Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ro-flecting on What Could Have Been

Only once does a skater come along with a talent so universally transcendent that he lands double jumps the day he laced on a pair of over-sized rental skates. Likewise, only once does a skater come around who has the suck-ability to fall/pop on every single jump in a freakin' long program.

Say hello to Rohene Ward. Skating's biggest hot mess that even Robin Wagner turned down to coach. In a sport where privileged, wealthy white kids usually prosper, Rohene's presence was a shock--and a refresher--to many in the sport. Growing up in the ghetto of North Minneapolis, Rohene's half-black, half-Puerto Rican roots brought a new level to the sport that Alexei Mishin was even quoted as saying, "I have nothing else to teach him." Only someone like Rohene can scare the shit out of Plushenko's coach.

Being sponsored his entire skating career, Rohene was given every opportunity to succeed, but the most vital component was missing -- hard-core training. Watching him skate easily shows him to be one of the most gifted skaters ever to take up the sport, but reading his track record puts him on a scale lower than Kyoko Ina's singles career.

"No this is not Bobek, Bowman, or Sandhu kittens...they actually have medals." - Pat Lipinski

Rohene qualified to nationals four times in seven years in 2002, 04, 06, and 08 (failing to qualify out of Midwestern sectionals in the odd years). As immense hype proceeded him at each one of these competitions, his performances deflated faster than Sasha Cohen's competition breasts.

Unfortunately, the talent that the skating community most witnessed of his was the uncanny ability to fall on his ass multiple times in one minute rather than his freakishly out-of-this-world skill of jumping in both directions, landing triple axels as routinely as brushing teeth, and performing spirals that would make Sasha Cohen choke.

As Pat Lipinski put it:
Rohene pretty much told me everything came easy for him. He would entertain himself trying - and successfully doing - shit that no other skater could dream of just because it was otherwise boring. He would reel off triple lutzes one after the other from 4 or 5 different entries - spiral, cantilever, rocker-counter.... you name it. He'd be all like oh, triple sal in CW... too easy, let me try a triple loop CW... giggle, that was easy too! And that was just fucking around. With no warmup. 

Case in point:

Take a look at some of his greatest skating performances performed at these various regional and sectional championships. People only had to pay $5 to see this crazy shit!

 Johnny was nothing compared to the head banging that Rohene provided U.S. Figure Skating. In his very brief international career, USFS was downright freaked out by Rohene. His white wife-beaters, cornrows, and practice skating shorts were only the beginning of it. In a summer competition leading up to the 2006 olympics in SoCal, Rohene competed on the same ice as Evan in his home territory. The crowd was eating up Rohene's skating by oohhing and ahhing like it was freakin' Cirque du Soleil. Evan was NOT having it, and apparently made a big scene on the ice when there was a near collision between the two skaters. Evan was literally spooked.

In a candid interview on goldenskate, he enlightened us to the secrets of his success... His diet:

"This morning I had French toast covered in syrup and strawberries and bananas, with eggs on the side. If I feel like it, I'll have pizza right before I skate, becauseif I don’t have something in my system when I take the ice I feel much worse. I’ve never once gone into a competition day and thought, “Oh no! What have I done! Look at how much I’ve eaten – I won’t be able to jump now.” I figure if I shove down cheeseburgers on the way to practice sessions at home (laughing), why change the routine? Definitely, I am not a nutritionist but the other day I did have a salad I made at a whole foods grocery store. Of course, on the side I had a roast beef with mayo sandwich."

Can you imagine the men's locker room at Nationals when Rohene arrived with his cheeseburger from Wendy's? Johnny Weir certainly puked an extra pound that evening. 

Rohene was the wild-child of skating. For such an immense talent, no one could chain him down to train a full long-program once a day. His longtime coach Page Lipe tried to send him to other coaches, but no one could deal with his "eccentric" work ethic. At 2004 Nationals, Dick Button is outrightly transfixed by Rohene's skating by lavishing the beauty of his style, but after three falls we were all forced to shut up.

"PChiddy can only have wet dreams about having Rohene's skating skills." - Pat Lipinski

After bombing again at sectionals in 2005, Rohene was teasing us all by telling us he was going all out in an attempt to make the 2006 Olympic team. We all knew that if he skated the performances of his life with quad/triple combos he would most certainly deserve the title and the judges would easily sneak him into the third medal spot. We all lived for the fact that Robin Wagner was so desperate to get to another Olympics that she figured getting Rohene to be her next pupil would fit into her perfect plan. Robin was too used to Sarah kissing her ass that the wild-child of skating was just too much to handle and she refused to coach him full-time.

"He said he could do everything in practices or in a show 'because I'm doing a triple lutz or whatever just because I feel like doing it' whereas he'd freak out when he had to compete 'because in competition I'm doing a triple lutz because I have to do it.'" - Pat

ABC certainly smoked the Rohene joint leading up to 2006 Nationals. They loved everything about his story, especially the fact that his family was too poor travel to his competitions.

The short program wasn't exactly the hot mess we were expecting albeit a botched quad attempt. Sitting in 8th place, his Olympic hopes were mostly gone but not ABC's attempt to exploit him and his family.

