning this competition, Josée didn't only beat Michelle, but also outskated 2002 Olympic Gold Medallist Sarah Hughes, Canadian Champion Jennifer Robinson, World Champion Lu Chen and European Champion Surya Bonaly. To say that was quite the field is really an understatement if there ever was one. Two years before an Olympic gold medal would be his, Alexei Yagudin also did the same, defeating 4 time Canadian Professional Champion and 4 time World Champion Kurt Browning on Kurt's own turf. On his way to the top of the results board, he also outskated Kurt Browning, Brian Orser, Emanuel Sandhu and Steven Cousins with his "Gladiator" interpretive free skate. In the pairs competition, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier finished first ahead of Kristy and Kris Wirtz. John Zimmerman and Kyoko Ina went up against Kyoko's former partner Jason Dungjen, who was now skating pairs with 1994 World Champion Yuka Sato, and Ina and Zimmerman were the team to come out on top. Having been contested the last two years at the Canadian Open, the ice dance competition was removed from the roster at the event this year.

Ottawa once again played host to the popular competition in 2001, and Josée Chouinard was once again the ladies champion! This time taking the title at the expense of Jennifer Robinson, Nicole Bobek, Viktoria Volchkova, Lu Chen and Nicole Watt, Chouinard was outstanding in her programs "Harlem Nocturne" and "Avec Le Temps". This would be her final appearance at the event, but if you consider her inconsistency during her "amateur" career, her successes at this event were really nothing short of extraordinary - a testament to just how phenomenal a skater she was when she was on. In the pairs event, Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman claimed the title ahead of Kristy and Kris Wirtz and 1998 Olympic Gold Medallists Oksana Kazakova and Artur Dmitriev. The real story in 2001 was in the men's event and in Brian Orser's memorable program to John Barry's "Somewhere In Time". Harkening back to a different time in the sport, Orser's program was peppered with compulsory figures, difficult jumps, deep edges and fused through great storytelling and emotion. The true tour de force of a program was rewarded with a win ahead of Emanuel Sandhu, Kurt Browning, Elvis Stojko, Todd Eldredge and Steven Cousins. The magnitude of that success was truly remarkable, considering Orser had turned professional thirteen years previous!

The last year the Canadian Professional Championships (now the Canadian Open) was held was in 2002. Red Deer, Alberta played host to the final competition. With many of the familiar faces from the competition's 8 previous competitions not in attendance, there was certainly a sense of a "changing guard" but a lot of truly fantastic standing going on as well. The pairs competition was won by Sale and Pelletier, fresh off 'shared gold' at the Olympics. Their opposition came from Sato and Dungjen and Jacinthe Larivière and Lenny Faustino. In the men's competition, another Salt Lake City Gold Medallist took top honors. Alexei Yagudin finished first this year, ahead of rivals Todd Eldredge, Jeffrey Buttle and Takeshi Honda. Sasha Cohen was the competition's final ladies champion with masterful performances set to "Malaguena" and "Romeo And Juliet". Jennifer Robinson, Viktoria Volchkova, Angela Nikodinov and Jennifer Kirk were her competition at this event. 

Although the days of professional and pro-am competitions may all seem like a distant memory, reading this article and remembering these competitions, skaters and performances is a distinct reminder why competitions like these were not only unique and entertaining but valuable in developing the quality of the performances that the sport could use more than ever. We owe sincere thanks to Candid Productions and Dick Button - as well as other competition organizers like the PSA and Michael Burg - for making events like these come to life and giving us the gift of fabulous skating. We shouldn't merely settle for CoP programs and shows because that's what's on the menu. Venues for competitive artistic and professional skating - for creative and entertaining skating - are something that may well return. How? We need to talk about it. We need to tell promoters and event organizers that this is the niche that the sport needs right now. Why? Because it's the truth sweetheart. Sorry bout it.

