Wednesday, May 26, 2010

(I Need To) Smack Sasha Moment

The 2004 World Title was Sasha Cohen's for the taking. Already well trained due to her time with Tatiana Tarasova where she was forbidden to speak during lessons (because she was a known complainer), Sasha Cohen entered Dortmund with a great chance at gold given her pared down programs by Robin Wagner.

Even though she did not attempt the triple-triple combinations of Shizuka Arakawa, the judges found the overall technical merit of her spirals, footwork, marvelous forward scratch skin and immeasurable precision to be superior. In short, this was her year. After a sub-par performance from Kwan in qualifying followed by a .2 deduction for going over time, the door was finally open for Sasha to defeat the Kween and capture gold at Worlds. The judges went as far as to reward Cruella De Ville with four 6.0s for her fiery and bitchtastic performance to Malaguena.

Unfortunately for Sasha and her overzealous skating mother, Alexandra Pauline Cohen blew it. Again. The judges were on a high that year. Slutskaya was so awful that they didn't even need to pretend that the emperor had any clothes. In typical Sasha fashion, when the path to victory was without a bump in the road, she managed to create one herself. It was even evident that she was training full programs all season and she didn't splat during her long program, but it was a special performance with mistakes we'd never even seen from her before (and we thought we had seen it all after she skated into the boards and face planted a forward camel spin at Worlds.) Adorned in Badgley Mischka months before MK+O became their muses, it was truly her golden moment. Despite Arakawa landing two (questionable) triple-triples with her overarched (not locked out) ina bauer, it became clear if Ms. Cohen managed to stay upright, the judges were going to throw her a bone. They likely would've even overlooked a two foot or two (or three knowing Sasha.)

From the first strains of Robin Lake, it became quite clear that a stiff drink would be needed to get through the longest four minutes of all of our lives. For once, Sasha managed to change edge more on the landing of her triple flutz than she did on the takeoff. The second triple, a flip, was rather URRRRGGGGHHHHHH...OKAY! Girl's still upright. Then came that Russian jewish ferocity as the music picked up. The arms shot left and right like weapons. Then Uncle Dick had a skategasm when it came time for the Split Jump+Charlotte (on a flat). When Sasha made it through a triple toe+double toe and her posing section without stumbling we thought we had a shot. Triple Salchow is her best jump...she landed one already and she can do it. She can do it. She can....WHAT THE HELL?!?! A 2 1/4 salchow. Even Jill Trenary would've pulled that out. Of course, she hits the pared down footwork, marvelous spiral sequence on the music and her better than porn closing spins.

Fuck you Sasha, I swear I gained a few gray hairs even re-watching this on youtube.

And for even more reason the HATE her, she finally managed her only truly clean free skate just a few weeks later.

I need those years off my life back.

Exceptional Gay Moment

Baby Sasha was known for music choices that made our hearts sing. Sasha, skating to Celine, with the commentary of Dick, Peggy and Terry was beyond words.

While Sasha performed this program a few times, the choreography was never the same or as magical. Sasha's ADD and improved skating hindered the rawness of this skate. Even the mistakes are marvelous.

And even early on, Uncle Dick's gay heart went into overdrive and produced unforgettable moments in commentary history.

Dick: Now watch the way she does this Russian split jump. The fullness of the split! The height of it! And this double loo(p) watch the edge right there coming out of the jump.

She skates to the music. She also skates to more than just the music.

Terry: Meaning what Dick? (You know it wasn't the only time Mr. Gannon wanted to ask that question.)

Dick: That she adds more. She not only, she not only plays the music, she plays what's not there. Play what's there, but play what's not there.

Look at this. She gives this more than is required.

Peggy: A little shaky on that triple toe. She does. not. hit. a bad position. She is very finished off down to the pointed toe.

Dick: She has a presence that simply doesn't stop. The stretch! The line!

