Saturday, 31 May 2014

Talkin' Bout A Revolution, Part 2 (Interview With Cecily Morrow)


Tracy Chapman's 1988 anthem for social change "Talkin' Bout A Revolution" inspired people around the world to rise up and not accept their political and social circumstances as mere fate. I was approached by Cecily Morrow, an incredibly hard working individual who produced the video series "Systematic Figure Skating: The Spin And Jump Techniques Of Gustave Lussi" and acted as associate producer of the PBS documentary "Gustave Lussi: The Man Who Changed Skating". A student of skating greats like Lussi, Carlo Fassi and Natalia Dubova, Cecily Morrow was involved in the early development of the Ice Theatre Of New York and has been involved in the coaching of development of skaters for almost forty years. She wanted to share with me an INCREDIBLY intelligent and well researched 'Proposal For Change'  she had thoughtfully written and also talk about her thoughts on the current state of skating and her own career and I could be any more thrilled to have the opportunity to share both her proposal and my interview with you. You read her full proposal for evolution and revolution in figure skating in Part 1 of Talkin' Bout A Revolution and now that you have had time to mull it over, I can only imagine you're curious to learn more about her background in figure skating and the bigger picture that goes along with her proposal. Well, you know me by now... I've got you covered there sunshine! Sit back, grab yourself a spot of tea or a good Christian drink (I've even got a few bowls of the creole crab chowder I made today left if you want to come and get some) and get ready for some fabulous Tracy Chapman music and part two of this incredible call for change, my interview with Cecily:


Tracy Chapman's 1988 hit "Talkin' Bout A Revolution", performed at a concert benefiting Amnesty International


Q: The amount you've done for figure skating is tremendous, but I want to start by talking about your work in carrying on the brilliant work of Mr. Lussi. You've produced the technical videos series, Systematic Figure Skating: The Spin and Jump Techniques of Gustave Lussi and have devoted countless hours in teaching his jump and spin method to so many skaters. What makes Mr. Lussi one of skating's most important figures and why is his technique something more coaches need to explore?

Gustave Lussi
A: Gustave Lussi invented and introduced many of the jumps and spins we perform today, including triple jumps, and combination spins. In fact, we saw almost no edge changes in competitive spins (for example, backward to forward) until after Mr. Lussi’s second spin video came out in 1992 wherein he introduced the technique in detail for the camel and back camel only as it increased the beauty of those two spins. He inveighed against frequent edge changes however, in spinning so as to not interrrupt the flow. Mr. Lussi was extremely exacting in the innovations he made; after introducing the first triple jump in 1952 with Dick Button, he refined his students’ double jumps into delayed-rotation doubles. Then, in the 1970’s when his students were doing spectacular, delayed double jumps through double axel and the first standard triples through triple axel (Gordie McKellen), Mr. Lussi introduced the delayed-rotation action into his triple jump technique, working on opening up the triple loop, for example, with John Misha Petkevich. Mr. Lussi did not like quads because he felt it was just adding another rotation to a jump, and by so doing, tending to focus an entire program on one jump. Mr. Lussi wanted to see a program filled with spectacular delayed-rotation jumps and fast spins. What he wanted to see and what coaches need to explore and carry on was his work with building delayed-rotation single, double, and triple jumps as standard. Mr. Lussi had his students experimenting and competing with each other in group jump lessons, exhorting them to perform jumps with the most distance, height, and beauty. They discovered early on that to achieve those qualities in any jump, the skater must take-off on the shortest and straightest "edge", moving into a fully outstretched position in the air - the delayed-rotation action - until the apex of the jump, then must retract rapidly into Mr. Lussi's quick rotation position, and then open the rotation position, another "delay" or suspension, three-quarters of a rotation before landing, thus creating a pre-landing position in the air, with consequent maximum outflow in the landing. He called it a foot-reserve landing (see Volume III of Systematic Figure Skating — www.LussiTechnicalVideo.com). By the 1980’s Mr. Lussi was only teaching in the summers; therefore, his work standardizing the delayed-rotation action in triples (for which current skating luminaries are calling) was somewhat curtailed.  By 2000, regular triple jumps were standard and many skaters, after the 2002 Olympics, when IJS was introduced, focused on quads. After Jason Brown’s great performance at the 2014 US Nationals, Terri Tarquini interviewed Jason’s coach, Kori Ade, for PS Magazine. She posed this scenario to Ms. Ade: "Jason doesn't have a quad, but he proved that an overall awesome skate can trump the quad. Evan Lysacek won an Olympic gold medal without a quad. Can it be done again?" Kori Ade replied: "Oh, it can be done." For this reason, current coaches would be wise to explore Mr. Lussi’s delayed-rotation technique for all jumps. Delayed-rotation triples, when done correctly, do not take more power or strength than regular triples; in fact, young pros that I have taught reported that the delayed triples feel easier to perform because of the increased distance and height achieved in the take-off, and the fact that they pull in from a fully outstretched position which increases the speed of the rotation, as in a spin. Personally, I had the same experience with doubles - what felt like an effort with regular doubles, seemed effortless with the delay. Mr. Lussi knew that skaters such as myself who were, essentially, fearful 90 pound weaklings could do the big, delayed jumps. He was able to explain to me, and all of his students, where every single part of the body including the eyes were supposed to be, every step of the way in every jump, and well before and after every jump, because delayed jumps are achievable through exact timing and detailed accuracy of position. So, it would be wise for all coaches to know how to do and teach these spectacular Lussi jumps to trump quads.

Cecily Morrow
Q: You also trained with brilliant coaches Carlo Fassi and Natalia Dubova. As coaches and people, what stands out in your mind about them both that made them the successes they were/are?

A: Carlo was, in fact, one of Mr. Lussi’s students. He understood compulsory school figures the way Mr. Lussi understood everything to do with free skating. Interestingly, Mr. Lussi’s and Carlo’s figure techniques
were similar, particularly in the loops. As it happens, the techniques of Carlo, Mr. Lussi, and Natalia Dubova all fit together technically; they are completely compatible, providing the necessary components of a complete skater. For example, Mr. Lussi taught John Curry and Dorothy Hamill their jumps and spins; Carlo and Christa Fassi polished their figures, gave them beautiful programs, and trained them. If they had then gone to Dubova, they could have added greater speed and control to their skating. Skaters and coaches who missed the opportunity to study figures would be wise to study Dubova’s ice dance exercises (see Stroking Exercises on Ice: The Dance Training Methods of Natalia Dubova) to understand the secret of producing world-class stroking, including smooth transitions, turns, and strong edges. Such technique is invaluable for free skating training.

Cecily performing in the first Ice Theatre Of New York ensemble piece

Q: What can you share about your skating career before you turned professional and helped create the Ice Theatre Of New York?

