Sunday, 30 June 2013

Interview With Morgan Flood


With a pewter medal in the Novice Ladies event at last year's U.S. National Championships, Morgan Flood proved she was a skater to watch. In doing so, Morgan was selected for the International Selection Pool for this season. The young Texan, fresh off a strong 4th place finish in the junior ladies event at this year's Broadmoor Open in Colorado Springs, is one of America's up and coming skaters and took the time to answer some questions about her accomplishments, goals for the future, new programs and more:

Q: When did you start skating and what first drew you to the sport?

A: I started skating at age 5 when I was invited to a friend’s birthday party. I completely fell in love with the sport.

Q: What is your proudest accomplishment to date?
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A: Each season I have set several goals. I have qualified for the U.S. Nationals each year since Juvenile and medalled twice. Last season I really believed I was well prepared going into the U.S. Championship but my short program performance was poor. However, I was able to fight back in the free skate and make the podium placing 4th overall winning the Pewter medal. So although my Short Program was a disappointment I was proud to make the come back to receive the Novice Pewter medal.

Q: What are your goals for the upcoming season and going forward and what improvements do you most want to focus on in your skating?

A: I am skating Junior this season. Most of the feedback from last season centered on my skating skills and second marks so this will be a primary focus. I want to be a very balanced skater with elements and skating skills. In addition, I am working on several new jump combinations this season including a triple flip/triple toe combo.

Q: Are you working on new programs for the upcoming season and who are you working with for choreography?

A: Yes, we are putting together new programs for this season. After reviewing the last season we knew we needed to improve my skating skills and overall second marks. This season I am working with Scott Brown on my choreography. He is really great to work with and I really like what he has put together so far. We have selected a more elegant music style this year and I am really enjoying it. The music we selected for the short program "The Music of the Night" from Phantom of the Opera. For my free skate we are using music from "The Mission" Original Movie Soundtrack.

Q: Of jumping and spinning, which do you prefer and why?

A: I have always preferred jumping over spinning just because I love learning new jumps and the feeling when you finally land a jump you have been working on.

Q: Who are your favorite skaters of all time and how do you think America's skaters will fare in Sochi?

A: My favorite skaters of all time are Michelle Kwan, Kristi Yamaguchi, Yuna Kim, Mao Asada, and Evan Lysacek. Yes, I think that the U.S. will do very well in Sochi.

Q: What is the most played song on your playlist?

A: My most played song on my playlist is Can’t Hold Us by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.

Q: What is your ultimate goal as a skater and how do you hope to achieve it?

A: I am more focused on seasonal goals rather than an ultimate long-term goal. Right now I am focused on being a strong Junior Competitor. I would also like to compete internationally. I was honoured to be selected by U.S. Figure Skating for the International Selection Pool. Although I realize that I will probably not receive an international assignment this season, I am hoping my performance this season as a Junior will allow for the consideration of an assignment.

Q: Where do you see yourself in ten years?

A: Wow, ten years is a long time away for me and it is hard for me to even imagine. However, I can say that I love the sport and I see myself being a part of it one way or another for years to come.

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, 27 June 2013

Interview With Wesley Campbell


The 2013 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in Omaha, Nebraska was one of the most exciting U.S. National Championships in recent memory. The skaters were either very on or very off and a lot of them were ON and skating at their best. One of the most magical and memorable moments in the men's competition was the free skate of Wesley Campbell, who in his 11th trip to the U.S. Nationals gave the skate of his life and finished 14th. Yeah, you read that right. The skate of his life and finished 14th. I don't even pretend to understand that, but that's a whole other story! At any rate, Wesley was fantastic in Omaha and has been fantastic throughout his career. He has competed and medalled on the Junior Grand Prix circuit, won a bronze medal on the junior level at the 2004 U.S. National Championships and competed in the World Junior Figure Skating Championships, and has recently made the fabulous decision of turning professional and taking his skating to the next level. It was my pleasure to speak with the dashing Wesley, who is currently on tour in Asia about his amateur career, decision to turn professional, long term goals and what he would change about the sport as we know it:

Q: Looking at your career as an eligible skater, what do you consider your brightest or most shining moment?

A: As an eligible skater, my brightest moment was this year's free skate in Omaha to "Ave Maria". I was so trained, and emotionally prepared to connect with the audience and share my true self with all who watched. This season was about doing what I LOVE and to be able to skate a clean program, paced and confident, on my own terms, is something that every artist dreams of. I feel very blessed to have had that experience. When I finished and the crowd was on their feet in the arena, the overwhelming sense of finally meeting a personal goal overtook me, and I knew I had given the performance of my career.


Q: How about the most difficult or challenging?

A: In terms of the most difficult or challenging moment, competitively had to be the 2010 u.s. championships in Spokane. I had stress fractures in 2 metatarsals on my landing foot. I had been over training, and not eating properly, and my body couldn't handle the rigorous diet and jump repetition I was putting it through that season. It was really my chance to make an Olympic team, and I was doing 20 triple axels in a row, and forcing triple/triple combinations even when I knew I was too tired on a daily basis... trying to gain the consistency I thought I needed. The mid-December 2009 stress fractures kept me from being able to be on the ice leading up to Nationals in January, but I was determined to compete anyway. It was a disastrous competition for me, but I persevered through both programs and finished 19th. In the long run, the lessons learned about overly obsessing, and over training have proven to be valuable to me as an athlete and coach, but at the time, essentially saying goodbye to my Olympic dreams was disheartening, and debilitating.



Q: What impacted your decision to turn professional and why do you think it was the best decision for you?

A: My decision to turn pro was was based on the need to be in constant "growth" mode. As an eligible skater, I mastered a level of consistency with management of my current skills, and I felt it was time to learn some new things. I wanted to learn about production, and learn pairs, as well as potentially developing my artistry through different kinds of movements, and acrobatic skills. I am still discovering all the new things I want to do. I have a huge passion to create, and the professional world accepts and lends itself to those who are creatively inclined. I am a firm believer that when we we stop growing, we start dying... And I am not prepared to start dying anytime soon!



Q: Your skating has great line, style and substance. What skaters do you most admire artistically and why should young skaters spend time on the ice as much as in the air?

A: First of all, thank you for the compliment! I honestly think that the basic control and glide of the edge based upon body position and lean into or out of your circles are not only gratifying on an artistic level, but also are the keys to timing and injury prevention in jumping. Knowing the timing of your edges and the control of your turns will give a permanent foundation of technique that will allow a skater to become consistent and limitless in terms of what he or she can do on the ice. The most basic figure eight or edge exercise done well is both visually stunning, and technique building.



Q: Who do you consider your biggest role models and influences?