But WAIT... there's more! If you call within the next 30 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... 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, it's 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: http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard. If you get 10 friends to like, I'll throw in a big hug. And if you get 100 friends, let's just as I'm "that kind of girl".. haha. You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Interview With Daisuke Murakami


Usually when skaters transition from competing for one country to another, they do it to gain some sort of advantage. Daisuke Murakami is one skater who really did quite the opposite. The depth in Japanese skating (particularly among the men) is unreal right now and he is one of about 5 or 6 skaters all fiercely competing for a chance to represent their country at this year's Four Continents Championships, Winter Olympics and World Championships. Starting his skating career in the U.S. after his family moved there in 2000, Murakami competed internationally as an American at the World Junior Championships and on the Junior Grand Prix. He has since made 4 trips to the Japanese Nationals and represented Japan on the Senior Grand Prix and at several other international events. After an injury forced him to end his season quite early last year, Murakami is already off to a dazzling start this year, winning both his Regionals and Sectionals in Japan and ensuring him another trip to Nationals this season where he hopes to best the rest. Daisuke, a student of iconic coach Frank Carroll, took the time to talk at length about his competitive career, training regimen, comeback from injury and much more:

Q: You started your career competing for the U.S. and even represented America at the 2006 World Junior Championships in Ljubljana, Slovenia. After missing the U.S. team for the 2007 event, you were released to compete for Japan. What sparked the decision to change countries and why do you feel it has been the best decision for you and your career?

A: The U.S. Federation gave me a great opportunity to compete for the U.S. which I am thankful for to start off my skating career on the international circuit. The reason I made the decision to switch to represent Japan is because I was born and raised there and I felt it was the only way I would feel at home. I am humble to skate for my country. I would say the biggest influence that helped me make this decision would be Kyoko Asada. My parents were very close with Kyoko and they helped me find the answer I needed. 

Q: You've had some wonderful success internationally, winning international events like the Ondrej Nepela Memorial and Merano Cup and having some strong results in senior Grand Prix events as well. How do you deal with the pressure of competition and keep your nerves in check?

A: The team I work with would be the biggest factor of being mentally prepared. Before, I would train for myself without the right guidance I needed as I prepared for competitions during the season. Now, I feel trained before competitions which helps my nerves to be more at ease. 


Q: What do you feel is your biggest strength as a skater? Your biggest weakness?

A: My biggest strength would be pushing my work ethic on the ice everyday and not missing a day of training that would be wasted. My weakest point is putting pressure on myself and trying to stay consistent throughout the whole season which is still a learning experience for me. 

Q: Frank Carroll, Lori Nichol, Nikolai Morozov... you have worked with some of the sport's living legends. What has each of these talented coaches and choreographers brought to your skating from a development standpoint?

A: I have had many opportunities to train under coaches who have helped me in every way. Nikolai Morozov was the first to put me on the senior circuit internationally and he provided the most intense training regiment - not only jumps but steps and spins that I was never able to do as a Junior. He helped me utilize my whole body to skate more freely with my arms and legs which I was never able to do. Lori Nichol was recommended by Frank Carroll. I have always praised her for her work. I understand now why she is the best at what she does with her creativity, work and her understanding of the new judging system that sets her apart for her skaters. Her programs that she's created led me to some of my first international wins. I am on my third season working with Mr. Carroll and he has the greatest input on the way I should be training. He has helped me realize that I need to be running programs every single day from start to finish and won't tolerate stopping no matter what you are doing in a runthrough practice which also has helped my mental mind to become stronger. Along with Mr. Carroll, I split my training time with Angela Nikodinov as she currently travels with me to my competitions. We have the best connection and understand each other very well. She strives for the best, to get the best out of her skaters. 


Q: What is your favourite food and your favourite jump?

A: My Favorite food would be Korean BBQ. It's the one thing my teammates and I look forward to after every competition, especially in Japan. My favorite jump would be the triple axel because of the time and effort I spent to get it consistent to where it is today. 

