As Stars on Ice and Champions on Ice gear up for their traditional, post-Olympic season tours, www.FigureSkatingMystery.com takes a look back at the history of traveling "Ice-travaganzas...."
Before skating became a television staple, fans hoping for a glimpse of their favorite athlete outside of the national or World championship, had to wait for a touring show to come to their town.
Ice Capades, Ice Follies and Holiday on Ice were once the sole venue for seeing one or two Olympic-caliber skaters, as long as you were willing to sit through an interminable chorus line, and folks dressed as cartoon characters. Perfect for a family audience, not nearly as satisfying for the skating purist.
In 1969, however, a year after television etched Peggy Fleming onto the public's consciousness, promoter Tom Collins adjusted Europe's ISU tour of medal-winners from the World Championships, and brought his new version -- featuring both champions and local up-and-comers -- to North America. It's first few years out, the Collins Tour (official name pre-1997: Tour of World Figure Skating Champions) visited a scant fifteen cities in the weeks immediately following the World Championships, and paid its amateur skaters $50 a show.
By the late 70s, the tour had solidified its format of having medalists from that year's Worlds, plus a few other skaters judged particularly extraordinary, doing one number each under spotlights, in front of audiences ranging from 5,000 to 15,000 people. Little attempt was made to unify the solo exhibitions into a cohesive show format with group numbers. Although, at the last stop of the 1978 Tour in Providence, R.I., the skaters, including Rodnina & Zaitsev, East Germany's reigning World Champion Anett Potzsch and 1974 World Champion Jan Hoffman, England's Robin Cousins, and America's Charlie Tickner, without telling the show's organizers, put together an impromptu kick-line as a fitting finale.
Though only three weeks long, the tour was a great place for young, rising skaters to get a quick lesson in performing in front of a crowd looking to be entertained. 1984 & 1988 Olympic Silver Medalist Brian Orser admitted being puzzled his first year on the tour, when he would go out and perform the big tricks -- Triple Axel, Triple Lutz -- that drove the public wild in competition, and only receive polite applause, while Scott Hamilton, dressed in a chicken suit and skating to music peppered with clucks, would drive them to a standing ovation.
Brian Boitano joined the tour in 1984, after finishing 5th at the Sarajevo Olympics. By then, skaters were making roughly $150 dollars a show, a sum that would keep going up in conjunction with skating's popularity, but, it was still the maximum these athletes could pocket without risking their amateur status.
$150 x 15 shows equaled $2,250 U.S. Hardly enough to make a dent in the ordinary competitor's expenses. By 1995, however, Olympic-eligible skaters were earning $2,000 per show on a tour that had swelled to seventy-six shows in three months for the Spring Tour, plus an additional tour in the Winter (featuring virtually all pro skaters, while the eligibles compete at Nationals, Olympics, and Worlds). A decade after he first joined the redubbed Champions on Ice, the now pro Boitano earned over a million dollars for his participation.
Coming Up Next: Scott Hamilton creates Stars on Ice!
Thanks to everyone who entered my Worlds Prediction Contest! While no one got 100 percent (it was a pretty unexpected competition; I mean, KIMMIE MEISSNER???), we were able to come up with an overall champion. Look for her name to guest-star in my 2008 Figure Skating Mystery! (The January 2007 one will be called "Death Drop;" no title yet for the 2008, so stay tuned!)
* Kimmie Meissner is awesome! Although, to my recollection, that is the most Junior-ish program ever to win the Ladies World Championship. And yes, I actually was in Switzerland in 1997 to see Tara win. Kimmie Meissner makes Tara Lipinski look like Grandma Moses. Not that there's anything wrong with that... I personally, will take an exuberant jumping bean over a lot of pseudo-artistic arm waving any day of the week.
Despite their 8th place finish at the 2006 World Pair Championship, many pundits still believe that Russia's Yulia Obertas and Sergei Slavnov have the potential to become their country's next, great pair team (having the legendary Tamara Moskvina as a coach will inspire that kind of talk, no matter what the final placing).
Although she is only 21 years old, Yulia is already a seasoned international competitor, having won the Junior World Championship twice by the age of 15 (representing the Ukraine).
