Why I Bawled Like a Baby for the Last 10 Minutes of I, Tonya

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I saw I, Tonya even though I was kind of dreading it. As a skating insider, depictions of the sport on the big screen have always bothered me, and most of my skating friends. (The exception is Blades of Glory, which was wildly off base and also hilarious.) The I, Tonya trailer made me cringe for several reasons, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to revisit the embarrassing “incident,” i.e. when Nancy Kerrigan was famously attacked at an ice rink.

I competed in figure skating during the same years as Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, albeit in different events and I quit a few years before “the incident”. I was loosely acquainted with them — more with Nancy than Tonya since we were both on the East coast and therefore crossed paths at training camps and qualifying competitions.

I was in the audience, sitting with my friends, when Tonya Harding landed her triple axel in the 1991 National Championships (three years before Nancy Kerrigan was attacked.) That historic performance in 1991 earned Tonya the gold medal, meaning she was considered the best female figure skater in the United States. I had performed/competed on the same sheet of ice in ice dance either earlier that day or maybe the day before. I didn’t know much about Harding’s family, I didn’t know she was abused by her mother and her husband, and I don’t even think I realized that she was married. What I knew about Tonya at the time was that she was a bundle of energy and athletic talent. My friends and I reacted to that performance with amazement. She skated fast, she exploded into the air, and she landed (miraculously, given all that velocity)…on her feet.

I watched the film in a sold-out theater in the center of Manhattan. I have been a skating coach now for over 20 years, and my own competitive years feel like several lifetimes ago. Our story lines and family details are very different. But it was bizarre and almost surreal to see such a familiar persona and familiar world depicted on the big screen with some realism. It was strange to see someone I kind of knew portrayed by an actress. The movie was done surprisingly well; I winced throughout, not so much because of the inaccuracies of the sport (and sure, there were many), but more by the accuracy.

Here is scene that captured the essence of skating for me: [SPOILER ALERT] Near the end, as she is preparing to compete at the 1994 Olympics, Tonya sits in an empty dressing room, rubbing far too much make-up on her cheeks. Looking at herself, she grits her teeth, and smiles through tears.

I have never decided whether skaters smiling through pain is pathetic and fake or the ultimate display of strength. It’s something I had to do; most competitive skaters have. The truth is that figure skating is physically painful and filled with a level of pressure that is difficult to explain or express. Even if you’re not an Olympic contender, you and your family have to sacrifice for so many years to get anywhere near the top…and your success rides on these singular and very public performances that last only a few minutes. The smile is a way of pretending that you’re confident and also an attempt to convince yourself, too. Very few other sports demand this level of composure and this scene managed to capture that challenge for me.

[CONTINUED SPOILERS] A few scenes later in the film, my heart broke as Tonya, in court, tried to convince the judge to give her jail time instead of banning her from skating. This is how much she loved and needed the sport despite what it did to her. This was her level of fearlessness. My heart broke again as they showed her in the boxing ring, making ends meet after her skating career was over. We see her fighting just as much, and getting hurt just as much, in another brutal venue.

But here was the kicker and what took me from merely crying to full-on sobbing: When the movie was finished, they played the real video footage of the real Tonya competing and winning in the 1991 National Championships. Even though the credits were rolling, the entire sold-out audience in that Manhattan theater sat and watched her performance to the very end, the performance my friends and I also marveled at, live, in the arena 27 years ago.

The details and the facts of the Nancy-Tonya incident are still nebulous; the movie doesn’t fully answer the question about what Tonya knew or didn’t know regarding the attack. But here is what was crystal clear: there, on the big screen was the actual person, bursting with raw talent and undeniable strength amid ridiculous odds. We were all watching, and acknowledging this, every single one of us.

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Movie Review of RISE

courtesy of US Figure Skating

Like many people in the skating world, I watched RISE, with a lump in my throat and a knot in my stomach. For those of you who don’t know, this is the figure skating movie about the 1961 World Team who perished in a plane crash, on the way to the World Championships in Prague.