Q: You're fresh off wins at both the Tokyo Regionals and Western Sectionals in Japan and have qualified with ease for this year's Nationals, which must be particularly sweet after coming off a shoulder injury last season. What are your ultimate goals for this season and what do you think it will take to beat skaters like Daisuke Takahashi, Nobunari Oda, Tatsuki Machida, Yuzuru Hanyu, Takahiko Kozuka and Takahito Mura?

A: I was written off after my withdrawal from NHK and Japanese Nationals last year. My mindset this year was to strengthen and condition my body and start from the ground up starting with Regionals. Because I was held back physically compared to my competitors in Japan, I plan to take every competition this year and build within every competition and give my best performance at Japanese Nationals. 



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

A: Only 3?! Evgeni Plushenko, because I started skating watching him compete and trying to learn his perfected jump techniques. Daisuke Takahashi, because of his artistry. What he brings to figure skating every year is phenomenal. Michelle Kwan, because she was the first elite skater I got an opportunity to train with and her dedication she gave to this sport is beyond words. 

Q: You've traveled the world and the seven seas. What's one place in the world you'd most like to visit that you haven't yet?

A: Thailand. My very close friend is born and raised there and I have always heard from the family that it is the one place I should vacation one day. I would love to ride some elephants and experience the Thai culture. 


Q: Men's skating has really been so much about the quad in the last 10-20 years, now moreso than ever. Do you think there should be a limit to the number of quad and triple jumps skaters include in their programs or is the TES score being evaluated in the right way right now?

A: I'm just glad we as skaters are credited for a quad attempt. 

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

A: I have finished university with a degree in business. Also, I have a pug puppy named Benji. He's turning 1 next week. 

Q: What's the most heartwarming thing a fan has ever done for you or said to you?

A: I have numerous fans that follow me to every competition and that is the biggest gift - to experience all my competitions along with them. I thank them.

But WAIT... there's more! If you call within the next 30 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... 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, it's 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: http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard. If you get 10 friends to like, I'll throw in a big hug. And if you get 100 friends, let's just as I'm "that kind of girl".. haha. You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Los Angeles Ice Theater's Professional Ensemble


In 2001, Danelle Cole and assistant Jennifer Brenson established the Los Angeles Ice Theater. The Ice Theater is a non-profit organization established to provide theatre on ice opportunities and exposure to young skaters and artists, bringing together the worlds of dance, music and theater in the process. The group's hard work and dedication has paid off in dividends - they've won the U.S. National Ice Theatre title five times and in 2011, their team finished 2nd on a World level. The group is based in Burbank, California and is associated with the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club and is representative of Theatre On Ice, a new development in ISU eligible skating that combines ice dancing, synchronized skating (precision), jumps, spins and storytelling in one package. Theatre On Ice was officially sanctioned as a competitive discipline by U.S. Figure Skating and is slowly attracting some of the sport's most creative young skaters and future choreographers. "Our skaters have experienced so many wonderful memories and opportunities," explained Cole. "There has to be a place where all figure skaters can feel they've accomplished their dreams in skating. Theatre On Ice is open to all levels and they can compete at a National competition and qualify for a World title. We can save this sport and bring back the beautiful artistry ice skating embodies." Most recently, the Ice Theater performed with Brown Lindiwe Mkhize, who plays Rafiki in the Broadway Lion King. "The first day she was singing live with the girls," explained Cole. The collaboration was featured in the Times Daily and her senior team has also filmed a Hallmark family special for Home And Family.


With the popularity and success of the competitive group's efforts has come a greater depth to the scope of what the Los Angeles Ice Theater is offering. In January, the group will be auditioning for its first Professional Ensemble group. With the Ice Theatre Of New York, Ice-Semble, American Ice Theatre and other groups offering quality development and performance opportunities to skaters in other areas, I think it's just wonderful to more growth and development of artistic/professional/performance based skating opportunities on the West Coast. I only wish that more of these opportunities would spring up NORTH of the border and allow some of the really talented, artistic skaters here in Canada more opportunities to grow and develop as artists in their OWN stead.


