Monday, April 27, 2015

Meryl Davis & Charlie White's "Samson & Delilah" & Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto's "Tosca"

Over the weekend, Olympic ice dance champion Charlie White married his former U.S. teammate and fellow 2010 Olympian, Tanith Belbin. Tanith and her partner, Ben Agosto, were the silver medalists at the 2006 Torino Olympics. Congratulations to Charlie and Tanith!

In honor of this union, I'm posting videos from the 2009 Worlds in Los Angeles when both teams competed against each other. Tanith & Ben finished second (I personally feel they should have won), and Meryl and Charlie finished 4th. Every year after this, Meryl and Charlie were either first or second, for four consecutive years.

Meryl and Charlie's "Samson & Delilah" was a breakout freeskate for them, putting them on the map during the Grand Prix series, and helping them to win their first National title in Cleveland, which I was in attendance (woot woot!). This program is lyrical in the first half and passionate in the second half. I love how Charlie skates with such abandon, running across the ice and throwing his body into the performance. This program gives me chills throughout the second half, especially when the crowd jumps to its feet at the end.

Click HERE to view.

Tanith and Ben, who had previously been training mates of Meryl and Charlie's in Detroit, under Marina Zoueva and Igor Spilband, had switched to 1980 Olympic ice dance champions Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov in Philadelphia. I liked this "Tosca" program, even though it was decidedly more "Russian" than their previous work (which is ironic, because they had Russian coaches before, too). Though this program was more bold and powerful than I'd seen them skate in the past, I think it suited them well--much better than their "Ave Maria" remix the following Olmpic year, in which they morphed into full-fledged Russian drama queens.

Click HERE to view.

Tracy Wilson & Rob McCall's "Music of the Night"

Earlier today, I read this great article (click here, or read below) about the work that Tracy Wilson does with championship skaters and hockey players, alike, to improve their basic skating skills. Wilson, the 1988 Olympic bronze medal in ice dancing with her partner Rob McCall, has found a way to leverage all her talents in ice dance, a discipline in which edge control and mastery of the blade are paramount, into becoming one of the most sought-after skating coaches and consultants today.

Tracy basically stumbled into this career through helping her hockey-playing sons and their teammates improve their skating skills and "listen to their blades." So often in skating, the excitement of going fast and having power takes precendence over having sound fundamentals and edge control. What skaters don't realize is that the latter is necessary to truly achieve the former. Tracy's teaching philosophy focuses on going back to basics and building a strong foundation that will lead to greater technical proficiency and artistic intricacy.

I've always enjoyed Tracy's work as a skating commentator. I find her remarks intelligent and fair, and her manner of delivery soft and sophisticated. Though I've listened to her commentate for decades, I've never really watched her own days of skating with McCall. This article prompted me to take a look back. I found a video of Tracy and Rob's exhibition performance after winning the bronze in Calgary. Skating to "Music of the Night," Tracy and Rob's skating is just as pleasant and accessible as I've always found Tracy to be. Enjoy!

BLOG Tracy Wilson Brings Elite Skaters Back to the Basics By Beverley Smith
onApril 27, 2015

Tracy Wilson figures she learns as much as she teaches.

Yes, we all know she’s a crack skating analyst for various television networks, having won Gemini Awards for her work. But the former Olympic ice dancing medallist has quietly and behind the scenes fashioned a stellar career as a skating coach to some of the world’s best. Teaching all manner of skaters the true art of the blade, Wilson has become the wind beneath the wings of Olympic champions and world contenders.

And she’s done it through partnerships: Learning from other sports as she teaches their athletes. She’s deconstructed puzzles, and has come out on the other side with exercises and methods that seem to work wonderfully well. Several weeks ago, three of her students placed among the top five in the men’s event at the world championships in Shanghai: new world champ Javier Fernandez, Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and the irrepressible Canadian champion Nam Nguyen who made believers out of many with his fifth-place finish at age 16.

Wilson’s exercises are a hybrid of many things, starting with what worked to make her and partner Rob McCall seven-time Canadian champions, three-time world bronze medalists, and the first Canadian ice dancers to win an Olympic medal (bronze in 1988.) She and McCall did foundation exercises every day as they trained. “It really helped us to find our balance, to create muscle memory so that we weren’t ever having to think,” Wilson said. “Our bodies just know how to maximize efficiency.”

After the death of McCall in 1991, Wilson didn’t skate for five years. She returned to the ice only because her children wanted to skate. Her oldest son, Shane, started playing hockey. Everything changed after a chance meeting with a hockey coach at a cocktail party. Wilson found herself telling him: “Guess what you guys need to do?” The coach asked her if she’d like to do it. Wilson said: “Sure.”

She worked with her son’s team from the time he was about seven or eight until he was in his mid-teens. Son No. 2 also played hockey. “I just took my ice dance exercises and that’s what I did with these hockey players with music,” she said. She adapted the exercises to the needs of the players.

And of course, the needs were different. She learned that hockey players didn’t care how they looked on ice. They had no need for the pointed-toe thing. They cared about balance and speed and power. She quickly discovered that she had to always stay one step ahead of nine and 10-year-olds, and always tried to come up with new exercises.

“What I gained from them was a freedom,” she said. “It was really interesting to me.” And in turn, she brought that to her figure skating exercises. It’s great to have the correct technique, but best if you couple it with power and energy.

