Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The History Of The Miko Masters

In my previous "Return To Open Pro Competitions" articles, I took an in depth look at the U.S. Open and Jaca World Professional Figure Skating Championships. In an effort to preserve some of the history and stories of professional figure skating competition, I'm once again taking a walk down memory lane and this time examining the history of the Miko Masters professional figure skating competition. Held 12 times consecutively from 1991 to 2002, this prestigious competition was held annually at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy at the 12th arrondissement in Paris, France. From 1991-1999, the competition at this event was strictly for professional skaters and in the final two years the event was held it took on a pro-am format. Furthermore, the competition from 1991-1996 was divided by discipline, whereas beginning in 1997 until the event was last held in 2002, a team format was adopted. In addition to competitive performances, exhibitions were always a big part of the Miko Masters, and often allowed top eligible French and international skaters to shine. What made Miko Masters quite unique was that it was one of few professional competitions that really took advantage of elaborate stage lighting at the time. When the skaters performed their artistic programs, it was under theatrical lighting and great care was put into creating an atmosphere with the skater's music, lighting, costuming and performance itself. 

When the competition was first held in 1991, the list of competitors at the "Ice Gods", the forerunner to (and technically the first) Miko Masters competition sponsored by Miko, read like a who's who of professional figure skating. Philippe Angel, the event's organizer, got the idea for the competition when Katarina Witt informed him she was ending her amateur career in 1988. Angel wished "to give all the great champions the desire to go beyond their amateur career and have an alternative to exhibition skating and the mega ice shows" in a professional setting. Exhibition performances included Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay skating their "Missing II" program, and in the initial men's event, 1988 Olympic Gold Medallist Brian Boitano bested his long time rival Brian Orser to win the competition with a performance of his iconic "Music Of The Night" program, which bested Orser's "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" artistic program. After the ladies skated both technical and artistic programs, 1988 Olympic Gold Medallist Katarina Witt (like Brian) proved her Olympic gold medal was worth its mettle. Skating to "A Question Of U" by Prince, she outranked Charlene Wong, Debi Thomas, Liz Manley, Caryn Kadavy and Rosalynn Sumners to take the first ladies title.



In 1992, the event became officially known as the Miko Masters and many competitors from the Albertville Winter Games were invited to participate. Exhibition performances included 1992 Albertville pairs and dance winners Natalia Mishkutenoik and Artur Dmitriev and Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponamorenko and the event also marked the first time Victor Petrenko, Paul Wylie and Petr Barna (the medallists in Albertville) competed against each other as professionals. With a program to Chubby Checker's "Let's Twist Again" and solid jumps, Petrenko bested both Wylie and Barna to take the men's title and it was 1981 World Champion Denise Biellmann who secured the ladies title, ahead of Jill Trenary, Caryn Kadavy and others, skating to "Le Jazz Hot" from "Victor/Victoria" and "What Child As This?" as her technical and artistic program, respectively.


Broadcast by 37 television channels, the third edition of the competition again
proved historic. A pairs competition was added to the men's and ladies events, and the number of competitors in each discipline was reduced to 4. The first pairs title at Miko Masters was won by 1992 Olympic Silver Medallists Elena Bechke and Denis Petrov. They skated to music from the 1862 Italian opera "La Forza Del Destino" by Giuseppe Verdi. They finished ahead of Christine Hough and Doug Ladret, 1984 Olympic Gold Medallists Elena Valova and Oleg Vasiliev and Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding. Paul Wylie rebounded from a disappointing 6th place finish a year ago to win the men's event with his legendary "JFK" program, ahead of Petr Barna, Scott Williams and Brian Orser. The ladies competition was won by Caryn Kadavy, whose "I Dreamed A Dream" program from "Les Miserables" swayed the judges more than Denise Biellmann's "Drums/As Yet Untitled" avant garde artistic program. Claudia Leistner (in a rare professional competitive appearance) and Charlene Wong finished third and fourth.



Following the hugely popular 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer, audiences for professional events were at all time high. As such, the 1994 Miko Masters was a roaring success, with the pairs competition being dropped for this year only and 5 men and 5 ladies competing in both technical and artistic programs. The men's competition marked 4 time World Champion Kurt Browning's first professional competition, and he finished 2nd to Paul Wylie, who defended his title with yet another movie soundtrack from his growing repertoire - "The Untouchables". Alexandr Fadeev, Petr Barna and the late Robert Wagenhoffer finished 3rd, 4th and 5th in the men's event. In the ladies competition, Denise Biellmann won her second Miko Masters title with two technically sound and avant garde programs. Her "Rite Of Spring" just edged out two time Olympic Gold Medallist Katarina Witt skating to a French version of "On My Own" from "Les Miserables", who was also competing in her first professional event since her 1994 comeback to "amateur" skating. Caryn Kadavy finished 3rd, Rory Flack Burghart was 4th and theatrical French skater Sandra Garde, who won the Trophee Lalique audience judged pro competition in France, was 5th. Exhibition performances in 1994 included Swiss spinning sensation Nathalie Krieg, Philippe Candeloro and Sophie Moniotte and Pascal Lavanchy.

After making his first appearance of many at the Miko Masters in 1994,
Candeloro returned in 1995 with Miko as his main partner, bringing some of the best skaters from the French national team along with him for exhibitions, including Surya Bonaly, Eric Millot and Sophie Moniotte and Pascal Lavanchy. Candeloro and Bonaly prepared a pairs program, which they performed for the first time at this event together. Exhibitions were also skated by 2 time Olympic Gold Medallists Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov and 1991 World Champions Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay. The competition, which was televised both overseas and in North America on ESPN/TSN, saw the pairs return to the spotlight and Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding take home the title. In the men's event, Paul Wylie won his third consecutive Miko Masters title, showing his passionate "Schindler's List" program under theatrical lighting. Jozef Sabovcik skated a curious program in overalls to "Ol' Man River" from "Showboat" to finish 2nd, ahead of Scott Williams, Petr Barna and Alexandr Fadeev. In the ladies event, Denise Biellmann's acrobatic and
driving "Test Overdub/Frantic" wowed the judges and audience alike, and she was able to overtake Yuka Sato, Liz Manley, caryn Kadavy, and Sandra Garde to win the ladies title. Sandra Garde's very theatrical "Night On Bald Mountain" artistic program in this event, developed from a free skating program she used at the World Junior Championships in the late 80's, was a must see. Although her hardest jump was a double loop, her choreography, costuming and musicality were simply unforgettable.