Beforehand, I wondered if I should cut my skating lessons short that night in order to rush over and see the movie. I am glad that I did.  Likewise, beforehand, I wasn’t sure whether or not to aggressively recommend the film to my skating students, because I wasn’t sure how painful it was going to be to watch. Though it is a horrible tragedy and it is difficult subject matter, it is treated tastefully and has a positive message. The focus is not on the crash itself but on the skaters and coaches who were on the plane. This event had an impact on so many lives and on the American skating community for years to come.

I think my skating students should see this film, as should their parents, as should anyone involved in skating and other sports, too. It is playing again in theaters around the country on March 7. I recommend that you get your tickets now. You can find theaters and buy tickets here.

Not only is it important to learn the history of this specific event, RISE provides us with an all-too rare opportunity to view skating footage from a bygone era. (Like people tracing out figure eights!) It also gives us a chance to understand that skaters of yesteryear, despite their plain costumes and their different skating style, struggled with many of the same challenges as skaters do today. Even back then, some top skaters moved across the country to seek expert coaching, some families were split apart, and some parents pushed too hard. These athletes experienced injuries and disappointing performances, and also victories. Finally, viewers can take a bit of time to consider the skating community as a whole rather than just our own little corner of it. Skating requires so much focus on details that we can easily forget that we are participating in something bigger than ourselves.

The title, RISE, (the ‘i’ of which cleverly depicts a skater mid-jump), is accompanied by a subtitle: Can the end of one dream give rise to another? The documentary’s answer to this question is: YES. A panel of skating greats like Scott Hamilton, Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Michelle Kwan, Brian Boitano, et cetera, help us to see how we can be inspired by these athletes from the 1961 World Team.

One of my favorite aspects of the movie is how it effectively conveys the concept of legacy and the connectedness of everyone in the skating world. In some way, most of us are either directly or indirectly connected to this event through our coaches or skaters that we know. For example, I was coached by Ron Ludington, who was trained by Maribel Vinson Owen, who is featured in the film.

And many of us have benefited from the Memorial Fund, a very direct form of connectedness. I knew that F. Ritter Shumway set up the Memorial Fund after the crash, but didn’t realize that he did so only eight short days afterwards. Thousands of skaters have been helped by this financial assistance, a very direct form of connectedness.

I was interested to learn that the 1961 National Championships were the first to be televised. And there is an old cigarette advertisement that had the whole theater laughing. There are some photos of the crash wreckage that are not overly gruesome but heart wrenching.  There are some compelling stories about skaters who might have been on the plane but were not either due to injury or sickness.

I enjoyed the segments about the SC of Boston and about the Broadmoor rink in Colorado Springs. Before the Broadmoor was razed, my brother and I trained at that beautiful (though crumbling) rink for one summer. We also competed at our first Midwestern Sectionals there and discovered just how beautiful and majestic that hotel is.  (We also learned how higher altitude really does affect your stamina.)

Evidently, there was a RISE pre-show hosted by Matt Lauer and Peter Carruthers that our theater didn’t play. But we did see the after-show. This was sort of an Oprah-esque set-up where participants in the film (including the filmmakers) immediately discussed the movie and the topics at hand. It was kind of like seeing the DVD “extras” while still sitting in the theater.

During this portion, both Frank Carroll and Evan Lysacek were interviewed. Evan said something to the effect that, after a performance, it is great to be out on the ice by yourself while the audience applauds, but the real celebration takes place when you step off the ice and hug your coach. The way Evan has so kindly shared his Vancouver victory with Frank Carroll is truly endearing.

I gasped, along with many others in attendance, at Dorothy Hamill’s disparaging comment about the rink named after her, in Greenwich, Connecticut. There were likely many people in our theater who coach or skate there.

As always, I enjoyed seeing Scott Hamilton and think he had some of the most poignant things to say. He said that one of the main lessons he learned from skating is that, “You reap what you sow.” In other words, if you don’t practice hard, and go to the rink even on the days that you don’t want to, you can’t expect to succeed. He also reminded us that when, in any aspect of your life, you fall down, you just have to get back up. (In other words, “rise.”) Maybe these are obvious adages, but it can’t hurt to hear them again, especially from him, and especially in light of the health issues he is going through right now.

