Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Skating Lesson: Interview with Debi Thomas



Our interview with Debi Thomas about sports psychology, the 1988 Olympic Games and life after skating.

46 comments:

  1. Dave, you have Ramona eyes.

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    1. I definitely do in this video. I was EXHAUSTED after an extremely long day (and week) without much sleep and was beyond dragging. If you watch from the beginning of the video to the end, the bags and circles under my eyes become increasingly large and I was attempting to force them open and still be engaged.

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  2. Does anyone else find her to be kind of a giant mess?

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    1. YES! Lol, i was very surprised, she always seemed so put together. I was dying laughing at some of her ramblings and cringing at other times. I feel so bad saying that though because i really like Debi.

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    2. You can see how exhausted Dave is and how hard they are trying to stay engaged. I wish we could hear what they were thinking.

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  3. Am I the only one who saw that a creditor called her during the interview and she kept on talking like it happens everyday?

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    1. that was amazing. I just wondered if she was the one that was in default?

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  4. I met Debi in a bar in Chicago in the mid 90's. She begrudgingly autographed a cocktail napkin and came off arrogant and annoyed. It's disappointing when you meet someone you've admired and come away feeling let down.

    Sorry, AJ. This one was a snoozer.

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    1. Maybe she went to a bar to have fun, not to be bothered by people demanding things of her. Even something as little as an autograph.

      Besides, it was almost twenty years ago. People change.

      But I do admit, this interview wasn't as skating-centric (therefore, as interesting) as the past interviews.

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    2. How about saying something like, I am sorry I am having fun with my friends not tonight? You can still be civil especially since Thomas is a nobody

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  5. They said in the previous interview regarding nationals that Debi has no clue what's going on in skating. She doesn't follow it anymore so I'm not sure why they went ahead with this one..

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  6. WHY is it SO HARD for the skating community to understand that Debi, among others, have MOVED ON?
    It's like the Amish who refuse to believe that 'one of their own' prefers to live amongst the English.

    It's clear that she, among other excellent skaters (Kwan, others) do NOT regard skating as the center of their lives anymore-as is their right. They have 'done their time' and no one has the right to ask more of them.
    If they are intelligent and forward-thinking, they realize that they have other skills/talents that they want to develop, to make a contribution to the world, beyond the defined role of 'technical expertise/entertainment on ice.'
    Others do not (Hamilton,others)- as is their right. Then again, they know their capabilities/limitations (eg: don't think Hamilton could hack the Apprentice, much less med school- no harm no foul- everyone has a niche).
    Many skating fans do not share the attributes of those who have moved on- which is why the frustration arises. They don't understand them, because they are not like them. They're stuck in 'how things should be' based on a skating world that does*not*exist*anymore.
    People keep asking- 'How to bring back the glory days of skating?' They'll come back when manufacturing jobs come back to the U. S. (Buy a clue- it's not ever coming back the way it was, BUT it COULD actually be better, IF energies were invested FORWARD).
    The skating community frequently wastes so much time hand-wringing and looking backward, and does NOT confront the bigger task of how to make skating interesting & relevant (without abandoning the technical/artistic aspects!!) for the here-and-now and future.
    Unless the bigger tasks are confronted and taken in hand: Skating is going the way of opera- those who like and enjoy 'as is' will just throw money at it to keep the riff-raff away.

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  7. If she has moved on then maybe she should find s different podcast besides a Skating one to do an interview

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    1. She didn't find them. They found her.

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    2. ...for a skating show.

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    3. You're an idiot. She said yes to the interview. She should have kept her fat ass at home then. Rude bitch

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  8. She didn't answer their questions at all. How self absorbed. If she didn't care about skating anymore, she shouldn't agree to do a skating podcast interview.

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  9. Love Debi and she has always been like this, talking a mile a minute and rambling on as she thinks out loud.

    People seem irate at Debi for her answers and yet, really it is the editors responsibility to make a cohesive piece for viewing, not the interview subject. So I question why AJ and Jenny kept all the stuff at the beginning about the medical world and didn't just edit it out in post production. The interview was at least two hours long as it was, heaven knows cutting out some of the non-essential stuff and keeping only the skating content would have made it about an hour or so which seems like a reasonable amount of time for an interview like this. There was really no need to show all the non-skating content as the interview was too long as it was.