"This holiday season, so far I have BeBe Liang, Yebin Mok and Ellie Kawamura doing exhibition ensembles," explained Cole. She hopes to have a better idea of the progress of this group's development next month and will be working with Braden Overett to get it off the ground. If you're a professional skater or know one who would be interested in getting involved or auditioning for this new performance group, you can email Danelle at losangelesicetheater@gmail.com for more information! The more wonderful artistic and professional skating the sport sees happen right now the better. Get involved!

But WAIT... there's more! If you call within the next 30 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... 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, it's 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: http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard. If you get 10 friends to like, I'll throw in a big hug. And if you get 100 friends, let's just as I'm "that kind of girl".. haha. You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Interview With Andrew Dodds


Michelle and Karen Kwan, Mao and Mai Asada, Kristy and Lisa Sargeant and so many others... the sport is quite often a family affair, with siblings at times pitted against each other in competition. Andrew Dodds is not only one of Australia's top senior men's skaters, but part of one of the biggest skating families out there. He competes against his brothers Jordan and Matthew on the senior level in Australia and his brother Ryan competes as a junior men's skater. A representative of the Boondall Figure Skating Club, Dodds trains in Brisbane and at age 22 is a rising young star not only in Australia but internationally as well. Andrew took time to discuss his relationship with his brothers, his goals and improvements, the impact of the Merinda crash on the Australian skating community and much more:

Q: What is your relationship like with your brothers and do you have any sibling rivalry going on?  

A: My brothers and I have good relationship with each other and get along very well at home and at the ice rink. In skating, we have always competed against each other from the very beginning so it isn't a big issue for us. Of course, we still all want to beat each other in competition but I wouldn't really call it a rivalry. Each of us trains at different times based around university and work schedules so we aren't always at the rink together. Although, I prefer training at the same time as my brothers because there aren't many other skaters at the same rink at our age and level so it is good to work and push each other to be better. Plus it is always good to have others around to have a laugh and keep training fun.

Q: Last year you placed just off the podium at the Australian National Championships. What are your long term goals in skating and what do you think it will take to make it to the top of the podium? 

A: Last year's Nationals was disappointing for me. Training had been going extremely well leading into the competition but in practice the day before my event, the sole and heel of my boot split off. I ended up skating with my boots held together with duct tape. I had a bit of trouble with that. My 2 long term goals for my skating are to become Australian Senior Men's Champion and to achieve the Worlds minimum TES scores.  I think it would take a lot to make it to the top of the podium at the moment but a lot can happen at Australian Nationals and we are often surprised by some of the results each year.



Q: You've had some international experience, competing in events like the Cup Of Nice, Golden Spin Of Zagreb, Crystal Skate and the Volvo Cup in Latvia. What has been the most interesting experience you've had travelling and what is one country you'd most love to compete in? 

A: The most interesting and fun experiences I have had while travelling is tasting the different foods from around the world. I like putting myself out of my comfort zone and trying different foods that I usually wouldn't get the chance to eat at home. My favourites have been frog's legs and escargot in France. I couldn't bring myself to try the turkey balls served at the hotel in Romania while competing at Crystal Skate. The country I would most like to go and compete in would be Japan. Although I have already competed in Japan at a Junior Grand Prix, I would love to go back and explore the country more. I learned Japanese at school for 6-7 years and haven’t had a chance to use the language in a long time.



Q: The Australian National Championships are coming up, what are your goals for this season and what can you share about your new programs for this year?  

A: I have a few different goals this season. I am happy to say I have already achieved my first goal at the 2013 Cup of Nice just a few weeks ago, which was to gain my Four Continents and Olympic TES scores. Some of my other goals of the season are to skate a new personal best in both programs at Nationals and make the 2014 Australian Four Continents team. For my programs this year I am skating to "Pagliacci" and "Nessun Dorma".


Q: What is your favourite movie of all time? 

A: My favourite movie of all time is a nerdy one but it would have to be The Dark Knight.

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

A: After a string of disappointing performances towards the end of last season I needed time off so I could learn to enjoy skating again. Therefore, I spent 2 months off the ice to rest and recover. Starting again with a fresh mind really helped my motivation and I have worked hard on improving my quality and consistency with jumps in programs.

