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Figure Skating Friday: Remembering Ludmila Belousova

Ludmila Belousova


Ludmila Belousova passed away today at the age of 81.  With her husband and skating partner, she won two Olympic gold medals and four World Championships in the 1960’s.  They were the first Soviet or Russian pair to win the Olympics, starting the longest streak in Olympic history, in any sport.  (Soviet or Russian pairs won every Olympic gold from 1964 through 2006.)

Known for their balletic lines and creativity, the Protopopovs invented variations on the death spiral.  Their influence is seen in the sport to this day, although the perfection of their unison is unrivaled, even now.

The Protopopovs eventually defected to Switzerland and became Swiss citizens.  They split their time between Switzerland and Lake Placid, New York.

A true inspiration for ageing gracefully and never giving up on your passions, the Protopopovs continued to perform in shows until quite recently, always retaining their beautiful lines and elegance.  Every pair competing today could learn a lot about basic skills and presentation from these amazing legends.  Their marriage of nearly 60 years is an inspiration to all.

Ludmila’s beauty and grace will be missed, and my thoughts and prayers are with Oleg.

A lovely tribute, including an old interview, can be found here.

Figure Skating Friday: Pairs to Watch

Sui/Han (China)

This pair took advantage of the mistakes of others to win 2017 Worlds.  While they lack the dynamic style of other pairs, they are generally technically clean.


Savchenko/Massot (Germany)

If these two put together two clean programs, including their throw triple Axel, they will be unbeatable.  However, they haven’t managed to put together flawless programs yet.  Here’s hoping that they’re saving that for the Olympic season!  Aliona is a huge sentimental favorite for many skating fans, and the way she continues to push the envelope technically (despite being over 30) is inspiring to say the least.
Tarasova/Morozov (Russia)

This pair represents Russia’s best shot at the upcoming Olympics.  They did well at Worlds despite working through injury.  They still have room to grow artistically, but if they put together two clean programs, anything can happen.


Duhamel/Radford (Canada)

These two-time world champion have been struggling recently.  Injuries and now a coaching change raise doubts about their chances in 2018.  But it would be foolish to count them out.

Figure Skating Friday: Yuzuru Hanyu, or How to Break Records

While Medvedeva dominates the Ladies’ event, Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu rules the Men’s discipline.  The 2014 surprise Olympic champ found himself tasked with proving that he is not a one hit wonder, and he is proving it quite well.  Now he’s 22-years-old and poised to become the first 2-time Men’s Olympic champ since Dick Button in 1948 and 1952.

A lot of fans struggle to fully understand how the scores breakdown in the “new” judging system.  This video does the job, pointing out each and every piece of Hanyu’s tech score at the World Championships.

Figure Skating Friday: All Eyes on Medvedeva

To kick off the traditional off-season speculating about who is going to dominate in the upcoming Olympic season, I will be featuring various skaters (across all disciplines, in no particular order) who have a good shot at Olympic gold.

With World Record high scores reaching into the stratosphere, there is no question that Evgenia Medvedeva is the favorite to win the Olympics.

This amazing young skater is truly competing with herself — a female Michael Phelps of figure skating, just without the drug use.  😉

Love her style (like I do) or hate it, Medvedeva is a force to be reckoned with, and it’s a pity that she doesn’t get more media coverage in the US.

Figure Skating Friday: Pairs and Ladies recap

How about that program from Medvedeva?  She is a force of nature, and rumor has it that she wants to do a quad next year.

While the rest of the medal favorites struggled, two Canadian girls rose to the occasion and found their way to the podium.

Click here for ladies videos.

In Pairs, things were messy as well.  No one had a truly clean program, and the winners (Sui/Han of China) even had a fall.  Mad props to the silver medalists, Savchenko/Massot of Germany, for going for the triple Axel through.  While she did put a foot down, Aliona Savchenko did prove that age is just a number and a 33-year-old skater can still push the boundaries in the sport.


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.

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.

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

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.


Figure Skating Friday: The Heart-Break Kids

In the backstory of my novel, On Thin Ice, Natalie’s parents were the first American pair to win the World Championships.  However, in real life, that distinction is often credited to Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardener, who, like Natalie’s parents, did not go on to become the first American pair to win the Olympics. (In reality, Karol and Peter Kennedy won Worlds in 1950, and Tai and Randy were the second, and most recent, to achieve that title.)

In 1979, when Tai and Randy won Worlds, this “first” was quite celebrated, and they became favorites for the upcoming 1980 Olympics, to be held in Lake Placid, New York.  But it wasn’t meant to be.

Randy was injured, and though he tried to push through the pain, he ended up needing a shot to relieve the pain.  Unfortunately, the shot left him with a numb leg.  After a disastrous warm-up, they made the difficult choice to withdraw.

After the Olympics, Tai and Randy, known in the press as the “Heart-Break Kids,” went on to have a successful professional career — touring with the Ice Capades, competing in professional events, and participating in the reality TV show Skating with Celebrities.  Tai battled alcoholism and is now sober.

To this day, no American pair has brought home gold from the Olympics.  And that is unlikely to change next year — no US team has medaled at Worlds since 2002 and no US pair has won an Olympic medal since 1988.