Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ms. Maxwell, We're Ready For Your Close-Up

Introducing… a new recurring feature at State of the Skate!

(Didn’t know I had any OLD recurring features? Don’t worry… just go with it.)

“Three Need-to-Know’s…” will showcase up-and-comers in U.S. figure skating. Or, in other words, I’ll be plucking facts/statements of interest from their profiles and putting pretty bullet points on them. Then, when you see them on TV in the final flight of Nationals in a year or two, you can point to the screen and tell your friends “Would you believe her favorite pigout food is Doritos?”

Or something like that.

Let’s start with a showcase on Angela Maxwell, a 16-year old from Arlington, TX who recently won silver at JGP Czech Republic. Three Need-to-Know’s…

+ She “cuts her own music,” meaning she probably makes all her own skating music choices. So when you hear her current free skate music—to the theme from the Japanese TV series Inuyasha—know that you’re loving or hating it courtesy of Ms. Maxwell herself.

+ After skating, she hopes to go to college and become a forensic scientist. Oh, and one of her favorite TV shows is CSI. Coincidence…?

+ According to her profile, “Not many people know that she is half Japanese.” Angela… they do now!

So as we keep an eye on her for the future, here’s her short program from last year’s JGP Lake Placid as the
Clip of the Day. Not perfect, but it’s ambitious, she lands a decent triple toe-triple toe, and she’s got good control of her hands. Watch and see.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Another U.S. Lady... Another Renaissance?

If I’m going to mention the nice article on Kimmie Meissner, it’s only fair that I mention a nice article on current U.S. Bronze Medalist Ashley Wagner too… even if the article is from last weekend. (Sorry about that—I had three deadlines this week and am playing catch-up everywhere else!)

But considering the fact it promotes the Stars, Stripes and Skates event going on this weekend in Danbury, CT, I guess there still a sort of timely quality to it. Plus, like the Meissner piece, it’s primarily about her coaching switch—in this case, to Johnny Weir’s former coach Priscilla Hill.

Wagner’s coach switch seems a little less expected, though. As the article points out, she made the podium at Senior Nationals on her first try. However…

But after the high of making the World Team, Wagner quickly came back down to earth with a disappointing placement at the Four Continents Championships. Suddenly, Wagner was not receiving full credit for her jumps, often being penalized for using the the wrong take-off edge on her Lutz jump.

"I was sixteen years old and at the World Championships," gushed Wagner. "It was such an incredible feeling, and I was honored to represent my country. I wasn't happy with my placement, but that was only because I knew I had the potential to place better than I did."

…And thus the change. Will the Wagner/Hill combination prove to be a good one? Did we get to see enough of the "old" Wagner to be able to appreciate the diference? In any case, we’ll get our first official peek at Cup of China, about 6 weeks from now.

Incidentally… as the groundwork for this season continues to be laid (via Junior Grand Prix events and smaller senior internationals like this weekend’s
Nebelhorn Trophy), I’ve been mulling ways to get more familiar with the skaters involved and actually write about them from time to time. I think I’ve got an idea I’m ready to go with. Barring any ice-breaking news (aka news about skating or skaters), I’ll try to get that started next week.

Until then, here’s Wagner's Grand Prix debut from last year’s Skate Canada as the
Clip of the Day.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Callaghan Thinks Outside the (Coaching) Box for Meissner

To follow former World Champion Kimmie Meissner at all is to know she made a change, pronto, following her dismal 7th place finish at U.S. Nationals last January.

She went to Richard Callaghan… who’d just relocated to Florida… so, then, did she.

She got through Worlds.

Then what?

The answer, as you might already know if you follow my fellow bloggers, is found in
this impressively long Washington Post article that ran Wednesday. There’s quite a bit of interesting stuff—I was particularly tickled at the idea of Todd Eldredge as Callaghan’s sidekick—but one tidbit caught my eye more than the rest:

Suddenly, renowned coach Richard Callaghan, who has been tutoring Meissner in this affluent South Florida community for just over six months, burst from the coaching box and skated across the ice. Retired skater Todd Eldredge, a six-time national champion and longtime Callaghan student who has become his coaching sidekick, followed…

After the session, as Meissner unlaced her skates -- and Callaghan and Eldredge resumed an animated discussion of her program -- she noted that, at her previous training home at the
University of Delaware Figure Skating Club, no coach ever stepped on the ice to teach during workouts. It simply was not done.


