Saturday, June 30, 2012

Fire Near the "Springs" Ice; Samuelson/Gilles Dissolution

Readers: do me a favor, would you? Leave a comment if you happen to live in a part of the world that is receiving enough or nearly enough rain right now. It might prove comforting to be reminded of places that are NOT bone-dry and blistering hot as it is here in the Midwestern USA.

And IF YOU LIVE NEAR COLORADO SPRINGS or any other locale suffering under the strain of recent or ongoing forest fires, I’d love it if you left a comment letting us know how you, your neighborhood, loved ones, etc. are doing. As with the earthquake/tsunami that rocked Japan last year, disasters like these resonate all the more when you feel a personal connection to the victims... and I like to think skating enthusiasts such as us share a common bond, no matter where in the world we happen to be.

While I don’t have any immediate family in Colorado, former classmates and current Facebook friends of mine do, and have provided their own accounts over the past few weeks... and of course concern escalated as stories/updates about “The Springs” and the Waldo Canyon fire became the mainstay not just on Facebook and Twitter, but the Ice Network website (where even the staff at USFS issued a statement to concerned fans about the relative safety of their headquarters). Whether you keep thoughts for the firefighters and other emergency responders involved, the victims of bodily and/or property damage, the ones evacuated, or the weather conditions... here’s a Saturday update.  Let the prayers and good thoughts continue; the battle is far from over.

Colorado Springs is clearly one of the great U.S. figure skating hubs, and Detroit (and/or) Ann Arbor is another one. Most of the flurry of recent Michigan skating news has involved the public split of a certain coaching team, and the custody issues (for lack of a better term) that have erupted in their wake. But those of us who were wondering about a sort of off-the-radar Michigan dance team by the name of Emily Samuelson and Todd Gilles, wonder no more. Samuelson issued a statement this week on Facebook about the break-up of the team, which finished 8th at its Nationals debut this past winter. Interestingly, she writes in the initial paragraph “US Figure Skating will not be writing an official press release...” but Ice Network was quick to pick up her FB statement and turn it into this headliner on their website. Maybe the fire or some other unforseen circumstance kept them from covering this particular split on their own; nonetheless, I tend to think a 2010 Olympian (which Samuelson is, of course) deserves better than having to be her own press agent in a situation like this. As with Caitlin Yankowskas last season, it’s a crying shame to see an elite skater standing on the sidelines, partner-less in what could well be the athletic/artistic prime of her career. The difference is that at least Yankowskas (who is now partnered with Joshua Reagan) has two solid seasons to try and make a bid for the Sochi Olympics... whereas even if Samuelson found another partner late this summer—which seems unlikely, to read her statement— her Sochi chances would be extremely diminished, especially with an ice dance field as deep as we have now in the U.S.

But she remains upbeat, to her enormous credit, despite facing little more than career adversity in the years since Vancouver. More power to her!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Are All of These June Skating Headlines? Well, Not Exactly...

So much skating news in so little time... even in the “quiet” month of June!

Your mission: to A) find one of the headlines below that did NOT happen in past couple of weeks but maybe you’d like it to... and/or B) find the headline on which you’d like a blogger such as myself to offer some sort of commentary, humorous or otherwise.

And of course, your own commentary is welcome in the aptly-named “comments” section! Dig in, all! 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Jennifer Kirk's Brave, Wise Use of Social Media

The older we get, and the longer we follow figure skating, the more we think of the sequins and chiffon and stage-quality hair and makeup as little more than sparkly diversions from the sweat, scrapes, and hard-earned bruises of the athlete in question. We know it’s a tough sport that requires supreme athletic skill, benefits from amazing grace, and thrives on steel-belted nerves in competition. What we don’t know are the desperate lengths some will go to—when no one is looking—in order to find a modicum of peace in ice skating’s perpetually shuddering world.

Well, we know of a few. We know about Jamie Silverstein, a U.S. ice dancer and 2006 Olympian whose battle with anorexia and bulimia kept her out of the sport for quite a while. We know about Akiko Suzuki, Japan’s current World Bronze Medalist, who might never have reached such heights in the sport had her own eating disorder issues handicapped her chances in skating for more than a few years.
And, recently, we were reminded of Jennifer Kirk. She and Suzuki are only a little more than 6 months apart in age, and both were ravaged by eating disorders in the early part of the 2000s. But the path to recovery is not the same for everyone. We knew this well enough when Kirk wrote about herself—and countless, nameless others—in this 2009 article.

