Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Qianlong Emperor And Wu Tongxuan: Chinese Skating's Royal Connection


In previous articles The Royal Skating Mishap That Could Have Changed History and Picture It... The Holy Roman Empire... 1610, I delved into the connection between figure skating and the royals. It turns out Queen Victoria and former Archduke of Austria, King Of Bohemia, King Of Hungary and Croatia and the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire Rudolf II weren't the only members of the noble class that had a great affection for figure skating centuries ago.

Halfway across the world, in China skating gained public interest during the Song dynasty. The sixth emperor of the Qing dynasty, Qianlong Emperor (born Hong-li) reigned from 1736 to 1976. The Qianlong Emperor was a great aficionado of ice skating and called it a "national custom".

One of the most important events of the winter for the Qing royal household was an exhibition by the "Eight Banner Ice Skating Battalion", a special force of 1600 soldiers which was trained specifically to do battle on icy terrain. These soldiers needed to learn how to skate proficiently to be able to move 350 kilometers on skates in a single day to get to their enemies. In the "Eight Banner Ice Skating Battalion", two hundred skaters that were considered the most skillful would don knee pads and secure their shoes with leather and attachable single iron blades for speed or double iron blades for proficiency. They would then demonstrate their skating prowess to an appreciative Royal court, including the Qianlong Emperor himself. These 'Ice Games' have survive in paintings and literary descriptions.

JACK WILKES PHOTO OF WU TONGXUAN (TIME & LIFE PICTURES/GETTY IMAGES)

Skating's popularity in China among royals continued in the early twentieth century, when a famous Manchu skater from the Uya clan became one of the royal household skaters in Empress Dowager Cixi's reign. Although MUCH despised, Empress Cixi was an aficionado of skating and Kunming Lake on the grounds of the Summer Palace she provided was often used for ice skating in the winter. This Manchu skater's name was Wu Tongxuan and he frequently appeared in Beijing ice rinks to perform for audiences of the era. In February 1946, Time Life photographer Jack Wilkes discovered and photographed Wu and shared a bit more of his story in the accompanying LIFE magazine article: "Once a week during the winter a slight, bearded, 66-year-old Chinese gentleman named Wu Tang-shen solemnly pads his way down to the ice pond in the Forbidden City section of [Beijing], changes his sandals for a pair of 20th-century skates and spends a quiet Chinese afternoon cutting complicated figures on the ice. There a short while ago LIFE photographer Jack Wilkes discovered and photographed Mr. Wu while he executed his pirouettes, crosscuts, beaks and spread eagles with the ease of an accomplished figure skater of the old school. At the age of 16 Mr. Wu cut these capers for the Empress of China and was rewarded with a pension of five taels of silvers ($4) per month for life. But the Manchu dynasty [now commonly referred to as the Qing Dynasty] unfortunately died before Mr. Wu, and now Mr. Wu works for a living as a merchant. His skating still retains its former grace, and the figures he cuts are those of Western skaters." At this time, Wu would obviously no longer be skating for Empress Dowager Cixi, who passed away in 1908 but he was still skating for audiences on a pond outside The Forbidden City in 1946 at the age of 66. There is little information about what happened to Wu Tongxuan later in life, but isn't it nice to think that he would have continued skating to the end of his life?

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

China would not join the International Skating Union until 1956, nor would the Ice Skating Association Of The People's Association Of China send skaters to the World Figure Skating Championships until decades later, but Tongxuan's early introduction of skating to the Chinese people would set forth a ball in motion that would later see skaters like Lu Chen, Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao and Qing Pang and Jian Tong win world titles as representatives of China. Today, figure skating is more popular than ever in China. Han Yan finished seventh in the men's event at the 2014 World Figure Skating Championships and both of the country's pairs teams would place in the top ten at this year's Worlds as well. Though the days of "Eight Banner Ice Skating Battalions" and royal household skaters might be over, Chinese figure skaters are now revered much like royalty among the Chinese people as popularity of skating across Asia continues to skyrocket. Not bad for a country just taking their first steps in international competition thirty years ago, now is it?

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Friday, 26 September 2014

Interview With Camilla Gjersem


Competitive figure skating has enough pressure of its own, right? Wrong! Imagine one of your closest rivals being your own twin sister! That's an everyday reality for three time and reigning Norwegian Champion Camilla Gjersem, who unseated her own twin sister Anne Line to first take her country's national title in 2012 in Trondheim, Sør-Trøndelag, Norway. Having represented her country on the world's biggest stages, Camilla is busier than ever preparing for an important season in her skating career. Prior to heading to Germany for the Nebelhorn Trophy, she talked with me about her goals, coaching team, strengths and weaknesses and much more in this fantastic interview you are bound to enjoy:

Q: You have won your country's national title three times and represented Norway at the European and World Junior Championships. You've also won medals at international competitions like the Warsaw Cup in Poland. Looking back on your accomplishments to date, what are your proudest moments and most special memories?

A: One of my proudest moments are when I competed for the first time in seniors at Nationals. I got my first national title and I was the one who would represent Norway at Europeans. Another nice moment was at the Nordics in 2013 where I skated two good programs and because of this competition I got to compete at Junior Worlds.I have many special memories, and mostly they're from competitions where I skated a clean program or both programs. Nothing is better than the feeling after skating a clean program!


Q: You are coached by Berit Steigedal and choreographed by fellow Norwegian Champion Kaja Hanevold. What makes Berit and Kaja the best team for you personally?

A: They are the best team for me because I enjoy working with them and they know me so well. My coach Berit uses a lot of time and effort in the ice-rink with me. I love that she's so dedicated. We share the same training philosophy and agree on almost everything. I know she supports me and for me it is important to know that my coach believes in me. Kaja is my former coach and has been my choreographer since I was a little girl so she knows my style of skating and creates the best programs for me.



Q: You've trained not only in Norway but in Germany and Canada as well. In your opinion, what are the biggest benefits of going elsewhere to train in the off season?

A: First of all, I train abroad during the off-season because we don´t have open ice rinks in Norway in the summertime but also to practice with top coaches and skaters. It is inspiring to work with different people. I have skated at the Ice-Dome camp for almost ten years now and I can't imagine a summer without training in Oberstdorf because of the great atmosphere for skating and training.

Q: Your twin sister Anne Line is also a Norwegian Champion - and one of your biggest competitors at home. Is there ever a sense of sibling rivalry between the two of you or has skating simply brought you closer together? Or both?

A: Both! She is my closest friend. I think it's because we're so much alike" we share the same values and have the same interests. Skating is a huge part of our lives. We also have our rivalries but in a good way. We have always pushed each other and it's been healthy for our development and progress.

Q: What can you share about your goals and programs for the 2014/2015 season?

A: My main goal is to skate clean programs so I can reach the minimum technical requirement to compete at the World Figure Skating Championships but also to compete for the one spot at Europeans in Stockholm. I have two new program this season. I skate to "The Havana Slide" by Vanessa Mae in the short program choreographed by Kaja Hanevold and "Piano Concerto No. 2" by Rachmaninoff in free skate like I did last season, but the program is new and re-choreographed by Michael Huth.

Q: What do you see as your strengths and weaknesses as a skater and how have you been working to improve upon your weaknesses?