In 1996, pairs skating was in the spotlight. The best performance in the pairs event, that of 1995 World Champions Radka Kovarikova and Rene Novotny, was awarded the Sergei Grinkov prize in tribute to Grinkov, who passed away in November 1995. They placed ahead of Hartshorn and Sweiding and Urbanski and Marval. Another innovation to the competition was a prize for best jump, which was awarded at the end of the men's, ladies and pairs technical programs. For the fourth time, Denise Biellmann took the ladies title, this time besting Caryn Kadavy, Yuka Sato, Charlene von Saher and Rory Flack Burghart. Among the men, Paul Wylie also won his fourth title, finishing ahead of Scott Williams, Alexandr Fadeev and Jozef Sabovcik. Surya Bonaly was among the special guests performing exhibitions. In a forerunner to the later Improv-Ice event, the audience chose music for the exhibitions at the event, which skaters then improvised. In association with Guépard Production (Juliette Leclercq), Miko announced financial support for young French skaters under the age of 16 at this event. This was the last year individual competitions were held.

In March 1997, with the change to a team format, skaters were grouped into Team Europe and Team North America. Each team featured a ladies skater, a men's skater, a pairs team and an ice dance team, and each performed a technical and artistic program. In an extremely close competition, Team Europe (consisting of Jozef Sabovcik, Charlene von Saher, Tricia Klocke and Ian Jenkins and Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko) placed ahead of Team America (Scott Williams, Josee Chouinard, Calla Urbanski and Rocky Marval and Renee Roca and Gorsha Sur) to win the first team competition. A report by Tatjana Flade on the 1997 event can be read at http://www.eiskunstlauf-ecke.de/archiv/1996-97/emiko97.shtml.

Presentation of teams at the 1998 event

The 1998 competition was held in late May, and featured many skaters making
their debut in professional competition, including Surya Bonaly and Philippe Candeloro. Candeloro, skating a 12 minute program combining his "Napoleon", "d'Artagnan" and "Lucky Luke" programs, helped Team Europe to a victory over Team World. In addition to men's, ladies, pairs and ice dance teams, each team also featuring an ice acrobat team. Other competitors included 1997 World Champions Mandy Woetzel and Ingo Steuer, World Professional Champions Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding, 1995 World Silver Medallists Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko and ice acrobats Vladimir Besedin and Oleksiy Polischuk. Exhibition skaters included Alexei Urmanov and Maria Butyrskaya. A full review of the 1998 event can be found on Tino Eberl's Figure Skating Corner at http://www.eiskunstlauf-ecke.de/archiv/1997-98/miko98.shtml.

Teams posing for the 1998 competition


The 1999 competition, held from April 13-14, 1999, again changed things up a bit. Teams from Europe and The World consisted of 2 men, 2 ladies, 1 pair and 1 dance team each, all skating 1 artistic program under theatrical lighting in addition to exhibition programs as well. The theme of all performances this year was "the cinema". Team Europe (Surya Bonaly, Denise Biellmann, Philippe Candeloro, Eric Millot, Woetzel and Steuer and Romanova and Yaroshenko) placed ahead of Team World (Olga Markova, Suzanna Szwed, Viascheslav Zagorodniuk, Scott Davis, Hartshorn and Sweiding and Roca and Sur). Interestingly enough, Romanova and Yaroshenko and Viascheslav Zagorodniuk, representing two different teams, both hailed from Ukraine. With 572.4 points to Team World's 561.0, Team Europe took home bragging rights for the third straight year. Dolorès Chaplin, who sponsored the 1999 Miko Masters, rewarded winners of the competition. Exhibitions were skated by "amateur" skaters at this event as well, including Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat, Sarah Abitbol and Stéphane Bernadis, Vincent Restencourt, Laurent Tobel, Vanessa Gusmeroli, Céline Masson and special guest Evgeni Plushenko. Scores from this event can be found at http://www.eiskunstlauf-ecke.de/archiv/1998-99/miko99.shtml.

Keeping with the changing times, things changed again in 2000, when the event kept its team format but switched to a FFSG approved "Open de France" pro-am competition between Russia and France. All skaters participating skated an ISU approved short program in addition to an interpretive free program. Team France (Eric Millot, Stannick Jeannette, Vanessa Gusmeroli, Abitbol and Bernadis and Anissina and Peizerat) edged Team Russia (Alexei Yagudin, Maria Butyrskaya, Olga Markova, Totmianina and Marinin and Lobatcheva and Averbukh) for the win. Full results and scores from the 2000 event can be found at http://www.eiskunstlauf-ecke.de/archiv/1999-00/mastersmiko00.shtml.

The Miko Masters competition returned in 2001 with the pro-am team 2 program format retained and skaters from France this time competing against a World team. France's team, lead by Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat and Vanessa Gusmeroli, upset the World Team, which included Lu Chen, Alexei Urmanov and Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas. 2 time French National Champion Laetitia Hubert performed exhibitions at this event as well, to the music of Charles Aznavour and Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out Of My Head".


In 2002, the competition was last held following the Salt Lake City Games. A team format was again adopted, with competitors including Brian Joubert, Laetitia Hubert, Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat, Alexander Abt, Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin. Team Russia won the overall competition in 2002.

What made competitions like the Miko Masters so special was the commitment to presenting professional skating in a way that was relatable to the audience. With easy to understand competition formats and a focus on creating an atmosphere for magical performances by providing top notch theatrical lighting, the programs that the skaters performed at this event over the years really shined as brightly as they could have. In looking through the history of competitions such as these, we can only be reminded of the impact artistic and professional skating have made on the sport and the very real future they have.

If you enjoyed this feature, stay tuned to http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard and http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca for more skater interviews as well as articles, skating history, commentary and special features! You can also follow me on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog for skating tweets and whatever else I'm rambling on about.

Interview With Jeremy Ten


After winning the Canadian Junior title in 2007, a mere two years later British Columbia's Jeremy Ten was on the senior podium and off to his first Four Continents and World Championships competitions, where he placed 7th and 17th respectively. Injuries and issues with inconsistency have plagued him throughout his career, but after missing most of the 2010/2011 season due to injury, Ten rebounded to win the bronze medal at the 2012 Canadian Figure Skating Championships. He finished 8th in a very deep field last year that included Patrick Chan, Emanuel Sandhu, Kevin Reynolds, Elladj Balde, Andrei Rogozine and many other strong skaters. He hopes to once again be on the podium this season, a trip to Sochi his ultimate goal. With beautiful sensitivity and interpretation of his music, strong spins and high flying jumps, Jeremy Ten is a skater not to count out. We talked about the challenges in his career, homophobia in the sport, new programs, his role models and much, much more:

Q: Having won medals on the novice, junior and senior levels at Canadian Nationals, you've proven that you can achieve consistency in your skating. What has been the biggest challenge for you along the way in your skating career?

