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.