Romance and Mystery Novels

by Alina Adams

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Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Oh, what to say about last night's Skating With Celebrities?

Well, first of all - Go, Bruce Jenner! Show that cheating Jillian Barbieri that she ain't all that!

Second: Loyd Eisler - Dude, learn to add up numbers in your head. Then learn to remember them and compare them to other numbers. Less Than/More Than, I'm confident the Canadian School System covered that in first grade, just like here.

Third: Debbie Gibson and Kurt Browning - Wha' happened? Your "Grease" program of last week was so good! Your Motown program of this week was very, very lame.

Fourth: So Todd Bridges falling down once last week was enough to get him bounced, but Kristy Swanson falling twice this week still put them ahead of Kurt and Debbie? (Granted, Kurt and Debbie were very, very lame; see above).

And speaking of falls, was it just me, or did anyone else think it was the pro skaters that were the screw-ups this week?

Nancy Kerrigan stumbled on her "Throw" Axel (is it really a Throw when the girl does an Axel while the guy briefly brushes his hands along her hip and shoulder; oh, and I'd have cut points for ripping off a Brausseur and Eisler routine, too), Tai almost lost the edge on her Waltz Jump, and John Zimmerman totally went down on his Arabian.

I realize that the skaters are so busy trying to facilitate their partners that they lose focus on their own tricks, but, remember, guys, the score is for the team as a whole. And if you don't look good, how do you think that makes your partners look?
Monday, January 30, 2006


So as even Jillian Barbieri herself admits that she's a Skating With Celebrities ringer, we go back to talking about... what's the word I'm looking for?... oh, yeah, real professional skating competitions.

So, where were we? Ah, yes...

After their initial start in Jaca, Spain, and the subsequent establishment of a regular circuit with World Pro and Challenge of Champions, professional skating competitions became the place where successful -- and sometimes not so successful -- amateur skaters got to show the world what they were really about, away from the strict rules and regulations of the ISU.

For instance, as professionals, Canada's Barbara Underhill & Paul Martini, made up for a lack of technical perfection with a crowd pleasing, popular style. Their "When a Man Loves a Woman" routine, performed with Martini in torn jeans and Underhill in a slip, is still considered by many to be the hottest seduction ever put on the ice.

Praises former Candid Production VP Jirina Ribbens, "They used the World Pros to change their skating. They were very limited because he couldn't jump, but they made sure they did what they could do, very, very well. The package was right."

In 1990, World Pros witness a surprise in the form of Switzerland's Denise Biellmann. The first woman to complete a Triple Lutz jump, and the 1981 World Champion, she, nevertheless, was considered too passe to be much of a factor at the World Pros. Yet, her win over Rosalynn Sumners, Debi Thomas, and 1988 Olympic Silver Medalist Elizabeth Manley, ushered in a new phase of Denise's career -- where her professional titles eclipsed her achievements as an amateur.

Ribbens believes, "Denise was young when she left amateurs so she didn't develop into the great skater she could be until she was already a pro."

With the proliferation of pro competitions in the 90s, Denise, whose repertoire continued to pack more triple jumps than many men on the circuit, went on to win the 1992, 1994, 1995 & 1996 Miko Masters, the 1994 American Invitational, and the 1996 Masters on Ice.

The experience and confidence she got from winning those smaller pro competitions, in 1997, helped Denise finish 2nd at the more competitive U.S. Pros, ahead of 1994 Olympic Silver Medalist Nancy Kerrigan, and win the Challenge of Champions over the 1992 Olympic Gold medalist, Kristi Yamaguchi.

Like Brian Boitano did for the men in 1988, Kristi certainly raised the technical stakes of ladies' competition with her post-Olympic entry into the pro ranks. Triple jumps won Kristi the 1992 World Pro and Challenge of Champions.

But, in 1993, even she had to get in line behind the 1989 World Champion from Japan, Midori Ito, who came to World Pro competition with a weapon no other woman could boast -- a Triple Axel.

In 1994, Kristi's superior artistry held off not only Midori Ito, but the 1994 World Champion from Japan, Yuka Sato. Unlike her predecessors, who'd had four years to reign as Olympic champion, a scheduling quirk wherein the Winter Games were shifted two years ahead to stop them falling in the same year as the Summer Games (a move prompted in part by television's desire to have a big sporting event to sell advertising for more often) gave Kristi only two years of unchallenged glory.

Another American suffering from that too-short fate was 1992 Olympic Silver Medalist Paul Wylie. Never national champion, never World Medalist, Wylie skated the performance of his life in France to finish 2nd behind Ukraine's Viktor Petrenko. When he moved into the pros, his future seemed splendid. But, the inconsistency that prevented Wylie from winning major titles as an amateur continued to plague him as a pro. When he was good, he was very, very good, beating Boitano, Orser, and Petrenko in 1992, to win the Challenge of Champions. But, when he was bad, Paul could disintegrate faster than practically any other skater. Though he won the World Pro in 1993, Paul finished 2nd in 1992 and 1994, and last in both 1995 and 1996. He was invited to the 1997 event, but, having just won the 1997 Challenge, declined the invitation, preferring to end his professional career on an up-note.

In 1990, the show moved from its weekend afternoon broadcast slot, to an hour special at 8:00 p.m. In 1992, it expanded to two hours in prime time, picking up four million more viewers along the way. In 1993, they attracted three million more. In 1994, with skating interest still post-Olympic hot, the World Pros captured an average of twenty percent of the entire viewing audience.

That same year, two-time Olympic champions Gordeeva & Grinkov turned pro for the second time in their career, and won the Pairs event (their third World Pro title). 1994 Olympic Silver Medalists Usova & Zhulin won the dance, and Boitano the Men, ahead of Wylie, Hamilton, and four-time World Champion Kurt Browning, the Canadian whose passage to a pro career proved rockier than most.

Browning finished 3rd at the 1994 Challenge of Champions, and 4th at the 1995 Challenge behind Robin Cousins, who, courtesy of a bad back and knees, had long given up triple jumps. A rather poor showing for a recent World Champion. But, what made his situation more unusual than Wylie's was that, except for coming into both the 1992 and 1994 Olympics as the favorite and leaving without a medal each time, Kurt made his reputation as the King of Consistency, and as the first man to land a Quadruple Jump in competition. For him to fail to win a major pro title his first year out was a surprise to his fans. Yet, it wasn't until Kurt the brilliant jumper became Kurt the artist, that his fortunes began to change.

Says Ribbens, "Skaters who came to World Pro kept their technical level, and they developed as artists. Our focus was on great technical skating in all aspects of skating. In body positions, spirals, spins, jumps. And to be a great entertainer. Because what good is it if you can do beautiful jumps, but you can't keep the audience's interest?"

Once Kurt Browning understood that formula, he went on to win the World Pro in 1995, 1996, and 1997.

(To Be Continued)
Saturday, January 28, 2006


So Michelle Kwan is off to compete at her third Olympics. Nothing unexpected there, or undeserved.

Since I've already said everything I have to say on the subject of "should she or shouldn't she," here, I thought that instead of rehashing the argument, it would be fun to take a look back at my own personal favorite Michelle Kwan Figure Skating Mystery.

Twelve year old Michelle Kwan first made a name for herself in 1993, when she finished 6th at the U.S. Championship.

Only 9th in the Junior division a year earlier, Michelle spun a tale of waiting until coach Frank Carroll was out of town before disobeying his instructions and sneaking away to take the test qualifying her to compete as a Senior Lady. The story instantly became a fixture in the growing Kwan legend.

Except for one point no one has yet to address or explain.

In order to take the Senior Freeskating test, every contender needs to present a USFSA form signed by their club officer, and their coach. Otherwise, the test isn't valid. If she was disobeying Frank's instructions, who signed Michelle's form?

Did Michelle ask another coach to sign it and, if so, did that coach know he/she was disobeying Frank's instructions (coaches do talk among themselves, and it's not unreasonable that other coaches would have known Frank was planning to keep Michelle Junior another year).

Or did Michelle forge the signature herself? In which case her Senior Test is invalid... as is every title she won with it.