A: Actually, the biggest challenge for me so far in my skating career has been consistency. My career has had many ups and downs, a rollercoaster if you will; therefore my confidence has definitely taken some hard hits over the past few seasons. Another big challenge has been staying healthy, especially after my surgery and stress fracture and not letting setbacks like those overrun my career and also diminish my confidence.

Q: You have worked with some of the best and brightest in the sport including Joanne McLeod, Victor Kraatz, David Wilson and Jeffrey Buttle. What can you tell us about the coaches and choreographers that have influenced your skating career most?

A: No one knows my skating better than my coach of 10 years Joanne McLeod and am so fortunate to have her in my corner along with her amazing team which includes Neil Wilson. I’ve been so blessed to have worked with so many amazing and talented individuals each contributing something different and positive to my skating and approach. Victor taught me how to talk to the ice with my blades, David and Jeff taught me how to listen to music and to let my body be a vehicle for interpretation, and Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe have taught me how to refine my skating by paying attention to every single detail. Most recently I had the opportunity to work with Rafael Artunyan in Lake Arrowhead and he has given me a new found confidence and perspective to my skating.

Competing at the 2009 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships

Q: If you hadn't have been a figure skater, what other talent do you think you would have pursued this far in your life?

A: I have always loved to dance and have always said that if I wasn’t a figure skater I would have loved to have been a dancer - contemporary or lyrical. Having competed at the World Championships, Four Continents Championships, Grand Prix events and many other international competitions, what can you say is your favorite or most memorable experience from international competition? The one moment that stands out to me thus far has to be competing at my first Four Continents Championships in 2009 at home in Vancouver. I skated one of the best programs I’ve ever skated and brought the entire crowd to their feet. It was so loud I could barely hear my music at the end and my entire family was there to share the moment with me.

Q: You have fought hard to rebound from injury the last couple seasons. How are you doing now and how has training and jumping been going for you?

A: It’s been a slow and arduous process to say the least but I feel like I’m finally starting to feel like my old self again. I still have to monitor my ankles and make sure I’m not overstressing them which means seeing my physiotherapist if there is even the slightest bit of discomfort. Even if things are going well I seek treatment once or twice a just to make sure everything is moving and working the way they should be. A year ago I switched personal trainers and am now working with Jeff Cathrea at the Performance Institute new who is wonderful at communicating with my physiotherapist so the three of us together have been working very hard to strengthen and increase the mobility of my ankles. They’ve helped immensely in keeping me injury free and getting my body into the shape that it was in prior to all my health setbacks. It was really hard mentally at first, especially going into lutz and flip jumps and although it may have taken over a year since my surgery, they’re back to normal and as strong as they used to be if not stronger. I also started landing quad toes which I never thought I would be learning/doing at the age of 24 but when there’s a will, there’s a way.

Jeremy's "Blower's Daughter" exhibition program at the 2012 Canadian National Championships

Q: What are your ultimate goals and new programs for this season?

A: I would love to get back onto the international scene and get back on the podium at nationals with the ultimate goal of representing Canada at the 2014 Olympic Games. My new short program is “Dance With Me Wallis” from the W.E Soundtrack by Abel Korziniowski. My free skate is “Variations” by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Q: Who is your role model, and why?

A: As cliché as it sounds, my role model would have to be my parents. They’ve sacrificed so much and they have worked so hard their entire lives in order to let me do what I love and to do and have a chance at making my dreams come true.  Without them I wouldn’t be where I am today and I am so thankful. 

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

A: I love tattoos. Like it’s almost an obsession.

Q: Who are three figure skaters or teams (past or present) you could sit and watch perform all day?

A: Just three?! Michelle Kwan, Patrick Chan and Yuna Kim.

Q: In response to Skate Canada's 2009 campaign to make figure skating more "masculine", Elvis Stojko told the Toronto Sun "if you're very lyrical and you're really feminine and soft, well, that's not men's skating." What are your thoughts on this and the ideas of homophobia and stereotypes in skating?

A: I think everyone is entitled to their opinion and has their own views on what skating should be and shouldn't be. I know what kind of skater I am and what I want to portray to the audience and I also know not everyone is going to like what I do and I'm okay with that.  Skating is a very difficult sport that requires the utmost strength, determination, and focus with a dash of elegance, sophistication and fearlessness. Unfortunately not everyone can see that past the glitter and rhinestones.With that said,  I don't think homophobia within the sport is really an issue however I do think that stereotyping from those on the outside looking in is still very prominent within our society and overshadows all the great qualities our sport has to offer. I for one think it’s great that we have skaters like Johnny Weir being themselves and being great advocates for young teens who need that kind of a role model to help them be comfortable and proud in their own skin. While on the other side of the spectrum we have skaters like Patrick Chan and Brian Joubert who offer a completely different side and look to skating that others can relate to and that's what makes our sport so wonderful: it's diverse and it's accepting.

Q: Is skating professionally something you would like to do in the future or do you have a different career path in mind after you finish your "amateur" career?

A: It would really depend on what opportunities opened up for me once my 'amateur' career is over. I would love to do some ice shows if the opportunity is there and after that dabble in some choreography. I don’t think I’d like to coach full-time but in some way I do want to stay involved in the sport as much as I can. Currently, I’m finished my minor in Kinesiology and working on a B.A. in Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University.

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

A: I love everything there really is about skating. I love to spin, I love to jump and I love to fly around the ice.

If you enjoyed the interview with Jeremy, stay tuned to http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard and http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca for more skater interviews as well as articles, skating history, commentary and special features! You can also follow me on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog for skating tweets and whatever else I'm rambling on about.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Somewhere Over The Salchow: Having Pride In Skating


After attending my 12th? 13th? Pride celebration here in Halifax, I wrote this Facebook status this morning:

"What I love most about Pride is the fact that it brings out the fun, happiness and kindness in people. When you're at a parade full of cute dogs, right some sexy firefighters, a Kimberly Diamondz and a Rouge Fatale, Elle Noir and those bitchin wings Lee made her, people on stilts, a dog dressed like an airplane, the chicken, bubbles, glitter, smiles and rainbows, it is impossible for that love and warm, fuzzy stuff not to be contagious. Unless you're just a big meanie, and no one likes a big meanie, girl. Pride also makes us look at how far we've come. From Stonewall to marriage equality to rights and funding for trans people to better workplaces and just plain treatment, we've come such a long way. We're not entirely there but we're actually doing really, really well. Even the mayor I certainly wasn't a fan of when he was running made me eat my words (as opposed to my feelings for a change) and showed up at the baseball game in drag. I'm sorry - I think that's awesome. We collectively shouldn't have ever had to go through all of the SHIT like Stonewall that brought us all to this point to be treated like fucking human beings but the collective struggles of GLBT people are something we've all shared a part in coming to. Instead of being mean spirited for the sake of being mean spirited, just by being kind spirited homos, we can make people change their way of thinking on a day to day basis. When people fall down, help them up. Don't walk around rolling your eyes at people you don't know, don't wear white after Annie Lennox's birthday and don't underestimate anyone. And for the love of fuck, if someone is ever hateful towards you because you take it up the chuff and/or like the titties, you tell them to fuck right off and why with a smile on your face girl. And there's so much further we can go: someone can go tell the Westboro Baptist Church people that they need to git, we can throw in our two cents and try to make positive and light hearted suggestions when people in our community are being pretentious douches, we can help or encourage fun and fabulous people to let their light shine and we can be a little easier on ourselves and take pride in how far we've all come as individuals. I didn't see a single person (aside from Airplane Dog) at that parade yesterday that was perfect but I sure saw a lot of smiles. You don't have to be rich to be proud of yourself, you don't have to be cool to rule my world or to have nice clothes, or the education, home or past you necessarily wanted to be proud of yourself. Hell, I've got a million problems and that's fine. Who cares? I do care about my life and am proud of the heaven and hell I've gone through to be who I am. And if someone doesn't like you, who gives a flying fuck? It's their loss. Sorry bout it. Life's too short to worry about what people who aren't in your life anyway have to say about you. I feel like a goddamn potty mouthed Oprah special right now, but you know what? YEAH! That's what I have to say about that. Happy Pride everyone. :))"

While my mind is on the topic and before Pride in the best city in the world is over, I wanted to talk a little about pride in the figure skating community. And I'm not going to sugar coat it. The skating community has and hasn't been kind to "the gays" over the years. Many of the world's top skaters, gay as they may be in their private lives, don't choose to come out publicly until after they've turned professional. Ever wonder why? Read on. In 2009, Skate Canada launched a new PR campaign to make the sport appeal as more "tough" to the masses and caught major flack from national and international media. Debbi Wilkes responded "Anti-gay? Have you seen us? We teach skating, that’s what we do. We don’t pretend to be the gatekeepers of social values, even that one. We have a president who’s openly gay. Gay or straight, that has nothing to do with it." As much as I love Debbi, I don't really buy this one. Barb MacDonald is Skate Canada's Director Of Corporate Communications. In 2009, she also served on the board for "One Way Ministries", one of those evangelical groups that promotes "a cure for homosexuality". Skate Canada's new CEO Dan Thompson comes via Canadian Tire. At a store right here in our city, someone I know was asked to leave the store by a manager there because they were wearing a man bag/murse/satchel and "men don't wear purses". Repeated phone calls to Canadian Tire's head office about this homophobic behavior went unanswered. Speaking of evangelical groups, World Vision Ministries is a big part of Stars On Ice as well and is prominently promoted in all of their shows. Ads for evangelical groups have appeared on Skate Canada's website over the years as well.

For every Rudy Galindo or Johnny Weir in the sport, there is a young man or a young woman who's that deep in the closet they are finding Christmas presents, because these subcurrents of homophobia in the sport, subtle and obvious at the same time, are still there. We have the Olympics coming up in Sochi, and we know now much the Russian government LOVES their gays. In Australia, broadcasters Mick Malloy and Eddie McGuire caught flack (and not Rory Flack) for homophobic comments on air while they were commentating figure skating.  Molloy said that organizers were shocked to learn that one of the skaters at the event being broadcasted was not gay. The next day he apologized by saying: "I suggested that there was a disaster happening at the ice skating rink because organizers had found out one of the male ice dancers wasn't gay. And I apologize for that really sincerely...[cue Johnny Weir taking the ice]...but it definitely wasn't this guy." He also described Daisuke Takahashi's cowboy outfit as "a bit of Brokeback". The U.S.'s figure skating community has its very strong ties to Republican and evangelical groups as well, but it's actually a lot better than Canada surprisingly. Maybe that's because we're stuck with Stephen Harper and they've got Barack Obama. I don't know. I just know that we live in a time and age that if banks, governments and big business can show their Pride and truly celebrate the diversity of the world we live in, skating can gay it up a little more. I've never seen more of a "don't ask, don't tell" sport. If you look on Wikipedia's list of out athletes, there are more out swimmers, football players, tennis players and soccer players than figure skaters. Something doesn't add up. You do the math. At any rate... hell, I want same sex ice dancing damn it!

If you enjoyed this "little ditty", stay tuned to http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard and http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca for more skater interviews as well as articles, skating history, 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, now wouldn't it honey?

Friday, 26 July 2013

Interview With Alex Johnson

©Jacque Tiegs

In Calgary, Alberta, the world watched and cheered when Liz Manley gave the performance of her career and won the free skate at the 1988 Winter Olympics. In San Jose, California 8 years later, Rudy Galindo pulled a showstopper of his own, winning the 1996 U.S. National title with a career best performance. This year at the 2013 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in Omaha, Nebraska, a young skater gave a thrilling career best performance of his own. With a breakout performance to his "Eleanor Rigby" free skate, 23 year old Alexander Johnson thrilled the audience and judges alike with a stellar performance and proved that he is among the best, a true contender within the current deep pool of U.S. men in the hunt for world and Olympic berths this season. A former medallist on the novice and junior levels at U.S. Nationals and a silver medallist at the 2013 Challenge Cup in Holland (beating World Champion Brian Joubert in the free skate), Alex has proved that he's a skater to watch closely this season. In this interview, he talked about his performance at 2013 Nationals, work with Tom Dickson, Catarina Lindgren and Sebastien Britten, new programs, goals and much more:


Q: You have competed at the U.S Championships on the novice and junior levels - winning medals in both - before you started competing on the senior level. What did you learn most or take from from these experiences? 


A: The U.S. Championships is always such a fun event and I think being able to go as a novice and junior was such a treat. We were able to go and compete with the best in the U.S. at our level, hang out with kids who shared the same goals and dreams we did, and then stay and watch the Senior events. I can't tell you how many great friends I have made over the years and kept in contact with since. Those experiences definitely motivated me to train as hard as possible so I could be back there year after year. I also think having competed in novice and junior in previous years, eased the transition to senior a little bit as I had a better idea of what to expect when I finally reached the senior level.


Q: Your breakout performance at this year's US National Championships in the free skate was considered by many to be "the skate of the night". Reflecting on that performance, what made it that special to you?

