Men’s Freeskate: Insta-Blog

February 18, 2010


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. 🙂

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By Jocelyn Jane Cox

[FYI- this works backwards, so read from the bottom then back up, if you’d like. I intend to insta-blog again for Men’s Freeskate on Thursday night…I’ll sign in as soon as I get home from the rink!]

Midnight:

Shen and Zhao: Well, tanked on a lift, but did lots of high ticket elements late in the program. AND: did a old -school pull-through, but into a lift! Fourth Olympics. Five points ahead after Short. First Place.

NBC didn’t even show or mention the American’s final placements (10th and 13th). But I agree with Dick Button for once: “It was a wonderful evening.” Lots of strong skating and no disastrous falls. Phew!

Good night!

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11:45

Kavaguti and Smirnov:  I am uncomfortable watching women this thin on the ice. I felt the same way about Sasha Cohen this year. (I am also uncomfortable commenting on other people’s weight, but I fear for their safety and health and fear for young girls they might influence.) (Well, honestly, I fear for these pair girls at any weight.) (But this is just my paranoia.)

Savchenko and Szolkowy: Love Out of Africa. Thumbs up on the spread eagles into the Throw Triple Sal. Likewise for the Spread Eagle/Plank-ish ending to that lift. (Wish the commentators would tell us the name of some of these newer lift positions/ and lift exits. If they need help coming up with names, I volunteer my services.)

Pang and Tong:  Woooo hooooo! Only team that prompted me to applaud here from the futon. They’re like ice dancers. Gorgeous. Notice, when he throws her, how much air he takes, himself.

One more to go…

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11:15 Time for tonight’s serving of pretzels. And to wonder who on earth named it a “death spiral.”   It’s probably the least scary and dangerous of all the elements we are seeing tonight.

My little friend Wiki tells me Potopopovs attempted to change it up in the 60’s, calling the Back Inside a “Cosmic Spiral,” the Forward Inside a “Life Spiral” and the (all too rare) Forward Outside, a “Love Spiral.” I think any one of these would be better than the current name. What do you think? Leave a comment below if so inclined.

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10:55 Zhang and Zhang: That fall on his elbows did not look fun. The Hubs gives a thumbs up to their ending position, though.

On Sheherazade: it is a beautiful piece of music, but can we take a break from it? Maybe just take this and Phantom of the Opera and put them in the vault for a while? Maybe just a few decades. In fact, a lot of this music is tired.

On typing while trying to watch the TV screen: challenging.

Mukhortova and Tarankov: The Hubs admits that this is the most he has ever watched any Olympics and any sporting event, period.  He says: “Is it a new thing that the guys are wearing such normal outfits? He looks like he just got off his shift at the Banana Republic.”  Yes, it is a new thing – seems like lots of teams are following in the footsteps of Sale and Pelletier. ( I believe this is their same music.)

Dube/Davison: “And this guy is from the Gap! That’s just a long sleeve T-shirt and Dockers!” (…maybe I’ll get him in figure skates, yet!)

I’m sad D/D didn’t have a better skate. Was rooting for them ever since the camel spin accident. Can’t imagine doing another one after that and the PTSD she must have had.  She looks awesome, though. Still wondering why their scores are so high…? Perhaps my local technical specialist will enlighten? Or perhaps he is asleep, preparing for an early-morning skate.

Also wondering why all the Death Spirals look so slow – possibly because they are trying to hold them for so long.

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10:31 Bazarova and Larianov. I dig the one-sided collar. The Russian Jackets are cool. Is it true that they are required to put them on in the Kiss and Cry for promotional purposes?

The back story on Yao Bin: inspiring or heartbreaking? Both, I suppose.

The Hubs on Langlois and Hays: “She’s so little.” Yup, that’s one of the main requirements of a girl pair skater. Liliputian. That, and nerves of steel. Not to mention biceps of steel.

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10:03 Evora and Ladwig just skated. Mark is to be commended on his spirals. He is doing his species proud.

