One of the many things that Sage and I have in common is our love of figure skating. I don’t exactly recall HOW we discovered this mutual love, but I am pretty sure it went something like the scene in Will and Grace where Jack and Grace bond over their mutual love for Michelle Kwan and hatred for Tara Lipinski (the way Debra Messing SAYS “Tara Lipinski” forever changed the way *I* say it. Sadly, NBC took the clip off youtube for copyright reasons. EVERYONE BOO THEM. BOO NBC BOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!).
As we’ve been watching the Sochi Games it inevitably led to lots of conversation geeking out about our favorite skaters and routines. Sage and I DO agree that the heyday of figure skating was in the mid to late 90’s, where it seemed to be a perfect storm of technical difficulty, artistic and fun routines, and skaters with personality for DAYS. Our biggest complaint with skating now (especially in the men’s) is the focus on jumps and technical difficulty as opposed to artistic performance. Sure we want to see difficult jumps, but we also want skaters to make us FEEL something. That’s what’s missing today. We have jumping robots with the rare artist (looking at you Jason Brown) thrown in. Give me Kurt Browning over Patrick Chan ANY DAY.
We narrowed it down to our 16 favorites and here they are in no particular order…
Brian Boitano – “Carousel Waltz”
No, I didn’t pick this just because I am about to open in Liliom, which inspired Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, which provided the music to this short program. Okay…maybe I did just a little (get your tickets now!). Shilling aside, while I remember the “Battle of the Brians” in 1988, I was a little young to FULLY appreciate it. I had come to love Brian in his post-Olympic career as a professional through all the various Stars on Ice specials and was THRILLED when he lobbied for Pros to be able to reinstate for Olympic Eligibility (it was only fair considering Hockey, Basketball and Tennis allowed it!). The 1994 Men’s Olympic field was chock full of past favorites, including Boitano, our bb Kurt Browning (who else FOREVER remembers him asking the camera for a hug after his disastrous Short Program?), and fabulous Russian Viktor Petrenko. While none of the professional men made it to the podium, it was amazing for me to get to see my favorites in the Olympics.
“The Carousel Waltz” program is a perfect mix of athleticism and artistry, from the ‘Tano Lutz (used flawlessly by Jason Brown in this year’s long program) to the footwork to the spins. Also GOOD GOD look at his quads in those striped pants. He’s a BEAST.
Also props to Brian for fully embracing his place in pop culture playing off the South Park song “What Would Brian Boitano Do?” by naming his Food Network show “What Would Brian Boitano Make?”.
Kurt Browning – “Brickhouse”
You’ve gotta love that Kurt Browning has never been afraid to put on some vinyl pants and just go full on dad-at-a-wedding on that ice. His showmanship leads the way in this program, but his skill isn’t far behind. Let me tell you about the goofball footwork in this routine, my friends: it’s fucking HARD. Some former world-class skaters look like they couldn’t wait to retire from amateur competition so they could take home fat paychecks to do shows where they just skate in circles and wave. The level of difficulty here puts most professional programs to shame. A combination here, a couple of triples there, and in true Kurt style, our man makes the whole thing look like a walk in the park. P.S. A+ butt.
Scott Hamilton – “Cuban Pete”
Scott Hamilton will forever remain figure skating’s greatest showman. Ever. Of all time. To infinity and beyond.
A bold statement, to be sure. But I dare you to argue with me.
Figure skating owes SO MUCH to Scott Hamilton. His passion and dedication to the sport kept the professional competitions in the public eye. He freaking founded Stars on Ice, which to this day seeing that show is one of my favorite teenage memories. He always participated in “Ice Wars” (OMG I EFFING MISS ICE WARS). The only word that can describe Scott Hamilton on the ice is JOY and it’s really something that is missing in today’s skaters (though again…I see it in my bb Jason Brown). We focus so much today on the technical difficulty of the sport that we lose the joy and the FUN.
