Monday, August 30, 2010

Eight Skatenastics Splits To Live For

In the world of skatenastics, drama is rampant. Just when we were getting on edge about the new season starting already, Yu-Na Kim and Brian Orser heated up the dog days of summer with one of the most shocking coaching splits in recent memory. It has been so deliciously dramatic that it is amazing Russians weren't somehow involved.

Just as comeback provide endless entertainment (both the good and the bad), coaching changes are something that every longtime skatenastics fan lives for. Portrayed as an angel with archangels by her side, it is unfathomable that Queen Yu-Na does not indeed shit rainbows and ice cream.

Yu-Na's supporters have been quite upset over the split and overwhelmingly dramatic everywhere they're able to leave a comment. They want the accusations to stop! Um, bitch no. You just arrived in the skating scene and will likely leave the second Yu-Na retires and a new fad emerges. For the rest of us, we live for the ongoing fanning of the flames, as coaching splits are a car crash that we just can't manage to control ourselves from staring at.

It is not unusual for a skater or gymnast to split with their coach after an Olympic Games. Dorothy Hamill and Carlo Fassi went to court over a contentious split, while Debi Thomas told Alex McGowan exactly where he could shove it.

Here are a few notorious splits we salivated over in the past.

1. Kwan-Carroll-Nichol-___________
In recent memory, the only skater as revered as Kim was the beloved Michelle Kwan. After four long years of waiting to right the wrong of Nagano, Kwan shocked the world when she announced that she was firing Frank and "going it alone" for the 2001-2002 season. You mean she's coachless? What? Why? How? WTF? Heads exploded around the world, as Kwan, Carroll and Nichol had been described as the perfect union. With Kwan's performances inconsistent as all get-out in the fall of 2001, panic had set in. Given that Michelle was so famous and beloved, the press were beside themselves with the news but had to manage a delicate balance between reporting the shock and not upsetting Power Agent Shep Goldberg.

Team Kwan developed one of the most curious (and now laughable) PR statements of all time. "Every skater is alone on the ice..." That is what we were left with. Given how revered the Kween was, the world was just expected to accept this as a real reason. No contract disputes were mentioned, nor were any concerns over the direct of Kwan's skating. As Michelle's flip technique failed her golden quest, we were all left to cry and wonder why. As she skated over to give him a hug in the Kiss and Cry, we knew where to shift the blame: Danny Kwan. Frankly, I need a valium just thinking about it.

2. Klimova and Ponomarkenko- Natalia Dubova- Tatiana Tarasova
Among the three Ice Divas, Natalia Dubova was the coach du jour of the early nineties. With Klimova and Ponomarenko the favorites for gold in '92, Usova and Zhulin quickly emerged as fan favorites who K+P felt Dubova preferred. After two world titles, the luster of K+P began to fade in '91. Seemingly around forever, the judges felt that they had seen it all and it appeared the Dubova was ready to move on as well. When Marina failed a drug test, they felt a lack of support from their coach. Given that the coach is the chief politician in Ice Dance, it was beyond embarrassing for a Russian Stalwart to lose to a team of French-Canadian Siblings at the '91 Worlds. Even worse, the Duschenays has slapped together a "sequel" to their previous year's free dance in a matter of weeks, wore the same costumes and still came away victorious. K+P called their coach "conservative, " while Dubova preferred to call her longtime pupils "negative" and "lazy."

As with all of Tatiana Tarasova's tales, her initial discussions with K+P were wonderfully heartfelt and melancholy. She simply "couldn't do anything" for the team and refused coaching them countless times. Finally, she could see the seriousness and intensity in their eyes and agreed, but only if they listened to her every word. Before long, Tarasova crafted an iconic program and worked the judges to such a frenzy that she was able to take all credit for the fruits of someone else's labor. In Russian revisionist history, Tatiana is the one who 'made' Marina and Sergei and she's clutched their embrace ever since.

3. 9/5/99
In the early days of online fandom, 9/5/99 is a day which will live in infamy. Back when OOBN was the place to be and miserably slow, email lists were the preferred method of speculating wildly about people we live vicariously through and slandering others anonymously. On that day, my email exploded. For anyone who ever had to wait for their emails to be downloaded, they will remember it well: Vanessa Atler announced that she was leaving Beth and Steve and it "wasn't about the bar routine."

If ever there was an over-hyped and poorly managed gymnast, it was Vanessa Atler. Her team was a perfect storm of crazy, with her pesky agent and internet-obsessed stage mother at the helm. After losing yet another title due to bars, Steve Rybacki chewed into Vanessa on-camera and it is what we didn't hear that was apparently most delicious. After he refused to speak with her, Vanessa's father handled the split. Secretly, Sheryl Shade and the Atlers had met with Bela Karolyi at Nationals and discussed a coaching arrangement. Speculation ran rampant within minutes but the loose-lipped Atler was alarmingly quiet. With no coach on the immediate horizon, Atler lost her drive and appeared out-of-shape at her anticipated World Championship debut. As the wheels fell off her balance beam routine, Karolyi was MIA and quickly accepted a position at National Team Coordinator. Leaving Atler high and dry, he sought gyms for her, with many refusing. He twisted the arm of Valeri Liukin and placed a magnifying glass on the converted shopping center in Plano.