Q: The most important thing that I did was to stop competing at age thirteen and begin actually to study the
methods of the world famous coaches I was fortunate with which to work. From my very first lesson with Mr. Lussi at age eleven, I wrote down everything he taught me; Carlo, the same. I just kept attempting to follow their exacting instructions until, eventually, I succeeded in performing the elements and completely understood, technically, the physics and physiology of it all. I also began spending a lot of time listening to music and choreographing non-traditional, "new wave" programs to perform in shows. To this day, when I put on music in the rink that I like to sing to, or that evokes some emotion — that music just goes through my body, inspires me to move, and fills me with such life that it is very difficult for me to hear music without moving to it or envisioning a body skating to it. Just before I turned sixteen, I became a pro and started teaching; my first student was fourteen years old, working on a double axel. Having that kind of responsibility forced me to grow up quickly, turning my focus to helping my students advance. Then, through off-ice exercise and dance training in New York City, especially ballet, I enlarged my knowledge of body mechanics, so that, with my interest in education, documentation of technique, dance, and non-traditional skating programs, I was inevitably led in 1984 to the Greenwich Village landmark where Mark Bogaerts, Marjorie Kouns, Moira North, and I started what became the Ice Theatre of New York.

2 time Olympic Gold Medallist Dick Button interviewing his coach Gustave Lussi for the 1989 PBS Special

Q: How do you feel about what the Ice Theatre Of New York has accomplished over the years? Is it true to your vision? Has it met or exceeded your expectations?

A: Most of my contribution to Ice Theatre was in the start-up and our first few years. The creation of Ice Theatre was fun - midnight rehearsals, productions of our own devising - the city was ours, including on plastic at Studio 54 (ha!) - but exhausting on top of my already seven day a week, fourteen hour day teaching schedule. With ITNY we had plans for extensive ensemble pieces, tours, plus, on my end, producing educational materials such as the Lussi videos. After the first couple of years performing with the company and starting work on the videos, I actually quit teaching full-time, left New York City, and went to school in Massachusetts at Smith College. Eventually I produced the videos; and I think Ice Theatre, led from that time by Moira North, certainly met performance expectations and many of their educational visions. And, I know they have more ideas to realize.

Q: As you've illustrated in your wonderfully written "Proposal For Change", there is a bigger picture to the problems in figure skating today. Why is it so important that people continue to examine and try to solve these issues?

A: In America we have freedom of speech; we also have, as members of groups dedicated to various pursuits, an inherent loyalty to our organizations. However, all members should feel welcome to discuss, openly, potential changes, and all members must be allowed to express their opinions, and even put into motion their own ideas, respectfully, without fear of retribution. I was encouraged to write my "Proposal For Change" by a brilliant, highly successful, non-skating businessman with whom I watched the 2014 Olympic ladies figure skating event. We were with other businessmen who cited many of the problems in skating that participants have been guardedly mentioning since skating started to lose its popularity from about 2002 on. I discussed my ideas with them and many others as potential cures for these ills. Every interested individual must examine the realities of where figure skating is today and take action on a grand scale or others with money are going to drive change.


Excerpts from Cecily's wonderful training videos showing the Gustave Lussi delayed  rotation jumping technique. The first demonstrates Lussi's delayed rotation jumping technique and the second shows a clip of Lussi coaching Paul Wylie with this technique

Q: What advice would you offer someone who's a fan or supporter of the sport but isn't actually involved in governance of their skating federation that was unhappy with the current state of figure skating and wanted to constructively do something about it?

Q: Two things come to mind. First, years ago in an interview for the PBS documentary, Gustave Lussi: The Man Who Changed Skating, Olympic competitor, gracious lady, and Lussi student, Eileen Seigh, exclaimed, "Gus had them rewriting the ruleboFgivok!" I knew what she was talking about for in one of my lessons Mr. Lussi told me this story: "I took Dick Button to the Worlds in '46, ’47, after the war. At that time the figures were open at the center. Dick skated the back figure and I had him close the center. The official came to me and said, 'That's illegal. He can't skate the figure that way.' I told him, 'This boy's champion of the United States and that's the way we're going to do it!' From then on the figures were skated with the closed centers." Another lesson: "Do you know how the delayed axel was invented? I had a skater by the name of Barbara Jones - she had a terrific split jump. One day I told her to take an axel with the leg out that way, right straight out in front. She did it, and that's how the delayed axel was born. Later, I was called down to the committee room and told: 'You can't teach a jump like that to a lady! It's unladylike, likely to hurt her.' I told them: 'I don't give a damn what you want. You're going to take what I give you!'" Gus Lussi and Dick Button made changes, just the way Torvill and Dean made changes with "Bolero"; they had the courage to make change and they had a plan; they performed so well that they couldn't be touched; they had the
popular vote of the people behind them as they had the courage to present it on center stage at the Olympics and Worlds. Second, Mr. Lussi tells many stories of famous people whom he met over the years. One of my favorites has to do with spinning: "I met a man on the way... on the train to Philadelphia, by the name of Sperry; he invented the gyroscope, the Sperry Gyroscope. He took it all over the United States, trying to sell it, and the Americans laughed at him. So he took it to France; they bought it and the Americans had to buy it back from them!"! Colonel Sperry may have been laughed at in the U.S. but, at least he was allowed to build his device here. Mr. Lussi developed his ideas in the U.S. and people laughed at him, too, but eventually his ideas were adopted into the rulebook because he had the vision, courage and a plan to make change. If you have an idea for change in skating and cannot get it done in the U.S., try Canada or France. If you don’t know where to start, you may contact me.


Q: What's one thing about you most people don't know?

A: I have several other completely absorbing lives, academia and summer life besides my skating. I am an academic at heart and in practice. While I love skating, I was never a natural athlete, so I worked extremely hard to achieve what I call world-class skating and the ultimate compliment - a well-known Olympic coach once said to me: "I would much rather watch you stroke than watch any triple jumps." Yet, the very best time in my life was the four years I spent at Smith College and the semester abroad at Oxford University (all not
skating). I love writing and am working on several non-skating projects in addition to my skating writing projects. And, every summer of my life I would live with just solar power at the family cottage on our island in Canada, running around in bare feet, zipping around in boats to other islands to visit friends, swim, ski, play tennis, directing canoe programs, paddling regattas, lake-wide scavenger hunts, and attending square dances and an island church with the families that have known my family for six generations on the lake. 

Q: Will figure skating have another 'golden era'?

A: I have been thinking long and hard about this question for a long time and what would bring it about. I’m afraid it would take another several pages to explain, so I will simply say that another ‘golden era’ is possible with a complete revision of the status quo and expansion of different competitive events (see Proposal for
Change), plus intelligent use of money and marketing. 

Q: In over thirty five years of on and off ice coaching, you've probably seen it all. What's the most inspiring moment you've had - and what was the most discouraging?