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  10. I think people are being too hard on Debi. I'm from a family of doctors and trust me, it is one of the most difficult lines of work out there, especially when you are a surgeon as Debi is. It seemed as if she was still in her scrubs and exhausted from a long day. And her "rambling" about the medical field is part and parcel of most doctors' personalities. ALL of them are disillusioned by their work. They go in with best of intentions, sacrifice their youth to study harder than anyone else (while their peers are taking it easy relatively), and once they get started in their practice, they have to deal with lots of BS (billing, insurance, careless staff, litigious patients, bad outcomes...it's a constant rainfall of worry). She sounded EXACTLY like every physician I know. Even when she talked about doing something creative, it really hit home, because that is how my husband is and how my brothers are. They question whether it was worth it and always look wistfully at other careers.

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  11. I agree with anonymous above me. I think it's also good for the skaters and skate mommies to hear all the info too. Not all rosy even if you are at the top. Most of our top skaters are getting degrees so they can do something else when they finish competitions. Too bad as I hoped more of them would coach or at least consult.

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  12. I checked out after the first 15 minutes.

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  13. Let's be honest:

    1. Debi Thomas has a terrible attitude and is in complete denial about choking in 1988. Admit it.

    2. She was invited on a show called The Skating Lesson and completely ignored their questions.

    3. She seemingly ignored their questions on purpose.

    4. Debi has obvious issues with discussing race and its impact in her life. She is also on her third white husband.

    5. She is not even divorced yet and she already has a fiance.

    6. I would never let her operate on me.

    7. Her financial troubles are not shocking after seeing how disorganized her thoughts are.

    8. It is not the interviewers' fault that Debi chose not to answer their questions.

    9. I want Jenny and Dave to tell us what really happened during the interview. Dave wouldn't even talk about it on his formspring. He sounded vague and disappointed. He usually answers everything on there.

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    1. No, let's be honest: You're playing arm-chair psychologist based on one podcast interview. Nothing you listed above has anything to do with honesty, but rather to do with wild assumptions you're making about a person that you do not know. So please spare us all the "straight-shooting-I'm just telling it like it is" crap.

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    2. You're apologizing for someone who was a rude guest on an interview. She ignored questions about skating on a skating show. They didn't ask to have her on a show that was about her medical career. I have never seen an interview with a former athlete where they gripe about their current profession for that long. It is usually a quick two or three question thing and then they move on to what they were there to talk about. In Debi's case, they weren't even asking her about medicine, yet she went on for 40 minutes. It was rude and she screwed them in many ways. You cannot start a video interview with a question that is midway into the interview and not an opening question. If you listen to their questions and the order of it, there is a clear arc to what they were trying to do.

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    3. @6:21--EDITING. The interviewers should've edited the interview. The subject of an interview is under NO obligation whatsoever to give them their ideal, pre-edited interview--to do so would be to render a boring, inhibited interview that no one wants to read. The ideal interview subject is HONEST and open, which Debi is here. You probably should know something about interview journalism before you offer such uninformed opinions, because you sound really naive.

      "1. Debi Thomas has a terrible attitude and is in complete denial about choking in 1988. Admit it."

      Uh, Debi has "admitted it" many times. Perhaps you should read up on Debi Thomas. She's done her stations of the cross already.

      Why are so many FS fans so bitter and weird and personal?

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  14. Oh baloney. They interviewed a skater who was a champion almost 30 years ago and is now struggling with totally different challenges. I loved so many things about this interview... the anecdote about how Scott Hamilton got her to love SOI... her love for her competitors... of course her amazing emphasis on the mental aspects of sompetition that made me wish she had become a sports psychologist and had worked with Sasha Cohen... Debi, please talk to Mirai Nagasu!!! Anyway, I loved the interview and came away thinking, wow, Olympians really are a breed unto themselves. If I ever need a joint replacement, God forbid, I'm looking her up. A simply wonderful human being. Too bad she doesn't mirror PC notions of racial experience.

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    1. Do we really trust her advice? She admittedly gave up at the Olympics. If that is even the real case and she isn't in denial, it is shocking that someone would spend all of their life training for a moment and give up just because of a two-foot on a combination. They were seemingly fine with mopping up the ice for four minutes because they were having a tantrum over two-footing a triple toe triple toe. That screams issues to me.

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    2. Because perfection at the Olympics is the criterion of a person's trustworthiness?

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  15. Concerned Skating FanFebruary 2, 2013 at 6:34 AM

    I saw the unedited version of this interview and have a few things to say. I've watched the youtube version and the unedited.