Bezic: (approximate quote) “Evora and Ladwig have been together for eight years and never been on the podium at Nationals [dramatic pause] until this year.” I am a sucker for this kind of stuff.

Enormous Throw Triple Loop. And their One handed Reverse Lasso etc etc etc lift: excellent.

Notice how Costas and Co. are suddenly pushing the “personal best” notion since, in this case, the Americans are nowhere near medal contention. I approve and request more of the same. The constant focus on medals is tiresome. (Thank heaven Canada finally got a gold on their home turf – the commentators can now stop harping on this.) I like that the rink announcer is mentioning when the scores are a team’s personal best. This does bring some perspective and context. Then again, every event has different judges and different callers…

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9:25 Okay! Just got home from the rink two hours later than expected – dead battery in the parking lot, got a jump, tossed up a salad, now ready to see the skaters jump….

Denney and Barrett just punched in a great, redemptive Freeskate. Bravo! Impressive for being together only 18 months.

The above clipart and in fact this entire insta-blog is dedicated to all previous, current, and future pair skating women. I have an insane amount of respect for you.

To be continued…and in the mean time, check out this humor piece about the Olympics:


Medals and Pretzels

February 15, 2010

Okay, pair short program results are in. USA 10th and 14th, room for improvement, but a decent showing. Some of the scoring at the top is cause for pause. I will have to consult with my local Technical Specialist to see what’s what.

NBC just put up the results with some of the countries/flags all jumbled. Oops. Or, in the the words of my 3 year old nephew: Oopalah.

Upwards and onwards for Freeskate tomorrow night. I will have to stretch and digest all these pretzels in order to be ready….

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10:38: Pang and Tong, favorite program so far. “Free and joyous”, yes. Scores lower than I expected, but then again I’m no Technical Specialist…

I really have no right to comment on costumes, considering what I have worn in the past, eh hem, not to mention what I’m wearing right now…but – I vote No for Nude Fabric on guys.

Question: are Split Triple Twists getting more and more lateral?

Better stop clowning around, the Germans are up.

10:35 pm…Trying to decide which is more cute: The two-inch tall Tamara Moskvina standing on a box in order to see over the boards or the adorable Pelletier and Sale all gussied up in the media booth.

Holy Blue Unitard!

Trying to decide: Is the blue/green landscape design on the boards distracting or cool? I like the way it looks but the skaters don’t show up all that well against it…

Am noticing that pair footwork/step sequences are getting a bit more dance-y. Me like. Along the same lines: I like Kavaguti’s longer skirt. I guess that entrance into the Throw Triple Loop wasn’t too shabby either.

Dube just fell on her jump. That’s a shame. The scores are high – very confused.

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Scott Hamilton during Bazarova and Larinov: (approximate quote) “They used to call them one and a half pairs because of the difference in the size.” My brother and I used to call them Giant and the Pea couples. (It is possible/valid that they called us the Giraffes.)

I am digging the NBC countdowns “x minutes to figure skating” in the lower right hand corner.

Hannah Kearney, Gold medalist in Freestyle Mogul answering the question, “What events are you going to watch?” “Definitely figure Skating because it epitomizes the Winter Olympics.”

Evora and Ladwig: Sweet Throw Triple Loop!

The Hubs on Mark’s costume: “I like his outfit – it’s so normal.”

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Opening ceremonies, check. Ohno last night, check. Snack food, check.

On deck: Pairs Short.

I am not sure which was better: Shen and Zhao’s beautiful yet strange back outside death spiral just now or my beautiful yet strange husband’s impromptu and passionate “skating” across the hardwood floor.  One point deduction for his fall; he crashed and burned against the dining room table.

I personally never made it to the Olympics, though it could be argued that I trained for them…sort of, in an abstract way, well, they were far far off in the distance.  I trained alongside Olympians, does that count? I know that when you fall trying just about anything in Pair skating it smarts. Watching these girls defy gravity makes me cringe a bit.

USA’s Denney and Barrett: Awesome Throw Triple Lutz!

