Saturday, September 11, 2010

Remembering The Skating Boom: The World Pro

For those who are newer fans and only remember the more unfortunate professional skating events, we need to discuss the gem known as the World Pro. "Landover" as it was known, was considered the longest night in skating. Despite being a lowly professional competition, winning the World Pro was a HUGE deal back in the day. Skaters yearned for their silver platter and the intensity was palpable.

Why, you ask?

The World Pro was the most prestigious of the competitions owned and operated by Dick Button's Candid Productions. The annual event featured judges in tuxedos and the aroma of Pinot Noir permeated the TV screen. In essence, it was an opportunity for the biggest snobs in skating to let their opinions be known. Even skating at the World Pro was considered a big deal. Skaters supposedly would qualify to the World Pro by winning the US Pro or Canadian Pro, or Dick Button's own "Challenge of Champions," but the key to being invited was kissing Dick Button's Harvard graduate ass. The moment Gordeeva and Grinkov turned pro, Tarasova contacted Dick Button to get them a place in the event. It was hardly a guarantee that someone would win the World Pro just because they were the reigning World or Olympic Champion. This is the exactly the type of event where they'd even keep one down and make them learn the hard way during their first outing. Dick Button's annual event had the aura of a pretentious English professor.

In his autobiography "Landing It," Scott Hamilton let is be known that he felt that Uncle Dick deliberately made sure that Robin Cousins kicked his cheesetastic, cornball, shtick-loving ass in 1985. This was one competition where a nice centered, stretched camel spin truly was worth as much as a triple jump.

NBC covered the event each and every year and picked the snobbiest voice they could find: Sandra Bezic. What made the telecast truly special was that Sandra had often choreographed the programs of Browning, Boitano, Yamaguchi, Witt and Underhill & Martini. The opinionated choreographer didn't mention her connection to the skaters, which made it far more enjoyable for those 'in the know.'

NBC broadcast the event on Super Bowl weekend. Friday and Saturday nights were all about the World Pro.

For those unfamiliar with the event, I've chosen to discuss the 1994 World Professional Championships as a microcosm for the annual exercise in pretentiousness.

Every year, NBC picked a theme to make the event as dramatic as possible. The athletes were filmed in glamour shots, sometimes putting on makeup, sometimes there were shown skating under fog lights and a smoke machine. One of David Michaels' favorite openings was Robert Miles' "Children." The song highlighted the gray tension-filled vibe given off during the annual clashing of the egos.

The 1994/1995 season marked the beginning of an all out skating extravaganza. Television was dominated with skating and the Dec. '94 competition was the mother load of all things skating. Suddenly, being World Professional Champion became on par with World and Olympic Gold.

For any of you who assume that all pro skating was a joke, you need to take note of just how competitive and positively bitchy the skaters got during the World Pro.

Brassuer and Eisler somehow deluded themselves into believing that they'd be able to be competitive with Gordeeva and Grinkov at Dick Button's event. Perhaps Isabelle's limited English could be an excuse for not understanding the man that is Dick Button, but Lloyd's douchetasticness was finally put on display for the skatenastics-loving world.

If you aren't hooked already, this interview should do the trick.

What is truly genius about Lloyd's reaction is that they were competing against G+G at their peak with perhaps their most beloved program of all time.

Patricia The Stripped vs. Rodin Sculptures set to Vocalise. I wonder which program Dick would prefer?

Brian Boitano may have won the men's event, but the competition was really all about Kurt (and would stay that way for years to come.) "The King" skated his Olympic short and yet another operatic free skate for the long with 75 spread eagles. His boyfriend didn't sing the song he used for the artistic program, but it was a total "Music of the Night" performance.

Kurt Browning had a rough season in 94-95. He had boot problems and was skating like utter shit. Perhaps he was distracted by the new woman in his life? Whatever the reason, Kurt's biggest hot mess of the season came at the World Pro. While Kurt would've been one of the few skaters able to win Landover on his first trip, he seemed to be skating his '94 Olympic short on repeat. He was ANGRY!

Torvill and Dean missed the '94 edition due to their Face The Music World Tour, which allowed eternal bridesmaids Usova and Zhulin to finally get their due atop the rostrum.

Dick Button earned eternal cool points by shelling out appearance fees to attract the top skaters to the event. Uncle Dick was so legit that he was able to renew the Yamaguchi-Ito rivalry and challenge Kristi's undefeated reign as the undisputed queen of professional skating.

Midori triple-axeled herself to the '93 World Pro title and the uber competitive Ms. Yamaguchi was PISSED about letting the title slip through her fingers. Kristi arrived for the 94-95 season in top form and was intent on winning back her World Pro crown. Note how pissed she is after doubling a planned triple toe at the end of her technical program.

Midori Ito brought her A-Game, her triple axel and her leg wrap to the World Pro. She didn't treat us to another never-ending rendition of ''The Rose of Pain," but she did win the technical program.

Ironically, Katarina Witt never won the World Pro. She also didn't enter the event for many years after turning pro. Katarina was past her prime by '94, but that didn't stop her from making a statement. If any German could ever get away with skating to Schindler's List, it is Miss Witt.

In the end, Kristi came back with a vengeance. Armed with a gay dance number, Kristi was able to play to the old queen judging the event.

Midori wound up coming up short this year. Like most Japanese ladies in the '90s, her artistic program was just a tad ''off.'' It would be slightly cringe worthy if she wasn't so freakin adorable. As usual, Midori was "so so happy, very hap-py" in the Kiss and Cry and positively enchanting. She didn't win, but she still won our hearts.

