I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. As I’ve just hit my 6th anniversary of this podcast, and as the 2013 World Championships get underway, I have been reflecting on my ten favorite things about figure skating. A lot of this comes from my perspective as an adult skater, so bear that in mind. Perhaps your list is a bit different, and if so I’d love to hear your top ten ideas.
1) Gliding on a Fresh Sheet of Ice
When I see a fresh sheet of ice, I feel like a kid again. Why? It’s not unlike when you went outside for the first time after a huge snowfall: the surface of the ground was so pristine and glistening, and you get to be the first one to run through it and leave your footprints. I love making marks on a fresh sheet of ice, and seeing the edges clear and crisp beneath me. The edges, the turns, are all a perfect indicator of where I’ve been. Its one of the reasons I love figures too. Think about it: who ever says they love being on a sheet of ice after it’s been torn up for an hour and you can’t distinguish one mark from the next? I think there’s sublime beauty in those fleeting footprints.
2) It’s a Great Workout
Unless you’re an elite skater who needs to cross train, you don’t need a gym membership. I’ve never had a gym membership. Skating works so much of the body, it’s a fantastic workout all by itself. It’s why Bryan Smith was able to lose a lot of weight while discovering that he actually enjoyed skating. Another adult skater lost 106 lbs and was featured on Oprah. Skating is speed, strength, flexibility, and plyometrics, all rolled into one.
3) The Signature Move
Some skaters have developed a move that only they can do, or do better than anyone else. If they are lucky, it’s named after them regardless of whether they invented it or not. The audience loves them too, because they are anticipating seeing it in a performance. I love the fact that skaters of any age or level can create a way to make their own mark on the sport, and that they can do one thing better than anyone else.
I can immediately think of a few right off the top of my head from some high-profile skaters: Denise Beillman’s Beillman Spin, Michelle Kwan’s inside-outside spiral, Dorothy Hamill’s Hamill Camel . . . you get the idea.
I’d like to call attention to some of the not-so-famous skaters who do some really cool signature moves.
Ilia Klimkin from Russia could do a triple salchow right out of a spin exit. And I mean RIGHT out of a spin exit. Ballsy and cool. (2:00 into the program)
Jonathan Cassar’s inside spread eagle is so enviable, even Olympic Gold Medalist Brian Boitano publicly lamented that he wished he could do one as well as Jonathan’s.
Paula Smart was 50-something adult skater who could barely land an axel. But she could do a trick with an ina bauer that I’ve never seen before or since: she could switch her feet from back to front without ever losing speed and while going in the same direction. Don’t get what I mean? Take a look. And find me an elite-level skater who can do this, because I’ve never seen it elsewhere. (about 1:20 into the program)
Signature moves are so great, that Doug Mattis created a fantastic and entertaining program highlighting a whole lot of them.
4) It’s Great for All Ages
That’s why there is growing interest in Adult skating competitions around the globe. Don’t’ believe me? Ask Yvonne Dowlen.
5) The Blend of Sport and Art
Without getting into the particulars of judging and what should be weighted more heavily between the athleticism and art of figure skating, I’d rather focus on the wonderful fact that skating is a blend of both. I wonder how many of us would enjoy skating as much if we didn’t love applying the skills to a musical background, or finding our own form of expression with music. Would we be speedskaters, or hockey players instead? There’s something about the combination of theater and sport that makes skating so compelling. Not convinced? Dick Button says it best. And any fan of me knows I’m a fan of him.
6) Getting It Right
I’ve landed a double flip only 5 times in my life. All in one week, back in 2007. I’d been working on it off and on for years, and then it all finally came together, Shortly after, I got pregnant and started a growing family, and the double flip was abandoned as time and money only allowed me to maintain the skills I had rather than develop new ones. But I never have forgotten the pure elation of finally getting that jump right. I also have never forgotten the YES!! that I felt when I landed my first double double combination (on my 30th birthday, when things were just feeling good, and I decided out of the blue to try a double salchow-double loop combo). Or when I realized I actually could do spread eagles in both directions (sorry, no date with that one). That feeling is addictive to a skater: you feel an element preperly once, and you want to do it again.
