Where Have All the Skaters Gone?

Nathan Chen of the US with last year’s iconic long program (not my picture)

I read an article this morning shared by my good friend, Barb, about the lack of interest in figure skating in the US these days. The article was written by Sarah Lawrence on http://www.vox.com and its well researched and thought out.

Its also sad.

I grew up figure skating in the 70s and 80s in Canada. Almost everyone skated as a kid in Canada, even if it was just to end up being a better hockey player.

I wanted to be like Katarina Witt or Debi Thomas or Caryn Kadavy. Back then many women didn’t attempt triple lutzes and, hey, when Tonya Harding went for her triple axels that was thought to be the peak of athleticism for women figure skaters!

Javier Fernandez of Spain a couple of years ago. He has since retired. (not my photo)

Men’s skating was dominated by Canada’s Brian Orser and his American rival, Brian Boitano. Who else can remember the whole family getting together to watch the Calgary Olympics men’s long program, famously dubbed the Battle of the Brians? (Boitano won with a bit of a garish program and Orser made a boo boo to claim silver and continue the curse of the Canadian men.)

Even that “curse” is a media term that fans of figure skating were aware of. Orser, Kurt Browing, Elvis Stoiko, Patrick Chan… all world champs carrying the weight of the mighty maple leaf on their shoulders entering an Olympic championship they were expected to win only to let the gold medal slip out from beneath their butts as they crashed to the ice. The look on Kurt’s face after his short program where he wiped out on a triple axel showed us all back home in our living rooms how much he felt like he let his entire country down.

Kurt Browning, pretty sure this was post wipe-out. Not my picture.

Moms, dads, grandparents and kids all knew the Who’s Who of figure skating because it was, at one time, the most popular televised Olympic sport. We didn’t just know the North American skaters, either, although before the Internet they were the ones we were most exposed to. Torvill and Dean of Great Britain were enormously popular ice dancers world-wide and who didn’t know about sexy Katarina Witt and her weirdly familiar coach, Jutta Muller? Russian pairs skaters dominated global podiums for decades until a couple of Canadian upstarts, Sale and Pelletier turned the skating world upside down in Salt Lake City.

And we all watched and collectively held our breath as Browning crashed to the ice entering a spin and Bryce Davison’s foot slashed his pretty little partner, Jessica Dube’s face on a side by side spin or when Patrice Lauzan dropped his wife, Marie-France Dubreil at the end of their routine and when Barbara Fusar-Poli looked like she wanted to rip the face off of her partner, Maurizio Margaglio- the stare down that lasted MINUTES- or that awful fall Bourne & Krantz had at the end of their Olympic long program or Carolina Kostner’s impression of a zamboni during a few televised routines that were absolute train wrecks and so difficult to watch yet impossible to turn off.

Caro took the skating world back a few years ago when she once again landed on a world podium (not my picture.)

Not only do we remember those catastrophes, we also remember watching Sale & Pelletier knock Love Story out of the park. We all sighed and smiled when Browning slowed to a stop and carefully, meaningfully paused to pull out a smoke in his Casablanca routine. We remember the incredible transformation of China’s Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo as their choreographer, Lori Nichol taught them to look at one another and connect while they skated.

Audiences around the world knew which pairs couples were real life couples and which ones weren’t and everyone loved it when they found out Sergio Grinkov loved feisty little Ekaterina Gordeeva. Then we all mourned years later when we heard on TV that while training for Stars on Ice, he had lifted his then-wife into the air, put her back down and promptly died from a heart attack.

Sasha Cohen gave Kwan a run for her money for a few years! (not my photo)

Sadly, there was drama to be had off-ice for some skaters and they were famous for that as well. Russia’s Okasana Baiul and American, Nicole Bobek both got themselves into some hot water for their off ice activities before (thankfully) turning both of their lives back around. And, please, let’s not spend any time at all on the whole Nancy-Tonya thing or Tonya Harding’s upbringing… although, the ladies short program at Lillehammer was a huge television spectacle thanks to the backstage antics of Harding’s husband and his moronic buddy.

Joannie Rochette, Vancouver Olympics (not my picture)

And, well. Watching Canada’s Joannie Rochette compete her short program in her home country for her last Olympics just days after her mother died in Vancouver… not sure there is anything left to be said about that.