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

A: I look up to and admire a lot of different skaters. I really love to watch Akiko Suzuki for her sophistication and artistry; she is a real joy to watch. I admire Rachael Flatt for the amount she has achieved in skating (Winning Junior Worlds, 5th at Senior Worlds, becoming U.S. National Champion and making the Olympic team) while graduating high school with top grades and being accepted into the college she wanted. She really is a great role model for all young skaters. 2 of my all time favourites would have to be Yuna Kim and Alexei Yagudin as they both have the total package as figure skaters with strong jumps, spins and presentation/artistry. But... my all time favourite has to be Midori Ito for the joy she showed when skating plus the strength, speed and power she had when jumping is no joke. My favourite Australian figure skater is most definitely Cheltzie Lee. I have known Cheltzie for a long time and although we live in different cities she is one of my best and closest friends. I am really proud of everything she achieved during her skating career, placing 20th at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics after only being named to the Australian Olympic team 1 week before the games began. Off the ice she is also a high achiever studying Special Education at university and has recently been inducted to the Honor Society at her University. She is a kind-hearted and determined girl that will achieve anything she puts her mind to. I am truly grateful to call her my friend.

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

A: The accident left a huge impact on the Australian figure skating community as we are such a small group. The Morgan Innes Foundation was established to honor the lives of seven people drawn together by their love of figure skating. While four people died tragically, three remained seriously injured in the collision between a boat and ferry on the Sydney Harbor. The foundation celebrates the lives of these passionate people by raising funds to help young ice skaters pursue their ice skating dreams and provides opportunities for disadvantaged youth to experience the fun that brings all skaters to the ice each day. I am very fortunate and proud to have been the recipient of the scholarship in 2008 as I was friends with Morgan. Using the scholarship I was able to travel to Colorado Springs, USA to train with Kathy Casey, Christy Krall and other coaching/teaching at the Broadmoor. If it wasn't for the scholarship, I would not most definitely not be where I am today in skating.


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

A: One thing most people don’t know about me is that growing up I was very accident prone. I have broken my front teeth 5 times and also broke both my arms at the same time. Funny enough, none of my accidents have happened while skating but do involve the playing of my clarinet.


Q: When you're not on the ice, how would you spend "the perfect day"? 

A: Any day I get to stay home sleeping in is a perfect day, although I wouldn't mind spending the rest of the day at the beach, watching a movie and having a nice seafood dinner with family and friends.

But WAIT... there's more! If you call within the next 30 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... 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, it's 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: http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard. If you get 10 friends to like, I'll throw in a big hug. And if you get 100 friends, let's just as I'm "that kind of girl".. haha. You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Skating In The Year 2113


In Yusupovsky Garden in St. Petersburg, Russia, the 1903 World Championships were held and Sweden's Ulrich Salchow was crowned the victor. At the time, it was probably even impossible to imagine a time that female skaters competed at the Olympics, let alone no compulsory figures, soaring triple axels and a judging system that required footwork sequences that looked like you were being chased through a Pacman maze in a windstorm. With that said, how can we with any real certainty say where the sport will be in 100 years? We can't but we can certainly speculate. How do I see it all playing out? Anything is possible...

In memory of his grandfather, Evan Lysacek III would be busy publicizing and planning his big comeback in time for the 2114 Winter Olympics in Quarterpounderville, McAmerica, the new capital city of what was once the United States after it was sold to the McDonald's corporation in the year 2024 by 78 year old re-elected president George W. Bush, who said it was what Jesus wanted and "the terrorists" didn't like McChicken sauce so it was a good way to scare them off. Time was ticking for Lysacek III, who needed to compete before the 2114 U.S. National Championships. Having missed all other opportunities and only having 2 days and 3 hours left, he was apparently feverishly busy planning the Evan Lysacek III Invitational and inviting media for photo shoots. He had an Olympic title to defend!