Sasha Mania!!! (Shortly followed by the coining of the Sasha Split, the Sasha Curl, The Sasha Spiral, The Sasha Skid and the Sasha Splat)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Remembering The Skating Boom: Tonia Kwiatkowski

In every competition, there are winners, there are runner-ups, there are the ecstatic bronze medalists and then there is the fourth place finisher. Fourth place. It isn't easy being the odd man out. Yet, Tonia Kwiatkowski made a career of it.

Tonia Kwiatkowski climbed the ranks of US Figure Skating with Nancy Kerrigan and Kristi Yamaguchi. They went on to Olympic podiums and professional careers, yet Tonia kept plugging away at the Winterhurst Figure Skating Club, chasing her Olympic dream.

Life is cruel. You can work and work and work, and sometimes you just don't get that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And sometimes you just don't recognize when you've reached it.

See, Tonia Kwiatkowski was a good skater but she was never a 'great' skater. This is similar to how Rachael Flatt will never be a 'great' skater. Tonia Kwiatkowski never gave up, but she often gave in to the nerves of competition. At her best, Tonia Kwiatkowski competed at three World Championships. Luckily for her, injuries, utter meltdowns and sheer good fortune got her to the top 10 in the World.

Not every skater is going to be a World Champion. After failing to qualify for the short program at the 1993 Worlds and finishing fifth in a Kerriganless field at the 1994 Nationals, it became painfully obvious that the youngins had passed her by. Always the masochist, Tonia kept going. And going. And going.

There comes a point in time when you need to recognize that it is time to move on. If you can't recognize it yourself, pay attention to the television commentators.

The following dialogue only took place fifteen to twenty times on ABC Sports:

Dick: This is her 29th appearance at the National Championships and she has always been a fine competitor. You have to respect the conservative hard work she has put in over the years.

Peggy: Tonia is always so nicely put together for competition. Her costumes and hair are always quite lovely.

When the commentators are listing the number of times you've competed, your college diploma and appear focused on your costumes instead of what you're doing on the ice, it is time to hang it up. One former ladies medalist texted me about Kimmie Meissner the other day. "Someone needs to be honest with Kimmie and tell her to save her money. Do you think she really loves it THAT much? It is like she has Amber Corwin syndrome." Tonia also suffered from that affliction.

The 1995-1996 season was the apex of Tonia's never-ending career. It was the crescendo, the little accent mark on a half note. When you're forever stuck in the 5.1-5.7 range, the judges are telling you something. A 5.6 on a good day means something isn't right.

Could it be your music choices? Hunchback of Notre Dame at 27? John Tesh? All of your coach's 40 year-old music cuts? The pumping crossovers? The axel you'd pop where you'd put all of your weight on one hip and then take off? The beads weighing down your costumes? The open backs showing off the shoulders of a line backer?

When Uncle Dick refers to your lutz technique as "interesting" on television, it is a red flag. It is also a red flag when Peggy says "she knows this program like the back of her hand." That means that you've been doing that program longer than Hollie Vise did her floor routine to the Mask.

Oh Tonia, it is like you never got out of Cleveland, or if you did, it was only to go to another ice rink. Sadly, looking at you and your beloved coach in the Kiss and Cry, I began to see you wearing her hair bows and sweaters with dogs, cats, pumpkins and pom-poms on them.

When you have the skate of your life, make it to Worlds, do well and finish in eighth place, it may be time to 'go out on top.' Honey child, you could compete in Ice Wars! All that professional prize money was there for the taking.

No, no. Tonia waited two years too long. When she finally emerged as a professional, she was immediately relegated to ESPN competitions and the occasional guest appear in Nancy Kerrigan's "Halloween On Ice."

When you do the same thing every year and you don't seem to be climbing the pyramid of success, something is off.

