David Bruce: Figure Skating Anecdotes

As a competitor, the most extraordinary moment of figure skating that Toller Cranston ever saw involved a very ill Bob McAvoy and his pairs partner Mary Petrie. Mr. McAvoy’s dream was to go to the World Championships, and he had the opportunity to do just that in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, in 1970. Unfortunately, he became very ill on the plane trip to Yugoslavia and went straight to a hospital as soon as he arrived. Nevertheless, he forced himself to compete on the ice. The first half of the performance went well, but then Mr. McAvoy’s illness caught up with him, making him weak, and he dropped his partner on the ice as he himself fell. The two lay on the ice for a few seconds as their music continued playing, and then they got up, bruised and bleeding from their fall. Mr. McAvoy made a gesture to his partner that asked, “Would you like to continue?” Ms. Petrie did, and at this point the audience came alive, cheering them on with such enthusiasm that they skated the performance of a lifetime, followed by an enormous ovation from the crowd. Their scores reflected their fall, but Mr. Cranston says, “It was a moment when skating took a back seat to integrity, sportsmanship, and the belief that nothing is impossible to a willing heart.”

In 1997, figure skater Scott Hamilton contracted testicular cancer. He got the best treatment available in the world at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, and his cancer was cured. Mr. Hamilton and other members of Discover Stars on Ice had already raised millions of dollars for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, which helps make the wishes of seriously ill children come true. As an expert in fund-raising he wanted to do something to pay back the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, so he held a benefit for it. Participants donating their talent and time included skaters Brian Boitano, Kurt Browning, Ekaterina Gordeeva, Rosalynn Sumners, Katerina Witt, Paul Wylie, and Kristi Yamaguchi, saxophonist Kenny G., and singer Olivia Newton-John. During his performance, Mr. Hamilton fell while attempting a triple toe loop, but the audience, which included Jack Nicholson and Cindy Crawford, applauded the fall.

Figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi once skated a short program to “Doop Doop,” by Dancelife Orchestra. In their short program, skaters are required to perform certain movements to demonstrate their technical skill. This created a problem for Kristi’s choreographer, Sandra Bezic. “Doop Doop” is a funky song, danced to by hip chicks. What would any hip chick do during a traditional spiral, which is a required element in short programs? Ms. Bezic solved the problem by having Ms. Yamaguchi look bored during the spiral, holding her hand on her chin, tapping her cheek with a finger, and occasionally looking at her watch to see if it was time to stop the boring spiral. Ms. Bezic writes, “Competitive choreography is often about ways to do things differently within the confines of the rules.”

People sometimes think that because ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean have worked together so long that they are able to tell what the other is thinking. Well, on the ice that is true — but off the ice it is definitely not true. While in Australia, Mr. Dean was swimming when he was caught by an undertow and taken out to sea. After fighting the undertow, he was exhausted and in real danger of drowning, so he waved to Ms. Torvill, who was on the beach. She waved back, then continued having a good time. Fortunately, a friend saw that Mr. Dean was in trouble, so he went out to him on a boogie-board, and the two eventually made it back to shore.

Judges in figure skating can honestly make mistakes. While judging an event, Morry Stillwell was watching skater Christopher Bowman and taking notes when his pencil broke. He reached for another pencil, taking his eyes away from the skater for a very brief time, then turned his eyes back upon the skater. However, after the program was finished and the judges’ scores were posted, Mr. Stillwell saw that his scores were way above all the other judges’ scores. Shocked, he asked another judge, “What happened?” The other judge replied, “He hit the wall, you dumb ****.”

Great Britain’s Madge Syers struck a blow for women’s liberation when she applied to skate in the world figure skating championship of 1902. Because the rules did not state that a woman couldn’t enter the competition, in which only men had to that date competed, the judges allowed her to skate. She finished second to Sweden’s Ulrich Salchow, and defeated the male skaters from Germany and Great Britain. Because of Ms. Syers, the first women’s figure skating championship was held in 1906.

Competitive figure skating can be expensive. In 1995, Rudy Galindo retired from competitive figure skating because he didn’t have enough money to pay for training. However, the 1996 United States Championships were being held in his hometown of San Jose, California, so he entered. Smart move. Despite being an underdog, he won the gold medal and became THE story of the championships. His victory led to a career as a professional figure skater and lots of money for training.

When Amy Grossman and Robert Davenport first started working together as a pairs team in figure skating, it took time for them to get used to working together as a team. For a while, Robert’s chest was black and blue from frequent accidental contact with Amy’s blades. After a particularly bruising practice session, Robert told Amy, “I think I just lost my appendix or maybe it was a kidney.”

Competitive figure skating can be nerve-racking. Often the skaters don’t wish to hear the competition’s scores. Canadian skater Brian Orser used to turn on the shower in the men’s dressing room so he couldn’t hear the competition’s scores being announced over the loudspeaker. American skater Elaine Zayak used to flush toilets whenever her competition’s scores were announced.

Mentally retarded people like participating in sports, too. Leslie Fish, who became mentally retarded after suffering meningitis as a baby, lives in Minnesota where winter sports are popular. She enjoys both skiing and ice skating. She and her Special Olympics team once skated at the United States National Figure Skating Championships.

Believe it or not, at the 1991 World Figure Skating Championships, figure skater Midori Ito jumped right out of the skating rink. She fumbled for a moment with a TV camera, then went back out onto the ice and skated as if nothing unusual had occurred.

Sonja Henie dominated early women’s figure skating, winning 10 consecutive world championships and three Olympic gold medals. Her father was a big supporter — he once grabbed a broom and chased down a street a skating judge he thought was too critical.

In the summer of 1927, Sonja Henie saw Anna Pavlova dance. Immediately afterward, the 14-year-old Sonja began to put ballet moves into her ice-skating routines, and she won gold medals at the 1928, 1932, and 1936 Olympic Games.

When Jackie Gleason was a struggling nightclub comedian, famous ice skater Sonja Henie walked in during one of his performances. Mr. Gleason handed her an ice cube and said, “Do something.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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