Below is an interview I did with Yulia, and her then partner and coach, in 1999:
Dmitry Shkidchenko, coach of two time World Junior Pair Champions Yulia Obertas and Dmitry Palamarchuk, says of his team, "I think they can reach the top at Europeans, Worlds, Olympics. The most important thing is hard work. Though, that's not counting factors we can't control, such as that they might close our rink at any moment."
Not that Palamarchuk, 19, would mind. He grouses, "Our conditions (at Dnipropetrovsk Rink) are horrible. The ice is choppy, and the roof leaks when it rains -- right onto the ice!"
Nevertheless, except for July 1999, which they plan to spend in Simsbury, CT, Palamarchuk and Obertas, 15, for the fourth season in a row, will be clocking two and a half hours a day practicing there, getting ready for their first all-Senior season.
During the 1998-1999 season, the team, who competed both on the Junior Grand Prix circuit (which they won for the second year in a row) and at the 1999 Europeans (where they finished 6th) and Worlds (where they finished 11th), had four programs to rehearse, rather than the usual, two.
Asked if they ever got confused in the middle of competition over which program they were supposed to be skating, Palamarchuk laughs, "Thank God, no."
"On the Junior level," Obertas explains, "We skate like children. But, on the adult level there is more responsibility."
Palamarchuk, however, thinks it's that childlike quality that helps them with the judges. He muses, "What we have going for us, is our appeal on the ice. Our technical ability isn't higher, but, we do some of the same elements -- like our throws and lifts -- better, lighter, prettier. Most importantly, my partner has a cheerful, little girl quality that's very appealing."
While that 'little girl' appeal brings to mind several past top pairs, Palamarchuk stresses that this team isn't interested in copying anyone else's style. "We want to go our own way."
Chimes in coach Shkidchenko, "We can't call their style unique, it simply belongs to them, it's how they skate, it comes from nature. My job is to open them up. To make a diamond."
I have only ever worked one Canada-based skating competition. The World Championships in Edmonton in 1996 for ABC.
As a result, I am of two minds when it comes to Canada and skating fans.
On the one hand, never have I met an all-around nicer bunch of people. Organizers, volunteers, interns -- all to a man/woman are friendly, polite, sweet, generous and hard-working. In that respect, I love the Canadians and always look forward to visiting, whether for job or pleasure.
On the other hand, there was that moment during the Ice Dance competition, when we were waiting for the judges' marks for Bourne & Kraatz and there was a possibility of them ending up off the podium yet again. The crowd in the arena stomped their feet, they screamed, they chanted, they literally shook the bleachers so hard that, for the first time ever in my skating career, I genuinely worried we'd have a riot on our hands if the results weren't to their liking. Fortunately, the results were to their liking. And the Mr. Canadian Hydes turned back into Dr. Jeckylls.
After that experience, whenever talk swirls about accusing Russian/French/American judges of fudging results and holding up their own, I think about Bourne & Kraatz's first World Medal in Edmonton. I think about them winning their first Grand Prix Final in 2001 -- in Kitchener, Ontario. And Pair skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier winning that year in Kitchener, as well.
Now, I look at the to-date standings at Worlds, with Canada's Joannie Rochette in first place after the Qualifying after only finishing 11th the year before, Dubreil and Lauzon in second after the Compulsory Dances after being 7th last year, Pairs Marcoux and Buntin in 5th overall up from 9th in 2005, and defending World Silver Medalist Jeffrey Buttle still in Medal contention (4th) despite a less than stellar Short Program. And I remember: Canadians, on home turf, can be very scary.
In 1993, Kristen Fraser and Peter Kongkasem of California were competing at the Intermediate level in Ice Dance. They finished 4th at the 1993 National Championship and qualified for the Juvenile/Intermediate Championship, where they finished last. The following year, they won the Silver medal at the same event. It was their highest US national finish ever.