A: Influences and role models.... Wow. What a question! So many people come in and out of our lives! People who we connect with who change us permanently. When thinking about my skating career, people who come to mind are Julie Graham, the coach who guided me to the performance of my life this year. Sheryl Franks - a choreographer and kindred spirit in this world who inspired the gift of "Ave Maria". Robert Mauti - one of my closest friends and colleagues - an innovative partner who has ideas and creative juices flowing galore! Laura Sanders and Bill Fauver who nurtured my skating career for 16 years in my hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. They enforced basic skating as a staple and key point, and gave me the best start a skater could ask for. Janice Wallace - my first coach who saw the spark and believed in me. My mom, who worked 16 hour days to make ends meet and keep me on the ice... She's remarkable. All of these people are human... and they all have faults. But they're all incredible, worth recognizing, and I look up to and admire each and every one of them.

Q: If you could have 3 wishes, what would be they be?

A: 3 wishes... well, a good friend on my cast here in Asia mentioned to me that she says, "good management of your skills" instead of "good luck". I think this is pure wisdom! There's no pipe dream. All things we wish for can be achieved. And for this reason, I'm going to rephrase this question 3 GOALS: A loving, healthy relationship, and family, to always remain a man of character and uphold values above all. In showbiz, this is a biggie and to create my own show/company of skaters and dancers one day, perhaps on Broadway, and advance the possiblites of skating... to leave my mark on this sport.


Wesley's performance of "Ave Maria" at the 2013 NE Regionals

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

A: Mmmm... I drink a 6 shot soy latte every morning of my life. My doctor says its fine and that my heart's in perfect health so don't worry!

Q: What's the funniest thing that's ever happened to you?

A: The funniest thing that has ever happened to me? Well, I have a lot of funny things happen. My life is kinda funny. Actually, this is embarrassing but it's fresh on my mind... In my very first show here as a professional skater for Willy Bietak, I literally fell on my very first step of the opening, while wearing an afghan and a turban on my head and full show make up and my poor partner and I got tangled up. Blades and fabric everywhere! I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Luckily, our boss was there and laughed it off with us. We did a good solo after that.

Q: If you had a magic wand and could change 3 things about the skating world in a moment, what would they be?

A: 1. Politics - it's a subjective sport. People are entitled to liking different things, but jumping on the bandwagon and doing what's best for a coaches skaters or judge's future career at the expense of these athletes present careers is unacceptable and downright wrong. Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it happens. 2. The new judging system. There's not a lot of room for emotion or artistic scoring the way there was under the old system. I long for the days when a skater had the performance of their life and got a 6.0 for artistic impression! People could relate to that. It wasn't confusing, it was exciting. 3. Bring back figures. They taught technique way better than moves in the field. We need these figures... They were the groundwork for all the other stuff we do!


Q: Where do you envision yourself in five years?

A: In five years, I plan to be settled in one place after spending time travelling the world, doing different contracts, expanding my knowledge of the sport, as well as continuing to grow as an athlete. I would like to be starting up my own production project in a major city, or be heavily involved in production and choreography of show skating, competitive skating, film, and theatre.


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.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Interview With Douglas Razzano

 
In his 10 trips to the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships on the novice, junior and senior levels, Douglas Razzano has consistently shown he has the goods to compete with the very best. Following success on the Junior Grand Prix circuit and a trip to the Junior Grand Prix Final, Razzano earned a 5th place result in the senior men's category in 2012 and has competed in senior Grand Prix events the last two years. It was my pleasure to speak with Douglas about his skating, new programs and goals for the upcoming Olympic season:
 

Q: What achievement so far in your skating 'experience' are you most proud of to date?
 
A: I would have to say my proudest moment thus far in my skating career was my short program at the 2011 US Championships in Greensboro. It was clean, easy, and the most "out of body" performance I've ever done.

 
 
Q: With the 2013/2014 season on the horizon, what are your biggest goals and how
do you plan to achieve them?
 
A: Naturally, my ultimate goal is to be on the Olympic Team. After my disappointing season last year, I took a step back, realized where I went wrong and made strict plans to change things. I skated very defensively last season like I was protecting my finish from Nationals (5th) the previous year in San Jose. Since January, I’ve reworked my triple axel technique and am working on the quad toe like a fiend to make it consistent. That’s the key to everything in this sport, consistency.
 
Q: You're a very strong jumper with great attack on your jumps. What do you think will be skating's next benchmark technically? A quad/quad combination? A quad axel? A quint jump? Do you think any of these are even possible and is it worth the risk?
 
A: I think skating’s next technical benchmark will be just adding more quads to a program. I don’t think I will ever see a quint jump in my lifetime.
 
 
Q: What are your thoughts on your competitors and who do you think are the men to beat this season?
 
A: To be perfectly honest, this is one of the problems I had this past season. I spent too much time worrying about my competitors and trying to please everyone. This season, I’ve really tried to not pay attention to anyone, anything, and just skate for me. I believe that if I skate for me, my results will be good.
 
Q: What are your new programs for this season and who will you be working with to do choreography?
 
A: I am going to go back to an old short program from a few years ago that I love so much, "Clair de Lune". For my free skate, I am using "Turandot" and "Nessun Dorma". It is music that I’ve wanted to use for a long time and there isn’t a better season to use it. Since the short was already done, my long choreography will be primarily done by myself and my coach. I have found a passion for choreographing and know that if I skate with my heart and soul, it really doesn’t matter who choreographed the program.
 
 
Q: Do you think that PCS need to be evaluated in a more transparent way or are they being fairly judged?
 
 A: I absolutely don’t think that the PCS are fairly judged. As evidenced by this year’s World Championships, there were certain results that were extremely unjust. In my opinion, this system is no better than the last. That may be bold, but the actions of the judges do nothing but prove that.
 
Q: What's one thing about you most people don't know?
 
A: Most people don’t know that I have a brother. It’s true! His name is Stephen, he’s 23, and is in business school at Arizona State University. I also have my real estate license so if anyone needs real estate help in Arizona, call me!
 
Q: If you had to skate pairs or ice dance, who would you choose as your partner?
 
A: I would do dance. As I’ve gotten older, I have grown to appreciate it so much more than I did when I was younger. Partner wise, I have spoken to Tanith Belbin and we’ve decided that we’d be fantastic.
 
 
Q: What one skater - past or present - do you respect most?
 
A: Michelle Kwan, hands down.
 
Q: What keeps skating FUN for you and keeps the competitive fire going?
 
A: I think I still enjoy skating because I love challenging myself physically and mentally to be better and better. I want to achieve my goals. I love performing and live for that amazing moment after an amazing performance.