It’s strange to watch skating, in PJs from the futon.  Am I jealous of these tiny bodies, their flexibility? Yes.

Oh, well, all that’s long over, but it’s nice to eat pretzels.

Sour grapes? No. Sourdough.


Favorite Olympic Moments

February 8, 2010


The time has come to once again catch Olympic Fever. Symptoms include: watching far too much television, envying all that youthful agility and quickness while slumped on your couch gobbling potato chips, and an embarrassing breakout of Nationalism. (After all, it’s only natural to root for your own country.) Fortunately, this affliction comes around only once every four years, and it’s okay to admit to enjoying it.

If you’re anything like me, Olympic Fever will take over your life and you’ll be able to think of little else. Of course, I’ll happily watch all the sports, especially snowboarding, hockey and speedskating, and I’ll marvel at the unique talents of these athletes. But figure skating is and will always be The Main Event. I’ve been thinking in the last few days about my favorite, or at least most memorable, Olympic viewing moments.

The first Olympics I remember watching was the 1980 Games in Lake Placid. As I recently wrote in a piece for Professional Skater Magazine, I distinctly remember watching Tai and Randy pull out of the competition. My brother and I had just started to take group lessons near our hometown in Wisconsin. I didn’t know much about the sport or anything about this pair team, but I was entranced and a little stumped. I watched as Randy did circles on the warm-up and shook out his leg: if he can still glide around like that, then why doesn’t he just compete? I had so much to learn about injuries…and learn I did.

I remember watching Kitty and Peter Carruthers capture the silver at Sarajevo in 1984. They did a crazy thing called a Hydrant where he tossed her up in the air and caught her on the other side as if she was leapfrogging over him. My brother and I were by this time competing in pair and dance at the Novice level so the fact that there was a brother/sister team at the top certainly resonated. Double click on the arrow to play video…

Torvill and Dean’s Bolero Freedance that year also left an impression – I’d never seen anything like it and I guess no one else had either. Double click on the arrow to play video…

Torvill and Dean paved the way for our eventual faves, the Duchesnays. Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay were another brother and sister duo – they competed in 1988 (8th) and 1992 (silver medal). Double click on the arrow to play video…

By the time we watched Natalie and Wayne Seybold compete in Calgary in 1988, we were training alongside them in Delaware. I was injured at the time with a sprained knee from doing Throw Double Axels. Although by this time I could do that Carruther Hydrant with some confidence, I hated Throws and made sure to say so on a regular basis. “I hate Throws,” was like a mantra, but the negative kind, and sure enough Throws retaliated. Conversely, I always admired Natalie’s tenacity and her ability to not just rotate Throws, but land them. Her position was so tight in the air – she looked like a spinning pencil — try as I did, I just couldn’t seem to emulate her. Double click on the arrow to play video…

The Seybolds were kind enough to bring back a poster for us signed by the legendary Gordeeva and Grinkov, which I still prize to this day. Their long program that year was mesmerizing, their unison incredible. The flowers on her dress and the nuanced way that she moved her head made me realize that pair skating could actually be elegant. When tiny Ekaterina Gordeeva looked into the camera and shyly said, “Hello everybody,” in her stilted English, I did a little math: she was exactly one year older than me and approximately half my size! Double click on the arrow to play video…

In fact, every event at this Olympics was exciting: remember the Battle of the Carmens? My heart sank for Debi Thomas, but I remember that she was very cool and composed in the Kiss and Cry interview. She said, “I’m not going to make any excuses.” Double click on the arrow to play video…

And who could forget the Battle of the Brians? Double click on the arrow to play video…

Of course, many great (and not so great) things happened in figure skating in the ensuing years. I watched the Olympics, but maybe because I was focused on things other than skating at the time, the “moments” didn’t really stick. Of course, there was the Nancy-Tanya debacle and Nancy’s hard-won bronze in Albertville. Kristi landed on top. After that, Tiny Tara trumped Kwan in Nagano.