In 2006, however, both are competing at the World Championship. Kristen for Azerbaijan, and Peter for Thailand. Laura and Luke Munana (I guess their parents were big General Hospital fans) are also at the World Championships for Ice Dancing. Representing Mexico. Both were born in San Jose, CA. Both live in San Jose, CA. Both train in San Jose, CA. Their highest US finish was 7th at the 1998 Nationals in Novice. They were 12th at the 2002 Nationals in Senior, and 10th in 2004. That's when they made the switch to Mexico. After all, why work on improving your skating to overtake the competition when you can just country hop?
Until the first pair skater steps on the ice for the Short Program at the 2006 World Championship, you can still enter my Worlds prediction contest!
First prize is the chance to name a skating character, pick his/her music, costume and program elements and have it incorporated into my next skating mystery (tentative publication date: January 2008).
So don't delay. Click on the unobtrusively yellow banner at the top of the page and enter skating immortality!
2) Pairs don't DO triple jumps -- unless they decide to throw some in at the last minute.
3) Female single skaters do Triple Axels as a matter of course.
4) Regionals for Connecticut-based skaters are in Chicago.
5) Chicago Regionals are televised live.
6) And then highlights are shown on CNN.
7) Oksana Bauil's impenetrable accent is no impediment to an American broadcasting career.
8) A couple who won Gold in Albertville in 1992 can have a daughter who wins Gold in Turino in 2006. And she can be old enough to fly to LA by herself and date a guy who is at least 21 -- judging by the fact that he is old enough to drink in bars. (As, presumably, is she, since he tries to order her a drink the night before Nationals). Guess times passes quicker at the ice rink.
Please add your own illuminating discoveries below!
It looks as if 2006 may be the last World Championship attempt for Russia's Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov. Though they managed to win the top title in 2000, the pair never quite managed to ignite the figure skating world like their compatriot predecessors. (In a way, P&T were a lot like Eltsova & Bushkov. Another pair of workmanlike, uninspiring, Russian World Champions).
Still, their coach, Ludmilla Velikova, is a lovely person. I first met her in 1992, when Worlds were held in Oakland and I took her, Evgenia Shishkova and Vadim Naumov (yet another one-hit wonder, though very sweet, set of world champs) shopping at Walgreens, where all three gleefully stocked up on deodorant, perfume, and a host of other personal grooming items otherwise unavailable to them. So I root not so much for Petrova & Tikhonov as for Velikova -- from a sentimental perspective.
As a good luck charm, I thought I would run an interview that I did with Maria & Alexei in 1999, smack in the middle of their best season ever:
Though he admits that he would love to be World Champion, Alexei Tikhonov, 1999 European Pair Champion with Maria Petrova, stresses that the level of pair skating has improved dramatically in the 1999-2000 season.
He says, "There are currently several couples in the world that can battle for the top spot as equals. I like how Anton (Sikharulidze) and Elena (Bereznaia) skate. There's a reason they're two-time World Champions. But, this year, they'll have a tough road defending their title. There's the Canadians, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. The French team (Abitbol & Bernadis) has changed their style, and it's very good. And, of course, the Chinese (Shen & Zhao). They haven't been too lucky so far, but, they'll deliver. And we're going to try to be the best, too. Masha and I have really gelled this season. We can put on a much more interesting show than last year."
After winning all three of their Grand Prix events, Tikhonov feels confident about competing in Year 2000. He explains, "Last year, everything happened so fast. It was a surprise we managed to achieve anything at all. This year, it's harder, because, we can't rest on our laurels. We have to progress, and focus on things like defending our European title, and challenging at Worlds."
One laurel he is willing to rest on, however, is the Russian National Championship.
Tikhonov says, "It won't be difficult to make the world team. There are only three good pairs in Russia, now. Elena and Anton, Masha and I, and Tanya (Totminina) and Maxim (Marinin). The other pairs haven't reached the elite level, yet. Maybe they haven't had enough time skating together. It's like the life-cycle of human beings, I guess. You have peaks and valleys. Russian pair skating is currently in a valley."
And the valley extends to financial matters. He admits, "The federation gives us a little money to train. But, when it comes to food and rent, we're living off money we earned last season. But, last year was a good year for us, we're very happy we earned enough to not only take care of ourselves, but help our families."
