Friday, May 30, 2008

The Tale of the Tapes

For reasons I’ll explain at another time, I’ve become quite the tracker of skating book sales. Call it an extension of the days I used to stay glued to American Top 40 on Sunday mornings, which led to studying copies of Billboard at the library every week… but, I digress.

You may have heard that Tonya Harding has a book out. It’s called The Tonya Tapes, and sorry, but I just don’t feel like providing a link to it. Go over to Amazon and check it out if you must. It’s okay. I’ll wait.

So anyway, I wouldn’t bring it up except for three little things:

1) It’s the newest skating-related release on the market.
2) It’s by far the best-selling book about skating at the moment.
3) Tonya didn’t actually write it.

Okay, that last part, while factual, may be misleading. It’s not like Ms. Harding is claiming it to be an autobiography, after all. But while the book clearly shows a different author on the cover, it also claims it’s “The Tonya Harding Story in her own voice”… and it’s Tonya that showed up on The Today Show and other such programs to promote the book, not the author.

I’d say all that falls into the category of things that make you go hmmmm… except, not so much. If you were the publisher, who would YOU want making the rounds to hawk this book? The relatively unknown one who wrote it, or the subject—who just happened to be part of one of the most watched showdowns in television history?

Incidentally, the publisher is relatively unknown too (World Audience, Inc.). Let me know if you’ve seen this book in any of the major chains yet—I’m curious if they are giving it any space on the shelves. Skating books get limited room as it is!

If all this talk made you think the Clip of the Day would feature Harding, the only senior ladies skater I know of that ever used Tone Loc in a competitive program… think again. I guess that’s considered innovative (to stay in line with this week’s theme), but I’d rather go with Canada’s Gary Beacom. Here’s a rare look at his amateur career from 1984 (where he finished 2nd right behind Brian Orser):

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

So Now What?

It’s been 2 months since Worlds, and a week since our really lovely post-script on the season (seeing Kristi win Dancing with the Stars). Even ten or twelve years ago, when you couldn’t swing a patch scribe without hitting a TV skating event of some kind… they’d generally tapered off by this time of the year.

To get our fix, we turn to VCRs if you’re like me… TiVo if you’re like the rest of the world…and You Tube if you like your skating “vintage”, and maybe a little fuzzy in quality.

And I promise that’s not a ding on You Tube at all—I’m more grateful to this service, and all the great people posting their old tapes there, than they could ever know. It’s putting me back in touch with all the things I came to love about this sport. (Which is not to say I don’t love it now, but… ah, well, that’s another post for another day. Or maybe three or four days.)

Sometime soon I will come up with different themes for a week’s worth of Clips of the Day. For now, the makeshift “theme” will be innovation… because even if some of these folks were more than the judges could handle at the time, their legacy lives on as long as we can click on links like this:

Enjoy The Duchesnays at their 1991 World Championship best!

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Off-Season Wish List

Since the calendar on the wall says it’s nearly time to act like summer is here, I’m going to initiate something I call The Off-Season Wish List. Here’s what’s on it to start:

--News of an agreement that a network (cable or otherwise) will pick up where ABC/ESPN left off with coverage of the non-American Grand Prix events…
-- …And air them on days/times when people can actually catch them…
-- …Without fear of said events being pre-empted by rodeo finals, pro bowling tours, or any sporting event involving dogs.

Wow, that’s a pretty tall order in itself. Dare I ask for anything more?

Well, if you insist…

-- A new CoP rule limiting the number of body-distorting catch-foot spins allowed per program to just ONE. (In the spirit of the so-called Zayak Rule, they could call this the “Biellmann Rule”)
-- Another new CoP rule that would prevent the men, in particular, from starting straight-line step sequences with more than 3 seconds of posing, as if to say with their body language “Look out… here… it… COMES!” (They could call it “The Wind-Up”)
-- And finally…since I keep hearing they’re having a hard time moving the super-expensive tickets for 2009 Worlds in L.A…. how about giving them away in specially marked boxes of Cap’n Crunch?