The next moment I’ll never forget was watching Sarah Hughes win in 2002, Salt Lake City. That was, to me, an amazing Olympic moment…the kind that dreams are made of. Hughes was at the right place at the right time, stars aligned, and she skated well, proving that it’s what you put out there on the day of the competition that matters. This is what makes skating exciting (and also sometimes devastating). Double click on the arrow to play video…

I found Sale and Pelletier’s long program that year to be equally inspiring. Of course, the judging scandal revealed afterwards was less so. Double click on the arrow to play video…

What memories will be made on ice this year? We shall soon know. I’ll be watching closely, rooting for Team USA, and I presume you will be, too.

Here is the NBC broadcast schedule (and there will be a lot of preview/recap coverage on the Universal Sports station):

Pairs Short: Sun Feb 14, 7-11 pm

Pairs Freeskate: Mon Feb 15, 8-midnight

Men’s Short: Tues Feb 16, 8-midnight

Men’s Freeskate: Thurs Feb 18, 8-midnight

Dance Compulsories: Fri Feb 19, 8-11:30 pm

Original Dance: Sun Feb 21, 7-11 pm

Free Dance: Mon Feb 22, 8-midnight

Ladies Short: Tues Feb 23, 8-midnight

Ladies Freeskate: Thurs Feb 25, 8-midnight

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Thanks for reading/watching! What are your favorite moments from years gone by? I’m sure you have very different ones from mine. Please leave a comment below.

Kiss and Cry Alternatives

January 15, 2010

The 2010 U.S. Championships are underway in Spokane, Washington and the Olympics are right around the corner. In the next six weeks, the sport of skating will reach its graceful tentacles into the minds of millions. During this time, we 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, as a matter of fact, this is where skaters and their coaches anxiously await their scores then react to them. This rinkside 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. Believe it or not, 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, we know this is a challenging, rigorous, and sometimes dangerous sport and this terminology makes it sound like fluff.

Then again, as someone who grew up in the sport and has now made it my profession, the term also seems…well, fitting and quite funny. After all, what everyone loves about skating is the human drama – witnessing the reactions afterwards is a big part of the show. Who can forget tiny Tara Lipinski leaping around like a baby kangaroo? Or the shock and awe of Sarah Hughes? I myself cried when the elegant Alyssa Czisny and her coach Julianna Berlin found out she won last year. When a synchro team discovers that they have won, the ensuing jumps for joy in the Kiss and Cry register on the richter scale; conversely, bad news can raise water levels for miles around.

Because the Olympics are looming, the emotions in the Kiss and Cry at Nationals this year will surely be amplified. True, some skaters won’t reveal much (they’ll hold it together until the camera moves onto someone else) and others will let it all hang out.

I’ve been wondering recently if there could be other names for this area and started to do some brainstorming. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far…

• The Hug and Sob

• The Smooch and Sweat (FYI, research has shown that Botox injections can calm down the sweat glands.)

• The Huff and Puff (This moment proves that you either just put in the extra effort, or that you probably should have done a few more run-throughs.)

• The Tears and Tiramisu (Submitted by my husband who I think is onto something: if the scores aren’t good, there should be complimentary tiramisu…)

• The Celebration/Devastation Zone (Doesn’t really roll off the tongue…)

• The Sit Tight-n-Smile (How much of your personality has been dampened by a media trainer?)

• The Squint and Try to See Your Scores (It may be time to get contact lenses.)

• The Land of High Fives and Regrets (I think this will be the title of my novel.)

• The Put Your Guards on Before You Ruin Your Blades Area (Sure, you can be a good girl or boy and put them back on right by the door, but isn’t it easier to do so while sitting down?)

• Gateway to the Rest of Your Life (After all, there’s always next year, or college, or coaching, or just some good old fashioned rest and recuperation… It seems like those previous four-ish minutes were the most important of your life, but there’s a whole world out there, and fortunately most of those experiences won’t be caught on camera…)

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Well, I’m not sure I’ve come up with anything better than “Kiss and Cry” but perhaps you have suggestions? Please click on “comments” below.