And even with Y2K fears looming, Tikhonov said, "For New Year's, I am going home to my parents and younger brother in Samara -- it's about an hour by plane from Moscow. I'm going New Year's Eve. Yes, I've heard that planes might fall out of the sky, but, I have no other free time. I have to go then."
Planning to make his 8th appearance at the World Championships this month is Georgia's Vakhtang Murvanidze.
Although his highest international finish to date was 7th at the 2003 European Championship, the charismatic 26 year old has a devoted core of fans -- and great ambitions.
Here is an interview I did with him in 1999:
In his bio for the World Championships, Georgian Men's Champion Vakhtang Murvanidze, 20, listed his hobbies as "boxing, and girls."
About the latter, he laughs, "I was feeling rather optimistic about girls when I wrote that." He has no time for a girlfriend at the moment, but, "Girls are the hobby of every Georgian male."
As for the latter, Murvanidze explains, "Boxing is an art. It's beautiful. As a child, I did both boxing and skating. Even now, I do it every summer. I have lots of friends who are boxers. They're all amazed that the Georgian skating champion boxes!"
But, skating is still his passion: "I adore it."
Murvanidze also adores his former coach, Igor Rusikov, who "is like a father to me."
Unfortunately, "(Rusikov) has leukemia. He's had chemotherapy for three years. Next to our rink, there's a hospital. Not a very good hospital, there are better ones, but, he chose it, so he could run from the hospital to train us."
Yet, when Rusikov could no longer physically coach: "He told me, himself, to change coaches. I would have never left him."
At least, Murvanidze says, "I am godfather to his daughter, so we're family forever."
Currently, Murvanidze trains with Elena Tchaikovskaya, alongside 1999 World Champion Maria Butyrskaya. He raves, "I bow down to (Butyrskaya). Twenty-six years old, and she won Worlds. She gives me hope."
Murvanidze lost his chance to compete at the 1998 Olympics after tearing a ligament in his foot.
"I could barely walk. I had to learn how to do single jumps, again. No one believed in me, except my mother and my coach. I was angry at myself and at others. I wanted to show them all."
Murvanidze finished 28th at the 1998 Worlds, then leapt to 17th place in 1999. But, he isn't impressed by his achievement. He sighs, "So far I haven't shown anyone. 17th at Worlds isn't showing anyone."
"My ultimate goal is to win the Olympics. That's the dream of every skater, or else he wouldn't do it. If he says it's not (his dream), he lies."
2006 Update: Rusikov died in 2003 (Despite Vakhtang saying optimistically, "France agreed to perform surgery on him, to do a bone marrow transplant. It's the first time in history they've done this for free for a non-French citizen. It's a very expensive operation, and they are making great concessions for him. A French minister arranged it."). Vakhtang now trains in New Jersey with Craig Maurizi and is dating Kristin Fraser, an American who represents Azerbaijan in Ice Dance. He finished 17th at the 2002 Olympics and 28th in 2006.
Eden Embler of "I Love a Mystery Newsletter" was kind enough to review "Axel of Evil," and say many nice things about it, including:
Adams, who has worked as a figure skating researcher for several TV networks, really shows the back stage realities of the figure skating world, which she views with a sardonic and somewhat cynical eye. The ending came as a complete surprise, but was accurately foreshadowed in the text.
She then went on to add, though:
Adams misplaces the 1977 World Championships (they were in Japan, not Russia ) and the cover shows an ice rink, supposedly in Moscow, that has Leningrad written in Russian characters on the sideboards.
About the former, however... I deliberately set all of my skating novels in a fictional universe, to prevent jarring things like a man claiming to be the 1988 Olympic Champion when, as well know, it was really Brian Boitano. That's why the victim in "Axel of Evil" was the 1978 Olympic Champion, a title no one else can lay claim to.
That being the case, I had no qualms about moving the 1977 World Championships from Japan to Russia, or setting the 2003 one in San Francisco. My stories exist in an alternate skating universe.
To be fair, my wonderful editor (and big-time skating fan) did try to get me to anchor my tale with real Olympic years, but I thought my way was better. (Doesn't every writer always think their way is better?).
So now I put the question to you: Should I have stuck to the facts, or fictionalized them?
