Thursday, March 7, 2013

"A Jungle Gym With No Rules on a Slippery Surface"

Kurt Browning.

Thanks, Kurt, for yet another invaluable contribution to the perception of figure skating. Other men might have stopped after making figure skating safe for masculinity, but you had more to give.

The post title above is a Kurt quote from the "fly on the wall" documentary, Blood Sweat and Tears, out today.

An article on the movie:

Yeah, Skate Canada commissioned this project.

This certainly has Skate Canada's snow boots all over it.  For example, those crazy figure skating costumes! Who has the craziest?

"Sometimes people get caught up in the crazy costumes, and God knows the Russian skaters* from time to time have provided us with fodder in the crazy costumes. We wanted (viewers) to get past that and see the incredible athleticism of what they do."
That's a quote from one of the filmmakers.

And there's this:

Of the science of skating: viewers learn that while a hockey shift lasts on average about 25 seconds, a figure skater's long program is four-and-a-half minutes.

The air time for a quad jump, viewers are told, is .65 seconds. Skaters leap about 23 inches off the ice, approximately the same height a basketball player needs to jump to dunk a ball. Skaters land on one foot on a three-millimetre wide blade.
Which obviously means:

Debbi is still at it

So now we know what Debbi has been doing with her time when not cramming Piper and Paul down our throats. I bet the entire film is a Debbi Wilkes Production. Because this "oh it's actually super hard!" theme has been such a winner for Skate Canada since Debbi joined its administration.

I bet if we saw her cv we'd see "Documentary film industry consultant" has been added.

She's still trying to convince us that underneath the costumes, choreography, make-up, music, spinning, leaping, dancing, spiraling and throwing, figure skating is all tough. It's because hockey fans and fans of regular sports don't GET that figure skating is tough that they don't pack the figure skating house. They think it's all easy and stuff.

That's why Skate Canada pays Debbi the big bucks.

And of course, would it be a Skate Canada anything without treating fans like shit:

While McNamara and Holm hope the film produces some figure skating converts, they also hope its well-received by the sport's faithful fans, to which they also pay tribute in "Ice, Sweat and Tears."
"They're kind of like Deadheads (Grateful Dead fans)," McNamara said laughing. "They follow them from concert to concert. They're really devoted to it and they really do a lot of research on the minutiae of the lives of the skaters, their routines and careers. We thought it was kind of fascinating that there is this kind of level of love and devotion.
"Certainly there are fans in other sports who are devoted and obsessive, but the skating fans are really an interesting breed."
Oh my goodness - they pay tribute to us! I hope the short bus we ride in gets tons of close-ups!

I can't really protest because the reality is I do so much research on the minutiae of the lives of the skaters myself. Did you know that Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison took a compatibility quiz and the results said they were opposite? Did you know that one of the family members of Weaver & Poje makes the best breakfast tacos on the planet? Did you know that Tessa Virtue likes to hit that snooze button five or six times in the morning but Scott bounds out of bed first thing and has his banana (comment person who insists Scott is gay - don't jump on that)?

Oh - figure skating fans! The things we come up with! We're very special fans.

So let's review:

  • Tired, dated overcompensation (our sport is TOUGH and HETERO) - check
  • Russia bashing and condescending - check
  • Passive aggressive fan bashing - check
Yep, Debbi.  Money well spent, Skate Canada!


Those crazy Russian costumes!

Or maybe the point is that Russians take stuff seriously but Canadian skaters dress funny to make fun of stuff? They're classy like that.

French ice dancers
Typical Russian figure skating costumes according to Canada.

Ekaterina Riazanova and Ilia Tkachenko
Russian Bronze Medalists in Ice Dance
Skate Canada 2012


  1. While I myself have rolled my eyes plenty of times in the past at some Russian costumes, they certainly are not the exclusive offenders. And I think it is TACKY of Skate Canada to mention any country by name like this.

    They try so hard but it seems inevitable SC manages to put their foot in their mouth.

