THE GOLDEN AGE OF FIGURE SKATING
FEBRUARY 7, 2014
Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan, Kristie Yamaguchi, Oksana Baiul, Katerina Witt, Surya Bonaly, Nicole Bobek…those are the names I grew up with when I took up figure skating at the age of five. Little did I know that my fascination with these stars would be even more intriguing now as an adult looking back on what become known as the Golden Age of Figure Skating (1990-1998). These names along with the men of that era (Scott Hamilton and Viktor Petrenko ring a bell?) made figure skating a household name. Sure Dorothy Hamill was the early trail blazer and Tara Lipinksi and Michelle Kwan rounded out the star-studded cast of women’s ice skating ringing in the 21st century. However, there has never been more of a dynamic group of individuals skating than the ones in the early/mid 90s. They garnered an international media frenzie through their own charismas. I will start off with the one girl that stood out from the pack the most and we all knew who that girl was...watch on showbox iPhone
TONYA HARDING (competitive years 1985-1994)
If you don’t already know about Tonya Harding then you probably have not been born yet because the whole world knew about the infamous ice skater back in 1994. Allow me to give you a background check (no pun intended) on this girl. Tonya grew up in the Oregon hood. She lived in a trailer and her mother was married/divorced several times while Tonya was still a child. The rookie we all root for is Tonya in her younger years rising to the top. Skating was her escape–mostly to get away from her brash mother, that kept her out on the rink training for long hours and was often abusive at home towards young Tonya. Nonetheless, if it was not for her mother, Tonya would not be the skating star she became to be. She was the strongest skater on the ice at the time, her trademarks were not in her graceful dancing on ice but in her power to attempt the most daring jumps. According to Skate America, she made history for three firsts in skating back in 1991:
The first woman to complete a triple axel in the short program
The first woman to successfully execute two triple axels in a single competition
The first ever to complete a triple axel combination with the double toe loop
A very shaky foundation and destructive family life landed her in a pot of hot water after the “bat heard around the world” also known as the Nancy Kerrigan Attack. She fell from grace quickly as her ex husband (the mastermind behind the plan) Jeff Gillooly and his henchman included her in on the conspiracy. Tonya denied she had any knowledge of the plot to seriously injure nancy but it was no coincidence that nancy was her #1 skating competition and if she could emilinate her from the competition she would have no spot on the 1994 World Championship Team. Tonya’s behavior became suspect shortly after the attack when she, having not been told of the severity of Nancy’s assult was interviewed, stated “I feel terrible this happened to Nancy and I hope she can qualify for next year’s World Chamionship.” hmmmm….
The incident with Nancy eventually suspended Tonya Harding from competing in the World of Figure skating. Tonya has since done several interviews with Oprah and several other media outlets over the years and Book ola Cab she is still deeply affected by the whole incident, feeling victimized by the ice skating association, the media press and public as a whole.
She delved into other activities like competing in professional boxing–a complete 180 from the figure skating world! She once said, “One thing I like about boxing is that I will not have to deal with the same kind of politics that I had to in skating. In boxing, it is not about your appearance, or how your costume looks, what color it is, or how much it costs.” Tonya had a short-lived boxing career and is still a strong fixture in the media to this day–especially in the world of ice skating. She is now on her third marriage and had her first child in 2011.
NANCY KERRIGAN (competitive years: 1985-1994)
The New England brunette was known for her Vera Wang designer skating outfits that added an ethereal touch to her skating programs–and made her stand out as the “good saint” in women’s figure skating after her horrific assult in 1992 leading up to the World Championships. Some of the attack and its aftermath were caught on camera and broadcast around the world, particularly the now famous footage of attendants helping Kerrigan as she grabs at her knee wailing: “Why, why, why?” Although Kerrigan’s injury forced her to withdraw from the U.S. Championships, her rivals agreed that she merited one of the two spots on the Olympic team. The USFSA chose to pick for the Olympic team rather than second-place finisher, little 13-year old Michelle Kwan. Kerrigan recovered quickly from her knee injury and resumed her intensive training. Seven weeks after the attack, Kerrigan skated what she considered to be the best two performances of her life and won the silver medal in the 1994 Olymics in Norway finishing second to Oksana.
Kerrigan was a no-nonsense kind of girl and she was not afraid to speak up about it. For instance, at the Olympics Kerrigan and bronze medalist Chen Lu had to wait over 20 minutes for Olympic officials to find a copy of the Ukrainian national anthem. Someone mistakenly told Kerrigan the delay in the presentation was because Baiul had cried off her make-up and was getting it re-done. Kerrigan was ticked off and caught saying, “Oh, come on. She’s going to get up there and cry again. What’s the difference?” CBS chose to air the undiplomatic comment.
The fame she had acquired from the attack led to further professional opportunities and it was reported that she had already signed contracts for $9.5 million before the Olympic competition began. She did not like the media attention surrounding the attack and tried to throw back the notion that she was always going to be treated as a victim. Putting up this tough front every now and then with the media, she came across as cold and unthankful but it was just the true Nancy letting her colors shine. Many of her endorsments deals were dropped after the Olympics because her attitude was not on par with the media perception of her as this ice skating angel. Whatever–can’t please the media all the time! She is now happily married and has three children.