A: I think that I work hard. I am focused and give everything on each practice both on and off the ice. In competitions I can be too tense and affected by nerves so I make more mistakes than I do on practice but to avoid this extra tension in competitions I just do a lot of full programs at practice so I get more confident and arrive as prepared as possible.


Q: If you could go back in time and meet any important historical figure, who would it be?

A: One person I would like to meet is Sonja Henie because she has such an important role in Norwegian figure skating history and she was also a famous Hollywood actress. It would be interesting to know how she was as a person.

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

A: My favourite is Carolina Kostner. I love everything about her! She is a huge role model for me because of how she is as an athlete and as a person. I also like Patrick Chan a lot. His skating skills are incredible and his elements too! Tomas Verner has also been one of my favorites since he became European Champion in 2008 and I've always kept cheering for him. Especially Carolina and Tomas - they are always working really hard and never giving up through their journey and that inspires me!

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

A: I am extremely bad at learning song lyrics.

Q: What do you love more than anything about being on the ice?

A: When I'm on the ice, nothing else matters. It's like time stops and my only focus is on what I'm doing on the ice. The sport is so unique because it requires so much of both technique and artistry. There's always something to improve and the feeling of accomplishing new things and new goals is amazing.

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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Regent's Park Skating Tragedy


You can't sift through skating history without coming upon tale after tale of "fancy" and pleasure skaters alike meeting tragedy by falling through the ice, especially in eras of long ago when the great outdoors was the only option for outdoor skaters. However, of the many quite frankly grim tales out there none is as dreadful as the Regent's Park Skating Tragedy.


On January 15, 1867 at approximately 3:30 in the afternoon, hundreds of skaters flocked to the frozen lake in the southwest corner of Regent's Park in London, England. In the Victorian era, not only was skating incredibly popular among people of means but the hot spots to skate were advertised in newspapers and Regent's Park was certainly one of these meccas for locals looking to catch an edge. On that frigid January day, skaters chose not to heed warnings of danger after they were clearly warned of thin ice but made the decision to go skate anyway. In fact, they were even told the ice had broken the day before and twenty one people had plunged into the icy lake. They were rescued by 'icemen' (stewards) of the Skating Club which used to lake on which to practice.


Close to the banks of the lake, the ice began to weaken under the weight of the large crowd and cracked. Anywhere from one hundred fifty to five hundred skaters (all four sources I cited in researching this blog provided varying numbers) plunged into twelve inches of frigid water. So, now you have all of these people in the incredibly freezing water wearing bulky Victorian garb and ice skates, many of whom can't swim. Keep in mind this wasn't our generation. I took swimming lessons when I was younger and am by no means a strong swimmer but I'd like to think I'd hopefully be a competent enough swimmer to save myself in a life or death situation. In icy winter waters in heavy clothing wearing skates though? I don't know. In that era, it wasn't uncommon for many people to have no clue how to swim. Police and doctors nearby rushed to the scene. Many on shore broke branches off trees or offered ropes to those struggling in the subzero water and a local boat builder even launched a vessel from the shore to aid victims battling what we now know to be hypothermia while they clung to ice floes. Those rescued were taken to hospitals, their homes and workhouses in the area. Sadly, for many it was simply too late.

Photo courtesy British Library

The January 19, 1867 issue of "The Spectator" described the tragedy thusly: "The frost was not so keen as it had been, and the ice had been weak- ened by being cut round the shore near private houses, in order to proven t skating trespassers from invading the gardens. A grea.t many fortunately had already left the ice as dangerous, but there were still probably 200 skaters and sliders upon it, when it gave way all at once in a hundred different places, and most of those then on the ice fell into water twelve feet deep. Much the greater number were eventually either able to escape for themselves or were rescued, but no less than thirty-seven corpses have been already found. The agitation and screams of the bystanders, many of whom saw their children, or brothers, or husbands drowning before their eyes, were even more terrible than the cries of the drowning. One lady saw her husband drown, while two others were screaming in the greatest agony for some one to save their brother. Children went down crying to their mothers for help where none could be given. The ice was too rotten to hold, and too thick for swimmers to penetrate. The boats crushed their way through it at a snail's pace with the greatest difficulty. Many were saved by ropes, of which, however, there were not a quarter enough at hand for an accident on such a scale. It was more than an hour before all those who were clinging to the floes were rescued. Several died afterwards who were not drowned, and almost all these, it is said, were delirious, supposing themselves to be swimming matches during the night. Many of the rescued were taken to private houses in the park, others to the Marylebone Workhouse."

Recovering the bodies of those who hadn't survived the tragedy proved immensely difficult as the ice quickly froze over again. Channels had to be cut in the ice and after a week of recovery efforts, a total of forty bodies were recovered from the lake. That's almost a quarter of the people that went skating that day if you go by the number of two hundred reported by most sources and you know what? As horrible as that number is it is remarkable it wasn't worse. The skaters were ultimately blamed for their decision to skate despite being warned of thin ice but it came out after the fact that park keepers had been breaking the ice around the edges of the lake to provide open water for the water fowl in the area.

A groundskeeper in Regent's Park breaking the ice for the swans in 1933

Following the Regent's Park tragedy, an inquest was held and measures were taken to ensure it didn't happen again. The depth of the lake was reduced by four to five feet and the lake bed was raised with soil and concrete to make drowning less likely. Sadly, the "it won't happen to me" mentality prevailed and a generation later, a hundred more skaters found themselves in the lake when the same thing happened again. The change of the lake's depth however proved to be a very intelligent measure as not a single person perished in the second 'big break' of the frozen Regent's Park lake. I wish I could tell you that this tragedy was the worst of it's kind, but I can't. In December 1900, forty nine children were widely reported to have perished in an almost identical incident in Des Moines, Iowa. The moral of the story? If someone tells you the ice is thin, do not dive in.

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Monday, 22 September 2014

Interview With Anuschka Gläser and Axel Rauschenbach


If you want to talk about German pairs skating, two names that you definitely want to be bringing up are Anuschka Gläser and Axel Rauschenbach. With his former partner Mandy Wötzel (who went on to win the 1997 World title with Ingo Steuer), Axel won the silver medal at the 1989 European Championships, two East German titles and a unified German title and represented Germany at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. In 1992, after a year away from skating Rauschenbach teamed up with Anuschka Gläser, who had won two West German titles herself. Together, the duo from East and West Germany won the 1994 German pairs title and went on to represent Germany at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer and enjoy success as professional pairs skaters during the boom of professional competitive and show skating opportunities following those 1994 Games. Unifying the two again after so many years apart, I spoke to both Anuschka and Axel about their respective skating careers and past, present and future in this must read interview! Genießen Sie!:

Q: You teamed up in 1992 and only ended up competing together for one season as "amateur" skaters, but in that remarkably short amount of time won the 1994 German title (ahead of former German Champions and veteran skaters Peggy Schwarz and Alexander König) and went on to compete at the European Championships, Winter Olympics in Lillehammer and World Championships in Japan. What are you proudest moments from your competitive career as a pairs team? What memories are the most special?