Yeah, I know. But if you’re going to dream, why not dream big?

For the Clip of the Day, let’s go to the last time Worlds was held in the U.S… which also happens to have been the last time Michelle Kwan won the title. Here’s her short program.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

For the Love of Kristi

It’s a happy, happy day when I can actually blog about skating AND a prime-time TV show at the same time.

A career-long involvement with television and video, paired up with the fact that I’m at home with two small kids most of the time, leads me to sip from a pretty steady stream of exceptional TV programming. But as I’ve said here before, nobody needs me to detail the finer points of The Office, Bones, or How I Met Your Mother. Or who to vote for on American Idol. Or to lament the fact that Guiding Light now bears closer resemblance to an endless high school video project than it does the longest-running daytime drama in history.

Nobody needs me to recap Kristi Yamaguchi’s stellar performances on Dancing with the Stars, either. They do that with brilliance and razor-sharp wit at so many websites already, I think I’m much better off simply pointing you to one of my favorite online indulgences, Television Without Pity:

What I would like to do is express sincere joy for the extravaganza that DWTS has become. Though I was admittedly a little slow on the pickup with this show, I became a regular viewer when Helio rose to such prominence (most racing fans in Indianapolis consider him a sort of Hoosier by now, anyway). It was then that I wondered if they’d ever tap a figure skater to take part. My guess was no; it wouldn’t be considered “funny” enough. (See Adam Carolla or Penn Gillette for better examples.)

How I love to be wrong sometimes! Even though I know it’ll be a while (if ever) before another figure skater graces the DWTS dance floor… and even though I’m not convinced the viewing public will “let a woman win” and give Kristi her little disco ball trophy…ABC has, at long last, won me back.

Well, almost won me back. It may take another skater or two to get me past their much-too-early cancellation of Sports Night.

For one of Kristi’s finest TV moments long before she learned how to tango, check out her OGM performance from 1992—it’s the Clip of the Day, of course.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Hip to the Hop, Part 2

The fact of the matter is, Cyber-Swan (Daisuke Takahashi’s short program, the one I showcased in the 5/13 post) featured a version of “Swan Lake” custom-arranged for him.

Various versions of Disco Firebird, on the other hand, ran rampant back in the day…making it seem as prevalent at the time as rainbow suspenders and “Foxy Lady” t-shirts.

As someone commented below, this is part of why modern-day music trends have been slow to translate to on-ice brilliance… they just aren’t pumping up Bach and Beethoven like they used to. Why not? Well, maybe glittery classical covers were to the late ‘70s what sampling is to today’s music scene. But that’s just speculation on my part.

Another speculation: perhaps there is now so much risk involved in upping the technical ante, and racking up the points, experimenting with the music too seems downright unwise. Not to give out yet another reason to question the judgment (no pun intended) of the Code of Points, but let’s face it: if you’re pre-occupied with multiple edge catch-foot spins and turning your Level 3 footwork into Level 4 footwork, the last thing you might be looking to do is change up your warhorse music of choice.

Finally, there’s this (and this is observation, not speculation): to use hip-hop music would seem a waste without utilizing elements of hip-hop dancing…and hip-hop dancing is TOUGH. With all of that isolation, popping, etc. running counter to so much of the flow that is skating itself, it must be that much harder to make it look as good as Takahashi did.

But I’m crossing my fingers for a few new Cyber-somethings to emerge from the pipeline next season anyway.

For the Clip of the Day I came across this 1983 performance of Toller Cranston’s, apparently from the International Professional Figure Skating Championships. Because if you’re going to hear Disco Firebird, you might as well watch it skated by one of the best…

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Hip to the Hop, Part 1

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I’m one of those fans of skating who was also an active participant at a (much) younger time in my life. It's worth mentioning in this week’s posts because it plays into what I want to talk about: skating music, then and now.

“Skating music” in general will have to be a recurring theme here, as it’s too big a part of the whole skating experience to ignore. But when I talk about then and now, I should probably clarify the “then”—in this case—is 25-30 years back. When so many of the top skaters started disco-fying their programs.