Figure skating has always been known for its dramatic flair but that was a huge part of the attraction! Not only did skaters provide beauty and artistry with athleticism, but they also gave us heroes and villians and rivalries like no other sport (Sumners vs Witt; Thomas vs Witt; G&G vs Dmitriev and whoever he was partnered with that year; Lipinski vs Kwan; Cohen vs Kwan; Orser vs Boitano; Virtue & Moir vs Davis & White!)

Why has that all changed now? Why are skating clubs not drawing the numbers like they used to in North America and why doesn’t everyone I talk to know who Katelyn Osmond is? It shouldn’t matter that I live in the States now. World and Olympic competitors and/or champions used to be household names even if they didn’t stand on the top step of the podium (Phillipe Candeloro for the win there!)

Heck, we knew most of their coaches and how the coaches behaved (Tamara Moskvina… “I look them in the eyes and I hypnotize them.”) (Trust me. Its a thing.)

This is who Katelyn Osmond is… world champion!!!!! (not my picture)

It isn’t just the pandemic although I suspect that hasn’t helped. The 2020 World Championships in Montreal got cancelled a year ago, weeks and days before skaters and their teams were going to fly to Canada. The Grand Prix series in the fall was sort of, kind of, in a way, not really on although 2 events did get cancelled. The events that did happen had mostly competitors from the host country or foreign athletes who trained in that country and they didn’t get much TV time.

But viewership and interest has waned over several years, it feels like.

Could it be the judging overhaul as Sarah Lawrence suspects? I mean, we had to do something to fix the blatant nationalism that went along with judging deals and favoritism. And cheated jumps on a consistently terrible basis should never have been rewarded with Olympic gold medals (Sarah Hughes for the win… literally.)

Sarah Hughes

By Photo taken by Vesperholly – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Common.

(And I’m not slagging Sarah Hughes at all. She had some great content (those spirals!) and seems like a really sweet person but she would turn a full 1/4 turn after her blade hit the ice on her triples and I’m really, really glad we dock points for that now.)

The problem, though, as Sarah Lawrence also speculates, is that there are too many ways to earn and lose points on every single thing a skater does. And they are encouraged to do a bazillion things in contortionist-savvy positions that are generally more do-able before a female skater hits puberty.

Former US champion, Alysia Liu (Not my picture)

Like little Alysia Liu from the states. For the first time in years we had someone who could knock triple axels out of the park like the teensy tiny Russian skaters. She won the US Championships with these tricks and more in 2019 and 2020 but then (wait for it…) puberty hit and she has gone through a growth spurt. I did watch her at this year’s US Championships in Vegas (with no coaches by the skaters’ sides and an audience full of cardboard cut-outs, including the Geiko Gecko) and she looked like a beautiful woman version of her little girl self. Unfortunately with a changing body and lost training due to COVID, Alysa couldn’t find her way back to any step of the podium despite a gritty, fairly successful long program.

At the same event, Gracie Gold competed again and also is a different version of the national champion she was years ago. Gracie could be a cautionary tale and a reason why some parents are choosing to not put skates on their children’s feet when they are young. Gracie was a superstar befitting her mega-watt name and she put on jumping clinics on practice sessions (believe me… I watched her practices live in Salt Lake City for 2 years and she was amaze-balls) before her own fall from, er, grace.

Eating disorders, anxiety, self doubt- these things crept in and her physical and mental health and some concerned grown ups in her life took her to an in-patient facility where she battled her demons in private.

my hubby’s cell phone cover!

Make no mistake- I am very clear that puberty and spandex are two things that don’t go together like PB&J and its not just the modern skaters who face these same issues. I knew skaters who had to quit the sport and even one who died from anorexia back in the 80s. But with the Internet now are families choosing to skip skating and are dropping their kids off at a soccer field instead? Are swimming and gymnastics going through the same thing?

I don’t have the answers but I would absolutely love for figure skating to be huge again. I would love to watch traveling ice shows with professional athletes like Kurt, Scott Hamilton, Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan – Stars on Ice and Champions on Ice. They were spectacular sparkle-fests with back flips and heartfelt, artistic routines (omg, Nicole Bobek… Sacrifice… my inspiration to skate to the same song myself in the ’90s!) Obviously we aren’t watching stadium events right now but these shows and Ice Capades all died off years before the pandemic.