My one criticism of RISE is probably not a fair one: I wanted more! While it was fascinating to learn about these individual stories, I didn’t feel like there was enough detail about enough people. I suppose there is only so much ground that can be covered in 94 minutes. And truth be told, this sense of wanting more prompted me, when I got home that night, to pore through the pages of SKATING magazine’s February issue, a large portion of which is dedicated to the crash and the film.  I am now also intrigued by Patricia Shelley Bushman’s book, Indelible Tracings: The Story of the 1961 U.S. World Figure Skating Team. So my interest has been further piqued and I presume it has created similar curiosity in many others.

Like I said above, go see RISE on March 7. Many of us have seen that iconic photo of the team lined up on the steps of that fateful airplane. After seeing this film, their faces will look a lot more familiar.

***
What did you think of the film? Feel free to leave a comment below.

An Ode to my Long Black Coat

Long Black Coat, how do I love thee?

You’re puffy with feathers,
And run from my neck past my knees.
You keep me warm while coaching,
When the rink is below 25 degrees.

You’re big and you’re shapeless,
Like a sleeping bag.
Your only bit of decoration,
Is that North Face tag.

I know you make me look
Twenty pounds heavier than I am.
As I skate down the ice,
I look as wide as the Zam.

You’re so bulky and cumbersome,
I can’t demonstrate a thing.
But the frostbite alternative,
Would certainly sting.

We’ve been together,
For at least seven years.
You’re starting to show your age,
And this brings me to tears.

How will I ever replace you,
What will I do?
I get more concerned,
With every feather you lose.

I’ve worn other jackets,
They just don’t compare.
I need to find your twin,
The question is, where?

I’ve searched the web,
And you seem discontinued.
If I don’t find something soon,
I’ll just have to coach in the —–!

***

Apologies for the disturbing imagery at the conclusion of this otherwise beautiful poem.

Turns out North Face still makes something similar. The stitching is slightly different and it isn’t as ridiculously long. I ordered it online, here, but I just haven’t been able to bring myself to “take it for a spin.”

BTW, lots of great new “skater quotes” in the column over to the right. Thanks to everyone who has been giving me these 🙂

Timothy Goebel responds to Elvis Stojko’s Rant

I was interested in what Timothy Goebel, 2002 Olympic Bronze medalist, thought of the scathing article Elvis Stojko wrote about the Men’s results, called “The Night they Killed Figure Skating”. (To read it, click here.) Tim sent me this rebuttal:

“In my last season of competitive skating my coach, Audrey Weisiger, had a great quote: “Adapt, or die!”. Referring to the new judging system, she was noting the importance of being able to make changes to a program mid-season, in order to maximize points.

Evan, and many of his peers, have done just that. They have adapted. While I do agree with Elvis that the current system fails to appropriately encourage and reward risk, there are improvements the new regime has brought to the sport, as well. The most important, perhaps, is the importance placed on quality. Evan did not do a quad. Elvis is correct in saying that Evan’s jumps weren’t close to the techinical ability of Evgeny- they far exceeded his. Plushenko gave a gritty performance, and is a phenomenal competitor, but the jump quality was lacking. He barely hung on to his solo triple axel, and although Evan had a slight break in his axel combo, it was better. Lysacek did a beautiful triple lutz-triple toe, Plu barely squeaked by on his solo lutz, and did a scratchy triple lutz-double toe. Grade of execution counts for a lot, as it well should, and in every case Evan’s execution was stronger.

Another positive step the new system makes, is rewarding a well balanced program by giving bonus to difficult elements late in the program. Plushenko has one of the best triple axels in the business. He could easily do it in the bonus, but he elected not to. He front-loaded his program, and Evan spread his difficulty throughout. I appreciate how difficult that is- in the Salt Lake City Olympics, the second quad sal in my long was around the 3 minute mark. It requires a lot of training to make the big tricks happen late in a program, and Evan did so with ease.