Thanks for reading and good luck to all the skaters in Spokane!

If you receive the Professional Skater Magazine, check out my highly-informative article regarding the Olympics on page 11 of this month’s 25th Anniversary issue. 🙂

Charlie Brown: The Skater

December 26, 2009

Every holiday season, I re-watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and every year it both warms and breaks my heart. I can’t help it: I love Charlie Brown’s existential woe, his thwarted attempts to direct the Christmas play, his pitiful little tree, and the way his friends pull together at the end to make it all nice.

Of course, I especially like how the whole thing starts with a wintry skating scene. The Peanuts Gang does an impressive synchro-esque splice right at the beginning. Though Snoopy doesn’t have on a pair of skates, he manages a gorgeous spread eagle (or should I say spread beagle?) After a weaving round of crack the whip, Linus’ blanket somehow gets wrapped around Charlie Brown and flings him into a tree trunk. A pile of snow proceeds to plop on his head. Good grief, I just can’t get enough.

So, naturally, I was thrilled when Charlie Brown himself contacted me a few weeks ago for skating lessons. Turns out he has decided to try and make it to the upcoming Olympics. This has presented me with a dilemma: knowing that Charlie Brown isn’t exactly overflowing with self-confidence, I don’t want to be too discouraging…but.

Well, here’s the first draft of my response.

Dear Mr. Brown,

Thank you for contacting me about my coaching services. I am a big fan of yours. As per your request, I have analyzed the skating footage from the opening scene of your iconic holiday special in order to assess your stated goal of making it to the upcoming Winter Games.

The news is mixed. First, let me say that your ability to skate (and even stand up) amid snowflakes the size of baseballs is impressive and demonstrates a great deal of balance. Second, I have noticed that you are a simple man with simple needs, in terms of equipment. Most competitive skaters these days transport their skates in bags specially designed for optimal performance. Many of these bags even have wheels that put on their own laser light show. Your method of carrying your brown skates old-school style with the laces knotted and looped over your shoulder is unconventional yet refreshing. I presume that since you have no guards over your blades, they are in pretty shoddy condition. I like this: it shows that you are not a diva.

Your costume choices are…interesting. The hat with earflaps is an excellent pick, especially considering that it will be pretty cold up in Vancouver. Your yellow shirt, on the other hand, is a bit problematic: you may want to switch out those zig zags for something with softer lines in a color scheme more flattering to your skin tone.

Your musical selection, by Vince Guaraldi, as rendered by Schroeder, is to be commended.

Now to the skating. Your ability to bellyflop then spin on your stomach with that much momentum tells me that you are more aerodynamic than the size of your head might otherwise suggest. Of course, it is more ideal to rotate in a vertical position, but this is something we can work on.

Granted, in skating, as in life, it’s not always about how much you fall, but your willingness to keep getting up. Unfortunately, I noticed that after you careened into the tree, your recovery was inconspicuously absent from the film.

Before this event, I did spot a few split-seconds of competent gliding on your part. Truthfully, though, you would need many more hours of practice, in fact perhaps thousands of hours of practice, in order to make your Olympic dreams come true. This means that you’ll have to give up your extra-curricular activities, namely your role as the unappreciated Director of the Christmas Play. With all the work we would need to do, you simply don’t have time to be out looking for the most pathetic Christmas tree you can find.

Most importantly, Charlie, you’ll have to make some serious changes in your attitude. Your constant claims of depression and bellyaching about the meaning of Christmas will have to cease immediately. Likewise, statements such as, “Good grief, everything I do turns into a disaster” and “Everything I touch gets ruined,” are not indicative of a gold-medal mentality. Furthermore, you’ll have to wipe that worried look off your face; judges prefer smiles. I urge you to discontinue your use of Lucy’s psychiatric services despite her convenient location right in your path and her bargain price of 5 cents. Instead, I can recommend a few excellent sports psychologists.