Meanwhile, Jamie Dantzscher, who had been flip-flopping between Charter Oak and SCATS for several months, made a pact with Beth and Steve to restore the Olympic Dream of their talented but inconsistent bridesmaid. In a move that will live in bitchtastic infamy, Dantzscher returned for the Olympic push with her former frenemy's floor music, signature mount and her spot on the Olympic Team. It was now Jamie who basked in the hysteria of Beth Rybacki. "It's just*sob*nice*sob*to have*sob*a relationship like that.*Smile*Cry*Smile*Cry*Smile.*

4. The Coach-hoppers
Just as some people are serial dates, some skatenasts are serial coach-hoppers. Such is the case for Nicole Bobek, Kerri Strug, Kristy Powell, Alecia Ingram, Marie Fjordholm and every Japanese skater in the post Nagano era.

While coaches should know what they are getting into in advance, many cannot resist getting their hands on raw talent and being 'the one' to mold it. While almost every coach enjoyed espousing Bobek tales, the same could not be said for Tom Forster during Kerri Strug's brief tenure at Colorado Aerials. The moment Bela appeared with Dominique Moceanu, Tom knew his days were numbered. Desperately desiring to be an Olympic Coach, Tom asked all the shy and nervous Strug all sorts of questions about 'what to expect.' After spending time with Karolyi at '95 Worlds, Strug fulfilled her role as a battered wife (aka former Karolyi student) and returned to the ranch for more punishment. While she felt that the Forsters were nice, she cited their "inexperience" and "lack of intensity" as the reasons for the split. A budding famewhore on the brink of losing his most talented students, Forster told NBC "one thing we knew for sure is that Kerri certainly displayed the ability to leave."

5. Bowman The Showman
If ever there was a skater to bring out the cranky in Frank Carroll, it was the shit-show named Bowman The Showman. Christopher had been with Carroll since he was a small boy and they'd traveled a long and winding journey together. By the 1990 World Championships, Bowman and Carroll appeared like two old quarreling queens in desperate need of divorce.

After another World Medal, the two split and Bowman showed up on the doorstep of the divaish Toller Cranston. As Toller tells it, he and Bowman got in a car wreck on their first day together, a metaphor of things to come. After showing up coachless and woefully out of shape at 1991 Skate America, Bowman emerged victorious but soon found himself the victim of a "mugging" with seriously dark overtones. Mr. Nicks was just the man to take Bowman off Cranston's hands and earned him another National Title en route to a return trip to the Olympics. While the story lacked a fairytale ending, it was a wild and titillating ride for us all.

6. Hong v. Fong
While few were shocked when Ivana Hong failed to make the Olympic Team, it didn't prevent a glorious parting of the ways. Injured Ivana was forced to train on a fractured ankle, but Fong claimed she gave up. Unusual practice session antics between Fong and Hong weren't initially seen as unusual from a coach with blood on his hands.

While Mama Hong is notoriously intense, Fong is even more. Fong reportedly gathered up his athletes to ask them "mirror, mirror on the wall, whose the stupidest of them all?" She is! With the US team in desperate need of a bar worker, the blame rests with Fong who could've rested the ankle and fixed her fractured technique.

7. Sasha Cohen
With Sasha Cohen, the tempestuous starlet, talent was everywhere. So was Sasha's controlling mother. Galina Cohen, lover of all things Russian, used a cross-country trip to have Sasha's 2002-2003 programs choreographed by Morozov and Tarasova as an opportunity to test the waters of a new coaching union. It wasn't long before the Cohens were swallowed by one of Tarasova's many furs and Sasha was on the way to a 'surely eventual' World Title.

Following a celebratory shopping trip in Paris, Cohen came down with a cold and failed to recover. Tarasova desired to pull Cohen out of an upcoming pro-am, yet Galina refused to budge as she signed a contract with the USFSA to make Cohen the federation's newest television darling. With the fall season having gone well, the cold-stricken Cohen fell three times during a nothing event and again at the following week's Grand Prix Final. Displeased, dismayed and disheartened, Tarasova and Galina had it out, leaving Cohen with no choice but to seek out the help of Robin Wagner.

The certifiable coach of Sarah Hughes readily took Cohen into her home and her unending world of crazy. Not known for being warm and fuzzy, Cohen and Wagner's honeymoon stage of BFFness quickly came to an end after a World Silver Medal that should've been gold. When the controlling coach desired to choreograph the next season's programs, Cohen's sanity emerged and the relationship was on the rocks. Injured and upset over her parents' impending divorce, Wagner accused Cohen of a poor work ethic. (And would repeat the comment at every available opportunity.) It wasn't long before Cohen jetted back to Costa Mesa, brought Nicks out of retirement and was losing National Titles to Michelle Kwan like nothing had ever happened.