A from Anuschka: We already teamed up in September of 1992 but we started only in the following season. This was hard to understand and very disappointing for me. I couldn't get along with the Eastern mentality where long preparation times are expected. I have quite an impatient character. I'd like to have competed in the season of 1992/1993. When I teamed up with Stefan Pfrengle, we had only six and a half weeks until Nationals. I was also a roller skater and just returned from Worlds in New Zealand in October 1987. In the Nationals, we came second. And after ten weeks, we got ninth at Europeans. This is what I'm proud of. Also for the fifth place at Europeans in 1990 in Leningrad (also with Stefan). When I teamed up with Axel, I'm not so proud of my performances. He was a great partner but somehow I couldn't give my best! This still hurts sometimes but I enjoyed to skate with Axel more. That was the way I wanted to skate! The proudest moment with Axel was at the Team Worlds 1994 in Amherst. We skated to "Schindler's List" and this program was created by ourselves without any help from a choreographer. It just flowed out of us. Ekaterina Gordeeva came to me after practice and said that she really, really liked that program. For me, that was the most valuable compliment I had ever received. Amherst and our short trip to New York afterwards where we also spent time with Katarina Witt and Scott Hamilton is one of my best memories.

A from Axel: When I finished my career as a figure skater in 1992 with Mandy Wötzel, Anuschka came up to me and asked me if I could imagine trying to start with her for the next Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer 1994. For me it was a great honor and also a great challenge. She was also a superb figure skater and German Champion with a good figure skating style. The chance to participate in two Olympic Games within two years was unmissable and I was proud to have this done with Anuschka. To participate in Olympic Games is something special. Only few athletes in the world manage to participate during their sporting careers. I am grateful that in 1992 Anuschka convinced me to train for the special moments we shared in Lillehammer 1994.


Q: Anuschka, I find it interesting that both you and Katarina Witt chose to skate to music from "Schindler's List" during your professional careers. You studied politics and sociology at the university of Stuttgart. What was the message behind this program and how do you feel that people perceive or react to German skaters tackling this music and story on the ice?

A from Anuschka: To be honest, we chose that music because it's wonderful music. We didn't want to make a statement but we wanted to tell a story. Our story was one of a Jewish couple who survived the Holocaust because they didn't lose their faith in love and humanity. The reaction of the program? I was only aware of the skating at the time. I was very surprised when I heard the commentary on a record many years later. The commentator spoke about a controversial choice of music for a German skater. But it wasn't at all controversial for me. Why emphasize that we are Germans? What would be the difference if a Canadian or American or Russian skater would have chosen this music? There was no reservation in choosing this theme and music. I don’t feel guilty for the Holocaust because I’m a German, not a Nazi! I would have fought against the Nazis. This is the way all German people feel except for a tiny number of idiots and there are idiots everywhere. I have courage to say things even if they are not popular and I'm a skeptical person. This is why I started to study politics and sociology in 2002. I don’t believe so much to the information of the media and I like to look behind the scenes. I think I'm kind of resistant to propaganda. But in 1994, I wasn't political. Axel and I we were artists.


Q: Very, very well said! As we have already touched on, you turned professional in 1994 and skated in competitions together like the World Team Championships as we've talked about as well as the Rowenta Masters On Ice in Germany and other shows. How difficult was the transition from "amateur" to professional skating and what did you enjoy the most about the freedom of not skating under ISU rules?

A from Anuschka: The difficulty for me was to accept that we wouldn't compete in the "real" competitions anymore but the transition wasn't difficult at all! You cannot compare ISU from 1994 rules with today's! The big difference was that I was only responsible for me and there was no federation with any expectations. This made me "psychologically free". What I enjoyed most was that we could concentrate much more on the performance than on the elements.


Q: Anuschka, you had a very similar experience, winning two West German titles with Stefan Pfrengle in 1989 in 1990, which were actually the last two pairs titles in West Germany before the unification and tearing down of Berlin Wall). You and Stefan competed against Axel and Mandy for a spot on the 1992 Olympic team. Did you all always get along or was there any rivalry there?

A from Anuschka: There was disappointment that we couldn't get the place in the Olympic team but not such a strong rivalry. There is a certain rivalry but it's marginal. I really think that pair skaters are different to other skaters. There is such a long way behind you until you become a successful pair skater and you also need a couple of attributes that makes you more hail-fellow-well-met. Maybe the reason was much easier. Maybe it's only because in the past pair skaters were always the first who finished competitions and started first with partying. Maybe we just did too much partying to be rivals.

Q: How are you both currently connected to Germany's figure skating community?

A from Anuschka: I'm a coach. Not full time because I'm also mother of three daughters but I'm still in direct connection to Germany’s figure skating community.

A from Axel: Today I have friendly relationships with many former skaters. Sometimes we meet, talk and laugh about the old days and the many wonderful experiences we had. From 1995 to 2012, every year I have participated in a skating exhibition in my hometown, Dresden. I also played various roles in German fairy tale performances on the ice as a solo performer there. I don’t have any other connections to figure skating, for example as a coach or judge. Professionally I work as a patent attorney at my parents' offices in Dresden.

Q: Pairs figure skating in Germany has again enjoyed success in recent years, with skaters like Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy having so much success internationally. Aliona has since teamed up with a new partner, Bruno Massot. Both having gone through partner changes, what do you think are the keys to making this new partnership a smooth transition and a fast success?

A from Anuschka: The key for their success will be the indispensable and absolute will of Aliona Savchenko and their coach Ingo Steuer... and there will be no smooth transition.

Q: Axel, you married 1980 Olympic Gold Medallist Anett Pötzsch. How did the two of you meet?

A from Axel: This is a difficult question to answer, because Anett and I have since parted and gone our separate ways.

Q: I'm sorry to hear that! The next question I wanted to ask either of you would be regarding your thoughts on the way pair figure skating is judged these days versus when you were competing. Do you think the right qualities are being rewarded and what are your thoughts on anonymous judging?

Anuschka today with her family
A from Anuschka: This is a very complex question and I try to make it short. My thoughts regarding the IJS versus 6.0: I prefer the 6.0, even if I’m not saying anything new. It was clear to the audience! You knew what a 4.5 meant or a 5.3 and it was an emotional moment for the audience (and also for the skater) to get a 6.0. You can easily grasp marks and numbers up to ten but it is hard to grasp two hundred points. You just know that if you reached two hundred you’d be on top of the world! You cannot even compare the highest score from one year to the next because each year they change rules, points for elements or the number of elements. To give a current example, next season there will not be the factor 1.1 for the second half of the program in pair skating. There is no message in the points for the audience! Regarding the quality of pair skating, we see more varieties in lifts, death spirals, spins and steps than we saw ten years before! But we see many of the same varieties done by each couple because of the need to collect points. We see a lot of very similar programs and year after year each pair only change their music but keep the order of elements and the transitions. But it's really amazing what pairs are able to do today! What they do need is an enormous level of concentration but too much concentration is also the death of emotion, so we lost emotions in two parts: in the scoring system and in the programs. Unfortunately, the IJS does not prevent bad or politically motivated judging. If judging is anonymous or not doesn't make any difference in the IJS. Understanding the judging doesn't improve if you know them personally. Also, it is hard for the judges themselves to get a feedback with regards to their own performance. If the judge gives the highest or lowest mark it will get out of the score and if you are always out of average you risk a disciplinary sanction. But what I think is critical is that they can make or unmake a champion and it is too heavily influenced by the components. On the other hand, there are the technical specialists - confusingly named in my opinion, because they are not specialists for technique but they define elements on basis of certain rules. They are not anonymous and make the decisions in one team. This team's position is also critical and the technical specialists have a hard job. To summarize, there is more quality but less emotion. Why can't we come up with a system that maintains emotion AND improves quality? The IJS is inscrutable and not transparent. It produces montony and conformity, penalizing uniqueness. The IJS doesn't solve the problem of illegal arrangements. How can we create a fair system? This will always be a problem. It is probably an illusion that biases can be removed from the system entirely.


