Saturday, December 20, 2014

Day 6: Paul Wylie's "Why God Why" from Miss Saigon

Nothing to say here other than "Magnificent." If only skaters today skated like this.

Day 7: Liz Punsalan and Jared Swallow's "The Race" from 1991 Worlds

I remember seeing clips of this years ago on one of my skating highlight videos. Last night was the first time I watched it in its entirety, and I couldn't believe I haven't watched it sooner. So worth watching!
This program is a must-see!

At the 1991 Worlds in Munich, five-time- U.S. Champions Liz Punsalan and Jared Swallow skated to a song called "The Race" by German band "Yello." They drew their inspiration from the Indy 500 and played two race cars racing against each other: through the trials, into the pits for a tire change, and finally to the race where one will win and one will crash. Such a cool and creative concept! I've never seen anything like it. Later in their careers, this husband-and-wife team were known for such sophisticated, sultry, and mature performances; this was something totally different: funky, fun, and fresh. Loved every second of it!

Day 8: Gracie Gold's "Shake It Off" by Taylor Swift

If there's been a criticism of 19-year-old Gracie Gold's skating, it's that she hasn't found her style yet; she hasn't started skating from the heart. Well, maybe that's true. I agree that some of her competitive pieces are lovely and classic, but don't seem authentic to the person that Gracie is. Have you ever listened to a skater's music and thought to yourself, "I wonder if they actually picked that music themselves, or if they even actually like it all?" That's how I feel sometimes about Gracie's programs, but not with her exhibition pieces, which really seem to showcase a fun-loving, spunky 19-year old. Gracie's face seems to light up when her favorite music is playing.

I love this exhibition to Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off." Gracie is having a lot of fun, and so am I. I hope that Gracie will let more of her personality filter into her competitive programs over time, but for now, we can enjoy her show programs and appreciate her skating for what it is: pretty darn good!

Day 9: Brian Orser's 1988 "Sing Sing Sing"

If Scott Hamilton is considered "American Skate God for life," then I'd have to say that Brian Orser is the Canadian equivalent. Orser is an 8-time Canadian National Champion, a 6-time World medalist (he won gold in 1987) and a 2-time Olympic silver medalist in 1984 and 1988. In recent years, he has become a world-famous skating coach. He was finally able to strike Olympic gold as the coach of South Korean skating phenom, Yu-Na Kim, who won gold in stunning fashion in Vancouver. Orser is the coach of the most-recent men's Olympic champion, Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, and he also coaches Spanish skating star, Javier Fernandez.

This 1988 Olympic short program to "Sing Sing Sing" is pretty spectacular. It's on-point with jumps, spins, and choreographic impact. Such energy and command. Orser at his finest. Enjoy!

Day 10: Robert Wagenhoffer's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" Exhibition

Here's another name that not many of you may know, but believe me, once you watch him skate, you'll never forget it. Robert Wagenhoffer was a 2x U.S. National medalist, 3rd in 1981, 2nd in 1982. He also skated pairs and finished second in the 1979 Nationals with his partner, Vicki Heasley. He retired in 1982 and joined Ice Capades. I wish I knew why he retired so early--he had such incredible potential. Brilliant, actually.

Wagenhoffer died of AIDS at the age of 39 in 1999.

Looking back at old tapes of his skating, Wagenhoffer has no weakness. Superb skating skills, deep, controlled edges, excellent spins and jumps that seem to soar. Not to mention his musicality and creativity. He is the inventor of a move called "The Wagenhoffer," a combination of an Arabian and a flip that I believe I've seen only Robin Cousins and Alexander Fadeyev do in exhibition.

I've watched this exhibition countless times in the last few years. I love it. I appreciate and admire Wagenhoffer's skating so much. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do!

Day 11: Mark Cockerell's 1984 Olympic Freeskate

Many of you may not have heard of Mark Cockerell, but you should take note. I first heard of Cockerell during an interview that Nancy Kerrigan once gave. She said that she was inspired by some of the male skaters of the 80's, citing Mark Cockerell for his technical ability and his amazing triple toe-triple toe combination.