If you enjoyed the interview with Douglas, 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/SkateGuardBlog for skating tweets and whatever else I've got on the go. It would be rude not to.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Interview With Krisztina Czako


At age thirteen, Hungary's Krisztina Czako was the youngest athlete to compete in any sport at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. Two years later, she competed in Lillehammer, Norway, finishing in eleventh place. Her age allowed to compete at the World Junior Championships even after her second Olympic appearance, where she won silver and bronze medals in 1994 and 1995 respectively. Krisztina won the Hungarian national title seven times between 1992 and 1998, represented her country in six World and six European Championships and was well known in international skating circles throughout the nineties for her strong technical skills and consistency, which earned her wins at such international events as Skate Canada International, Ondrej Nepela Memorial and the Karl Schafer Memorial competitions. After retiring in 1999 for a variety of reasons, she is now a mother of 2! It was my honor to have chance to speak to Krisztina about her skating career, her involvement in the sport now and her thoughts on the current state of figure skating.

Q: You started skating before you were even a year old on skates handmade by your father, who was an Olympic skater as well. What memories do you have of your earliest years on the ice?

A: Well, I don't remember of course about myself when I was one year old but I have good memories of my earliest years. The World Championships were held in Budapest in 1988 so it was a dream come true to meet with the biggest skaters - Brian Boitano, Brian Orser, Debi Thomas and with my favourite skater, Midori Ito. I was so happy to skate in the exhibition that year.


Q: You represented Hungary at 2 Olympic Games, 6 World Championships and 7 European Championships, as well as winning your country's national championships and Skate canada during your career. What memories from your competition days do you look back the most fondly at?

A: During so many years of competing I have lots of good memories. I liked to meet and compete with 'big' skaters, to skate with them on practices but I also was very happy I could take part on big competitions like Grand Prix, European Championships, World Championships and Olympic Games. It was a pleasure for me.


Q: You were very well known as being a consistent and very strong jumper, landing triple/triple combinations as well as the harder triple jumps with ease. Did jumping come naturally to you?

A: Yes, as a kid I had always been on the move and I was growing up on the ice. When I saw someone doing a movement I felt how to do it myself and wasn't afraid to try it. My favourite jumps were the axel and toe-loop.

Q: What are you currently involved with work wise? Are you still involved with figure skating in your country?

A: I became a coach, and a dance teacher. I have helped my parents on the ice, created choreography for young skaters and also taught ballet. Now I am working as an IT engineer.


Q: What are thoughts on the current skate of figure skating and the new judging system? Do you feel it has bettered the sport or do you prefer the 6.0 system?

A: The focus is not only on the jumps anymore and that has bettered the sport. When I watched skating, I was bored during the transitions. Now there are really beautiful spins and step sequences and great choreographies. However, I feel this makes the skaters a bit alike.


Q: Do you still skate yourself at all for pleasure?

A: Unfortunately, I don't have the possibility for that. I have two kids and they need all my time.


Q: If you could meet three famous people, who would they be and why?

A: Should I have a dream like that? I don't crave for meeting famous people. If I had a wish I would meet my Mom again to show her her grandchildren. She would love them!



Q: What do you love most about figure skating?

A: Figure skating represents both a sport and artistry for me. What is good in this sport is that it is beautiful and you can move as much as you want. It is not aggressive and it has a lot of variety. In the other sports, it is repetitive every year (time, kilograms, distance, speed). In figure skating you learn new choreographies every year, and you can also create new elements.

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.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Interview With Elaine Hooper


One of the things I've always been fascinated with - in case you can't tell - is the history of figure skating. I believe that without learning about where you come from, you really have no clue where you're going. Many figure skating fans have really come to the sport after the 6.0 system and are largely or only familiar with the IJS/CoP system that's in place now. They know who Patrick Chan is, they know who Mao Asada and Yu Na Kim are, but they aren't as familiar with - or are maybe just detached from - the past and "the way things were". And there's nothing wrong with that. There is, however, incredible value in learning and incorporating the stories of skaters and competitions past into the way we view, coach, judge and enjoy the direction is going in now. I was thrilled when British skating historian Elaine Hooper took the time to speak with me  from her busy month, which has her not only researching but working on the British Solo Ice Dance Championships taking place in Sheffield and organizing the annual National Team Skating Challenge (NTC) the following week. I hope you'll enjoy her unique, educated and fascinating perspective on skating as much as I did:

Q: When and how did you first become involved with the sport and when did you fall in love with it?

A: When I was a small child, as a birthday treat, my parents took me to see “Puss in Boots” on Ice at the Gaumont Theatre in Southampton England. I still have the program. The skaters fascinated me and I decided there and then that I had to skate. I pestered my mother about it so much that a few days later she took me to the now demolished Southampton Ice Rink. I was very much a recreational skater and did not compete. I have always enjoyed skating but I really fell in love with it when watching John Curry perform, in the 1970’s . Before I had just been a fan. After I could not get enough of skating and began to follow the progress of particular skaters.

Q: Who are the three most compelling and interesting figure skaters of all time in your opinion?

A: I had always been in awe of the artistry of the late John Curry. He introduced a new dimension to men’s figure skating that previously had mostly been based on athleticism. He was wonderful to watch. For almost the opposite reason I would have include Midori Ito. Her triple-triple combinations and consecutive triple jumps were compelling and unseen in ladies competition before . She was very athletic and was often criticised for being a jumping machine but she really could skate. Her recent 2nd place in the Oberstdorf Adults Masters Class after such a long break from competing should inspire both current skaters and those retired from the sport that they can compete after an “amateur” career. It also endorses the case for a resurrection of professional competitions. My personal favourite, though, is Irina Slutskaya. Always with a smile on her face. She still holds the record for the most gold medals in the European Ladies Championship. Her interpretation of her music was spot on whilst still maintaining her technical skill. Her personality would shine through in her performance. I think that were Championships where she was under marked but at the time there were a number of other very talented ladies. And each one had to “up their game” to have a chance of winning.

Q: What can researching and studying the careers and stories of the sport and its skaters teach a new generation of skaters, coaches, judges and skating fans?

A: There are quite short memories amongst the skating fraternity. A few names will always be remembered and their stories pass into skating legend, but for most, when their involvement with skating is over their achievements quickly fade from public memory. Milestones that signal the change and the drive to move forward in our sport have been the result of someone or a group of people who have not been afraid to make unpopular but realistic decisions, sometimes earning censure from their own federations. I think it particularly important that the sport continues to evolve and move forward but that does not mean we cannot utilize the same skills and commitment to fulfil this as past generations did. They were striving for the same result and where they succeeded the next generation could do worse than be inspired by their dedication and commitment. The late Pamela Davis MBE persuaded me to become more involved with skating than being just a fan and a skating mum. I respected and admired her. Her judging career spanned 4 decades and she went from competing in the Worlds in 1949 to judging the Worlds by 1951. So much could be learned by anyone involved in the sport by taking a look at what she achieved and the many stories surrounding her. Also - look at the career of Joyce Hisey. I had the pleasure of working with her at the 1995 World Championships and 2001 Junior Grand Prix Final. I had not met anyone who knew so much about figure skating. I am sure she has many stories to tell that may inspire a new generation.