  2. I don't think they try hard at all. And tacky is Debbi's middle name. But this is typical - a Skate Canada production that calls out crazy costumes - worn by RUSSIANS. It's like when Alma Moir calls out the figure skating's gay image - created by AMERICANS. Talking about "paying tribute" to Canada's figure skating fans, laughing fondly like they're children, while clearly communicating the fans are crazy and intrusive. Blame fans for what Skate Canada itself has done (Skate Canada has pumped out enough "minutae of skaters' personal lives" to fill a swamp - one tidbit more inane than the next - and then they pretend we wring it out of them).

    They suck.

  3. There should be a documentary of all the tabloid crap Skate Canada unloaded on the fans in only the past six years = their version of PR.
    Such hypocritical incompetent morons.

  4. Good post. A little off topic here (apologies in advance): The Sean Sawer (sp) photo is one classic example of how a skater (while far from any of the best skaters on planet) that actually had the ability to be somewhat tastefully artistic (see his 2005/2006 Libertango and Warsaw Concerto programs)sells out to shirt tearing a la Elvis Stojko and playing along with SC's juvenile Tough campaign (and his own sham personal life). Talk about insulting the fans. And I was once a fan of this guy back in the day. Not anymore (until he brings his elegant and tasteful style back although I doubt it will happen) Just one small reason why the seats remain empty.

    And yet Skate Canada still backhands the Russians and Americans. This whole thing has turned so many Canadians off, me being one of them. I'm just one person, but do I hope one day SC is forced to answer for how wrongly the steered this ship. I have my doubts, but still hope. Once again, great blog. And thank you for having a place where people can freely express their views like this.

  5. Good post - OC. No wonder Skate Canada can't pull in decent sponsors (nothing personal against Canadian Tire or Sabo jewelry). I'll wait and see what this documentary looks like. I mean don't tell me they couldn't get Brian Orser instead of Elvis Stojko to provide insight and yeah the backhanded slaps to Russia and the US. Hmmm..what the hell...Who has coached V/M to their gold medals - oh wait Russia...who did Patrick Chan go to train and get those quads - oh wait Christy Krall- American..wait where do Lawrence-Swigers really train - wait wait - Florida? Weaver - Poje wait...Krylova...the next Olympics...wait..Russia...holycow Debbi Wilkes you make George W. Bush and Sarah Palin look like embarassing...
    Anon at 12:55 pm - I have laughed too at when Shawn Sawyer rips off his shirt for Stars On Ice - I am man - hear me roar..I mean c'mon...definite sell's too bad that fans are all lumped into one category of crazies because it is a beautiful sport and the way it's been marketed has been so dumbed down and offensive.
    No wonder someone like Barb Underhill left figure skating all together and went into hockey.

  6. Anon 3:03
    I'll wait to see also, but the clips so far have been hilariously predictable in the way Debbi/SC want to market figure skating - along with the usual condescension toward fans and skaters of other countries, of course.

    Adding to all the predictability, naturally, it's provided Tessa and Scott one more forum from which to announce to the world how separate-separate-separate their "real" lives are. Their insistence on driving home this theme every.single.opportunity. is not just tiresome and annoying, I think it just adds to the general eye-rolling at Skate Canada's and Virtue-Moir's PR genius.

    Thank you oc, for the great pictures of wonderful costumes. I hope you do a post after the documentary airs. I'm looking forward to your opinions and also to a place where we can say what we really think. I'm in total agreement with 12:55. Thank you for providing this place.

  7. ITA that SC is condescending towards fans and image-driven in general, but you should cut Kurt some slack here . He's been supportive of gay skaters coming out - even in the 1990's when that was far less politically correct than it is now. See Rainbow Ice

    1. Based on what I feel I could say, I think I have cut Kurt Browning slack. I am certain that Browning, just like many others in figure skating, are supportive of individual cases where a gay figure skater is going to come out or simply has no interest in pretending to be straight.

      They are able to compartmentalize, however, when it comes to "gay" in general. Browning's repeated comments about Johnny Weir, for example, have been obnoxious, and go primarily to Johnny being too Johnny in his taste and his programs. Weir simply doesn't hide or neutralize who he is, and Browning has a problem with that.

