Alternative Names for the Figure Skating Kiss and Cry

The Figure Skating events of the 2018 Olympics are underway and the sport is reaching its graceful tentacles into the minds of millions. During this time, skating insiders may be called upon to answer some difficult questions, such as: What’s up with this judging system? And: Why did beautiful so-and-so get beat by that robot who fell twice? Or, one of my favorites: Is there actually such a thing as a “Kiss and Cry” area? Is that what you guys really call it?

Yes, this is where skaters and their coaches anxiously await their scores then react to them. This rink-side nook is usually decorated with black or royal blue carpeting and a few fake plants. The term Kiss and Cry apparently originated in Finland in the late 1970’s and was bandied about while they were setting up the rink for the 1983 Worlds. Kiss and Cry is now an official term utilized by the International Skating Union.

I have mixed feelings about this term. As someone who grew up in the sport and has now made it my profession, I naturally want skating to be taken seriously. After all, this is a challenging and rigorous pursuit.

Then again, as someone who grew up in the sport and has now made it my profession, the term “kiss and cry” also seems…well, pretty funny. After all, what everyone loves about skating is the human drama and the reactions afterwards are a big part of the show.

But I wonder, could there be other names for this area? Here are a few possibilities…

The Hug and Sob

The Smooch and Sweat

The Huff and Puff

The Sit There and Smile even if You’re Devastated

The Celebrate and Regret

The Wave to the Camera and Wiggle the Arms of a Teddy Bear as if it’s Dancing

The First Minute of the Rest of your Life

The Squint and Try to See Your Scores

The I Didn’t Get to go to Prom

The Oh Well There’s Always Next Year, Except for the Olympics, which Actually Won’t Happen for Another Four Years and It’s Statistically Unlikely Your Super-fit Yet Also Fragile Body Will Hold Up that Long

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Podcast about the Olympics

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Thank you to the Coffee and Bars podcast for inviting me to be a guest host on this round-up of the Olympic Figure Skating Team Event. This was fun and unexpected.

In addition to chatting with Sylvia and Joe about the performances…I quote Adam Rippon regarding the rodeo, then talk about how my brother Brad and I got started in the sport, my memories of Maia and Alex Shibutani when they were little, and my unwavering faith in Nathan Chen. First time for everything! #FirstDayontheIce.

Coffee and Bars hit my radar recently due to their brilliant 2018 Olympic Figure Skating Drinking Game. If you haven’t read it yet (or played it!), check it out!

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.

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.

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

Spectacular Spectating – Vancouver 2010


What an incredible two weeks of Olympics viewing. From my futon, I gasped, I cried, and I applauded. This is the most fun I’ve had watching the Olympics in a long time. What now? I suppose we can all resume our former routines and at least be happy to catch some more zzzs. Sure, those four-minute, backloaded, bonus-heavy programs take a lot of stamina, but surely not as much as this late-night spectating.

As excited as I was to watch Ladies Freeskating, I really started to fade while waiting for that last group…I know many of you were feeling the same. A skating friend came over to be my viewing buddy since the Hubs was out of town. We were both frustrated with the fact that we were yawning, so to try and revive ourselves, we dropped to the floor and each did ten push ups. This indeed woke us up. Then we did another 10 (okay, on my part, only four) after marveling at Joannie Rochette’s strong and beautifully-sculpted arms.

I keep saying that the next time these things roll around I’m going to take two weeks off work, so I can properly focus and rest-up for optimal viewing. But the truth is that it was fun to be at the rink, compare notes with fellow coaches, and see what the kids thought of everything.  There has been a buzz in the air and a little extra enthusiasm.

As much as I’ve been impressed with the actual skating over these two weeks – the fluidity, the velocity, the beauty and innovation combined with aggression – I think I’m most in awe of the composure we have seen. Not only did these skaters expect a lot from themselves, they carried the expectations of many others: entire countries were watching and hoping. To perform, to focus, and to excel in those circumstances is exactly remarkable as all the sappy, Costas-narrated montages claim. I think these athletes have brought us all a some perspective and probably a lot of inspiration.

And so, as I am already feeling a bit of a void and anticipate some post-Olympics withdrawal coming on, I hope to draw strength from what I have witnessed. I hope my skating students will do the same. I hope we all will.

Now where is that book I was reading way back before Vancouver took over my brain?

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Thank you, as always for reading. If you’d like add your own innermost feelings on the Olympics or make fun of me for waxing so sentimental, please leave a comment below.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.

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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.

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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. 🙂