This may sound like completely uninteresting news to, well, MOST of you, but 25 years ago today, Brian Boitano won the gold medal in Mens’ Figure Skating at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Ontario. ALSO…15 years ago today Tara Lipinski won the gold medal in Ladies’ Figure Skating at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, making her the youngest (15 yrs) to accomplish that feat.*
*Side note: It’s actually 25 and 15 years ago yesterday, February 20. It’s just taken me two days to write this damn thing.
So, why are those moments so significant? Why, in a blog filled with posts about books and movies and music and TV shows and sometimes tea, do I even care about these events? Well, ladies and gentlemen, the truth must come out. I LOVE FIGURE SKATING. There, I said it. LOVE IT.
It’s no secret that I sort of loathe sports in general. Which is actually kind of funny, considering I entered college as a sports journalism major (quickly realizing after a year that it was definitely not for me). I enjoyed sports in high school, but only because my friends enjoyed sports. And to be honest, I only watched sports for the cute guys.
But figure skating is the one sport (and yes, it is a sport even if it doesn’t involve a ball or running around) that I have truly loved ever since age 8 when I saw Brian Boitano win his gold medal at those ’88 Games. I saw him do those triple jumps with his arm straight up in the air, and I was hooked.
So to celebrate this sport and the fact that the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, are only ONE YEAR AWAY, I give you 13 Awesome Things I Love About Figure Skating.
13. Surya Bonaly’s Backflips
If you followed skating in the 1990s like I did, then you know Surya Bonaly. She was the one who did all those crazy backflips out on the ice. And not only did she land those backflips, but she landed them on one freaking foot. Bonaly was known for her jumping ability (obviously, what with those backflips, but she never won a gold medal at the Worlds or the Olympics. In fact, in 1994 when certain team members sat out the Worlds in China right after the Olympics, Bonaly was certain she would take home the gold. But the gold went to Yuka Sato instead, and even though Bonaly got the silver, she was totally pissed and refused to stand on the podium or wear her medal. Maybe she should just stick to doing backflips in exhibition shows.
12. Stefane Lambiel’s Spins
Sometime around the mid-2000s a skater from Switzerland emerged during a time when quad jumps in men’s skating were just starting to become all the rage. If you weren’t doing the quad, then you just weren’t good enough. Well, guess what. Lambiel said “Tu m’emmerdes!” to all that and showed the world his crazy-ass spins on the ice. Seriously, this boy could spin like a freaking top and not show signs of slowing down until suddenly he did. It really says something when you can go on to win gold medals at the Worlds two years in a row because you can literally spin circles around all the other skaters. I doubt we’ll see another spinner like Lambiel in our lifetime again (unless he has kids and forces them to spin like he did).
11. Yu-Na Kim’s Perfection
Now, whether her name is Yu-Na Kim or Kim Yu-Na (everybody says it differently), I’ll probably never know. But what I do know is that at the 2009 World Championships in Los Angeles (which I totally attended!!!) she skated what was probably the most perfect skate of anyone ever. Yes, it’s a bold statement. But when you realize that she put up a score of 207.71 (under the crazy ISU scoring system), making her the first woman to surpass 200 and shattering all sorts of records all over the place, you have to give her mad props. AND THEN…at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver she did the whole I’M AWESOME thing all over again and completely crushed her own record, scoring an insane score of 226.56 overall. WHAT? I know. She’s amazeballs.
10. Alexei Yagudin’s Fancy Footwork
It’s one thing to incorporate intricate footwork into your choreography during a skating routine. But to suddenly become freaking LORD OF THE DANCE ON ICE is something completely different. That’s what Russian skater Alexei Yagudin did when he started getting everyone’s attention in the late 1990s. Suddenly skaters began to realize that their choreography paled in comparison to what Yadugin was doing with his feet on the ice. To quote Chandler Bing “His feet flail about as though independent from his body!” Seriously. Why did Yagudin win the gold medal at the 2002 Winter Games? HIS FEET (and probably some awesome jumping skills as well). Other skaters took notice and quickly tried to imitate, usually totally tripping up their footwork and falling on their faces (I’m looking right at your curly mop-head, Timothy Goebel). To this day, no one comes close to his fancy footwork.
9. Jamie Sale and David Pelletier’s “Love Story”
Every now and then a pairs skating team comes along that makes you think, “Oh, gee, they’re cute together”. But then there’s the Canadian pair of Sale and Pelletier who makes you think, “Oh god, they’re ADORABLE.” Seriously, these guys are perfect together out on the ice (and apparently off the ice as well) and will have you feeling the love after just a few seconds into the routine. Their free skate to “Love Story” at the Grand Prix final and the 2002 Olympics will bring out the feels in anyone with a soul. Even the scandal at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, in which they placed second behind the Russians until a silly French judge admitted she was pressured to vote for the Russians no matter how they skated, didn’t break these Canadians up (they eventually received the gold medal after the Games ended). If anything it made them stronger. I saw these two lovebirds skate at Stars on Ice to Norah Jones’ “Come Away With Me” and it was probably the most intimate routine I have ever seen a pair skate. Swoooooooon.*
*Side note: While searching for pictures for these two I found out that they DIVORCED back in 2010. SO SAD. But still a better love story than Twilight.
8. Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto’s Energy
I never used to enjoy watching ice-dancing. To me it was lame pairs skating without the jumps. And the US admittedly sucked in the ice-dancing department. That is until Belbin and Agosto came shimmying their way onto the ice and sort of exploded all over it. Finally, an American team (well, technically Tanith Belbin is Canadian but she totally converted to Americanism to compete in the Olympics) that actually has a chance to win something!! Not only that, but they were so much fun to watch. I’m pretty sure these guys got hopped up on pop rocks and Mountain Dew before they stepped onto the ice because they seriously radiated energy in every spin and twizzle they did. Unfortunately they never got the Olympic or World’s gold – silver in 2006 was the closet they came – but they still managed to US ice-dancing on the map again after many, many years of NOTHING.