Q: When is the last time the two of you skated together and would it ever happen again?

A from Anuschka: December 1996 at Rowenta Masters was the last time and I don't think that it will happen again because I moved back to Stuttgart and Axel lives in Dresden. I still really like skating and would love to skate again with Axel.

A from Axel: The time with Anuschka as a pair skater was totally different to the career with Mandy. We trained hard every day in addition to my job but we also had a lot of fun and took part in a lot of great competitions. Should it arise, I would love to skate again with Anuschka too.

Axel today
Q: Axel, prior to teaming up with Anuschka, your partner was Mandy Wötzel, with whom you won two East German national titles, a German title, the 1989 European silver medal and competed at the 1992 Winter Olympic Games. Why did you and Mandy decide to split up and what was the experience of having to compete against your former partner like?

A from Axel: After winning the silver medal at the European Championships in 1989 in Birmingham, we had a serious accident just before leaving for the World Championships in Paris 1989. Mandy had a serious head injury after a collision with my skate. This accident threw us back. We never again reached the form we had before the accident. Added to this, our opinions with regard to training began to diverge. After the Olympic Games in Albertville in 1992, I decided to take a job in banking rather that to pursue the sport further. I was definitely a little impatient and had set expectations and goals that were too high. Today, after many years, I might have decided otherwise. But the decision also had a good side. Anuschka and I had an additional incentive with our training partners Mandy and Ingo. Mandy was fortunate enough to win some great titles and we have all achieved our goal to participate in the Olympic Games in Lillehammer 1994.

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

A from Axel: Brian Boitano is one. I love his kind of skating, his lightness and ability to present any jump. His performances remain a fond memory. Ekaterina Gordeeva/Sergei Grinkov also. They are my ideal pair skaters. Difficult elements together with a perfect sliding on the ice and the peerless grace of Ekaterina. I have watched in amazement and always with admiration during training and competition. Finally, Kurt Browning. For me he is a perfect skater, justifiably known for his excellent footwork. In 1988, he jumped the first error-free quadruple jump - a quadruple toe loop- in a competition. His choreography and extravagant programs have always inspired me. I always look forward to his show programs with joy.

A from Anuschka: Toller Cranston! When he was at the top, I was really young. I was touched by his way of skating and being different and I was impressed by the story that he threw his compulsory figure skates into a river after his last competition as an amateur even if I don’t know if the story is true. I didn't like the compulsory figures as well and I was thinking more than once to follow his example! Ekaterina Gordeeva is the embodiment for lightness, grace and beauty. She is a skating fairy. Katarina Witt was never an ice princess and she couldn't be one. She was always a queen. My favourite couple (even if that wasn't the question) is Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean. They are outstanding! There are no more words than outstanding!

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

A from Anuschka: I don’t kill spiders and I give names to the ones who come into our apartment. Since our spiders have names they are not scary anymore to my children and sometimes also bees get a name.

A from Axel: I love Canada and hate elevators.

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Saturday, 20 September 2014

Afternoons Of A Faun

Afternoon of a Faun by Édouard Manet, Princeton University Library, Graphic Arts Collection

In 1876, French author Stéphane Mallarmé penned the poem "L'après-midi d'un faune". It described the sensual awakening of a faun who had just awoken from an afternoon sleep and recounts the faun's encounters with several nymphs during a morning dreamlike sequence. It inspired Claude Debussy's "Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune", a revolutionary composition that helped spark the modernist movement in music. Debussy's music and Mallarmé's poem came to life with movement in the ballet "Afternoon Of A Faun", choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky and first performed on stage at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris in 1912, with the lead role of the faun danced by Nijinsky himself. The choreography - non-traditional, angular and sensual - sparked debate and mixed reviews among critics, who called it everything from "perfect" to "crude". Although sadly never recorded, Nijinsky's ballet was revived in the 1980's and Debussy's "Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune" also inspired ballets by Jerome Robbins and Timothy Rushton. In time, skaters began translating Mallarmé, Debussy and Nijinsky's combined legacy to the frozen stage in their own afternoons of a faun:

JANET LYNN


What better way to start with than with Janet Lynn, who (like Curry, who I'll talk about next) is one of a very few select skaters that I have a hard time finding words sufficient to properly do any justice. "Afternoon Of A Faun" became a signature piece for Janet throughout her "amateur" and professional careers and it's no wonder why. The freedom and controlled abandon in her movement is inspiring; her unbridled joy and attention to detail otherworldly. When you bring this music to life, a big part of it are those unexpected and wonderful movements to the crescendos in the orchestration. Janet brings the interesting to the table: the single axel into the double axel, the walleys in both direction into the back split and flying camel spin. Her carriage and the quality not only of each and every element but the edges and extensions is simply beautiful beyond words.

JOHN CURRY



John Curry's contribution to professional and artistic skating is truly unparalleled. He legitimized skating as dance and skating as art and left a legacy in his huge and heartfelt body of work that really can't be touched. He CHANGED skating. Like Lynn, "Afternoon Of A Faun" was a signature piece for Curry, and his performance of Norman Maen's choreography coupled with exquisite costuming by Nadine Baylis made for the most authentic interpretation of Nijinsky's vision as I understand it. He captured and told the story through angular movement with the most gorgeous body line and USE of his body, capturing every little nuance and detail of the music almost to a science. The contrast and tension in arm movements and his connection with Catherine Foulkes in this piece was ice dancing at his finest. High art in every sense of the word.

YUKA SATO



Yuka Sato's interpretation of Debussy's rich score was simply gorgeous. I think taking on a piece of music like this, especially as it was so well known in connection to legends like Curry and Lynn, was a brave artistic choice and she pulled it off in every sense of the expression. I loved the two foot turns following that huge triple loop and the ebb and flow balance of speed and softness. I also love how she gets INTO the ice with her knees. Like Lynn, Sato finds such joy in the act of skating and is a natural at expressing the character of the music she's skating to. A beautiful and rich interpretation.

ILIA KLIMKIN


What I love about Ilia Klimkin's interpretation is that clever, avant garde yet elegant, almost Alexandr Fadeev like quality in his skating. His interpretation is INTERESTING. I think back to skaters like Klimkin, Olga Markova, Laetitia Hubert, Vanessa Gusmeroli and Laurent Tobel from that era that had such original and interesting choreography and it makes me really miss the 6.0 judging system even more. I digress as usual. Loved the spins in both directions and the triple salchow out of that spin exit was sheer insanity. How? There was so much more though. A walley into a triple axel, the running, the Cantilever... Despite some jump problems in this particular performance, Klimkin breathed fresh life into Debussy's music and offered a unexpected contrast.

