Thursday, 30 January 2014

Interview With Garrett Gosselin


When you hear skaters, judges, coaches and fans of skating all say that the future of Canadian skating is bright, they aren't lying. Skaters like Patrick Chan and Kaetlyn Osmond might only be young themselves but there's a whole generation of ridiculously talented skaters waiting in the wings for their time to shine. One of these skaters is Saskatchewan's Garrett Gosselin, a 21 year old gay and proud skater on a mission. Coached by Eileen and Keegan Murphy of Vancouver and choreographed by Mark Pillay and Lance Vipond, Garrett is a packaged skater (Peter Griffin laugh... package) with a very bright future in the sport. On a side note, Garrett Gosselin and Audrey Weisiger need to talk - Garrett's skating has YAS written all over it! A senior men's competitor on the move, Garrett took the time to talk about his career to date, perseverance, his goals, how dance has helped his skating and much more in this interview:


Danielle Earl photo

Q: Last season, you finished 3rd at the Skate Canada Challenge qualifying competition and in the top 10 at your first Canadian Nationals as a Senior Men's competitor. This year was a very tough Olympic year and you finished 12th at Nationals despite putting some great skating out there. What are you proudest of so far in your skating career? 

A: I would have to say my perseverance in this sport. I am most proud of how I never give up. I've had 2 serious injuries that have cost me the better part of 2 years, yet that was never enough to hold me back from my goal. Despite having lost so much time on the ice, I have learned so much about how my body works and what my body needs to stay healthy. Because of that, I’ve had a full year of no injuries, and that is a huge accomplishment.


Q: You're studying contemporary dance at Simon Fraser University to improve your understanding of music and movement. What have you learned the most on the dance floor that's changed the way you skate and look at skating?

A: I've learned how to appreciate the quality and simplicity of movement. I've always been a natural mover on and off the ice but through my dancing I've learned how to control movement and understand it, which is something I didn't get to learn as much of in skating. In fact, it is surprising how little experience most skaters have in dance, considering how similar the two sports are. Surely they have their obvious differences but when it comes to choreography, interpretation, control, and movement they can both overlap a fair bit. The dance outlet has really benefited my skating in a number of ways; it has given me a new and more knowledgeable appreciation for movement and also for the quality that can be attained within that movement and that is something I want to bring into my skating as well as back into this sport.

Q: You're also an International Studies student at SFU so obviously have a lot of interest in other cultures. What are 3 places in the world you'd love to visit and why?

A: I do have a strong interest in other cultures, and I was born to travel... I can tell you that. I haven't traveled internationally as much as I would have liked to but my time will come and hopefully my future career will bring me places. My top 3 places I’d love to visit are: Germany, because I’m studying the language and the history and it would be really interesting for me to go there and experience German culture first hand. I would also love to visit New Zealand, because I think it’s a beautiful country that isn't usually thought for a top 3 list. Also, my favourite film trilogy "The Lord of the Rings" was filmed there and it would be interesting so see the scenery in real life. Last but certainly not least, I would love to visit the Galapagos Islands simply to witness the vast number of exotic and endangered species of our time. I would be beyond happy! Although, I need to mention the difficulty I have in deciding which places belong in the top 3. I literally want to go EVERYWHERE.


Q: What are the three most played songs on your playlist? 

A: "Be The One" by Moby, "Fire in Your New Shoes" featuring Dragonette by Kaskade, and "Lucky Ones" by Lana Del Rey (I love Lana)!

Q: Looking towards next season, what are some of your goals and what things do you specifically want to focus on in training to improve both your TES and PCS scores? 

A: I've already started getting mileage in on my triple axel. It's been a jump that I had to put aside until I was healthy and now I am more ready than ever. I'm also starting to work on new triple/triple combinations to expand my range for my short program. The sooner I can start showing my triple axel the better and with a more consistent triple/triple repertoire, I'm sure I’ll be on my way to a higher TES in no time. As for my PCS, my coaches are good at pushing speed limit and I always try to play with new transitions into my elements. The dance will also help strengthen my upper body and the clarity of my movements.


Q: What kind of programs do you have in mind for next year to set you apart from the flock or is your mind not there yet? 

A: I'm keeping my short program for this year. I didn't feel like I skated it to my full potential and I want to showcase it a bit more. I will be getting a new long program this year, however I don’t have any information to give about it. I’m still looking for music.

Q: When you have a rough program or a rough day in training how do you pick yourself and remind yourself that tomorrow's a new day and keep that positive attitude going? 

A: I remind myself that nobody is making me do this. I chose to skate because it's what I'm good at and it's what I LOVE to do. I have a huge support team that love me for who I am and I know they will always be proud no matter what. When I have a rough day, my coaches make me push through it no matter what and I always manage to find something positive to think about. My former coach Sylvie Wandzura has taught me nearly everything you need to know about positivity and that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Also, I won’t lie: Sushi is usually a one-step remedy to a bad day.

- Being from Saskatchewan, you must have been so excited to see Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers qualify for their first Winter Olympic Games this year. What makes Paige and Rudi so special?

A: I will NEVER forget that moment. Paige and Rudi deserve every minute at those Games. They have been great role models for EVERY single skater in Saskatchewan including myself. They have inspired me to persevere and to never forget about the strength of the Prairie folk. They have always represented Saskatchewan with pride and joy and they always will. What’s really special about them though, is how personable and humble they are to the skating world. They treat each skater as an equal whether that skater is a World Champion or skating at a local Saskatchewan competition level. They are Canadian Olympic heroes in my eyes.

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

A: Jeffrey Buttle is and will always be my favourite skater of all time. I admired his talent for years growing up; he was my biggest inspiration. I'll never forget when I saw his Philip Glass Long Program in the 2005 Canadian Championships in London. It was a work of art and ever since, I too, have wanted to create art on ice just like he did that day. I'm a huge fan of Carolina Kostner as well. She's always had a very unique look to her and I love her speed and flow. Her long program from the World Championships last year was phenomenal. Lastly, Daisuke Takahashi. Over the past few years, he has shown huge sophistication in his programs compared to many and of course his technical abilities can challenge anyone's on a good day.

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

A: Only a few people know that I’m obsessed with J.R.R. Tolkien and his creation of Middle-Earth’s "The Lord Of The Rings". I have all of his books. I have all the movies and all the video games. The best part is that I'm not even embarrassed to share it. I'm a geek! Oh, also... I was a Boy Scout for 9 years.

Q: What do you care about most in life? 

A: I care most about my family and friends. Sharing time with my family and my other half, Shaun Gheyssen, is something I cherish over anything. Shaun is a professional ballet dancer in Atlanta, Georgia with the Atlanta Ballet Company. I love adventure and a challenge and having him at my side to experience it all with me is a dream come true, so I couldn't be happier. I am lucky to have so many loved ones in my life.

