adult skating

“It’s Beyond Frustrating”: Why Athletes are Still Being Abused

The Olympics are supposed to be an exciting and enjoyable experience, for athletes and for spectators. But for figure skating fans, the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing could best be characterized as stressful and depressing.

After the team event – the first skating event on the schedule – it was revealed that 15-year-old Kamila Valieva, the favourite to win the women’s event, had previously tested positive for a banned drug intended to treat chest pain. After an emergency hearing by the Court for Arbitration in Sport, Valieva was allowed to continue competing, but the medals in the team event were not awarded. Valieva ended up placing fourth in the women’s event, and her teammate Alexandra Trusova, who came second, had an emotional meltdown at rinkside, shouting that she hated skating and would never go on the ice again.

While watching all of this drama and turmoil unfold, I couldn’t help but think that for almost 30 years we’ve known there were problems in the sport of skating. In 1995, sportswriter Joan Ryan’s book Little Girls In Pretty Boxes painted a terrible picture of abusive coaching, unhealthy training practices, and incredible stress placed on young figure skaters and gymnasts. Thankfully, as an adult skater, I got into the sport when I was old enough to be in control of what I did. But it’s no secret to anyone who follows skating that, even after well-documented investigations like those in Ryan’s book, there are still very significant problems within the sport.

So I decided to get in touch with Ryan and see if she would be willing to be interviewed about whether anything has changed, 30 years after her whistleblowing. She kindly agreed, and we talked this week. Here’s a transcript of our conversation.

 

Fiona McQuarrie [FM]: What’s your take on the doping scandal at the Olympics?

Joan Ryan [JR]: The Washington Post asked me to write an op-ed on that a couple of weeks ago, and, you know, I wrote this book 27 years ago now. There has been change on the gymnastics side, unfortunately because of Larry Nassar, and because of the gymnasts themselves. They have risen up like an army, and they are the ones that are going to make sure it finally changes. That’s the only reason I have any hope that it’s going to change now after all these years.

I haven’t followed figure skating as closely over those 27 years, but the US skaters certainly seem healthier to me. I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, but clearly the total destruction of two of the three Russian figure skaters is a clear sign that it’s dysfunctional. There’s clearly (more…)

Medals Medals Medals*

2022 is an Olympic year, and as the Beijing Olympics unfold, the focus of a lot of the media coverage is on the medals. It’s great for any athlete to win, especially at such a high-profile event – but a lot gets lost when the Olympics, or any major sporting event, are framed mostly in terms of who wins.

Leadership theory tells us that a leader can’t be a leader without followers. Similarly, a winner is only a winner if they have competitors to beat. Everyone competing at the Olympics has worked incredibly hard, spent a lot of money (or a lot of their parents’, sponsors’, or sports federation’s money), and sacrificed opportunities to do other things. Viewership for Olympic TV and streaming broadcasts has been declining and maybe, just maybe, the nationalist focus on only the athletes who win medals is starting to wear a little thin.

Prior to the Games, the Globe and Mail newspaper ran an extremely interesting article on how Norway increased the number of medals won by its Winter Olympic athletes. Many countries have programs like Canada’s Own the Podium, which use medals as the measure of success in sport, and direct funding to the sports and athletes perceived as most likely to win medals. That strategy usually requires identifying potential medalists as early as possible, and then supporting those athletes in intensive training in a single sport. Norway took a completely different approach. (more…)

Racial Justice Education in Figure Skating — American Ice Theatre

Figure skating is a wonderful sport, but it is not as inclusive as it should be. Thanks to American Ice Theatre for providing this list of organizations that work to make figure skating accessible to all.

We hurt for our broken communities and the pain being felt all across the country. We stand together with the victims of murder, violence, and repression because of their skin color. As inclusion is one of American Ice Theatre’s core values, we believe it is imperative that we speak up and engage the figure skating community…

via Racial Justice Education in Figure Skating — American Ice Theatre

Skating Is A Great Sport. Here’s Why.

2018 is an Olympic year, and in my sport of figure skating, many countries are having their national championships right around now. These championships are stressful events in any year, but these ones will be even more stressful. The results of those championships go into choosing the skaters that will compete at the Olympics.

The skaters most likely to go to the Olympics tend to be the skaters that get the most media attention – but there are lots of other skaters competing at Nationals who also have wonderful stories. I’d like to introduce you to two of those skaters, because they represent what makes skating a truly great sport. (more…)

The Olympics, Part II: Inspiring Or Discouraging?

There was a lot of complaining – justifiable complaining – about the media coverage of the recent Rio Olympics. The coverage was sexist; a television commentator attributed the success of swimming gold medalist Katinka Hosszu to her husband’s coaching, and a Tweet referred to bronze medalist trapshooter Corey Cogdell not by name but as the “wife of a [Chicago] Bears lineman”. The coverage was ageist; 56-year-old coxswain Lesley Thompson-Willey, competing in her eighth Olympics, was characterized as “old enough to be the competitors’ mother” in a story headlined “Too old for the Olympics”? And then there was the NBC network’s chief marketing officer for Olympic coverage, who got roundly criticized for claiming that women, the primary viewers of the Olympics on TV, were “not particularly sports fans” and “less interested in the result and more interested in the journey”.