Though she was largely overshadowed in '94, Ito's countrywoman armed herself with an American choreographer and came ready to play the next year. The drama never ceased in Landover.


  1. After watching that fluff, I am having flashbacks to my nightclubbing days....

  2. G&G made me cry again. How perfect can you get?

  3. G&G's program was inspired by Rodin's sculptures? Really? Wow...

  4. Katia talks about visiting the Rodin museum in 'My Sergei.'

  5. Always a treat to watch a great skate without eternal yakking in the background by the commentators. I don't think I'll ever love a pairs team as much as Gordeeva and Grinkov, and that's okay with me.

  6. I am so obsessed with Godeeva and Grinkov!

  7. Oh my god, I love that Vocalise program by G&G. I wanted McLaughlin&Brubaker to skate to that music in the worst way.

  8. A pro competition with ladies doing triple axels and triple triple sequences?! Who knew this existed?

  9. LOL, you know what, I think Brassuer & Eisler did deserve to win. Their program was MUCH more creative and technically their Triple Twist was more difficult than anything G&G did, no? G&G are phenomenal but that program never fully captured the music for me.

  10. You must be on crack and possibly Canadian.

  11. [Quote]Their program was MUCH more creative and technically their Triple Twist was more difficult than anything G&G did, no?[/Quote]

    B/E's program was very funny but frankly that was an exhibition program not a competitive program. Their progam was not what pairs skating is about whereas G/G are the epitome of pairs skating as was their program.
    Its almost like they knew they weren't going to beat G/G and the other Russian team by skating a REAL program so they decided to go with the most gimmicky program they could. And I'd call G/G deciding to base a program off of Rodin sculptures a lot more creative than B/E putting Lloyd in a dress.

    My guess is they thought that mainly North American World Pro would ensure that they finally started winning competitions. They failed to take note that Dick loves his Russian pairs (at least when they are good) The man has actual taste.

  12. Patricia the Stripper was so good. It is the ultimate in artistic skating.

  13. I am always impressed with how diverse the World Pro actually was. While most of the skaters did have big pro careers in North America, many were not actually North American. After a while, one forgets because they all live here and are almost adopted by North America. Yuka, Midori, Bechke +Petrov, Usova+Zhulin, G+G, Torvill + Dean, Viktor Petrenko, Katarina Witt, Oksana Baiul, etc.

  14. I miss the days of good pro competitions. I don't want jumps to disappear entirely or anything, but I've always preferred the more artistic elements (part of the reason I generally prefer ice dance and pairs to singles, unless the single in question is somebody like Kurt Browning or the Kween), so pro competitions where the emphasis was on more artistic skating were bliss for me.

    We could use some more of that, now that the amateur competitions are so obsessed with quads and technical elements. :P

  15. I'll have to start signing comments here to differentiate myself from the sea of Anonymous. Responding to this comment:

    "B/E's program was very funny but frankly that was an exhibition program not a competitive program. Their progam was not what pairs skating is about whereas G/G are the epitome of pairs skating as was their program."

    Your ideas about art and what pairs skating is "supposed" to be are very limited. B/E took a piece of music and interpreted it in such a way that I can't image any other interpretation being better. Doing something ICONIC like that is a basis for what can make a performance masterful.

    Your dismissive attitude of "all they did was put him in a dress" completely ignores the intricacies of their movements - the way Isabelle points her finger in the air, the little kicks they do, the way he lifts his arms after the throw axel...these details build together and form something where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It took an incredible amount of daring and dedication to go as far as they did in their depiction of a sexual role reversal.

    Basing a program off sculptures is HARDLY art in and off itself. That's just empty pretension. The only thing that matters artistically in ice skating is how well you interpret the music which is playing during your performance. If you choose to simply ignore the quality of the interpretation and instead stay within the limited mindset of "THIS kind of music or THIS style of performance is the only kind which can possibly be considered artistic", then you are not objectively assessing the merits of the performances that were given.

    Gordeeva and Grinkov are the best pair team of all time. Their "Moonlight Sonata" program is perhaps the best choreographed pair program of all time. The performance they gave here does NOT interpret the music or create as powerful of a feeling as some of their best programs. Their skating has more unison and interpersonal connection than any other team, but those qualities don't mean they are interpreting the music the best. Musical interpretation is a completely separate thing and, for me, B/E's program easily wins in that regard and is artistically the best thing they have ever done (I find most of their programs to be overrated, FYI).

    And, no, I'm not Canadian either Aunt Joyce. Nationalism is so last century regardless. I don't root for the home team solely because they are the home team. That kind of ignorant mindset is essentially the basis for most of the wars that have ever happened in the history of our planet.

  16. Woot woot looks like we got one of the uptight assholes from goldenskate or fsuniverse commenting! lucky you, auntie joyce!

  17. If I wasn't uptight I wouldn't be able to rotate my Triple jumps. Sorry, I guess it's just a necessary thing in my life.

    In all seriousness, explaining an opinion is not uptight (especially when you are announcing your adoration for a program about a stripper)? Good grief.

    Aunt Joyce has nothing to worry about. He has the best viewpoint on ice skating I've ever seen from a non-skater. Very entertaining blog.

  18. I do not agree at all about G+G failing to express the music. I find this program so moving and perhaps one of their top three programs.