Q: Figure skating has enjoyed renewed success in Britain with events like Dancing On Ice and the tours that have resulted from the show. Do you think the fact that the upcoming season will be the final is really going to hurt skating's exposure in Britain?

A: There was a time when the major television channels broadcast ice skating in the UK. Sadly that has not been the case for many years. Major Championships are available on a sports channel for which we need to subscribe and also on the BBC on what we call the red button”. Only die hard fans would watch these or even know they exist for skating so the general public had not been exposed to skating for some time when “Dancing on Ice” hit our screens. There is evidence to suggest that the footfall in our rinks has increased by 40% since the first series and I have spoken to people in the rinks who tell that they only started skating because they saw it thought “I could do that” after watching the series. I do not think that interest will wain right away. I believe the rinks can ride the wave of the popularity of “Dancing on Ice” for a few years but after that, unless we produce another Robin Cousins or Torvill and Dean I think it will have an effect.

Q: I think it's incredible that Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean are not only still performing but are so relevant to a new generation of skating fans who weren't familiar with "Bolero", their amateur careers or even their 1994 comeback. What do you think is the secret to their longevity and continued success?

A: I think their secret is that they are truly amazing people. Very focused. By the time they “retired “ from skating together in 1998 they had been skating partners for over 20 years and in that time had developed a cohesion with each other and a charisma that exudes itself both on and off the ice. You cannot unlearn that and so it was no surprise that they have performed so well together from series 1 of “Dancing on Ice. “ The general public as well as the skating fans still want to watch them. There is nothing easy, simple and safe about the routines they now perform. They are so committed that they still that they still go for harder degrees of difficulty.

Q: Who are your favourite skaters competing today and who do you think (of today's skaters) will be remembered for years to come?

Now there’s a question. I have quite a few favourites. I really like Carolina Kostner. She is so friendly, polite and likable as well as a great skater. I am also a fan of Brian Joubert. At his best he was a joy to watch. Although he has suffered many injuries and inconsistent skating in recent years he is a real crowd pleaser. He has said that he will retire after Sochi. I will miss his contribution. I love to watch Davis and White and Virtue and Moir. Ice Dance has changed so much over the years and these couples exhibit what is good about it. It is difficult to quantify what makes a skaters name remembered but Evgeni Plushenko is a likely candidate for both the right and the wrong reasons. I watched his 2012 European Championship performance from a position very close to the barrier and observed that his footwork and other skating skills were still in evidence after the beak he took from competitive skating. Does the fact that the Winter Olympics are in Sochi have something to do with his desire to continue competing? Patrick Chan will surely be remembered. His ability is top notch, a great skater but I am sure the controversy surrounding his 2013 World Championship Gold will be discussed for years to come, not least as evidence in looking at ways to improve the IJS system.

Q: What is the secret to doing effective research and what advice would you give to someone interested in studying and writing or "vlogging" about skating's history?

A: As you know research takes a long time and it is important not rely on versions and interpretations of events that are not contemporary. Note any references used and try to access them yourself. You may interpret what you find differently. The internet is a very useful tool but unless you know where the material originated remember that it is not always entirely accurate so use as many different types of source material as possible. Collate as much information as possible. Organise it into a timeline and only use what is relevant to the task in hand. Then try to verify it. NEVER dispose of the material you have rejected. It may come in useful at a later date. Make the style of writing as interesting as possible. Just producing the facts is not entertaining so focus on one or two aspects. If the piece is too long you will lose the attention of the reader. If there is more to say keep it for another article or blog. Speak to older and retired skaters, judges, coaches and national federation officials whenever you get the chance. It is amazing what they remember and who they knew and skated with. Carry a note book or recording device and note everything they tell you. These can be some of your best primary sources even if it is years before you can use it. Do not underestimate the value of the World Figure Skating Museum in Colorado Springs. They have vast collections of skating historical material. I have a personal collection of magazines, programmes, photographs and books dating back to about 1900. I use these, as well as using external research . There are big gaps though and I am always on the lookout for additions to plug the gaps. Also, the British Library in London holds everything published in the UK and quite a lot from abroad. This includes books, newspapers, magazines, recordings etc. It has proved to be an invaluable research destination for me.

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.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Return To Open Pro Competitions (Part 2: The Jaca World Professional Championships)


In part one of this article, I looked at the U.S. Open Professional Figure Skating Championships, one of a very small handful of professional figure skating competitions that was completely open and inclusive to any skater or team who wished to participate. With minimal rules, professional competitions such as these allowed skaters to express their music and program concepts without restrictions that impacted the presentation of the programs they were there to present to audiences. Part 2 takes a look at the World Professional Figure Skating Championships in Jaca, Spain. When people think of the name 'World Professional Figure Skating Championships', they think of Dick Button's iconic premiere professional event that hosted some of the biggest names in skating over three decades. But another event with the same name was widely televised on European television for years and it was completely contrasting in nature. Let's take a walk down memory lane and look at the importance, impact and relevance of the Jaca event:

WORLD PROFESSIONAL FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS (Campeonatos del Mundo de Patinaje Artístico Professional sobre Hielo)

In northeastern Spain, near the French border in the midst of the Pyrenees lies a town with ancient roots. Jaca, Spain was the fortied city out of which Aragon was developed. It was Aragon's capital until 1097 and its territory traces back to wars in the first century BC between Sertorious and Pompey. To this day, medieval walls and towers surround an eleventh century Romanesque cathedral in the town and the city's 16th century citadel remains a popular tourist attraction. The history and mystery of this beautiful area provided a backdrop for an event that changed the historical path of professional figure skating.

The Campeonatos del Mundo de Patinaje Artístico Professional Sobre Hielo, or World Professional Figure Skating Championships was an open professional figure skating competition held 16 times between 1974 and 1998 and featured skaters from a total of 31 countries in that time. Competitors over the years in this prestigious competition which was broadcast widely in Europe have included Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini, Denise Biellmann, Liz Manley, Gary Beacom, Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding, Scott Williams, Paul McGrath, Lorna Brown, Doug Mattis, Petr Barna, Jozef Sabovcik, Charlene von Saher, Sandra and Val Bezic, Robert Wagenhoffer, Lori Nichol, Karen Preston, Brian Pockar, Calla Urbanski and Rocky Marval, Lisa-Marie Allen, Charlene Wong, Alexandr Fadeev and Sandra Garde. Prize money for this event was reportedly $2,500 for singles, and $3,000 to be split between both partners in a pairs or dance team.