    2. Whoa. What you seem to be saying is that Johnny Weir’s persona, costumes, and routines are immune from criticism.

      If you think/say that he (or any other skater who happens to be gay) has gone OTT in terms of campy programs or costumes, you’re a homophobe. Gush and applaud. Or else.
      When he competed, Elvis Stokjo attracted lots of snark for the macho, martial-arts routines and persona.

      Interestingly, the fallout from that criticism fell on* Stojko* – his critics weren’t the ones labeled as intolerant.

      IIRC, Bronwning has leveled similar cristicisms at other straight skaters (Candeloro’s George of the Jungle, Urmanov’ gove come to mind ), and some of the more esoteric ice dance/pairs costumes. He’s been more than complimentary about skaters like Orser, Saywer, and Buttle, to name just a few. Even did a TV special at Toller Cranston’s house in Mexico, fer cryin out loud. Doesn’t seem like a gay/straight issue to – he just dislikes style that he thinks is OTT flamboyant, and says so. Perfectly fair comment.

      Very different from Skate Canada dumping al fans into the “freak” category – as in “you know you’re a figure skating fan when…insert description quirky/geeky behavior”, as done in the Ice Sweat Tears documentary.

    3. No, I'm not. Browning is focusing on the same thing with all these skaters - he dislikes flamboyance. Whether it's Weir, Urmanov, Candeloro. He dislikes it in male singles skaters. Some of them aren't even that flamboyant (with Weir, it's more the off-ice quoteables and the costume - Weir's skating is not all that outre').

      He dislikes a certain kind of OTT - FEMININE. In a dude. His idea of feminine - very stereotypical. And why is that - because feminine = gay. There have been a million figure skating styles out there, some of them, IMO, very silly, but this is the one that bugs Browning. I haven't misread the guy.

    4. So IOW, Browning may well be tolerant in his private life and with his personal friends - many in figure skating are.

      However, he is preoccupied with figure skating's IMAGE. He's preoccupied with style. It was not for nothing that Alma Moir cited Kurt Browning has having changed figure skating's gay IMAGE. We're not talking about homophobia towards specific people; rather a bias against having anything too "gay" or "feminine" looking in figure skating (male gay) whether the skater himself is gay or not.

    5. And the reality is that is the authentic taste of some figure skaters and I think Browning should get with the times and not have such stereotypical categories, and let people skate as who they are and how they want. The sport should stop running away from itself and let the audience figure it out. As it is the sport can be enjoyed on multiple levels, why disparage any of them.

      Browning is, IMO, overly preoccupied with style, as when he wasted the opportunity to describe why VM's program and skating is stronger than DW's, and instead declared DW's chemistry unconvincing. That may be because he's a singles skater - in that case he should either get informed or not muddy the waters.

    6. 11:38, I just wanted to add something. I think there is a big difference between not liking or enjoying something, IOW not "getting" it on a personal taste level, and insinuating that a certain style has no place or right to even exist, that it's just dead WRONG. Sometimes - and IMO only sometimes - the commentary on Weir falls into the second category.

  8. Watched the program. It was actually pretty good for the first 40 minutes or so - then it abruptly went tacky by bringing up the Salt Lake scandal in a cheesey way - complete with tabloidy photos. Then got worse by depicting some of the more zealous fans as the norm.

    Let's face it - a lot of people still perceive figure skating as not being a real sport - so it was interesting to see clips of the skaters training with explanatory commentary. And it makes perfect sense to try and drum up interest using a CBC documentary when CBC will be broadcasting Worlds next week.

    But then they had to take the low road by depicting the fans as eccentric. Message to viewer: - if you liked what you just saw and are now interested by the sport, welcome to the club! -you are (or will soon be) be wearing funny hats and clothes covered in autographs. Message to prospective sponsors: - this is the audience you will reach!

    It really detracted from the first part of the doc - almost felt like two different shows got spliced together in some weird diretcor's cut....

    1. If a lot of people don't perceive figure skating as a real sport it's not because they don't realize it's HARD. Debbi needs to let go of that bullshit. People know gymnastics is hard, ballet is hard, skiing is hard, boxing is hard.

      What Debbi is really saying is - it's not GAY because it's hard. Hard = masculine and athletic = respectable hetero pursuit.