    To the commenter that asked why they interviewed her if she didn't know Nationals were going on, that is something she said during the opening of the interview. That part was edited out. Debi was extremely unfocused during the first 90 minutes or so of the interview. They actually edited about a bizarre 35 minutes of the interview that happens when her boyfriend came home and came on camera. We can only hope that part of the interview is included on the outtakes and bloopers show that have discussed doing. I happen to know the interviewers and think they made her look much better than she would have if the entire interview was shown. I read the outline before the interview and there were so many interesting questions that they didn't get to ask because Debi spent so much time talking about what she wanted instead of their questions and took a good half hour to even get into skating after talking about medicine.

    After watching both versions I find Debi to be a bright woman who tries to do the right thing for her own reasons. I also find her deeply flawed, but so is everyone else on the planet. Debi was never one to put on an act for an interview and she certainly did not during The Skating Lesson.

    I agree that this interview was too long, but I think they did a decent job given what they had. It was not the best episode of this show. I still found it interesting and worthwhile. They are a lot of good things in this interview. I'm more excited for their next few interviews and I think you will be as well.

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  16. As much as I like the interviewers- they were in over their heads on this one- their reach exceeded their grasp, and I don't think they knew how to handle an interview like this. ACTIVE LISTENING skills are required!
    I work for an NPR station (produce programs, interview, etc.)- and preparation & questions are only PART of it. Moreover, you are going to deal with very bright people- people brighter/more talented/"pick-your-complementary-adjective" than you, (which is why they are news-worthy). You just can't write them off as weird, flawed, disturbed, etc., so suck it up- you have to get a decent interview out of them, you CAN do so, and all can enjoy the process. Rise to their level- don't carp about 'how difficult' they are. Pedal faster.

    What is missing with most new interviewers- and I just had to give this lecture to a 70 yr old prof, so it's not personal to these good folks, who are offering a really great product that just needs a bit of resteer/coaching- it's NOT just prep and questions.
    While the interviewers were well prepared with their research- it can't be executed like a blog or skating program: where you prepare (outline), execute your elements (paragraphs) in order , and wait for scores (comments). That is NOT sufficient for what interviewing requires. It's a dynamic give and take conversation, almost an improv, and requires you to LISTEN, interpret, ask for clarification or explanation, draw parallels, and steer the arc IN REAL TIME. This sometimes involves just throwing out the prepared script and (which is NOT standard M.O. for skating comps or blog entries!)
    It's really NOT any harder than having a conversation with a new friend at a bar- where you are sincerely interested in the person (not just hitting on them, if at all).
    (more)

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  17. For example- There was a PERFECT PERFECT opening into a discussion of working within IJS right at the top of the interview- and the interviewers missed it (right after she expounded about the health care system being something that a person had to work within, etc.- SOUNDS FAMILIAR?).
    The parallels were perfect- and the follow up question was about juggling school/skating (I actually face-palmed!), and Debi just phoned in the 'too stupid to know I couldn't do it' answer that she'd given MANY times before. Oy.
    Look- if she not been 'DEBI THOMAS' (there was a bit of dazzle-factor that was inhibiting the interviewers, too), and just been a new friend that they'd met at a party - they would NOT have asked about juggling after that discourse. Wouldn't make sense
    there, wouldn't make sense in the interview (attempts to redirect understood, but just a false start). NO big deal- it's a messy craft!- but that's an example.
    No harm no foul, but it was clear that they weren't even enjoying the breeze as it flew over their heads- ("OMG- the answers aren't about skating!') and they made it harder for themselves than they had to!- and I feel bad for them about that. They are lovely, bright people who are perfectly capable!- but they restricted themselves into 'acting' the role of an 'interviewer'
    'being professional', etc., without really grasping what that title really demands in real life, and that certain aspects just are not that hard- just common sense and being considerate/decent to themselves and each other.

    Another tip- 'Springsteen's first question should never be about Thunder Road': If you get a big name who is now off doing different things (than what brought them astronomic fame), and they are known to be 'dynamic': Start off by asking them about where they are now, what would they like to have folks know about the REAL 'famous person name' in 2013. THIS allows them to spew (as did Debi) about where
    they're at right now, lets them get it off their chest, lets THEM accomplish their objectives (interviewing involves give and take), and let's them relax (task accomplished- they 'got it out there'). Use active listening skills to reframe, restate, establish empathy/relationship, offer support for the new stuff, THEN redirect (that was missing here, no harm no foul- there was just a redirect).
    You can THEN get them interested about your topics of interest (trip down memory lane). If you want Springsteen to reminisce about 'Thunder Road'-
    - DO NOT ask about that first! Let him riff about the new album/project/philanthropy, address with empathy, some followup, THEN bring it back around to Thunder Road, etc. He's happy, you're happy- life is good!