This brings me to your mother: I can’t understand a word she is saying! And when I telephoned your teacher to see if we could “tweak” your school schedule in order to get some clear, mid-day ice time, I couldn’t understand her either.

Finally, to make it in this sport, you’ll need to abandon your anti-commercialism stance, as you will probably need corporate sponsorship in order to afford my fees. The good news is that right now several companies happen to be looking for a new athlete for endorsements.

Minor detail: the U.S. National Championships start in about two weeks and you have unfortunately missed all of the qualifying events. However, your association with the legendary, late Charles Schulz could hold some sway with United States Figure Skating.

In all, I think your chances of making it to the Olympics are slim, but I’d hate to say that your goal is impossible. If nothing else, I’m sure your skating career will not pan out any worse than your attempts at becoming a kicker for the NFL. (Again, Lucy’s services might not have been the wisest choice.)

There is some extremely exciting news in all this: while your skating talents are really only mediocre, some of your friends I saw skating on the tape look to have great promise. In fact, Snoopy seems like he could be a real podium climber. If he does not already have another coach, please have him contact me so that we can start training immediately.

Best,

Jocelyn Jane Cox

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Thanks for reading and Happy Holidays! If you have any advice on this letter or any suggestions I can pass along to him, please click on “comments,” below.  🙂

If you haven’t already seen it, check out my article on page 30 of this month’s Skating Magazine. It’s about sibling ice dance teams. I know: it’s shocking that I’d report on that subject…

Swine on Ice

October 21, 2009

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Swine Flu is a serious issue, one we all need to be thinking about right now, especially those of us who spend lots of time in ice arenas, in close proximity to germ-carrying kids with runny noses. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has provided several recommendations for prevention. These include information on “hand hygiene” (i.e. wash hands often and also apply alcohol-based hand gel such as Purell) and “respiratory etiquette” (cover nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze then throw that tissue away.)

On one hand, it’s just the flu and most people who get it are fine. On the other (recently washed) hand, it is spreading quickly and potentially fatal. So it’s difficult to figure out just how frightened we should be and just how obsessively we should try to protect ourselves at the rink.

I, for one, have stopped giving high fives. It used to be a regular and favorite coaching practice of mine but I don’t trust those mittens anymore (theirs or mine). Instead, I’m trying out the “air high five.” In this, the high five action can be replicated from afar or with a near miss, as if one or more participants has wonky depth perception. Though both techniques are significantly less satisfying than the real thing, it’s still more interactive than the simple thumbs-up.

The CDC suggests that you maintain six feet of distance between you and other possibly-infected people. This is why I have decided to stay on the exact opposite side of the rink from my students at all times. This method requires that I move whenever my skaters move so that I am essentially mirroring them. This means I am in constant motion and also means I must teach my lessons through a bullhorn (sorry, other coaches). The tricky thing here is that while I am staying far away from my current student on a crowded freestyle session, I am in danger of coming within 6 feet of other skaters. This has resulted in a lot of paranoid, skittish, darting actions on my part. On the upside, my footwork has therefore improved considerably.

Partnering my students for ice dances has become a challenge. Instead of holding on, we are now shadow-dancing. Preferably, when a facility offers two ice surfaces, I skate in one rink and my partner skates in the other. I am slightly concerned that the judges are going to make comments about our partner positioning at the next test session and say that we are skating too far apart. Frankly, I prefer this consequence to the swine flu. Along the same lines, I recommend that synchronized teams adopt a similar methodology, thereby rendering their entire programs “no-hold.” For run-throughs, they should ideally spread themselves out at rinks across the county.

At first, I started washing my hands after every session. Now, I take a shower after every lesson.

I have contracted a team of doctors, physicists and biologists to construct a Purell force field for me. This I will wear as another layer, outside my coat. I have requested this force field in a pretty lavender shade with a slimming silhouette.