Upon further research, I learned that Cockerell was the first man to perform a triple-triple in the Olympics (the 3toe-3toe) at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo. (Incidentally, Kerrigan also had a beautiful triple-toe-triple toe combination in her repertoire. She performed it perfectly at the 1994 Olympics; quite a feat considering no one else in the competition was doing triple-triples, as far as I'm aware).

My research also provided a good reason as to why Cockerell isn't that well-known. He was on the Olympic team in 1984 with two of the greatest U.S. champions of all time: Scott Hamilton and Brian Boitano. Hamilton went on to win that Olympic event, and Boitano the next one four years later. Talk about being out of the spotlight when you're sharing a team spot with those two!

Cockerell was the 1976 World Junior Champion in its inaugural year, finished third at the U.S. Championships in 1983 and 1984, and finished 2nd to Boitano in 1985. From what I've read, Cockerell, originally of California, has gone on to become a successful skating coach. He's directed skating clubs in the past. In the most recent article I read, he was coaching in Massachusetts. He was formerly married to a Russian singles skater, who performed in Ice Capades, and they have a teenage daughter who is also a skater.

When I first watched Cockerell's Olympic freeskate, I was overcome with the Olympic spirit. I wish I knew more about Cockerell's Olympic journey, and why the audience gave him such a warm and boisterous ovation at the beginning and end of his skate. From what I gather, there was a large American contingent in Sarajevo, and considering Cockerell started the freeskate in 17th place, I'm sure they were trying to offer him as much encouragement as they could. Their support seemed to pay dividends, as Cockerell skated a performance that felt very natural, free, and full of that kind of joy that only the Olympics seems to bring out. It was so refreshing to watch a skater enjoy himself to the point that you could feel his spirits soar, see the smile on his face, and the crowd responded accordingly.

I don't know about you, but I really like this performance. I find Cockerell's jumps powerful and exciting, and I wanted to see him do even more difficult content. His skating seems to include all the moves that get audiences excited: split jumps, butterflies, etc. His triple-triple combination at 1:10 is awesome, and I love the kneeslide into double axel at 3:55. I've never seen anyone else do that---so cool.

This performance makes me happy and I've become a Mark Cockerell fan. Happy Day 11 of the holiday season!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Day 12: Nancy Kerrigan's Janet Jackson medley

Just discovered this video after not seeing it since the mid-1990s. I remember loving this when I was in middle school!Just watched it again and still enjoyed it just as much as I did back then. This exhibition stands the test of time: Janet Jackson hits and "the best of" Nancy Kerrigan choreography from her competitive days. People can say what they want about Nancy Kerrigan, but I always loved her skating, particularly in that 1994-1995-era when she was in her prime, and I still admire her now. Hope you enjoy this blast from the past!

Fifth Annual 12-Days of Christmas Skating Countdown

It's that time of year again! In the two weeks leading up to Christmas, I will post a skating video every day to celebrate the season with some of my favorite skating performances. This will be the fifth time that I have done this particular series. It's hard to believe that I have had my blog now for five Christmas seasons, and I wouldn't be surprised if I post some of the same videos again. My favorites have remained favorites over the years and are worth highlighting again at this time of year.

If anyone is actually reading this, blog activity has been low as I continue to acclimate to my new life: new city, new job, new apartment, new responsibilities and social life! All good problems to have, but hasn't left me a lot of free time to sit down and post inspiration on these pages. Hopefully the holiday season will get me back in the swing of things, and it's always something to strive for in the new year.

I hope you enjoy the Fifth Annual 12-Days of Christmas Skating Countdown. Thanks for reading :)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Celebrating Ryan Bradley: Entertainment on Ice

I've been away from my blog for more than a month now. All it took was finding out that today was Ryan Bradley's 31st birthday to pull me back into my blogging mode!