I do not like to see the quad being such a rarity in the sport these days, and I do think that the system needs a major overhaul to encourage athletes to take risk. However, athletes must adapt to the system that they are competing under. With the help of Lori Nichol and Frank Carroll, Evan constructed a program that uses his strengths to maximize his points. He did what he needed to do to be successful within the constructs of the current system, and delivered two of the strongest programs he could possibly skate under a great deal of pressure. And that is the sign of a true champion.

In order to help the sport move forward, I would like to see a dialogue open between the ISU and former athletes who have performed multiple quads in competition. Elvis, myself, and many of our peers have invaluble competition experience for understanding the difficulty in executing these jumps. I agree that the system needs some major adjustments. Working together with the ISU, I am confident that we could come up with a point spread that would encourage and reward athletes to attempt more difficult elements, and do so without turning the sport into a jump contest.”

Thank you, Tim. Well put.

This week, on Slate.com I think I have officially outdone myself, as far as self-deprecation and sarcasm: Click down here:


To read a riff proposing some, ehem…other Olympic Sports, Click down here:

Happy Olympics!

Men’s Freeskate: Insta-Blog


by Jocelyn Jane Cox

[Best read from the bottom, up.]

9:40 Friday morning

This Olympic-viewing is hard work! A little bleary-eyed (can barely see through these bags that have inflated on my face), but digging the post-game interviews with Evan. Very gracious, well-spoken and appropriately in awe of the honor and the accomplishment.

On the flip side, just read a scathing analysis of the results by Elvis Stojko on yahoo called The Night They Killed Figure Skating. Ouch. Click here.

Am liking the sizzling NBC commercial for Ice Dance: “Cold winter nights just got hotter.” Pumped for Tango Romantica tonight – I don’t plan to insta-blog. I may do so for OD and/or FD. If you’d like a little guidance on tonight’s compulsory event, check out my article on Ice Skating International. Link at the bottom of this post.

_______________________________________________

12:15

Lambiel, Lambiel. Your name rolls off the tongue. I had such high hopes. You remind me so much of my high school star-crush Robert Sean Leonard (of Dead Poet’s Society and now House).

[The Hubs dozed off but he’s sitting back up again…]

Takahashi is fluid. Like water on skates. Way to come back from the Big Quad. Disagree with the pundits that it sucked the life out of the program. Likewise, way to come back from injury.

Weir: The Fallen angel flies again. Gotta hand that one to him. Great performance. And a beautiful ring of roses around his head.

Plushenko skated shaky. The marks are up–

Evan wins!! It comes down to Grade of Execution. Quality over Quantity. That is awesome. Go USA.

And now. To. Sleep.

Thank you for reading.

_______________________________________________

11:34

Viva Lysacek!! Great performance. Not easy to skate first, but he got out there and got it over with…now the waiting game. Prefer the snakes to the feathers. Looked a tad slow and walky in the middle, but Bravo! Sounded like Hamilton almost slipped up at one point and almost said Petrenko instead of Plushenko.

Oda vaults into the air. Looks like his legs are made of rubber and his knees have springs. Call me a Nationalist, but the Chaplin medley just reminds me that Ryan Bradley didn’t make it. And I don’t like to think about that.

Oops, technical difficulties. Thought he tore a muscle but it was just his lace. He should be awarded a lightening bolt superhero costume (like little Lysacek’s) for how quickly he fixed that. Mixed things up a bit.

_______________________________________________

11:10

Florent Amodio: I missed his short the other night but heard a lot of buzz about him. This Amelie/marionette program was cute. Nice to see a lighthearted Long Program since they usually skew serious.

Patrick Chan: Phantom of the Opera is a gorgeous piece of music and very evocative. Chan skates beautifully to it, but I am so Tired of this song. (And/or maybe I’m just tired.) He has a great smile – look forward to seeing it again next time around.

Michal Brezina: Gene Kelly on skates. Like it. An American in Paris? No, A Czech in Canada.


_______________________________________________

10:40

Well, so much for my predictions that Jeremy Abbott would climb up from 15th to win… way to climb uphill within the program, though.

It seems that Kozuka loves the electric guitar. If he wants to keep skating to this for all of his future programs, I am comfortable with that.  When they zoomed in on his sit spin I realized the benefit of (and perhaps theory behind) these wacky boards: it looks a little like they’re skating outside in a cartoon world.