Mirah Nigasu of the US (obviously not my picture)

I admire the jumping beans of today and how much they cram into their programs but I miss when the Women’s event was a women’s event. I like that skaters can skate to music with lyrics now but I miss the pauses, the long glides, the choreographed moments where so much of the story was told by a skater stopping, lifting her hands and staring off behind her back… or something like that. Anything like that. I’d even take Bogart and the smoke again (even though its not the right message!!!)

I hope if you used to watch figure skating that you still choose to seek it out. I am a member of goldenskate.com and that is a fun forum for fans to visit and share or discuss skaters of today as well as skaters of yesteryear. International Figure Skating is also a good magazine that follows the sport around the world even while many athletes aren’t 100% sure we are, indeed, having World’s in March (so far it looks good…)

For now, though, its time to head out into a different frosty wonderland as I’ve just got another dump of snow and that stuff doesn’t move itself from here to there. Stay safe, everyone. Get your vaccines!

Big Red on Friday morning. Its been that type of weekend.
And that kind of a weekend.
I love this truck.

Branching Out

We branched out into the world of ferrets many years ago! Andy and me.

I certainly don’t need to be any busier in life right now but I have committed to branching out in a couple of areas that involve my writing. I know these commitments will not take up a large amount of time so I don’t feel pressured or panicked in any way.

I also tend not to feel pressured or panicked about anything because that’s just how I roll. Maybe had I chosen to become a commercial pilot or a sky diving instructor I would feel differently every day but there is an inherent amount of safety in putting words to paper for others to read.

That isn’t to say there is no fear in writing. Hitting the “enter” key the final time when I self published my first book, Lost and Found in Missing Lake, my stomach flip flopped. I was sharing a story and characters that I made up. There is an element of fantasy to my fiction and I am deeply connected to my story. If nobody read it or nobody liked it then that would mean nobody liked what was in my head or that I wasn’t any good at what I was passionate about.

The collection

At least I have the books behind me as I leap into the new challenges.

I have already started the first one and it went well. I am writing non-fictional, educational, veterinary-based articles for 4 newspapers around western Montana. I still need a title (is that called a by-line?) and a photo that will look alright in newsprint but the first one is written and ready to submit to my editors.

The Pet Vet? Dr.Fyfe’s Take? Vet Chat?

I’ll put it out on social media and see what people think.

I like this pic but for my wonky tooth… is the lighting weird, though?

I found the writing to be a healthy challenge. Challenging to keep it under 500 words, for starters! When I write my books I let my fingers and feelings fly and I don’t choose to restrain myself until I re-read or do some editing. I also get to deal with dialogue between characters with my books but veterinary educational topics don’t lend themselves to that. Dialogue in my books is a lot of fun for me. It allows me to explore and get to know my characters more plus it moves the story along in a way that just telling the story doesn’t do.

I also want my non-fictional newspaper pieces to be interesting while perhaps a little bit entertaining because, come on, its Me we are talking about here and I like to make people smile. At least I didn’t have to come up with the topics. At Kickoff for Clark Fork Veterinary Clinic we, as a group, decided topics to focus on based on the seasons and generally accepted veterinary themes (ie February is Pet Dental Health month in most of the country.)

Clark Fork Veterinarian last week with Rosie, a super cute red Boston!

I’m excited to get the articles out there this year and see what people think. I love the fact I already have 4 newspapers eager to have the content, including our local Seeley Swan Pathfinder whose local readership knows me well. It is far less daunting to write articles like these versus putting my imagination out there for all to see (and judge!)

Remember, though, I grew up being judged going through puberty in spandex so there’s that confidence that I carry that probably is ill suited at times. I stay in my lane, at least, so hopefully that keeps me out of most trouble.

I think branching out within our careers is a good thing. As a figure skating coach many years ago I branched out and learned about power skating for hockey players and that became an exciting niche for me in Canada and the US. It helped me establish myself when we moved to Watford City, ND and opened a lot of doors and led to the creation of some terrific friendships in that community.

3 of the WC hockey coaches with me in 2018- lifetime friendships thanks to branching out!