 Now, thanks in part to a conversation she started on her blog May 29—one that delves even deeper into the darkness that crept into Kirk’s life both before and after she left the sport—we know there’s still so much more to talk about. Whether an athlete (or anyone, really) turns to binge eating, starvation, binge drinking or self-injury—all of which Kirk apparently engaged in— it’s a highly complex exercise in self-destruction, typically with bushels of symptoms that few, if any, can detect.

To be sure, the subject as it relates to figure skating has been visited before. Little Girls in Pretty Boxes by Joan Ryan, first published in 1995, was one of the first to shine a bright light on it for both skaters and gymnasts.

And Kathryn Bertine’s All the Sundays Yet to Come, released in 2003, is a harrowing (yet somehow delightfully wry as well) journey into the drastic measures the author took in order to maintain a post-competitive career in skating. I happen to be 2/3 through my copy right now, so it’s fresh in my mind (and highly recommended, by the way).

Sometimes it takes an easily identified name and face to really click—if not with the subjects itself, with the parents and coaches who enjoyed Kirk’s skating. And in this day and age of social media and all its pros and cons, there’s no better time to use Facebook and You Tube (she has her own channel there now too, look for it!) not just for GOOD, but for EDUCATION and for POSITIVE COMMUNICATION. Jenny Kirk’s opening some big, important doors these days... whether you’re a skater, coach, official, or fan; whether you’ve suffered through similar problems or none of them, her words are crucial. Please take them to heart, and share them with others.

Having lost a childhood friend to anorexia myself, I can’t help but believe that the “unrealized dream” that Kirk speaks of is something of a misnomer. She left her Olympic dream behind, yes, but in its wake, she could be doing something much bigger-- she could well be saving lives by sharing her own. As “realized” dreams go, we all know it doesn't get much better than that.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Shpilband Situation, and Other Headlines You Never Expected to See

This week’s bombshell in the world of skating news was something of a corker, you might say. You surely know the headlines by now (paraphrased in this case):

+ Igor Shpilband Fired From Arctic Edge Ice Arena

+ Shpilband Stunned, Searches for another Michigan Rink

+ Marina Zueva (his now-former coaching partner) cites a “Conflict of Interest” on Shpilband’s Part

+ Top Two U.S. Ice Dance Teams Announce They Will Continue with Zueva

+ Skate Canada Confirms that Virtue/Moir Will Also Stay with Zueva

(Oh, and let’s not forget Vladmir Putin’s invitation for Shpilband to return to Russia... nice!)

I think many of us expected a headline like this to emerge from the Canton quarters eventually:

+ Something Had to Give: (Virtue/Moir OR Davis/White) Part Ways with Shpilband/Zueva

Or maybe...

+ Shpilband/Zueva Require Twizzle Contest Between World Gold & Silver Medalists to Choose Who They’ll Stick With Through Sochi

Or even...

+ Scott Moir Finally Challenges Top U.S. Dance Men to Parking Lot Fistfight; Winners Take Shpilband/Zueva

... OK, maybe that middle one wouldn’t happen. In any case, the reality of the situation is Zueva 3, Shpilband 0. What on earth happened?

There are certain headlines we just kind of expect over time...

+ Ottavio Cinquanta is re-elected ISU President

+ Johnny Weir Comes Out of the Closet in New Memoir

+ TV Ratings for Figure Skating are Down From 10 Years Ago

And then there are the shockers—ones that leave us wondering if we’ll ever know what really happened... even if it’s none of our business...

+ Kwan Dismisses Longtime Coach (Frank Carroll)

+ Jennifer Kirk Announces Retirement From Competitive Figure Skating

(NOTE: No, it’s not a coincidence that I’m mentioning this the week after Kirk elaborates, via her blog, on the real reasons for her untimely retirement. If you haven’t read her new writings yet, go do it now. I’ll be discussing it more on a different post.)

And of course...

+ Orser No Longer Coaching Olympic Champion Kim

From Kim’s angry Tweet at Orser to Orser’s early “reveal” of Kim’s 2011-12 program information, this particular story got ugly in a hurry.

Which is just one reason why I hope the Shpilband/Zueva fallout is somewhat merciful. A Sunday afternoon “firing” of one of the most influential names of the current ice dance world doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. But there’s still time.