But it wasn’t just the media coverage of the Olympics that had problems. The Olympic Games themselves have very big problems, to the point where (more…)

Compulsory Figures: Technical Guidelines, Diagrams, and Tests

When I was researching my blog posts on compulsory figures in skating, I discovered that there was very little information on the Internet about the content of compulsory figure tests, or about the technical guidelines that were used to assess figures in tests or competition. I suspect this might be because compulsory figures were eliminated from international competition in 1990, before the Internet was a major source of information and archived data. But with the creation of the World Figure Championships this year, historical information on figures is more relevant than ever before.

So, for anyone who might be seeking information on how figures were once tested and competed in skating – or for anyone who might just want to learn more about compulsory figures – here is the information on figures from the 1995 Canadian Figure Skating Association (now Skate Canada) official rulebook. I’ve subdivided it into “technical guidelines”, “diagrams”, and “tests”. Enjoy! (more…)

The World Figure Championship: An Interview with Pamela Giangualano-Roberts

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post about figures in figure skating, and why I missed them. I thought the post wouldn’t be interesting to that many people – figures haven’t been part of international skating competition since 1990, and skaters now have very little opportunity to even practice figures. But much to my surprise, that post turned out to be one of the most popular posts ever on this blog. That indicated to me that within the skating world, and among skating fans, there was still a lot of love for figures.

This year, a group of professional skaters decided to bring figures back into competition, and organized the inaugural World Figure Championship. To qualify for this event, skaters either had to have competed at the Olympics or the World Championships before 1992, or had to have passed the gold (eighth) figure test, which was the highest-level figure test in the US and Canada. So, as you can imagine, all the participants were very experienced skaters, and the competition itself was intense. The Championship was held in late August in Lake Placid, New York – site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics – and my friend Pamela Giangualano-Roberts was one of the competitors.

I first met Pamela in the early 2000s in Lethbridge, Alberta, at one of the very first adults-only skating competitions in Canada. Pamela had come to the event with her skating friends from Calgary, and although she wasn’t competing, I could tell from how intently she watched us that she was thinking about whether she could do this. So I sat next to her and gave her my enthusiastic “skating is really fun, anyone can do it, you should give it a try” spiel. Imagine how stupid I felt later on when I found out that Pamela was the 1986 Canadian national junior ladies’ champion, and as a senior-level skater had represented Canada at international skating competitions. Pamela kindly overlooked that gaffe on my part, and she did come back to skating. And all of us adult skaters who know her are in awe of her drive and determination. At age 27 – much older than most of her competitors – she qualified for and competed at the 2002 Canadian national skating championships, 13 years after her last appearance at that event. She is now a tireless advocate for adult skating, as a coach, as an event organizer, as a club administrator, and as a skater herself.

Pamela agreed to let me interview her via email about her journey to the World Figure Championship, and her experiences at that competition. As you will see from her answers, Pamela not only has an extensive technical knowledge of figures, but she also truly appreciates why figures are so important to skating. (more…)

D.F.L. (Dead F***ing Last)

When you look at competition results, there are several acronyms that you might see next to athletes’ names, such as DNQ (did not qualify), DNF (did not finish), and WD (withdrew). But there’s also an unofficial acronym, and it represents a placement that most competitors will experience at least once in their careers. That acronym is DFL – dead f***ing last.

In the “winning is everything” ethos of competing, DFLing is something to be ashamed of, to avoid, to move on from. We assume that the DFLer choked, or didn’t train hard enough, or shouldn’t have entered the event in the first place. Sometimes we celebrate DFLers for their persistence and determination, like ski jumper Eddie the Eagle at the 1988 Winter Olympics. But more often than not DFLing is an embarrassment, and the only response that’s considered appropriate from the DFLer is either to quit competing or to work extra hard so as not to finish last again.

However, there’s another way to think about DFLs. As described in a recent article by runner Lauren Fleshman, a DFL placing can turn out to be (more…)

Behind the Music (and Other Stuff): Creating a Skating Program

During the 2014 Winter Olympics, a lot more people than usual will be interested in figure skating. As an adult skater, I appreciate any attention that my sport gets –  but I also realize that occasional watchers don’t always know how much has to happen off the ice for skaters to look so good on the ice. So I thought I’d give some insight, from my own experiences, into how a competitive skating program is created. (more…)

A Great Introduction to Skating Choreography

Anyone who wants to learn about choreography for competitive skating programs  should take a look at this excellent video, put together by American Ice Theatre. It uses examples from programs at the recent US national championships to demonstrate what a well-choreographed program includes, and what the judges are likely to be looking at in the choreography when they score a program. Thanks, AIT!