And now, my actor suggestions for the inevitable Skating With Celebrities 2:
Although FOX promoted this as Disaster on Ice, the fact is, there were no major crashes and the celebrities, for the most part, acquitted themselves quite nicely (Dave Coulier, I am not talking to you).
So, for the next round, why don't we ditch the falling-on-their-heads aspect and get some celebrities who have a bit of skating experience, to really knock it up a notch.
For your consideration, I offer:
Kristian Alfonso (Hope; Days of Our Lives): For years, her bio has boasted that she won a gold medal in figure skating at the Junior Olympics. Now is her chance to demonstrate how she did it -- not to mention explain what the heck that event is.
Julie Benz: Before she was the homicidal Darla on Buffy/Angel, she was a National Competitor in Ice Dance (1988).
Sarah Michelle Geller: Another one with a dubious title on her resume: "New York State Champion." Show me the Axels, Buffy! (Maybe Kristy Swanson can come back and we could do a Buffy vs. Buffy! And then Julie Benz could devour them both.)
Rebecca Herbst (Elizabeth; General Hospital): When I interviewed her a few years back she said she used to go to Lake Arrowhead for their skating camp to take lessons from Frank Carroll. She said she was working on her triples. Let's see them!
Patrick Swayze: He claims to have been a competitive skater as well as dancer up through high-school, and did roller-skate boogie in an early movie. I'm ready for Dirty Dancing on Ice, how about you all?
Michelle Kwan has won nine US titles, five World Championships and two Olympic medals. But now she’s also earned an honor unique to any skater, ever. Michelle Kwan is the inspiration for the interior of Ford’s new Mercury MetaOne SUV.
Anthony Prozzi, Senior Creative Designer for Ford, is a self-described huge figure-skating fan, with a particular fondness for Ms. Kwan.
“Michelle Kwan is an extraordinary role model,” Prozzi praised. “Her spirit, dedication, and commitment to her sport are inspirational. Through her career, she has carried herself with such poise, she stays grounded and level-headed and knows how to put everything into perspective. Her art and athleticism are beyond words. Here is this athlete who is powerful, fast and strong. Yet everything is done with kindness, softness and ease. Whenever the pressures of my world become unbearable, I watch her performances and all the problems just go away. Michelle embodies everything we look at in car design – a stance, a pose, a line, proportion, elegance, tension, and most importantly, she transcends a mood, an emotion. She evokes such passion through her skating. It's that passion that I look to capture every time I put pen to paper. With the design of the Mercury MetaOne, I wanted an interior that is bold, but at the same time it needed to have a soft edge and a feeling of serenity. And that's what brought me back to Michelle's skate to Lyra Angelica at the '98 Nationals. There's such an overwhelming inner peace and joy to that performance, she embraced everyone who watched and carried them through her emotions. It had all the answers I needed.”
Prozzi was able to personally thank Michelle for her inspiration through a bit of small-world coincidence.
“The director of Ford's car design's wife's best friend works for Michelle's PR,” Prozzi explained. “She read all the articles and watched the TV spots where I speak of Michelle's influence and showed it to Michelle. One thing led to another, and a dream came through. To meet Michelle left me speechless. I am constantly inspired and moved by her achievements. My goal is to design a (car) interior that could only move people the way she has moved so many. Who knows maybe one day Michelle will be driving one of my cars!”
I only had two thoughts when watching the first hour of Skating With Celebrities' finale (the first hour was padded as hell and they need another hour to finish this sucker off???)
How did Jillian Barbieri and John Zimmerman actually manage to get worse since the first episode (where they were clearly the best)?
And, under the circumstances, am I the only one creeped out by John Nicks, Dorothy Hamill and Mark Lund gushing on and on about Kristy Swanson and Lloyd Eisler's suddenly potent chemistry?
(On an episode of one of my favorite shows, The Simpsons, Bart slows down a videotape so that Lisa can see the exact moment when she breaks Ralph Wiggum's heart. I wonder, if we slow down SwC, can we catch the exact moment when Lloyd forgot about his pregnant wife and toddler son and decided to nail Kristy?)