The disembodied heads in jars (a la Futurama) of Dick Button and Peggy Fleming would be skating's biggest and most beloved supporters, commentating the sport on SkyVision, a holographic TV station that you saw right up in the sky, which you're supposed to call the McSky, on account of the McDonald's takeover. Dick was a big fan of SkyVision. It's "first rate... first rate...", he enthusiastically exclaimed.


After they finally got rid of the failing IJS system in 2014 when Patrick Chan achieved an unprecedented personal best score of 9675.34 for his marred routine at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, a new judging system was redeveloped based on the 6.0 system. Skaters were given marks for Technical Merit, Presentation and Spandex Realness, the latter established after drag legend RuPaul was brought in as a consultant by the new ISU, who finally accepted that any sport full of spandex costumes and plunging necklines needed to be marketed as what it was: a whole lot of fabulous. In addition to a short program and free skate, skaters were being judged not only on their ability to perform difficult jumps, spins and challenging footwork and interpret music but also on how well they worked the ice in show stopping costumes and hair jacked up to Jebus. At the end of every competition, skaters and audience joined hands for a "if you can't love yourself, how the hell are you going to love anyone else? Can I get an Amen?" Ottavio Cinquanta and Didier Gailhaguet, who were set adrift into the Atlantic Ocean on a floating door by an angry mob of judges,  ice dancers and B list choreographers, reportedly weren't amused. Didier reportedly kept yelling something incoherently about not letting Ru attend either Skate America OR the Rostelecom Cup... just like that Brian Joubert one and his little dog too. People just stopped listening at this point.

Required elements for the singles and pairs short programs and short dance were finally updated in 2056. Men were now required to do a quintuple jump out of steps, a quad Axel and a quad/quad combination jump. Ladies were required to do footwork into a triple Sketchy Boo Boo (whatever the bejesus they could stand up on), a triple/triple combination and a triple Maoxel... a lot like a regular axel only you could land whenever and however you wanted. After the disembodied head of Dick Button had outlawed all other spins in favor of the layback, men and ladies all performed 5 layback spins in their short programs at his specific request. "If that doesn't put a fanizzle in their shanizzle nothing else will!" cheered Button's disembodied head!


Pairs short programs now include side-by-side quad jumps, a throw quad Sketchy Boo Boo, a split quad lateral twist and an overhead lift where the male partner moonwalked and the female did the choreography from Lady Gaga's new hit single "Something Something... Monsters". An interesting fun fact: this lift was invented by the pairs team of Weir and Weir, Johnny Weir having cloned himself so he could make a glorious return as a pairs skater after his Johnny Weir Lady Gaga Extravaganza show in Las Vegas came to an end. In the short dances, they had to do as many twizzle sequences as they could before the music stopped... you know, kind of like musical chairs or a cake walk but with more twizzles. After all, they needed a way to distinguish who was best in ice dance. Right?

Leading up to the Olympics in Quarterpounderville, all eyes were on McAmerica's biggest stars on the Grand Prix circuit... Sheryl Davis, Harley White, Lacey Gold, Jason Purple... all descendants of past champions of the sport a mere hundred years previous. A lot of respect was given to 133 year old Qing Pang and her 134 year old partner Jian Tong, STILL competing in hopes of an Olympic gold medal in the pairs discipline. No one had such a long competitive career in the sport since Evgeni Plushenko was forced to reluctantly retire in 2060. In the world of choreography, no one was hotter than the disembodied head of Tatiana Tarasova. They wrapped the jar in a giant fur coat and you just put a little vodka in there every so often to take the edge off. Her prize pupils Lutzinskaya and Flyingcamelov's "Carmen" free dance was coming along really nicely in time for the Games in 2114. In Moscow, you'd hear this beaming voice coming from the rinkside fur-wrapped jar: "MORE FLAILING ARMS! TATIANA VANT VODKA! LOOK ANGRY LIKE PASHA... DA... DA!" Only 15 other teams had picked "Carmen" as their free dance music at these Games, but she had nothing to worry about. This "Carmen" was DIFFERENT.