If you’ve ever watched anything from the early 80s you’ll know what I’m talking about. The era of disco may faded from the dance floors by that time, but it lived on for quite a while in the rink. Hmm… maybe it was all that ice, keeping the music “fresh” longer?

Anyway, the classical mainstays of this sport were supplanted for a time with thumping bass lines and a pulsating beat. More often than not, it was the classics themselves (or at least their basic melodies) that were disco-fied—Disco Beethoven… Disco Stravinsky (the pumped-up version of Firebird was popular at my rink, and everyone else’s it seemed)… even Disco Chopin, my personal favorite. (How can any tempo ruin Impromptu #4 in C Sharp Minor, after all?)

But when I think of popular music trends NOW, I’m intrigued by the fact that skating music choices, by and large, have not yet followed suit. Especially when today’s Clip Of The Day showcases how very successful hip-hop can be on ice:

Do you have a theory as to why this is?

I’ve got a few. And I’ll share them next time.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

They're Building Stadiums Here... But Not For Us

In what some skating aficionados must consider a no-brainer of a decision, Spokane WA has just been selected as the site of the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Why not? After all, Spokane is just down the road from Vancouver (home of the 2010 Winter Olympics)… and, much more importantly, Spokane really showed the love when Nationals came there in 2007. From the rock-star sized hospitality they showered upon the skaters themselves, to the all-time attendance record, to the awards Spokane received from SportsTravel magazine (for Best Amateur Sports Event), it seems crazy to consider almost anyplace else, especially in an Olympic year.

Oh, to live in a city that appreciated this sport as much as it appreciated basketball, football, and racing! But here in Indianapolis, where construction of the Lucas Oil Stadium is the hot topic, we’re making bids for future Super Bowls… not Skate America. We’re the home to the NCAA headquarters, not USFS. And the one time we did host Nationals, back in 1982, it took place in Market Square Arena—a structure that came down several years ago and has yet to be replaced with anything more than a parking lot. Hmmm.

I guess it’s safe to say I live in a city that loves its sports—too bad skating isn’t one of them. I’d say I need to head north to my hometown of Chicago to catch a good skating event, but it appears they haven’t hosted a Nationals since 1946!!

In honor of Indy’s one-weekend stand with Nationals, the Clip of the Day is Roz Sumners’ “surprise” win from ’82.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

May Daze

What’s cool about starting a figure skating blog one month AFTER the season ends—or so I’m telling myself—is how it allows me to get really comfortable with this “new” medium before digging in, as necessary, when things get busy again in the fall.

If you happen to be a fan of the IRL, though (that’s Indy Racing League to the rest of us), things are “getting busy” right about now. For May 25th will bring the Indy 500, a race so momentous it apparently takes the entire month to honor it properly.

I know this not because I’m a born fan, but because I’m one by marriage.

And, perhaps because of my love of figure skating, I “get it” more than others do. Dancing With the Stars (which crowned IRL star
Helio Castroneves as last season’s champ) isn’t the only thing these sports have in common.

The magazines, the webcasts, the eyes glued to the set as the drivers get the green flag—it all may happen in the complete opposite season, but the passion feels familiar just the same. Granted, I find 75% of most races to be dishwater-dull. There’s a reason I always bring a book along to The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, after all. But I suspect my husband would say the same for skating, no matter how dynamic the event.

It’s that other 25% that counts, that makes it all worth it, in either sport. We have a cabinet full of Indy 500 races dating all the way back to 1986; I suspect in each one of them my husband can pinpoint several highlights, particularly since he re-watches most of them every May in feverish anticipation of what’s to come later that month.

Does that make me crazy? Resentful? An Indy Widow? No… it only makes me envious. Why, oh why, didn’t I save all those Nationals on individual tapes too?

Thank goodness for You Tube. Speaking of 1986, our Clip of the Day goes back to that year as some 22-year old kid named Brian Boitano picks up his first World Championship (along with some vintage hollering by relatively new commentator Scott Hamilton).