Sunday, June 26, 2011

Olympic Look Back: Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's "Symphony No.5," by Gustav Mahler

I previously posted about Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's 2010 gold-medal winning freeskate to "Symphony No. 5" by Gustav Mahler back in October, but at that time, did not have access to a video of the Canadian's Olympic win, due to copyright violations. I posted a video from the 2010 World Championships instead. Today, I came across a video from the Olympics that has not been blocked (*knock on wood) from You Tube. I have updated my previous post to include the Olympic video, and I'm posting it here, too, to make sure that you all have the chance to view one of the most enthralling, enchanting, and ethereal ice dancing programs in Olympic history. What Tessa and Scott achieve with this piece is astounding. You will be captivated.

p.s.) Look for one of their signature moves, "The Goose" at 3 minutes and 40 seconds into the program.

Enjoy Tessa and Scott's brilliant rendition of Mahler's "Symphony No. 5" :

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tribute to Russian Singles Skating: Alexei Yagudin's "The Revolutionary Etude" by Frédéric Chopin

One of my favorite skaters in the late 1990s, early 2000s, was Russia's Alexei Yagudin. I first saw a 16-year-old Alexei skate on TV when he competed in the 1997 Champions Series Final in Hamilton, Ontario. Alexei's rendition of Bizet's "Carmen" was a bit rough around the edges, but I was impressed with the sheer force of his triple jumps and his overall dramatic impact. It was clear that Alexei was not only a powerful athlete, but a skater who understood the presentation side of the sport. Everyone predicted that Alexei would be a star of the future, but no one could have predicted how soon that would happen.

The very next year, Alexei was World Champion, winning the title over veteran American champion Todd Eldredge on Todd's home soil in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The 1998 World title was the first of three consecutive World Championships in Alexei's career (98-00). He added a fourth World title in 2002 when he competed at the championship in Nagano, Japan (the same site as the 1998 Olympics) after winning his Olympic Gold Medal in Salt Lake City, Utah. Alexei's final World title in 2002 was extra sweet because the previous year at the 2001 Worlds in Vancouver, Canada, he lost his World title to his young Russian rival, Evgeni Plushenko.

Alexei and Evgeny used to be training mates under famed Russian coach, Alexei Mishin, before Alexei left to train with Tatiana Tarasova, the same coach who led Ilia Kulik to an Olympic Gold medal in men's singles and Oksana Gritchuk and Evgeni Platov to Olympic gold in ice dancing at the 1998 Games in Nagano. It was rumored that Alexei left Mishin because he felt his coach was showing favoritism toward Plushenko and spending more time with the young prodigy, who is two years younger than Alexei. At the Salt Lake City Olympics, the two Russian teammates were referred to as "bitter rivals". Whether the rivalry was fabricated or blown out of proportion as a tactic by the television company to create more drama and viewer interest, or was actually real, I do not know. In any case, the competition between the two skaters was an exciting time for skating fans.

In In the 2000-01 season, Alexei was convincingly defeated by Evgeni in the European Championships, the Russian Nationals, The Grand Prix Final, and the World Championships in the 2000-01 season. Alexei was struggling with a painful foot injury and consistency. Despite his struggles, Alexei produced an unforgettable short program to Chopin's "Revolutionary Etude" en route to his World Silver medal. For his stellar short program, he landed a colossal quadruple toe loop, triple toe loop combination, a triple axel, and a triple lutz. Alexei also put on an uninhibited display of heart and guts, receiving a standing ovation, and accolades from fans and skating experts alike. He proved that despite an up-and-down competitive season, no other skater could reach his level of passion, emotion, and audience connection.

Though Alexei finished second that year in Vancouver, the defeat turned out to be a good thing, as it fueled him to enter the following Olympic season with a vengeance. That season, he won every event he entered, defeating Evgeni in every encounter.

Since Alexei left the amateur ranks in the fall of 2002, he has been greatly missed. He toured with Stars on Ice for a few years---and I was fortunate enough to see him skate live--but I haven't seen him perform for many years since he moved back to St. Petersburg, Russia. Alexei remains one of my favorite skaters of all time.

Enjoy Alexei's "Revolutionary Etude" by Chopin:

For a video of Alexei skating his short program to "Winter" at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, click here:

For a video of Alexei's version of "Carmen" from the '96-97 season, as well as a video of his main rival Evgeni Plushenko's version of "Carmen" from the 2002 Winter Olympics (where Evgeni finished second to Alexei), click here:

Monday, June 20, 2011

Inspiration to Start the Week: Michelle Kwan's "Carmina Burana" by the Millennium Symphony Orchestra

Once again, there is no need for words from me. Michelle Kwan's brilliant skating speaks for itself. I hope you will be inspired.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Jeremy Abbott's "Symphony No. 3 Organ Symphony" by Camille Saint-Saëns

Jeremy Abbott's 2010 Nationals freeskate to "Symphony No. 3 Organ Symphony" by Camille Saint-Saëns is one of my favorite performances, in any discipline, in the 17 years that I've followed the sport.

Jeremy's skating has tremendous breadth. The 26-year old Aspen, CO native, excels at difficult jumps, spins, intricate transitions, and musical interpretation, all of which are on full display in this magnificent program. If there was ever U.S. Championship highlight film material, this is it!

Saint-Saëns' "Symphony No. 3 Organ Symphony" is infused with grandeur and passion, which fuels Jeremy's skating in a way that last season's "Life is Beautiful" program did not. While the "Life is Beautiful" freeskate is an exquisitely crafted work of art, it does not have the same inspiring tension and drama of "Symphony No. 3." The latter carried Jeremy to his second consecutive National title in a whopping 25-point victory over U.S. silver medalist Evan Lysacek. (Lysacek, however, went on to win the Olympic gold medal in Vancouver one month later. Jeremy finished 9th).