In the time since my last post, I've moved to Philadelphia, moved into a new apartment, began a new full-time job, and started a new life. It's been a busy month and a half, but I return to blogging with a new passion for life, and renewed motivation to post fresh and interesting content.

I just rewatched a few of Ryan's best performances on YouTube. Were Ryan's edges the best? Nope. His transitions? Nah. His spins? Not really. And refinement? What refinement?

What Ryan did best was catapult himself into wild, high-flying jumps, entertain an audience with his comical movements and facial expressions, and make people laugh and smile, simply by being himself. Ryan was a genuine performer, who loved putting on a great show. A truly gifted athlete, Ryan made up for his lack of natural grace and flow with exciting jumping passes and plenty of personality to light up an arena.

In 2011, after many-times coming up just short of Nationals glory (he came closest in 2007 when he finished 2nd to Evan Lysacek), Ryan once again stole the show at the Nationals, but this time, stole the title, too. I'm sure all the skating fans out there couldn't have been happier when Ryan finally put it all together at the right time and skated away with the U.S. Championship.

In honor of Ryan's 31st birthday, here are his winning Nationals short and long programs from 2011.

Happy Birthday, Ryan!

Short program:

Long program:

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mao Asada: Power and Grace

Happy 24th birthday to Japan's Mao Asada, 3-time World Champion and 2010 Olympic silver medalist. Mao has evolved over the years from a jumping phenom to an elegant artist that shares her heart in each performance. At the Olympics in Sochi, Mao was devastated when she skated a disastrous short program that took her out of medal contention. In the freeskate, she roared back with a vengeance, delivering what may have been the finest, most exciting and poignant freeskate of the night. I will never forget it. She didn't win a medal, but she won everyone's heart with a courageous, stirring performance to Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No.2"--featuring a triple axel. A month later, Mao was back in rare form at the World Championships in her home country, delivering two performances that cemented her place as one of the greatest in her sport. She won her third World title and fifth World medal. Such a beautiful champion. Happy birthday, Mao!

Mao's 2014 Worlds short program:

Mao's 2014 Worlds freeskate:

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Weiss Returns to Father's Alma Mater for Ice Show

Here's a preview article I wrote about the Musselman's Applesauce Family Skating Ice Show. The article ran in today's Altoona Mirror newspaper. Altoona, PA, is less than an hour from the Penn State University Park campus, where the show will take place on Oct. 19th.

I had the privilege to interview 3-time U.S. Champion Michael Weiss. Michael's father, Greg, competed for Penn State in gymnastics in the 1960s. In 1961, Greg was the NCAA All-Around Champion and he competed in the 1964 Summer Olympics. Michael competed in the Winter Olympics in 1998 and 2002.

Click HERE to read the article.

J'adore Joubert: Happy 30th to the French Quad King

Yesterday, Sept. 20, Brian Joubert celebrated his 30th birthday. The 2007 World Champion and 6-time World medalist was known throughout his long career for his athleticism and consistency for landing quads. I would be remiss if I didn't also point out that he is also known among skating fans for his good looks :) The 8-time French National Champion and three-time European Champion was also known for performing staccato, straight-line footwork sequences that were highly reminiscent of 2002 Olympic Champ Alexei Yagudin.

This past Olympics in Sochi, even though Joubert may have been past his competitive prime, I was impressed with how well he skated and felt he was way undermarked. I'm not arguing that he should have won a medal, but the fact that he skated well and finished 13th was unjustified. Other skaters who made far more mistakes placed higher. This may have been a case where the judges were "sending him a message." In other words, the judges were telling him that it was time to retire, or that his time had passed. It makes me cringe to think that figure skating is a sport where judges can "send a message" through scores, instead of giving marks that accurately reflect what happened on the ice.