Denis Ten: 16 years old, wow! Couldn’t keep up with his music medley – traveled across more borders and decades than I could keep track of.

I don’t know the football stars they just showed, but I do love that they are not only watching figure skating but doing so in public.

_______________________________________________

9:50

To my friend who suggested I host an Olympic party: well, this is it! Online and On the futon. Welcome.

Ahh! The suspense. They’re not even going to start showing the skating until after 10. (I am enjoying the snowboarding, though.)

In the meantime, check out this analysis of The Quad in the NY Times, put together by longtime friend Archie Tse, former pair skater turned graphic guru. Off to the right, you’ll see each skater’s success rate with the Quad – I appreciate all the facts and figures, but I especially like seeing how all that rotational pull contorts their faces…..Click here.

_______________________________________________

Here comes the showdown: Feathers, Tassels, and Tears vs. the Swinging Sword. I’m going to type commentary as soon as I get home from the rink tonight.

I know some people were offended by Blades of Glory, but let’s face it, Will Ferrell and Jon Heder nailed it. It’s almost as if the men’s figure skating event is acting out that plotline to a T. I’m looking forward to watching Freeskate but would also really like to see Plushenko and Lysacek make amends then perform a “Very Original Dance” later this week.

Actually, all this bravado, the boustier, and the masterful skating made the Vancouver Short Program on Tuesday night the most fun I think I’ve ever had watching a men’s event. I laughed, I (faux) cried and I marveled. I know I should be applauding all the jumps (and they were incredible), but I think the fact that there were two footwork/step sequences made it very entertaining. Favorite footworkers: Lambiel, Takahashi, Abbott. Least favorite footworker: Plushenko a.k.a. Clod the Quad (and, by the way, weren’t his jump landings rather shaky?) Favorite overall program: Kozuka to Jimi Hendrix. Biggest heartbreak: Abbott. Biggest surprise: obviously Joubert. Best twizzler: Lysacek.

Big shout out to The Hubs for today’s artwork and his unique talent to put skates on just about anything for the purposes of CSOM. To see more of his non-skating but incredibly graceful work, click here.

And…check out these other Olympic-y pieces I’ve been working on. Special thanks to Vicki Merten, Wendy Mliner, Cheryl Demkowski-Snyder, Cathy Reed, Brad Cox, and Liz Leamy for advising me on the article about the Tango Romantica. Click down here:

Thanks for reading and thanks for all your comments on those previous insta-blogs both here and on FB – makes it really fun. 🙂

Book Review: Offensive to Skaters!

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There is a novel out right now (it’s currently in hardcover but will come out in paperback next month) that features a young figure skater. It’s called My Sister, My Love and is written by Joyce Carol Oates, an author who has won all kinds of prestigious literary awards and teaches at Princeton. She has published 34 books since 1964. Though I haven’t read any of her other full-length books, her short stories stand out as some of my favorite. I was delighted to see her read from one of her books when I was in graduate school. So I was excited to learn that she had written about our sport and curious to see how she did it.

Well, not only is this a book I absolutely cannot recommend in general, it is offensive and I think it would be to anyone even remotely involved in figure skating.

It turns out that this is basically a fictional rendering of the infamous JonBenét Ramsey case, the six year-old beauty pageant girl who was mysteriously murdered in 1996 in Boulder, CO. Though DNA evidence seems to have proven that no one in the family committed the crime, the parents and even the little girl’s older brother were suspects; the tabloids focused on them relentlessly. In 2006, an American teacher living in Thailand admitted to the murder but the DNA at the crime scene didn’t match his either, so the case remains unsolved.

In Oates’s book, the family is called the “Rampikes” and is told from the perspective of the girl’s older brother who is now a 19 year-old with a mind addled by drugs. In this version, the little girl is a promising figure skater and the murder is pinned on a creepy man who had been stalking her. However, Oates makes the mother the actual murderer – it was a drunken, angry accident. As if this all isn’t dark and sinister enough, the mother tells the father that the son did it. She drugs the kid then tricks him into admitting it in front of a video camera and the father proceeds to try cover this up. Along the way, there’s lots of child abuse, perversion, jealousy, insanity, drug addiction, alcoholism, obsession, philandering, delusions of grandeur and, well, that not-so-uplifting murder.