CAROLINA KOSTNER



I should be saying 2014 Olympic Gold Medallist Carolina Kostner, but the world's mad. Like all of the skaters I'm talking about in this blog article, Kostner is another skater who has been fearless about tackling BIG music... from "Bolero" to "Ave Maria" to "Afternoon Of A Faun", Carolina doesn't shy away from a challenge. Kostner's interpretation of the music was hearty and layered as well. There's a certain risk and reward to placing big ticket jumps on musical crescendos but in this program, Kostner pulled it off at least twice... the triple loops were placed perfectly. The footwork sequence was delightfully musical and didn't have that IJS windmill in a windstorm up and down labored feel to it whatsoever and I thought the placing of the spin combinations was brilliant. A fine example of a skater making something out of the IJS system's restraints and delivering a really beautiful program in spite of that challenge.

ADAM RIPPON


I think "Afternoon Of A Faun" was just the right vehicle for Adam Rippon. Being the fluid skater he is, this was a perfect piece of music to capitalize on his very styled and mature presence on the ice. It was a well constructed program as well, with the spread eagle into triple loop well placed to the music. Like in Curry's interpretation, Rippon made great use of his arms as well. I also was a big fan of the footwork sequence's placement in the program and two Rippon lutzes really put an exclamation point on the latter part of the program, setting up the program's ending to succeed. A Tom Dickson masterpiece, as most Tom Dickson programs are.

I think the wonderful commonality in all of these programs is that all 6.0 of these skaters was able to, in their own unique ways, breathe such life into a piece and a story that started in the nineteenth century. Their Afternoons Of A Faun were in turns joyous, moody, reverent, irreverent, interesting, expressive and choreographically well constructed and delivered. There's something to be said for just going out and skating lights out to a beautiful piece of music and this Debussy gem has really been VERY good to skating.

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

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Interview With Maé-Bérénice Méité


With six consecutive medals at the French Figure Skating Championships (including the gold this past season) to her credit, Maé-Bérénice Méité has proven that she is most definitely a force to be reckoned with. A prodigal jumper, Maé-Bérénice has represented France on the world's biggest stages: the World Junior Championships, the Junior and Senior Grand Prix circuits as well as the European Championships and the World Championships. Her tenth place finish at the 2014 Sochi Games in the ladies event was the highest placement by a French ladies skater since 1998 when Vanessa Gusmeroli and Surya Bonaly both found themselves in the top ten. Certainly not just a jumper, Maé-Bérénice's unorthodox and creative program choices demand one's attention. It was my pleasure to speak to her at length about her career to date, coach Katia Crier, goals, life off the ice and much more in this fantastic interview you are bound to love:

Q: Last season, you won the French National Championships after winning medals the five previous years. What did it mean to you to stand atop the podium and become France's National Champion?

A: Last season, winning the national title was a real relief. I finally got it after five years of fighting and four silver medals. This title means a lot to me because first, it's one thing to be the French national silver medallist and and other to be the National Champion... and second, after all those years I've finally reached one of my several goals. For me, it was a good thing to have it especially during this Olympic year. I really wanted to go to Sochi and from the beginning of the season, I knew I had to do a perfect journey from the first competition to the Europeans to get my ticket to the Olympics, National Championships included.


Q: Your career has had so much success - trips to the Olympics, European and World Championships, Grand Prix events, Junior Worlds and international competition success, including a win at the Ondrej Nepela Memorial in 2011. Looking back on your career so far, what are your proudest moments... and what moments were the hardest?

A: Let's start with the hardest one! Back during the 2009/2010 season, I decided to have a new coach after ten years being with the same one. It wasn't the easiest decision I had to make but when you're starting to compete at a high level, you have to make some difficult choices. Then I'd say the National Championships that I've missed and my second European Championships in Sheffield. Very hard time! That competition was my ticket for World in Nice. I really wanted to do it because it was in my home country. Unfortunately I screwed up so I was in Nice but in the stands, not on the ice. My proudest moments are simply when I see that very beautiful smile on parents faces. Without them, I wouldn't be here and I wouldn't be the person I am today. But you know, we can always be proud of ourselves as long as we tried to do our best. It's not always perfect but at least we tried with our heart and our soul. I think that's what we should be more proud of! But of course, being in Sochi was so far the best experience of my entire life and I'm very proud of it. But I have to keep working. It's only the beginning!




Q: You are coached by the very talented Katia Crier and work with Laurie May and Sandra Garde (a gifted choreographer and skater!) on choreography. What is your relationship like with your coaches and choreographers and why does it work so well?

A: I started training with Katia in 2009/2010 and you know, she knows where she goes and why she goes there so I just trust her and her knowledge and do whatever she has told me. She has said  "I don't care if you're ill, sick, if you got a cough or if you don't want to work today... just go on the ice and do your job and don't complain" and also "You're allowed to say that you are tired only on Saturday after 11 AM" so she has taught me what high level work is! We both love when things are well made so that's why it worked so good between us! It's the same with Laurie and Sandra... different people but complementary! That's how we keep the good work going!



Q: You've always dreamed of developing your own perfume! Tell me about your passion for wonderful scents and if you had to make a signature perfume called Maé Bérénice, what would it smell like?

A: Oh yes, I have always loved perfume since I was a child and that's why I wanted to study sciences at school. I really, really love men's perfume and I got one for me called "La nuit de l'homme by Yves Saint Laurent" and it has a very strong and powerful smell! Yes, some of the perfumes I wear are for men. I know it's strange but I really love strong and powerful scents! I also have a LOT of women's fragrance. I love scents! If I created my own perfume, it would smell something strong and sweet at the time, something a bit mysterious with that little something that would make the difference!

Q: You are a POWERHOUSE of a jumper! What is your favourite and least favourite jump?

A: My favourite jumps... Hmm... double axel and triple lutz! My least favourite one is the triple flip.

Q: France is rich in skating tradition and it has produced so many fantastic ladies skaters over the years - Surya Bonaly, Laetitia Hubert, Vanessa Gusmeroli and countless others... what French ladies skaters do you look up to most?

A: I look up to Surya the most because of all her medals and titles. She has very good mental focus and I admire this.

Q: Looking towards the coming season, what are your main goals for this season and what can you share about the programs you will be skating?

A: Well, my main goals are really getting better and better and to get better places on the Grand Prix and at Europeans and Worlds! About my music, this year I wanted strong and powerful music. I won't say more. You'll see during the season!

Q: Of the skaters you are competing against, who do you admire most?

A: I admire a lot of skaters I've competed against but also a lot of men, each one for different reasons! First, I love Mao Asada because not every lady can do a triple axel. Then Yuna Kim, she is the queen and it's not for nothing. She's very feminine and has beautiful jumps. I love her skating as much as I love Ashley Wagner's skating. They are both always feminine with so much power in every single step they are doing. About Ashley, I had the chance to do an entire season competing against her (Skate America, Bompard, Olympics and Worlds) and I always looked for her Pink Floyd short program because that one was just SO AMAZING! I was just so in love with this one! Also, I'm in love with Carolina Kostner. Beautiful long arms and legs and she knows how to use them. About the men, I love Daisuke Takahashi and Florent Amodio. They both play with the audience and have that body movement that I love! Patrick Chan as well for his amazing transitions. They all have that little something and everyone can only remember each of them for that and that's why I love them: they're different!

Q: If you could have a day completely away from the rink, where would you go, what would you eat and what music would you be listening to?