I can’t imagine such a thing. With the exception of Mrs. Engstrom – who was my off-ice ballet instructor first and came to the rink only occasionally—I can’t think of a single coach that didn’t get out there with the students. Maybe they didn’t chase me or my fellow skaters around a la Eldredge (which—shame on me—sounds kind of fun all by itself), but they got their skates and their big fluffy down coats and their Styrofoam cups of bad coffee and they followed us around. Sure, once in a while they hopped up on the boards to observe, but it never lasted for long. Like the kids they taught, they were restless. It was a big ol’ frozen dance floor out there, even when everyone was working their hardest. How could anyone who loved the sport that much keep still? (At any age, I might add… for we had our share of coaches in their 50s and possibly beyond!)

Has something changed over the past 25 years that I’m unaware of? A perceived need for distance between coach and student? Or some sort of legal issues? I hope the U of Delaware FSC thing is an anomaly. It can be lonely enough at times, out there on the ice, without having someone older and wiser by your side. Literally.

Clip of the Day shows Meissner’s early greatness at the 2006 World Championships. Here’s hoping the Florida sun will shine on her throughout the season to come.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Which Pro Men Might Be in For "Thin"?

OK, one more post about the new pro competition with a name, Kurt Browning, and not much else, and then we cross our fingers and see if we ever hear about it again…

Who’s in on this thing? I’ll try some semi-educated guesses, based on who might be skating professionally these days vs. who is putting more of their energy towards coaching, schooling, serving the ISU in a more technical manner, or all of the above.

I’m also ruling out Boitano, as I think they’ve got the “veteran” factor covered with Browning’s involvement and he’s probably got his hands full with his annual Skating Spectacular anyway.

Who does that leave? Here’s who I came up with for the remaining 5 slots:

YAGUDIN—because he’s got a shiny new titanium hip joint and nowhere to show it off of late. (He spoke at one point of returning to the amateur ranks, but has since ruled that out.)

WEISS—because I can’t imagine him passing up something like this, and all the guys who’ve recently skated for Stars on Ice clearly stand a better chance of having their professional “A” game ready to go (hereafter referred to as the SOI Factor).

KULIK—because, despite the fact his OGM is already 10 years old, he himself is still relatively young (31 to Weiss’ 32, for instance). Also has the SOI Factor in his corner.

ELDREDGE—because he still seems to be in his professional prime… because of the SOI Factor… and, frankly, because I suspect a U.S.-based competition is eager to seek out high profile U.S. pro competitors, of which there just don’t seem to be that many these days. (Given the current climate of pro competition, who can blame skaters for diversifying? But I digress…)

As for that 5th opening, I’ve got a lot of names with question marks. Stojko crossed my mind, but I guess he retired completely 2 years ago. Galindo occurs to me, as he still skated professionally as recently as last year, but I’m not sure he’d be up for a competition. Honda (as in Takeshi) seems a possibility, if only because, at 27, he’s still quite young—I’ve no idea if he’s even skating professionally.

To me, that leaves Steven Cousins, another SOI vet who seems unlikely to pass up a pro competition… and John Zimmerman, who of course is known as a pairs skater but recently made his singles’ debut at Weiss’ annual foundation benefit. Keeping the U.S. factor in mind (not to mention that of curiosity), I’ll go out on a limb and guess the invitation will go to ZIMMERMAN, with Cousins as a backup option.

Those are my guesses and I’m sticking to ‘em… but if I prove to be dead wrong on most of these, keep in mind that I only got 4 of my 16 guesses right with the Emmy Awards last night :-)

Here’s Yagudin’s OGM free skate from 2002 as the
Clip of the Day .

Friday, September 19, 2008

Just How Thin is This "Thin Ice"?