Skaters deservedly ask for kudos on Facebook and Twitter when they finally have reached a milestone, whether it be getting a level on a spin, passing a test, running a clean program, or make the top of the podium. And we are all happy to cheer them on, because we get it too.
7) Being in the Moment
I spend my whole day at my job focused on solving other people’s problems. At night with my kids I focus on them. But on the ice, I get to focus on me. When I have my skates on, my whole existence for that session is all about my body, my soul, and how I can improve and enhance the two. Centering a spin is not unlike centering my being.
Some people need therapy. Some people need church. Some people need drugs. Some people need to workout. For me, skating is therapy, religion, heroin, and fitness all rolled into one.
I know I’m going to take heat for this one, but bear with me. Is IJS an imperfect system? Absolutely. But so was 6.0, so I wasn’t crushed when it was time for 6.0 to go by the wayside. There are actually a few things I quite like about IJS:
First, I love that spins are recognized and rewarded. Back in the 6.0 days, a fantastic spinner might be appreciated, but without those jumps that skater was buried (see: Lucinda Ruh). Nowadays skaters work on spins and they get the attention they deserve, considering how hard spins are to do well.
Second, I love that a skater can jump several places in the standings . . . in either direction. Back in 6.0, as Scott Hamilton would remind us, a skater could lose the Gold medal in the Short Program. If they skated a bad Short, they were done. With IJS, if a skater has a bad Short program they can recover in the Long and make great leaps in their standings (it also works conversely of course, and a skater can go way down as well). Personally, I find this refreshing and exciting, as well as being much more reflective of the reality that not everyone is perfect every day.
Third, I love that a skater can see where they need to improve. As a skater who competes under IJS myself, I like seeing the sheets afterwards and being able to make direct comparisons to what I did as opposed to my competitors, and also being able to see exactly where the mistakes were.
There are many things I don’t like about IJS, but since this is a “Best Things” post, I’ll save my criticisms of IJS for another conversation.
9) Maximizing Potential
I love seeing a competitive skater reach their potential. It’s supremely difficult to perform well on Game Day and control those pesky nerves when it counts the most. It’s why certain moments in skating are so magical: Brian Boitano’s 1988 Long Program and Rudy Galindo in 1996 come to mind. But one of my favorite “maximizing potential” programs of all time is Stephanie Rosenthal’s Short Program from 2006.
Stephanie didn’t have the jumps that her competitors did. But she had courage and uniqueness. And she took the best of everything she had, and created a program that would not only maximize her abilities, but also made an excellent case for the judges and audience to pay attention to her despite her limitations. This program is nothing but inspiration to me.
For my part, I’ve never maximized my potential in competition. I rarely do a clean run-through in practice! But last Friday, March 8, 2013, let it be known that I did. And I felt like I won the Olympics.
10) It’s a Family
I’ve heard this from so many of the people I interview: skating is a family. Elite skaters train for years together, as friends, as supporters, and as rivals. While they all want to win, they all understand the daily struggles they each go through to achieve even the smallest of successes. Building their skills is like giving birth slowly over time, and it does take a village of friends, parents, coaches, choreographers, trainers, masseuses, and anyone else required to support just one skater. This is a tight-knit community. We see this in the way they socialize together on social media, interact backstage at events, and come together in shows.
But even at my adult level, we feel the same way. I can fly anywhere in the country, and wherever I land, I know that if I bring my skates there is another adult skater there to share ice with me at their local rink. There are some skaters I’ve known for over 10 years, and while I couldn’t tell you what they do for a living, we all know each other’s programs, successes, tragedies, and costumes. We have a great time cheering for each other at competitions, because we all appreciate what we each had to go through to make it there.
To me, adult skating in particular is like getting together with a large gathering of relatives at a semi-dysfunctional Christmas dinner: we all have our own special kind of crazy, and we all love and support each other regardless. We have eccentric aunts that arrive with their own liquor, nervous cousins who throw up in garbage cans right as their name gets called, the uncle who swears by his bizarre warm-up routine, the sister who takes a vodka shot as soon as they get off the ice, the childish prankster who throws panties, and the older-than-God grandpa who shamelessly flirts with everyone. We celebrate our annual gathering with joy, release, and more bling and sequins than you can imagine. And I love every second of it.