A: As everyone knows, my first three years competing in senior were quite unimpressive both skating and result wise. My long program in 2012 was a step in the right direction, but I never was truly able to put out what I've been capable of. To have the free skate that I did this year at nationals was such a special moment. It was the first time in my life that everything really came together on the big stage and words cannot even begin to describe how surreal it felt. My coaches and I really put in a lot of hard work last season and I think it showed. My Eleanor Rigby free skate will forever have a place in my heart.

Q: Having competed in singles AND pairs, which do you think is your true 'calling'? What do you love both about each discipline?

A: While I loved every minute I skated pairs, I think my true calling is in singles. I truly enjoy the connection pairs skating allows for, and I would love to further explore that aspect of pairs skating someday, whether it be in shows, choreographing, or just for fun. As far as singles goes, I love the personal challenge that it sets forth both physically and mentally.


©Scott Cushman

Q: You've worked with greats like Catarina Lindgren, Tom Dickson and Sebastien Britten. What have each of these people brought to your skating?


A: Sebastien Britten was the first true choreographer I ever worked with. Up until then, my former coach Joan Orvis and I had put together all of my programs. I think my coach and I did a great job developing the artistic side of my skating, but working with Sebastien really exposed me to a broader spectrum of skating styles and movement. It was a great experience! Tom Dickson and his wife Catarina Lindgren were the next choreographers I decided to work with. I originally only worked with Tom for the first year, but then began working with Catarina as I transitioned to them as my head coaches . Not only are they wonderful people, but they are unbelievably gifted at what they do.They both bring unique and fresh approaches to their work, while staying true to the pure essence of skating. I can't even tell you how much I have learned from them about every aspect of skating. The details in which they can describe the simplest of things as well as their knowledge of proper skating technique is something I believe that has really helped take my skating to the next level. They both have extensive skating and dance backgrounds and constantly integrate other forms of art into their work. They have also encouraged me to take dance classes and I've been lucky enough to take classes with various teachers from all over the world. I'm so grateful to work with them!

Q: If you look at skaters like yourself, Jeremy Abbott, Adam Rippon and many others in the men's field and then other skaters who deliver programs that are watered down on the PCS/performance side, there seems to be a bit of a divide between the jumpers and the skaters. Do you think that the PCS is judged in such a way that it truly reflects the quality of a skater's expression and artistry on the ice?


A: I think when the IJS was first implemented, it was hard to really understand a judges PCS marks. As i've learned more and more about how PCS scores are given and what judges are looking for, I do believe that they've become somewhat justifiable and reflective of a skaters expression and artistry on the ice. As well, the judges have become more educated on what to look for collectively as a panel and that helps bring clarity to an otherwise controversial mark. I sometimes do feel though that judges are afraid to truly separate great skating from poor skating. A skater might have awesome skating skills, but a program with no choreography and garner marks of 7.25 for skating skills and 6.5 for choreography. if there is no choreography in the program, then the marks should reflect that. That being said, as the system continues to develop and everyone becomes further educated, I think we will see more appropriate PCS scores.

Q: What can you tell us about your goals for the 2013/2014 season and your programs for this season?


A: For this upcoming season, I would like to continue to develop my skating and really grow even more as a person. I think last season was a great step in the direction that I would like to take my skating. I am working very hard on adding the quad toe to my arsenal as well. My short program this year is to the famous Led Zeppelin song "Stairway to Heaven". It's performed by Rodrigo y Gabriela and it has a flamenco feel to it. I absolutely love it. My free skate is to a variety of film soundtracks, but has a very dark feeling to it. It opens briefly with the beginning of a remix of the "Nightmare On Elm Street" theme song and then goes immediately into two different waltzes. The ending piece is titled "Bernini's Angels".



©Scott Cushman

Q: When you're not on the ice, how do you most love spending your free time?


A: Being from the land of 10,000 lakes, I love spending time on the lake. We don't have many of them here in Colorado so I don't get to water ski, tube, or jet ski very often. Ever since moving to Colorado though, I've fallen in love with Dance and try to get to as many classes as possible. As crazy as our schedules can get, I always enjoy a laid back night hanging out with friends.


Q: Who do you think are the three greatest men's skaters of all time and why?


A: John Curry for his ability to seamlessly combine technical skating with untouchable finesse and artistry. Patrick Chan for his unbelievable skating skills and technical strength. Evgeni Plushenko for his ability to stay at the top of the sport for such a long period of time.


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


A: I have an older sister Shannon, age 25, who used to figure skate as well. She primarily competed in synchronized skating.



©Scott Cushman

Q: What movies are your all time favorites?


A: I have a tendency to fall asleep during movies, so I don't really have a favorite. I did really enjoy the "Kill Bill" series though.

Q: If you could go back in time and relive any moment in your life again, what would that moment be?


A: I'll be honest, I'd have to say my free skate from the U.S. Championships this year. I'd probably leave out the crying part though, haha.

Q: Why do you love figure skating?


A: I love figure skating as it gives you a sense of freedom when you are out on the ice - a feeling that is difficult to replicate anywhere else.

If you enjoyed the interview with Alex, stay tuned to http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard and http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca for more skater interviews as well as articles, skating history, 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, now wouldn't it honey?

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Interview With Misha Ge


Russia, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Uzbekistan and the United States... these are all countries that have played host to one young skater's unreal talent. 22 year old Misha Ge from Uzbekistan cannot only lay down one killer triple axel and speak three different languages - his dynamic, exciting and larger than life choreography has turned heads around the world. He can dance... he can MOVE... he can perform for an audience in a way that few skaters in this world have dared to do and he definitely has something special and very unique that makes you stop and take notice. It has paid off too! In his third trip to the Four Continents and World Figure Skating Championships, Ge finished 11th and 16th respectively (his best finish at Worlds yet), earning his country a men's entry at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia that he seems destined to fill. Misha was kind enough to take the time from his busy schedule to  talk skating, dance and share his wonderful opinions on what's going on in the sport right now:

Q: With your result at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships, you earned your country a spot at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. What are your ultimate goals when it comes to competitive skating and this season? 

A: I'm very happy and proud to earn a spot for Uzbekistan and for our country's figure skating team. I was first of winter sports athlete from Uzbekistan who get 2014 Sochi Olympic qualification. For me, always have goal: "Do best what I can" and "improve a little every time". For me, to be part of Olympics is a great opportunity and I'm very happy to be part of it. So this season, goal is to do my best and improve since last season.

Q: Have you developed new competitive programs for this season? How has training been going and what can you tell us about your new programs?

A: We do have work on different concepts and genres and it will different compare last year. Programs done as always by young choreographer Misha Ge with his choreographer help Larisa Ge (my Mom). Last year one of my programs was funny and this year it will be complete opposite with of one of the programs "serious and sadness" . We do have some creative ideas for season, but its in progress and under the secret for now.