In the midst of all a surprise retirement and triple axel-dancing, a little bit of news almost slipped through the cracks over the past couple of weeks: a new professional figure skating championship is in the works. For six as-yet-unnamed men, anyway (save for Kurt Browning, who is already on board).

Or so I read
here at the International Figure Skating website. But I’ve got to admit, I was left with more than a few questions about this Thin Ice, which will air sometime in… um… OK, so that was one of the questions.

One thing I can tell you that’s promising: Terry O’Neil is involved. Nowadays he’s the CEO of O’Neil Productions, Inc… but his involvement with skating goes waaay back. Back to the 1980’s, when he was an executive with CBS Sports and they had the rights to Worlds. Back to the 70’s too, I think, when he was with ABC… and they had the rights to EVERYTHING. I’ve never met him, but I’ve spoken to a few who’ve worked with him, and I think they’d verify that O’Neil loves this sport kind of like we do.

So that’s good. Now, if they could just a few more teeny tiny questions, for my journalist background begs to know:

WHO? It’s been so long since a pro competition occurred, I honestly don’t know who they’ll tap. Maybe we should handicap the possibilities if they don’t have a cast list by the next time I post…

WHAT? It’s billed as following the format “popularized by television shows such as American Idol and Dancing With the Stars” (with one skater voted out at a time), but it’s not clear how that can truly be the case… unless it airs somewhere live, 5 nights in a row. Even in pro skating’s craziest years I don’t think that would have happened.

WHERE? WHEN? As in, what network? How long after it tapes? Can we expect to see something over the holidays, or will it get buried later in January? It concerns me that this wasn’t mentioned in the release either. I wonder how long it took them to secure the rights for Skating with Celebrities on FOX back in 2006…

WHY? Why no women—is it because there aren’t enough moderately “current”, active, healthy, willing female skaters calling themselves pro these days? Why so little notice—did they want to wait until some NAMES had signed on (in addition to Browning they have Dick Button and Katarina Witt as judges, and Shae-Lynn Bourne as the show’s choreographer)?

And, WHY can’t I get anything more than a cautiously optimistic feeling about this whole endeavor? Maybe it’s because the last time someone tried something like this (ABC), with amateurs, in the fall of 2005 and 2006, it quickly became known as the “Cheesefest in Boston”. And like all other skating on ABC/ESPN, it’s disappeared. (Here’s a
Clip of the Day to remind you of it, though.)

Let’s hope Thin Ice doesn’t meet the same fate, particularly before it even airs. I’ll keep you posted if I hear any new developments.

P.S. In case you missed it below… we have a winner on my trivia question from last week! Aaron correctly guessed Michael Jackson as the mega-celebrity who is a mere one day apart, birth-wise, from Scott Hamilton. I congratulate Aaron—but am still not sure if I should congratulate Scott…

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


So he thinks he can dance, huh? No, check that—he KNOWS he can dance. He said so himself.

It’s been a busy seven days for former Canadian men’s figure skating champions. First we had Jeffrey Buttle’s surprise retirement… now we’ve got Emmanuel Sandhu turning up on the Canadian edition of So You Think You Can Dance (though, admittedly, Sandhu’s part was taped several weeks prior). What’s next? Elvis Stojko attempting to regain Olympic eligibility?

But back to Sandhu. In case you haven’t seen it yet, I’ll make his audition the
Clip of the Day. And here are five quick, initial, off-the-top-of-my-head observations:

1) Dude… nice scarf.

2) When he’s posed on the couch, gloating about his figure skating success with lines such as “How many can walk the walk? Not many…” I instantly responded with he should know. Sorry. It was an involuntary reaction.

3) Judge Mary Murphy, from whom my ears continue to ring after being bombarded this summer by her weekly banshee wails (thanks to the U.S. version of SYTYCD), made up for almost all of it when Sandhu proclaimed “I think people know me as a figure skater because I’m a three-time national champion…” And, with perfect delivery, Murphy drawled “I don’t know you”, forcing Sandhu to look sheepish for a few seconds and say “Well, in Canada I guess.” Ms Murphy, that was AWESOME. I’ll take that over 5 squealing invitations on your Hot Tamale Train.