Rosanna Tovi and Andrei Bannikov competing in the 1998 Jaca World Pro Championships

The predecessor of the Jaca event was a World Professional Figure Skating Championships competition held in Wembley, England. In 1931, the first "World Professional Competition" was established in Great Britain. Having organized a competition for male instructors of the sport earlier in the year, England's National Skating Association organized an open professional competition for men, ladies and pairs skaters, adding ice dancing at the 1939 event. These professional competitions continued through 1956. Mostly show skaters participated, and competitors at these events included Sonja Henie's coach, Howard Nicholson, Swiss brothers Jacques and Arnold Gerschwiler, 1936 Olympic Silver Medallist and 1937 World Champion Cecelia Colledge and 1953 World Pairs Champion Jennifer Nicks (who won the title with her brother John, who has coached many of skating's elite over the years including Peggy Fleming, Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner and Ashley Wagner). Also competing were Herbert Aylward, Marilyn Hoskins, Gladys Hogg, Ronald Baker, Len Liggett and Pamela Murray, among countless others. Roy Callaway, who joined the British Ice Teachers Association in 1950, served on the Association's Championship Committee from 1965 to 1969 with Joan Hawkins, Don Crosthwaite and Peggy Tomlins to organize the Wembley event.

Tracey Solomons and Ian Jenkins competing in the 1990 Jaca World Pro Championships

The first year the World Professional Figure Skating Championships was held in Jaca, Spain was 1974 and it was my absolute pleasure to speak with Lorna Brown, the first ladies champion ever at this event. Now I'm going to tell you something - what an absolute pleasure it was to speak with this amazing person. She first pointed out something I DIDN'T know. Jaca is actually pronounced 'Haca'. Who knew? She explained that the Jaca event developed from an earlier event held in Wembley, England and that in 1971, Australia's Reg Park and a man named Francesco worked to organize the event in Spain as an annual one and got the city's mayor involved and arranged volunteers and a rink to hold the event. Another big name in the organization of this event was Mari Carmen.

Brown bested five other skaters to win the first title, and also had the experience of judging the competition ten years later. She explained that she had to qualify within her own country to be eligible to participate. That year, skaters were not required to skate two programs. Lorna performed one program, set to "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" which was beautifully edited and ended with the words 'transcend', 'purify' and 'glorious'. She described the program as "a feeling of entering into another dimension". After winning the competition, there was some drama as second place finisher Jennie Walsh of the U.S. refused to put her skates on when announced as finishing in second. "It kind of spoiled my experience of winning. She held up the presentation. A very, very bad sport. She was so sure she would win and was terrible to me because I beat her. Nothing much was made about it and we got over it. She eventually appeared with her shoes on and refused to stand on the rostrum on number two." Shades of Surya Bonaly at the 1994 World Championships.

Lorna (like myself) is a firm believer that events such as these are IMPORTANT and can totally happen again. "The PSA is so brainwashed by the ISU system that it's really hard to get them to support it. If they aren't running it, it's really hard to get them to be supportive. It's all politics - political power," she acknowledged. "All you need is one rink." She made a really good point I agree with completely. She pointed out that with things like YAS (Young Artists Showcase) which are done online primarily with the exception of the final, a lot of the leg work in organizing an event like this can be done ahead of time. You can accept applications online, do biographies of the skaters online and have the skating at a live event in a rink donated for a week, for instance. "We would want people like Stephane Lambiel, Daisuke Takahashi - but they don't have to be champions," she said. She also explained that skaters participating in a revival of an event like this would have to be true professionals and not be competing in ISU events. In other words, this would not be a pro-am. She made another great point that "there are so many more skaters than there ever was. A lot won't do it unless they get paid a fortune. It should be more honor than money, to get it started at least". She explained that when she competed and won in 1974, she paid her own flight and that for something like reviving an open professional competition to work, at first the right thing to do would be to ask skaters to maybe pay their hotel expenses or get a rink donated for a week. It would have to start small. We talked more about the skaters that an event like this would need to attract. Names we both threw out there (in addition to Lambiel and Takahashi) including Jeffrey Buttle, Jeremy Abbott, Emanuel Sandhu, Joannie Rochette, Shawn Sawyer, Misha Ge, Nicole Bobek and Shae-Lynn Bourne. Lorna pointed out that professional competition shouldn't be about who lands a quad and that someone like Shae-Lynn Bourne "can skate an AMAZING program without a jump at all!" For the very first champion of this event to say how much she'd like to see something like this resurface and help the sport grow speaks volumes about the open mind that people need to have about the way the sport is developing artistically and that reviving professional competition is only a pipe dream if people accept it as one. "Anything you can imagine, you can make a reality," said Lorna Brown, a beautiful skater who toured the world with one of the most artistic skaters of all time, the legendary John Curry.

Simone Grigorescu-Alexander. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Ten years later in 1984, Romania's Simone Grigorescu-Alexander bested thirteen other skaters from seven other countries to win the World Professional Championships in Jaca, Spain. The year previous she unfortunately had to withdraw and before that, in her visit in 1982, she finished second out of twenty competitors. Her fourth and final visit came during the last year the competition was held when it was revived for a final time in 1998 following the Nagano Olympics. "The last time I participated was years later and it was only for the joy of participation and not so much for the sake of the competition," explained Simone. "Jaca was a very special place and the championship was like no other I have ever taken place in. Very unique experience, very unique people and a wonderful feeling of collaboration and sharing rather than the elitist feeling lots of other pro championships have had. I miss it dearly and Pablo, its creator and driving force (he passed away much too early, years ago)." She elaborated on the feeling of comradery amongst the skaters participating. "In Jaca, though you were competing against one another, it felt like a team where everyone is pulling for everyone to skater their best performance and win the hearts of the judges and the crowd! Very special indeed!"

Canadian Champion Sebastien Britten competing in the 1998 World Pro Championships in Jaca

Simone Grigorescu-Alexander offered some insight into the way the Jaca event was judged. "We had to skate a short and a long program. I think the short did have some requirements that were modeled after the competitive system of those times, like: one solo jump, one two jump combination, one Axel type jump, solo spin, combination spin and footwork sequence...perhaps three spins. Too long ago to remember. Rules, but very loose ones. The long program was whatever you wanted it to be! As far as I can remember, we were judged on various elements such as jumps and spins, choreography, musicality, interpretation, footwork and such. I do not remember how many exactly. Robin Cousins was a judge one year and may remember. Then, the last mark consisted of a group of 10 local people who were not knowledgeable about skating and their vote made up the popular vote. If you were able to entertain the locals, you could get a perfect 10 even if you performed no jumps or spins. The great thing about Jaca is that entertainment was the name of the game. We had no requirements that boxed the performer into a rigid and strict format. We had total freedom to create whatever we as artists felt would entertain the crowd. Yes, if you wanted to get decent marks in jumps and spins and in footwork and such you needed to show those elements but you knew that those were only a couple of marks... I have seen beautiful and engaging performances without any jumps and I have seen performances that had me roaring with laughter! These did not perhaps win but the prize money was minimal, thus you went to Jaca for the experience and perhaps to get a title... Mostly for the experience and as a creative outlet. Most performances that won combined all aspects of skating entertainment to win the judges and the public: jumps, spins, footwork, great musicality and musical interpretation of the piece, great choreography and were able to create a character that the public would enjoy! So much fun! I still have video from my last competition, of the men's event as I was already done. I am amazed at the quality of entertainment even to this day!"

