This week's theme is Le Fantastique Français (The Fantastic French.)
Philippe Candeloro is by far one of the most entertaining and charismatic French skaters in history. Born to an Italian bricklayer and a French mother in 1972, Philippe grew up in Colombes, a suburb of Paris. He showed an early talent for sports. When his elementary school class took a field trip to the ice rink, Philippe showed potential on skates, too, and began taking lessons. As his skating career developed, Philippe,a strong jumper capable of receiving high technical merit marks, learned to bolster his artistic impression scores by playing characters on the ice. Some of his more memorable(or notorious) character programs were Conan the Barbarian, The Godfather, Lucky Luke, D'Artagnan, George of the Jungle, and Braveheart (see below.)
Philippe also became known for taking his clothes off on the ice, often skating shirtless for hundreds of screaming fans. The chapter about Philippe in Toller Cranston's book Ice Cream, an opinionated listing about 30 of the most interesting skaters in history, is titled: "Chippendales Dancer in Skate Boots."
While I greatly enjoyed all of Philippe's character routines--they always made me laugh-- I don't think that he needed to use a character to make himself appear to be an "artistic" skater. I always felt that Philippe was very artistic--he just didn't convey it in a conventional way. Ever the showman, Philippe was a skater who put the audience first, the judges second, maybe more so than anyone else ever has. Case and point: His 1998 Olympic freeskate included a sword fight for goodness sake! (I will post that video later). Scott Hamilton once quipped that Philippe valued the audience more because the judges didn't pay to get in the arena! He was there to put on a show!
Kurt Browning, commentating for NBC at the 1994 World Championships in Chiba, Japan, called Philippe the most "emotional" skater in the competition. Skating to Nino Roto's captivating film score from "The Godfather" soundtrack, Philippe portrayed the Godfather in a vulnerable, masculine way, all with a touch of subtle humor and inventive, original movement,such as his signature move the "Candeloro Spin," in which he spins cross-legged on the ice. His emotion and sensitivity, coupled with often superb triple jumps is why Philippe had excellent results in 1994 with his Godfather program. With it, he won Olympic bronze in Lillehammer and World Silver in Chiba.
Philippe had an up-and-down career after that (though he did win bronze at the 1995 Worlds in Birmingham, England), but rose out of nowhere to claim another impressive bronze medal at the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan. He went on to have a very successful professional career, winning the World Professional Championships, and touring with Champions on Ice and his own tour of Europe called Candel Euro. (Love the name. Or should I say, J'adore!!)
I remember watching Philippe skate "The Godfather" routine during the 1994 Olympic broadcast on a bitterly cold evening. I was still in elementary school and it was the first Olympic mens event that I had ever watched. My sister and were so entertained by his program that we couldn't stop talking about it. We declared it our favorite of the night. I remember that later, maybe a few days afterward, we were still enthused. We told my grandmother all about the program, and how Philippe had made a face at the end of his "Candeloro Spin," as if to say "yikes!" for falling on his final triple axel attempt. We imitated the face to show her what Philippe had looked like.
When Philippe skated "The Godfather" routine again a month later at the World Championships (the video clip below). I was too young to stay up late to watch it, so my dad taped it for me. The next morning, out of sheer anticipation, I got up when the sun was just rising to watch the skating. I was so excited by the utterly epic performances of Philippe, who finished second, and gold medalist, Elvis Stojko of Canada. I was also so grateful that my dad taped the competition for me that I made a thank you card for him with a drawing of Philippe on the front. I still have the tape, but I am not sure what happened to my drawing of Philippe!
Philippe's "Godfather" program is on my short list of all-time favorites. It always reminds me of when I first fell in love with watching the sport and takes me back to a time when I was a little girl who was too young to watch late-night competitions and drew pictures of skaters for fun.
J'adore Philippe! Amusez-vous! (Enjoy!)