4) At least he doesn’t deny the “prima donna” comment made about him by one of the other judges. (Really, if the audience “knows” him as well as he says they probably do… how could they expect anything less?)

5) Finally, it’s good to know Sandhu’s put his skating career on hold for this particular brand of competition. Feel that gust of wind? That’s the collective figure skating community letting go of that breath they were holding as they awaited the answer.

Will he make it all the way to the finals, only to be pegged as a ringer a la Kristi Yamaguchi in last season’s Dancing with the Stars? Guess we’ll have to wait and see. Till then, can't wait until he has to do some "crumping".

Friday, September 12, 2008

No Re-Buttles Here

What’s it like to retire from your profession when you’re a high-profile athlete, arguably in what’s come to be known as one’s “prime”?

Only a handful of people really know. And recent examples show how tough it must be—Brett Favre coming out of retirement about a month ago; Lance Armstrong reportedly coming out of retirement within the past week. Is reaching the pinnacle of your sport enough? Does one need to start skidding down the other side in order to say “OK, NOW I’m done?” Or is it better to walk off the top of that mountain by your own choice, with the possibility of a few “what ifs”… or even full-fledged regrets?

We fans of sport can, and often do, have our own two cents to contribute to that discussion. But like it said on that plaque that used to hang in our family kitchen, we can’t know what it’s like until we’ve walked a mile in said athlete’s shoes. Or cleats. Or skates, for that matter.

Which brings me to Jeffrey Buttle, and the decision he announced a few days ago.

I guess it crossed my mind back in March, when Buttle won his world title, that he might decide to call it a day—after all, he’s a skater approaching his late 20s who continues to struggle with his quad. (Believe me, I’m as glad as anyone that he won Worlds without even attempting a quad—but that’s simply not a game plan that wins every time.) No matter how much artistic merit he possesses—and that’s quite a bit, in my opinion—there’s a certain amount of undeniable logic in saying Look, I’ve achieved just about everything I wanted to here… and it’s time to go.

But he’s not basing this decision on logic; at least, not publicly. He’s basing it on how he feels in his heart. That’s even better. Yes, seeing him go for gold in Vancouver might have been awesome. Yes, it’s a storybook ending that he’ll no longer get the chance to test out.

Have you read some of those storybooks lately, though? The Book of Kwan? The Tale of Cohen? Eldredge’s Song? The Ballad of Stojko? (OK, so I’m going back a few years for some of those—humor me)

I’m certainly not saying any of those talents did anything regrettable—that’s not for me to say. All I’m saying is that there is only so much gold to go around, and more than enough variables to keep it at bay. Someone in a similar position to those aforementioned folks, as Buttle is/was, surely can’t help but take these cautionary tales into account. To push along for another 16 months from here has to be hard enough for someone who passionately WANTS to finish on top. Can you imagine how hard it might be if you’re just going through the motions?

Buttle, apparently, has imagined it. And as much as we will miss the heart and soul he brought to skating, I think we’d miss it even more if he kept on competing without it.

That’s what I think, anyway. How about you?

For the
Clip of the Day I located Buttle’s short program from the 2005 Grand Prix Final. I’m a sucker for “Sing Sing Sing”, and he wears this choreography particularly well.

P.S. Since I didn’t get any takers on my trivia question from earlier in the week (scroll to the end of the 9/9 entry to see it), I’ll give everyone one more chance! Post your guess here, or in the 9/9 comments section.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

But Will He Make Lemonade Out Of These Celebrity Lemons?

One day soon, when I start posting at least 3 or 4 times a week, I might get as timely as my fellow skating bloggers with news such as Scott Hamilton signing on to the upcoming season of Celebrity Apprentice. (“According to this article in the New York Post.”)

But for now, I can only provide my delayed reaction, which is… meh. Sorry, Scotty, but—meh.