Still, for Joubert, who has had three disappointing Olympic experiences prior, he had to have felt satisfied with finally skating well in Sochi. That competition was more for himself than it was for anything else, and his fans, such as myself, really enjoyed watching him turn in two respectable performances to cap off his individual career. (Rumor has it that Joubert is now taking up pairs skating! I will be interested to see how that pans out. I wish him luck! I know he has solid individual skating skills; whether or not he's skilled at lifting and throwing is yet to be seen, but will be fun to watch!)

Here is a look-back at two of Joubert's best skates: His James Bond short program at the 2006 Worlds (he finished second in the competition to Stephane Lambiel), and his 2007 Worlds Freeskate in which he won the gold medal. I have to say that I'll miss seeing Brian on the competitive singles scene, since he's been around for almost as long as I can remember, but fortunately we can always look back fondly on the awesome athletics that he performed back in his heyday. Enjoy!

2006 Worlds SP:

2007 Worlds FS:

Monday, September 8, 2014

Star on the Rise: Polina Edmunds

If Polina Edmunds didn't make enough of a splash last year, coming out of nowhere to win the silver-medal at Nationals and a spot on the Olympic team (not to mention 9th at the Olympics, and 8th at the Worlds), she's set to make an even bigger splash this year. Check out this video of her outstanding debut of her "Peter Pan" freeskate at the Glacier Falls Classic this summer. Stunning technical content and such an ethereal artistic presentation. In one word: enchanting. As my sister said after I sent her this video, "She has what it takes!"

Good luck, Polina!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Original Black Swan: Rudy Galindo

(Rudy Galindo with Emma Hedican, Kristi Yamaguchi's daughter. Rudy is Emma's skating coach).

Today the great Rudy Galindo turns 45. Rudy's stunning upset at the 1996 U.S. Championships in San Jose, California, is still one of my favorite performances of all-time. Everyone says that Rudy came out of "nowhere," but really, by that point, he had already been a 2-time National Champion in pairs with Kristi Yamaguchi. When Yamaguchi made the decision to quit pairs and focus on singles skating, Rudy was left without a partner. He tried his hand at singles skating, and struggled for many years, before coming into the San Jose championships, his hometown, with a new attitude and two-terrific programs. After years of heartache, losing his dad to a heart attack and his brother and two coaches to AIDs, and sacrifice, Rudy's win was more than a gold-medal, it was a triumph! To this day I get chills watching this.

In honor of Rudy's birthday today, I'm posting his 1996 Nationals freeskate (have tissues ready), and his 1989 National Championship Pairs win with Kristi Yamaguchi. Happy Birthday, Rudy! Cheers to many more!

Michael Weiss: A Colorful Career that Pushed Boundaries

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview 3-time U.S. Champion and 2-time World bronze medalist, Michael Weiss. I'm writing a preview story for a newspaper about the upcoming Family Tribute Ice Show, which is coming to the Penn State University campus for the second year. Michael will act as host (with Kristi Yamaguchi) and host. Michael was just as friendly and personable as I expected him to be. Having listened to him give countless interviews and having enjoyed his skating commentary in recent years, I was not surprised that he was easy-going and well-spoken. I really enjoyed our conversation and look forward to seeing him perform in the show! I saw Michael perform a few times live on the Stars on Ice tour and he always put on a great show with lots of enthusiasm, humor, and skating tricks!

Talking with Michael made me reflect on his career. Though I never really thought about it at the time, Michael was a bit of a boundary-pusher. The first year I remember seeing him skate was at the 1997 U.S. Nationals. He wore a right muscle shirt, skated to Santana, and attempted a quadruple-toe loop. The jump appeared to be clean and was unofficially credited as the first-quadruple toe loop performed in history at the U.S. Championships. The tape was later reviewed to reveal a slight two-footed landing and no-longer credited in the record books. But still--at the time, Michael was the only one trying quads. The following year, at the Olympic trials in Philadelphia (shown in the video below), he upped the ante and attempted a quadruple lutz--the first one ever attempted.(This was big news at the time. I lived in the Poconos, so since the championships were in nearby Philadelphia, we got the Philly news there. I remember seeing a clip of Michael's quad attempt all over the news after the event, and then talking about it the next day in my 8th grade social studies class with my seatmate, Derek). Even now in the age of quad, it's extremely rare to see a quad lutz (Brandon Mroz comes to mind), so Michael was really ahead of the trend.

