Episode #29: Slavka Kohout, Part 2

by allison on July 26, 2009

JULY 2009
An interview with elite coach Slavka Kohout Button, who ran the Wagon Wheel Skating Ice Palace in Illinois, and was coach to Janet Lynn. 20 minutes, 14 seconds.

Thanks to Fiona Mcquarrie for transcribing these interview highlights:

On Dick Button’s influence on Lynn’s career: This was partially due to Doug Wilson, as well, and Jim McKay. They enjoyed watching her skate. But what was great about Dick was that he put a face on skating, and that was such an important thing at that time. So she had a larger audience for that reason, and she got a greater following.

On retiring from coaching in 1973: When my son was three months old, John Curry asked me to work with him, and he was really upset that I didn’t. I spent a day with him and laid out what he should do, that he should go to Carlo Fassi for his figures and Gus Lussi to straighten out his jumps. But he was upset, and I told him, I’ve worked so hard from when I was 17 years old, and I want to be home and raise my children, and  I want a normal life. I just didn’t have any more in me at that point.

On how skating develops as a sport: When you’re in this kind of sport, you visualize what the next step is. When Janet did double axels, or double axel-double loop, nobody had done it then. Double axels, they might have, but they weren’t clean. Hers were clean. You just look at the training, and think, where does the skater go? What’s the next step? Now I have a boy who, in my mind, can do triple axel-triple toe. I can see it. I just have to figure out how to get him there.

On team teaching and specialist coaches: I like it because it spreads the responsibility, but I don’t like it because no one’s responsible [laughs]. It works well when you’re all tuned into the same technique. It doesn’t work well when some people, like lower-level coaches, are working with your skaters but aren’t open to your ideas. Then it doesn’t really work well at all. But it’s kind of a necessity today because people go from rink to rink and aren’t in the same place all day long. So you really need that help, that backup.

On returning to coaching: I was off for 17 years, but I’ve skated more of my life than not, and I kept up enough with it. But now [with figures being eliminated] people are not quite understanding what it means to skate, and how long it takes to build the body to skate effectively. And I worry that when everybody is gone who has a figures background, what will happen to the sport? Because I see it in the skaters that only do synchro and are taught only by synchro coaches. I see how weird their positions are in line to the ice. And I see a lot of that happening in the future, when people don’t understand.

And this sport was thought up by very smart people who really understood physics, and how the body line should be to make the figures. And when you go against it, it forms awkward lines. And it doesn’t put the balance on the joints on such a way that people don’t get injured. And maybe people are doing things their body isn’t ready for, and that’s part of bad technique. I don’t think I’ve had a major problem with a skater ever, with injuries.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Carol Kraft February 26, 2015 at 9:58 pm

Wow! I enjoyed this interview with Slavka Kohout. She coached me when I was 15 and oh yes, I remember her and how she put the fear of god in you…both on and off the ice. She put us on lock down before competitions at the Wagon Wheel. I unfortunately injured my leg when I was 15 skating on an outdoor pond doing a flying sitspin and it literally caused me hardship my entire life including now. I suffered with 7 surgeries and my leg never allowed me to skate after that. One thing Slavka installed in me was perfection and this carried over to everything I have ever done in life. Slvavka was demanding beyond belief and a tremendous influence on my life. I went on to good professional jobs after college and was in credit management for 35 years for several major corporations. It was the foundation of skating that made me who I am.

Slavka was amazing with her intense training, not only with school figures but with foot work. We always had to do foot work in both directions. But perfection was definitely the name of the game with her. And, we had to turn in our school grades to her. She wanted to make sure we were not slacking off on our school work to skate.
Janet Lynn sat on my lap during her first Midwestern competition and cried her eyes out because she did not win. Her tracings could barely be seen because she was so light weight and tiny. I told her not to worry she would win next time. It was hard to calm her down. I enjoyed this interview so much as she did choreograph my program to Carmen (you made this comment at the end). How fitting was to end this interview with. I also remember Slavka’s mother with her costume guidance. My mother made my costumes but under her direction with style and color.

I remembered some of the names of the students either she or you mentioned. I am now 70 years old…and this interview was amazing to me. I also trained with Bud Wilson from Boston, who trained Lawrence Owen (who died in the Brussells plane crash) and he missed that flight because of passport issues…and he died shortly after from cancer. I was at Wagon Wheel during the very early days and I had been a member of the Chicago Figure Skating Club. Janet was probably 7 years old when I had to leave skating. I will say I have great balance as a result of skating and have never fallen since.

You have a remarkable ability to interview people and get all the facts. I am sure I will try to catch more of your interviews. I started skating at the Crystal Ice Palace underneath a bowling alley in
La Grange…then I went to Michael Kirby as I lived in Park Ridge…then to Rainbow…and East Lansing…and the Wagon Wheel. I have a son who skated from 2-7 and he was very good and I had him training with a coach in Northbrook 30 years ago…but he was dyslexic and had learning disabilities…so I had to pull him from skating to keep him from falling behind in school… it was a sad day for both of us.

Thank you again for this brilliant interview. It brought back so many very fond memories.

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