A: I would go to a beautiful place lost in the middle of nowhere... a haven of peace with waterfalls. I would bring my best friends there with no phone, no internet, nothing but nature. We would eat fruits from that place and we would be listening all day long to Beyoncé's songs.



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

A: Maybe that I'm a very shy person!

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

A: Kurt Browning: who cannot love that dancing man? He is just awesome and so creative! Brian Joubert: through up and downs he has always showed what a real champion is. He has so many titles but I admire this most... even when people didn't believe in him, he just kept doing what he really loves. Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat: when they won the Olympics I was so young but so happy! I could never forget the "fire haired" woman and their beautiful exhibition program "Susanna". That one definitely made me love ice dance.

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

A: Tolerance! This world needs more tolerance... and optimism!

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, 16 September 2014

Georg Heym: The Skating Prophet


Born in October 1887 in Hirschberg, Lower Silesia in what was then Prussia, Georg Heym is posthumously considered as one of the great figures of German Expressionism. Only in his early twenties, he penned several books of poetry, prose and drama including "Der ewige Tag (The Eternal Day)" in 1911 and "Umbra vitae" in 1912. What made his writing so interesting was that themes and metaphors that were considered prophetic by many, including the Nazis who later regarded his life's work as suspect. "The Eternal Day" used the metaphor a big city (in Heym's case Berlin) as a demon that destroyed humanity and his latter work "Umbra vitae", he wrote of an apocalyptic fantasy that later became the reality of World War I in "The War" and in "Death In Water" chillingly seemed to predict his own end almost like Jeff Buckley when he sang "I Know It's Over". Just as Buckley sang "Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head" predicting his death by drowning, Heym did the same in "Death In Water".

An unsatisfied student at Friedrich-Wilhelms-Gymnasium at Neuruppin in Brandenburg and the law school in Würzburg, Heym was by accounts a bit of a rebel, an individual in time when 'that sort of thing was frowned upon'. He wrote poetry as a means of expression while studying things that left him unsatisfied and even joined a Dead Poets Society style group called the Neue Club which was full of open minded thinkers who shared a sense of rebellion against the status quo, a disdain for contemporary culture and a desire for political and societal upheaval. The Neue Club held meetings much like the Dead Poets Society called Neopathetisches Cabaret where they presented new work and this is where Heym really started gaining attention and praise among his peers.


Natalie Merchant's song "It's A Coming" almost seems to echo Heym's ominous writing

UMBRA VITAE 

Heym's 1912 prophetic poem, translated from German by Christopher Middleton:

"The people on the streets draw up and stare,
While overhead huge portents cross the sky;
Round fanglike towers threatening comets flare,
Death-bearing, fiery-snouted where they fly.

On every roof astrologers abound,
enormous tubes thrust heavenward; there are
Magicians springing up from underground,
Aslant in darkness, conjuring to a star.

Through night great hordes of suicides are hurled,
Men seeking on their way the selves they've lost;
Crook-backed they haunt all corners of the world,
And with their arms for brooms they sweep the dust.

They are as dust, keep but a little while;
And as they move their hair drops out. They run,
To hasten their slow dying. Then they fall,
And in the open fields lie prone,

But twitch a little still. Beasts of the field
Stand blindly around them, prod with horns
Their sprawling bodies till at last they yield,
Lie buried by the sage-bush, by the thorns.

But all the seas are stopped. Among the waves
The shops hang rotting, scattered, beyond hope.
No current through the water moves,
And all the courts of heaven are locked up.

Trees do not change, the seasons do not change.
Enclosed in dead finality each stands,
And over broken roads lets frigid range
Its palmless thousand-fingered hands.

They dying man sits up, as if to stand,
Just once more word a moment since he cries,
All at once he's gone. Can life so end?
And crushed to fragments are his glassy eyes.

The secret shadows thicken, darkness breaks;
Behind the speechless doors dreams watch and creep.
Burdened by light of dawn the man that wakes
Must rub from grayish eyelids leaden sleep."

Just as he predicted in his poem "Death In Water", at age twenty four Heym (an avid skater) and his friend Ernst Balcke would meet their end in water two years before the start of World War I. The two friends traveled to the frozen Havel (a tributary of the Elbe river in northeastern Germany) on a skating trip and never returned. A few days later, the bodies of both men were found and it is generally believed that Balcke had fallen through the ice and Heym had attempted to save his friend but fell in and perished in the cold water himself. Heym remained alive in the water for half an hour, his cries heard by nearby forestry workers that were sadly unable to reach him before he succumbed to hypothermia or drowning.

Gone too soon, John Curry's story and skating was like Heym's writing - ahead by a century.

This rebel, this brilliant writer and skating prophet's story almost harkens in my mind to the story of John Curry... a precocious rebel of convention of his times who left an indelible impression on the world around him and tragically left us too soon. One can only hope that the tragic losses of talented virtuosos in their respective crafts like Heym and Curry will continue to live on and influence the work of the wonderful rebels of generations to come.

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Sunday, 14 September 2014

Interview With Lisa-Marie Allen


In the late seventies and early eighties, if you had any knowledge of figure skating you absolutely knew the name Lisa-Marie Allen. A four time senior ladies medallist at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Lisa-Marie actually defeated eventual Olympic Medallist Linda Fratianne in the combined short program and free skate scores at the 1980 U.S. Nationals to earn her spot on the 1980 Lake Placid Olympic team, where she finished fifth. Retiring from "amateur" competition following the 1981 U.S. Championships, she went on to a highly successful professional career that saw her star in the Ice Capades, win the 1990 World Professional Championships in Jaca, Spain and the 1997 American Open professional title and act as co-founder of the City Of Angels Ice Theater. Now a coach and technical specialist based out of beautiful Sun Valley, Idaho, Lisa-Marie took the time from her busy schedule to talk about both her "amateur" and professional careers, working with Will Ferrell and Jon Heder on Blades Of Glory, motherhood and much more in this fantastic interview you're bound to love!

Q: You represented the U.S. at the Winter Olympics in 1980 and at three World Championships. During your eligible career, you also won four medals at the U.S. National Championships and won international events like Skate America, Skate Canada and the Nebelhorn Trophy. Looking back, what were the most special and the most difficult moments of your eligible career? 

A: In a nutshell, the best of times...winning junior ladies in 1975 (I had only been skating since October of 1969) and making the Olympic team in 1980... the the not so best would be being denied the U.S. National title in 1978 in Portland and competing in 1981 with a sprained ankle. I had hoped to win the title without Linda Fratianne skating that year.



Q: When you turned professional, you toured with Ice Capades and also competed professionally, winning both the American Open and World Professional titles and participating in many other events. What do you think the sport is missing now that the lines have been blurred between eligible and pro skating?

A: The sport has certainly changed in both ways. We see amazing accomplishments happening every year but before 1984, we truly were amateurs and had to "find our way" without the hype from media and corporations that wanted a piece of the action upon our success.

Q: Do you think the new judging system and the elimination of compulsory figures as helped or hurt the sport? 

A: In my role as a technical panel specialist, I have tried to see the fair and positive change to the sport. At times, my hopes have not been fulfilled. Without a doubt, we need figures back in the structure but it will never happen. It takes too much time and we as modern day humans don't have the patience.


Q: What are your memories of the 1990 World Professional Championships in Jaca, Spain? 

