Monday, January 3, 2011

O Canada! A Tribute to Canadian Figure Skating: Elvis Stojko's freeskate from the soundtrack of "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story"

Elvis Stojko is a Canadian figure skater who will always hold a special place in my heart. One of my first clear memories of watching skating during childhood is of Elvis competing in the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. It was a bitter cold Saturday night in mid-February. My mom, sister, and I were sitting on the living room couch watching the men's freeskate on TV. I remember commentator Verne Lundquist saying something to the extent of, "the next skater is going to combine Martial Arts with figure skating and show the world Martial Arts on ice." I turned to my mom, and said, "How is he going to do that?" She replied, " Let's watch and see." What ensued was one of the best (if not the best) performances of the night: an explosion of athleticism and power, infused with a subtle beauty and simplicity of movement. The sweeping, poignant soundtrack from the movie "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story" was the perfect backdrop for the statement that Elvis was trying to make: that martial arts and skating can be combined to create a new kind of art. Elvis, a black-belt in karate, actually invited Bruce Lee's widow to watch him skate at the Olympics, though she respectfully declined.

No one had ever seen martial-arts inspired skating before, and Elvis proved that while the combination was non-traditional (much to the dismay of the extremely traditional Olympic judges), it was highly exciting, and beautiful in its own right. I feel a strong connection to this "Dragon" program. It's like a window into my childhood. Whenever I watch it, memories from watching this at 10-years-old rush back to me. It's magical!

Elvis finished a controversial second in the Olympics, behind Russia's Alexei Urmonov, who skated with a very traditional, conservative style that the judges loved. (The Olympics was Alexei's one-- and only-- major international win in an up-and-down career.) Elvis didn't let his second-place finish at the Olympics get him down. He skated phenomenally at the 1994 World Championships in Chiba, Japan, narrowly missing history as the first skater to land a quadruple toe loop, triple toe loop combination. Elvis turned out of the triple toe loop on the tail end of a beautiful quadruple toe loop. It was a minor miscue that did not disrupt the technical precision and grandeur of the performance. Elvis was awarded a 6.0 for technical merit, which was extremely prestigious and rare in the old judging system. He won the gold medal, the first of three World Championship titles.

Elvis' commitment to pushing the technical advancement of the sport, and staying true to his own style at all costs, refusing to conform to the conservative, traditional skating that the judges preferred, is one of the reasons that I admire Elvis and his skating so much. Elvis refused to have his skating style dictated by someone else--even if it meant that he might be able to win more titles if he did. Elvis was truly a martial artist on ice. A warrior with the heart of a champion.

There is a great deal more about Elvis' competitive career that I could say in this post, but in order to keep this post from becoming a novel, I will save some of the commentary for a later date. I have many great Elvis Stojko performances to highlight. I grew up watching the majority of Elvis' career, so I feel emotional attachment to it. I have great respect for him as an athlete and contributor to the world of figure skating. He has made Canada proud!

Enjoy Elvis Stojko's masterful 1994 Olympic and World Championship Freeskates to "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story." The first video from the Olympics, features somewhat less commentary (by Scott Hamilton) than the second video, which has constant talking from Japanese commentators that interfere with the effect of the program. However, the second video, from the World Championships, features Elvis' fantastic attempt at a quadruple toe loop, triple toe loop combination, so both versions are well worth watching in their own right.

Elvis' silver-medal winning performance at the 1994 Winter Olympic Games:

Elvis' gold-medal-winning performance at the 1994 World Championships:

No comments:

Post a Comment