In addition to the fact that there was no more oil or natural gas, fresh untreated water or real food, precious metals were in short supply. Instead of gold, silver and bronze medals, winners at the Olympics were given a lifetime supply of Chicken McNuggets, because nuggets had something to do with gold and all of the Coca Cola they could drink, Coca Cola being the owner of the Olympics and many other countries than McAmerica at this time. It could have been worse. It could have been that Dr. Pepper. Ain't nobody got time for that. One thing for was for certain: with a judging panel that consisted of robots, the disembodied head in a jar of Al Gore and the hologram of Marie-Reine Le Baguette, anything was possible.

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

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Interview With Jason Brown



Every so often a skater comes up the ranks that just makes everyone stop what they are doing and just watch. They've got that indescribable quality: that effortless glide... that something special. They're a skater's skater... Jason Brown is just that kind of skater. After winning the bronze medal in 2009 on the Novice level at U.S. Nationals, Brown won the U.S. Junior title and went on to compete at the World Junior Championships the following year, where he finished seventh. He conquered his nemesis, the triple axel and went on to medal at the World Junior Championships the consequent two years. His season this year is already off to a roaring start, with a silver medal at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany and a 5th place finish at Skate America, where he finished second in the short program ahead of World Champion Daisuke Takahashi, U.S. Champion Max Aaron and Four Continents Champion Adam Rippon. With his second Grand Prix event (the Trophee Eric Bompard in France) set to get underway this weekend, the pride of Illinois took just some time out from his very busy training schedule to talk about his competitive career, relationship with coach Kori Ade, his "Riverdance" free skate, artistry and more:

Q: So far in your skating career, you've won the U.S. junior title, the Junior Grand Prix Final, two medals at the World Junior Championships and most recently finished 2nd at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany and fifth at Skate America in Detroit. Looking forward to the Trophee Eric Bompard in France and the U.S. Championships in January, what are your biggest goals for this Olympic season? Who do you think your stiffest competition will come from?

A: It has definitely been an extremely exciting past couple years, and it is crazy to think that it's truly only the beginning. Looking to Paris and the U.S. Championships, my main goal is to compete the way I've trained; performing and executing my programs the way I know I am capable of doing. Along with this, I constantly strive to best my highest scores, and to continue to learn and grow from every experience that I'm fortunate enough to be given, and take what I've learned through the next steps of my journey. I believe that my stiffest competition is myself. Every time I step onto the ice to compete, I want to best myself. I have no control over what anyone else does or how the judges will score, and, at the end of the day, if I skated and performed to the best of my ability, I'm happy. I can't do more than that.


Q: How would you describe your relationship with your coach Kori Ade? 

A: Kori is everything I would have ever dreamed of finding in a coach. We have an extremely professional relationship at the rink, yet she's like my second Mom off the ice. Since I started with her when I was five, she's been a part of my life as long as I can remember. She knows me better than I know myself. She has been by my side through all the ups, downs, struggles, and triumphs, and she continues to inspire and motivate me as an athlete, student, and overall person every single day. I feel so fortunate to have started with her, and I hope to be fortunate enough to one day end with her. There is no other person in the world I would rather see standing at the boards while I'm competing or training. It's truly a gift working with her.


Q: Mastering the triple Axel was HUGE! When did it click and what jumps would you say you are most comfortable with? 

A: My triple Axel clicked less than a year ago at the beginning of December, four days before I left for the Junior Grand Prix Final in Sochi, Russia. It's almost our one year anniversary! My most comfortable jumps are probably triple flip and triple toe.

Q: Who is the most interesting person that you've met through your involvement in the sport?

A: I've met so many interesting people through the travel that I've been fortunate enough to do over the past few years. I love meeting people from all over the world and hearing their incredible and moving stories. Meeting skating fans and getting to know some of the Local Organizing Committee (LOC's) from around the world is something I truly value and I love to hear about their lives.

Q: You play piano! What do you find the most rewarding about playing music? 