Q: What about jumping? How are things going in that regard?

A: I came to China for few months for ice shows, TV activities, entertainment practice and to visit grandparents. I'm here training in good condition with some of Chinese national team athletes and coaches. The working of difficulties is on triple axel and quads right now. I will do my best to work on it and improve but we will do "one step at the time" little by little to go up.


Q: You were born in Russia and have lived in China (and also represented China in competition), Hong Kong and Taiwan, represent Uzbekistan and train in the U.S. How have different cultures most influenced your life and skating?

A: Its very different. Every country have they own unique style, cultures, habits, people, life and so many, many other things. It's not easy to live and train in so many different and very opposite countries with different everything. But its a great experience to learn best things from each country and combine them all together and make MGStyle.



Q: With the Olympics being held in Russia and the blatant homophobia and lack of gay rights being demonstrated by the Russian government, there are many concerns about athletes facing discrimination at the Sochi games. What are your thoughts when it comes to this?

A: I cannot judge who's right who's wrong about rules but I will say that no matter of your sexual orientation and especially on the sport events for athletes and especially world biggest Olympic Games everyone should be equal, and if judge someone by their sexual orientation on the worlds sports spirit event I think it's not right.


Q: Your creativity, musicality and dancing skills are in a class of their own! Where did you first learn to dance and what is your favourite style of dance, on and off the ice?

A: MGStyle! You know I dance since I am little. Still remember when I was little my Mom and Dad play good rhythm music and I start moving to it. I guess there is where I start to dance. What kind of music I like to dance? Everything! As long as music make my body move, I'm ready to dance!

Q: What skaters do you most enjoy watching and draw inspiration from artistically?

A: If put them all together, I guess will be huge list. But few of my favorites is: Alexei Yagudin, Evgeni Plushenko, Jeffrey Buttle, Johnny Weir, Kurt Browning, Emanuel Sandhu and Daisuke Takahashi.



Q: If you were stranded on a desert island, what 3 people and 3 things would you most like to be stranded with?

A: Well, 3 person: I hope God can be with me. And my Mom and Dad. 3 things: Bible, music (for dance) and ice rink!



Q: What is the nicest compliment and/or gift you've ever received from one of your fans?

A: Compliments... they are too many and I want thanks to my fans for that. Gifts them are many too. I'm not on that level like top star skating stars yet but some of my fans are very sweet with their gifts. Few times I get jewelry of silver, gold, items of some luxury brands and many other things. Thanks my fans for all kind of their sweet gifts!



Q: How can ISU eligible skating evolve and change to become more contemporary, entertaining and relevant to a younger generation?

A: You know, it's a very hard question. During these years, I been travel a lot and been on many competition and heard many things and ideas about changes and improvements for system from skaters, coaches, judges and fans. It's hard to say which particular part should be changed but I think here few things i want to say. Figure skating is a sport but is also one of the sport which is also is an art. It is an incredibly beautiful and artistic sport of all kinds. The creative and artistic figure skating was use to be (if you take a look on videos from 1970-2000s)... Stadiums was full packed, audience was so much to enjoy it, programs was not that difficult but was so enjoy to watch no matter if you know about skating or you don't. Anyone can got so much enjoyment and inspiration of it -  style, moves, programs are so creative and so many other things you can said about that time. Now time, we do have new system and it's good. It's good that it push as to work on all around skills in our programs. But same time there many things are holding us to make this sport incredibly beautiful, unique and futuristic. For last years we start having less and less audience on the competitions. We start having less spots and countries on big events. We start having less sponsors and TV broadcasting of figure skating. We start having less prize money but skating training itself get more and more expensive. We start have less ice shows around the world. But skating itself because new all-round system get more expensive because now you can't only have one coach you need 2, 3 - maybe 5 - people to work with you. Аnd now, we start to have less and less people in the world doing skating because few reason I just write above. Most of us skaters during programs are thinking all about how to get most of points on our performances, impress judges and make things that judges like to get more points but don't care about audience anymore. Because new system make everyone calculating every element and points, everyone start doing same things.  If we start make it more creative or more new and unique we start losing points, because it might be easier - newer  and enjoyable moves but not on the list of the rules. At the end, audience are saying "when we come to watch skating, everyone is the same. You cannot see difference like use to be, before in old times everyone was so different and unique in their own way". Then, let's find ways to keep it all around system but with new ideas to make it more popular and make more audience, and then audience will bring more popularity to this sport. There is many many things we can keep saying and discussing, but what I want to said that. I wish we all together can bring some more ideas for improvement to bring back popularity of figure skating and make it even then before it was. Try find creative ideas, rules and opportunities for more countries and new generations of skaters to get involved to this beautiful sport. Find ways to make skating popular so we can have more audience, more TV, entertainment companies and sponsors that will want to work with us and will help us to increase popularity of figure skating.
That's what I think and trust me - not only me. After many years of skating and travel and compete around the world I heard so many, many people thinking same way I just said. Sorry to everyone, but I hope you had understand my idea. Not hate please. I said all of this #4ImproveFutureSk8. Love you all. Thank you!

Q: If you could change something about the world, what would it be?

A: I hope people in this world will be more nicer, and do more good things to everyone.

If you enjoyed the interview with Misha, stay tuned to http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard and http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca for more skater interviews as well as articles, skating history, 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, now wouldn't it honey?

Friday, 19 July 2013

Skating Through Time: The Significance Of Skating's Prehistory


Roy Basler once said that "to know the truth of history is to realize its ultimate myth and its inevitable ambiguity." We truly both know so little about history because if we weren't there personally experiencing and documenting it, we can't truly say with absolute confidence what went on. It's the same thing as being at a party and taking someone else's word for what went on or was said. It's an interpretation, and interpretations can be skewed. What if no one you knew was even at that party? How can you know what happened? The documentation of history forces us to rely on clues based on the information we have at hand. The history of figure skating is no exception. Prior to the widespread use of photograph, video and today's age of technology, the internet and social media, much of figure skating's very early history is based on oral tradition and written accounts. Discerning what really transpired is not always an easy challenge.