A: If I had to pick…actually three most inspiring times come to mind: 1) When I was instructing the demonstration skaters for the Lussi videos, professionals like Robin Wagner, coach of Olympic Champion, Sarah Hughes, and former Canadian National competitor, Rick Boudreau, it was incredibly inspiring to teach
delayed-rotation triples and blur spins to professional skaters who were completely free of the amateur and competitive constraints and the burden of having to "land" jumps. Teaching them was completely different from teaching the same delayed-rotation jumps to Olympic and international competitors - the competitors were so mentally constricted due to intense concern about losing their (undependable) jumps that it inhibited their ability to make greater changes quickly. The pros who did not have to worry about landing their jumps were able to learn and make the adjustments for the huge delayed jumps in just a few days (thank goodness because that is all the time we had). This freedom granted the pros the mental flexibility to absorb the information and adopt the changes quickly. Fun! 2) A day in late fall, must have been between 2004 and 2008, I was playing with my young son and the phone rang. It was Dick Button’s assistant calling to
order the Lussi videos. Well, I knew that Dick had a set of the videos because, not only had I sent them to him, but he was the host of them, had contributed to their production, as well as having been a major fundraiser. I said to her: "Dick doesn’t have to order the videos; I’ll just send him another set." She replied that the first set seemed to have been lost in a move and "Mr. Button wants to view them (Lussi techniques) before Nationals this year. He said to pay for them." Wow. 3) I am so pleased every time I receive a letter, postcard, or email, from someone, be it judge, coach, parent, or skater who has purchased my videos/
DVDs, telling me how the instruction has changed their skating and their lives. The most discouraging moment I've had as of late, realizing where skating is now after it used to be so popular. The only mildly encouraging thing is that now, finally, people are saying that things must change and there is nowhere to
go but up. But we must have completely new ideas, a major overhaul, and a plan. I’m not pointing fingers or talking about replacing people; I’m talking about expanding in ways that no one in skating as yet has had the foresight, power or courage to do.

You can learn more about Cecily at her website at http://www.icecommand.com and in order for this blog to reach a wider audience, I could sure use a little help. All you have to do is "LIKE" the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard for instant access to all of the new blog articles, features and interviews as they are made available. I also share daily updates and headlines from the skating world, videos and much more that's not here on the blog, so if you love figure skating as much I do, it would really be rude not to get on that inside edge! You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog. If you know someone who loves skating, tell them! It's all about getting a dialogue going on.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Talkin' Bout A Revolution, Part 1 (Cecily Morrow's Proposal For Change)


Tracy Chapman's 1988 anthem for social change "Talkin' Bout A Revolution" inspired people around the world to rise up and not accept their political and social circumstances as mere fate. I was approached by Cecily Morrow, an incredibly hard working individual who produced the video series "Systematic Figure Skating: The Spin And Jump Techniques Of Gustave Lussi" and acted as associate producer of the PBS documentary "Gustave Lussi: The Man Who Changed Skating". A student of skating greats like Lussi, Carlo Fassi and Natalia Dubova, Cecily Morrow was involved in the early development of the Ice Theatre Of New York and has been involved in the coaching of development of skaters for almost forty years. She wanted to share with me an INCREDIBLY intelligent and well researched 'Proposal For Change' she had thoughtfully written and also talk about her thoughts on the current state of skating and her own career and I could be any more thrilled to have the opportunity to share both her proposal and my interview with you. Sit back, grab yourself a spot of tea or a good Christian drink and get ready for some fabulous Tracy Chapman music and part one of this incredible call for change:

Tracy Chapman performing an acoustic version of "Talkin' Bout A Revolution" at a 1988 Amnesty International concert

CECILY MORROW: "REALIZING FIGURE SKATING'S POTENTIAL: PROPOSAL FOR A NEW COMPETITION STRUCTURE AND FORMAT"

Despite being an Olympic year, participant numbers in figure skating are down; audience ratings are down; revenues (media and sponsorship) are down. In the few steps below we fix these problems, broaden the field of figure skating, and prepare for its future.

Quickly examine some astute comments, illuminating the problems, on the figure skating events at the 2014 Olympic Games: 1) "The Team Event seemed as if it were nothing more than an event created for television to gain viewers and revenue - it didn't do anything to broaden the sport or make it more interesting." 2) "How do you know what the jumps are and how they are judged?" 3) "Why do many of the skaters swing their arms around now? Does it add more points?" 4) "It’s so frantic; I can’t relate to the skaters the way I used to." 5) “It looks like they threw in some of that new 'flex dance' or 'Cirque du Soleil' on ice". And 6) "I thought the new judging system was created so that there would be no more judging controversies."!

To sum up the problems and changes needed (for the sake of simplicity we’ll focus on singles events, but this proposal is intended to address all disciplines, singles, pairs, dance): 1) The audience and skaters want something different in figure skating, similar to the way skiing has evolved into a multitude of different events. 2) The audience wants to be educated, to know exactly: which jump (throw, lift, etc.) is which; what
makes a better jump and therefore gets a higher grade; what to look for in the execution of a jump; what the spins are (or pair spins, mohawks, twizzles, etc.) and how they are performed and judged. We need individual element events, using the International Judging System (IJS), or similar counting system, to judge them; these media-darling events would highlight the elements, educate the audience, allow more skaters to earn medals for their specialties, and make skating look like a more fun, encouraging sport, more accessible to potential participants. 3) In the short and long programs, skaters are packing their programs with potential point-gathering arm and leg motions and simply adding more rotations to jumps, thus nearing maximum levels of delivering engaging and technically proficient performances of IJS programs. And, the audience, skaters, and coaches have reached the maximum level of tolerance of that program content and delivery under the International Judging System confines (i.e. If all a skater needs to do to win the Olympics is add one more rotation or element into a program than another skater, then she does not really have to worry much about how she looks while doing the jumps. Acknowledging that skating is a sport combined with music and some level of performance art like classical ballet, modern dance, and post-modern dance, including everything from jazz to hip-hop and flex, we must adjust the long program event to align with this idea. We are lucky that figure skating encompasses all of these styles but, unless we develop broader competition events that reward all of these styles, eventually new skating events will develop outside of the "figure skating" umbrella. For instance, you would not expect someone to enter a classical ballet competition dancing a jazz or hip-hop piece, but that is what we are currently doing in our figure skating events. We need three categories for our long program — classical, modern, and post-modern to provide new fields for the future of figure skating. 4) In the short and long programs, the audience wants the skaters to engage them intellectually and emotionally, perform meaningfully for them. A skater needs time to develop fully each move, growing and building in emotion and spectacle until the end of the program, reaching the final crescendo, or nuanced moment with the music. This means providing an event allowing  for skaters to be on one foot for longer periods if desired. Racking up points with many, little, frequent, two-footed, bent-legged and pin-wheeling arm crescendos throughout a program, witnessed many times in the current, all-encompassing, long program event, leaves the audience unfulfilled and frustrated unless, of course, it can be delivered in a postmodern category. 5) Requiring the anatomy-defying spins, triple and quad jumps for the short and long programs is discouraging for lower level participants and potential participants, as those elements represent a world that not all people think they can enter and succeed. The individual elements events would provide outlets for those who wish to perform those more extreme elements. 6) The current International Judging System, combined with the short and long programs (originally designed for the 6.0 system), results in an athlete frantically performing a check list of what can look like not quite fully developed moves. Using a more understandable and transparent system for the short and long programs provides skaters and the audience with a more fulfilling and rewarding participatory experience, encouraging participation!

How do we do this? Consider - with the advent of the quad and the Biellmann, before anyone had even perfected delayed-rotation triples (which have since faded and should be brought back), thirty years ago legendary coach, Gustave Lussi, said that figure skating was "going into a world which does not exist", meaning that few will be able to, or want to, perform the now expected anatomy-defying spins and quadruple rotation jumps within the short or long program format. We saw it in the men’s event at Sochi - many failed quads marred otherwise stellar programs. As a result this attempt of setting an IJS goal for figure skating within the old short and long program format is shrinking numbers of participants and audience
participation, rather than expanding it.