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, 28 January 2014

Interview With Doug Wilson


When in the first few moments of our phone conversation Doug Wilson serenaded me with a rousing version of "O Canada", I just knew I was in for a wonderful time and I don't think I had any CONCEPT of just how wonderful a time I'd have. His 50 year journey in sports saw him as the producer and director of ABC's iconic Wide World Of Sports and in that journey he worked with Dick Button, Peggy Fleming, O.J. Simpson, David Letterman, Frank Gifford, Julie Moran, Terry Gannon and Jim McKay. He travelled to all corners of the sport presenting every sport imaginable and started his lifelong love affair with figure skating in 1964 when he covered his first U.S. Championships and watched Peggy Fleming take come the crown. He went on to be in attendance for almost every U.S. Championships from 1964 through to 2008. "I've been so blessed, Ryan," he told me. "Figure skating was at the core of it all. It was the number one for me." Doug has been honored by the Director's Guild Of America with its Lifetime Achievement Award in Sports and won 17 Emmy Awards for his tremendous work and was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall Of Fame in 2003. "When I got the envelope in the mail in 2003, I thought it was a fundraiser," laughed Doug. "I was dumbfounded and overwhelmed and I called Dick Button and do you know what he said?... 'My, they're really going to extremes.'" Sharing his compelling and inspiring story in his new book "The World Was Our Stage" (which is required Skate Guard reading because I said so), Doug is not only a legend but a wonderfully warm, humble and entertaining person. He was SO kind to take time out of his busy stage and book schedule to talk with me about his book, amazing life, love of figure skating and experiences. This one deserves a Pinot Grigio. Go ahead, treat yourself. The Olympics are coming! You're allowed a big girl glass. I said so. Enjoy!:

Q: In your new book "The World Was Our Stage", you talk about your amazing 50 year journey with ABC's Wide World Of Sports. You were with Wide World Of Sports for almost the show's entire run from 1961 to 1998 and you were there to witness and present so many of figure skating's greatest moments. What did you love most about producing and directing this program and bringing skating into the homes and hearts of billions?

A: Well first of all, I was a theatre guy. I was a jack of all tracks, master of none jock as a kid - a good wrestler, played soccer but I really wanted to be a singer, actor and performer. I got a job as a production assistant at ABC. The first two years I was doing all kinds of other shows and then that developed into my role with Wide World Of Sports. The key to the show was in the opening phrase that we all heard - and I believe Johnny Esaw used to use it too: "Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport... the thrill of victory... and the agony of defeat... the human drama of athletic competition... This is ABC's Wide World of Sports!" The show was really about the human drama of athletic competition. The show wasn't just a sports show. It was a show that told stories; it was sports theatre. Having been an active athlete and had those experiences, it was the perfect marriage for me. Once u realize that sense of theatre of presenting sport, you look at it like this: on Broadway the script's already been written, it was OUR job to follow the plot lines. What sport is ultimate theatre? Figure skating. Ultimate sports theatre. It's got everything every other sport has plus artistry plus a touch of soap opera built in. To me, with Wide World Of Sports I was in heaven.

Q: You obviously worked very closely with Olympic Gold Medallists Dick Button and Peggy Fleming in producing Wide World Of Sports. Why do you feel they were your best choice as figure skating commentators for ABC and what do you respect and enjoy most about them as people?

A: Individually speaking, Dick Button became the iconic voice of figure skating in a very real sense. I mean, he has the credentials (being a North American Champion, the last North American man to win European Championships, 7 times national champion, 5 world titles, 2 Olympic gold medals)... then you have his passion for artistry of the sport... then he's brilliant! He's got a law degree, is so articulate and has this wonderful sense of humor. He's a real Renaissance guy. Dick agonized over everything he said on the show and didn't want to walk away from any show not feeling he had analyzed anything to the best of his ability. He agonized over that... being sure he was saying what he meant. But who could be better? Peggy Fleming is a national treasure of the United States Of America. She is iconic. People love Peggy Fleming. I remember when Tom Collins convinced her to do one more tour. He begged her to do it and she did and I went down to watch the first rehearsal and Peggy went out on ice and she comes over the boards and looks at me and says: "They're all skating so fast!" This is what happened. She was the headliner of the show, people came in and a spotlight in went down lighting center ice and there was no announcement... she just came out and skated into the light and the place went nuts. That's the kind of effect she had. She just skated balletically and artistically, no triple jumps, none of that stuff... and they just loved it. She has great feeling for the sport and really cares a lot about it and was so articulate. Then you have Jim McKay - nobody better! Then later on, Terry Gannon who is a brilliant, brilliant guy. The king of take 1's. And back to Peggy... she is beautiful! That didn't hurt.

Q: You just returned from Boston and the 2014 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships. What, in your opinion, were the most fascinating moments and memories that came out of this event? 

A: Jeremy Abbott's short program. Oh yeah. Jeepers creepers! Jason Brown's free skate and always, always Davis and White. They're just magical. I'm sure there's going to a great North American showdown at the Olympics. You never know what will happen. As Dick Button says, "Ice is a very slippery thing". I was very surprised at how good Castelli and Shnapir are... really good. As for the ladies, Gracie Gold is going to be marvelous but I want to talk about Polina Edmunds. What I think is going to happen in Sochi is when that little girl gets out there, she's going to surprise everyone. I think the Russian fans are going to go nuts for her! Number one - she's young. Number two - she has the look of a Russian ballerina. She looks just like a Russian ballerina would look. And Number three - her first name's Russian. She's going to one of the most popular athletes for the Russian audience. She's young and hasn't quite reached that maturity/womanhood stage but they're just going to love her. The other big moment from Boston was when they did the presentation with all the Olympic Gold Medallists. I stood there with my wife and I said "how blessed can a person be to say I'm friends with all those people?" They're all extraordinary great people. I had that moment of thanks.

Q: How challenging was marketing figure skating to audiences that previously weren't familiar with the sport? What kind of obstacles and roadblacks did you come across in that respect?

A: The sport is a great sport. What we did with the TV show was bring it to them. I'd like to give some credit to the way we showed it and the way it was discussed on air - with Dick, Peggy, Jim, Terry and Carol Heiss in the beginning, the sport sold itself. We were the conduit. I personally think - and a lot of people might be surprised when I say this - that figure skaters are greater athletes than the guys that are playing for the NFL. Think about it. They have every quality that someone who's a linebacker for New York Giants have - strength, ability, speed, timing, focus, grace under pressure, balance - a great skater has to have all of these. Once they've got that, then they have to become artists. I don't think NFL players have to communicate artistry to the 50,000 people in the arena. Figure skating goes up and down in popularity for a variety of reasons. It will never not be popular on some level. It is what it is. It's wonderful.

Q: You really globe trotted for so many years in your position. What was your favourite place that you travelled and what was your least?

A: St. Moritz became a very important part of my personal life as you can read in the book. I was over there in 1967 as Associate Director to cover The Cresta Run. I tried it and became addicted it. I rode over the Christmas holidays and am going back to do my own man show which is a reflection of my book. It's so hard to pick a place but that place became part of my life. I don't recall ever being in a place where I was saying to myself "I gotta get out of here, I'm awful". We were always there to cover a special event of some kind. Secondly, with Wide World Of Sports, we were treated so, so well. The doors were open and everyone was wonderful. I learned in travelling that the will to win is not really any different in Jackie Stewart racing in Monaco as it is with wrist wrestling guy in Petaluma. There's always magic in the air. Going to Bucharest to cover Nadia Comaneci.... that was an adventure! I consider her one of the greatest athletes of all time. She always come to mind... the first perfect 10 in the Olympics. Then I think of Dick Button saying "just because a child can play the minute waltz in a minute doesn't mean they're a great pianist." Her greatness was in my opinion what happened AFTERWARDS when she came back as a woman to dominate. It's like Michelle Kwan. Michelle gave me an autographed photo to give to my granddaughter Kira. "Why is MK a great champion?" I asked. She answered, "because she skates so well". I responded that "Michelle is a great champion because of how she conducted herself in victory and defeat." Those are the kind of stories from around the world that stand out.

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

A: You're a rascal! If I tell you about my favourites, how do you think the others will feel? If I told you my favourite skaters, there would a whole bunch of other skaters who wouldn't speak to me for a while. I'll put it this way. My favourite skater knows who my favourite skater is.