The 1997 Nationals were a giant wake-up call to everyone that the sport was shifting. Sadly, Tonia didn't get the memo. Campbell's Soup did and they decided to put Tara, Michelle and Nicole on the soup cans. In many ways, they picked the Olympic Team for the USFSA. The 1998 Nationals were unnecessary. It didn't take a genius to rank that top four. Sadly for Tonia, she could work day and night on her edge jumps and get a glitzed out dress for Madame Butterfly, but we never thought she had a chance in hell of making the team unless Jana and Joyce actually weren't able to get Nicole Bobek to focus for two solid weeks of training.

It is amazing, Nicole could fall on her ass for nine months, yet you never doubted that she was going to pull it out and make it to Nagano. And we all marveled at her. Poor Tonia.

As Peggy aptly put it, "It isn't over til it's over," before Tonia took center ice at Nationals, but did anyone believe the original Paula Abdul? Even Tonia knew it was over the minute Nicole finished her long program in Philadelphia. Hell, it was over by the middle of the first practice session. Watching Tonia try year after year, there became a fine line between respecting her work ethic and pitying her. And I mean pitying. Skating to a Disney soundtrack at 27 years of age. Ouch.

Sadly, her short-lived pro career only reached new levels of "just no!"

Tonia barely had a pro career, and yet I recall her 'signature program.'

Yes, Tonia 'Conservative' Kwiatkowski was Marilyn Monroe. Wig and all. And it wasn't just for Halloween On Ice. Because when I think of french twists, hair bows and scrunchies on a college graduate, I dream of making her over into Marilyn.

Sadly, I don't think Tonia boned any Kennedys that night.

And then there was Black Cat.

I believe Tonia was actually defeated by Roz Sumners and Liz Manley in ESPN professional competitions. Other skaters were able to refuse to skate with Tonya Harding (the woman who made them all rich), yet Tonia didn't have a choice. For her, it was off to 'Elvis On Ice,' the tour starring the least artistic skater ever.

Did you ever have that guilty feeling overcome you watching Tonia and knowing that it just wasn't going to happen? Let's say something positive. Her spins were nice.

Why didn't Tonia even venture a few hundred miles north? She would've been the most successful Canadian ladies skater ever.

This post is dedicated to Alex Forrest and lovers of scrunchies everywhere.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Yama The Great

Kristi's seventeen hundredth perfect competitive program as a professional. While the other ladies were too busy not giving a shit, Kristi's Asian perfectionist work ethic went into overdrive.
Kristi + Yanni + Sandra Bezic = Total Win

How nice of Kristi to let someone else win in Lillehammer.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Michelle Kwan Moment

Download Link (Youtube mutes the music due to an irritating copyright claim.)

Alex Forrest and Margaret Thatcher have had the nerve to insult the Kwan to me lately. Alex Forrest will admit that she was absolutely brilliant for a number of years, but Margaret Thatcher has a blind hatred stemming from an ex boyfriend's undying worship of MK. She stirs up bad memories.

Well, I did not take these insults lying down. I whipped out at a weapon: the 1997 World Exhibition. That's right, the moment MK endeared herself forever to gays everywhere by skating to the music of Tori Amos.

I play to win. And this program is total win. (Though, SO glad she ditched Mare Talbot the next year.)

Wrongfully denied the World Title, Michelle set out in the exhibition to prove why she was the best and most beloved skater on planet Earth. Note the superior skating skills. The clean edges and speed. Tara Lipinski could only dream of relinquishing her two foot skating to develop such a mastery of skating skills.

Dedicated to a friend who had died, "Winter" opened Michelle's soul in a way we had never seen before. It demonstrated exactly how mature and soulful beyond her years she actually is.

There is something so private, yet so open and free about this performance. Skating without even the slightest tension, Michelle owns the subtleties of this music. While some people hate watching show skating, this a program with unreal technical merit. The artistic details are unmatched. Watch the positions, the arm movements and even the way Michelle turns her head.

"Winter" reminds me of why I fell in love with skating in the first place.