8. Arkayev vs. the 2000 Olympic Gold Medal
Following a series of second-bests, Mother Russia was primed to take its rightful spot at the top of the gymnastics world at the 2000 Summer Olympics. Fresh off a team victory at the European Championships and armed with a bevy of stars, it would seemingly take an idiot to steer the team away from victory.

Given the numerous times we listened to Arkayev bitch about his salary, it isn't unthinkable for him to take an opportunity to earn a little more cash. With the Russian government awarding prize money to the coaches and athletes for every gold medal, Arkayev looked to cash in on his upcoming medal haul.

Of the four top stars (Lobaznyuk, Produnova, Zamo and Khorkina), only one would be credited to Arkayev. While Produnova was the product of other coaches, Arkayev soon became her official coach upon moving to Round Lake and she was soon named to countless World and European squads. After injuries are turmoil, Kuznetsova, Dogopolova and Kovalyova no longer enlisted Leonid as their primary coach. Given their mastery of their routines and sterling performances at the Russian Cup, spots on the Olympic Team seemed likely.

But Arkayev had other plans. Banking on the success of his primary stars, Arkayev filled the final slots on the team with two no-name gymnasts of his own. With his hubris and greed getting the best of him, Arkayev suffered the fate of every Shakespearean King: his athletes inevitably fell, as did his stature in Russian Gymnastics.


  1. love love love this post ! one of my fav is the hong-fong debacle.

  2. I love this post, but find a lot of these incidents sad. All the people involved in these bad splits are ordinary people when you really think about it... Think about working so closely with someone for an extended period of time until the point where your coach feels like a second parent... It is heartbreaking when a split ends so badly that the people hate each other and cannot look back on their times together fondly.

    It's nice that someone like Vanessa Atler eventually interacted the Rybackis and was able to reconcile. Hopefully that eases some of the pain that she experienced towards the end of her career.

  3. Great post. The Bowman-the-Showman clip is priceless. I remember watching it when it was first shown.

  4. Fong seems so nuts. I can't believe he keeps churning out elites.

  5. when did atler use dantz's floor music?

  6. The Atler situation was such a hot mess. Hard not to find someone involved with it who didn't do something questionable. I remember that Beth Rybacki interview-- I do not heart her. I still think Atler was a good gymnast in her own right even if massively over-hyped. Great post.

  7. I dont get it who would turn down the possibility of having atler in there gym in 99. crazy

  8. The funny thing is with Russia in 00, Arkavey's three athletes hit much better than the other three. If Khorkina, Produnova and Zamo had managed to keep their mistakes down to the level of the other three's, Russia would have won. That's not to defend Arkayev's stupid behaviour. He knew the top 4 were brilliant but not entirely reliable after all.

  9. I really don't think many gyms would turn down Atler. She shared an agent with many other gymnasts, and she wouldn't have been the only one with a crazy mom. I just don't think there were many places for her to go at that point... I think the fact that was a major talent and in need of surgery would have been too much pressure for many coaches, but I doubt this was about her mom or "drama".

  10. Even though at the time, I bought the "every skater is alone on the ice" bit hook, line and sinker, why didn't MK & co. find a new coach leading up to Nationals if that wasn't part of the real reasoning?

  11. They were offered jump help from several coaches, but they really felt that they could do it on their own at the time. They soon realized that they needed outside help before the next season. I know they may have felt that coaching herself may have motivated Michelle even more.

    Re gyms turning down Atler: Valeri didn't want her. He was given a position on the International Elite Committee before he had ever had any real success as a coach in the US based on taking Atler.

  12. I too am so sad that Michelle decided to go coach-less in 2001-02. Among the what-ifs: what if a coach had noticed her problem with the flip (which I think was partly psychological--didn't she slightly bobble her flip in the LP in Nagano, too?) and had her substitute the 3T? Not as difficult and it precluded throwing in the extra jump if she missed something (which never seemed to help her), but as things shook out, a clean LP program would have won in SLC. I don't remember--did she 2-foot the 3T on her combo in SLC or was it on the 2T? That is so unlike Michelle. She usually had ice-water in her veins at major comps. She needed a coach badly. If not Frank, someone else. Anyone but Danny.

  13. Ya. Hey AJ, do you even know that folks at FSU and GS celebrated when your blog got offline a few months ago?

    Why don't you make us all happy again? You can do it by stop putting garbage and get offline.

  14. If you are a hater and you want to overpost comments so it seems like people agree with you, at least have the brains to space your comments out or at least use different grammar, etc. so that everyone doesn't know that it's the same person posting four in a row. Or at least learn to spell.