I have contacted an NBA basketball coach to coach my skaters on the finer points of freethrows, so that their used tissues actually make it into the garbage instead of near the garbage. The sea of tissues surrounding the garbage can is not only disturbing from a germ perspective, but is also harmful when one of those tissues gets stuck under my blade when I’m about to step out onto the ice to demonstrate something fabulous.

For a while there, I assumed a “duck and cover” position whenever anyone did a spin. (We all know the little-mentioned side effect of centrifugal force, especially when combined with cold air.) I have now decided to leave the premises, screaming like a crazy person, whenever anyone attempts a spin.

I am going to stop coaching pigs. (For real! This is absolutely not a commentary on the weight of any of my current or past students.) The CDC reports that people who work with pigs are at a considerably higher risk. Truthfully, this isn’t that “big” of a loss. Though I have found most pigs to be extremely intelligent, not to mention very respectful, those bodies weren’t really built for rotation. And their leg extension is never what it should be.

Finally, I am considering teaching my lessons via video stream from a bubble in my living room. Actually, I’ve been wanting to do this for years in order to avoid something else I find disturbing: frost bite.

Oops, it’s been over five minutes – I better go wash my hands. Or maybe I should just go get my hands on some of that vaccine I’ve been hearing about. That is, a few cases of it…

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Seriously, everyone be careful and aware! If you don’t feel like your rink is clean enough, talk to the management. And I urge you, don’t go anywhere near those hockey players. (Kidding, of course.) If you have any of your own recommendations or suggestions, please leave a comment, below.

Yes, I’ve been on a honeymoon-ish hiatus from Current Skate of Mind, but I have some new pieces lined up, including an old-school review of the original Ice Castles and a hard-hitting analysis of Brian Boitano’s cooking show.

In the mean time, I have been writing some other stuff:

To read about my pitiful finger situation, the sweetest pineapple you could ever imagine, and the real reason everyone should get their nails done, visit the Upper East Side Informer by clicking here.

To read my  sarcastic humor piece about plastic surgery, (come on, Hollywood, moderation!) visit Yankee Potroast by clicking, here.

Thanks for reading.

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Focus: Preparing for the big event will require boatloads of planning, some obsessing and lots of mental visualization. You may find that you therefore have less time for other pursuits, such as blogging about your sport.

The Dress: Sure, the skating is important (i.e. an entire year’s worth of training culminating in one performance) and so is the fact that you’re getting married (i.e. committing to someone very very special for the rest of your life) but these are such minor details compared to How You Look. Whole hours, days, weeks and months can be consumed while considering the silhouette, decorative elements, and shade of the costume. For example, there are evidently 1 million different versions of white. And the fittings! These can comprise a second job.

Sportsmanship: Due to thousands of different variables (rain, acne, stomach flu, dull blades, sore ankle, ruts in the ice), things don’t always work out as planned. But nobody wants to root for a brat and nobody really wants to catch Bridezilla’s bouquet.

Balance and Coordination: In both realms, it is ideal to not trip, fall, or injure yourself or your partner. Then again, this could increase entertainment value.

Entering and Exiting with Style: Locker room equals Dressing Room. Ice equals Aisle. Kiss and Cry equals Receiving Line.

Nerves: Sure, beauty sleep is nice and it results in optimal energy levels for training, but it’s not completely necessary. Is it?

Flowers: In both cases, this element is fleeting. If you skate well, they might be thrown on the ice, handed to you over the barriers, or awarded to you after climbing the podium. If they make it back to your hotel room, you can try to balance them in one of the water glasses or maybe even the ice bucket in order to enjoy them for the few waking hours before your flight leaves in the morning. When planning a wedding, you will somehow get caught up in the wild misperception that the success of the entire event hinges on the exact mathematical ratio of calla lilies to dahlias to chrysanthemums. Or will it be gerber daisies to roses to poppies? Or maybe zinnias, to alliums to…    

Music: The better the music, the better the party, the louder the ovation, the bigger the smiles, the higher the scores, the funkier the boogie-ing. In other words, there probably shouldn’t be any ice dance music played during the reception, despite any and all threats or promises to do so. (Brace yourself for the Dutch Waltz!)  