In later years, Michael did some different and interesting things to bring attention to himself, and to the sport, in a positive way, I think. Michael focused on trying to bring a more masculine style to the sport. He skated to non-traditional, masculine music, such as Led Zeppelin and Metallica, and even skated in a costume that gave the appearance that he was skating shirtless and was full of tattos (see photo above).

Later, Michael developed the "Freedom Blade," a blade that curved at the heel and allowed him to skate on his heels. It was pretty cool, but the trend didn't seem to catch on, though I do recall seeing Olympic ice dancers Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukov use them. In exhibitions, Michael invented a move called a "Tornado" that was a combination of a backflip and a twist. Again, pretty cool.

In 2003 when Michael skated at the World Championships in Washington, D.C., his hometown area, the newspapers were full of a stories about Michael using hypnosis to help him focus and prepare for the competition. I've never heard of a skater using hypnosis before that and haven't heard of it since.

So all in all, I'd say that Michael had lots of progressive and unique moments in his career. He might not have reached the pinnacle of international success that he had set out to in the beginning of his career (though he was a two-time Olympian and that is nothing to scoff at!), but he was a terrific domestic champion and always presented himself with great integrity and class. Michael is a memorable champion in my book and he's done a great job performing at a high-level and providing quality entertainment in his professional career.

Hats off to you, Michael Weis. Thanks for being a great champion and ambassador for the sport!

Here's a video of Michael's silver-medal finish at the 1998 U.S. Nationals/ Olympic trials. Note his awesome attempt of the quad-lutz!

Friday, September 5, 2014

"Queen Yu-Na" Turns 24 Today

Happy 24th birthday to a woman who is a skating pioneer in South Korea and has inspired young athletes all over the world. Yu-Na Kim, the 2010 Olympic Champion and the reigning Olympic silver medalist has given the skating world a lot of excitement over the years with her breathtaking triple jumps and her raw power and speed. She's developed into a beautiful artist, as well. Though I personally felt that Yu-Na was missing a spark with her performances in Sochi (she just didn't seem happy), I was moved by her sophistication and her ability to deliver two terrific performances under unbelievable pressure. When there was an uproar over her loss, Yu-Na handled the situation with grace and calm and assured everyone that she was okay with the results and she did her best. She's been a fantastic ambassador for the sport and I hope to see her in ice shows for years to come.

2014 Olympic short-program to "Send in the Clowns":

2014 Olympic freeskate to "Adios Nonino":
click HERE to view.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Celebrating Two American Greats: Scott Hamilton and Todd Eldredge

Today we celebrate the births of two great American skating champions: Scott Hamilton and Todd Eldredge. Scott, the 1984 Olympic Champion, 4x U.S. and World Champion, turns 56; while Todd, the 1996 World Champion and 6x U.S. Champion turns 43.

Both skaters are are favorites of mine and have given me countless of hours of viewing pleasure and entertainment over the years.

When I started watching skating in 1994, the professional skating world was experiencing an unprecedented boom. Leading that boom was Scott Hamilton, one of the greatest performers and entertainers in the sport's history. Roughly around the same time, I watched Todd Eldredge mount his comeback and recapture his U.S. title in 1995 (he had previously won in 1990 and 1991), and the World title in 1996. For a number of years, Scott was my favorite professional skater and Todd was my favorite amateur. Both brought something special to the sport; Scott exuded showmanship and took the sport to new professional levels with his tour Stars on Ice. Todd exemplified tenacity and incredible longgevity in an amateur career that spanned more than a decade (his first and his last U.S. title were 12 year apart!)