Scott Williams competing in the 1990 World Pro Championships

When asked what figure skating is missing by not having open professional competitions like the U.S. Open and Jaca World Pro available to skaters of the current generation, the answers were RESOUNDING. Author and CBC Sports commentator P.J. Kwong explained that "the thing that I always liked about the old pro-ams and even just the pro competitions is that it gives us a way to see our favourite skaters perform in a way that isn’t simply show skating. I think that bringing a legitimate pro competition to life would give skaters the chance to train with a goal in mind without having to commit for additional seasons. Good for the skaters who want to do it and great for the fans (like us) who would love one more chance to see them compete.” Debi Gold said "There are a lot of chorus and understudy skaters in Disney On Ice and Holiday On Ice that would love to do competitions like this. It would only help lift them to higher ranks in their touring companies. They have only their amateur laurels to rest on. Touring companies could send scouts to check out the competitions for new talent! Plus, having application only (rather than invitation only) pro competitions gives other pro skaters (not just high level pros) a chance to compete again - especially when they are medium-size fishes in small ponds like I was." Anita Hartshorn, who with partner Frank Sweiding won the pairs title at the 1988 U.S. Open and 1990 Jaca event, said "in my opinion, the lack of pro competitions has really hurt the popularity of our sport. Most of the skaters who are ready to leave the 'eligible ranks' but still would like to compete have nowhere to go. All professional skaters have less possibilities to expand their untapped potential of theatrically slanted competitive programs. Now that the ISU has approved the pro-am Japan Open, there is at least one competition for the audience to see their favorite skaters like Kurt Browning and Surya Bonaly compete. It doesn't matter how many shows you do, the feeling of doing a competition is different and everyone prepares harder for an event where you get judged." Former Jaca and U.S. Open competitor Craig Heath said, "I think there is a huge void. I was so fortunate to be able to participate. I have some of the best memories of my life from these competitions. I feel sad that the current skaters are not able to have that experience." Former Jaca competitor and U.S. Open Challenge Cup champion Doug Mattis said of professional competitions, "Absolutely there should be more pro skating competitions! I would love to see more that are specifically focused on artistic achievement... as well as some that would be specifically about jumps — like a skating version of golf’s "skins game." You land that triple axel the most times? You get the money. I think that kind of format would be fun—back-to-back with an artistic event."... And the message continued to come through loud and clear from every skater I've asked this question of. The figure skating world is ready for professional figure skating competitions to make a comeback and you're crazy if people think otherwise.

Very special thanks to P.J. Kwong, Doug Mattis, Carole Shulman, Simone Grigorescu-Alexander, Lorna Brown, Anita Hartshorn, Debi Gold, Craig Heath, Georgene Troseth, Pedro Lamelas from Hielo Español, Peter Morrissey from British Ice Teachers Association, Naya Zamborain Mason and others who made these articles and research 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

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Marina Anissina's Comeback: Fact Or Fiction?


Who doesn't love a good comeback story? Previously in my blog article Come Back, Come Back, Whoever You Are, I looked at 6.0 of  the most significant comebacks in the sport's history and after reading today of a very interesting comeback story today I felt a need to share my 2 cents. In an interview on the Russia 2 program "Great Sport", 2002 Olympic Gold Medallist Marina Anisinna appeared with her husband Nikita Djigurda to discuss a possible return to ISU competition in time for the Sochi Olympics.

Social media and online figure skating message boards have been abuzz today with this story, decrying the former Olympic and World Champion for her potential decision and calling the announcement out as a political manoeuvre and publicity stunt. One skating fan on the popular message board Figure Skating Universe joked that "the Russian federation might as well ask Pasha back, I bet she could still outskate most of these girls." According to translations of the interview, FFSG president Didier Gailhaguet asked Anisinna and her partner Gwendal Peizerat to return to competition following Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat's disappointing (and in my opinion, messed up) 6th place finish at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ontario. According to Anisinna's husband, Gailhaguet apparently stated that he and the team will negotiate regarding a contract, financial considerations and a final decision season. Anisinna, who has never competed under the new IJS/CoP system stated that she's unafraid of the new system but as she's a mother of 2, it would be a big change. Strangely, there doesn't even seem to be any mention as to whether or not Gwendal Peizerat has even agreed to or commented on this potential comeback. He is currently involved in politics in France's Rhône-Alpes region.

As for a comeback, it's not really as ridiculous as people are making it out to be in my opinion but after over ten years away from ISU competition, it would certainly be a stretch. The only skater that comes immediately to mind who have made comebacks after that long away from high level competition are Elaine Zayak, who returned to competition in 1994 after retiring from eligible competition in 1984. Skaters have certainly comeback after shorter periods away from the sport with varying success. And you have to look at someone like Evgeni Plushenko, who also competed in Salt Lake City and plans to be in Sochi as well but is recovering from injury and surgery and isn't to my knowledge even jumping again yet. If he's at that stage, if this comeback is for real, Marina and Gwendal would need to get cracking pretty damn soon. Learning two new programs that are constructed in a completely different way and would involve some pretty complex footwork would be HUGE and if they were to start soon and do this, they'd pretty much have to neglect everything until the Olympic Games to get their twizzles and choctaws in order.

Former competitors of the French skating diva didn't really have anything nice to say. Nikolai Morozov, who choreographed for Anisinna and Peizerat's long time rivals Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio, said "the statement is shocking. I don't even know how to comment that. However, I am certain this comeback is impossible." 1993 World Champion and prominent coach and choreographer Alexander Zhulin said: "Guess I should come back as well then. I'll start practicing immediately. On a more serious note it's a nonsense and as much as I like Marina I'm quite sure she will not come back. Hypothetically? I can't even imagine where she would be placed. Very low! The comeback is a bad idea, we should remember Marina as she was." Ilya Averbukh, who narrowly lost out an Olympic gold medal with partner Irina Lobatcheva in 2002 in a 5-4 split to Anisinna and Peizerat commented "I can only call it an idiotic PR that someone not too smart came up with. It's a joke and it's a shame Marina Anisinna allows her name to be trashed going so low, anyone in their right mind will tell such a comeback is impossible."