Getting in shape: Hours of cross-training and conscientious dieting will result in exhaustion, malnutrition, irritability and very little perceptible change in your physical dimensions.  

Choreography: In skating, a program should tell a story filled with drama, emotion, and excitement. A bride and groom’s first dance should bring the audience to tears…of laughter? Perhaps lifts should be avoided if the dress is poofy, the shoes are slippery and/or if the lifter has never participated in this activity? Nah, might as well go for it!

Vacation: That week off after Nationals was always such a beautiful thing. This time? Honeymoon: palm trees, waterfalls…and no homework or exams to make-up. 

Cake: Okay, well I suppose this is more of a difference between a wedding and a competition rather than a similarity. But really, there should be more cake in skating, don’t you think? Judges, skaters, coaches, parents: let them eat cake! Or maybe smoosh it in each others’ faces…?

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Thanks for reading!

I’ll be back in the fall…that is unless I decide to stay in Hawaii and teach skating lessons on ice rinks composed of daiquiris. 🙂

 

In the mean time, here is some other stuff I’ve been up to:

 “Bridezilla Phobia” for DIY Bride. Click here, then click on the article title to read it…

“Downturn Trends in Decorative Throw Pillows” for Yankee Potroast. Click here.

More adventures from the Upper East Side Informer. Click here.

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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.

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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.

 

Traffic Solutions

April 9, 2009

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In last April’s installment, The Traffic Issue (click here), I wrote about an ever-present and perilous issue in Figure Skating Town: crowded freestyle sessions. For those of you who have witnessed or experienced everyday practice sessions in one of the thousands of ice rinks across the country, you know that chaos is the name of the game and that skaters collide often. It’s a challenging situation since every skater out there is practicing something different, and therefore carving out a unique path. There is rhyme and reason to what each skater is doing, but no guarantee it won’t crash them into someone else.  

Well, at the encouragement of many of you, I contacted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to see if they could help us develop new ways of controlling freestyle traffic. Their report, which I was hoping to present at U.S. Figure Skating’s Annual Governing Council meeting in May, is finally finished. The problem is that I don’t think it’s actually very helpful at all. It proves what most of us already know: that this skating thing is completely unique…and, scary as it may be sometimes, we already have a pretty good thing going. 

Here are just a few of their wayward recommendations:

  • Paint two solid yellow lines down the middle of the ice surface. This will separate traffic traveling in opposite directions and prohibit passing. 
  • Install beeping devises in each skater, so that when they are backing up, others will know.
  • Have all skaters wear hats with rearview mirrors so they can see behind them.
  • Outfit each skater with GPS wristwatches, so that they can identify the best route to their next element.    
  • Install stoplights at the blue lines.
  • Hire local policemen to enforce rink traffic laws.
  • Open a skating traffic school and require each skater to obtain a permit before skating on a freestyle session. This would include obstacle courses, methods of parallel parking along the barriers, and learning which skaters have the right of way.
  • Provide each skater with gloves featuring turn signals. These blinking lights will let other skaters know which way they are planning to turn.
  • Give every skater a horn they can honk incessantly when traffic is not moving to their satisfaction. This will save their vocal chords.

Okay, so here are the only recommendations from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that I can really endorse:

  • Outfit every skater with a full suit of foam rubber to serve as bumpers if they crash into one another or the barriers.
  • Have the brakes checked regularly.
  • Coaches should wear neon orange construction suits so they can be better seen by oncoming traffic. (After all, coaching is a construction project of sorts…)  

Finally, here are a few of my recommendations, based on my own studies of rink traffic:

  • Open your eyes.
  • Look around.
  • Pay attention.
  • Be polite. 

These may sound pretty obvious, but we all know these skills are not always, eh hem… fully utilized. Hey, forget those fancy, US government traffic scientists – maybe I will present my own concepts at Governing Council after all…

Anyway, happy rink travels.