Your thoughts? Do we have a major scandal here?
Friday, January 27, 2006


But, wait, there's more! It's not just Skating With Celebrities! There's also Ice Diaries! And Skating's Next Star! And Sasha Cohen on Project Runway!

How did all this television special skating madness start?

Well, it started here, and here.

And then what happened, Alina?

Well, then it was the mid-1990s and everything really went wacky!

Figuring that if one Olympic champion was good, and two even better, then an entire contingent would have to be ratings gold, in 1993, ABC presented Skates of Gold, billing it as a one-time only gathering of past Olympic winners in each of the four disciplines. Three dance teams performed, along with four ladies, three pairs, and four men. Among the non-skating highlights was a chance to see Irina Rodnina wave to the crowd alongside both her former partners, Alexei Ulanov and Alexander Zaitsev.

In 1994, NBC broadcast Skates of Gold II, with medalists from the Lillehammer Games as part of the cast.

Then, in 1995, the one-time only event returned to ABC for Skates of Gold III, although by then the fellowship was visibly shrinking. In the Pairs, Valova & Vasiliev's divorce, and Mishkutenok & Dmitriev's break-up left only Gordeeva & Grinkov to represent the discipline. In Dance, Torvill & Dean's exclusive agreement with CBS allowed them to skate in the show, but prevented ABC from showing their performance, or the team from skating out to take their bows alongside the rest of the cast, leaving viewers in the arena and at home to wonder what the British champions had done to warrant such banishment.

Another once-in-a-lifetime event that somehow stretched into a three-parter was Symphony of Sports. In 1989, the Women's Sports Foundation conceived of a fund-raiser where skating and gymnastics would share the stage. For one night only, Brian Boitano, Robin Cousins, Underhill & Martini, and Rosalynn Sumners were joined by Olympic gymnasts Bart Conner, Marcia Frederick, Kristi Phillips, and Peter Vidmar.

A mat was laid on the ice, leaving the skaters to maneuver around it in a V-configuration without tripping into the audience, and the gymnasts to tumble on a smaller-than-average square without slipping off onto the frozen water.

For many, the highlight of the program came in a romantic duet between Cousins, on the ice, and, on the mat, Katherine Healy, a twenty year old ballerina best known for acting in the movie Six Weeks (with Mary Tyler Moore and Dudley Moore) and being featured in the children's book A Very Young Skater. Because she'd been a skater as well as a dancer, when Cousins briefly lifted her off the mat for a swoop around the ice, Healy knew how to hold her position, making for a seamless transition and a perfect blending of the two art forms, something the other gymnasts, despite their varied skills, simply could not do.

ABC director Doug Wilson adds another reason why that number is the one viewers remember best. "Robin is very much a producer as well as a skater. And so to work with him was a pleasure because he created (that pas de deux) especially for the camera."

Another treat for skating fans came at the conclusion of the Symphony of Sports when 1984 Olympian Bart Conner put on a pair of skates and performed a mean set of butterflies, holding hands with Roz Sumners.

A year later, Bart's soon-to-be wife, Nadia Comenici, joined the company of a second Symphony of Sports, along with Peggy Fleming.

And, the year after that, Brian Orser and Peter and Kitty Carruthers contributed their talents to a third show. There, Orser got to take center stage as a leather-jacketed 50s rocker inspiring starry-eyed swoons from a gaggle of giggling gymnasts and skaters, including Fleming, dressed as a bobby-soxer waitress, who literally back-flips for Orser (with a little help from a muscular gymnast), in a move that, during rehearsal, required much nervous shrieking before actually being executed for the first time.

Though the shows were fun and different it took another fifteen years for a follow up. Hilton Hotels sponsored the Skating & Gymnastics Spectacular. Missed it when it aired on NBC? You can still catch it in your room at the Hilton!

Skating Television Specials... they're not just on television anymore!
Thursday, January 26, 2006


As Michelle Kwan goes before a U.S. Figure Skating committee, China's Zhao Hongbo is facing a similar crises.

Meanwhile, in Australia, Miriam Manzano lost her own Olympic appeal.

Perhaps Todd Bridges should give it a shot...

And just so it doesn't seem as if figure skating is the only sport where courts have been asked to decide competitions, check out judicial juggling going on in snow-baording, women's skeleton, and yes, even Women's Lawn Bowling.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Hi, Everyone -

Just popped in for a quick cyber-apology to all, especially those that responded to my Michelle Kwan post.

AOL has been treating some of your comments as spam, which is why I didn't know they were there. Rest assured, I would have responded otherwise. I LOVE reading what other people have to say. Please keep it up!

All the best -


So Hilton hotels, who otherwise work so hard to keep Paris and Nicky in bling, will sponsor the 2006 Winter Olympics, as of course, will perennial Olympic favorite, MacDonalds.

Of course, odds are that, short of a Dan Jansen-like breakout star emerging from another sport, it's the figure skaters who will reap the biggest rewards from endorsement deals for a wide variety of products, both before and after the Games

For instance, Peggy Fleming, Debi Thomas, the Carrutherses, Tara Lipinski, and Todd Eldredge have all hawked Minute Maid.

Katarina Witt endorsed Swatch, and Chen Lu the Omega Watch.

Elvis Stojko plugged for Cannon and General Mills, while Bourne & Kraatz appeared on a Cheerios box.

Isabelle Duchesnay went to buy a Mazda one day and was asked to be their official spokesperson in Quebec. Even Brian Boitano's coach, Linda Leaver, once secured a spot pitching prunes on television.

In the winter of 1994, Kristi Yamaguchi starred in a Wendy's hamburger commercial with company chairman Dave Thomas, prompting the U.S. Olympic Committee to accuse the chain of "ambushing" the Winter Olympics true fast-food sponsor, McDonalds, who'd paid close to $40 million dollars for the exclusive right to use Olympic rings in their promotion. The Committee claimed Kristi's presence in the ads made it seem like Wendy's was also an official sponsor. (FYI: Burger King is currently offering a hand-held figure-skating game -- while supplies last!)

Four years later, Campbell's Soup, a long-time sponsor of key skating tours and shows, days before the official 1998 U.S. Ladies' Olympic team was crowned at the Nationals, made their preferences known to the world as they barraged the airwaves with a commercial featuring Michelle Kwan, Tara Lipinski, and Nicole Bobek. When that indeed proved to be the U.S. team, ABC commentator Terry Gannon quipped in mock relief, "At least the soup cans are right."

When he was still a Junior, Michael Weiss starred in a FedEx commercial as a young skater at Nationals having trouble with his Double Axel, and needing to call his grandfather for help. Grandpa heads to the local rink, where his wife video-tapes him performing the Double Axel, and off the tape flies to Nationals, courtesy of Federal Express. The ad ran for years.

1979 World Champions Tai Babilonia & Randy Gardner did a commercial for Crunch candy-bars, portraying skaters who fall in competition every time a fan bites her noisy chocolate. Despite the falls, Tai and Randy keep smiling with delight, prompting the judges to reward them with numerous 10s.

1987 U.S. Bronze Medalist Scott Williams appeared in probably the most recognized skating commercial, though his face was never seen. In 1996, Scott was the body-double for Dunkin' Donuts Fred the Baker as he jumped and spun on the ice while clutching a coffee pot. A year later, Scott's then-wife, Canadian Champion Charlene Wong, twirled on TV for a skating Barbie ad, with the doll's image later superimposed over hers. Following the 1998 Olympics, it was Tara Lipinski's turn to twirl alongside Barbie, though her image was quite visible.

In 1995, as the entire skating world shuddered through its pro evolution, Finnish ice-dancers, 1995 World Silver Medalists Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko became the first to take advertising to the next level and, tennis-style, sew their sponsor, Nokia's, logo into Kokko's costume as they competed at the Europeans and Worlds.

At the 1998 Olympics, as Germans Wotzel & Steuer practiced dressed in black outfits with large, white swans drawn on the back, onlookers wondered whether the lovely birds had to do with the theme of their program. And were told no, it was the theme of their sponsor.

As we head into the 2006 Games, Michelle Kwan belongs to Disney, Coca-Cola, and Visa while Sasha Cohen once hawked beef. Meanwhile, over in Japan, sponsors were accused of influencing the selection of the figure skating team.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Last night, I had a little soiree. In attendance, were several former U.S. National competitors in Singles, Pairs, and Dance (one guy had actually qualified in all three). The reason for our gathering, was the second, televised episode of Skating With Celebrities (although, as my six year old son chastised, "A party to make fun of a TV show is not really a party, Mama.")

The following were our combined thoughts re: the evening's entertainment --

* Is Debbie Gibson channeling Laverne DeFazio with the incessant monogrammed "D" on all of her competitive and practice outfits?

* Was the theme of Nancy Kerrigan and Dave Coulier's routine "Musical Chairs: First You Sit, Then I Sit?"

* Is John Nicks doing this show just to get away from Sasha Cohen? Conversely, is Sasha Cohen scripting his remarks, as they all sound a bit canned?

* Which of the following people -- Jillian Barbieri, Dorothy Hamill, Todd Bridges -- were actually high, and which of them just always act like that naturally?

* Who is balder? Scott Hamilton, Lloyd Eisler or Kurt Browning? And why did Kurt refuse to remove his wig to help us settle the matter once and for all? (As an addendum, if the theme of the night was the 1970s, why did Kurt and Debbie perform a song from Grease, which was a movie about... the 1950s?)

* What did John Zimmerman do to judge Mark Lund in between last week's show and this one, that changed Mark's gushy love to scolding hate? (Many theories were proposed. Okay, I'm lying, there was really only one theory proposed, and quickly seconded by all.)

* What does a brother have to do to get some love from the skating establishment? It's not like Todd Bridges completely self-destructed, ala Rohene Ward in his Nationals Long Program. One little fall, people! And it wasn't on the required, technical element -- so why the serious score ding? (As my husband, the non-skater, said, "They brought him on as a joke. What's the point of doing the joke if you're not going to let it play out?")

Please feel free to add your own Inquiring Minds questions below!
Monday, January 23, 2006


As Skating With Celebrities settles into its regular time-slot tonight, Mondays at 8 on FOX (with no American Idol lead-in -- ouch!), I have finally gotten around to watching the first episode. (What can I say, day job, a husband, two kids and promotion work for "Axel of Evil," puts TV watching pretty low on the agenda).

But now that I have seen it, I have (of course) several things to say:

1) Early PR for the show suggested that, where the celebrities were concerned, this would be an even playing field. No one will have had any figure skating experience prior to strapping on their first pair of boots and blades. That obviously went out the window when hockey lover Dave Collier signed on. But now, we find out that Jillian Barbieri skated seriously until she was 15 years old??? The woman was doing Axels in the practice sessions! Not landing them, but taking off and rotating! Compare that to poor, old, no experience Bruce Jenner!

2) Which brings me to my favorite celebrity skater so far: Bruce Jenner. Yes, I know he was stiff. Yes, I know he didn't shake nearly as much cleavage as Kristy Swanson and Debbie -- sorry, Deborah -- Gibson. But this old guy with no prior skating experience did two waltz jumps in a row! Two! Walt jumps! And his backward cross-overs? They were actually good! Backward crossovers are hard! Especially when, unlike Kristy, Debbie and Jillian, you don't have a guy to pull you. Bruce actually looked like he was kinda, sorta leading. So rock on, Bruce!

3) As predicted, John Zimmerman is in the lead. (And I made my call even before I knew Jillian was a ringer).

4) Finally, judge Mark Lund. First, in the interest of full disclosure, I know Mark quite well. I was at the original launch party for "International Figure Skating" back in Detroit at Nationals in 1994, and I've been a Contributing Editor at the magazine since 1996. First, I want to say poor Mark. I'm sure he expected to be the Simon Cowell of the group, but John Nicks -- complete with British accent and bluster -- has swooped in to assume that spot, leaving Mark with no particular niche (Dorothy is the nice one, so that makes Mark... The Other Guy (TM)?)

But what really puzzles me about Mark's participation in this show is that, in 2004, Mark Lund lost IFS in a hostile takeover. Which means that every time he is introduced on National Television to a viewing audience of millions as "the founder of "International Figure Skating Magazine," he is promoting the people who forced him out of business!

Why would he do that?

A true Figure Skating Mystery indeed...

What do you all think?
Friday, January 20, 2006


I'm a bit puzzled. For the past several days, a good half of the visitors coming to this site via Google have been searching for info on 1979 Pair Champion Tai Babilonia.

Now, Tai is a lovely person. I don't begrudge her the upswing in interest -- I'm just surprised by it. I presume it's due to her participation in FOX's Skating with Celebrities. But, the searches for fellow participants John Zimmerman, Kurt Browning, Lloyd Eisler, Jenni Meno, and Nancy Kerrigan have stayed steady. (Though I do wonder if Tai's partner, Bruce Jenner, has become equally fascinating to the masses).

If anyone has a theory as to why Tai seems to be receiving the majority of web-based attention, I'd love to hear it.

In the meantime, for those who are here specifically looking for Tai, here she is!

A "Where Are They Now?" interview I did with Tai last Winter.

Young Tai and partner Randy Gardner.

Tai and Randy as pro competitors, through the years.

Tai's pre-FOX TV work.

And more!
Thursday, January 19, 2006


(Well, technically it's for Axel of Evil: A Figure Skating Mystery, but I choose to take my love where I can get it).

The Romance Reader's Connection writes: As always, the author puts her insider knowledge of the skating world to good use, filling in the background and participants with very realistic details. A new Bex Levy mystery is a real treat; so settle in for an evening of skating, murder, and entertainment.

To read the complete review, please click here.


The first American, male skater to get a personal TV special, Brian Boitano, was already mapping his vision for the show as he moved through the maze of press immediately following his 1988 Olympic win in Calgary.

His fantasy project, he explained, would involve children, and a chance to fulfill his lifelong dream of skating on a glacier. ABC-TV agreed to fund both of those ambitions, but suggested that the definitive Boitano special would include an appearance by Katarina Witt, taped in her native East Germany.

The 1984 & 1988 Olympic champion was eager to participate. Her political influence at the time was at its zenith, and, after months of negotiations, Katarina received government permission to take part in the American project.

However, while her government was telling Katarina that permission had been granted, they were telling ABC that permission had been denied. Finally, on Labor Day 1988, a conference call was set up between ABC, Brian Boitano, and Katarina Witt -- phoning from the commissar's office -- so that the politically savvy Witt could monitor what was being said by and to all the participating parties.

Once the battle to shoot in East Germany was won though, the ABC staff did wonder what they'd gotten themselves into. Remembers the special's director, Doug Wilson, "We had minimum facilities, we were in a drab, East German, not-sensually motivating rink, and we had to do very dramatic, very theatrical things on a venue that had no quality related to that."

Wilson and choreographer Sandra Bezic (he praises, "She's the most beautiful genius I've ever met, and you can quote me,") racked their brains trying to figure out how they were going to transform an unsightly, cold rink into the site of Brian and Katarina's hot-blooded ice-tryst. Finally, a decision was made to flood the set with as much light as possible, blurring the background until they created a practically animated, stop-action, smokey effect. Wilson admits, "You wouldn't want to watch skating like that all the time, but, in the context of the piece, it isn't bad. The emotions that came out of it were genuine."

The success of the Boitano/Witt pairing prompted their reunion to film Carmen on Ice. Released as a theatrical feature in Europe and shown in the U.S. on HBO, Carmen broke new ground for televised ice-ballets in that portions of the movie were shot on location in Seville, Spain, including inside a bull-fighting ring.

Portable ice-rinks were buried at ground level, then painted over to blend in with the surroundings. Along with co-star Brian Orser, Boitano and Witt won Emmy Awards for Outstanding Individual Performance.

Joked Boitano, "Here I spend twenty years working for an Olympic Gold medal and my first year out I win an Emmy!"

(To Be Continued)
Wednesday, January 18, 2006


"Skating With Celebrities," premiering tonight, Wednesday, January 18 on FOX, is a blatant rip-off of ABC's hit "Dancing With the Stars."

With one major difference. (Well, two... the whole pointy blades on feet thing...)

On ABC, the "stars," while "D" level at best, are still, in comparison to their no-name dance partners, vaguely recognizable -- Mr. Peterman, the chick from GH, druggie ex-child star and that really tan guy.

On Fox, the skaters are better known than the "celebrities" they're matched with.

Don't believe me? Let's go to the ultimate arbiter of all things quantifiable: Google.

A Google search of Nancy Kerrigan versus Dave Coulier rings up 208,000 hits for Nancy versus 145,000 measly hits for ol' Dave.

John Zimmerman and Jillian Barbieri
? 101,000 for John. 508 for Jillian. John's been on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," for goodness sake! (Error alert: This write-up calls John an Olympic medalist. He's not. He and partner Kyoko Ina won the Bronze medal at the 2002 Worlds).

The closest thing to a real star/nobody pairing is Todd Bridges and Jenni Meno. Todd has 136,000 Google mentions. Jenni only has 12,000. Then again, Jenni hasn't done time for drugs and assault. That, you know, helps get your name out there.

Now. Sight unseen, these are my predictions for the "winners":

The teams where the male is the professional skater have an edge over the ones where the female is the one with all the experience (he has to do the lifting; he can do most of the work in the stroking and the pair spins). The ones where the males are the professional pair skaters, have an even bigger advantage.

So it's down to Canadian World Champion Lloyd Eisler and his partner, Kristy Swanson, versus American John and Jillian.

My brother, a former National champion in Ice Dancing, is putting his money on Lloyd and Kristy. He says Lloyd is stronger and will be able to carry Kristy through all the complicated tricks -- and all the easy ones, too. Heck, he can just plop her on one shoulder for the entire duration of their routine and skate around while she waves her arms "artistically."

I, on the other hand, am going with John and Jillian. Because John is better looking.

Yup. Just because of that.

This is TV, folks. It matters.

So those are my predictions. Now tell me yours!
Tuesday, January 17, 2006


St. Louis's reports that "local sports officials say the U.S. Figure Skating championships gave our area a huge image boost. Frank Viverito, the St. Louis Sports Commission President, says "I think it absolutely is image enhancement, and I'm very reluctant to put a price on it you know, because that you can dispute. What you can't dispute is that it was a wonderful event and the coverage was very favorable and very extensive."

Which means that, in the end, despite the Kwantroversy, and Johnny Weir's drug references, and Inoue & Baldwin's history-making Throw Triple Axel, what really matters about these latest Nationals is that they made money and they enhanced the host city's public relations.

Meanwhile, television has made stars of a new crop of skaters (what do you think all those up-close-and-personal pieces are for?), and naturally, television is anxious to capitalize on these new celebrities they've created.

Broadcasting competitions and existing tours is always an adequate start. But, why let someone else call the shots, when you can create your own television special, and control every aspect of production?

Peggy Fleming appeared in her first television spectacular for CBS, in 1968, soon after winning the Olympic Gold. She would go on to star in many more specials, including one where she got a chance to perform with special guest Gene Kelly.

Dorothy Hamill also kicked up her heels with Kelly in her 1976 post-Olympic Dorothy Hamill Special. Though the late, legendary movie-star did caution his producers before shooting began in Toronto, "I can't sing like I used to. I certainly can't dance like I used to. And I really can't skate. I'm a triple-threat."

Dorothy and Gene recreated his most famous number, Singing in the Rain, with her as the joyful dancer, and Gene as the policeman who pops in at the end to spoil her fun. All night, Dorothy skated under a deluge of freezing water, prompting even Gene to concede he felt sorry for her. When he filmed the original number, he did it under warm water, whereas, to keep the ice from melting, Dorothy's rainstorm had to be bone-chilling. She caught a cold as a result of the shoot.

The special's director, Doug Wilson, recalls, "She was really ill, feverish, clammy."

But, she also had an entire symphony orchestra, decked out in tuxedos, sitting in a Toronto park, in a wind-chill of -15 below zero, waiting for Dorothy to come out and skate her second number, Be a Clown, with Gene Kelly. The producers offered Dorothy the chance to back out, but, back straight, shoulders squared, she insisted the show must go on.

(Canada's Kurt Browning staged his own tribute to idol Kelly in his special, You Must Remember This. For his rendition of Singin' in the Rain, the World Champion recreated the set, lighting, costumes, and camera angles of the original so precisely that, on initial viewing, it takes a blink and a moment to realize that the action is taking place on skates.)

So how did we get from Gene Kelly, symphony orchestras and stylized tributes to Skating With Celebrities?

Stay tuned for my exclusive, in-depth report!

To Be Continued....
Monday, January 16, 2006


In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a shout-out to Aaron Parchem, the first male, African-American figure-skater ever sent to the Olympics.

For more on African-American athletes, check out Black Ice.

And to support up and coming skaters from minority communities, please consider attending one of Figure Skating in Harlem's several fundraisers this Spring.

The big one, "Skating Under the Stars, With the Stars" is Monday, April 10, 2006. They will be honoring 1987 World Champion Debi Thomas. (I'll be there; if you attend, please make sure to stop by and say hello!)

Finally, just for giggles, check out this book I recently found: "Cocoa Blades" by Paul Marttin.

From the back cover:
She was young.
She was beautiful.
She was a black sex goddess in a white man's world.
She had clawed her way to the top, and she had paid for it with her soul.
Now they wanted her life. And a headlong leap into life-threatening danger was the only thing that could save her.

Hey, the "Boston Evening Globe" called it an "Excellent insight into the rat race of the figure skating whirl!"

(My second Figure Skating Mystery, "On Thin Ice," features a character based on the legendary Black icon, Mabel Fairbanks. It's no "Cocoa Blades," but several readers recognized and appreciated it, and posted some very nice reviews.)
Sunday, January 15, 2006


So Kwan got her bye, Old Man Baldwin finally qualified for his first Olympic team (and made history when partner Rena Inoue landed the first Throw Triple Axel at Nationals), Tanith Belbin justified her quickie citizenship, and Johnny Weir won another Nationals despite being only third in the Long Program... and competing in one of the strangest costumes since 1994 Olympic Champion Alexei Urmanov.

So those are the facts. And now for some random observations:

Both Jamie Silverstein and Morgan Matthews are better than their respective partners. Oh, Charlie Butler (best American-born male ice dancer ever), where are you when we need you?

After seeing Katy Taylor skate and her adorable yearning for a pink Hummer, how can the company not just give her one?

Emily Hughes: I'm sorry I jinxed you. As soon as I saw the standings for the Short Program, I told my husband, "Emily will end up in third place and her spot will go to Michelle Kwan." Not that I disagree with the decision. I've written before about my belief that, if healthy, Michelle should go to the Olympics.

I think this would be best for everybody. Emily does not need to go to her first, major Senior international competition (she skated at Cup of Russia and Skate America, but you can't really compare those to the Olympics) only four years after her big sister came out of (as far as the viewing public is concerned) nowhere to win Gold in Salt Lake City. It would be too much pressure on her, and unfair, to boot. Emily needs to be recognized for being herself, not just as Sarah's little sister.

It's no secret that I'm a major fan of the Hughes clan. I literally wrote the book on Sarah. Since then, I've had some wonderful interactions with the Hughes family. There is no other way to put this: The Hughes rock.

This year, Emily will have a chance to go to Worlds and make her debut under less pressured circumstances. She'll get her feet wet and position herself beautifully for the next four years. Sarah, after all, was 7th in 1999, 5th in 2000, and 3rd in 2001, before winning Olympic Gold in 2002. The Hughes girls know that "slow and steady wins the race."

They also know how to hold it together under pressure. That's what impresses me the most. They have different coaches and different styles of skating, but both Sarah and Emily know how to rise to the occasion. They've got nerves -- and wills -- of steel. I figure they get that from their mother.

Any woman who can give birth to and raise six kids (plus survive breast cancer) has got to be pretty unfaltering.
Friday, January 13, 2006


In all my excitement over my latest Figure Skating Mystery, "Axel of Evil," being out now, I almost forget to tell you about all the other new skating titles available -- just in time for the Olympics, of course!

Frozen in Time : The Enduring Legacy of the 1961 U.S. Figure Skating Team by Nikki Nichols

“I interviewed the children, widows, students, siblings, and friends of those who died (in the plane crash), along with some skaters and judges who were impacted by the crash and the rebuilding period,” Nikki revealed. “Many people I interviewed were so excited that their loved ones would finally be remembered in a way that would reach outside of the skating community.”

A is for Axel: An Ice Skating Alphabet by (4-time World Champion) Kurt Browning

Figure Skating: A History by Dr. James R. Hines

“The book is based on scholarly research,” Hines explained to me. "It has been written to serve skaters, coaches, officials, and fans as well other persons interested in figure skating or sports generally.”

On Edge: Backroom Dealing, Cocktail Scheming, Triple Axels, and How Top Skaters Get Screwed by Jon Jackson

In addition, I am intrigued by the Sale/Pelletier Memoir that was announced last year, as coming out on March 3, 2006 by Judy Steed. While still listed on Amazon, it appears that the title has been cancelled. Hmmmm..... A true Figure Skating Mystery...

And speaking of books: Go, Emily Hughes! (Sister of Sarah, who Skated to the Stars only four short years ago)
Thursday, January 12, 2006


2006 U.S. Senior Pair Results After Short Program:

1 Kathryn Orscher / Garrett Lucash
2 Marcy Hinzmann / Aaron Parchem
3 Naomi Nari Nam / Themistocles Leftheris
4 Rena Inoue / John Baldwin

This is a surprise. 2004 U.S. Champions/2005 Silver Medalists Rena Inoue and John Baldwin Jr. are in 4th place after the Short Program. (This after Rena gave up her Japanese citizenship to be eligible for the Olympics).

Now. The vaguely chubby woman has far from sung yet. Rena and John could still pull up in the Long Program, win or come in 2nd, and earn a trip to the Olympics. But their relatively low placing is still a surprise. Especially considering John's massive experience of skating at Nationals.

2006 is the 1987 U.S. Novice Champion's 21st consecutive trip to Nationals! He is 32 years old, the son of a former Junior champion, as well as a Jr. World Bronze Medalist as a singles skater. 2006 is presumably his last chance to make an Olympic team.

Exactly 10 years ago, Tonia Kwiatkowski was in the same boat. Twenty-five years old at the time of the 1996 Nationals, people thought she was simply too old to still be competing. That year, she appeared at the Nationals press-conference hobbling on a walker. Dismissed as the perennial also-ran, Tonia won the Silver that year, and earned a spot on the World Team.

She claimed, "I think of myself as the Cal Ripkin of skating. I keep coming back and giving you more."

Though Tonia skated well during the 1996-1997 pre-season, she faltered at the Nationals, finishing 6th. Afterwards, her coach, Carol Heiss Jenkins, was soliciting opinions from practically everyone she bumped in to as to whether Tonia should hang on for another (Olympic) season. The consensus was that Tonia should go ahead and try -- or else risk forever wondering what might have been.

She finished 4th in 1998 and was only an Olympic alternate, But Tara Lipinski's withdrawal meant that Tonia was able to go to the World's, where she ended her career on a high -- a personal best 6th place.

Four years earlier, it was 1982 World Champion Elaine Zayak playing the role of skating's old lady. The one-time triple-jump, teen wonder had retired from competitive skating in 1984, but, watching Nationals on TV nine years later (and the fact that, in 1994, professionals were allowed a one-time only reinstatement; Brian Boitano, Victor Petrenko, Katarina Witt, Mishkutenok & Dmitriev, Gordeeva & Grinkov and Torvill & Dean also took advantage) led her to assess the Ladies' field and think, "I can do that."

She began to train again, using the blades she'd broken in at the 1984 Olympics. She lost twenty pounds. She re-learned her triples. She entered her first reinstated competition. She finished 13th behind girls who'd still been in their cribs when Elaine won the Worlds.

Finishing 2nd at the Eastern Sectional qualified Elaine for Nationals. Once there, no one gave her a thought. After all, the field was jammed with jumping-bean teen-agers, and Elaine, at 28, was even older than Tonia Kwiatkowski!

Yet, when the teen-agers began falling, Elaine stayed up. She finished 4th overall, winning the pewter medal, and standing on the podium with Tonya Harding, Michelle Kwan, and Nicole Bobek. (Harding would later be stripped of her title). Elaine missed making the Olympic team by just two places. But, that was never the point.

"Nationals was my goal," she said. "All I wanted to prove was that I could skate as well as I had ever skated. And I did."

So, go old people!
Wednesday, January 11, 2006


As of today, Senior Dance standings at the United States Figure Skating Championship (after the Original Dance; top 8 only) are as follows:

1 Tanith Belbin / Benjamin Agosto
2 Melissa Gregory / Denis Petukhov
3 Morgan Matthews / Maxim Zavozin
4 Jamie Silverstein / Ryan O'Meara
5 Kimberly Navarro / Brent Bommentre
6 Tiffany Stiegler / Sergey Magerovskiy
7 Loren Galler-Rabinowitz / David Mitchell
8 Jennifer Wester / Daniil Barantsev

Of these top eight, five feature a team member born outside of the United States. Of the top three (unless standings change after the Free Dance, this is presumably our Olympic team), three have been naturalized within the past month. (For details about the battle to ensure defending World Silver Medalist Tanith Belbin's citizenship, click here).

And while Tanith doesn't strictly fit the definition, the others most certainly look, act, and quack like the derisively-monikered, "Rent-A-Russians."

The trend began in 1993, when Russian-born Gorsha Sur won the first of two U.S. Dance titles with his American partner, Renee Roca. And planted an idea into the heads of dozens of girls desperately looking for a boy to skate with: Hey! The boy they were looking for didn't necessarily need to be American!

Unfortunately, a slight nuance was lost along the way. Gorsha Sur settled in the U.S. legitimately. He defected because he was looking for freedom. He wasn't even thinking about continuing to compete, until a phone call from Renee Roca suggested the possibility. Unlike the boys who followed in his wake, Gorsha wasn't bought and paid for.

Which was more than could be said for Oleg Fediukov, who, in 1993, skated at the U.S. Nationals with American Julianna Sachetti. The team placed 3rd in the Novice division -- despite the fact that Oleg had already represented the USSR internationally as a Senior.

The Sachetti family, wanting the best partner money could buy for their daughter, traveled to Russia and, like picking a puppy from the pound, offered Oleg an all-expenses paid (car and green-card included) trip to the U.S.

Oleg was no fool. He took the offer. But, within a year, he was off to greener pastures, skating with Laura Gayton (with whom he won the 1994 U.S. Junior Dance title) as soon as her family presented him with a better deal. By 1997, Oleg was skating with his third American partner, Debbie Koegel (whose previous partner, Russian-rental Michael Sklutovsky won the 1993 U.S. Junior Dance title with American Kimberly Hartley).

The disgruntled grumbling began almost immediately. American ice-dancers wanted to know who these foreigners thought they were, flying in and winning medals at the U.S. Championships, medals that many believed rightfully belonged to U.S. skaters. American boys resented how the Russians had received all their training for free under the old Communist system, and now were cashing in again, as U.S. parents tripped over themselves to become the highest bidder and secure the best boy for their daughter. Even before the rule-change to 'eligible' and 'ineligible,' the Rent-A-Russians could hardly be considered anything short of paid, professional ringers.

Yet, nothing in the USFSA rulebook prevented non-U.S.-citizens from skating at the U.S. Nationals. And, as skating became a more and more profitable venture to undertake, more and more parents began to see buying a boy as the ultimate investment in their daughter's future -- no different than buying her the best pair of skates, or the prettiest dress in the marketplace.

By the 1996 U.S. Championships, in the Senior Dance division, seven of the fifteen couples entered featured non-American male partners (five Russian and two British), including one team, Sophia Eliazova and Peter Tchernyshev, where both partners were Russian. (This team created an added controversy when, instead of following protocol and entering the Regional championships which qualified them for the Sectional championships which qualified them for the Nationals, the team simply dropped in to the Sectionals, demanding that they be allowed to skate. When they finished 3rd, the referee refused to sign off on the results, claiming they were invalid, and the couple that finished 5th filed a grievance claiming that, even though they didn't place in the top four, they should still advance to Nationals, since the number three team was there illegally. In the end, the USFSA, afraid of a full-scale conflict, nullified the Sectional results, and granted both teams a bye to the Nationals.)

A year later, Peter Tchernyshev was back with a new partner, Naomi Lang. In 1998, when they finished 3rd at the U.S. Nationals, three of the top six teams skating there were non-American (Eve Chalom & British-born Matthew Gates placed 4th, and Koegel & Fediukov, 6th).

Peter and Naomi went on to win the U.S. Dance title fives times before retiring in 2004.

Proponents of foreigners at the U.S. Nationals argue that it will raise the standard of American ice-dancing. That if Americans are forced to battle head-to-head with their better-trained, international counterparts at the U.S. Nationals, it will inspire them to improve, which, in the long-run, will mean a better showing for American teams on the World stage.

There really is no way of knowing that. As there hasn't been a U.S. Championship team where both parties were American-born, since 1998.

(For those curious, as someone who was born in the former Soviet Union myself, I am all for truth, justice, freedom, and the American way. I believe in open immigration and I most certainly believe that American citizenship is one of the most wonderful things in the world. What I don't so much believe in is blatant opportunism. To be fair, in the case of Petukhov and Magerovskiy, both are married to American women and appear committed to becoming true, lifelong Americans. Everyone else... who knows?)
Tuesday, January 10, 2006


America's most decorated male skater (Novice Champ, Junior Champ, Senior Champ, Jr. World Champ, World Champ) and newlywed Todd Eldredge tells The Sacramento Bee Where He is Now.

For other blog entries that feature Todd, click here and here.


As U.S. Nationals kicks off with the Novice events, and Canadian nationals begin picking which one lady they'll be sending to the Olympics, television viewers in both countries are settling down for a week of drama, nail-biting suspense and pageantry.

They expect to see a parade of world-class athletes, their teams of dedicated coaches, fact-spouting announcers, and a panel of grim-faced judges.

What viewers rarely get to see, except in quick cut-aways at the end of a particularly sterling -- or tragically awful -- program, are the skaters' parents.

(Who can forget all those shots at the 1994 Olympics, of Nancy Kerrigan's visually impaired mother squinting at a huge television screen for a shadowy glimpse of her daughter competing or, in 1996, Todd Eldredge hanging his World Championship medal around his own mother's neck?).

The only time parents seem to be mentioned in skating, its in conjunction with the phrase "Skating Mother" (or rarer, as in the cases of Jill Trenary, Michelle Kwan or Michael Weiss, "Skating Father").

For some, hearing "Skating Mother" (bwahahahaha) is enough to trigger gulps of horror. The grapevine is rife with tales of overinvolved, domineering parents, such as, supposedly, US Champion Tiffany Chin's, a woman so formidable she was nicknamed "The Dragon Lady."

But the fact is, parents of young skaters make so many sacrifices for their child, it's only natural for them to become overinvolved -- and a bit over the top.

One time, Peggy Fleming's mother, minutes before Peggy was set to take the ice at the 1966 U.S. Nationals, insisted Peggy had to have macaroni-and-cheese. Unable to find the serving at any restaurant, Peggy, her mother, and her coach, Carlo Fassi, drove all over the city, stopping at every fast-food place, until they finally found one can of macaroni-and-cheese.

1994 World Champion Yuka Sato won the gold in her home country of Japan while under the tutelage of her father and mother.

Second at those Championships -- and creating quite a stir by ripping off her Silver medal while standing on the podium -- was Surya Bonaly of France. An irrefutably gifted athlete who won the 1987 World Novice Tumbling Championship as well as the 1991 World Jr. Figure Skating Championship, Surya is (even now, as a pro) also coached by her adoptive mother, Suzanne -- a Physical Education teacher with absolutely no skating experience. Though Surya has taken lessons from many coaches over the years, Suzanne has always had the final word on every decision. Arguably, as a result of her mother's refusing to permit Surya a full-time, professional coach, her daughter's international ranking eventually slipped from 2nd in the World in 1993, 1994, and 1995, to 5th in 1996, to failing to make the World team in 1997, to losing her French National title in 1998.

Tamara Moskvina, 1969 World Pair Silver Medalist, and coach of 1998 Olympic Champions Kazakova and Dmitriev and 2002 Olympic Co-Champions Bereznaia and Sikharulidze, has a simple policy regarding skating parents at the ice-rink. "I do not go into their place of work to check if they are doing it correctly, they should not come to mine."

A workable policy to enforce in Russia, where, until the fall of Communism, skating lessons were free, and, since the fall, still complimentary, as long as the child is judged to exhibit potential.

In America, however, according to Moskvina's ex-pair partner, Alexei Mishin, coach of Russian and World Champion Evgeny Plushenko, "Parents pay for lessons, and parents want result right away. Axel! Triple Jump! (A lesson is) twenty minutes and forget it. It's like a Ford factory. Not the way to make champions."

In Russia, the first year of a skater's training includes no jump lessons whatsoever. Instead, aspiring champions are taught correct stroking technique, backward and forward crossovers -- a skill judges most often note as lacking in Western skaters -- and muscle control. They are taught how to distinguish and regulate every muscle in their body, so that when it comes time to finally learn a jump, it's only a matter of telling each muscle what to do. Russians also don't bother teaching Pair overhead lifts until the boy is fully grown, arguing that there's no point, he'll only have to relearn them once he reaches his final height and, in the meantime, lifting too early risks serious injuries.

In America, though, because parents pay the bills, parents call the proverbial tune. For better and for worse.
Monday, January 09, 2006


Well, two somebodies, actually...

From Harriet Klausner at The Best Reviews:

"The third Bex Levy figure skating cozy is a terrific tale that highlights the changes since the late 1970s between Russian and American relations... Fans will score Alina Adams with 9s and 10s for her superb figure skating murder mystery."

And from the Nichtszusagen blog:

"Nice inside looks at the figure skating world, and Russia, which was cool. Good mystery, a couple of nice twists, cold war intrigue, & skating politics. (5 stars)"

And now, to parphrase the divine Bette Midler in "Beaches," "But enough about me. I want to hear about you. What do you think of me?"

Use the comments button below to let me know what you thought about "Axel of Evil: A Figure Skating Mystery."


In 1985, the growing success of the World Pros prompted ABC to ask Dick Button and Candid Productions for another event, one that would take place outside of the U.S. So The Challenge of Champions debuted in France. Unlike World Pros, which featured technical and artistic programs (with two sets of scores for each) for the Men's, Ladies', and Pairs, and a Rhythm Dance and Free Dance for the ice-dancers, Challenge of Champions presented a single program, judged both artistically and technically, followed by an Exhibition Gala the same evening.

1985 was also the last year when World Pros would be scored as a team event, though individual scores were again, noted.

Dorothy Hamill, along with Torvill & Dean, won their second consecutive Pro titles, and Babilonia & Gardner finally broke free from last place, where they'd languished in 1983 and 1984. They won the Pairs title over the Protopopovs, who retired from amateur skating in 1969, two years before Tai and Randy entered their first, Novice competition.

Among the men, fans got their first look at the rivalry that would dominate the next two years of World Pros. 1980 Olympic champion Robin Cousins, performing a classic soft-shoe, defeated the 1984 champion, Scott Hamilton. He repeated that feat at the inaugural Challenge of Champions.

A year later, the standings would flip as Hamilton's emotional, "Battle Hymn of the Republic," in memory of the 1961 U.S. team killed in a plane crash, outscored Cousins' more modern, electric-music exhibition. Hamilton would also go on to win the Challenge of Champions.

However, in 1987, judges preferred Cousins' equally modern "Machinery," over Hamilton's comic forecast of "When I'm 64."

Commends Ribbens, "Robin changed day and night when he became a pro. He started to work with artists, he started working on concepts, he started to think. He transformed himself. (Without pro competitions) he wouldn't have had the opportunity. In a show, why would he have challenged himself? When Robin came to World Pro in 1980, he worked with people like Peggy Fleming, and he saw that there was more to skating than just doing your tricks. It must have opened his eyes, because, by the time the individual competitions came around, he was ready for them."

1988 was another Olympic year, meaning new blood for the World Pros. Yet, in Pairs and Dance, respectively, the Olympic Bronze medalists, Jill Watson & Peter Oppegard, and Tracy Wilson & Robert McCall could finish no higher than last.

Ladies' Bronze Medalist Debi Thomas had better luck, winning the event and halting Hamill's four year winning streak. Yet, in spite of winning three World Pro titles (1988, 1989 & 1991), Thomas gave up the circuit, returned to medical school and, in 1997, graduated from Northwestern University a month before giving birth to her first child.

The 1988 World Pro men's event was trumpeted as a rematch of Calgary's "Battle of the Brians." Gold Medalist Boitano against the Silver Medalist and 1987 World Champion Orser.

Unfortunately, Orser didn't so much dazzle as confound the judges, coming out in Indian war-paint and tufts of hay strapped to his arm and leg, to perform "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." The hay made it difficult for Orser to control his jumps, and the decline in technical content of the first man to do two Triple Axels in a program allowed for Scott Hamilton, who'd barely been mentioned in the pre-event hoopla, to skate a high-energy, jump-packed, dazzling gold-lame "In the Mood," and vault into second place behind Boitano, whose technical level, Triple Axel and all, had not dropped a notch since the Olympics.

Traditionally, each new influx of post-Olympic skaters raised the level of pro competition.

Remembers Ribbens, "Starting in the mid-80s, when World Pro went from team competition to an individual competition, that got everybody's pride going. It was competitive between Robin and Scott, so it pushed them to keep their level up. But, when Boitano came in that's when it went up to the next level. He brought his technical skills. He didn't scale down from what he did at the Olympics. And that pushed everybody."

(To Be Continued)
Friday, January 06, 2006


As even non-figure-skating fans know by now, nine-time US Ladies Champion Michelle Kwan has withdrawn from Nationals due to injury but is still petitioning for a spot on the Olympic team.

Over the past 48 hours, the blogosphere, as well as the more traditional media, have gone crazy debating whether or not her petition should be granted.

The Pro-camp has one argument: She is Kwan.

The Anti have several. Most of which boil down to: Based on her performance at the World Championships last year (4th place), as well as her lack of international appearances this season, Kwan has proven herself incapable of winning a medal for the U.S. Better to send a young up-and-comer like Alisa Szisny or Kimmie Meissner or Emily Hughes who can gain some valuable competition experience and position herself for a medal in 2010.

The Pro camp does have precedent on their side. In 1994, U.S. Silver Medalist Kwan was bumped off the Olympic team in favor of a recovered Nancy Kerrigan. (The title that year went to Tonya Harding, who was subsequently stripped of it when convicted of being involved in the attack on Nancy. The national crown, however, was left blank, rather than given to Michelle. If it had been, she would currently be the record holder for most Ladies titles ever).

Two years earlier, in 1992, the same thing happened to Men's Bronze Medalist Mark Mitchell, who lost his spot on the Olympic team to Todd Eldredge. Eldredge, not fully recovered from his back injury, ended up finishing 10th at the Olympics (teammates Paul Wylie and Christopher Bowman were 2nd and 4th respectively). Mitchell was sent to Worlds, instead, where he finished 5th -- to Eldredge's 7th.

However, just to make things interesting, in 1996, defending National champion and World Bronze medalist Nicole Bobek, who had to pull out of the US Championship due to an ankle injury, was denied a bye to the 1996 World Championship despite the fact that ABC announcer Dick Button was so certain it would happen he went off the air for the night predicting it.

Yet, the United States Figure Skating Association said no. They never offered a concrete reason why. Because they didn't have to. Unlike some other sports, the U.S. Nationals are very specifically just Nationals, not World/Olympic trials. The USFSA still has utter discretion to name any team they see fit. (Speculation ran that the USFSA had decided to punish Nicole for the manner in which she received her injury. Instead of training for Nationals, Nicole accepted $90,000 to, along with Todd Eldredge, appear in a tour of "Nutcracker on Ice." The USFSA believed that their athletes should be home practicing, not on the road padding their bank accounts, and they decided to send their message, loud and clear, courtesy of Nicole.)


In the end, none of that matters.

Kwan should go to the Olympics for one reason and one reason only. And it's not because she's wonderful and gracious and inspirational and photogenic. It's because, while Michelle Kwan may have proven herself no longer a favorite for the gold medal, none of her potential replacements have proven themselves capable of achieving a better result. Yes, Emily Hughes is a Junior World Bronze Medalist, and Kimmie Meissner landed the first Triple Axel at the Nationals since Tonya Harding, and Alissa Czisny qualified for the Grand Prix Final.

But, a Junior World Medal is still a medal just among Juniors, and Kimmie hasn't landed the Triple Axel in competition since, and Alissa finished last at the Grand Prix, behind five women whom Michelle had, at one time or another, all beaten before.

Even though the Olympics have proven to be Michelle's Achilles Heel (2nd in 1998 behind Tara Lipinski, 3rd in 2002 behind Sarah Hughes and Irina Slutskaya), she is still head and shoulders above all the other possibilities.

So if the USFSA is still so eager to season their youngsters, send them to Worlds in March 2006. Or, better yet, send Michelle there, too. She's much more likely to earn a spot high enough to qualify three U.S. women to compete there again in 2007. Which is when Czisny, Meissner and Hughes can really start their hunt for the 2010 Olympic Gold. (An opportunity they won't have in 2007 if the Ladies' team doesn't perform well in 2006).

In the meantime, send Kwan. For, injured or not, new scoring system or not, she is still, quite simply, the Kween.

(For the record, I find Michelle's programs repetitive and overly arm-flappy. But I still stand by my argument).
Thursday, January 05, 2006


I have done an utterly unscientific poll in my head, and I can't remember another year when so many potential figure skating Olympians were also parents.

The closest thing these Games have to a "shoo-in" in any discipline is Russia's Tatiana Navka, the reigning World Champion in Ice Dance with partner Roman Kostamarov. Her daughter, Sasha, is five years old. Little Sasha's dad is Tatiana and Roman's coach, Olympic Silver Medalist Alexander (another Sasha) Zhulin.

2001 World Ice Dance Champion from Italy Barbara Fusar Poli (with partner Maurizio Margaglio), who has been quoted as saying the Ice Dance competition in Turino will be between her team and the Russians, has a daughter herself, one and a half year old Giorgia.

Two-time World Bronze Medalist Michael Weiss is also a two-time dad.

But, even though Russia's Ekatarina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov were the parents of little Daria at the time they won their second Olympic Gold, my favorite Skating... With Children (Pairs Division)story is still Canada's Kristy Sargeant.

In 1992, at age seventeen, despite giving birth to a daughter, Triston, (Dad was Jamie Sale's one-time partner, Jason Turner) and losing her own pair-partner as a result, Kristy kept on skating.

She tried Singles for a while, emulating her older sister, 1990 Canadian Champion Lisa Sargeant-Driscoll.

But, when the chance came to return to Pairs with 1992 Olympian Kris Wirtz, Kristy left Triston with her parents in Alberta, and relocated to Quebec. (Actually, this is the part of the story that I think doesn't get nearly enough attention. How many parents, after their seventeen year old becomes a single mother, would so much as continue speaking to her or support her financially, much less take on the task of raising a toddler while their daughter pursues her dream of... say what?... Olympic Figure Skating???? If you ask me, Kristy is cool for getting her life together, and Kris is awesome for loving another man's child like his own, but who are the true heroes in this tale? Let's hear it for Mr. and Mrs. Sargeant!)

After competing at the 1994 Olympics, however, Kristy realized that, no matter how hard it would be to train while having Triston living with her, it was even harder without her. She and Kris, who had become romantically involved since pairing up, brought Triston to live with them. They said that having the little girl around helped them take their mind off skating.

The couple won two Canadian Pair titles in 1998 and 1999 and retired from skating in 2001 due to Kristy's second pregnancy. They tried a comeback after little Briana was born, but had to withdraw from the Canadian Nationals after the Short Program.

They currently live in Toronto with their two daughters, and coach at the Toronto Cricket Skating Club.

For more on skaters and their kids, check out Skating Baby Boom.
Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Following the 1980 Olympics, Dick Button, in a bid to create a pro skating circuit, attempted to put together an event pitting established stars like Peggy Fleming and Dorothy Hamill against "kids" fresh from the Olympics. However, the older skaters were afraid that losing a professional event would somehow diminish their Olympic titles. The only way Button could convince them to take part, was to make the 1980 World Pros a team compe-tition, with no individual scores.

That first contest proved so successful -- despite the "Stars of the 1980 Olympics" team, including Games' Silver medalist Linda Fratianne, Gold Medalist Robin Cousins, Bronze Medalist Charlie Tickner, and Babilonia & Gardner, soundly defeating the "World and Olympic Professional Stars" team of Fleming, Hamill, and Starbuck & Shelley -- that the team format stayed in place through 1981 and 1982.

In 1983, for the first time, individual results for all four divisions were tallied in addition to the team event, though prize money still went to the top team. That year, Janet Lynn prevailed over Dorothy Hamill, who, in their last head-to-head had finished 4th to Janet's 2nd at the 1973 Worlds, as well as over Linda Fratianne who, back in 1973, at age twelve, was only the U.S. Junior Silver Medalist.

In the men, however, youth prevailed, as 1980 Olympic Bronze Medalist Charlie Tickner beat 1976 Olympic Bronze Medalist Toller Cranston, and 1960 Olympic Bronze Medalist Don Jackson.

According to ABC television director Doug Wilson, "Dick Button was a pioneer in many respects, and he was a pioneer in giving skaters a venue where they could compete for money and earn a living outside of skating in shows. His Candid Productions created, in a sense, his own league."

Former Candid Productions' Vice-President Jirina Ribbens credits the success of those first World Pros, as well as the subsequent ones to "a combination of sponsor, television, and public. You can't have (pro competitions) just for the public. It doesn't pay for itself. The production costs are way out there."

TV viewers at home, however, never saw the competition in the same order as the fans who watched it live.

Explains Ribbens, "It's very ironic that, for the public at large, skating is all about women. For skating fans, skating is all about men. When you do an event live, you always have to end with the men if you want the best evening. When you do an event for television, you always want to end with the women, if you want people to stay tuned. If we play the competition the way it runs live (with men as the final event), we lose viewers. But, if you keep teasing the women, TV viewers will stay tuned."

(To Be Continued...)
Tuesday, January 03, 2006


The big day (for me) has finally arrived! "Axel of Evil: A Figure Skating Mystery" is officially on sale!

Run, don't walk -- don't even power-walk, (that's not fast enough), to your favorite bookstore and pick up a copy. Even better, let your fingers do the walking and click over to Amazon or!

Of all my books so far, "Axel of Evil" has taken the longest from idea to publication. (That's not counting all the rejected manuscripts that sit in my desk drawers, gathering dust; perhaps one of them will someday see the light of day, but I'm not counting any chickens).

I first began writing a figure-skating mystery in the Summer of 1997, right after working on ESPN's "Skaters' Tribute to Carlo Fassi." Of all the skating shows I've ever worked on, that one is still my all-time favorite. The genuine emotion, the affection, and the camaraderie of the cast and crew was unprecedented. It made me think about how often those writing about the world of figure skating from the outside in, fail to capture the incredible sense of community that evolves from a (relatively) small group of dedicated, talented people traveling around the globe for years upon years, seeing the same faces every time, and experiencing some of the strongest emotions -- both positive and negative -- of their lives in these other people's company. It makes for a pretty intense bonding experience, one that can be difficult to capture unless you've actually swirled around in it.

At the time, the only fiction I'd published had been four romance novels. But, it was enough to know that writing a genre book would make it an easier sell to publishers than a straight, literary work. I decided to write a skating murder mystery for a simple reason: because my then-editor told me a skating romance couldn't work -- everyone assumed all male skaters were gay; readers would never buy it.

So a murder mystery it would be. I spent that Fall and Winter working on it. (I even wrote a few paragraphs while in Nagano, working for TNT at the 1998 Olympics). I turned a three-chapters-and-an-outline proposal in to my editor in the Spring of 1998.

She didn't like it.

Oh, well, life went on.

I wrote one non-fiction book, "Inside Figure Skating," then another -- "Sarah Hughes: Skating to the Stars."

After I turned in the latter, my current editor called to say that she had been given a copy of my skating mystery proposal by my former editor. She said she didn't like it, either.

"Well," I was very close to replying, "Thank you so much for taking the time to call and tell me that."

It's a good thing I kept my mouth shut (not usually a strong trait with me). Because the next thing she said was that she'd like me to write up another proposal, featuring different characters. I said that I would, and what I ended up turning in during the Summer of 2001 was a proposal for the book that is today "Axel of Evil."

My editor liked it, but she thought that the foreign local (a World Championship in Moscow) would be off-putting to book buyers, and suggested that I write a second proposal, set in the United States.

That proposal became Book #2 in the Figure Skating Mystery series, "On Thin Ice."

It was supposed to be Book #1, but then Skategate exploded in February of 2002, and, after writing two comprehensive proposals, I ended up selling the book that became "Murder on Ice," on the basis of a single paragraph.

So, for those keeping score, that pushed "Axel of Evil" to Book #3, and a January 2006 (today!) release date. About TIME!

(For those curious whatever happened to that first proposal everyone hated, I reworked it and sold it as Figure Skating Mystery Book #5, currently scheduled to be out in Winter 2008. Over a decade after I first started working on it. I may not be particularly talented, but I am... tenacious.)
Monday, January 02, 2006


Russia's reigning World Champion and 2002 Olympic Silver Medalist Irina Slutskaya incurred a bit of criticism in skating circles recently when, following her second place finish to Japan's Mao Asada at the Grand Prix final, Irina told the LA Times (asks for registration), "(Mao) is jumping, just a junior skater. You can be a good jumper, but you must be a woman, too. She really is not."

She also answered a television reporter, (I'm paraphrasing) "Mao is still a child. I would like to see her try to skate as a woman."

Almost a decade ago, in December of 1996, I went to Russia on behalf of ABC Sports, to help produce broadcast features on Eltsova and Bushkov, Ilia Kulik, Bereznaia and Sikharulidze, Irina, and her main Russian rival, Maria Butyrskaya.

In December of 1996, Irina (born February 9, 1979) was 16 years old and the European Ladies' Champion. In personality, she was, to all intents and purposes, a child. When we took her and a friend for a photo shoot in front of the Kremlin, they devolved into a giggling snowball fight. When we took her to film b-roll at a local mall and told her to pick out a gift, Irina chose an oversized teddy bear to join the stuffed menagerie already living on her bed. She was rosy-cheeked, bubbly and utterly delightful. (For those keeping video archives, check out Irina's 1997 European's interview where Dick Button asks to pinch her cheeks, and she lets him. I am the third person on camera, providing the Russian to English translation.)

On the other hand, in December of 1996, Maria Butyrskaya (born June 29, 1972), was 24 years old, a 4-time Russian National Champion, and rather bitter about the hot, new, young skating star in her midst (at the 1996 World Championship, Irina finished 3rd. Maria finished 4th, and off the podium).

Whereas Irina was interviewed at home, stuffed animals in the background, Maria asked for her interview to be conducted at a dance club (during the day, when they were setting up; nothing like trying to conduct an interview with clanging plates in the background). While Irina played snowballs with a gal pal, Maria strolled the streets arm-in-arm with her boyfriend.

When asked, on-camera, about Irina Slutskaya, Maria waved a hand, dismissive, and said, "Of course, jumps are easy for her. Everything is easy when you're 16. Just wait for her to grow up and try to do the same tricks with a woman's body..."

And, as the marvelous Linda Ellerbee would say, so it goes....
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