Although I certainly wouldn't be so harsh and would personally love to see them return, I don't want to see it be at the expense of Pechalat and Bourzat - who I really enjoy. They're a talented team who have been putting together some good material for next season, including a free dance inspired by "Le Petit Prince" choreographed by Julien Cottereau. Didier Gailhaguet and the FFSG have been rich in controversy and political head games for years, long before the 2002 Salt Lake City judging scandal and since as well. His notorious treatment of certain skaters who were either not in his or the international judges favour is certainly well rumoured and I sincerely hope that this isn't a publicity stunt. It's only going to make him look even sillier than he already does. Unfortunately, it's going to make Marina (and Gwendal, by association) look just as silly.

Return To Open Professional Competitions (Part 1: The U.S. Open)


In this world, we are all in this massive hurry to go somewhere. Skaters are no different. Throughout their competitive careers, they are conditioned to the mindset of the necessity to achieve some lofty goal, some dream being the be all, end all. "If I pass my gold dances, that will be it...If I qualify for nationals, that will be the ticket... All I want is to make a world team... My dream is to go the Olympics... I need to win Olympic gold..." For the handful of skaters in the world who have won Olympic gold or a world title, there are thousands upon thousands of others who haven't. What the skaters who have achieved their ultimate goal and the skaters who haven't have in common is the experience. They have competed and become richer for the opportunity. They've learned that by entering competition and pushing themselves to be a better skater and competitor, rewards come, whether they be in the form of medals, opportunities or personal goals met. Many have come to love competing.  For decades, when a skater decided that their eligible career had come to a close, they had so many opportunities to continue bettering themselves as skaters as opposed to going down the fulfilling and rewarding road of coaching and choreography, or at least making that their sole focus. There were tours to choose from, countless shows, TV specials and there were competitions. I already touched a bit on professional competitions in my blog article Professional Figure Skating Competitions: What You Didn't Know, but what I have been dying to do is take a look at the history and stories of 2 professional competitions that changed the face of figure skating as we knew it, and are sadly no longer available for the current generation of professional figure skaters: the U.S. Open and the World Professional Figure Skating Championships in Jaca, Spain. Along with the Turtle Island Productions American Open event and the Jaca World Pro's British predecessors, these were the only competitions that allowed ANY professional skater who wished to participate to compete and showcase their creative skills in front of a live audience. Skaters had creative freedom, could use lyrics, props and creative license. They weren't restricted to ISU rules. They didn't have to worry about CoP footwork sequences or what level their spins were. They didn't have to be famous or asked. They could be even be infamous if they wanted to be. What made these two competitions so important is that we were inclusive, they fostered creativity and they allowed a future to skaters that might not have been afforded one based on the laurels of their amateur results. Your best finish as an amateur could be 4th as a novice at your national championships and you could go out and beat an Olympic medallist if you were good enough to. There was a fairness, an openness and an excitement about events like these that skating is missing today, and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to revisit that world with the help of the people that were there living those memories.

PART ONE: U.S. OPEN CHALLENGE AND MASTERS CUP (U.S. OPEN PROFESSIONAL FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS)

In 1981, a new event debuted at the University Of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania called the U.S. Open Professional Figure Skating Championships. It was sponsored and produced by the PSGA (Professional Skaters Guild Of America) and chaired by David Lowery during it's first year. Featuring reigning World Professional Champion Scott Cramer, Olympians Stacey Smith and John Summers and Sheryl Franks and Michael Botticelli, the top three finishers were eligible to represent the U.S. at the World Professional Championships in Jaca, Spain that year if they chose. Former PSA (Professional Skaters Association) executive director and author Carole Shulman explained the "U.S. Open began as a result of the World Professional Championships being held annually in Jaca, Spain. For a couple of years skaters were hand picked but we decided a better process was to hold a competition and have the winners represent the U.S. It was enthusiastically received so in 1981 was held and quickly grew in stature."

This event developed into an annual event and was led by whomever was the current PSGA president. "It started very small as there was minimal prize money and a lot of expense for the skaters," explained Shulman. The U.S. Open consisted of a Challenge Cup and Masters Cup round of competition. Carole Shulman explained "the Challenge Cup was always a part of the U.S. Open. We had events for men, ladies, pairs and dance. It was open to any interested professional skater. The top 3 or 4 in each category would advance to the Master Cup and compete against titled international skaters in each respective category." Similar to one of the qualifying round formats used by the ISU, skaters who had been invited based on their merits, fame and/or resume pre-qualified for the Masters Cup round. In ISU competition, these skaters would have been seeded based on results the previous year as opposed to invited, but you get the idea. Top skaters from the Challenge Cup round moved on to the Masters Cup round (criteria varied from winning the Challenge Cup, placing in the top 3-5 and achieving a certain score from year to year). The judging was at times different than many other professional events out there in that judges were assigned a specific aspect to evaluate. A judge each was assigned to spins, jumps, moves, choreography, musicality and artistry, and 10 audience members worked together to represent a seventh 'public opinion' judge mark. Judges were invited by the PSGA. Some well known coaches who judged were Don Laws, Sandy Lamb, Ron Ludington, Kerry Leitch, Red Bainbridge, Barbara Roles Williams, Kathy Casey, Pieter Kollen, Walter Muehlbronner and Tom McGinnis. Skaters were scored out of 10.0. "Before 1984 I was a judge," explained Shulman. "When I became the executive director, it became my job to produce the event, find prize money, promote and grow the event... and try to get television coverage!"
     
The U.S. Open was first shown on ESPN in 1988 and continued to be picked up by major television networks until the 1994/1995 season on CBS, USA, and TBS. The 1988 event in Daytona Beach, Florida was hosted by skating legend Jojo Starbuck and was an open competition for any performing or teaching professional skater. Each winning skater or team won $5,000, with second prize being $3,000 and third place being worth $1,000 in 1988. Competitors over the years at this event included Dorothy Hamill, Liz Manley, Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini, Scott Hamilton, Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin, Kitty and Peter Carruthers, Rosalynn Sumners, Jozef Sabovcik, Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding, Natalia Mishkutenoik and Artur Dmitriev, Paul Wylie, Brian Orser, Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, Caryn Kadavy, Maya Usova and Alexander Zhulin, Susanna Rahkhamo and Petri Kokko, Rudy Galindo and hundreds of other fabulous, fabulous skaters. Speaking of fabulous, Doug Mattis said of this event, "I did U.S. Open three times and loved each experience." Carole Shulman said that there were certainly some standout performances over the years: "Absolutely. In the Challenge Cup, it was the performance of Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding that really launched their professional career and they went on to win the Master Cup. In the Master Cup the performance of Dorothy Hamill in Seattle really stands out."