    I also think that Debi- while seemingly being a person who free associates- knew far more about exactly what she was doing -more than the credit she's receiving. She made allusions to a reality show pickup- this interview would be perfect fodder for her publicist to pitch to OWN or TLC for her to get a series of her own. She accomplished that objective, and she'd be wise to have said publicist follow up with it- and skating would benefit from the exposure, too (per Uncle Dick! lol).

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  18. This all being said- they did just fine, for where they are, at this stage of their interviewing career. NO need to be discouraged, just take a breath, get back up on the horse. This would have been a 'wild ride', even for a far-more experienced interviewer, and all should be proud of what was accomplished- some VERY interesting insights WERE extracted here, and they acquitted themselves well!
    However, I'd not have Gary Beacom (the Timothy Leary of skating) on next, either (please give yourself an opportunity to take a breath! lol).

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  19. Thanks so much for the response Lerrin, really insightful advice that I hope Dave and Jenny take and utilize going forward. I also felt like they were in over their heads, but not because Debi was "crazy" or "weird" or whatever else they or others seem to be implying, but rather for the reasons you listed. I'm so glad you clearly articulated something that was very apparent but difficult to put into words from a non-journalistic perspective.

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  20. I don't know why everyone seems so up in arms over this interview as good questions were still asked and she also gave some interesting answers. She definitely seems to fit in the class of skaters/athletes that move on to different lives after their skating careers end.

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  21. Thanks for the kind words- truly meant as constructive, not debilitative/hurtful/mean. There is so much good here that I had to give lengthy comments (with apologies for that- am not editing as rigourously as I might).

    Takehome: If there is one thing that interviewers (even surprisingly seasoned ones!) often miss- and it is AMAZING, once you think about it:
    While it's important to have structure/planning/framework: HEAR the answers that the person gives you, RESPOND in a way that lets the person know that you ACTUALLY listened, heard, and understood what they said (and ASK for clarification if not- it's ok!!), and be willing to ditch/rearrange/invent questions based on what the person actually said.
    HEAR the answers & RESPOND to the ANSWER and the PERSON(not necessarily your next question, not your interview arc), as best you can. You can still get where you want to go- it's just a much more interesting trip.
    I have seen people with master's degrees in journalism have light bulbs go off when I tell them this (and I DO think that's sad/amazing- what the heck are they teaching in school?!?!?)
    SO many interviewers do.not.listen.to./hear. the.answers. Watch/listen to regional/smaller market TV/radio- you will become sensitive to it once made aware (and it will sadly drive you bananas! ha!).
    That being said- once you know better, you do better- and that will assuredly happen here (and there was much good here, regardless, so do take heart!!).

    Doing so may not take you where you intended to go, or places that make you feel comfortable/in control along the way - you may not feel very crisp/professional, but no matter. It's often more genuine/authentic, more insightful, and actually easier, once you get a few successes under your belt. You will also distinguish yourself in the mind of the guest- as SO many interviewers do.not.get.it.

    Realize that it can be messy, and it's not a personal failing on either guest or interviewer if it's messy- it sometimes just is, and it's no one's fault- because there can be magic that comes out of it, too. Sometimes you have to sift a lot of silt to get gold. At the very least- a lot of material is generated! ha!- and it's always better to have to cut/edit rather than stretch in post-production!

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  22. Last grace note-can be learned from studies in improvisation (Second City, Ram Das 'Be Here Now', etc.):
    When you hear a guest's answer- ACCEPT the information as present truth, rather than struggle against the surprise/disappointment of dashed expectation (if the answer is not what you expected or the conversation is turning off the expected arc).
    Put the surprise/disappointment/frustration off to the side- accept the answer and deal with the now. Take a breath, say OK, and move onward (just as you would if the element on the ice didn't work as expected).

    That doesn't mean that you don't confront them on scatology - if they're deluded/lying about facts, etc., they can be confronted on their version of 'truth'.

    This is meant to address response to the unexpected, not truth vs. fiction. This note is addressing the 'WTF?' gut response, not 'That's not true.' gut response (truth vs. fiction)

    When surprised, or when things take unexpected turns: there can be a struggle internal when a guest gives a response that is a tangent/off road to the expected answer. The struggle against denied expectations keeps you from thinking clearly- a perfectly human response! It's because you may want to deny the reality of what was said/the arc now presented, because no one feels in control when surprised, and you may feel the impulse to seize control/oversteer. Understandable, but let it go- -it's ok if things don't go entirely as expected. Deal with what is presented in the now (and deal with the struggle later).