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

A: How scared I've been. I do my show and do readings with my book and I'm in front of an audience but I still always get so nervous. Bob Hope was asked at 92 about going up there and telling jokes and he said he still got nervous going up there then. It's a nice compliment to have people feel I'm comfortable, relaxed and doing my job as a communicator or performer but it's like this... it's not easy. I was almost never completely happy when I left a TV truck. People would say "great job" but I always knew what I missed. There was always that. People at home didn't know I missed but I did. The only way I could try to do justice to these skaters was to go to those practice sessions and pre-block and study what they did. When I was directing, I would see let's say Michelle Kwan's magnificent spiral and look at the whole picture. The skater speaks with the whole body. In Michelle's case the emotion that went into that spiral just glowed right out of her face every time. If I didn't know when that spiral was gonna happen or when there were little subtle times someone would have a moment with a simple foot moment that I wouldn't have known how to present that. A lot of figure skating coverage you see on TV is what I call it zone coverage. Skating is ebbs and flows and moves and sways. It's such a marvellous emotion filled sport but lot of people film it doing zone coverage. It's very nice but to me, I want to know that if skater is going to start diagonally across the ice. I want to know what they're going to do ahead of time and know that skater's going to move right into camera. The only way to know all of this is ahead of time and to go there and watch them, write it down and have that system.

Q: What did you learn the most about yourself looking back and writing this book that you didn't expect?

A: You're really getting home runs here and making me analyze. I became increasingly aware of how fortunate I've been. It continues in the aftermath of the writing book in connections with people responding to it. The connection in the concourse in Boston - people came up and said these wonderful things. All of these skating fans had such different favourites. Many people commented on the "Leading Ladies" part of the book. Many people didn't realize that Elaine Zayak became a World Champion and only has half a foot. Elaine is SUCH a great lady and a nice person! The book has had me welled up almost on a daily basis to be thankful for what life has given to me. I've been surrounded by great people in the TV business and athletics. I've been in the right place at the right time and had a great time. I've had this extraordinary voyage. Also, I think about how Jim McKay focused on the history... and I was also a witness to history. In China in 1980, I was there for the first visit of U.S. skaters in China. It was grey, with no cars... bicycles and piles of cabbage on the sidewalk... the whole experience was incredible. To go again in the 90's and find a KFC sign dominating the main street and vitality, cars, people and commerce thriving... it was just extraordinary. Then to have been in Munich in 1972 - going from euphoria to halcyon 6-7-8 days before tragedy and terrorism became part of our lives. Who do I thank for this gift? To be able to call Scott Hamilton, Brian Orser, Dorothy Hamill, Linda Fratianne, Brian Boitano, Carol Heiss Jenkins, Peggy Fleming, Dick Button all friends. Jeepers creepers! I can't imagine anyone having been more blessed than I've been.

 "The World Was Our Stage" is available by on Doug's website at http://www.dougwilsonabcsports.com. Get your copy today! No, really... today. You heard what I said! Don't make me come down there! Was this your cup of tea? 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! Fabulous skating is too fabulous to keep secret. Am I right or am I right?

Monday, 27 January 2014

Salman Rushdie, Censorship In Skating And Making The Moment

Not really... this blog's called Is That A Skate Guard In Your Pocket Or Are You Happy To See Me? for a reason.

At 2012's World Voices Festival - a week long series of performance art, readings and conversations - literary great Salmon Rushdie said in a speech about censorship that "Great art, original art, is never created in a safe middle ground. Originality is dangerous, as it is at the edge." That quote, that statement got me thinking about what all of the skaters that have really significantly and artistically influenced the sport had in common. It wasn't their ability to perform consecutive twizzles, contort their bodies into unattractive spin variations or land quad toe/triple combinations - it was and continues to be their understanding and mastery of the art of developing a relationship between themselves, the knives they skate on and the music they skate to. The skaters whose performances last as memories in our mind are the storytellers, the game changers and the true bards of the ice.

What's interesting to look at when we think about the topic of censorship related to art in Rushdie's talk at the World Voices Festival is how that really pertains to figure skating and how it has historically. Is this "new" judging system not a way of uniforming skaters and discouraging originality and personality? That's a whole other issue that I certainly feel I've given my two cents on MORE than once and feel a bit differently on now that I have seen Jeremy Abbott and Jason Brown be truly rewarded for their artistry (yes, artistry... not "PCS") at the most recent U.S. National Championships. Has "amateur" skating always been encouraging of its original artists? Of course not.




Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. This, believe it or not, finished 8th. Yeah, 8th.

It took Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay a country change from Canada to France, 'paying their dues' and an 8th place finish with their groundbreaking and genius "Savage Rites" program at the 1988 Calgary Olympics before they were finally given credit for their difficult yet theatrical programs by finally standing on the medal podium in 1989 at the World Championships. Gary Beacom's poem Karma alludes to his treatment in the amateur ranks: "The abuse was enough to make him prone // To kick the mean judge in the shinbone, // But his utmost revenge // Was the thought that the bench // Was tormented by fire and brimstone." In his 1987 Maestro interview, John Curry said of presenting himself artistically after he'd come of age: "I was told I shouldn't use my arms. I shouldn't do spirals. I shouldn't try to make everything look so graceful. I was actually told not to be so graceful and I couldn't understand why. And it was because they couldn't accept it from a young man, which they could from a child." Whether treated poorly by judges, coaches, parents or spectators, skaters who've scoffed at convention and pushed that envelope have traditionally fought a lot harder than most against that censored, streamlined 'norm' that has traditionally rewarded technical excellence over inventiveness and safety over courage.



Jeremy Abbott's winning free skate at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

If we censor skaters while they are coming up the ranks by not encouraging them to skate to whatever the hell music they want to skate to wearing whatever they'd like we're not doing them the justice of allowing them to partake in that relationship between music, skater and ice. They're just going to end up with that competition result, that clean lutz and that passed test. If coaches, choreographers, judges and skaters (in all disciplines, "amateur", professional and even recreational) all put aside preconceived notions about what is and isn't 'how it's done' and go for broke and really push that envelope again, that little piece of individuality that was lost when the 6.0's went away can return. We just need to put down the Bizet CD's and pick up the Jean-Michel Jarre, Dead Can Dance, Grace Jones, Yma Sumac and Janis Joplin ones. As the season heats up for artistic geniuses like Jeremy Abbott and Jason Brown, it cools down for so many other skaters. It's time to revisit what performing is about and look towards another season with vision and a pushed envelope in mind. If Abbott and Brown's receptions in Boston were any indication, the public doesn't want censorship, it wants performance and that moment. Rushdie sums it up best in an article for "The New Yorker" where he again talks about censorship: "The creative act requires not only freedom but also this assumption of freedom. If the creative artist worries if he will still be free tomorrow, then he will not be free today. If he is afraid of the consequences of his choice of subject or of his manner of treatment of it, then his choices will not be determined by his talent, but by fear. If we are not confident of our freedom, then we are not free. And, even worse than that, when censorship intrudes on art, it becomes the subject; the art becomes “censored art,” and that is how the world sees and understands it."

To the skaters reading this, go after next season and every performance you give with that fire to be yourself and to the audience members reading this, keep encouraging skaters whose work speaks to you as being special. Those words just might be the fire that keeps them going and striving towards making that moment happen.

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.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Interview With Vanessa Grenier And Maxime Deschamps


In their first season together, Vanessa Grenier and Maxime Deschamps achieved the impossible: standing atop the podium as Canadian Junior Pairs Champions. What made this feat even more incredible was that although Maxime had competed the previous year as a pairs skater, Vanessa had no pairs experience and was a former Senior Ladies competitor. Already showing consistency, attack and technical prowess in their skating, their free skate at the Nationals this year commanded audience and showed nothing but HUGE potential for the future. Vanessa and Maxime took time for their training schedule to talk about their win at Canadians, plans for the future, partnership and much, much more in this all new interview:

Q: You've had so much success in your skating careers already and you're both just getting started. You won the Canadian junior title this year in Ottawa and really proved yourselves in doing so. What have been the proudest moments so far in your skating careers and what's next for you?

A from Vanessa: That title is certainly one of the best moments so far but what we remember from that competition is also our performance in the long program. We both felt really good and we did a program that looks like the ones we do in practice. We gave everything and we were really proud of how we skated. We can say that we were able to fully enjoy the moment as we skated a clean program. I think our smiles were sincere throughout the whole program because we were really having fun on the ice
and living the moment! We are also very proud of the whole season. We worked hard and we saw the results. We've shown a constant progression and we've received tons of good comments from everyone.

A from Maxime: Our goal this season was only to make a good impression and we think we made more than that with this title. It is beyond our expectations. We never thought, when we started together, that we would reach this level so fast. From our first competition of the season to the last competition, we improved our short program score by 12 points, and and our long program score by 25 points. We were improving our score at every single program we were doing in competition and that was the goal we set before every competition.


Q: Vanessa, you competed as a singles skater prior to teaming up with Maxime and have won the silver medal on the junior level at Canadians, been a top ten ranked Senior Ladies competitor in Canada and had success internationally as well. How difficult was making the transition from singles to pairs?

A from Vanessa: Much easier than I expected! I had the perfect partner to start with, because he had the experience and strength to guide me and hold me. There is no pair element he can't do, due to his strength and experience, so that made my job easier. I only had to focus on myself to make the elements work. I also had to develop my strength, flexibility and presence on the ice a lot during my singles career, as I had to be strong on my own if I wanted to perform well. So even without the experience in pairs, I was bringing something else to the team. In a different way, my intensive training in singles was indirectly a good training for pairs.



Q: Maxime, last year you finished in 7th in Junior Pairs at Canadians with your former partner Naomie Boudreau. What made you decide to switch partners and what really clicked the most with Vanessa that helped you make such a quick jump in the standings after only one year together?

A from Maxime: In pair skating, the match makes a big difference. With that other partner, the match just wasn't the right one. We weren't working for the same goal. I was expecting for better results and we knew that we wouldn't achieve them together. Changing partners is definitely not the most thrilling part of skating. Finding the good partner is so difficult. I think we both made a smart move in searching for new partners. She also had success this year with her new partner Cédric Savard, as they came 3rd in the Novice pairs event. I'm happy for her and I think she is also happy for me, it's just better for both of us this way.

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

A from Vanessa: My vote goes to Jamie Salé and David Pelletier. Talk about finding the right partner! They are the perfect example. Together they had a chemistry like no other. They've had memorable skates, not so much because of their technical abilities, but because of their performance level. They were connecting with each other and that was something special. They had the power to make us feel something as spectators - to believe in their stories and connect with them. They were special and they still are when they perform in shows. As for the other pair teams, I'm a little too young to remember them, but I heard so much greatness about many of them! They all have their unique qualities.

A from Maxime: Same for me... Jamie Salé and David Pelletier. The day I saw them skate at the Olympics is the day I told myself I would be at the Olympics one day. Before that day, I was just skating just to improve my skating skills to play hockey. After that day, I had a dream. In the beginning, I wanted to compete singles but at the age of about 16 years old, I realized it would be impossible for me to go as a single skater. I started doing pairs. There were pair teams training at the place I was skating at that time, and I was so impressed by the lifts. When my coach told me to do my first lift, I just remember telling myself that I wasn't strong enough to do this. Then I tried my first lift and I fell in love with pair skating. Salé and Pelletier were already my idols. I wanted to become as great as them. I still remember their entire program at the Olympics - the "Love Story" program. It was one of the best programs ever performed, because of the chemistry between them. It was incredible. The fluidity on the ice was amazing. They were flying and everything was looking so effortless.

Q: What are your long term goals in the sport and what do you want to focus on next season the most?

A from Vanessa: The 2018 OLYMPICS! This is the first long term goal that we planned. However this is really far, so our focus is not so much on that right now. We want to plan one season at the time. We will start pretty soon our 2 new programs for the next season. We want to make them much more elaborated and tricky. We're going to have fun with our choreographer Julie Marcotte, choreographing our new Senior programs. Our choreography this past season was built after less than 2 months skating together. We improved so much during less than a year that we need 2 completely new programs to show our new abilities. We have to bring our programs, this time, to the level we are now. We also have to consider that we will still improve. As for the technical aspects, in the next couple months we want to learn new lifts, new throws, and we also want to add the triple twist. This is where our focus is for the off-season. Adding to that, we hope we made a good impression enough to be sent to international senior competitions in the next season. I don't think Max wants to add anything to this. We've discussed so many times about our goals and we agree on all of them. We are truly working in the same direction.

A from Maxime: Haha... Right! She said it all.

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

A from Maxime: One thing people don't know about us is that after every competition, Vanessa and I go for an ice cream! We made a deal this summer because ice cream is a thing she loves but she can't eat it in her plan. I decided to support her and stop eating ice cream except for when we are going together for the traditional post-competition ice cream.
   
Q: Describe your absolute PERFECT meal - appetizer, dinner and dessert!

A from Vanessa: A warm appetizer (because I'm always cold) followed by a good salad (pretty much any kind, it is always tasty and so refreshing). The dessert isn't part of my regular planned diet, but after a competition, as we mentioned, an ice cream is required... haha. On a regular routine, any meal that has fresh vegetables in it is just the perfect meal because it's refreshing; it tastes good. It gives me good energy and makes my body feel good.

A from Maxime: I like any kind of meat, so any meal that has been well cooked and has fresh meat is perfect for me. For dessert, I really enjoy cheesecake!

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

A from Vanessa: Death spirals! This is what caused me the most trouble of all the different elements. It's not related to any element of singles, which is maybe why it took me more time to learn. It also looks really easy when we watch, but it's not! Even during the practices at Nationals, I was still figuring out stuff that helped me improve the death spiral. It's a tricky one I find, especially the back inside (the one we had in the short).

A from Maxime: Side by side spins is definitely not my favorite element to work on. Everybody who did pairs knows how hard it is to time the rotation. The only way to succeed in this element is to practice again and again. When we were skating singles, we were both excellent in spins but in pairs what matters is the synchronization and the match of the positions. We have to rotate at the same speed, have the exact same positions, the same timing in the transitions of the positions, etc. and we haven't even talked about the speed. We're not even there yet. It requires good control and consistence. That element is the one I find the hardest.

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

A from Vanessa: You never get bored of skating because there are so many different elements and aspects of your skating that you can improve. It requires skill, power, strength, control, grace, fluidity, endurance... and the most rewarding thing is when you can showcase all of this in a program in competition and you can simply ENJOY THE MOMENT!

Was this your cup of tea? 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! Fabulous skating is too fabulous to keep secret. Am I right or am I right?

Friday, 24 January 2014

Interview With Michael Chack


Leaving an indelible icy footprint on the sport and boasting an extremely loyal fan base throughout his rich skating career is something that really made Michael Chack a fan favourite throughout his skating career. He keeps extremely busy to this day with teaching and performing engagements at Sharks Ice and Yerba Buena Ice Center and with Rand Family Entertainment, where he continues to perform as a principal soloist. Chack first really caught the skating world's attention by winning the 1989 U.S. Junior title, earning a fifth place finish at the 1991 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and through wins at international competitions such as the Nebelhorn Trophy and Karl Schafer Memorial and a bronze medal at the 1993 U.S. Championships, he made a name for himself that continued to expand in popularity over his lengthy and successful career. Turning professional in 1999, his skating continued to be revered by skating purists for its impeccable technique and line and his touring with Holiday On Ice exposed him to appreciative audiences worldwide. It was my absolute pleasure to speak with him about his "amateur" and professional careers, how the term "Chacked" will be forever associated with him, the IJS judging system and much more:

Q: You competed at the senior level at seven U.S. National Championships, winning the bronze medal in 1993 (as well as winning several international events) and retired from ISU eligible competition in 1999. What was your favourite competition you participated in and why?

A: I had so many memorable competitions because I set certain goals for each one and reached them. One that that will always be special is Skate America - my first major international as a senior - and I landed my first triple Axel and got a standing ovation. I always loved competing overseas representing the U.S. in internationals and seeing our flag go up.

Q: The jargon team "Chacked" was coined after your bronze medal winning performance missed the broadcast during the 1993 Championships for skaters whose performances were not televised and certainly should have been. What was your feeling about this whole experience?

A: The term "Chacked" still makes me laugh because I feel it's made a impact in every sport that when a athlete has a special moment and it's not seen by the public, gets recognized. It's nice to be remembered that way.


Q: What have you been up to since retiring from competitive figure skating?

A: Gosh... where do I begin with after I turned pro? I had the most amazing pro career. Seen the world, been challenged with amazing choreographers and turned me into a very versatile performer. It also gave me the ability to skate just for the love of it with no pressure. I now teach and choreograph mostly in San Francisco but still perform I'm short term gigs. I'm not ready to give up the performing side of my life yet but love teaching.

Q: Who did you most enjoy skating or competing with and who was your fiercest competitor?

A: I was very lucky to train in Arrowhead and train everyday with Michelle Kwan, Nicole Bobek, Angela Nikodinov and the top pros in the world. I was my own fiercest competitor. I always wanted to beat my last competition. I focused on me and what I had to do.

Q: What are your thoughts on the new judging system and do you think you would have liked to have competed under this scoring system? Does it help or hurt skating and overall performances?

A: The new IJS system is quite a mathematical challenge and makes the sport so much more complicated. Not sure how I feel about it. I think they created it so it is truly fair judging.

Q: At the 1991 U.S. National Championships, you attempted an insanely difficult and unheard of one-foot axel/quadruple salchow combination. What prompted you to attempt this ridiculously difficult jump combination?

A: As far as my quad, I just loved jumping and trying different things and pushing skating limits.

Q: What was working with legendary coaches like Peter Burrows and Frank Carroll like?

A: Having Peter Burrows for 15 years taught me how to be a true technician and he was wonderful for me at the time in my life. Frank was what I needed to close my career because we clicked so well.

Q: Your style was and is always very mature and put together, with excellent line, carriage and extension. Did you take off ice dance training or was this quality in your skating simply a result of strong skating skills?

A: I took dance classes through my entire career and still dance to keep in shape and be creative as a modern choreographer.



Q: Who are the most fascinating personalities in the sport today?

A:  I feel we don't have American stars like we used to. Champions change every year and I just respect all those who can stand up under such pressure in the sport these days.

Q: Who is your hero in life?

A: My hero in my life is my family and those who still love and believe in me.

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

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Interview With Colin McManus


If you haven't heard of Anastasica Cannuscio and Colin McManus, might I suggest another place to hang out than under that rock? It must be so dark trying to watch skating under there! The duo are a shining example of just what magic can happen when natural talent and hard work meet in the medal. After medalling on the junior level at the U.S. Championships and on the Junior Grand Prix, Cannuscio and McManus made the leap to the senior ranks and won their first senior international competition when they attended the Ice Challenge in Graz, Austria. Fresh off performing their hearts out in front of a hometown crowd at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston, Colin McManus took the time to talk about he and Stasia's career together, their goals for the future, Theatre On Ice and much, much more in this interview you're just going to love as much as their skating:

Q: You and Anastasia have medalled on the junior level at the U.S. Championships, represented the U.S. at the Junior World Championships and this season won the Ice Challenge international competition in Graz, Austria ahead of 12 other teams from around the world. What do you consider to be the highlights or most special memories of your skating career to date?

A: Just reading that list of accomplishments makes me incredibly proud of everything Stasia and I have done. When I first started skating with Stasia, I was a one year Novice skater making the jump up to Junior. Stasia had already been on the Junior Grand Prix circuit for a season (way out of my league), and now she had to skate with my sorry Novice self. So, people had some lower expectations. Needless to say, the expectations grew. Stasia and I truly started at the bottom of the proverbial skating ladder and over the past six seasons we have climbed every step from International Selection Pool to Junior Grand Prix to Junior Worlds to Senior B to Grand Prix. It makes every accomplishment so much more meaningful. Sitting back and thinking about it all, I am most proud of earning the host pick to Skate America in 2012. Breaking onto the Grand Prix circuit was beyond anything I ever thought I could do, and it made Stasia and I hungry to keep climbing and see what we could accomplish.


Q: Looking towards the 2014/2015 season and beyond, what kind of goals do you and Anastasia have? What direction do you want to go in with your skating?

A: In all honesty, this past season was a bit of a wake up call. Though we had some great highlights, the end of the season left a lot to be desired. We are both motivated to become one of the top dance teams in the country. We are ready to reinvent ourselves, and take chances. We are currently working with our coaches assessing the past 6 years, and setting up the best game plan for us. We want to get more international assignments, we want to get back onto the Grand Prix circuit, and we want to be on the podium at the U.S. Championships. We have a great support system behind us, and we are ready to take our skating in a new direction.

Q: You represent the Skating Club Of Boston and are from Massachusetts. What was skating on home ice in a packed arena at the 2014 U.S. Nationals like?

A: It is something that I had envisioned a lot over the season, and I didn't quite know how I would handle the extra emotions that come with it. One word I can use to describe it is overwhelming. I knew this was the first time that a lot of my family would see me compete live. Whenever I compete, I always make it a point to find where my parents are sitting when I am taking my laps. This time around I didn't have to look very hard to see people I knew. The crowd was scattered with so many familiar faces, and that alone made the competition incredibly special for me. Though it wasn't only family in the crowd that was comforting to me, I knew so many people involved with the Local Organizing Committee. Every corner I turned back stage there was someone from Skating Club Of Boston ready to give me a hug. My friends and family mean so much to me, and now they were all gathered to support me and everything I had been working so hard for. Its something that I will never forget, and for me I don’t think any other U.S. Championships will top it.


Q: I loved that you skated to "Bust Your Windows" by Jazmine Sullivan for your short dance in 2011. That song is so much fun! Where do you get your program ideas and what's one piece of music you'd love to skate to?

A: That was one of my favourite programs! We knew that it was our last year at the Junior level, and it was the first year of the new Short Dance event. So, we figured we would really push the envelope and make a memorable program. Our coach Karen had been dying for a team to skate to "Bust Your Windows". So we took that song and "It's A Man’s World" by James Brown and created an soulful edgy waltz/tango. With that program, Stasia and I were the first team to ever compete a short dance at an ISU event, we won our first Junior Grand Prix medal, and we went to Junior Worlds. So, it  truly special to me for a lot of reasons. We generally collaborate with Karen at the beginning of every season, and try to pick a piece that will challenge us and help us continue to grow. Looking for the right music is always one of the more stressful parts of your season! Two years ago I got the idea for our rock and roll free dance from a So You Think You Can Dance? group number by Wade Robson. The song was called "Comanche" by The Revels, and I was obsessed with the that cool laid-back style of dancing, and we built a whole program around that group number. There is one piece of music that I would love to skate too and that is "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg". Being very lyrical, I think the music suits my skating style, but by no means do I think I could do that music justice (especially after Tessa and Scott’s program in '08) I have wanted to skate that music for years, but there are audible beat requirements for Ice Dance music. So,we tend to steer clear of heavily orchestrated pieces just to be safe. That means no "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" for me! Maybe one day...



Q: What do you think you and Anastasia's biggest weakness as a team is and how have you worked to improve specifically in that area?

A: I feel like we have two weaknesses, one of them being lifts. Lifts have become increasingly acrobatic and I feel that our lifts are something that separate us from the top teams in the world. We are currently working with our coaches to bring in a fresh perspective on lift ideas, and we hope that will help give us a more well balanced program. The other big struggle for us is finance. Neither Stasia nor I come from wealthy families, so we try to work a lot with fundraising to help our families pay for the expenses. There are so many components to training, and we want to give ourselves every opportunity.

Q: You have participated in Theatre On Ice with Act 1 Of Boston. What do you enjoy most about Theatre On Ice and how do you think this discipline can get a little more exposure in the future?

A: Theatre On Ice is an amazing outlet for skaters of all levels. It’s actually how I found my first partner and got started in ice dance. The focus is more on your capability as a team to tell a story. I feel like it is the perfect combination of pairs, singles, ice dance and synchronized skating and I think that's what I enjoy most about the discipline. It really pushed me to come out of my shell, and actually have expression when I skated. I feel like that is a tremendous learning experience for young skaters. As far as exposure for Theatre On Ice, there is so much respect for Theatre On Ice in Europe. They have a completely different style of theatre over there, and they are so far beyond what we have in the U.S. There are amazing teams from France and Spain pushing the envelope. I really think people need to start a conversation about it here. It is a discipline that is truly for every single skater young and old, and I feel like it is still flying under the radar. It’s invaluable experience that exposes you to every aspect of skating. I was able to travel to world with Theatre On Ice. I have competed abroad in two Nations Cup's and one just recently in Spain last May. I think if skaters truly understood the caliber of competition and the legitimacy of the discipline both nationally and internationally Theatre On Ice could make a greater impact here in the U.S.



Q: Figure skating is really such a mental game. How do you deal with the stress and pressure of competing on an elite level in a healthy way?

A: Luckily for me, Stasia is a rock solid competitor. She is always super focused in competition and that really helps to calm me down. I have gotten better about relaxing and just letting my muscle memory take over, but usually I just pick a song for every competition and jam out while I am warming up. I was listening to a lot of Macklemore's “White Walls” in Boston... haha.

Q: Speaking of healthy, let's go in a completely different direction... What are your favourite unhealthy foods?

A: Ice cream! I have been known to destroy many pints of Ben and Jerry’s. Stasia is also a phenomenal baker. So, I have a weakness for anything and everything that she makes.

Q: Who are your three favourite ice dance teams of all time and why?

A: Meryl Davis and Charlie White - they constantly push the envelope of what you think is possible. They come back every year with amazing material, and as I fellow competitor it demands your respect. They have done incredible things for Ice Dancing as a sport and along with Belbin and Agosto I feel like they have paved the way for American ice dancers in the future. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir - they are always perfectly stylized. They have a kind grace and ease to their skating that I would kill for... haha! Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon - they were the first team that really caught my attention and I just remember watching their program to "Somewhere In Time” over and over again. I loved their maturity and their ability to tell a story with their skating. It’s so cool to travel to competitions and see them there as coaches. Stasia makes fun of me because I get too nervous to say anything to them!

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

A: I feel like there are a lot of things... haha! I am very passionate about coaching. I have always wanted to be a coach, and that desire has only grown for me. My true dream is to have my own dance program, and become one of the few truly American ice dance coaches. When I am not training, I am coaching. I generally coach about 30-40 hours a week. At the moment I am working with four synchro teams in Maryland at Collegiate, Intermediate, Pre-Juvenile, and Beginner levels, I have students in the National Solo Dance series, and I have a Pre-Juvenlie dance team that I coaching with my girlfriend Isabella.  

Q: What is one thing on your "bucket list" that you want to cross off in 2014?

A: One thing that I have always had a fascination with is curling and I have always wanted to try it! So, this year we already have plans to rent out a curling rink in Maryland with a bunch of friends. I will be watching the curling in Sochi very closely, and when the time comes I will be on top of my game!

Didn't you just love with interview with Colin? Well, don't just stand there! Let's get to it. Click that "LIKE" there's nothing to it... "like" Skate Guard on Facebook 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?

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

A Renaissance Fair? Looking At Professional Figure Skating's Present And Future


Why do we long for 1994? Let me correct that last sentence. Why do I long for 1994? I was in middle school (junior high) but somewhere in my brain I understood it was time I was to stand up take notice of skating and  to fall in love with it - and to start skating myself at an age later than most... and make up for lost time. We could be cliche and say we thanked "Nancy And Tonya". True, that tabloid field day/tragedy was a huge reason why pro skating in the 90's took off like it did. Had the reigning U.S. Champion not been attacked by the cohorts of the next year's victor ratings for the sport would never have gone through the roof. If you look at both Nancy and Tonya today, they BOTH deserve our empathy and love.

There was more to it than just Nancy and Tonya. You had people like Katarina Witt, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, Brian Boitano, Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov, Elaine Zayak and Viktor Petrenko all taking advantage of the ISU's brilliant reinstatement opportunity. You had an Olympic Gold Medallist who was an orphan, a World Silver Medallist who refused her medal, the Kurt/Elvis rivalry and a controversial ice dance win. Skating was on everyone who mattered's lips. 

So professional skating, which was doing fabulously anyway, got an insane boost. We got to see every skater we wanted to see (and a few we were sick of) compete weekly free of required elements, music stipulations and other regulations. What was in essence a series of made for TV free-for-alls was made possible thanks to the likes of Dick Button, Michael Burg, Carole Shulman, Scott Williams and others. When I  researched and wrote about the U.S. Open, Jaca World Pro and American Open, I neglected to talk about the real appeal of professional competitions being timely under the sport's public eye.

Had these events not been made available and skating not been in such a high profile at the time, we can assuredly say that a lot of these great artistic skaters that really made their name in those events never would have had the careers they did. Some continue to. As much as I long for 1994, it isn't 1994 anymore. "We're not in Kansas anymore." The recent spike in popularity of skating and improved Olympic figure skating coverage on NBC are promising signs, as are skaters like Miki Ando and Nobunari Oda both announcing their recent retirement from competitive skating on a continent where skating is wildly popular right now. With events like the Japan Open and Medal Winners Open, we've seen a market for pro-am/professional competitions in that corner of the world and skating shows in Korea, China and Japan alike are more popular than ever, playing to sellout crowds. Japanese skaters like Shizuka Arakawa and Takeshi Honda continue to enjoy very thriving pro careers in Asia.

Professional skating is not dead or dying. ProSkaters Virtual Skate-Off continues to take advantage of the age of social media with an online skating competition that allows singles, pairs, adagio skaters, show acts and group choreography to all be judged by the best in the business - Brian Boitano, Kurt Browning, Kristi Yamaguchi, Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner and Richard Dwyer are among the judges for this competition that gives professional skaters exposure. In late July, in Sun Valley, Idaho, the first open professional competition in over a decade will be presented by ProSkaters in conjunction with the Live Auditions and Performance Camp that will be held on July 28 and 29, 2014. Robin Cousins' Ice, Aerial Ice, Willy Bietak, Disney On Ice, Sun Valley Ice Shows, Glacier I.C.E., Bobrin Ice Theatre, Imperial Ice Theatre, Ice Theatre Of New York, Disson Skating, Stars On Ice, All That Skate, the Prince Ice World shows in Japan and television programs like Dancing On Ice in the UK (and spin-offs around the world) and Battle Of The Blades in Canada are just a small fraction of the performance opportunities available to skaters who choose to explore professional careers in the sport right now. Unless all of these wonderful production companies and the professional skaters associated with them are secretly zombies, I hardly think professional skating is dead. Do you?

With IMG and U.S. Figure Skating's recent official announcement of a post-Olympics partnered tour of the United States, the future looks bright for bringing show skating back into the general public's consciousness. Whether or not the stars of Sochi who are on this tour choose to retain eligible status or turn professional following the Games, they are getting valuable exposure to a North American audience that's really so eager to get to KNOW skaters again. With new performance opportunities and things like this tour seemingly popping up everyday, we have to remember that the eligible stars of today could very well be the professional stars of tomorrow if this tour coupled with Stars On Ice touring amps up the U.S. public's interest in show skating again. All it takes is a spotlight, a little TV and the kind of performances that get people excited and interested. If you don't think professional figure skating's future is bright, put down the cynicism tea and realize that just about anything is indeed possible if we believe in it. We can settle for less or we can eagerly anticipate the coming of a skating Renaissance that's already almost here.

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, 21 January 2014

Interview With Sheila Thelen


I have never been to Minnesota or met Sheila Thelen in person but the moment I saw the video of her driving in her skates, I was like "she's my kind of people!" Throw in the fact that she invented and designed Champion Cords, runs Grassroots To Champions seminars and is an integral part of iCoachSkating.com and Young Artists Showcase in addition to being a great skating coach, and you have one pretty remarkable human being. When I skated I was lucky enough to work with both Susan Tuck and Katy Martins - two fantastic coaches with great senses of humor and attitudes - and Sheila Thelen is totally a coach with that same great attitude and caring about her students. Talking about YAS, Sheila said, "I'm still shocked how many skaters and coaches have no idea or have not followed it! IT IS FABULOUS!"... and she's 100% right. She took the time from her busy life and schedule to talk about everything from her own days as a skater to coaching, IJS, the future of the sport and much more. You're going to love this one:

Q: You are responsible for so much GOOD in the sport. You've designed Champion Cords, you're the Executive Director of Grassroots To Champions, you're integral in the success of YAS and you hold a Master Rating as a coach with the Professional Skating Association. What are your most proud of in your career more than anything? Most proud of?

A: There are a lot of different things to be proud of and not all of them have to do with coaching. Professionally, inventing Champion Cords, running Grassroots To Champions, being a part of iCoachSkating, MKYAS4, and the FRIENDSHIPS I've made in coaching – all are priceless to me. These training devices, techniques, and information sources are very helpful to the future of skating. Coaching wise? It isn't so much to get a talented skater to learn a new spin or jump as much as it is to get a kid with no talent, no money and only the drive to do something they did not think they could do. That smile on their face... priceless.

Q: Behind every fabulous coach is a fabulous skating career. What can you share about your own?

A: My skating career wasn't the best. I wasn't the one with all of the first places or most trophies. I was the one who stuck it out and kept on trying. I try to use figure skating as a life lessons example to my students. My favorite Jon Bon Jovi quote: "You can’t win, until you’re not afraid to lose."

Q: What originally brought you into coaching and what's kept you involved and excited all these years about what you are doing? 

A: I started with some basic coaching in college. Then after returning from a 1 1/2 year overseas Grad Program, I got back into coaching. I've always LOVED coaching. I really enjoy working with other AMAZING coaches ! I am so honored to work along with Audrey Weisiger, Nick Perna, Chris Conte, Trevor Laak, Pasquale Camerlengo (who did my voicemail), Douglas Webster, Doug Mattis, Page Lipe and so many more! I feel blessed to work with so many great athletes and coaches. The seminars are a total blast. I also love using DARTFISH software, to help skaters learn and apply corrections.

Q: If someone gave you a big old genie lamp and allowed you to make three wishes for the future of figure skating, what would they be? And no, more wishes can't be one of them. 

A: One is better techniques, more information to the skaters and coaches. Shameless plug to http://www.icoachskating.com. #2 is to do away with the IJS. #3 is to get more kids involved with skating. I'm magical so I get 4 wishes, so #4 is more skaters and coaches attending the Grassroots To Champions Seminar (that will totally improve the sport).

Q: What is your most embarrassing moment? 

A: OH – I have so many! Getting on the ice carrying a cup of coffee and forgetting that I had my skate guards on. I chipped my elbow but still taught for 4 hours, went to the accountant... then the emergency room. That weekend I took 6 kids backstage at Stars On Ice (looking like an idiot pro in arm sling to the entire Stars On Ice cast!)

Q: Your funniest? 

A: Working with the coaches at Grassroots To Champions. They are the funniest group of people I have ever worked with. No matter what city we are doing a seminar, we have the best stories in skating. We've nearly shut down airports, had crazed ping pong tournaments and worked with hilarious Grassroots To Champions skaters! My life is neverending smiles and humor.

Q: I love food, I love music and I love reading! What is your favourite meal, song and book? 

A: My favourite meal is lobster in any form. Although, people have figured me out – so they "dangle the lobster meal" to "motivate" me to attend certain events. Lobster. My favourite song is "Rebecca", the theme from Top Gear UK... hahaha! Our entire family has watched 18 SEASONS of Top Gear. I want my own "TOP BLADE" TV Show! We would look just like Top Gear UK – but it would have the Grassroots To Champions coaches! We’d be huge. Seriously, I love all types of music. I really try to stay current. That stupid "Royals" song sticks in my head for days... My favorite book? I love to read. I read everything. Motivation, marketing, negotiating and anything you can buy at an airport.

Q: What is the skating world's biggest problem and how can coaches fix it? 

A: The biggest problem is the IJS. It's too complicated and limits the skater to certain routines to get the maximum amount of points. The result is a decrease in the creativity of the sport and innovation in skating. Now they all look same, doing the same routines, just in the different orders. Also, a lack of children skating. We need to have young kids getting into figure skating. Girls hockey took many of potential skaters away from figure skating. We need to get them back. ATHLETIC girls and boys!

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

A: Scott Hamilton, Kurt Browning and Pasquale Camerlengo. Scott and Kurt because they have big personalities that help skating. Pasquale? Aside from being a great choreographer, he does the best voicemail messages ever.

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

A: After college I was an archaeologist and I carried a gun, just like Indiana Jones (sorry, no whip). I worked for over a 1 1/2 years on various digs in Israel. When I got back from Israel, I got back on the ice as a coach and haven’t left. I've applied my education to coaching. Especially, when using DARTFISH computer software.

Q: If you could give every single skater in the world one piece of advice from your heart, what would it be? 

A: It would be advice I learned from Audrey Weisiger: Dream. Dare. DO.

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

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Interview With Fernand Fedronic


I tried roller skating once and ended up falling in a barrel garbage can in the back patio of a bar while in drag. Personally, I don't see a lot of similarities between figure skates and roller skates at all. I love me some deep edges and the security of you know, a toe pick. I remember growing up and being just floored knowing that skaters like Marina Kielmann were able to simultaneously focus on competing on an elite level in figure skating and roller skating at the same time - Kielmann won 3 consecutive medals at the World Roller Skating Championships in between her trips to the Calgary and Albertville Olympics as a figure skater. It just kind of blew my mind and still does, I think really because I found one natural and the other completely unnatural. Even more remarkable is the story of France's Fernand Fedronic, a French National Figure Skating Champion and elite skater of the 1980's who was a specialist in compulsory figures and went to a career as a successful professional figure skater, coach/choreographer extraordinaire and commentator. Just years ago, decades after his "amateur" career had ended, Fedronic took up roller skating and is now one of the world's top competitors (and champions) in a brand new (and in my opinion, quite different though similar) sport. Fernand Fedronic's unique story spans his eligible and professional careers and includes the stories of close associations with Surya and Suzanne Bonaly, Didier Gailhaguet and many more and he was kind enough take the time to do this wonderful interview:

Q: During your figure skating career, you twice won the French Junior title before becoming France’s senior men’s champion in 1985.  In representing France internationally at major competitions such as the European Championships, World Junior Championships and World Championships, you certainly would have experienced  so many fantastic moments. What are your proudest moments on the ice from your “amateur” career?

A: When you are on the podium with your national anthem playing for you and because of your golden result, that was for me at the Grand Prix International in St. Gervais, France in 1982 (long time ago) and when I won the compulsory figures at the European Championships in 1985. One thing with great satisfaction was at Junior Worlds in 1981 in London, Ontario when, after smashing myself into the barrier at the short program warm up, I had to stay in a chair of ice for 5 hours before the long program to be able to move and maybe skate... and I did (not very good though)!


Q: You were an expert at compulsory figures, winning the men's compulsories at the 1985 European Championships ahead of Jozef Sabovcik and others. Why were figures so important and do you think today's skaters and coaches need to re-explore this lost art as a training tool?

A: You are very well informed! Well, I began skating because of my older brother Dominic (who did the first triple lutz in the Junior World Championships in Megeve in 1979). He was very good in free skating as I couldn't be so I think I trained myself to exist in an other way. I was practicing so many hours to achieve that - about 7 hours per day to prepare the big events. Once, I had incredible marks for my backward paragraph loops... between 5.0 and 5.2. A real dream at that time. Nowadays those compulsory figures do not exist anymore - it is from the TV and audience interests I suppose. For the skaters, it's certainly a gain of time and comfort (cold feet and fingers for hours...). The most part of actual figure skaters don't know the history of edges and turns and elements which is the culture of our sport! To go backward, except the increase of lesson hours, would not be the point. We still have this step sequence to remind us this knowledge but for how long? The velocity goes against the pure edges. There are a lot of new paths to explore.


Q: Following the 1987/1988 season, you turned professional and finished 2nd at the World Professional Championships in Jaca, Spain in 1990. What are the differences between "amateur" and professional skating and what the merits of both?

A: In our great sport, we have this incredible opportunity of double attraction for the main audience to watch and/or to get into the sport. The technical performance way with the suspense and thrill of the achievement and the only entertainment way. Creativity is welcome in both. For the skaters, there is only one champion (even if the path is more important than the goal) but it is good to have as well a positive way to be proud of, and more accessible ...
 


Q: You are a 3 time champion at the World Inline Figure Skating Championships representing Glace & Roller Inline Paris (2011-2013). Was inline skating something you had an interest in while you figure skated and how difficult was the transition to make, especially to go back to competing after so many years away from your competitive career on the ice? 

A: In the late 80's, I ordered PicSkate inline skates (only God knows why) but I never really used them and 3 years ago a friend talked to me about fun Inline roller skating and competitions. I tried and found it really similar to ice skating but different enough to give me the feeling I start something new. Honestly, at my age (49), I still enjoy very much the contact with the audience but I don't have anymore the courage to practice on ice but to see my skating level decreasing. I discovered in Inline Figure Skating a way to practice with fun, to get very quickly to a good level and to fill the thrill of a competition (real competition against myself and against the time that goes). Now I have created my own Inline skating club named V.I.P. with honorary members like Surya Bonaly and Stannick Jeannette. 

Q: For a time, you worked with Suzanne Bonaly in coaching 5 time European Champion Surya Bonaly. What was your relationship with the Bonaly’s like and what makes Surya such a unique and amazing skater in your opinion?
A: I was there to help at a time it was needed only in the choreographic aspect and representing as a coach.
Surya is a skater with incredible athletic skills that she still has after all those years and a leader for black people in skating as was Debi Thomas. I met Surya the first time when I returned from San Francisco where I was in summer school with Brian Boitano and Yvonne Gomez under the coaching of Linda Leaver. She was a very young skater from Nice and already a good  jumper. When she upgraded to Paris National Skating School she stayed with her mother Suzanne in my sister's apartment we kindly rented to them.


Q: You’ve travelled all over the world doing choreography for other skaters, performing and working for the ISU as a Technical Specialist. What is your favourite place you’ve visited and where is one place you’ve never been you’d most like to?

A: I love Southeast Asia and discovered wonderful people and landscape in Myanmar, delightful food, wild nature and spiritual atmosphere in Laos, unexpected modernity in China, the essence of life and affordable incredible luxury in India, the war between stone and jungle in Cambodia, and magic Malaysia or Vietnam or Thailand and almost all Mediterranean countries... not really skating places but sunny places! I really want to finish my ancient Greek and Rome tour by a visit to Egypt and am ready to start Central and South America and lower African countries. A huge program!

Q: You are a tenor and have given over 80 performances as Paris in La Belle Hélène. Having studied at Conservatoire Supérieur de Musique in Paris and having such a long eligible skating career, you certainly have learned a lot about discipline. What do you figure skating and musical performance have in common, in your opinion ?

A: Music, performance, practice and audience. I am still waiting the opportunity to do the both in real optimum conditions. 

Q: During your eligible career, you were coached by Didier Gailhaguet. What is your relationship with him like?

A: Difficult to say. I was in sport school 500 km from my parents home from the age of 12 and probably Didier was a bit like another father. Then sport life goes by and the end of the competitive career approaches and water runs under the bridge and I try to help as I can with the figure skating my own way, avoiding all political aspects.

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

A: Moiseeva and Minenkov because they were the dream on TV. Gary Beacom, because of an incredible creativity and amazing magic performance on a tour I organized in Italy... with his bird call program at minus 10 temperature at night, in an outdoor rink nearby a forest. The magic stayed for several minutes after the end of the great number because all the birds in the trees woke up and started to sing... A fairy tale! Third, both Shawn Sawyer and Kurt Browning. They bring another dimension into the ice.

Q: What’s one thing about you most people don’t know?
A: I was born in Lyon (continental France) from parents from Martinique island with a great French poet in the family ancestors from my mother side (Arthur Rimbaud) and a big melting pot of ancestors (India, Italy, the Northeast of France and Africa).

Q: To someone who has never skated, how would you describe the feeling of being out on the ice by yourself?

A: I love skating to the limit of my edges, enjoying the curves and the feeling of the wind on my cheeks. I love moving to music and to leave my body and revel in its sensation of the outside world.

If you enjoyed my interview with Fernand, be sure to always check back for more skater interviews and writing about everything under the sun in the skating world. There is also a Facebook page connected to the blog where all blog articles and interviews are shared - as well as current skating news, photos and videos of amazing skating. Give it a "like" at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard. You can also follow me on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog and even download Skate Guard's smartphone app at
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