Thursday, May 31, 2012
Remembering the Skating Boom: Jill Trenary
If ever there was a quasi member of the skating boom, it was Jill Trenary. Coming onto the scene in the late '80s, Jill peaked in 1990 and disappeared from the scene by the time Nancy got whacked. Facing the music on tour with Christopher Dean, Jill traveled the world and avoided the stress of competition at every cost. She was sometimes referred to as Oksana Baiul's favorite skater, but we largely forgot about her aside from the 1996-1997 season when she showed up at Ice Wars, the highly prestigious Rock N Roll Figure Skating Championships and a one-year touring stint with Stars on Ice. It was delightful to see Jill that year.
She was older, relaxed and performing an adorable number to These Boots Are Made For Walkin. Frankly, Barbie was back. Then a medical condition forced her to disappear into obscurity until she and Christopher Dean divorced. Given this level of obscurity, many younger fans fail to be aware of the magic and brilliance of Jill...or at least the reasons for ironic love.
Jill Trenary was the very definition of an ice queen: beautiful, elegant, dressed is colorful beaded costumes and a cold-ass bitch. If one took Jane Fonda, gave her a sassy hairdo, put her on the ice, injected a neurotic persona and put in a Yanni CD, they'd have Jill. Our girl was beautiful. She had the best hair ever seen in the sport. And she also had an upper lip that formed a hint of a snarl when talking about any of her competitive disappointments.
The 1990 World Champion didn't have a skating mother. Rather, we never heard much about her family life, though we presumed her parents were divorced. This would normally be none of our business and a bit of an afterthought, yet Jill's father loved the camera. And he loved his daughter. And he wanted her to WIN. Jill's father, Bob, was an over-the-top man who was always appearing in her fluff pieces and wildly pumping his fists when she skated.
Originally from Minnesota, Jill moved to Colorado Springs to train with Carlo and Christa Fassi. Christa was said to be a mother figure to Jill. Carlo couldn't seem to stand her. It was said that Jill was "rebellious." Yes, let's speak in code, shall we? Our girl was "challenging," and "determined." The cameras loved to show Jill missing jumps and crying in practice. This was in stark contrast to Carlo's favorite, Caryn Kadavy, who hit every day in practice and often couldn't land a jump under pressure.
One of the more curious aspects of the Fassi-Trenary dynamic is that the more Carlo seemed to hate Jill, the more Peggy Fleming appeared to adore her. "Jill is such a complete skater." Peggy would let us know that Lauren Sheehan did her costumes for the next ten years. Anytime we saw a tacky beaded monstrosity with shoulder pads that we were sure we'd previously seen in another color, Peggy would inform us that they were done by the same woman who made the costumes for Jill Trenary, Kristi Yamaguchi, Nicole Bobek and Scott Davis. Ironically, if there is one skater who makes you think of Peggy...it is Caryn Kadavy. Peggy Fleming never seemed overly enthusiastic or impressed by Caryn's skating. The most Peggy ever uttered was that she was "flattered" when their skating was compared and then she'd move on. The more Carlo loved Caryn or was outraged by her scores, the more Peggy focused her attention elsewhere. The relationship between Carlo and his students is most curious. While Jill may have aged Carlo and driven him nuts, he never took her to court like he did with Dorothy Hamill (whom he also ditched prior to the 1976 Olympics.)
It isn't enough to merely say that Jill was a nervous competitor. Girlfriend had a way of landing every jump with her shoulders down and her nose gracing the ice. We loved her more for it. We also love that she clearly never met a practice session that didn't have the ability to cause a nervous breakdown over a missed jump. How shaky will the landings be today? Jill had a Triple Toe, Triple Flip and one-foot-axel -half loop- Triple Salchow. If she could make it through a program without popping, landing severely hunched over or turning out of a jump, the program certainly isn't on youtube. Jill, like Aunt Joyce, tensed her hands on the ice when nervous. One friend of the blog has labeled them her 'crab hands' and notes them whenever she does a program.
Jill won the 1987 Nationals in a surprise, but Debi Thomas was injured and out of shape. She followed up her win in Czisny fashion by blowing the figures at Worlds. Jill had beautiful figures and gorgeous edges. Her figures were her competitive advantage. Yet, Jill often had a way of blowing them in competition as often as she excelled at them. Carlo was noted for being the greatest politician that figure skating had ever seen. He mastered a deal for Jill to win the 1989 World Championships, yet, Jill managed to choke under the pressure.
Carlo did not hide his displeasure with his pupil. During her 1990 Worlds fluff, Carlo let us know that Jill had been an utter basket case the previous year before she went on. Jill blamed it on skating last, yet Midori reaching new technical heights likely had something to do with it. The skating world had never seen a jumper like Midori Ito.
Attempting a Triple Toe+Double Toe combination in the short to play it safe and ensure Carlo's deal making would pay off, Jill blew it again by double-doubling. Carlo was so pissed he stormed off mid performance.
Yet, Jill came back to stay on her feet and finally win the World Title against all logic, reason and odds. It was a fucking miracle.
The world became so excited, that excitement over Jill's victory was muted. She was never Michelle Kwan, but she was the 'proper' skater of her day. That said, when Jill won the Worlds, excitement was muted because Midori kicked major technical ass yet again. People were very excited for Jill and viewed it as her ticket to a great professional career. The ISU eliminated figures immediately after Jill's win. With only the ability to land five triples on a good day and girls landing triple axels and triple lutzes nipping at her heels, her days were over. Carlo accepted a coaching job in Italy and sent his pupil to Carol Heiss Jenkins. If that wasn't an official death to her career, Jill's performances at 1991 Skate Canada and 1992 Sectionals left the federation "allegedly" telling her they would not hold her up at Nationals or send her to the Olympics.
Do you think Carlo would've left her behind or failed to take her with him if he didn't see this coming?
Just as Kristi Yamaguchi spoiled Jill's nervous and shaky-as-fuck win at the 1989 Nationals, she ended Jill's reign as the queen of the ice by beating her at their next competition, the 1990 Goodwill Games. When a skater like Jeff Buttle or Jill Trenary win against all technical odds, it is the judges' way of telling someone to take their medal and run.
At the 1992 Olympic Games, Jill appeared as glamorous as ever, saying that she had made a difficult decision not to compete in the 1992 Olympics, but was willing to consider the 1994 Olympic Games if the ISU limited the technical content to three or four technical jumps...because the Olympics really is all about hair spray and shoulder pads.
Jill the skater may have come an gone, but her gay icon status as the ultimate ice queen will live on forever. As it should. And let's remember her hair, because in all honesty, it was the best aspect of her on-ice performance.