So I guess I’ve spoiled it for you – but I don’t think you should go out and buy this book. That is, unless you enjoy seeing skating depicted in the worst possible light and grossly misrepresented. In fact, the way Oates has made a mockery of our sport caused me to slam the book closed several times.

Not only does Oates equate skating with beauty pageants, she makes skating out to be a dirty, perverse circus, teeming with stalkers and sexual innuendo.

Let me interrupt here to say that, though I have been involved in skating for most of my life and currently make my living in this field, I do not believe that I am overly sensitive about it. I do think skating turns out to be a positive experience for most who participate, but I certainly recognize that, like most activities, it has some foibles.

And most of us are accustomed to the fact that skating is rarely depicted accurately in movies or books. We all know, for example, that triple jumps aren’t mastered in a matter of weeks, that real competitions don’t feature spotlights, and that skating isn’t and never was (at least in recent history) judged on a scale from 1-10. These are some common misrepresentations. But I think we’re all willing to cut non-skating people (producers, directors, writers) some slack. I, for one, loved the spoof, Blades of Glory, and that was of course wildly inaccurate.

Likewise, I’m willing to forgive Oates for some of her mistakes. She thinks that five year olds get scores of 5.9 out of 6, they skate six-minute “routines” and then if they win a competition, they get prize money of $5,000. The protagonist’s best skating move is apparently something called a “butterfly gyre.” Huh? In this book, promising local skaters get featured in People magazine, and sought after by television crews and newspaper staffs. She thinks that when little skaters do well, the parents are suddenly admitted into the most prestigious country clubs.

Part of me finds some of these inaccuracies kind of amusing and the other part finds her lack of research disappointing. I’d like to think that if I was going to write a whole novel about tennis or fly fishing or professional knitting, I’d learn at least some of the correct terminology and try to figure out how that particular world actually works. The internet makes this kind of basic information so readily available.

But I digress. The point is that Oates is completely off base on just about every skating detail. Her biggest gaff is pretending/assuming that skating is like beauty pageants. For example, here are the names of the skating competitions in this book. They will give you a good chuckle: Little Miss Royale New Jersey, Starskate Ice Capades, Little Miss Jersey Ice Princess Challenge, Miss Tots-on-Ice Debutante. Winners of these competitions are “crowned.” They wear tiaras and they win that aforementioned prize money.

Here is what the announcer says to introduce our little skating contender for the Miss Atlantic City Ice Capades:

“Ladiez ‘n’ gentlemen…what a luscious sight: she’s wearing a black lace Spanish veil mantilla d’you call it? Quite a dramatic costume for a 5 year-old. This little skater is a real pro…left shoulder daringly bared, tight black-sequined bodice, black taffeta skirt very very short…black lace panties peeking out beneath, black eyelet stockings and sexy black leather high-top skates like boots.”

Yikes! I don’t know if this is how announcers and commentaries sound at kiddie Beauty Pageants (doubt it) but this is certainly not how it goes in skating. I found Oates’s constant reference to peek-a-boo panties so frustrating – “a peep of white-lace panties flashing beneath,” “crimson-lace panties teasingly visible beneath,” “a hint of white-silk panties” – that I started angrily counting: the total was at least 15 mentions.

Granted, skating costumes aren’t overflowing with extra fabric. Our little skaters do wear make-up and sometimes too much. Granted, the costumes are sparkly. And yes, this is really the only sport where smiling and gracefulness are part of what is being judged. But this is part of what makes skating so difficult: making these complicated moves look so effortless requires lots of technique, discipline and athletic strength. These facts get almost entirely omitted from the Oates’s story. She includes some falls, some injuries, a few quick images of training, and a string of demanding Russian coaches, but these details take a back seat to the costuming, the cosmetic dentistry (at age five!), and the provocative, airbrushed headshots for modeling contracts. The main character (again at age five) has her hair dyed and her mother changes her name from Edna Louis to Bliss for publicity purposes.