      I am doing another post on this with photos of fans from all sports - football, hockey, basketball - all dressed up and looking just as freakish as the uber skating fans. What's the difference? What makes the uber figure skating fan laughable?

      They're fucking FEMALE and they're middle-aged female.

      If you're a middle-aged, dressed-up like a clown male meathead, no problem. If you're a middle-aged, draped in white and maple leaf, you're pathetic and the sport is going to treat you like a three year old.

      Furthermore, exactly how is this skew on fans going to attract new fans to the sport? Oh fabulous - the stands are full of ladies like that. Do I have to dress like a clown to watch figure skating? Are there going to be a lot of weirdly obsessed people in the concourse?

      And what does this say to the skaters - spend your entire lives and endanger your family's financial security mastering your sport so as to compete on an elite level ... FOR THESE PEOPLE. These are the only people that will care - pathetic people.

    2. The USFSA is currently pushing Meryl and Charlie on grounds that pisses me off. However, their slogan when promoting figure skating is that it's not just some super duper HARD, DANGEROUS, RISK-taking sport, but it's also fucking fun. It's x number of members and YOU.

      If I watch Ice Sweat and Tears I'm like - that's nice. It's like watching an anthropology special - boy, I wouldn't have wanted to be a slave at the time of the pyramids - lifting those stones by hand was HARD.

      If I watch the USFSA promotions it's more like - for real? I could learn to skate backwards? It's not THAT hard for the general public to learn? I could spin? You can skate at my level?

      You know, like kids go out and play baseball. They fucking KNOW they're not Derek Jeter. But they can still play. Play football, play basketball. It's an accessible sport.

      What Ice Sweat and Tears has done is say that figure skating is the hardest, mostest dangerous, difficult, scariest sport ever ever ever, and there's a SCIENCE to it. AND the main people who watch it are freakish middle-aged folks dressed like clowns!

      Me and my kids (hypothetically speaking) are going to say - sounds like the sport for us!

      Figure skating isn't considered a "real sport" in part because it's NOTHING LIKE HOCKEY or the other "real sports". Those sports aren't popular because people think they're dangerous and hard. Soccer is hardly the most dangerous sport on the planet and it's also the most popular sport in the world. It's because these are TEAM sports, they're equipment light, you can play them in the park or the backyard, they are social, all you need is a ball. If it's baseball you need a ball, somebody has gloves and a bat and you're done. You, personally, don't need to own that stuff - just have access to it. Football - all your friends plus a single ball. Soccer - your friends and a ball.

      That's why those are the popular sports. People are going to like figure skating or they're not. But the way to encourage people to give it a shot isn't to make it look like it's overcompensating its ass off (see, we're a REAL sport! Pay no attention to the tights, dance belts and stuffed animals!) and enjoyed mainly by clowns. You also don't DOWNPLAY the freaking costumes, the music, the choreography, and all the reasons people LIKE the freaking sport of figure skating. Because if people are looking for a TOUGH sport, there are others. I'll go watch boxing. I can SEE how tough it is.

      They are IDIOTS. This is nothing but Debbi Moron Wilkes bulldozing another role for herself with Skate Canada. The entire thing was a waste of time and money.

  9. Skate Canada better not backhand the Americans - US Figure Skating is training all Canada's top skaters. Funny how this little piece of propaganda covered that up.......

  10. The Detroit area is now choking with figure skaters setting up camp there in preparation for Worlds. Why not Toronto? Why not Canada, period?

    Of course Ice Sweat and Tears ignored how the top figure skaters in Canada are coached in America, by Americans and former Russian nationals. Maybe that's why SC is falling over itself hyping up Scarborough and Carol Lane. A little thing like Lane being originally from the U.K. is nothing compared to the situation with the ice dance and men's singles champs.

    1. "Maybe that's why SC is falling over itself hyping up Scarborough and Carol Lane."

      Except for darling Paul, Lane has done no favors to any of her other students. Even Vanessa, when she was skating with Paul, had line/posture issues and was not packaged well. If you take Paul away, Lane has nothing. She must know that, otherwise why does she ignore her other top students and only fawn over Poirier? Ralph/Hill had so much potential and she basically threw them under the bus. In general, they've had terrible music and packaging. Such a waste.