A: I've always loved taking piano lessons. I really feel that playing a musical instrument helps with my rhythm and musicality on the ice. When I was younger, playing the piano really taught me a lot about discipline, focus, phrasing, and tempo.

Q: Speaking of music, what is one song you could listen to over and over... and over again and never get bored of? 

A: I don't have a particular song that I could listen to or repeat and never get bored of! I love music which either has a fun or addictive beat, along with songs whose lyrics are either motivating, touching, fun, or tell some sort of story.


Q: When I skated, the first program that I did at our Provincials here in Nova Scotia was actually to "Reel Around The Sun" from "Riverdance". I just love the music! Where did you come up with the idea to skate to it this year and what do you love most about this program and the story it tells?

A: I give all the credit to Rohene on this one! Rohene and I spent about a week looking at different pieces for my senior debut long program and at the end of the week he looked at me with the widest, brightest eyes and said, "I know exactly what you are going to skate to. I've always wanted you to skate to it, but I've been waiting for the perfect time. That time is now!" This program is by far the hardest, most exhausting free skate I have ever had, yet that is something I love most about the program. It is such a challenge, and constantly pushes me to my limits both physically and mentally. I absolutely love performing this free skate at events and I love when the audience claps along.

Q: Rohene is in his own right really one of the most compelling skaters out there. What is working with him like and why do you believe that he has brought out the best in your skating? 

A: Working with Rohene is truly incredible. He's an outstanding coach and choreographer, and his talent is out of this world. Rohene is truly art on ice. He constantly pushes me to my physical and artistic limits, holding me to the highest standards, and won't accept anything less than when he knows I've given my best effort. He definitely brings out the best in my skating, taking the time to work with me on every detail and understanding each movement. We have a great relationship both on and off the ice, really enhancing the choreographing process.


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

A: My three favourite skaters of all times would have to be Scott Hamilton, Michelle Kwan and Meryl Davis and Charlie White. I admire Scott Hamilton both for his skating and his continuing involvement in the sport. The impact he has on people and the way he touches everyone he meets is a quality I wish to emulate. When he spoke to us at Champs Camp, he instantly captured the hearts of every athlete through his stories of setbacks, triumphs, handwork, and finding ways to persevere through the toughest times. He is my ultimate role model, inspiring me and motivating me every time I get the privilege of being around him. Michelle Kwan is a skating icon. Her longevity in the sport and her poise through every step of her career is incomparable. Her skating touched the hearts of every single person in the crowd, and she represented an era of the sport that I wish I was old enough to have been a part of. She had that gift of capturing the audience bringing them to tears and onto their feet, while off the ice being so humble and kind. Thirdly, I look up to Meryl Davis and Charlie White. Not only have I grown up watching them skate, but I now have had the privilege of traveling with them, and competing on the same US team. Their skating quality is remarkable, making every single move look so effortless. They are both the nicest, most down to earth, welcoming people. They are true champions both on and off the ice, so extremely humble and respectful. I look up to them in so many ways and I feel so extremely honoured to have met them and travel with them while they are still competing.

Q: Do you think artistry is valued enough in the IJS judging system and in skating in general?

A: Skating is one of the few sports that recognizes artistry. The IJS judging system is complicated, striving to find a balance to reward both technical and artistic skills. I understand there is controversy at times over this question, but I try not to get involved in the judging factors I can't control. I work extremely hard on artistry and constantly strive to improve my second mark. It is definitely a part of the sport that I truly value.


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

A: In eighth grade, I was Conrad Birdie in our middle school production of "Bye Bye Birdie"!

Q: What do you love most about skating? 

A: I absolutely love to perform. There is no better feeling than putting your heart into a performance, and being able to share that experience with the audience, my family, and friends. Along with this, meeting skating fans and hearing their stories is something that I love about my skating experience. Their support means everything to me and it's my privilege getting to spend time talking to them. I also love to train. I could spend entire days locked up in the ice rink running sections of programs, doing tons of different drills, and working on each aspect of the sport. The feeling of ending my training day exhausted and dead tired is something I strive for each day.

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