What’s most bothersome is Oates’s over-sexualization of the competition scene. She describes the ushers as “shapely young girls in skating costumes, pink satin high heels and pink satin caps with Tots-on-Ice 1994 in white.” She describes the stands as being filled with nefarious, middle-aged men: “hoping to be inconspicuous, even as they cradle cameras, camcorders, and binoculars in their laps appear to be alone. For invariably at such young-innocent-girl skating competitions there are such male spectators.”

No, Oates, this is not how it is.

To make matters worse, Oates makes the little figure skater an idiot outside of the rink. By age six, though she can supposedly do all these jumps and is headed for “the Nationals,” she doesn’t know the alphabet, can’t write her own name, and still wets her bed. We are to presume that this underdevelopment is the result of being so focused on skating. Surely I don’t need to say that successful skaters are notoriously disciplined and that this dedication most often spills over into the rest of their lives. Or do I need to say that? This book has made me wonder how the general public perceives our sport. How does it look from the outside?

I suggested this book for my bookgroup. (Still hoping that they’ll forgive me.) I was concerned to discover that the non-skating people (intelligent, discerning women) took no offense to the depiction of skating. They figured that skating is probably just like this. In fact, combing the web, I couldn’t find any other reviews that address the skating aspect of this book. The negative reader reviews on Amazon.com also make no mention of it. That is…until I added my own review this week. To read it, click here.

I recognize that Oates’s novel is a critique of society. She is critical of the tabloid press, of pushy, delusional parents, of our culture’s over-reliance on medications and many other negative things that are going on right now. I realize that much of this book is exaggerated for effect (i.e. anorexics in 4th grade, 8 year olds overdosing on pharmaceuticals, etc.)

I just think Oates has gone too far here, especially since the fiction/nonfiction line is blurred: she is writing about a real event. She’s also writing about a real sport and making it into something it’s not. In the end, all I can really say is that for me, and most of my students, skating has been a source of strength and confidence. The costumes are pretty and the glitz is fun, but these are just parts of a much larger whole.

                                                                       ***

Do you think the general public sees figure skating as a type of beauty pageant? What can we do to promote it in the best possible light? Did you happen to read this book? Please click on “comment” below.

Do you think skating should be depicted in literature in a more real and positive way? I’m working on it, I’m working on it…:)

Thanks for reading. To see what else I’ve been writing, lately, click here.

 

Interview: icenetwork’s Linda Przygodski

lindapic1

Remember before cable TV and the Internet, when you had to wait for the Olympics to roll around in order to get a good dose of figure skating coverage? In between The Games, my brother and I religiously tuned into ABC’s Wide World of Sports on Saturday afternoons to catch the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” hoping Jim McKay would show a few snippets of skating.

We anxiously waited for our copies of Skating Magazine to arrive in the mail and even subscribed to that newspaper, American Skating World. We scoured these pages to find out results and glean at least a few personal tidbits about the skaters at the top. But information was scant, and slow to come. The world has obviously changed.

Of course, after the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan debacle in 1994, there was a skating frenzy. It seemed like skating was on TV 24/7, but in weird versions, like fabricated professional competitions — with the skaters grouped into ad-hoc “teams.” For a time, skaters such as Oksana Baiul and Tara Lipinksi appeared in tabloids like People and US Magazine. Some think all this was over-kill and the wrong kind of exposure. Some think that the 2002 judging scandal and the new IJS system have dampened popular interest. Whatever the case, it’s once again hard to catch much skating on television.

In comes icenetwork, which was launched in 2006, and then re-launched on a more full-scale basis in August of 2007. This website is a joint venture between U.S. Figure Skating and MLB Advanced Media (Major League Baseball). I think it has significantly changed the way you can experience the sport (and I would say this even if I didn’t occasionally write articles for the site).

Thanks to icenetwork, you can get more access than ever before. You can track individual skaters and events with unprecedented immediacy and specificity. Even at the height of the media’s fixation on skating, it was rare to see more than the top-five finishers of any event at nationals or even worlds. It has always been impossible to catch any of the short program or original dance segments. It was all about top finishers and final events.  Now, you can watch video footage of everybody on icenetwork, from juvenile skaters at regionals all the way to the top.