Funding and televising an event like this was no easy task. Funding in early years came exclusively from the PSGA and later the PSA, but "we did in later years work with various management companies that provided guaranteed income for the event," explained carole Shulman. In 1995, things started to change. The U.S. Open did not have a television contract for 1996 but with their partner, Sports Marketing Marque Group, the 1997 U.S. Open competition was broadcast on UPN in 1997 and NBC in 1998. There was no 1999 U.S. Open, as the Marque Group paid the PSA $100,000 and walked away, being bought by SFX for $100 million. Sadly, Dick Button sold Candid Productions to SFX as well. Candid Productions, Button's brand was responsible for events like the Landover World Professional Figure Skating Championships, Challenge Of Champions, Canadian Professional Figure Skating Championships and U.S. Professional Figure Skating Championships. SFX sold to Clear Channel, who did nothing with the brand. Clear Channel paid $3 billion to SFX skating and took on $1.1 billion in SFX debt. Things went downhill fast behind the scenes for professional skating. Since then, a U.S. Open competition has very sadly not been held.

In 1980, Debi Gold started skating at the age of 9, late by competitive standards at the time. Her competitive background as an amateur was in showcase competitions, where she had moderate results. Her goal after finishing high school was to audition for the Ice Capades. Her parents insisted, however, that she go to college instead. "After I finished college at age 21, I could no longer compete with the 12-13 year olds in my category (novice), and had to be 25 to be an 'adult skater', so I turned pro, joined the Professional Skater's Association and began coaching," Debi explained. "I still enjoyed competing, and the local showcase competitions (Crystalline Classic in Santa Rosa, CA; Silver Skate Showcase in Stockton, CA; and Sacramento competitions at Iceland Ice Arena) began offering "Young Professional" categories in their competitions because there were several of us who were all of an age that wanted to play." Gold attended several PSA events as a demonstrator for her coach Jayne Throckmorton, as well as bringing skaters of her own. Someone from the PSA's local board of directors mentioned the U.S. Open as something she should consider, as it would beef up her skating resume. "I wasn't highly tested as a skater (the last test I passed was Intermediate Free in 1989, 2nd Figure around the same time), and I couldn't boast any high-level students at the time. I looked up the information and it looked like fun," explained Debi. Having never competed in anything larger than a local showcase competition, Gold had no concept of how large scale and fiercely competitive the event would be. "I had it in my head that it would be slightly bigger than I was used to, with all the girls hanging out in the dressing room chatting, sharing each other's eyeshadows, and cheering each other on. FOR REAL, that was my thought process. The naivete of a 22 year old". As Gold was young, newly married at the time and VERY poor (her words, not mine), she had to make a difficult choice of bringing either her husband or coach to the 1994 U.S. Open event, her first professional competition. Sophie's Choice resulted in her bringing her husband.

Of the practice sessions, she recalled: "My jumps were better than they were as an amateur. I finally was landing a double salchow and double loop pretty consistently, but that week in Worchester, I fell apart and was crashing on everything on the practice ice sessions. My poor husband could only watch, video it, and play it back for me to analyze; but he was no help on fixing anything. Doug Mattis and Paul Wylie were in the arena during one of my disastrous sessions, and Paul called me over at one point and told me, 'Honey, you're dropping your whole left side in your jumps.' Thank goodness I had some help! I ended up pulling the doubles out of the program at the very last minute, I decided to showcase my axel instead of crashing on everything else and ruining the flow of the number. That hurt me points-wise; I probably would have inched up a point or two on difficulty - but my coach wasn't there for the last-minute prep/pep talk."

Regarding the backstage atmosphere, she remarked "I found all the girls in the competition to be friendly, but standoffish; I made a couple friends based on the fact that my choreographer, Jon Johnson (who passed away in January 2012) worked with them in the Ice Capades and other shows - Lisa Ware and Rory Flack Burghart (and I'm still friends with Rory and have done several local shows with her)." Compared to the World Professional Championships in Jaca, Spain, which she won in 1984, Simone Grigorescu-Alexander echoed the feeling Debi Gold had expressed about the atmosphere at the U.S. Open event: "Though it was a very good competition and offered the viewers a lot of great skating, I can say it did not create the same feeling of coming together to share talent and the performance (as in Jaca). It felt like any other elite competition where everyone (and their agent) was there for themselves."

Gold recalls being given two passes to watch the Masters Cup competition in Boston as part of her entrance competition and appreciating that perk. Her memories of the Challenge Cup process are much like many competition when it comes to the application process. "I had to apply and pay a fee (I don't remember how much it was); I got a package in the mail with hotel, practice, and local information. At the competition we were placed in 4 or 5 skater heats based on random draw; we had a 5 minute warmup before our heat, and a 15 second intro while we were announced so we could take a partial lap and take a breath before we had to be in place for our music. I did a lot of pacing around the backstage area and only saw two or three skaters before my warmup," remembers Gold. Only limited spots from the Challenge Cup moved on to the actual Masters Cup competition and competed against the more well known professional stars. Of the overall experience, Debi remarked that "for skaters of my caliber, this was the only pro competition that wasn't invitation only - and I would never have been invited to the others since I was such a small fish. I was hoping to place and have it look good on my resume - I placed 12th (out of 14? 15?) and was WAY out of my depth. But the experience of even trying to compete at that level was helpful to me. I got to practice with some of the top skaters of the time - Paul Wylie, Urbanski and Marval - and I got to meet other pro skaters who were coaching and still competing." Now a mother of 2 and a reinstated amateur who returned to skating in 2009, Gold continues to perform in shows and compete in adult competition. She said "social media is really the mechanism that brought me back to skating, and I'm glad to be back!"

I asked Carole Shulman if she thought we'd ever see an event like this again. "Sadly, I don't think so." she replied. "It was enormously expensive to produce. The finances were dependent upon a strong sponsor and to some degree a full house. The other factor was that after the judging scandal in Salt Lake City, skating lost a bit of its luster that it is still trying to regain today." That's not to say that it can't. What made this event so special was that it was INCLUSIVE. If you wanted to skate to opera, you could. If you wanted to do Broadway music, you could. If you wanted to be completely avant garde, you could. You didn't have to do triple axels, awkward footwork sequences or conform to the masses. You could be the best version of yourself. Carole Shulman said it best when she said "the U.S. Open provided a platform for professional skaters to perform and compete during a time that ice shows were downsizing or folding. The Challenge Cup was very exciting because back in the days of figures, many great freestyle skaters never made it to the top and with the U.S. Open they were able to make a name and a career for themselves. Also, it provided yet another medium for professional skaters to perform and to be seen. It was truly an extraordinary event." An extraordinary event it indeed was.

Stay tuned over the coming days for Part 2 of Return To Open Professional Competitions - a look at the World Professional Figure Skating Championships in Jaca, Spain! 

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