In the words of Margaret Thatcher, "Well of course Michelle was fucking brilliant and could do things that would make Sasha fall on her ass. Don't rub it in."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Moment of Grand Delusion

Today's moment of delusion is brought to you by Mary 'Hold that edge and be sexy' Scotvold and Nancy 'She's just gonna get out there and cry again' Kerrigan.

I've always adored watching sarcastic, brutally honest Nancy interact with the chain-smoking, scotch-drinking Scotvolds. In addition to "I want to die," at the 1993 Worlds, Nancy provided us with so many gems. Remember that Evy openly said "Nancy can be a real bitch," in Christine Brennan's "Inside Edge."

Their love/hate relationship was beyond entertaining, as Evy really is a brilliant technical coach. Mary, on the other hand, gave each skater the same program year after year. In Nancy's case, she hated classical music and often had cheesey muzak composed for her by Mary's brother in law.

Nancy's Kiss and Cry after the 1994 Olympic long program was charming because Evy and Nancy openly mock her hot mess of a camel spin that she almost fell on during the program. Nancy lost her edge temporarily and her leg dipped. I've always loved her honesty about that, as it is something that I would do (I'm never good at masking disappointment when I make mistakes performing or competing).

Alex Forrest alerted me that I've been missing a fabulously delusional exchange between Mary and Nancy all of these years. After Nancy's technical merit marks are posted, Mary illustrates exactly how delusional she was about her own choreography and the artistic impression of her skaters.

Mary: Do you think you'll get a six?
Nancy: I dunno.
Mary: I hope. I hope so.
Nancy: Yea man.
(Marks come up.)
Nancy (rolling her eyes): Nope. Never!

I die.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Remembering The Skating Boom: Brian Boitano

While he wasn't an IMG Client, Brian Boitano may have just been the most pimped out skater during the professional skating boom of the '90s. In recent years, we've learned that Mr. Boitano has quite the self-deprecating sense of humor and it has made it quite charming, but the Brian Boitano of the '90s took life (and made for TV competitions) very seriously.

Cue opera ballad sung by boyfriend. Inhale. Raise arm over head. Look intense. Back three turn. Bend over and stick out giant ass. Attempt to not be clumsy while attempting compulsory figures mid program.

Oh, Boitano programs at the World Pros were like no other. Landover was Brian's house and every year he delivered new levels of seriousness for that silver platter. With powerful buns that my mother adored and big Polish-esque thighs, the 1988 Olympic Gold Medalist powered around the rink before a spread eagle into Tano lutz, triple axel, triple flip, camel spin, weak sit spin, HUGE death drop and almost-blurred scratch spin! All to the commentary of Sandra Bezic marveling at a program she created.

While the total power bottom is an amazing skater and obviously a fantastic competitor, it wasn't enough for Scott Hamilton, the king of professional commentary. Whether it was out of unrequited lust or a desire to make the one time he defeated Boitano and actually "won" a pro competition a much bigger deal than it actually was, Scott liked to YELLL about what a truly amazing alpha male Brian actually is.

At 1995 Ice Wars: The Rematch, Scott delivered one of his most memorable (and curious) commentating performances while watching Boitano compete his overwrought artistic program to Seal's "Don't Cry."

"He's so strong. He could do this program with his arms and legs tied behind his back at 3 AM, with the lights off, bound and gagged."

Mind you, until Kurt Browning started schooling Boitano at the World Pros (and boy was it heaven), every Boitano program was exactly the same as the last, so he had a ton of practice and his muscle memory likely would've helped him through skating in the dark while tied up like a hostage on The Young and The Restless.

I don't know what I miss more about pro skating: Scott Hamilton pretending that Roz Sumners' (oft-popped) double axel was an amazing human feat or all of society being forced to pretend that Katarina Witt and Brian Boitano were involved in some sort of torrid love affair. Don't scoff over that silver lame shirt he wore, you know it was the wardrobe of super heros!

It wasn't until an ass kicking by Browning and South Park spoofing his professional persona that we actually got a glimpse at the real Brian Boitano. Sadly, it was only a decade too late.