Over the years, Scott has done a fantastic job as a commentator for the sport, providing a perfect blend of wisdom, humor, and sensitivity in his telecasts. Todd now serves as a skating coach in Texas. I got to meet him at the U.S. Championships in Boston in January. He was exactly as down-to-earth as he always came across in his skating routines and interviews. He seemed like such a nice, genuine guy.

So, happy birthday to these two greats. Thank you to all you've given the sport and all you continue to give back! Cheers to many more!!

Scott Hamilton's "In the Mood" from the 1994 Gold Championship. Scott won gold, defeating fellow Olympic champions Brian Boitano and Viktor Petrenko :

Todd Eldredge's gold-medal winning "First Knight from the 1996 World Championships in Edmondton:

Monday, August 18, 2014

SYTYCD Spirit and Soul: Zack, and All-star Amy: "Europe, After the Rain," by Max Richter

This piece, set to "Europe, After the Rain," by Max Richter, aired on So You Think You Can Dance on Fox a couple of weeks ago. Since then, it has stayed with me.

Choreographed by the incredible Sonya Tayeh , this piece pays tribute to a friend of Tayeh's, who died "all too soon." Show contestant, Zack, plays the character of her friend, who is already dead at the time of the dance. The woman in the piece is trying to cling to her friend, but he can't stay, and must leave her at the end.

The story unfolds through stunning positions, soul-gripping movement, and authentic expression that will touch your heart.

Tayeh's choreography is profound, all-star Amy is magnificent, and Zack is genuine and vulnerable. I get chills and/or tears every single time I watch.

The music, the lighting, the choreography, the dancers...all of it creates this unbelievably gorgeous, haunting masterpiece that so perfectly sums up the feeling of letting go of someone, or something that you desperately want, but can't have. The elements in the music so aptly portray the inner storm that ensues when parting with someone, or something that you love.

I was absolutely blown away when I saw this for the first time. And each time I've seen it since, I am equally amazed and moved. The anguish is palpable. It's totally gut-wrenching and totally brilliant.

I hope you love it. I hope you cry. I hope you share it with others :)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Grace on Ice: Happy 19th Birthday to U.S. Champion, Gracie Gold

Gracie Gold, reigning U.S. Champion, and her twin sister, Carly, turn 19 today. What a year it has been for Gracie, winning her first U.S. title at the "Olympic Trials" in Boston with two perfect performances in front of a packed crowd, an impressive fourth place finish at her first Olympic Games in Sochi in February, and her second top six Worlds finish in Saitima, JPN, in March.

I was in the fourth row in Boston and witnessed the sheer power and height that Gracie has in her jumps. Her connection with the audience is still improving, but her overall image, that of Grace Kelly on ice (it must be something with that name!), gives her such striking visual appeal. She skates with a lot of speed, which you can't really tell when you watch on TV, and has the ability to have that "it" factor. I've seen her lack that quality in other events when she gets really nervous, such as the Olympics, but I know that her confidence and consistency will grow in time, and when that happens: watch out!

I was also lucky enough to meet Gracie in person during an autograph session the morning after women's freeskate. Though I'm sure she was exhausted from her emotional victory and being named to the Olympic team the night before, Gracie was nothing but pleasant and friendly with each person waiting to meet her. She was sweet and patient with each person, letting them take multiple photos with her.

My knowledge of Gracie Gold is still limited, being that she's only been in the senior skating spotlight a short two years, but I look forward to watching her grow as an athlete and artist during this next Olympic cycle.

In honor of her birthday, I'm posting her gold-medal winning freeskate from the U.S. Championships. Happiest birthday wishes to Gracie, (and to her sister!), and best of luck to her in the upcoming skating season!

Below are some pictures I took at the U.S. Championships in Boston. I took photos of the jumbotron projection of Gracie in the "Kiss and Cry," getting her winning marks. The other photos are of Gracie signing autographs, and me getting to meet her. Such a fun memory!

Gracie's gold-medal winning freeskate from the U.S. Championships to "Sleeping Beauty," by Tchaikovsky: