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Figure Skating Friday: Worst Costumes Part 1

Last week, I covered some of my favorite skating costumes.  Today, I am going in the opposite direction — which might end up being even more fun, and will certainly be more funny.

I feel the need to say that these opinions are my own, and that I don’t wish to offend anyone.  I will also be sticking to covering only elite international competitors — I don’t intend to make fun of recreational skaters with limited budgets or anything like that.  In fact, these costumes are generally custom-made — just in a rather displeasing mold.  😉

Welcome to the outrageous, funny, and over-the-top world of figure skating.

firebirdworstJana Khokhlova & Sergei Novitskionto, Ice Dance, Russia, Firebird, 2010

Firebird is one of my favorite pieces of music for skating and is a joy to behold.  This dress isn’t.

That is, if it can even be called a dress — though they didn’t get a costume deduction, and Ice Dance requires that the lady wear a dress “suitable for athletic competition.”  I would argue that her costume fails on both counts, but perhaps I’m just a meanie.


Truthfully, there were some good ideas here.  I like the idea of the flame wings and, yes, even the tail.  But the huge mass of illusion fabric that doesn’t exactly match Yana’s skintone ruins it completely.  If the “dress” featured more of the red and less of the skin tone, the pops of blue would actually look really cool, and the eye would have somewhere to rest.  As it is, there is just too much to take in, and the whole effect is exactly that — too much.

Generally I only include one photo, but in this case, you really need to get a good look at Jana’s tail, so I am including both the front and the back.  You’re welcome.

Alexei Yagudin, Men, Russia, One Banana, 1997

I couldn’t find any good (perhaps good is the wrong word here, but alas) pictures of this exhibition.  So, here’s a video.

Now that you’ve let that sink in a bit…

It’s hard to believe that this is the same Alexei Yagudin who, just five years later, would win the Olympics with some of the best programs ever in Men’s skating.  He is still my favorite Men’s singles skater, but even a fan like me can make fun of One Banana every now and then.  This program — and the costume that goes along with it — makes me very thankful that Alexei switched coaches to the legendary Tatiana Tarasova, who shaped him into the skater we know and love.


Natalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat, Ice Dance, France, The Little Prince and his Rose, 2014

I’ll admit it — green is far from my favorite color.  However, in this case, it is made worse by the fact that it makes their skin look a little, well, un-well.  There is also just too much going on with these costumes, and it’s hard to know where to look.  In addition, the only thing tying his costume to hers is the repeated green of her tights, which just look like sickly skin at first glance.

ilia giraffe

Ilia Kulik, Mens, Russia, Rhapsody in Blue, 1998

Usually, skating to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue comes with a boring costume in, you guessed it, blue.

Ilia Kulik didn’t want to be confined to such norms, and so he decided to skin a giraffe.

There isn’t really much more I can say about that.

caroworstbestCarolina Kostner, Ladies, Italy, Tango Lorca, 2009

This dress has a lot going on — and a lot of things that look like they are growing from it.  It’s a bit too 3-D for my taste, and the skirt is shredded in such a way that it looks like limp, wet algae strands hanging there.

Like many of these costumes, this is yet another example of too much going on and not really having a good focal point. Carolina usually has a decent look going, even if it isn’t always my favorite look, and it suits her.

This dress, however, really missed the mark.

Monarchy Monday: HIH Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna

anastasiaHer Imperial Highness, Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, the fourth and youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, was born on 5 June, 1901.  Her name means “resurrection,” something that was often pointed out in conjunction with legends of her survival.

Her birth was a bit of a disappointment to her parents and relatives — everyone had hoped that the Tsar’s fourth child would (finally) be the longed-for son and heir.  Because Russian laws differed from laws of other monarchies (such as England), the Tsar’s daughters would never be allowed to inherit the throne and producing a son was of paramount importance.  Upon finding out that his wife had given birth to yet another daughter, Nicholas had to go for a walk to compose himself before seeing the Empress and newborn Grand Duchess Anastasia.  But compose himself he did — Nicholas was a loving father who adored all of his daughters, despite the succession issue.


The prankster of the family, Anastasia was often called “shvibzik,” meaning “imp.”  She would often refuse to come out of trees that she had climbed or play pranks on her tutors and family members.  Anastasia is often credited as having taken the first “mirror selfie,” but the reality is that there is no way to know who came up with this idea first (and there are examples older than Anastasia’s).  Even so, the picture — indicative of her personality and of the family’s love of photography — is shown here.  It proves, if nothing else, that there is nothing new under the sun.

Like her sister Maria, Anastasia was too young to be a nurse during the war.  However, she went with Marie to visit soldiers, play games, write letters, and otherwise cheer them up.  She also had a cheering effect on her family during their captivity with her sunny personality.  Even the guards described her cheerfulness.

Because of the well-known impostor who went by the name of Anna Anderson and the media surrounding that woman’s decades-long claim to be Anastasia, the youngest Grand Duchess is the most famous, especially in the West.  In fact, I discovered the Romanov family via the (very inaccurate) 1997 animated film, Anastasia, as did many other Romanov followers I know.  The real Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna was killed along side her family in 1918, but many people still believe in the myths of survival.  Some people still believe Anna Anderson’s claims, despite DNA evidence to the contrary and despite the discovery of Anastasia’s remains.

Nota Bene: This is the fourth in a series about Tsar Nicholas II’s children. 

All dates prior to February 1918 given in Old Style (OS) format unless otherwise noted.


Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie

Thirteen Years at the Russian Court by Pierre Gilliard

Six Years at the Russian Court by Margaret Eager

Memories of the Russian Court by Anna Virubova

The Fate of the Romanovs by Greg King and Penny Wilson

The Resurrection of the Romanovs by Greg King and Penny Wilson

Figure Skating Friday: The Best Costumes Part 1

After last week’s tribute to the 1961 World Team, I wanted to do something a bit more cheerful for Figure Skating Friday this week.

Skating is know for its often elegant and sometimes outrageous costumes, which have the power to add — or detract — from a skater’s performance.

Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorite skating costumes.  (Least favorite coming up next week!)

elenabestcostumeElena Ilynik and Nikita Katsalapov, Ice Dance, Russia, Swan Lake, 2014

This dress just SCREAMS Black Swan.  However, it is just a little bit modern and creative while still definitely paying homage to the ballet.  This dress, and the program that went with it, hit every high note with the Russian crowd at the Sochi Olympics, bringing home a medal and bringing down the house, despite a one point deduction when a feather from Elena’s dress fell on the ice.

sasha best costume

Sasha Cohen, Ladies, United States, Romeo and Juliet, 2006

Designing a dress that reminds the audience of a historic time period while still being suitable for skating (in other words, short enough to jump in) is quite the challenge.  Sasha’s favorite dressmaker and designer, Jan Longmire, struck gold with this one (and its gold-colored twin, which Sasha wore earlier that season).  The embroidery and beading definitely has an old fashioned look to it, not out of place for the time of Shakespeare, if not directly historically accurate.  Even the shape of the skirt looks elegant, like a formal gown, just shorter.  The effect is beautiful and definitely something Sasha could skate in. Truly lovely!

chenbestNathan Chen, Men, United States, Prince Igor, 2017

Young Nathan Chen completed five quads in one program to win the US title this year — and he looked great doing it.  While his program used music from an opera that isn’t well known in the skating world, his costume does an excellent job of placing the audience in the 12th century Russian world of the opera’s main character.  Nathan’s costume is embroidered and fancy and befitting a prince — it is also masculine and powerful looking.

Also — I’m starting to realize that I really like red and gold. 😉

gandgbestcostumeEkaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov, Pairs, Russia, Moonlight Sonata, 1994

It’s hard to discuss the best of anything in figure skating without mentioning the incomparable G&G, and costumes are no exception.

In the ’90s when everyone else was overdosing on sequins and lace, Gordeeva and Grinkov kept it simple.  In this case, with such a strong, elegant program, having costumes that don’t distract the view was crucial to their success.  This was a pair known for their gorgeous line and stunning positions, and the simplicity of their costumes left the attention right where it belonged — on the masterpiece of their skating, showcasing their mature partnership and talent.

Monarchy Monday: HIH Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna

marieHer Imperial Highness, Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna, the third child of Tsar Nicholas II, was born on 14 June 1899.  Sometimes, especially in English language publications, she is referred to as “Marie,” the French form of her name, but this is not accurate in terms of Russian naming. (Although she sometimes went by Marie as well as the more traditional Russian nickname “Masha.”  Perhaps this had something to do with the Imperial Russian love of all things French.)

Considered very beautiful, Maria had light brown hair and striking blue eyes.  However, her sisters often called her “fat little bow wow,” especially when she went through what we would call a “chubby” phase during her growth.

Together with her younger sister, Anastasia, Maria was half of the so-called “little pair.”  She and Anastasia shared a room and often wore similar clothing.  However, kind Maria was often overruled by her impish prankster of a sister.


Maria was considered too young to be a nurse during the war, but she did go and visit soldiers and help them write letters home to their loved ones.  She was spared some of the more disturbing sights that her older sisters experienced, but was still able to help the war effort in a way more fitting to her age (only 15 when the war began).

Often a flirt, Maria’s lifelong dream was to be a wife and mother, and she often had crushes on the soliders she visited.  She said that if she were not a member of the imperial family she would have wanted to marry a solider and have lots of children.  While all of the Tsar’s daughters were expected to marry and have children, Maria seems to have daydreamed about this more than her sisters.  At least one man was very taken with her — Louis Mountbatten.  In fact, he kept a picture of her by his bedside as a memento of his childhood crush on her until the day he died.

Some people believed that Maria was a symptomatic carrier of hemophilia, the bleeding disease her younger brother, Alexei, suffered from.  When Maria had her tonsils out in 1914, she hemorrhaged, which could be an indication of hemophilia since some carriers do bleed more readily than the average unaffected person.  After the bodies of the Imperial family were discovered and tested, it was found that one of the girls in the main grave was a hemophilia carrier — but who she was depends on who is right about the identities of the various sisters in the graves, which is a mystery unlikely to ever be fully solved.

maria childNota Bene: This is the third in a series about Tsar Nicholas II’s children. 

All dates prior to February 1918 given in Old Style (OS) format unless otherwise noted.


Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie

Thirteen Years at the Russian Court by Pierre Gilliard

Six Years at the Russian Court by Margaret Eager

Memories of the Russian Court by Anna Virubova

The Fate of the Romanovs by Greg King and Penny Wilson

Figure Skating Friday: 1961

1961 world teamWhen you look at a list of medalists at the World Figure Skating Championships, you will notice three gaps, when the event was not held — World War I, World War II, and 1961.

On February 14, 1961, the entire US figure skating team, along with coaches, family members, and officials boarded Sabina Flight 548 bound for Brussels, on their way to Prague for the competition.  They never made it.  The next morning, the plane crashed during an aborted landing attempt near the Brussels airport.  No one survived.

On board were many famous and talented skaters and coaches.  The legendary coach and Olympic medalist, Maribel Vinson-Owen, was accompanying her daughters as their coach.  She had also coached Tenley Albright, the first American to win the Olympics in Ladies figure skating in 1956.  Vinson-Owen is tied with Michelle Kwan for the record number of US National titles (nine) in the Ladies event — but Maribel holds the record for total number of US gold medals when you factor in her four US National wins in Pairs.

Maribel’s daughter, Laurence Owen, age 16, was the champion of the Ladies’ event at Nationals and showed much promise for the 1964 Olympics. She had just been featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine, morbidly gracing the newsstands at the time of the crash. Her sister, Maribel, age 20, was National Champion in Pairs, with her partner Dudley Richards.  Men’s champion Bradley Lord and Ice Dance champions Diane Sherbloom and Larry Pierce were also lost in the crash, alongside other medalists like Stephanie Westerfield.  A full list can be found here.

The impact on the sport was felt immediately and for years into the future.  Out of respect for the dead (and due to the reality of a lack of judges and other officials), the competition was canceled.  Many foreign coaches, including John Nicks (from England) and Carlo Fassi (from Italy) came to fill in the void left by the victims of the crash.  Even so, the loss was deep and wide.  In the 1980’s, when Maribel Vinson’s former student Frank Carroll was coaching at the Olympic level for the first time, he found himself wishing that he could call Maribel and ask for advice.

In the 1964 Olympics, young skaters tried to bridge the gap, competing ahead of their time.  The US won only one medal in figure skating.  Scott Allen, age 14, brought home bronze in the Men’s event becoming one of the youngest medalists in history (he is still the youngest male and youngest individual medalist in the history of the sport).  Also at that games, a young star emerged in the Ladies event — Peggy Fleming, age 15, placed sixth but showed remarkable talent for the future.  She won the gold medal in 1968, re-establishing the US as a world-class power in figure skating.

The memory of the 1961 World Team has not been forgotten. US Figure Skating created the Memorial Fund, in their honor, to provide financial support to up-and-coming US skaters. In 2011, for the 50th anniversary of the crash, US Figure Skating made a documentary, entitled Rise 1961, about the team, the crash, and the Memorial Fund.  And, in Massachusetts, an elementary school was christened Vinson-Owen after the famous family.


US Figure Skating Memorial Fund

Rise 1961

Frozen in Time by Nikki Nichols

Vinson-Owen Elementary School

Monarchy Monday: HIH Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna

Tatiana_Nikolaevna Her Imperial Highness, Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna, the second child of Tsar Nicholas II, was born on 29 May 1897.

The younger half of the so-called “Big Pair,” she shared a room with her older sister, Olga. The girls were very close, and adored each other.  When Olga was ill with Typhoid fever, Tatiana was inconsolable, terrified because she did not recognize that sick little girl in bed as her sister.

Tatiana was a leader among her siblings, and they called her “The Governess.”  While she lacked her older sister’s natural talent in the schoolroom, she was a harder worker, more likely to follow through until a project was completed.

In many ways, she was a lot like her her mother — both in looks and temperament.  She was also the daughter who was the most bonded to their mother.  While all of Empress Alexandra’s children loved her, Tatiana seemed to be her kindred spirit.  Of all the girls, Tatiana was also the most dedicated to their friend Rasputin, recording his sayings in a little notebook.  She was the most devout of the children, frequently reading The Bible and other religious books.

Tall, slender, and regal — many people considered Tatiana the most elegant of the Tsar’s daughters. She enjoyed dressing her mother’s hair and had a flair for style and fashion.  It would have been interesting to see what she would have done with the styles of the 1920’s and beyond.

tatiana child

Tatiana was devoted to her duties as a wartime nurse, and her only complaint about nursing was that she was not allowed, due to her age, to do even more.  She also appeared in public more than her sisters, chairing committees and attending events.  However, she was nervous about speaking in public and naturally shy, perhaps due to her sheltered upbringing.  Duty was paramount, though, and even nerves could not stop her from doing what she believed her country needed.

Her natural sense of responsibility was a comfort to her mother during their captivity.  When the Tsar was to be moved from Tobolsk, the Empress was willing to accompany her husband despite her son’s illness and inability to be moved only because Tatiana was able to stay behind and manage things.  However, the reduced circumstances of their imprisonment was hard on Tatiana, and she clung to her dignity via a haughty demeanor.  It is difficult to view her harshly for this, though, because she was a young woman adrift from all she was raised to expect from life.  The very position she was born and raised to hold was gone, and with it the very world she was meant to inhabit.

On 17 July 1918, Tatiana was shot along with the rest of her immediate family.

tatiana2Nota Bene: This is the second in a series about Tsar Nicholas II’s children. 

All dates prior to February 1918 given in Old Style (OS) format unless otherwise noted.


Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie

Thirteen Years at the Russian Court by Pierre Gilliard

Six Years at the Russian Court by Margaret Eager

Memories of the Russian Court by Anna Virubova

Silly Saturday: Horrible Histories – WWI Cousins

While not in the best of taste, this sure is worth a laugh!

Figure Skating Friday: Mabel Fairbanks


In honor of Black History Month, today’s Figure Skating Friday is dedicated to Mabel Fairbanks.

Although she was barred from joining a figure skating club, and, therefore, barred from competition, Mabel was taught by the legendary Maribel Vinson and became quite a skilled skater.

Mabel had a lasting effect on the sport of figure skating, especially as a coach.  After a career as a show skater, she settled in Los Angeles, where she coached skaters from all backgrounds.  In fact, she was the one who paired up Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner.

In addition to Tai and Randy, Mabel’s students included Kristi Yamaguchi, Rudy Galindo, Scott Hamilton, and Tiffany Chin, among others.  She passed away in Los Angeles in 2001, at the age of 85.


Monarchy Monday: HIH Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna


Her Imperial Highness, Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna, the eldest child of Tsar Nicholas II, was born on 3 November 1895.

Olga was sensitive and studious, often having an understanding of events that defied her years.  The imperial tutor, Pierre Gilliard, praised her “quick brain” and spoke of her natural abilities as a student.

However, like many eldest children, she could be bossy or pushy with her siblings, and her mother often reminded her to be kind and patient.

She was indeed kind, giving her own allowance to help others, including crutches and other medical expenses for a sick boy once she reached the age of twenty and had control over some of her own money.

Almost from the moment of her birth, speculation as to Olga’s marriage prospects was rampant.  When she was just an infant, newspapers suggested that she might marry her distant cousin, Prince Edward of York, who would eventually become Britain’s King Edward VIII.  However, this was not seriously considered.  Olga came closer to marrying Prince Carol of Romania, but the negotiations came to nothing because Olga was not interested in pursuing the match.  War, and, eventually, revolution, put an end to the possibility of Olga marrying.