I myself have been involved in figure skating as a competitor or a coach for almost my entire life, but I’m more of a “fan” of the sport than ever before — via my laptop — I’m keeping up with the new faces and the new names of skating. For example, this week, there’s an article detailing the newest world rankings (based on points earned). This references performances and results at the recent Four Continents in Vancouver and serves as a helpful guide for worlds. (To read it, click here).

During the week of nationals in Cleveland, I kept track of things there by watching both live and archived videos after getting home from work. While eating dinner at my desk, I flipped through photo galleries of skaters in action and backstage. I read the icenetwork articles and especially enjoyed the fact that we could get live results…IMMEDIATELY. Watching all this coverage reminded me how incredible it was to compete at nationals… this time, I almost felt like I was there, again. It also made me wonder what it’s like to coordinate all these different kinds of media.  

I contacted Linda Przygodski, icenetwork’s Senior Editorial Producer, to find out, and she was kind enough to answer a few questions. She is a journalist who has been covering sports, entertainment, and all kinds of other subjects for over 20 years. In fact, before taking on this role with icenetwork, she was a beat reporter for NASCAR.    

Jocelyn Jane Cox: I’m really impressed with the amount of coverage you provided for people at home during nationals: on-demand videos, live results, blogs, news articles, photo galleries, element sheets. How on earth did you pull all of this content together?

Linda Przygodski: First of all, I have a great team, some of whom were in Cleveland and some of whom were back in New York, at the MLBAM headquarters. I was basically on-site overseeing all information, assigning feature articles to freelance writers, coordinating interviews, and getting quotes. We had writers Mickey Brown and Rebecca Staed there from U.S Figure Skating and Sarah S. Brannen and pair skater Drew Meekins doing blogs. Todd Hinckley, back in New York, made sure that everything got up on the site in a timely fashion and we both monitored the live feed. This is actually the most challenging part, since we might hear that what looks great in Maine doesn’t look as great out in California. The crazy thing is that the European Championships were happening simultaneously and we wanted to keep track of that, as well. It was a challenging week to say the very least.

JJC: What was typical day like for you at nationals?

LP: I got up at the crack of dawn and checked what seemed like 172 e-mails from the hotel. I got myself together and tried to get to the rink between 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. I learned last year that I couldn’t do this without any sleep. Usually, Lynn Rutherford (one of my freelance writers) and I would stay at the rink until the security guards kicked us out at night. At Skate America, we were locked in the arena and no one could seem to let us out. We had to follow the trash man to the nearest exit. We made a conscious effort to not have a repeat performance of that, but we missed the last bus back to the hotel most nights. Eventually, we gave up and just had cab come fetch us.

 JJC: How many competitions do you, personally, go to per year?

 LP: Skate America, U.S. Championships, and this year, I’ll be going to worlds. Next year, I’ll also be going to the Junior Grand Prix in Lake Placid and the Olympics. Sometimes it’s better for me to go, and sometimes it’s better for me to oversee things from the office. I absolutely have to be wireless, in case something goes wrong, so we decide on a per-case basis.  

 JJC: What is the best part of this gig?

 LP: I love everyone I work with at MLBAM. It’s nice to travel only 20 percent of the time rather than 90 percent, which is what I used to do. You can only live out of a suitcase for so many decades! I also enjoy the athletes. The kids are great — we want to present them in their natural form and provide interesting content. Todd Hinckley and I have a shared and particular vision for the site. For example, we agonize over what pictures look best for the homepage. It’s really a thoughtful process.

 JJC: How would you characterize the icenetwork fanbase?

 LP: Die hard fans, casual fans, and the curious. We have lots of international fans.

 JJC: So what are the differences, or any similarities, between skaters and race car drivers?

 LP: It’s difficult to find any similarities! The divide is so great. Let’s just say there is no Kiss and Cry in NASCAR.

***

Thanks Linda!

I have been busy moving (and thanks to all this caffeine…) shaking. To see the piece I wrote about one of my favorite Upper East Side coffee shops, click here.