I have always said that figure skating has been good to me and the fact our great friendships with other coaches and most of our players have remained strong after 25 years is reason enough for me to keep believing in expanding ourselves and our careers. I am still amazed they all put their trust in a 21 year old with a long curly pony tail who was shacked-up with the new doctor in town but Dave and then Doug and the others did and there we were at Dave’s son’s wedding a few years ago.

One of our ‘kids’, Maggie and me!

I am excited to share my writing story when I branch out on a Zoom call this coming week with interested authors-to-be. My good friend who is an editor has been teaching a class on publishing and she has asked me to share what I know. There are definitely things I have learned through trial and error (and more trial and error) and things I have spent money on that got me nowhere.

But then things like the book blog tours that Teddy Rose hosted for me were a boat-load of fun and garnered my last 2 books some awesome reviews on Amazon and Goodreads (and on private blogs as well.) I believe some of the students I will be talking with are planning on going the traditional publishing route but some are keen to learn about self-publishing so I have a bit to offer there, too.

Clark Fork Veterinarian a few weeks ago…. should I Zoom in my glasses? Do I look smarter?

I’m not quite sure how to measure if things are a success or not when branching out into the world of writing. Okay, when books sell and I receive awesome reviews then that feels successful. It feels like the hard work and time and commitment to sit down and write and then edit was well worth it.

As a realtor, its clearly a success when I can help clients find their dream home within their budget or I can help people list and sell the home or land they have. While that is a challenge right now due to ridiculously low inventory I still work every day to look at listings and communicate with clients and help the 1 transaction on the go right now make it to closing. Without the success at closing it wouldn’t be any fun to do the work.

As a coach it can be pretty clear when things are a success. Skaters land jumps, they pass tests, they compete well and maybe earn medals. Hockey teams learn to work together, their skating skills improve, various players score goals or make wicked saves and sometimes your team wins.

Fun gig as power skating coach for the Jr. A Bismarck Bobcats for a couple of seasons!

While the term, ‘success’ usually has a positive connotation, there are times when that just isn’t so.

Like as a veterinarian…. sure, hitting that teensy tiny vein with zero blood pressure behind it on the 15 year old cat in the back seat of a pickup might seem like a success until you learn that the vet is helping a family say goodbye to their feline companion.

Even in coaching, success might not be success, even if it takes years to find that out.

Like the elite figure skater I coached to several medals and high level testing achievements who has gone on to higher education and travelled the world…. I read a post from her on social media yesterday about the eating disorder demons she continues to fight that appeared as she, too, went through puberty in spandex many years ago.

I didn’t see the self loathing and distorted body image because she hid it well and also because I left to go to veterinary school and she eventually graduated high school and moved on. And maybe I never thought to ask.

American Ice Show skater in Japan! 1992

I’m not saying any of us who train and compete and then perform at elite levels (in spandex) come out of it “normal”. I’m the first to admit that I was one of the bigger girls on tour in Japan and that the twice-daily weigh-ins were NOT cool but I have lots of coping mechanisms and I don’t believe I ever experienced self loathing like my former student described.

I know I did counsel a few of my skaters who had obvious weight-based issues but how many of them weren’t so obvious to me or their parents?

A little more of Tanya back then.

There is some success in reading how my skater also shared that she is embracing her body and her life and trying to take the time to take care of herself and I whole heartedly support her and hope she is successful. Not sure how to gauge that success, either, but having all the answers has never been the point to this blog.

I’m here to share my journeys and my discoveries and lots of times I share the shit-shows and disasters because that’s all part of being me.

Who I was (under construction, goofy, skater-girl, possibly brave.)

Who I am (veterinarian, writer, realtor, wife, friend, coach, still goofy, animal addict.)

Who I will be (still goofy, more animals, all of the above plus apparently a writer for newspapers and a Zoom personality for aspiring writers!)

I have, I do and I will probably always be driving down challenging paths

Here’s to change while staying within your lane.

Branching out doesn’t have to be frightening or anxiety-causing.

I’ll keep you all posted, however things turn out.

Enjoying winter in Montana now that its here!
Honestly, I was giving a thumbs-up here!
Professor Higgins is not too sure about those icicles!
More fun with ferrets. Barry and me!