What fascinated me to discover was that there is a belief that the earliest evidence of ice skating takes us to an era far more ancient than most people would reasonably expect. The excavation of Roman ruins of London, England from 50 B.C. uncovered leather soles and blades made from polished animal bones, which would make us consider the possibility that over 1000 years before Scandinavians wore skates made of deer or elk bones strapped to boots made of leather, people were skating on ice - even if it was just for transportation. Taking the origin of skating and skates even further back in time is the archaeological discovery of primitive animal bone ice skates on the banks of Lake Moss, Switzerland, dating back to 3000 B.C. - prehistoric times indeed. The first widely known written record of ice skating came in a book written by Canterbury monk William Fitzstephen, a cleric and administrator in the service of the murdered Archbishop Of Canterbury Thomas Becket (Saint Thomas Of Canterbury). His description of a scene within Canterbury city walls in the 1100's is as follows:

"...if the moors in Finsbury and Moorfield freeze over, children from London play. Some of the children have attached bones to their ankles, and carry well-worn sticks. They fly across the ice like birds, or well-fired arrows. Suddenly, two children will run at each other, sticks held high in the air. They then attack each other until one falls down. Often, the children injure their heads or break their arms or legs..."

 Although these early documentations of recreational ice skating trace back to England in the 1100's, who is to confidently say that if these leather soles and blades were found in archaeological digs of ruins from 3000 B.C. or 50 B.C., that the use of these primitive skates wasn't just for transportation purposes? As long as people have lived on Earth, they have been amusing themselves with recreation and sport. In ancient China, there is evidence of ancient sporting activities such as gymnastics. Monuments to Egyptian Pharoahs depict swimming and fishing. Sports like polo, jousting and the Iranian martial art of Zourkhaneh have their origins in ancient Persia. Ancient Aztec cultures revelled in games like Ullamaliztli, Patolli and Totoloque. Tony Earll's research about Mu discusses the popularity of great tournaments like races, wrestling, stone-throwing and javelin, as well as a popular team ball-game. And, of course, ancient Greeks are well known for the importance that sport and recreation in their culture, having developed the Olympic Games, a tradition that exists to this day. If people to this day continue to amuse and entertain themselves by skating around in circles at public skating sessions, who's to say that in 3000 B.C. or 50 B.C. they weren't doing the same thing?

Were these people that we did not know personally merely trying to transport themselves over the ice or were they deriving some pleasure from the experience? The fact remains that we personally were not there. We don't truly know, and we won't truly necessarily ever know in this lifetime.

We do know that from some primitive origins, through England, through Scandinavia, Saint Lidwina, Jackson Haines, Austria, Russia, on ponds, frozen rivers and on lakes, skating slowly evolved into the activity, sport and art it is today. From mere transportation from point A to point B to games with sticks and bones to waltzing, figure eights and to the first jumps and spins on the ice, something was created that is beautiful to the eye and beautiful to the ice. Each and every figure skater who dared to be different has had their own hand in that.

Skating has grown to what is today, and it's bigger than a judging system that came into play following the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. We can't allow our memory or study to be that short sighted. It's going to continue to evolve and transform into something else, and then something else entirely, and then something else entirely again. Nothing is ever permanent. Our role as skaters, skating fans, judges, coaches, choreographers and lovers of the sport is to learn from each change but to remember that good skating is timeless. What we find beautiful about a grainy video of a performance from the 1940's is as beautiful as one from the 1960's, 1980's, 1995, 2007 or 2048. Beautiful skating transcends time, and now that we've discovered it, it's our responsibility to produce it, share it and cherish it.

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, 18 July 2013

Interview With Amber Corwin


Competing on the senior level both nationally and internationally for over a decade, Amber Corwin was a skater who throughout her career demonstrated a delicate balance between very strong technical skills and artistic depth and sensibility. With programs to music by artists like Sarah McLachlan, Henry Mancini, Loreena McKennitt, Natalie Merchant and Alexander Borodin, Corwin displayed versatility in her program choices and was never afraid to branch into different artistic directions - she never "played it safe". She was also the first U.S. ladies skater to land a triple/triple combination in the short program at the U.S. Championships in 1997, is a two time medallist at the Four Continents Championships, and a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, where her degree in fashion merchandising and marketing certainly helped her in her design of many of her own costumes. Amber took the time to talk about her skating career, favourite skaters of today, her program choices and to share a very exciting personal announcement in this "exclusive" interview:

Q: In 13 trips to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, 5 trips to the Four Continents Championships and numerous Grand Prix and other international events, what moments from your eligible career really shine in your memory as being the most special?

A: Wow, I have so many... I think my top favourite memories are spending time at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where I met most of my best friends. Also, international competitions that stood out to me the most were Vienna Cup (my first international) and Four Continents in 1999 in Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada (best team ever and great skate).  My most memorable National Championship was in Atlanta, Georgia in 2004.

Q: You were coached by Charlene Wong and Scott Williams, two outstanding skaters in their own right. What was your relationship like with these two and do you think working with coaches who had a background in professional skating and performance benefited your skating moreso than working with a coach without that experience?

A: I definitely feel that I benefited from having such incredibly talented and young coaches.  They were able to skate and train with me and shared so many of their own experiences and advice.  Having a background in professional skating is very important in my eyes, because it allows you to let go and perform (which is what it's all about).  They encouraged me to participate in professional shows during my amateur career, which is what I attribute to my longevity and love of skating.

Q: One of the things I'm dying to ask you about is your "Ophelia" free skate. Natalie Merchant is one of my all time favourite musicians. There's such a depth and soul to her music that it's almost like listening to beautiful poetry. This particular song has been interpreted as being about everything from a series of feminine archetypes to describing past lives and reincarnation. What brought you to this music and what was your concept for this program (which I loved by the way)?

A: Thank you! My Ophelia character was choreographed by the late and talented Brian Wright.  She was based off of Shakespeare's character in "Hamlet".  I loved the intensity and passion that this character evoked and enjoyed slowly going mad as the program evolved.  I've always felt very connected to the lyrics and realism of female vocalists such as Natalie Merchant, Sarah McLachlan, Everything But The Girl and Loreena McKennitt.  I chose music that I felt I could relate to on a deeper emotional and spiritual level.  I also liked that it separated me from the others.



Q: I have to ask you the same thing about your short program the following year (2003) to "Touch" by Sarah McLachlan... We totally have the same taste in music!

A: This music calmed my soul... It felt as though each time I performed it, it was spiritual walk through the park. It allowed me to block everyone else out and to just waltz through. It was a selfish self referential piece, which I needed in that time in my life.


Q: After retiring from eligible competition, you moved on to do some professional skating and to work in the fashion industry. What are you focusing your time and energy on most now and do you miss performing?

A: I miss performing very much, however, I do not miss the crazy tour schedule and living out of a suitcase as I travelled from hotel room to hotel room.  I am actually quite the homebody and although I love to explore and travel, I prefer having a home base.  I worked in the fashion industry for a few years (styling celebrity clients), and then jumped into a five year career as an advertising executive.  These were incredible experiences and I wouldn't change any of my career choices, but I really missed skating and feeling creative.  I became burned out... I left my corporate job last summer and now I am teaching and choreographing and working on a few marketing side projects.  This allows me to be on the ice, spend time with my family at our country/farmhouse, travel the world and do all of the hobbies I love like gardening, cooking and making wine.