During the Great War, she served her country as a trained nurse.  However, this was very difficult for her — nothing could prepare her for the sights, sounds, and smells she would encounter in the hospital.  Despite the difficulty, Olga continued to carry out her duties with her mother and her sister, Tatiana.

Similarly, captivity was difficult for the sensitive Olga.  The stress weighed on her, and she grew thin and drawn, her face aged rapidly during her imprisonment.  Some believe that the young grand duchess had more of a sense of what was coming than even her parents, and, truthfully, that wouldn’t surprise me.

Olga was shot alongside her parents and siblings in July, 1918.  She was later canonized in the Russian Orthodox Church as a passion bearer.

olga child

Nota Bene: This is the first in a series about Tsar Nicholas II’s children. 

All dates prior to February 1918 given in Old Style (OS) format unless otherwise noted.

When this post was originally published, it featured a Photoshopped version of the photograph of Grand Duchess Olga in her nurse’s uniform, in which her face was replaced with that of her sister, Maria.  My apologies for this mistake, which is discussed in more detail here.


Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie

The Diary of Olga Romanov translated by Helen Azar

Thirteen Years at the Russian Court by Pierre Gilliard

Silly Saturday: Sushi Candy


My husband’s colleague gave us this sushi candy kit from Japan.  I’d seen these on YouTube a long time ago, and I’d always wanted to try making one.  The basic concept is that the included tray does all the measuring for you and all of the components are made by filling a certain compartment up to the line with water and then mixing in a specific packet full of powder.


I don’t read Japanese, so I had to watch a YouTube video to find out what packet to put where.  Literally, everything is included, right down to the background with plates and garnish printed on it (that was actually the inner bag, but you cut off the ends and back where the bag is sealed and it makes the place-mat thing).

The first part that you actually make is the rice.  It is made using the largest packet (light blue).  There isn’t much to see in a picture because of course the candy rice is white and so is the tray, so I didn’t photograph this step, but basically you fill the water up to fill in the oval section of the tray and then mix in all the powder until it is fully combined and the mixture starts to look a bit like rice.  You can see a bit of the rice in the next few pictures.


The next step is making the egg and the salmon.  The egg goes into the long section on the left and is made using the yellow-orange colored packet.  Using the dropper, fill the compartment up to the line with water, mix in the powder and then smooth out the mixture with the spatula.  That will allow it to firm up while you finish the rest of the sushi.  20170212_200544(0)

To make the salmon, do the same thing with the compartment on the right, using the hot pink packet.  The embossed designs on the tray will make the egg and the salmon have the right texture and look.  It really looks realistic when it’s all done.


The next part is my personal favorite and definitely was the most exciting thing for my kids.  The fish eggs/caviar.

First you fill section A with water up to the line and stir in the contents of the teal packet.  Then you fill section B to the line and add the darker orange packet and stir.  Next, you fill the dropper up with the stuff in B and slowly, carefully add it to A.  The little droplets will form fish eggs that taste and feel a lot like popping boba, if you have ever had that at your local bubble tea joint.

Check out the video below to see just how mesmerizing, addicting, and downright cool this part is.

Next, it is time to assemble the little bits of sushi candy.


The egg and salmon need to be cut in half in order to make the right size pieces.  You also want to cut off a little extra in order to chop it up and make the final piece, which is made with a little chopped salmon, a little chopped egg, and some caviar.

Over on the side of the placemat, there are a few guidelines.  One shows how to stretch out the sushi seaweed clay candy stuff — that will make the one with the fish eggs.  The other shows how large to make the rice for everything.  That guideline size is good for the inside of the caviar/ikura sushi, but a little small for everything else.

The kit makes caviar wrapped sushi with the fake sea week, two egg sushi, two salmon sushi, and one that looks like a pile of rice with chopped fish and egg on top.

20170212_201448Once you have assembled everything it is time to make the soy sauce.  Fill the upper compartment in the center (the only one we haven’t used yet) with the stuff in the brown packet.  This mixture will be more runny than the rest, but you can use the eye dropper to add just a little bit on top of each of the pieces of sushi to add a little color. The pictures above are without the soy sauce and the picture below shows what the candy sushi looks like with it.

The final question — how does the sushi taste?  Well, it doesn’t taste like sushi.  (That would be weird.)  The rice actually tastes a lot like Japanese ramune candy (so, basically, it tastes like Sprite or 7-up in the US).  The gummy parts just taste like sweet gummy candy.  It tastes good, even if it doesn’t have tons of flavor.  Basically, it is more about how it looks than how it tastes, though it is definitely a lot of fun and I would make it again.