Translation: he’s a great ambassador of the sport in any forum; that’s a given. And it’s all for charity, so for that reason alone I hope he turns in yet another fine performance. But as for the company he’ll allegedly be keeping (Joan Rivers, Dennis Rodman, the creepy dude behind the Girls Gone Wild phenomenon)… not to mention the blustery Trumpster himself… it’s just weird. And I hope it doesn’t keep him away from his family for too long. After all, the guy IS a pretty strong competitor.

If you watched Apprentice in its “early” days, you’ll recall that its premiere episode had contestants pounding the New York City pavement, trying to shill lemonade like so many suburban schoolkids. That little exercise in character-building lured me in—I kind of dug the show back then, Omarosa and all. I’ll try to dig it again come January, at least until Scott hears Trump’s infamous sendoff.

But forget about all that—did you realize Scotty just turned 50??

For the
Clip of the Day I went the professional route, and located a performance of Hamilton’s routine to “Hair” from 1995, if only because the way he looks at the end of the number is so gosh darn Apprentice-like.

(P.S. Quick trivia: Hamilton is just a single day older than an even bigger superstar born in the U.S. Midwest. Leave a comment and name that superstar!)

Friday, September 5, 2008

A "Life Spiral" To Remember

Quick—what legendary skating couple annually spends a month in Maui (Maui!), makes their own buttermilk (buttermilk?), and was once allowed to keep only $53.25 of their $10,000 earnings (thanks, U.S.S.R.!) at a Madison Square Garden performance?

Pat yourself on the back if you guessed Oleg and Ludmilla Protopopov. These and other fascinating facts on their life and times are currently featured in a Lake Placid News article, just in time for their annual appearance at the upcoming An Evening with Champions, aka “The Jimmy Show”.

If you’re like me, The Protopopovs were ahead of your time and you “know” them best via their Jimmy performances. But in many ways, they were (and perhaps still are) ahead of their time in general. Other interesting tidbits from the article:

+ They’ve never had a coach

+ They walk or bike “wherever they need to go”

+ They defected to Switzerland in 1979 and remain Swiss citizens (though they live in Lake Placid nearly half the year)

+ Ludmilla designs AND makes all their costumes

The article also details their eating habits, which are geared toward “longevity”… and, considering the fact that they are now 76 and 72 and continue to skate professionally, it might be safe to say they are on to something!

To read the article in its entirety,
click here.

Another thing the article addresses is how the Russian Federation denied them the opportunity to defend their Olympic title at the 1972 Games. This
Clip of the Day (from the early 70s) shows a little glimmer of what might have been.

(It’s worth mentioning that the Protopopovs must’ve been in their mid-late 30s at this point in their careers. Guess the signs were already in place that they wouldn’t run out of steam anytime soon!)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Love, Canadian Style

We now take a pause from the war horse discussion to ponder the following question: Is there a Great White Northern Renaissance underway with regards to the boots and blades we know and love?

According to
this article from last week’s Toronto Sun, there just might be. It’s an interview with current Skate Canada CEO William Thompson, discussing the golden (not to mention the silver and the bronze) opportunities that they hope to seize when the Winter Olympics come to Vancouver in 2010. From the article:

"We made some mistakes after Salt Lake. Skate Canada didn't do some of the investment in the athlete support programs we needed to," Thompson said. "We didn't do as much as we could have. It wasn't so much lack of money. We had enough ... it was getting a clear vision of how to support the athletes. In the last year we've put in some good sports science programs, lined up psychological training, physiologists, doctors ... that has improved performances. But you can't turn programs on and off like a tap. It takes a while.”

But just as soon as I'm screaming “U.S.F.S., are you doing this too? Are you listening? Helloooooo….” my eyes caught this a few lines further down in the article:

“…but, he admits Skate Canada also is responsible for the identity crisis. Many Canadians wouldn't know (Joannie) Rochette from a round chocolate with nutty bits.”

Ouch! Unnecessary roughness to Joannie! Even if (sigh) it might be true... for now.

Just to show it’s not true HERE, I’m making Rochette’s most recent 4CC free skate the
Clip of the Day . Pass the chocolate this way, please.