Tuesday, February 22, 2011

History Lesson: 1995 Skate America

The 1995-1996 skating season was regarded as one of the most memorable and fabulous seasons in skating history.  Perhaps it was just a marketing scheme for ABC Sports and Sandra Bezic to make money producing highlight shows, videos and books---but the season was absolutely fantastic.

Skate America kicked off the fall international season for years and in the fall of '95 it kicked off the Champion Series for the first time.  There was plenty of pocket change to go around to the victors: $30,000 for first, $18,000 for second and $10,000 for third.

Back in the fall of '95, the USFSA (with a little $$ help from ABC) put together a field of six ladies that made for must-see TV.  Narrated by Dick and Peggy, this event was one for the ages.

Nicole Bobek entered the '95-'96 season as the reigning National Champion.  Few expected her to maintain that position over Kwan, but that didn't mean that we didn't value her drama or entertainment.  Ms. Bobek began the year by telling us how she spent the spring and summer visiting schools to talk to children.  This move by her agent might as well have just been done to humor Christine Brennan and Phil Hersh, as those snarky bitches busted a gut over  the irony of it all, knowing of Nicole six-grade education.

Nicole had won a very early international event that year 2 1/2 months earlier (when everyone skated their programs from the previous season), yet fell wildly out of shape before Skate America.  Ms. Bobek could only handle being in peak form for Nationals and Worlds.  When Nicole wasn't in shape, her lack of a work ethic came shining through.  The stories of her taking multiple smoke breaks per session became believable midway through this performance.  Richard Callaghan and Nicole actually put their names on this 'Evita' program.  It was their personal Lyra Angelica, as they would bring it back whenever she returned to be coached by him.  Dick was not having the lack of thought and imagination put into the program.  He also wasn't allowing her to excuse her mistakes on a supposed ''injury.''  Watching Nicole over the years, it became clear that her natural talent carried her through her jumps when she was in shape and practicing for longer than five minutes a week.  It had very little to do with having any actual technique.  While this program was an utter disaster, Nicole would revisit her desire to be Madonna portraying Evita for years to come.

ABC also repeated this bullshit line again and again about Nicole now loving to do her spiral because it made her think of her mother.  Ah Nicole, the snarky bitch's dream.  She finished sixth at this competition.  One can only image how Rena Inoue and two others skated to place lower than Nicole.

Surya Bonaly brought her batch of attitude and bad technique to the event each and every year.  Sadly, Peggy did not feel this number brought out Surya's best qualities.  Which actual qualities those are is anyone's guess.  It is amazing that Surya actually bothered to get a new program each year.  Note that no one ever took credit for choreographing any of that shit.  This was around the period when Surya stopped being entertaining and began becoming annoying.  It became a mystery to all why she wouldn't turn professional when it was clear that the judges would never allow her to become World Champion without knowing how to actually skate.  No one knew what to make of that mess, which Peggy described as "modern dance."  At this time, it became clear that she had already reached her physical peak.  It just became depressing.

Then there was Tonia.  No, not wildly entertaining TONYA!, but ugh Tonia.  Such a lovely girl.  A clone of Carol Heiss Jenkins really.  Note how they both wore those hair bows...they weren't even considered remotely cool back then.  Here she is skating a classy program to John Tesh and the love theme from Bladerunner.  As usual, Dick and Peggy didn't get through a broadcast without mentioning that she was 'the most senior lady'(AKA an old talentless whore.)

Tonia's costume was designed by Lauren Sheehan, who also did costumes for Kristi Yamaguchi, Nicole Bobek, Jill Trenary and Scott Davis.  Basically, if you're watching an event from the '80s or '90s and see a dress with sequins, feathers and glitz shitting all over it, the dress was made in Oklahoma.  She really did have the same level of taste as Kayne on Project Runway.  I can only imagine the pageant dresses they'd create together.  Ms. Fourth Place actually finished fifth here after falling on a Triple Flip and barely mustering not to ass a Triple Toe.  She was positively ecstatic with her performance, which could've been the problem all along.

Irina Slutskaya brought her Baiul-knockoff program to the event.  It is amazing how all Russians think shiny muppet skin and poofy feathers when they think of showtunes.  Note how while her costumes improved, the refinement in her skating never actually did.  It is this level of tackiness that allowed the Russian Federation to convince judges of Irina's alleged 'improvement' over the years.  Remember that improvement is relative and all about where one starts.  Going from a 5.3 to a 5.6 doesn't mean you should start getting 5.9s.

As usual there is a lot of telegraphing going into huge jumps with positively no flow out of them.  Dick said her muscular legs needed very carefully positioning ''like she's not doing right here.''

"Her skating posture is another area that would be good to spend some time working on."-Peggy

I can only imagine that nasty comments Bitchy Peggy would've made in the '80s when she was still feeling some competitive angst about the girls she was watching.

"The costume is a little distracting."

The choreography, especially the arm-waving during back crossovers, is something to behold.

Note: No one from the world of Broadway would like anything to do with this program.

Michelle Kwan unveiled her dramatic 'Salome' that season.  While many were unfamiliar with the opera, Uncle Dick was decidedly not.  For him, it was like watching a rerun of I Love Lucy.

"Salome- the dance of the seven veils--one of the most famous dances in operatic history, in which Salome, played here by Michelle Kwan, fluctuates being being young and innocent and mature and provocative.  But let's not forget that this is a skating competition."

Note how Shep Goldberg and ABC used Karen Kwan as a prop to prove that Michelle was a normal girl who actually had time to dress up for Halloween during the previous decade.  ABC decided to recast 'All American Girl' and change it from being about a plump Korean-American comic to a Chinese-American skater.  It wouldn't be long until Peggy tried convince us that Karen was a very good jumper (for a Novice in the '80s.)

"Lu Chen////Chen Lu...whatever her name is!"-Margaret Thatcher

Lulu lost the first of many competitions to Michelle Kwan that season.  Despite the program's utter lack of complexity, it remains one of the most beautiful programs ever choreographed or performed.  While any good Kwan fan would hate her later rivals, Lulu was acceptable because they were friends and she was good.  Note the section where she disrobes and stands naked before the world as a mature feminine being.

The fluff here on Grishuk and Platov and Krylova and Ovsiannikov is amusing, given what later transpired.  It was important for them to be friends...as long as Pasha was guaranteed the gold.

The pairs event was another gem.  No matter how hard we try, we will never forget that Meno and Sand are married.  The USFSA pimped out their 'hetero-normative' image enough that I'm surprised we didn't all get an invitation to their royal wedding.  Meno and Sand decided to keep Nessun Dorma for another season (or three) due to how busy they were.  The reason?  The wedding--which they rehearsed for every night on tour.  Jeni and Todd really emoby romance without a hint of sexual tension.  They are not unlike fifth graders holding hands for the first time.  Note that Todd was starting to become middle aged by this point and could no longer lift her, let alone have a prayer of ever adding side-by-side triple jumps.  This should've been their final season as amateurs.  Unfortunately, no one gave them a hard dose of reality.

Elena Berezhnaya skated here with her old abusive partner.  We can only imagine the beating she took given the mistakes she made.  Peggy jinxed her by having her tell us that 'her ability to land jumps' was her strength.  Note all of the subtle mentions to Oleg being abusive and temperamental.  Moskvina assured us that his anger issues would be resolved.  She really put her foot down on that one...   This performance was just months before their horrible training accident.  While the accident is common for side-by-side spins and could happen to anyone, it sure made for the perfect example to highlight his abusive nature.

Side Note: Why the fuck are they skating to a mix of 'Where Have All The Flowers Gone?' and 'Dobre's '87 Floor Music?!  How does one think to put those two tunes together?!

Kyoko and Jason performed to 'Slaughter On Tenth Avenue', a piece to avoid in skating lore, as no one ever wins while skating to it.  Kyoko should've gotten the memo, given the bitch fit she'd throw months later in San Jose after finishing second to Meno and Sand for the third-straight year.

Dick applauded Jason for losing his "Mr. Sour Puss" persona.

This pair was a sad case where neither one could perform.  Note that Kyoko didn't have a prayer of getting anywhere without John Zimmerman's good looks or theatrical presentation.  P.S.  Be sure to take note of how Stars On Ice (and its IMG agents) tweet about buying tickets to see John on his guest appearances.  They couldn't give a shit about Kyoko...and know that no one else apparently does either.

Skate America marked the debut of Kazakova and Dmitriev.  While they failed to land their elements, they actually skated in unison.  The new American pairs always do the opposite and suck for years as a result.  While Oksana was never the skater Natalia was, Moskvina liked her much better for not having any weight-fluctuation or nerve issues.  Her inability to learn an outside death spiral never seemed to bother her.

Natalia 2.0 was never as good as the original.

Eltsova and Bushkov won here for the fourth time.  Despite the ending of this program "being like the end of a beautiful movie" (brilliant Peggy, just brilliant), the only thing memorable about this pair was her horrid choice to always wear ghastly boot covers.  Ew.

"Skating prize money isn't what it used to be, and there's a reason for that!"-Margaret Thatcher

Question for the Masses:  Where on Earth did every skating fan buy those awful American flag sweaters?  Was it ever considered remotely fashionable?  When I think of Meno and Sand, I think of their parents in those sweaters.


  1. "Note that Kyoko didn't have a prayer of getting anywhere without John Zimmerman's good looks or theatrical presentation."

    Do you mean in terms of $$$ for pro stuff, or international competition, or something else entirely? Kyoko and Whomever always seemed to max-out at 4th-5th (not counting the '02 Worlds).

  2. Did Kyoko dump Jason for John, or did Jason retire?

  3. Kyoko is a talentless coke sniffing whore. I really wish she had taken the blade to the head and throat. I hate her bitchy asian ass.

  4. That Irina program is just awful. I can't believe I watched it.

  5. Did you catch who sponsored Skate America in the Bobek clip? Sudafed!

  6. If I remember correctly, Kyoko dumped Jason...via answering machine.

  7. Somehow I never saw this program of Tonia's until now. All her bad habits were on display in this performance: the wildly pumping back/shoulders setting up for her lutzes, the tucking of her chin, the slightly two-footed jump landings. At least she stood up both lutzes and the loop, so maybe that's why she was so happy at the end.

    I don't think I had ever seen Nicole's full long program from this event either. She looked great at the International Team Challenge, but was such a mess here. So frustrating, like Peggy said.

  8. Michelle's triple toe-triple toe combination was great!

  9. Thanks for the stroll down memory lane. I had blocked out the existence of Eltsova and Bushkov altogether--I was clearly traumatized by the boot covers as well. Michelle's transformation that year was pretty remarkable, regardless of the awkward commentator references to Salome. Why can't any of our skaters now get with the program the way she did? She took that 4th place at Worlds and said, hell no, never again (or at least not for like ten years).

  10. Eltsova & Bushkov aren't as terrible as I remembered. There's a great clip of their exhibition skate to Caruso where Roz was commentating. At the end, Roz actually goes on about how Americans are lucky to have people to help them "put the package to bed" in terms of costumes and such. It was SO unbelievably bitchy. I'd love it if it wasn't Roz saying it.

  11. Our lovely American pair teams should watch the skates of Kazakova/Dmitriev and Berezhnaya, who fell all over the place. These types of meltdowns would send any American team into retirement, but these Russians stayed persistent and went on to skate wonderfully and win World/Olympic medals.