One day, son Shane was on the ice at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club because he had asked his mother to work with him. Intrigued, U.S. skaters Adam Rippon and Christina Gao, who were training in Toronto at the time, asked if they could train with him. “It was fabulous,” Wilson said. “They got on the ice and you could really see the difference. They were going for style over power. And I said: ‘Guys, just for fun, get in behind Shane. And always listen to his blade and forget about how you look. Just stay in there.’”

She and cohort Brian Orser have both honed in on what works to help different skaters. There is no set formula. When Wilson actually went back to coaching figure skating, her first students were astonishing: Chinese pair stars Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao. Lori Nichol, who had been choreographing for them, sent them over to Wilson to tinker with their skating skills just as both Orser and Wilson had started at the club.

Together, they worked five hours the first day. Wilson took them right back to the basics. At the time, Yu Na Kim’s mother was in the rink, coming to work with choreographer David Wilson, and she asked if Wilson would work with her daughter.

“Sure,” Wilson said. “When?”

“Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday,” she said. So Kim became Wilson’s second student. She had a whole year to work with Kim. Eventually, whatever Wilson could think up for her, Kim could do.

“If you haven’t really broken down the skating basics to their most simple form, you can’t build on top of it,” Wilson said. She had set Shen and Zhao right back to doing two-foot skating exercises, called bubbles (feet go in and out together), and it was to teach them knee action and balance. They spent about 30 to 40 minutes on the first exercises and then moved to inside edges.

“I just knew if I was going to do for them what they needed, we had to start from the very beginning and I didn’t know any other way,” Wilson said. Later she called Nichol and told her she was going to apologize in advance for frustrating Zhao in particular. Nichol said on the contrary: they had loved it and wanted to do it every day. They trained with Wilson for 10 days in a row.

Last spring, Zhao, now a coach, sent three of his pair teams to Wilson so that she could work with them in the same way. They are the same exercises that Wilson and Orser use to teach beginner skaters and adults.

Wilson has also developed off-ice training over the years, too. She herself had worked Pilates, and dance on the floor and adapted some of those exercises onto the ice. “You can be very creative once you have the basics and see how the principles follow through at all levels,” she said.

Most importantly, in the beginning, Wilson wasn’t sure – coming from an ice dance perspective – if what she was doing was what a single skater or a hockey player, or a synchro skater needs.

“But you know what?” she said. “It is. It’s the same.” Yes, partnerships and cross-discipline learning works.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Paul Wylie's "Apollo 13"

Just saw a news article on reporting that Paul Wylie had a "heart problem" this morning. The article was vague, but with any hope that means that it wasn't anything too serious, and Paul will be okay. Thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family. I wish him a comfortable and speedy recovery!

In thinking of Paul, I am reminded of all the extraordinary moments that he provided for me and his fans. I've said it before, but with skating this day in age being so about tallying points, I appreciate the sheer simplicity and passion of Paul's skating from 20 years ago. Skating has surely evolved technically in the last 20 years, but what about artistically? I don't feel anyone is doing anything like what Paul did with his artistic programs in the 1990s. The quality of the lines, the edges, the speed, and the overall performance quality is virtually unmatched today. He had the ability to really make you, the audience member, feel something. The packaging--choreography, music, technical elements, and delivery--all exquisite.

Out of all of Paul's Masterpieces, I feel like his "Apollo 13" program is one that I don't re-watch as often. Not for any reason, really, other than that the video was hard to find on You Tube. I just re-watched it now, and am very glad that I did. Such a moving work that will leave you appreciating Paul's talent and all that he has given to the sport over the years.

Get well soon, Paul!

Paul's "Apollo 13" program:

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Happy 30th Birthday to Stephane Lambiel

If you can believe it, it's been nearly three months since my last blog post. Life has gotten busy, and to be honest, I just wasn't feeling inspired to write. However, just now, while randomly scrolling through Facebook, it has come to my attention that today is Stephane Lambiel's 30th birthday. And as I write this, there is only 12 minutes left in said birthday. I want to make sure that I honor the day.

From the time he burst onto the scene in the early 2000s, Stephane has always been a favorite skater of mine. From his incredible spinning to his unique artistic perspective, he always brought something fresh and passionate to competitive and artistic figure skating. Some moments that stand out for me are his 2006 winning-Worlds freeskate to Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," his "William Tell Overture" short program from the 2010 Vancouver Games, and his "Paint it Black" exhibition from Art on Ice. The list could really go on, but since I don't have time to honor 30 of Stephane's greatest hits on his 30th birthday, I'll settle for three of the best.

Known for his incredible spinning ability, quadruple jumps, and musical interpretation, Lambiel was a "triple threat," in his day. He won 2-World titles, the 2006 Olympic silver medal, and 9-Swiss National titles.

Wishing Stephane a wonderful day and hoping he continues skating for many more years so that his fans can continue to enjoy his awesome talent. Thanks for all the great skating memories, Stephane, and happy birthday!!

2006 Worlds Freeskate to "Four Seasons" by Vivaldi:

Perhaps one of my favorite freeskates. Ever.

"William Tell Overture" short program, modified for a television exhibition:

Footwork sequence=awesome.

"Paint it Black" exhibition from Art on Ice.

So much fun.