7. Brian Boitano’s Jumps
Yes, folks, this is what started it all 25 years ago. I was only 8 years old, but I remember watching him skate, and I remember feeling so proud and excited and emotional when he jumped with one hand straight up in the air – something that no one else was doing at the time. And even now when someone does a jump like that, it’s a nod to Boitano and how hard he fought for that gold medal in 1988. He competed in the games along with hometown fave Brian Orser of Canada, in what would eventually be dubbed “The Battle of the Brians”. They both went into the free program tied after the short, so it literally was a battle for that gold. But it was Boitano and his awesome jumps who took that gold back to America. Battle won indeed.
6. Evan Lycacek’s Deserving Win
The year was 2010, and the American men hadn’t won a gold medal in figure skating since the aforementioned Brian Boitano 22 years ago. It had been a sport dominated by Russian men (every year since 1992!!), and it was high time that the US take that shiz back. So American skater Evan Lycacek did just that. HE TOOK IT BACK. In what was probably his best skate ever (complete with real tears at the end because he knew he did so awesome), Evan did about 50 billion jumps and everyone knew before he even finished that this gold was HIS and his alone. So take that, Russia. Another miracle on ice.
5. Michelle Kwan’s Consistency
Because of the news ISU scoring system (which after ten years no one still understands), there will never be another skater like Michelle Kwan. Back in the days of the 6.0 scoring system, she DOMINATED ladies’ figure skating (except when it came to the Olympics). She’s a five-time World Champion (1996, 1998, 2000, 2001 and 2003) and a nine-time U.S. Champion (1996, and then every year from 1998-2005). She’s more known for her artistry on the ice rather than her jumps, which probably cost her the gold medal to Tara Lipinski at the 1998 games. But Michelle had what Lipinski and other rival Sasha Cohen lacked, and that was her insane consistency. Seriously, this girl was so good every time she got out on the ice. Who else can say they got 8 perfect 6.0s in one routine the way Kwan did at the 1998 U.S. Championships? Well, no one now, thanks to the new scoring system. Thanks, French judge at the 2002 Games. It’s all your fault.
4. Johnny Weir’s Confidence
Despite all the crap that people talk about him, I love Johnny Weir. I first saw him skate at the 2002 Games and thought, “Wow, this guy skates differently from all the other guys.” The guy can jump with the rest of them, but it obvious that he puts his blood, sweat, and tears into the artistry of skating. He’s a beautiful skater on the ice, while sometimes flamboyant, which causes some people to criticize his skating, even calling it “too feminine”. But that Johnny Weir, he doesn’t even care! He loves to skate, he loves to wear feathers and sparkles, and you can see that he’s happiest on the ice when he can be himself. And when he’s happy, he’s an awesome skater. Who likes to wear feathers and sparkles.
3. Tonya and Nancy’s Feud
Oh, come on, you loved it, too. And all it took was one swift whack to the knee to make the world recognize figure skating for what it is: a blood-thirsty, violent sport! But seriously, this was by far the most interesting and entertaining thing to come out of the 1994 skating season and the Winter Games in Lillehammer. To quickly summarize if you were born yesterday: After a practice session during the 1994 U.S. Championships, Nancy Kerrigan was leaving the rink when somebody suddenly came up to her and clubbed her on the knee, making her cry out “Whyyyyyyy” over and over again. The suspects were quickly identified as Tonya Harding’s husband and his cronies. Tonya denied involvement, but who the hell knows. All we wanted to know was if Nancy would be able to compete at the Olympics, and what will happen if she could? Well, she did, and ended up getting silver behind unknown Ukrainian Oksana Baiul, while Tonya performed understandably horribly. It wasn’t U.S. Figure Skating’s most proud moment, but it was its most popular, and no one who watched will ever forget it.
2. Sasha Cohen’s Ballet
She was called The Ballerina on Ice, and it was easy to see why when you watched her skate. Sasha Cohen is still my favorite skater of all time, despite the fact that she was painfully inconsistent and never won gold at the World’s or the Olympics. I didn’t care about any of that, though, because I just loved to watch her skate. She was pretty, she wore pretty costumes, she skated to pretty music, and she skated pretty. Oh, and her I-spins and Biellmann spins were INSANE because she was so flexible and could pull her leg straight up into the air like a crazy person. It’s unfortunate that she didn’t achieve status the way Michelle Kwan did because I think she’s a much more artistic skater and – when she’s on – a very good technical skater, but she will always be remembered for holding everyone’s attention for 4 minutes like no other.
1. Gordeeva and Grinkov’s “Moonlight Sonata”
Oh, geez. This is going to give me the tears and feels even before I start to write it. Back in the 80s and 90s, the Soviets/Unified Team/Russians sort of ran the whole Pairs Skating scene. And none were greater than the child partners-turned-couple-turned-husband-and-wife team of Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov. Omigosh this couple was gorgeous. And their skating? Absolutely flawless. They won the gold at the 1998 Games, and then stopped competing until their return in 1994. And it was there where they proved to be one of the best pairs of all-time. For their long program they skated to “Moonlight Sonata”, which pretty much left everyone speechless and teary-eyed. I taped that performance and used to watch it every morning before school because it was so awesome (and he was so gorgeous). On an extremely sad note, Grinkov died not even two years later of a massive heart attack, which makes this particular performance even more haunting and beautiful. Seriously, I have nothing snarky to say about this. It’s just awesome.