    Beyond all this- this. all. can. be REALLY. hard. to. do. Tremendous kudos to Dave and Jenny for taking on the challenge and putting it out there! Skating, and its fans, are better for it! :)


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  23. Dave and Jenny are great. Lerrin, good fundamental information, but I'm sure the interviewers have studied, etc. Net net - Debi Thomas was a difficult subject. I'm super impressed Dave & Jenny pulled together such an engaging piece with what they were given. Kudos.

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  24. Doesn't matter if you've studied journalism, etc. - it's how you execute 'in the paint.'
    Debi was not THAT difficult - she's an Olympian (with a fierceness to her mindset), and VERY intelligent.
    The interviewers only prepared on the subject matter (skating), NOT the PERSON they were interviewing (Debi- who has a wide range of interests).
    When the subjects were off the topic of skating-they didn't have anything, because they didn't prepare to interview the person.
    You interview PEOPLE, not subjects.
    Not to say that they had to have exhaustive research on health care, every tangential subject, etc. - but a competent interviewer, through use of listening and paraphrasing back, can still steer & contribute to the conversation on ANY topic- and they just looked stunned instead. No matter- they'll get it eventually, but it didn't happen here.

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    1. Well said. But to me (and apparently everyone on FSU) the result was a great interview. Debbie is so full of life and letting her roll (whether or not they could stop it, lol) resulted in a wonderfully free-form, insightful portrait of a champion, both her skating past and her doctoring present. Not every interview has to be rigidly controlled!

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  25. The messages on this blog are ridiculous. Dave and Jenny are terrific, facilitating an engaging conversation, catered to skating. This isn't a master class on journalism. Understand context, comment on information, and give the interviewers a break. Totally wrong forum to provide unsolicited advice. Jenny and Dave are great, they are doing this as a service to fans - likely also to hone their skills. Awesome guys, jobs.

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  26. ...Awesome jobs, guys.

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  27. If they critique & offer constructive criticism of others' performances (though they rarely offer constructive criticism!), they should expect and be able to handle critique/constructive criticism of their own performances.
    If they expect a 14 year old gymnast to handle it - they should be able to handle it, too.
    Fair is fair.

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  28. I found the interview fascinating, but that is because I'm a physician who has also paid the price for paying more attention to the needs of patients than to the clock or the bottom line. I was wondering during parts of the interview, how people watching this are going to care about this?
    I also was a year behind Debbie at Stanford as an undergrad. I remember the thrill of almost meeting Debbie when I was a HS senior and prospective freshman, visiting campus to decide if I would go there. Debbie had just won Worlds, and a HS friend of mine happened to live in her dorm. While he gave me a tour of his dorm, he said, do you want to meet Debbie Thomas? as if it were no big deal. We went by her room - door was wide open, but she wasn't there. It was impossible to see the floor of her room because of the piles of clothes and school work - it was the messiest dorm room I have ever seen! I'm pretty disorganized myself, so through the years when my dorm room or bedroom or home office has turned into a disaster, I've thought to myself, well at least it's not as bad as Debbie Thomas' dorm room!
    It's interesting to see that Debbie has remained extremely accomplished, very intelligent, but pretty disorganized. I'm most impressed that she is an orthopedic surgeon so dedicated to meeting the needs of her patients even when they are uninsured or under-insured. It's such a challenge to get patients on Medicaid or without insurance the ortho care they need in my part of the country.

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  29. Just got a chance to listen to the interview.

    One thing I wish Jenny/Dave had asked Debbie about was her hilarious Wanda Beezle exhibition. It is constantly mentioned as one of the funniest skating routines ever and I'll bet it'll as time passes it will more and more be the thing she is best remembered for.

    While Jenny and Dave are not entirely polished interviewers yet to prevent a certain amount of 'drift' in conversation - I will say this, I feel I got a true idea of who Debbie Thomas is as a person. It helps that she does not seem interested in packaging herself as a "personality" - she just approached the interview like a human being, not a celebrity.

    I am not angry or upset or taken aback by any of the interview. But there is an extreme amount of artifice to performing as a figure skater and it would seem many of the commenters here are taken aback by ex-skaters who do not maintain some sort of facade.

    Anyway, am looking forward to the next podcast!

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  30. I CANNOT believe that people are complaining about getting the opportunity to see an interview with DEBI THOMAS! TSL provides opportunities that simply do NOT exist elsewhere, and I am grateful to be able to hear from all of these past champions. I have learned so much from every interview I have seen.

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  31. Ms. Thomas is all right with me! Great interview from a doctors perspective. Sounds like someone is a little...well
    ..

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