A: I went to Jaca three times and the last trip (when I won), the Mayor of Jaca welcomed me "home". That was amazing! I think I skated to Roy Orbison's "Crazy" but can't quite recall. I also learned a few Spanish things to say to the audience.

Q: What do you devote most of your time to now that you aren't performing regularly?

A: Hiking with my dogs!

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

A: Yesterday! I still skate a few days a week. The last time I performed was in the 2012 Battle of the Blades here in Sun Valley. I was the front end of Herman Maricich's bull in a tribute to him.

Q: You skated to "Song Instead Of A Kiss" by Alannah Myles during your professional career. I love that song! What are your favourite pieces of music you have skated to? 

A: I love too many to pick just one. In my skating, I just tried to choose songs that were interesting and challenging to choreograph. They may not have been totally crowd pleasing, but I enjoyed the work.


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

A: Most people don't know that I am one of five children - the only girl and the youngest.

Q: Who are your three favourite skaters and why? 

A: I started skating because of Peggy Fleming, Charlie Tickner is one of my best friends and Michelle Kwan is truly a rock star!

Q: You choreographed for both the movie Blades Of Glory and the Olympic Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies! What do you enjoy most about choreography and are you still involved in coaching and choreography today? 

A: I am truly grateful to have had the experiences that skating has brought to me. Working on the Opening Ceremonies was a great learning lesson of life. The stress and pressure to produce something of that magnitude for live TV was unbelievable. I had daily bouts of tears just to release the stress and carry on with focus. On the Blades Of Glory film, the chance to bring skating to a completely different demographic was a blast. The time spent with Will Farrell, Amy Poehler, Jon Heder and Will Arnett was fantastic. They were all troupers as far as what they were willing to attempt. I still teach a bit and choreograph for my students.

Q: What is the biggest life lesson you have learned through motherhood? 

A: To embrace the chance to love and nurture another human being.

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, 11 September 2014

Interview With Viktoria Helgesson


After talking about Ulrich Salchow's less than sportsmanlike behavior in the last blog "Oh No She Didn't: A 1908 Figure Skating Skirmish", I didn't want to leave you with a bad taste in your mouth for Swedish figure skating. If there was a great time for an interview with a fantastic Swedish skater, now would be certainly be it. Strikingly beautiful and exceptionally talented, Sweden's Viktoria Helgesson has long been a contender in elite ladies skating. She has won seven Swedish national titles, represented her country at the Winter Olympic Games and World Championships and at the 2011 Skate America competition she won her country's first ever senior Grand Prix medal. Viktoria took the time from her busy training schedule to talk about her relationship with her sister and competitor Joshi, goals for the 2014/2015 season, new and not so new programs, life off the ice and much more in this interview that will most definitely leave you ready to be her biggest cheerleader in the coming year:

Q: You've had so much success in your career so far - representing your country at the Winter Olympics, winning seven Swedish national titles, five Nordic titles, wins internationally at the NRW Trophy, Challenge Cup and Merano Cup and strong results on the Grand Prix circuit and at the European and World Championships. What are your proudest moments or most special memories looking back on your skating career so far?

A: I have so many great moments looking back but the best competition must be the World Championships in Torino in 2010. It was my first time skating clean in a championship and I skated better than I had ever dreamed of. It was the first time we got two places for Worlds and I could bring my sister which for me was another dream come true: skating in a world championship with my sister! Another dream come true was when I won the bronze medal at Skate America. I became the first one from Sweden to ever medal at a Grand Prix, which of course was a proud moment for me.


Q: Your sister Joshi is also an elite skater and in fact one of your biggest competitors at home in Sweden. Has skating ever caused a sense of sibling rivalry between the two of you or has it brought you closer together? Or both?

A: We always support each other and it is so great to have your sister and best friend traveling around the world with me. I think we have helped each other a lot. We can compete against each other at home every day and I don’t think we would have come this far without each other.

Q: You and Joshi's coaching team includes your mother Christina (Svensson) who is a former Swedish Champion in her own right. I can't imagine how special it is for the three of you to share this experience together. How do you and your family separate life at the rink from your relationships outside of skating?

A: We try not to talk so much skating at home and try to do everything in the rink. If we have something to discuss, we instead stay in the rink a little bit before we go home. It was harder when I was younger - in the teens. Now I don’t live with my parents anymore so when I go and see them we have a lot of other things to discuss!

Q: Your choreographer is four time Swedish Champion and fellow Olympian Catarina Lindgren - who I think is just fabulous by the way. What makes her the ideal choreographer for you and what can you share about the programs you'll be skating this coming season?

A: I love working with her. She knows what I am trying to accomplish and she brings out the best of my skating in my programs. This year I'm taking back the free program from the 2012/2013 season (Sunset Boulevard). Well, I have a completely different program and I have changed the music a bit. I am bringing in some music with lyrics in the middle but it's the same idea, same story. In the short, I will skate to Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work". I loved this music from the moment I heard it and I really love this program. I had a hard season last year. I didn't feel like myself skating so this year I wanted to get the feeling of 'me' back in my programs.


 


Q: What are your goals for the 2014/2015 season and what have been your main areas of focus in training?

A: My goal is to skate clean programs with the flip, lutz and triple/triple combo landed. We have Europeans in Sweden next year which of course is one of the biggest goals for me this season. We only have one spot to Worlds so I know I have to skate good this season to get there.

Q: What are one thing you can't go anywhere without?

A: This is hard! My phone... but then again I don't know. I usually travel with my sister so if I forget anything I can borrow things from Joshi.

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

A: There are so many good skaters. It's so hard to choose! I watched a lot of skating growing up. When I was younger my favourite was Michelle Kwan. I loved her skating! I also have to say Yuna Kim.

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

A: I can't think of something right now! I don't have so many other interests. When I'm not skating, I just love spending time with my fiance, my friends and family.

Q: What do you love more than anything about being on the ice?

A: I love the feeling when you succeed with something you have worked for like a new jump, a clean program or a awesome competition. Those moments are the best! I love to perform but also just to skate at home - play some really great music and just skate to it.

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

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Oh No She Didn't!: A 1908 Figure Skating Skirmish


In 1908, Bette Davis was born and her future rival Joan Crawford was only four years old. Famed rivals Sophia Loren and Jayne Mansfield both wouldn't be born until the thirties and the media firestorm pitting Tonya Harding against Nancy Kerrigan wouldn't be front page news and CNN particularization for almost ninety years. One thing was for certain though... that year, the Olympics would get their very first taste of figure skating controversy.

A 2008 article on the wonderful history blog De Rebus Antiquis Et Novis offers a very detailed glimpse into the 1908 Summer Olympics in London and in particular, the heated (to say the least) rivalry between eventual champion of the MEN'S competition Ulrich Salchow of Sweden and eventual champion of the SPECIAL FIGURES event Nikolay Panin (Kolomenkin) of Russia. To give you a bit of background for those of you who may be scratching your heads going "WHATCHU TALKIN' BOUT, RYAN?", the 1908 Summer Games were for figure skating the very beginning in the sport's Olympic history as the Winter Games did not exist yet. The 1908 Olympics were also much longer than they are today as they were held from April 27-October 31, 1908. Figure skating events were held in late October near the end of those Games in cooler temperatures.