There is no doubt that figure skating is a sport; it takes a tremendous amount of training and athleticism to jump, spin, or even stroke for four minutes. And, despite the point by point IJS, figure skating remains a sport primarily concerned with presentation and the artistic (read emotional) impression a performance leaves upon the individual viewer and the larger audience. Highly-skilled technical execution of elements like jumps is actually the foundation of artistic quality in a program, embodied in how the skater prepares for a jump, lands a jump, and flows into the next move. In addition, we say a performer has 'presence'; so, too, a figure skater must not only seamlessly weave jumps, spins, and technical elements, but must also create an aura of command over an audience, compelling them to "be moved" (to their feet, to tears, to applaud) by a
performance.

Considering the above and the results of the 2014 Olympic Games, figure skating must expand as delineated below to thrive. First, recoup past successes. Figure skating needs to preserve its original events, reconfigure them to match the desires of the participants, media, and audience, then expand into many other medal events. To understand and orchestrate how, look briefly at the current explosion in skiing, a sport with similar financial, insurance, physical facility, and media challenges, a sport which has, nonetheless, exploded into a variety and multitude of events while preserving its original Alpine, ski jumping, and cross-country events. Skiing has expanded and broken out into: slalom, giant slalom, downhill, moguls, moguls with jumps, aerial jumping, slope style, freestyle, boarders, half-pipe boarders, half- pipe skiers, Nordic combined, biathlon, team skiing (remember fours in figure skating?) etc. with many different elements performed and judging systems employed. Within those categories mentioned above, there exist numerous medal events.

Figure skating, as well, has exploded into a multitude of variants - acrobatic quad jumps, anatomy-defying spins, gravity-defying delayed rotation jumps, combination spins on all four edges, fast-forward skating,
long, dramatic, full-rink-gliding spirals and spread eagles (not to exclude backflips and hydroblading), all delivered in balletic, modern, jazzy, or any number of post-modern hip-hop, step, slide, or flex dance styles - the only difference being that the one remaining format, essentially the short and long program, and one judging system, IJS, is trying to encapsulate it all, with the result that figure skating is not growing and thriving as it could be.

The sport of skiing mostly judges apples to apples, aerialists to aerialists, for instance, while figure skating is judging apples to oranges, forcing judges to compare long gliding, graceful, elegant, seamlessly fluid,
effortless, perfectionist jumpers and crowd-pleasing spinners like Korean skater, Yuna Kim, to the skipping, flashy, bent-legged, prancing, pumping-it-out, acrobatic jumpers and anatomy-defying spinners like Russian skater, Adelina Sotnikova, with the result of confused audiences repeatedly calling into question the judging formats, frustrated skating populations, and officials scrambling to explain the medal results to an increasingly alienated and discouraged participant base and audience. This leaves stars like Yuna Kim, who inspired a mass of young girls to start skating, saying "I’m just glad it’s over", and the many aspiring Yuna Kim's ultimately disappointed in and quitting the sport, as well as many young Polina's, and Julia Lipnitskaia's, whose bodies might not last another four years of daily pretzeling, perhaps never realizing their dreams of
medals for their world class performances.

The answer? More scheduled competitions? No. We must schedule new, and more interesting, media-darling events at the existing competitions, the Olympic, international/world level competitions, employing different methods of media coverage already used in skiing. I propose a new competition structure be instituted immediately on all levels from the highest ranks to the lowest levels of figure skating. For the sake of simplicity and explanation, we will begin at the top, describing a new configuration of the World and Olympic competition events.

For the IJS to work optimally, it must govern events that evaluate the elements in isolation so that the audience as well as the judges can see things up-close like take-offs and landings. The IJS is well-suited to judge a myriad of up-close, single element events. The jump events would be: axel, salchow, toe-loop, loop, flip, lutz, and alternative jumps. Skaters could perform a regular or a truly delayed-rotation, double, triple, or quad of the individual jump. There would be a general warm-up for ten skaters in all jump events. Then the skaters would clear the ice except the first five who would be circling in an area on the end, briefly waiting to take their jump. The event will run very quickly. The first skater's name is called; he has fifteen seconds to complete his jump. As soon as his name is called he has to present himself, take the axel (double, triple), then
get off on the other end (or glide down along the barrier to an alternate exit than the entering skaters). The jump is replayed from an overhead camera angle in slow motion on all of the monitors (giant screen and judges monitors and for television audiences) starting at and showing the take-off edge, distance travelled,
and landing edge. It is then replayed slo-mo by the side camera at the point of take-off showing the air position of the body, and the height of the jump measured at the apex of the jump. Freeze-frame can be employed for any part of any jump. Meanwhile the judges are giving the marks using the IJS, aided by the computer calculations. The same value would be given for a spectacular, delayed rotation jump as for that jump with an extra rotation because they are equal in difficulty. (i.e. a spectacular, delayed-rotation double axel would equal a triple axel if it travelled the same distance and height, etc.) Judges can evaluate overall presentation, control of edges, speed, and air positions, then the computer can factor in the distance and height for the total mark. As soon as the first skater leaves the ice and the two five-ten second replays are done, the second skater takes his Axel as another skater is allowed onto the warm-up area. Each jump event with approximately thirty skaters would take approximately a half-hour to forty five minutes, including
warm-ups, performance, reviewing, judging. There could be a further, alternative jumps event or events, which allow a skater to experiment with new jumps, such as backflip, Russian split-flip, etc. The male skater who wins the most jump events gets an overall jump award. Same for the women’s events. Television commentators would be educating the audience as to the very specific technicalities of each jump, citing all of the factors which make an axel recognizable and different - forward take-off, off the toe or skid, delayed-rotation or immediate rotation, bent free-leg, straight free-leg, crossed-leg rotation position, side-by-side leg rotation position, arms pulled in, arms overhead, etc. Each skater repeating the jump, along with the slo-mo camera repetitions will educate the audience; they will begin to recognize the different jumps.

The spin competition would work the same way except more skaters could warm up at one time. The spin events would be: upright, sit, camel, flying camel, flying sit, layback (or another variation of spin for men),
alternative spins, and, finally, combinations. The spin events would be scheduled before the jump events so as to provide a more thorough warmup for the jumps. Those skaters interested in, and more adept at, quads and other jumps would win those events while presumably others would shine at spin events. This way, if you have a strong female jumper, she would not be forced to fit another person’s definition of graceful; she would be polished, but allowed to shine as an athletic, aggressive jumper rather than trying to make her look graceful by putting a flower in her hair and giving her classical arm movements and facial expressions.

Pairs would have their elements events and dancers would compete in their element events such as twizzles and lifts. We need to make skating more accessible and give the opportunity to more skaters to display their
skills; thus, a skater representing the United States, for instance, could just compete in the salchow and flip because she won or placed second in the Nationals in salchow and flip. The numbers of participants would explode; audiences would be less frustrated and more informed, and the media would be scrambling to televise these popular, easily televised events. Each competitor representing his or her country, like speed skaters, can choose to wear a variation of an athletic-looking team outfit more suitable for elements events. If necessary, these fitted suits could have a tiny chip or register of some kind on the side of the leg at boot height that would record the number of rotations in a spin or the height of the jump. Let all skaters be rewarded for their extraordinary, individual talents rather than trying to train and package each skater to be like all who came before, yet with one more rotation.

We should reestablish a slightly modified 6.0 (or 10) judging system for the short and long programs, as when figure skating was immensely popular. Within the long program event, at least, there could be three
different categories representing all forms of figure skating; for instance, classical, modern, and post-modern so that a classical performance like Yuna Kim’s 2014 presentation would not be compared against a modern
performance like Adelina Sotnikova’s 2014 presentation. The classical category would allow for long-held spirals, spread eagles, single edge and one position blur spins, for instance. Let those skaters refine their triple (or double) jumps into huge, flying, delayed-rotation triples, and blur spins, all within a musically lyrical long program. In the classical category of the long program event, allow no quads, limit combination jumps; allow no anatomy defying, contortionist, or overly combined spins within those classical category programs. Then, the modern and post-modern categories would be the place for the extreme jumps like quads and extremely contortionist, combination and edge-changing spins. The goal throughout is to skate a seamless, perfect performance. If it turns out that the short program is discontinued then we could introduce another, completely different event which emphasizes athleticism and artistry with whatever the skater wants to include under the 'new' 6.0 system. This event would, essentially, replace the exhibition but would also have three event categories, classical, modern, and post-modern. (Not theatre — no props or overly elaborate costumes.) Again, the goal is to skate a seamless, perfect performance.

Save time to spend on these new medal events by spending much less time showing all the skaters standing with their coaches before they skate and all taking their bows after their programs are finished; spend much less time with the camera held on the skater and coaches in 'kiss and cry' endlessly waiting for the marks and watching them all blow kisses to people at home. And, if necessary, save time by eliminating the team competition which is a rebroadcast of the same skaters skating the same programs.

Also, consider this: if people will watch curling, and putting in golf, then they will watch a limited figures event if presented properly. Not everyone who watches skating or the Olympics is young and on fast forward.
We should reinstate figures to provide outlets for the many talented figure skaters, those young athletes who, like Trixi Shuba, Priscilla Hill, Diane Goldstein, teens and college athletes new to the sport, still want to compete in figures, those highly skilled, technical, figure skating participants who may never master a double axel or Biellmann. Feature close ups of the feet turning and tracing loops; the TV commentators can draw lines on the ice, the way they do in football, to show the line-ups of the turns and circles they are skating so that if the skater’s line-up is off, the audience can see while the figure is being skated.

There would be an overall medal for that skater who wins the most events or accrues the most medals or the most points. We have excellently trained, talented skaters who have so much creativity and experience to offer. Our systems and events need to promote expansion of their creative work, allow for the audience to engage with the skaters, and provide the athleticism for which the media and sponsors are hungering.

Now that you've read Cecily's Proposal For Change and have had time to mull it over, I can only imagine you're curious to learn more about her background in figure skating and the bigger picture that comes out of her proposal. Well, you know me by now... I've got you covered there sunshine! Stay tuned to Skate Guard for an extremely in-depth interview with Cecily in Part 2 of 'Talkin' Bout A Revolution'. In the meantime, you can learn more about Cecily at her website at http://www.icecommand.com. and in order for this blog to reach a wider audience, I could sure use a little help. All you have to do is "LIKE" the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard for instant access to all of the new blog articles, features and interviews as they are made available. I also share daily updates and headlines from the skating world, videos and much more that's not here on the blog, so if you love figure skating as much I do, it would really be rude not to get on that inside edge! You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog. If you know someone who loves skating, tell them! It's all about getting a dialogue going on.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Interview With Stephanie Zhang


After only skating for three years and at the age of seven, Stephanie Zhang was named to China's national figure skating team. Only two years later, the precocious young skater would move with her family at Australia and by thirteen, Australia offered her citizenship based on her skating talent. Her career on the ice not only saw her win two Australian national titles and six Australian junior titles but another four national medals as well.  Stephanie represented Australia at the Four Continents and World Championships as well as the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City and 2002 Goodwill Games, and did so with big, consistent triple jumps and confidence galore. Perhaps most remarkable about her story is her return to competitive skating (and the national medal podium in Australia) after a TEN YEAR ABSENCE during the 2012/2013 competitive season. Stephanie took the time to talk about her skating career, return to the ice and what she's doing now in this wonderful interview:

Q: Born in China, you're a former member of China's national team but moved to Australia at a young age and started skating for Australia. What memories do you have of your childhood in China and what was moving to a new country like?

A: Where I am from (Harbin) has bitter cold winters so I will never forget that. Being a little girl at the time moving to Australia, to me it was a whole lot of new things and experience to take in. It was quite exciting and at the same time very scary especially with not being able to speak English.

Q: You have twice won Australia's National Championships (1999 and 2000) and have won Australia's junior title six times. After a ten year absence from the sport, you returned to competition last season and won your sixth medal at the senior level in your country. What did you do when you weren't skating competitively, what prompted you to decide to return to the sport and how hard was training to get in competitive form?

A: I never really gave up skating in my head for all those years. I just thought it would be a great self challenge to see if I still had got what it takes. Although it is extremely hard to be working a full time job and training at an elite level, after ten years off and barely skating during that time it took me three months to get all my triples back and it was in time for Nationals. Lots of sweat and no tears!

Q: What was going from competing under the 6.0 system to the new judging system like for you?

A: Personally I feel it's taken a bit of the athleticism out of the sport. In saying that, I'm aware everything is being judged in a more intriguing light. It certainly forces the skaters to improve their skills as a whole.

Q: You have competed at the Junior World Championships, Four Continents Championships, Goodwill Games, World Championships and in 2002 represented Australia at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. What are your favourite memory from these competitions and what did you love most about the Olympic experience?

A: I enjoyed each competitions in its own way, but I have to say I liked Junior Worlds because the skaters were more likely to be around the same age as me. With Worlds and other senior championships and even the Olympics, at the time it was a bit overwhelming competing with all my skating idols. It was such an honor to be skating for Australia at the Olympics, a country I've lived in most my life now. You should come and visit!

Q: Will we see you competing next season?

A: I am not sure if I have enough time to be training and working full time this year.

Q: In what area has your skating most improved over the off season?

A: I am not sure about improving but I do feel that I enjoy the sport a lot more than while I was younger. It wasn't always about winning competitions this time around.


Q: When it comes to other skaters, who is your role model in the sport?

A: Michelle Kwan. No doubt!

Q: In 2007, the fatal crash of the Merinda near the Sydney Harbor Bridge claimed the lives of four members of Australia's figure skating community and injured two others. What kind of an impact did this accident leave on the skating community?

A: It was and is a very sad tragedy. I know all of the members involved on a personal level so it was hard for me.

Q: What is one thing about you most people don't know?

A: I'm constantly eating food!


Q: What are three things you most want to do in life that you haven't yet - three things on your "bucket list"?

A: To learn how to fly a plane, to own an ice rink in my back yard and to learn to surf.

Q: What do you enjoy most about skating?

A: Since I start skating at a very young age, it's now imprinted in my DNA! I feel lost if I don't do something skating related in my life. So now, I'm also a coach and hoping to pass on my knowledge to the younger generation of skaters. Skating gives you the arena to freely express yourself and that's what I love the most.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Interview With Elena Bechke


Elena Bechke's story is one of perseverance. Struggling through the early part of her career, she rose to the occasion so many times with partner Denis Petrov, winning the World bronze medal in 1989, two medals at the European Championships, the 1992 Soviet title and ultimately, the Olympic silver medal at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. Turning professional following that year's World Championships, Bechke and Petrov went on to be one of the most successful professional pairs teams of all time, finishing second at the World Professional Championships five times and ultimately winning the World Professional Championships in 1996. They toured with Stars On Ice for seven years and won the U.S. Professional Championships, Canadian Professional Championships, U.S. Open Professional Championships, Challenge Of Champions and ESPN Pro Championships, a later incarnation of the Legends Of Figure Skating Competition. Their skating was everything pairs skating should be: daring, difficult, beautiful and artistic. Now remarried and a mother of two, Bechke lives and coaches and North Carolina... and her daughter Sophia is an up and coming skater in her own right. Elena took the time to talk about both her "amateur" and professional careers, relationship with Petrov, Stars On Ice, her children and much more in this must read interview:

Q: Your skating career was filled with so many amazing moments - medals at the Olympics, World Championships and European Championships and wins at the World Professional Championships, Challenge Of Champions, Canadian Professional Championships, U.S. Open and countless other professional competitions. What are your proudest moments and most special memories from both your "amateur" and professional careers? 

A: Probably the 1992 USSR Nationals. Denis and I won... finally, and it was last in history USSR Nationals because after that there was no more USSR. The Olympics... big time! I managed my nerves and did my best! Also, the 1996 World Professional Championships... we won and we did perfect!


Q: You toured with Stars On Ice for seven years. What did you enjoy most and learn most from your time on tour?

A: I loved every minute of my seven years with Stars On Ice. I learned how to be your best every show and how to share your talent with spectators. I learned and improved my English. I loved traveling on a private jets, going to beautiful American cities and traveling with the best skaters in the world.


Q: Before skating with Denis Petrov, you were won Skate Canada and a medal at the 1986 World Championships with your first partner Valery Kornienko, who was twenty years your senior. What were the high and low points of this partnership and what brought you to Denis Petrov? How did your coach Tamara Moskvina become involved in the process?

A: I always was with Tamara Moskvina. She coached me with Valery too. We were 1986 European Bronze Medalists and traveled a bit within the former USSR. When Valery decided to stop skating, Tamara advised me to try Denis as a skating partner. She knew what she was talking about!

Q: You competed at a time in Soviet pairs skating when you were up against SO many great teams at home, Gordeeva and Grinkov, Mishkutenok and Dmitriev, Shishkova and Naumov and Eltsova and Bushkov among them. How much pressure was there in competition at the Soviet Nationals and what did you learn from your competitors that improved your own skating?

A: There was SO much pressure that at times I did not want to compete. I always wanted to do my best but because of my nerves I had a few very rough events. I learned a lot from Gordeeva and Grinkov. They were my idols. I could watch them skate every day. I also learned how to be tough and positive when things are not that easy. Competing against great skaters helped me to become a stronger person.


Q: You and Denis married in 1990 and divorced in 1995. How challenging was balancing your personal relationship with Denis while still skating together every day on the ice?

A: It was not that hard. We were great friends but were just too young to take care of each other's emotional needs.  

Q: Do you and Denis still speak and would you ever consider skating together again?

A: We do not stay in touch and I'm not sure why. He is in China and I am in the U.S. I wish I could talk to him and just see how he is doing. There is no skating together in the near future.


Q: On your father's side of your family, you are of Hungarian heritage. Have you visited Hungary and what cultural traditions from Hungary and Russia do you celebrate in your life today?

A: I have never been there. The only Hungarian items I know these days are my last name and some great dishes my Mom cooks. My dad passed away in 1993.


Q: You have had so many fabulous programs over the years - "You Don't Bring Me Flowers", "The Young Lady And The Hooligan", "Whole Lotta Love" and "Blue Danube" among them. What were your favourite programs to skate and what is one piece of music you would love to skate to even now?

A: "Flowers" for sure. One of the best ever. The "Hungarian Dance" of 1999/2000 was just perfect. "Creation of the World" was simply unbelievable. I can watch those programs every day and still feel proud of Denis and I and all our coaches and choreographers.



Q:  What is your favourite movie, song and book?

A: Sleepless in Seattle and Nicholas Sparks books. He is from North Carolina as well. I love Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. My favourite song is "Just The Way You Are" by Bruno Mars.

Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why?

A: Kristi Yamaguchi. She was the most disciplined athlete in the world. Paul Wylie. The most passionate skater of all times. Scott Hamilton. The most creative and engaging skater and person I have ever met.

Q: You remarried in 2001 and now are a mother of two and a skating coach in North Carolina. How has life changed for you since your skating career ended and what do you consider most important in life now?

A: My kids Alex and Sophia are my world and my happiness. My family is the most important part of my life.  


Q: What is one thing most people don't know about you?

A: I am very insecure at times. I come across as I know it all but I really do not. I come across as a tough Russian woman but I really am not. I have my weak moments.

Q: If you could tell one person struggling with their confidence on the ice something, what would it be?

A: Let your skating come from your heart. Skate from your heart. Listen to your heart.

If you enjoyed the interview with Elena, like the blog on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard and read along at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca for more skater interviews as well as articles, skating history, commentary and special features! You can also follow me on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog for skating tweets and whatever else I've got on the go. It would be rude not to, now wouldn't it honey?

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The Zamboni Zodiac: Astrology In Figure Skating


"We are born at a given moment, in a given place, and like vintage years of wine, we have the qualities of the year and of the season in which we are born." - Carl Jung

No, it's not the dawning of the Age Of Aquarius, sunshine. It's time for The Zamboni Zodiac... a look at how astrology relates to figure skating and an in depth picture not only of how figure skaters relate to their astrological signs but what qualities that they possess as astrological signs that both help and hurt them in the figure skating world! When I sat down with a lap full of books (lucky seven to be precise) and decided that I'd write about this, I actually didn't even imagine how much certain skaters would really relate to their signs. I was just honestly so amazed that I'd found a way to combine my love of astrology and skating (next I've got to figure out a way to combine Hollandaise sauce and gravy)! I found it SO interesting to research this (you wouldn't believe!) and I honestly think you will too. Astrology, the search for meaning in the sky, has been around for well over 25,000 years in some form or another - perhaps much, much longer. It existed in ancient Sumeria, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Arabia, Europe, India, Asia and Mesoamerica in so many different forms and has survived war, feast, famine and religious persecution. It's so much more than some horoscope in a newspaper. If you really study and acquaint yourself with astrology, it is an art and science... much like skating. Is it a coincidence that much of skating's 'royalty' fall under the regal sign of Leo? That one of the most FUN skaters ever to grace the sport is a Gemini? It's up to you to be the judge as The Zamboni Zodiac paints its picture:

ARIES (MARCH 21-APRIL 19)

Sonja Henie

Pioneering and courageous, it's no surprise that 3 time Olympic Gold Medallist Sonja Henie was an Aries. Arians are also known to be aggressive and selfish at times, which would certainly explain her determination at all costs to be the most successful skater of her time, male or female. The sign is also known for its sense of adventure and confidence. Debi Thomas and Elaine Zayak, World Champions both, are Aries and are fine examples of skaters that were fearless and full of energy on the ice. Janet Lynn and Stephane Lambiel, also Aries, were certainly courageous and pioneering in bringing to the ice intangible and ethereal ARTISTIC qualities that other skaters in their respective eras were not always sporting. Arians are also known to be very active people, avid LEARNERS that have the ability to laugh at themselves when things don't go the way the way they want to, certainly qualities any coach would love to have in a student.

Famous Arians: Maya Angelou, Johann Sebastian Bach, Charlie Chaplin, Elton John

TAURUS (APRIL 20-MAY 20)

Toller Cranston

Taureans are known to be very patient and reliable people. They'd have to be. Many famous skaters that are Taureans have had careers that have required more persistence, determination and patience than most. Look at skaters like Jamie Sale, who's a Taurus and had to fight her entire career to finally achieve the success that she was destined for. Another example of this persistence and determination in a skating Taurus is Lloyd Eisler, who made three trips to the Winter Olympic Games and fought through injury and judging controversy with his partner Isabelle Brasseur throughout their highly successful career. Taureans are always very well spoken as well. If you take that into account, it's no wonder both Toller Cranston and Rosalynn Sumners enjoyed great success as skating commentators after their "amateur" careers had ended. Taurus is "the sign of the bull" and therefore is well known as a sign that is very stubborn by nature at times... and a stubborn determination is certainly a quality that will help skaters "stick to it" and endure success as they take the long road to achieving their dreams. Let's hope Taureans Ashley Wagner and Tessa Virtue will be entertaining us for years to come!

Famous Taureans: Cher... bitch (hair flip), Eva Peron, William Shakespeare, Leonardo di Vinci 

GEMINI (MAY 21-JUNE 20)

Kurt Browning

Geminis always get along with other Geminis. I should know, I am a TEXTBOOK one. We also don't shut up. So, if I was at a party with fellow Geminis Jeremy Abbott, Tara Lipinski, Evan Lysacek, Maya Usova and Katia Gordeeva, it would probably be hard to get a word in edgewise. We're a fun bunch but we also are very nervous and inconsistent by nature, a trait that can certainly be deadly in nature. Look at fantastic skaters like Tomas Verner and Steven Cousins who we always cross(ed) our fingers for and have issues with consistency when it comes down to competition at times. We're a very physically expressive sign. We talk with our hands as well as our mouths and are all about communication and having a sense of humor. You'll notice Gemini skaters as a rule will be very expressive with their arms. If you think about all of those qualities, Kurt Browning being a Gemini should be absolutely no surprise to you whatsoever. One downside of Geminis as a rule is that we tend to hear what we want to hear. We tend to absorb information on more of a subconscious level. One big upside however when it comes to skating is that once again, we love more than anything to have fun and MAKE life fun even when it isn't.

Famous Geminis: Bob Dylan, Judy Garland, John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe

CANCER (JUNE 21-JULY 22)

Michelle Kwan

If you tell a Cancer that they can't do something, they'll respond "why not?" and go out and do it. Dick Button certainly did when he was the first skater to land the double axel and triple loop, win 2 Olympic medals, become an iconic skating commentator and basically INVENT competitive professional skating. They're also very intuitive and imaginative people, ruled by emotion. They're traditionally negated as being a moody sign in astrology, but Cancers will actually try very hard to get OUT of their moods. If you look at their sense of intensity and imagination, could you even be the least bit surprised that Johnny Weir, Laetitia Hubert, Anita Hartshorn, Alexander Zhulin, Maria Butyrskaya, Angelika Krylova and Lucinda Ruh are all Cancers. They're not the only ones. Some of the BIGGEST names in skating are also Cancers, like Michelle Kwan, Kristi Yamaguchi, Victor Petrenko and Barbara Underhill. Cancers are sympathetic, kind and emotional people and these are also traits that really carry over onto the ice, of course, as well. I could certainly never imagine telling any of them they couldn't do anything. One thing's for ABSOLUTE certain. I don't think I'd ever want to head to head in a skate-off with a Cancer. They'd win. 

Famous Cancers: Princess Diana, Franz Kafka, Helen Keller, Antoine de Saint-Exupery

LEO (JULY 23-AUGUST 22)

Dorothy Hamill

Leo is the purple sign: the color of royalty. How befitting that skating royalty Christopher Dean, Robin Cousins, Dorothy Hamill and Peggy Fleming are ALL Leos. Although at times considered to be dogmatic and "pompous" by some, they are a sign that's full of wonderful qualities that would certainly help anyone in the skating world. They take constructive criticism well. They are broad-minded, creative and full of enthusiasm. They're honest and warmhearted. Just ask skaters like Liz Manley, Paul Duchesnay, Marie-France Dubreuil, Tanja Szewczenko, Povilas Vanagas, Midori Ito and Josee Chouinard. Are these not skaters that not only have all of these qualities but we can't help but just adore? In the world of competitive skating, however, Leos have one quality that needs to be "kept in check". Leos have a tendency to CONSTANTLY compare themselves to others. They'll obsess as to why they aren't 'better'. When they are able to keep this in check, they can certainly use this sense of comparison to better themselves as athletes, but if they let themselves worry too much about the competition, their sights may settle right on the gold... the Gracie Gold. After all, that girl is on fire.

Famous Leos: Napoleon Bonaparte, Julia Child, Madonna, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

VIRGO (AUGUST 23-SEPTEMBER 22)

Scott Hamilton

Being analytical and meticulous are qualities that help any skater succeed in competitive figure skating. Being
observant of one's competitors and reflective about the bigger picture of your performance are certainly things that help you win the mental game that IS competition. Virgos also finish what they start, which certainly boded well for 2010 Olympic Gold Medallist Yuna Kim, who again returned to the Olympic medal podium at the 2014 Games in Sochi in glorious fashion with a flawless performance. Another Virgo, 1996 U.S. National Champion Rudy Galindo certainly finished what HE started. Virgos are smart cookies who are very practical by nature, making them skaters who are not only aware of how to excel in competition but how to train as well. Think about John Curry, Todd Eldredge, Scott Moir, Jeffrey Buttle, Tim Goebel, Matt Savoie, Irina Rodnina, Petr Barna, Tai Babilonia... these are highly intelligent people who were/are very focused, well spoken and intelligent about the way they trained and competed. It's also no shocker that one of the skating world's most famous and successful members - 1984 Olympic Gold Medallist Scott Hamilton - is a Virgo!

Famous Virgos: Agatha Christie, Queen Elizabeth I, D.H. Lawrence, H.G. Wells

LIBRA (SEPTEMBER 23-OCTOBER 22)

Brian Boitano

The sign of the Libra is the Scales Of Justice. Libras are very "middle of the road" people who see both sides to any argument... they are mediators and very expressive people. They are also absolutely committed to achieving their goals. Mao Asada and Nancy Kerrigan are both Libras and skaters that in their own unique ways have shown their undying commitment to their skating goals throughout their careers. Libras are also great lovers of beauty and this would certainly translate to their commitment to artistic excellence on the ice. Jayne Torvill, Sergei Ponamorenko, Elena Berezhnaya, Brian Boitano... these are skaters who all have demonstrated time and time again their commitment to presenting programs that were truly works of art when completed. In winning Olympic gold in Sochi, Maxim Trankov is a Libra who showed his commitment to an idea and that idea was this past season's "Jesus Christ Superstar" free skate this season. The Scales Of Justice certainly slanted in his favor, now didn't they?

Famous Libras: Ray Charles, Jesse Jackson, Barbara Walters, Sigourney Weaver

SCORPIO (OCTOBER 23-NOVEMBER 21)

Evgeni Plushenko

A lot is said about Scorpios and a lot of it isn't good: that they are shrewd business people, that they are ruled by sex, that they have criminal minds. They're ruled by Pluto, the ancient god of the underworld and the dead. Their symbol is the sometimes fatal scorpion. Giiiirl! You'd swear they were all politicians and movie stars! Scorpios have very strong wills and are very SELF-willed. They are skaters that push themselves to the limit... more than any coach, choreographer or audience could. They are purposeful and fiercely determined to achieve their goals. Evgeni Plushenko... he's a Scorpio. I don't think there's a better poster boy. If you think in a million years that Evgeni wasn't gunning for Sochi to achieve a PERSONAL goal, I think you're kind of blinded. Like Plushenko, Emanuel Sandhu is a Scorpio. So is Paul Wylie. So is Adam Rippon. So is Ryan Bradley What all of these skaters actually have in absolute common is the fact that they stuck with their goals to succeed long after people had perhaps written them off, with great success actually. Charlie White, interestingly, is also a Scorpio, as is Sasha Cohen. If you draw the parallel between all of these skaters, there seems to be such a determination and focus on the end goal. That determination worked for Charlie White, Alexei Urmanov, Anton Sikharulidze, Ingo Steuer, Tatiana Totmianina, Xue Shen and Oksana Baiul... just ask them - they have the Olympic medals to prove it.

Famous Scorpios: Marie Antoinette, Ruth Gordon, Rock Hudson, Sylvia Plath

SAGITTARIUS (NOVEMBER 22-DECEMBER 21)

Katarina Witt

Sagittarians are very philosophical by nature. Like Virgos, they are also very analytical, which certainly is huge when it comes to having a bigger picture in skating than the outcome of one practice session or one competition. One of the main things they really have going for them is a positive outlook and a sense of optimism not shared with every other sign. David Pelletier, Lu Chen, Randy Gardner, Katarina Witt, Meagan Duhamel, Surya Bonaly, Miki Ando... are these not skaters you often see with a big old smile on their face? Sagittarians are NEVER boring, with great senses of humor like Geminis... they always have people migrating around them. They're also late bloomers by nature, which would certainly explain Oleg Protopopov, who's still wowing crowds in his 80's at the Evening With Champions shows at Harvard University long after his Olympic wins in 1964 and 1968 with his wife Ludmila. Their intellectual approach to any situation and friendly make them the kind of people who enjoy hear speaking in interviews - look at people like Caryn Kadavy, Jennifer Robinson and Brian Orser and think about them in interviews. Friendly, smiling and completely ON THE BALL and understanding and analytical. They are one of the most likable signs!

Famous Sagittarians: Ludwig von Beethoven, Winston Churchill, Bette Midler, Frank Sinatra

CAPRICORN  (DECEMBER 22-JANUARY 19)

Patrick Chan

Capricorns persevere. They are very willful and are all about endurance. They are intellectualized people who also have an underlying emotional sign but they are really very gutsy, gritty fighters which make them some of the most exciting competitors to watch. Meryl Davis, Joannie Rochette, Aliona Savchenko, Shawn Sawyer and Shizuka Arakawa are all Capricorns and skaters who we've seen 'dig a little deeper' with our own two eyes more than once. They love obstacles and crave challenges. What's that? Patrick Chan's a Capricorn? YOU DON'T SAY! Capricorns not only seek out a good challenge but they plan meticulously for it. Like Sagittarians and Virgos, Capricorns have great memories and are detail oriented. If you're a competitive skater, they are the people you want to watch out for. They're prepared.

Famous Capricorns: Joan Of Arc, Marlene Dietrich, Martin Luther King Jr., Elvis Presley

AQUARIUS (JANUARY 20-FEBRUARY 18)

Yuka Sato

"When the moon is in the second house... THIS IS THE DAWNING OF THE AGE OF AQUARIUS... THE AGE OF AQUARIUS... AQUARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRIUS!" Ignore the imaginary haze of smoke, Joni Mitchell and hookah pipes... it just got a little psychedelic for a moment apparently. Back to our regularly scheduled blogging... Aquarians are insightful and make excellent teachers. They sop up knowledge like a baguette to gravy, which really makes sense in a skating context... many of skating's Aquarians have gone from great students to careers as fabulous coaches and choreographers. Carol Heiss Jenkins, Shae-Lynn Bourne and Yuka Sato are prime examples of that. They command attention, which in the context of skating make them the true movie stars of the ice. Philippe Candeloro, Olga Markova, John Kerr, Eric Radford, Alexandr Fadeev... all skaters you really can't keep your eyes off of if you were to watch them perform. They come across as stern sometimes but it's really just that that they are really quite introspective sometimes. There is usually much more to Aquarians than meet the eye - they are complex people... people of substance that honestly often give people the wrong impression about them. The real truth of the matter is that they're really good people.

Famous Aquarians: Lewis Carroll, Carol Channing, Abraham Lincoln, Virginia Woolf

PISCES (FEBRUARY 19-MARCH 20)

Daisuke Takahashi

Pisceans are probably the most fascinating and compelling sign in the Zamboni Zodiac, which seems appropriate they're often saved for last. They are very aware of their bodies and often have the deepest, most expressive eyes. When it comes to that awareness of their bodies, it's interesting to note how many DANCERS are Pisceans. They tend to be naturally quite streamlined and agile. What's also compelling about Pisceans is their imagination and depth. Gary Beacom, Petri Kokko, Stannick Jeanette, Daisuke Takahashi, Pasha Grishuk... artists all... are Pisceans. You also have skaters with very balletic lines on the ice like Radka Kovarikova, Charlene Wong and Denis Petrov. One thing I think you'll find very interesting is that Alexei Yagudin and Max Aaron are Pisceans, and it's interesting in that these are people who really excelled technically in the initial phase of their careers but became MUCH more aware of their bodies and how to move them artistically as things processed. It's all about a bigger picture and Pisceans are almost as stubborn (but not quite) as Taureans, so they have that fire to stick with it until they achieve whatever it is they set out to.

Famous Pisceans: Edgar Cayce, Albert Einstein, Vaslaw Nijinsky, George Washington

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.