That all backfired after this four-and-a-half minutes in hell. Watching this performance was seriously worse than stabbing a nail in your foot. You first feel bad for him, then you feel anger, followed by pain, more pain, amusement and wonder at how he can fuck up so much, more anger, and then the only thing left to do is finish it off with too many swigs of whiskey.

The craziest hot mess of an interview with Rohene, his mother, and Peter Carruthers is nowhere to be found on YouTube. I don't know whether to be grateful or pissed about it. Here's essentially how I remember the interview playing out:

-Peter: How much of a dumb ass are you to mess up every single jump in your program?
-Rohene: Well, I just lost focus and couldn't regroup..
-Peter: Well, that sucks....but we brought your mom here!
*Rohene gasps and mom enters..immediate tears from both and camera watches on for 2 minutes as they both embrace*
- Peter: Ms. Rohene, how did it feel to watch your son today?
-Ms. Rohene: I am so proud..*more tears*
-Peter: Well there you have it...best of luck to you all.

Most. Awkward. Interview. Ever.

For Rohene, the next few years were consistent...consistently dreadful. As 2008 nationals came to his hometown, the local media propped up Rohene again to be a fierce contender. By this time, USFS knew better and NBC didn't really care. However, after a respectable 3rd place finish at Midwesterns leading up to the event, it was finally looking like Rohene was actually practicing at least 2/3 of his long program all the way through.

A rough short and an even worse long brought him again to a familiar position - last. This was Rohene's final competition.

Nowadays, Rohene is looking more queened out by the day (his hairstyles are known to change with the  seasons) and is enjoying a very successful pro career with Holiday On Ice. Ice Network caught up with him this past summer as he is spending time in Chicago teaching until heading back to Europe for another season with Holiday. He has been a longtime choreographer for his mini-me with jumps, Mr. Jason Brown. Jason's own conversion process is underway, as Rohene gave him Prince to skate to for his short program.

We will always remember and enjoy Rohene for his unique style, uncanny ability, and incredible talent. Instead of reflecting on what could have been, we need to appreciate the crazy shit emotions he gave us all during his career. The boy has kept all of our heart rates from going down too low!


  1. Sublime... Has to be one of the most beautiful male skaters I have ever seen. Why would someone use talk to an afro/hispanic child and use OJ as an example of who he is "like" SMH.

    Thank you AJ.

  2. I cannot take credit. The wonderful Uschi Keszler wrote this.

  3. Oh my god. I remember that interview with Rohene, Peter and R's mom after Nationals. DISASTER. From what I remember, though, it was State Farm that flew out his mom, and they weren't about to let anyone forget it.

    That publicity stunt would have been a totally gross and exploitative move even if Rohene *hadn't* bombed. But with that performance, and then the way Peter actually asked something like, "I bet you miss your mom. Too bad she's not here because you guys are too poor. I bet you'd like to see her, huh?" and Rohene had this look on his face like "Shut the F up and let me get out of here, did you or did you not see my performance?" and then of course they reveal the mom, and the camera is up in their faces, and I was deeply, deeply ashamed not just for them and for myself for witnessing this, but for all humanity at large.

  4. Evidently he is the star of Holiday on Ice, appearing in about 8 numbers. I spoke to Page who went overseas last year to see him and encouraged me to go when I told her I was thinking about it. I skated in a show several years ago where he participated. I felt privileged to be in the same rink as him and to see his talent. He blew the roof off with his skills. Also he coached some of the teenagers in the show and they obviously adored him. You could see he cared about them. Europe is damned lucky, and our loss that we don't have many professional ice shows.

  5. I feel like for awhile in the mid-2000's every year there was tons of Rohene hype going to Nationals and he was really good in practice and then every year it all just fell apart. I actually was annoyed by him in the end because he essentially wasted his talent by not training properly/having nerves. Oh well, he seems to have found his niche now.

  6. Thanks so much for this post - I have heard Rohene's name but did not have access to much skating other than Network TV in this time frame - so he really was not on my radar. Thank god for youtube!

    Such a beautiful, musical, amazzzzing skater but yeah - concentration/focus a real problem.

    Some people are just not cut out to be competitive skaters - its great that despite not being a 'winner' in that arena Rohene's skills are recognized and he's doing really well as a show skater.

  7. Saying Rohene landed "double jumps the day he laced on a pair of over-sized rental skates" is like saying Gabby Douglas was the only black gymnast at Excalibur.

    He didn't.

  8. Hmmm - I must officially be a clone (Jim Rome-speak) of Aunt Joyce or something - before I actually read a little further, I thought this post was going to be about Louis Smith and his claim that he WUZ ROBBED at the Olympics, lol.

    His description of his diet is legend. Yep - I imagine that this alone was enough for him to get Gabbied by his fellow male skaters.

    What mighty gorgeous trainwrecks his performances were.

  9. Huh. Only time I saw him was the 2006 Nationals with the interview, and the way it was presented was that he was TOO POOR to train properly (like, couldn't afford the ice time and coaching or had to work too many hours, which cut short his practice time). Not that he was too arteestic to do run-throughs and rein in his nerves. If it really is the latter, that's inexcusable--for *any* athlete spending that much time and money on a sport. If I were his mom I'd be smacking his butt to get out there and do runthroughs (and maybe she was and he was just too headstrong? I have no idea). What a waste, but I, too, am glad he's found a good niche in choreography and shows.