Q: What is your favourite skating program - by any skater or team - of all time and why? -

A: Very tough question! I would have to go with John Curry's Olympic program ("Don Quixote").  I've watched it so many times and it's just so clean, fluid and flawless.  He was a skating God.

Q: You were doing triple/triples before they were cool. When did you land your first triple/triple jump combination and how did you maintain such consistency on your triple jumps throughout your career?

A: Ha, thanks! I landed my first triple toe/triple toe during the 1996 training season.  After that, it just kind of stuck with me.  I don't want to say that it was easy, but it just came naturally to me.  It was my security blanket.  My coaches and I used to call it my secret weapon!

Q: What is your favourite song right now?

A: My all time favourite song ever is "Elsewhere" by Sarah McLachlan.  I also love anything by Everything But The Girl and The Rolling Stones. Sting is top on my list too. As for current music, I think my favourite song playing now is "Summertime Sadness" by Lana del Rey.


Q: Who are your favourite skaters to watch these days and of the current flock of U.S. ladies, who do you think are the skaters to watch?

A: I love watching real ladies skate on the ice. It's harder to find with the new system as it's always a race to fit everything in. I like Ashley Wagner as she is modern classical. I love watching Agnes Zawadzki because she reminds me of me when I was her age (she's sassy and athletic). Christina Gao is a lovely girl with a great attitude and quiet determination.

Q:  Having competed under both the IJS and 6.0 systems, which do you believe is the most fair for skaters?

A: I prefer the 6.0 system because when that system went away, so did the legacy of figure skating.


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

A: I'm nineteen weeks pregnant with my first child (a baby girl).

Q: What advice would you give a skater who's thinking about giving up?

A: If your heart is in it, you will always shine through. Stay in the moment and appreciate 'the now'.  Surround yourself with a positive team!

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, 9 July 2013

Diane Towler-Green And Bernard Ford: The Mother And Father Of Modern Ice Dancing


Once upon a time, long before Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean became their country's first and only Olympic Gold Medallists in ice dancing with their iconic "Bolero" free skate, long before Sinead Kerr and her omnonomy brother John were working it in kilts, Great Britain had established its early dominance in ice dancing. From the time ice dancing was first included in the programme at the World Figure Skating Championships in 1952 until 1960, four different pairings from the UK had each won a World title: Jean Westwood and Lawrence Demmy, Pamela Weight and Paul Thomas and Courtney Jones with both partners June Markham and Doreen Denny.  After a four year dominance by the Czech team of Eva Romanova and Pavel Roman, the British team of Diane Towler-Green and Bernard Ford again dominated the world of ice dance for four straight years (1966-1969). The polished British team are considered the first 'unofficial' Olympic ice dance champions, when the top ten couples in the world were invited to compete in an exhibition event at the 1968 Olympic Winter Games in Grenoble, France. Of the win, Ford joked, "They didn't give us gold medals. But they did buy us a meal in a good restaurant."

Towler-Green and Ford were true pioneers of modern ice dancing, credited with introducing dance lifts, twizzles and pairs spins to a sport that was a strictly lift free zone. When Ford lifted Towler-Green off the ice at the 1964 British Championships, the team won their first medal at the British National Championships, which was followed by 4th place finishes in their first European and World Championships the same year. Naturally with any change to the status quo, their 'risque' lift, which was only "a small space between her feet and the ice" according to Ford, wasn't well deserved by everyone. "Some people loved it as the new direction, some said the rules might have been made to bent, not broken," explained Ford. Ice dancing was completely different at that time, with much more focus on the compulsory dances than on free dancing. "When I was training a lot of work went into the compulsories," explained Towler-Green in a 2007 Absolute Skating interview. "They were broken down and practiced until they were perfect. My coach wanted them perfect! We worked just as hard on the OD and FD, but technically, our coach was very strict on the compulsories. When I competed we worked on all the different Compulsories all the time, as they were drawn at the Championships itself. We had to do more sequences then as well." In total, four compulsory dances (including an Original Set Pattern Dance starting in 1968) and a free dance were skated during Towler-Green and Ford's era.


Lifts soon became commonplace in ice dancing thanks to Towler-Green and Ford, who continued to add variations and height to their revolutionary "trick". Though they certainly did a new trick to the ice dancing trade, there was more to Towler-Green and Ford than a gimmick. They had deep edges, speed and challenging footwork all on their side. Ford was no stranger to athleticism, having beat 1976 Olympic Gold Medallist John Curry in singles competition early in his career (only to beat BY Curry in ice dancing early in their career as well). Their dominance from 1965 to 1969 was absolute: they won a triple crown of the British, European and World titles every year during that period with programs like their well known "Moon River" exhibition and 1968 "Zorba The Greek" free dance and retired from ISU eligible/"amateur" skating in 1969, performing in ice shows together in Britain, Poland and Russia until Ford moved to Canada in 1971, and Towler-Green opted to stay in London, uninterested in full scale touring. Both Towler-Green and Ford were appointed as Members Of The Order Of The British Empire (MBE) by Queen Elizabeth II and continued to make outstanding contributions to the sport both before and after their induction to the World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1993.

Towler-Green returned to her former skating club, where she and Ford were coached by the famous and skilled Gladys Hogg, and coached former rival Janet Sawbridge and her partner Peter Dalby to a bronze medal at the 1972 European Championships. Three decades later, she coached both her daughters Candice Towler-Green and Phillipa Towler-Green to British junior ice dance titles and appearances in world competition,, among other World and Junior World competitors. After emigrating to Canada, Ford has since coached in Toronto, Edmonton and Seattle, Washington, and served on the ISU's ice dance technical committee where he co-invented the Cha Cha Congelado, a popular compulsory dance. He also coached 1988 Olympic bronze medallists Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall early in their career, which was evident in their athletic, detail oriented style.  


On their career and success, Towler-Green has stated "we were both hungry for success and worked as hard as we possibly could. We both gave 100% and never gave up even if we had bad results, bad skates or nasty comments." Ford has stated "we were told we were innovative, but we were just doing stuff we consider very basic right now. I don't know what the hell they were doing before." I know what they hell they've been doing since - interpreting music other than traditional ballroom dances, performing thrilling and innovative lifts, dance spins and footwork, and without Towler-Green and Ford's pioneering efforts in this department, ice dancing would not be the draw that it is today.

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