      She's horrible. Thank God Tessa and Scott left Canada and went to Marina early on.

    2. Vanessa was a better ice dancer than Paul, IMO. Paul had nice knees and swooped around beautifully with nice lines, but Vanessa was light, precise, musical and had more control.

      Fans of C&P remember the article on the bust-up of Crone and Poirier, and the quotes that could only have come from Carol Lane and Paul. Paul was the star, and many 'observers' felt Vanessa didn't match him - although the girl kept herself fit and was a good worker. So went the unnamed sources (Carol and Paul).

      So what do you do when you have an elegant jewel like Paul and you need a partner who matches his deep knees and elegance? You get Piper Gilles. The girl who can barely stay upright during a mid-line step sequence and who requires broken doll choreography to mask her lack of grace.

    3. "So what do you do when you have an elegant jewel like Paul and you need a partner who matches his deep knees and elegance? You get Piper Gilles. The girl who can barely stay upright during a mid-line step sequence and who requires broken doll choreography to mask her lack of grace."

      Yes, but in the skating world Piper has beaucoup $$$ and connections. When weighed against the talent Vanessa brought to the table, it must have been decided Paul had enough talent to cover both of them, so why not Piper instead.

      Not only that, the judges have also given this team the message that they're doing great. Those fine judges at Canadians went so far as to say Piper is on the level of a Tessa Virtue. It looks like the Vanessa trade-in has worked out just splendidly. Lane can be proud of herself.

  11. Yes the Gilles family has $$ and connections. But this sport is judged on the ice, no? Who do Piper's access to $$ and connections benefit? That she's being given off-ice opportunity over off-ice opportunity over other figure skaters - she and Paul the skater faces for the Thomas Sabo event, Barb only perking up when @skatecanada can retweet or link to something about Piper and Paul while ignoring what's out there about other skaters, Piper writing for cbc - she's getting showcased by Skate Canada like someone with way more of a resume. What are they getting out of it? How do her $$ and connections benefit Skate Canada, Scarborough and Lane? So far I haven't seen fabulous costumes, wonderful music cuts or tremendous improvement thanks to that $$ being applied to their skating, and she's not the only rich kid in the sport. So IOW, what is her $$ and connections doing for Skate Canada - or their personnel?

    oc, not logged in

    1. Moreover, among the prolific fans on skating message boards who feel an affiliation with Scarborough, there has been a hard sell with Piper from day one. Overwritten, overreaching raves, prefaced by "I loved Vanessa BUT". Scratch the surface and find hostility towards anyone who dares not love them.

      The sell for this team was loaded and ready to go before they ever even had their first training session. The fans and what you might call the 'Scarborough community' supported Vanessa and Paul. But the reaction to Piper & Paul read as orchestrated from the start; there was nothing natural about it, and it all worked very hard to hype around her skating problem (hence "chemistry" and "refreshing" and trying to have it both ways - hype them to the skies, but shut down criticism on the grounds the team was new and just finding its way).

      oc not logged in

    2. "How do her $$ and connections benefit Skate Canada, Scarborough and Lane? So far I haven't seen fabulous costumes, wonderful music cuts or tremendous improvement thanks to that $$ being applied to their skating, and she's not the only rich kid in the sport. So IOW, what is her $$ and connections doing for Skate Canada - or their personnel?"

      I honestly don't see what Piper's assets are doing for SC, but I can't think of anything else she has that could possibly be a benefit than money and connections. So I'm inclined to think they are somehow involved in spite of not obviously seeing it. Like you say, from day one it's been a hard, orchestrated sell. We know it's not because of skating talent.

    3. Maybe the Gilles provide a bunch of unseen perks for Debbi. We know she loves those.

  12. The Canadians definitely don't have a monopoly on shirt-ripping, Fabio routines. This kind of fluff is on American TV constantly. Admittedly it's not coming from the USFS but the pro circuit. If you read the recent Max Aaron article he discusses how it was fighting a battle to get approval on his athletic style, versus the Jeremy Abbott style that has been popular for so long.