OKSANA BAIUL (competitive years: 1989-1994)
This Ukrainian diva was taken in by her ice skating coach and trained to be one of the greatest ice skaters in the word. Her story off the ice is as gloomy as the Russian weather which she grew up in: her mother died when she was just a child and her father took off when she was just a baby, Oksana had no where to go but the rink.
The most dramatic moment for Oksana came at the 1994 Olympics. She received pain injections in her back just prior to her free skating competitition–the only way she could skate her routine that day because her body was in dire straits. Oksana’s performance was flawless. Right after she was announced the gold medalist she broked down in tears because of the overwhelming physical and emotional rollercoaster she went through those past 72 hours.
She was going to return to the Ukraine but her country was in shambles– so poor an environment for her to train in that she had to deflect to the states. That meant she would have to give up her chance to ever compete in the Olympics but she could still turn pro. Following the Olympics, Baiul was plagued by physical ailments that affected her skating ability when she turned pro. She required arthroscopicknee surgery in the summer of 1994, after which she was advised by her doctor not to return to the ice for two months. Due to the million-dollar touring contract, Baiul ignored doctor’s recommendations and resumed skating in two weeks and returned to performing in six. This move, along with changes in her maturing body, drastically hindered her jumping ability.
Baiul is in lot better place these days after she entered an alcohol rehabilitation program for two and half months back in the late 1990’s. In a 2004 interview, Baiul said of her six-year sobriety: “This is more important than Olympic gold.”
SURYA BONALY (competitive years: 1987-1998)
Born in Nice, this French spitfire was known for her bold moves in her performance on and off the medal stand. Being a formerly competitive gymnast, Bonaly was famous for her backflip landed on only one blade. She is known for her very controversial moment on the medal stand when she felt Yuka Sato robbed her of the Gold medal in the 1994 World Championships in Chiba, Japan. She protested by taking off her medal after it was presented over her neck and not standing on her 3rd place spot on the podium. The concessus that Bonaly was not awarded the right medal was split down the middle–some people praised her, other’s shook their head at the brazen young talent who inadvertantly stole the limelight from the gold medalist that evening. The media hounded her. In tears, all Bonaly could say was “I’m just not lucky”
But 1994 was not the only time Bonaly made another controversial move. At the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, Bonaly finished well out of reach of the gold medal following the short program. Believing she was unjustly scored, Bonaly decided to perform her back flip during the free skate to make a statement! The act, illegal in competition, caused a stir and resulted in a deduction but Bonaly, still in defience, felt she accomplished what she wanted. Bonaly then retired from amateur competition and turned pro with Champions on Ice. Her last recorded public backflip was at Ice Theatre of New York’s December 2008 gala in NYC.
NICOLE BOBEK (competitive years: 1988-1999)
I’ve always loved Nicole’s wild child, free spirit and her uncanny resemblance to Goldie Hawn and Gwenyth Paltrow. Bobek never shook off her teenage spririt as she grew up into an adult ice skater. That led to both her ups and downs during her figure skating career. Bobek was noted for her poor training discipline, for occasionally smoking cigarettes, sporting a lot of jewelry during her performances and for changing coaches at least 11 times during her competitive skating career.
“I think I draw a lot of the media attention because I’m a very open person. It makes me mad when they get stuff wrong, but people will believe what they want to believe anyway. I don’t particularly like my image as the bad girl of figure skating, but I don’t want to deny my flair either, or lose my individuality. (VOGUE Nov. 1995)
KATERINA WITT (competitive years: 1978-1994)
Showstopper. Charismatic fashionista. On or off the ice–Witt was all that and more! The German “life of the party,” her highly feminine look yet edgly out-going spirit got her in trouble with the Skating Association due to her controversial outfits she would wear in competition. She left her milestone on Women’s figure skating when she posed nude for Playboy magazine at age 34– the pictures were published in the December 1998 issue which was the second ever sold-out issue of the magazine! The first sold-out issue was the inaugural one including photos of Marilyn Monroe. Witt said she did not care for the “cute, pretty, ice princess image” of figure skaters and wanted to “change people’s perceptions.” She sure changed the face of advertising that is for sure! Katerina has a decorated list of endorsement deals, Mercedes Benz (below) being her most recent!
Recognizes these ads? Yep, that’s our girl Kat
KRISTI (competetive years: 1987-1992)
Pure American class act–that’s how I can describe Kristie Yamaguchi! She won the the gold in the 1992 Women’s fifure skating and, along with former ice starlets Michelle Kwan and Tara Lipinksi, has remained a fixture in the media to this day.
Yamaguchi performed for Stars on Ice for several years after the Olympics, she is also the author of Always Dream, Pure Gold, and Figure Skating for Dummies. She and her husband founded “Always Dream” which inspires undeserved children to reach for their dreams through innovative reading programs and by advancing the cause of early childhood literacy (www.alwaysdream.com). Since July 8, 2000, she has been married to Bret Hedican, a retired professional hockey player she met at the 1992 Winter Olympics when he played for Team USA. Yamaguchi and Hedican reside in Northern California with their two daughters, Keara Kiyomi (born 2003) and Emma Yoshiko (born 2005).