Jeremy has the soul of an artist, and the talent of a world champion. He has struggled with consistency and competitive mettle over the years, most recently at Nationals in January when he slipped to 4th behind senior newbies Ross Miner and Richard Donbush. Jeremy's ability is obvious--if he can put everything together on the world stage the way he did on the national stage in "Symphony No. 3"--a star will be born.

Here's to wishing Jeremy all the success he deserves in the upcoming competitive season. I will be rooting for him!

Enjoy his performance of a lifetime in the video below!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Update on Michelle Kwan!

Michelle Kwan surrounded by Dr. Peter W. Ackerman (left), chairman of the Fletcher School Board of Overseers and Fletcher School Dean Stephen Bosworth as she receives her master's degree May 22. (Photo courtesy The Fletcher School at Tufts University)

Ms. Kwan Goes to Washington

At 30, master's degree in hand, she moves further beyond skating

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Michelle Kwan at State Dinner

Michelle Kwan arrives at January's White House State Dinner for the President of China (Evan Vucci / AP)

GlobetrottingPhilip Hersh

2:30 p.m. CDT, June 3, 2011

When Michelle Kwan was 16 and had just won the first of what would be five world figure skating titles, she began to wonder what her life would be like at age 30.

"I thought, 'Will I still be skating, still be training a long program every day?''' Kwan recalled. "I always hoped and wished I would find another career path I was as interested in, committed to and determined to succeed in with goals like I set out in figure skating.''

She has the answer now. At age 30, the greatest skater of her generation is almost completely removed from the sport and off to Washington, D.C. to try her hand at government work -- and possibly even politics -- with the master's degree in law and diplomacy from Tufts University's Fletcher School she received May 22.

"I am very happy to be in the place I am,'' Kwan said Friday morning in a telephone conversation. "It is where I hoped I would be.''

Kwan could not be specific about her immediate work plans, but don't be surprised to hear she has landed a job with one government agency or another not long after driving her Prius and some of her belongings from Boston to Washington in the middle of June.

She already is active in two State Department initiatives under two different administrations. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made Kwan the first American Public Diplomacy Envoy in 2007. Current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chinese State Councilor Liu Yandong named Kwan an ambassador to a new U.S.-China women's leadership exchange, Women-LEAD, this April.

Kwan's field of study at Fletcher was East Asia and Foreign Policy Analysis, and her master's thesis focused on how the Beijing Olympics became a vehicle for a form of international relations. She learned Mandarin to fulfill the Fletcher language requirement and wants to keep studying it until she can speak it as well as she does China's other major language, Cantonese.

When we spoke Friday, Kwan was getting over jet lag from a week-long vacation in London, hunting online for an apartment in Washington and trying to decide whether it would be better to move all her furniture or to sell most of it and start fresh. She was leaning toward moving only what would fit in the Prius.

Kwan said she debated between going on for a Ph.D. and finding a job. She had to shake thoughts that at this age -- 31 in July -- the path should be clear.

"When I walked across the stage (at the Fletcher graduation), it was absolutely surreal that I had gotten there but just a beginning step to where I want to be and a reminder of how far I still have to go,'' she said.

"It was also a bittersweet moment because you want to keep learning but at the same time, you want to gain experience. I'm going to D.C. to have experience in the place where all the decisions are made.''

I asked if she could ever see herself making those decisions as a politician some day, and she answered "yes'' without hesitation.

"So when is your first run for office?''

"Maybe that's what I'll do this summer,'' she added with a laugh.

Over the years while she was winning the five world titles, nine U.S. titles, two Olympic medals and the hearts of her country with her graciousness in victory or defeat, Kwan always wanted to be seen eventually as one of the highly educated skating champions.

"I always looked at Dick Button (Harvard) and Tenley Albright (Harvard) and Debi Thomas (Stanford),'' she said. "You emulate them.''

Albright and Thomas are medical doctors. Kwan was made an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters last year at Southern Vermont College, where she delivered the commencement address.

So here she is at 30, the most decorated figure skater in U.S. history, with a B.A from the University of Denver and an M.A. from Fletcher School.

And 10 years from now?

"I haven't thought about it,'' she said. "The big transition for me was from skating into school and onto another career path.

"Suddenly, skating isn't what you spend every waking hour thinking of. It took some time, that transition, especially when I was in Denver. I made a different routine. Instead of waking up and going to training, I was waking up and reading and going to class and the library.

"At graduate school, I didn't think about skating. I do miss it, but I realize this was the right thing to do. Now I want to see what happens next.''

Copyright Chicago Tribune, 2011

End of the Road for Chock/Zuerlein

On Tuesday, posted an article that announced the ending of Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein's ice dancing partnership. Madison and Greg are the 2009 U.S. National Junior Champions, the 2009 World Junior Champions, and the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating bronze medalists. The team won bronze medals at both their Grand Prix assignments last season, and finished a respectable 9th place at their first senior worlds in April.

Though I've only been watching Madison and Greg for two seasons, I really enjoyed their skating and am honestly sorry to see them part ways. Read the article about their split, by clicking HERE.

In honor of Madison and Greg, here is a lovely exhibition number from last season to "Romeo and Juliet" that highlights their best qualities. When I saw them skate this in the Nationals exhibition televised on NBC, I was mesmerized.

Best wishes to Madison and Greg in the future. Enjoy the performance!