In the Special Figures event, skaters had to present judges drawings of original figures that they developed themselves that they planned on etching into the ice. The figures that five time Russian Champion Nikolay Panin submitted were so difficult that referees deemed them impossible. Salchow opted not to compete against Panin in this phase of the competition and the Russian skater and coach became the only Olympic Gold Medallist in figure skating history to win the later discontinued Special Figures event with two hundred and nineteen out of two hundred and forty possible points.

Olympic Gold Medallist Nikolay Panin (Kolomenkin)
What made the fact Salchow chose not to compete against Panin in the Special Figures event at the Prince's Skating Club rink all the more interesting is that just the day before, both men had competed in the compulsory figures portion of the men's competition. Coupled with free skating, the compulsory figures event would help determine the overall men's champion in 1908. Salchow and Panin would be joined by Heinrich Burger of Austria (who won the pairs title at those Games with partner Anna Hübler), Per Thorén of Sweden, British skaters Geoffrey Hall-Say and Arthur Cumming and Argentina's Horatio Tertuliano Torromé. Although Panin performed very well in the compulsory figures, his results were disappointing. Along with first place ordinals from the German and Russian judges, Panin received a second place ordinal from Great Britain and fourth place ordinals from Switzerland... and Sweden. He's really quite lucky he received the marks that he did and skated exceptionally well considering what went down that day.

While Panin was skating his school figures (which obviously required absolute and TOTAL concentration) Salchow was within earshot, loudly commenting on Panin's every movement. John D. Windhausen's essay "Russia's First Olympic Victor" offers some perspective on Salchow's behavior: "Panin, who defeated Salchow in this event earlier in that year, began his performance with a correct figure eight with one foot back. Salchow exhibited behavior unfitting for a champion and demonstratively shouted criticisms of Panin's form. Hoping to undermine the self control of the rival from Russia, Salchow continued his bombastic verbal assaults so that Panin's side was constrained to protest. But Salchow relentlessly maintained his psychological attack while the chief judge did not summon him to order. Even so, Panin seemed to perform perfectly. The results, however, were not in his favor." A newspaper quoted in a history article called "History Of Figure Skating: Nikolay Kolomenkin" on the website for the 2001 Cup Of Russia article offers an in-depth look into just how unsportsmanlike Salchow's behavior really was - and Panin's reaction:

"Hardly could the Russian athlete, who recently defeated Salchow, perform the second compulsory figure -'the eight' - as the Swedish athlete shouted: 'It's not the eight! It's curved!' It was a lie. 'The eight' was excellent. 'So, here is the psychological attack', Panin thought. 'Well, Mister Salchow, let's see if I swallow your bait.' When Panin was performing his next figure Salchow shouted out: 'He is not in a good shape! He can't do anything!' And this time the judge still kept silence. Nikolay Panin protested. The Swedish athlete was reprieved. One should see what followed then! The Swedish figure skater insulted and threatened Panin in reply. Finally Salchow was put into his proper place. This made him angry and he lost his control. As a result the Swedish athlete was not in his best form when performing some first figures. German judges Veldt and Sanders put Panin on the first place, Swedish judge Grenander put him on the second and Herle and Hugel, Salchow's close friend, put the Russian athlete on the fourth place. The protest of the Russian team was left without attention. Panin declared then that he was not going to perform his free program: he didn't expect fair marks from Hugel and Herle. Then Georg Sanders, the Russian judge and a friend of Panin interfered. He managed to persuade Panin that the case with judges wouldn't repeat because Ulrich Salchow and Henri Brokaw left the competition, as they understood how worthless it would be to continue. When Nicolai Panin was performing the last and the most difficult figure, 'impracticable' according to the newspapers one could hear the stormy applause from the judges' box. His result was the best. Having gained 218 points Panin became the Olympic Games winner champion. That was his first Olympic gold."

Olympic Gold Medallist and ten time World Champion Ulrich Salchow of Sweden
To correct and clarify, ultimately Salchow had opted not to continue on to the Special Figures competition that was held the following day where Panin won gold, but it was Panin who ultimately decided to opt out of the overall men's competition and not compete against Salchow in free skating. He would instead vindicate himself and earned an Olympic gold medal in Special Figures. He would ultimately return to Russia an Olympic Champion. Windhausen explains more about what happened after Panin withdrew from the overall men's event: "As a result Panin declined second place. The partiality of the judges, to continue the Russian version, was so blatant that the spokesman for the Russian team issued a protest, but it was not satisfied, and so in the form of a personal protest, Panin refused to enter the free skating part of this event. At the conclusion of the match a group of Swedes - participants and judges - at first orally and then in official written form, carried an apology to Panin for the unworthy conduct of Salchow." That last part made me smile a little.

Fascinatingly and sadly, Nikolay Kolomenkin (who used the pseudonym Panin when competing in figure skating) would face even more scrutiny and stress when returning home from the 1908 Summer Games. The 2008 De Rebus Antiquis Et Novis blog about Panin (Kolomenkin) explained that "an unpleasant surprise awaited Panin 'the triumph of Russian sport' (as journalists called him) in St. Petersburg. Up to that moment Nikolay Panin was safely protected from undesired talks about his pseudonym at his work place. But the secret was disclosed. The director of the department where Panin worked received a page from a newspaper. There was a big photo of a figure-skater performing some difficult pattern on the ice. The photo was encircled in red. The text below said that it was Nikolay Panin, many-time champion of Russia who had just became the gold medallist at the IV Olympics Games in London. The director was stricken by the resemblance of the champion with Nikolay Kolomenkin - an assistant of tax inspector. 'You must stop skating right away', demanded irritated director from Panin. 'It is incredible - a department worker appearing in tights before public!'... 'It is useful for health… body development… And of course the honor of the Russian State on international arena. Is it bad?' But the director didn't want to hear anything at all. Either the department or sport."

Ultimately, although Salchow might have become a ten time World Champion and earn a reputation for shooting his mouth off after his unsportsmanlike behavior in London, Panin found success in another form of shooting - he was quite accomplished in handgun shooting and actually won the 1928 Spartakiad of the Peoples of the USSR competition in this second sport at the age of fifty seven. He taught guerilla warfare to the Soviets during World War II, which makes you wonder how much of an angel he was himself? Guerilla warfare doesn't exactly scream docile to me. Speaking of being 'no angel', we also have to remember that although Salchow behaved poorly at those London Games, he did have a more endearing, human side. "Encyclopedia Brittanica" reminds us of one of Salchow's kinder moments: "Salchow was a generous competitor, and he acknowledged the talents of others. At the 1902 World Championships, Madge Syers finished second to Salchow, and he offered her his gold medal because he felt she should have won." Interestingly, this legend which has been perpetuated through skating history which paints Salchow in a better light has never been substantiated.

I guess the moral of the story is that as long as there have been sports there has been unsportsmanlike behavior. The assault on Nancy Kerrigan, Surya Bonaly removing her silver medal at the 1994 World Championships and even a lot of the cyberbullying that goes on in skating to this day on social media and online message boards... they may be more modern day phenomenons that have brought negative attention to the sport but Salchow's behavior in 1908 towards Panin was by accounts completely uncalled for itself. It was definitely a display of a less subtle, more in your face form of bullying. The moral of the story? Don't be a bully. It's simply very unbecoming.

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