And Scott doesn’t sacrifice the difficulty for the fun. It’s not like he’s going out there and doing single jumps. He’s still doing triples. He’s still doing incredibly intricate footwork. He’s doing back flips. And all the while, he’s engaging the audience. Much like Kurt Browning, we could have chosen among numerous Scott Hamilton routines (his Hair routine was the runner-up). “Cuban Pete” always stuck out in my mind though…mainly for the glorious costume.
And I can’t be the only one who longs for him to do a color commentary on my life, can I?
Michelle Kwan – “Salome”
As cheesy as it sounds, I will always remember the “Salome” program as the moment Michelle stopped being a little girl on the ice and became a woman. Michelle won her first of five world championships with this program and it was the beginning of her emergence as a true ARTIST on the ice. Look at the FIRE in her eyes during this program…she knew she had to be perfect to be Chen Lu…and she was. She was so completely in character as well, which became one of the defining traits of her career. Many would consider her Olympic “Lyra Angelica” program to be her ultimate high point, but for me, “Salome” remains the point where everything changed for Michelle Kwan.
And we will NEVER forgive Tara Lipinski for taking her Gold Medal. NEVER.
Paul Wylie – “Henry V”
Paul Wylie was an underdog going into the Albertville Olympics in 1992. Many had questioned if he even deserved to be ON the Olympic Team after a poor performance at the Nationals (even though he still got second place there). He had never placed higher than ninth at the World Championships. No one expected him to perform well at the Olympics. So imagine the shock and awe when Paul was in the bronze medal position going into the long program. But still…no one imagined that he would hold on to that placement. But Paul (aside for two slight bobbles on landings) skated the performance of a lifetime and damn near got that Gold Medal from Viktor Petrenko. I’ll never forget watching this program with my family live. There were tears and there were screams of joy for him…the one that everyone underestimated. The one where Silver was just as sweet as Gold. It’s the very definition of an “Olympic Moment” down to the American Flags waving in the audience.
Also, Scott Hamilton’s commentary on this program is glorious.
Kristi Yamaguchi – “The Power of Love”
Kristi Yamaguchi was GOOD as an amateur. She was a Gold Medalist after all. So why choose this routine over her gold medal winning one? Well, first of all, the ladies long program in 1992 was marred by several errors from all the top ladies. Kristi’s errors just happened to be the ones that got the least amount of deductions/made up for with the artistic marks, which is where her main competition Midori Ito was lacking. Kristi REALLY came into her own as a professional though as both a skater and an artist. She was dominant on the circuit, winning four Professional Championships, including back to back ones in 1996 and 1997. Her “Power of Love” program won her the gold in 1994 and we chose it because a) it’s flawless and b) we love this song SO MUCH.
Like Michelle Kwan after her, Kristi Yamaguchi was the embodiment of grace, artistry and power on the ice. She wasn’t just a mindless jumper like so many of the skaters are today (have we mentioned how much we HATE the focus on jumping yet? No??). She’s emotional and engaging and makes it all look easy. Which it most certainly is not.
Katarina Witt – “Robin Hood”
First of all, who knew that Katarina’s coach was Ruth Bader Ginsburg? Unexpected choice.
Having won double gold in ’84 and ’88, Katarina didn’t come to Lillehammer with anything to prove. As you probably remember, there was a lot of dramz happening at the time. Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding were too busy trying to murder each other to notice a tiny Ukrainian girl in a ginormous scrunchie coming up from behind to steal their podium. Meanwhile, forever classy Katarina showed up in her tunic and tights to skate clean in front of the world and her East German parents, who – until the wall came down – had been unable to be in the building for one of her Olympic performances.
We don’t see skaters like Katarina in international competition anymore. She’s lucky to have come up in the sport when a triple lutz combo wasn’t even a requirement to take an Olympic gold. Katarina is not a spinning top with a conveniently low center-of-gravity. I love that. Her jumps are big and unimpeachable, and her artistry doesn’t suffer for athleticism. She’s an actual woman. She has magnificent boobs. She gets her period. She was skating’s last sexpot, with the skills to back it up.