Monday, January 3, 2011

five girls

30 Days of Skating

Day 12: Who are your five favourite ladies figure skaters?

Well, this hasn't really been much a daily effort lately, but I'm trying! My wrists and eyes certainly appreciate the break from my laptop during New Year's weekend, and here's hoping for a fantastic 2011! And now, onto the ladies.

1: Josée Chouinard
Even when I was just a little girl, Josée's charm always captivated me. I was just getting into skating at the end of her competitive career, and while I loved her then, I don't think she really became my absolute favourite until the 1994-95 season, when she skated as a professional for a year before returning to competition for 95-96. Without the pressure of competition, Josée absolutely shone on the pro circuit, and I would have watched her skate her American in Paris program a hundred times in a row, if my mother would have put up with it. And a couple of years later, I probably did watch "The Sweater" a hundred times in a row. I always wanted to see her skate live, but by the time I was in college and attended my first Stars on Ice shows in 2003, she really wasn't skating much at all, so I'd just about given up hope.

And then came the announcement for Dreams on Ice, conveniently located in Windsor, slated for Fall 2003. I was planning on moving back to Chicago for school, and my new skating fan friend lived in Michigan. It was perfect. Even better—VIP tickets included passes to the reception and a chance to meet the skaters. So in September 2003, I finally got to see Josée skate, and an hour later, I was standing in front of her, knees shaking, and when I said something completely stupid, like how I'd been wanting to see her skate for 9 years, she was so sweet and gracious.

Me and Jos
Meeting Josée in 2003

2: Joannie Rochette
Jo is also a sentimental favourite, on quite a few levels for me. For as long as I've been going to skating events in Canada, I've been cheering for Jo. I was a fan even before I ever saw her skate, just because my friends knew her. I met Jo at a concert my friend Lori gave in Montréal in August 2003, five months before I ever saw Jo skate live. While I always wanted her to do well, it ultimately didn't matter to me whether she skated cleanly or not—I was always going to support her, no matter what.

And while my whole group of friends knew that she was capable of capturing at incredible moment at her home Olympics this year, we never could have anticipated what actually transpired. The grace, perseverance, and passion that she showed during the Olympics and since the Games ended have simply been consistent with the girl that I have always wanted great things for. I can't say enough wonderful things about her character, and I haven't even made it to her skating yet! Well, I guess that speaks for itself.

Jo Concert 2003
The group of us at Lori's concert in 2003

3: Kristi Yamaguchi
I was a seven-year-old American girl who'd just fallen in love with figure skating when Kristi Yamaguchi won Olympic gold. Of course she's on my top five list. When I was seven, I wanted nothing more than to be her. I wanted her voluminous ponytail and poofy bangs and pretty dresses and fantastic talent and gold medal. I wanted my face on the Wheaties box that I convinced my mom to buy for me, even though she knew I never finished a box of cereal. I wanted desperately to see her skate when Stars on Ice came to town, but it wasn't in the budget for my family then. So, much like Josée, I felt like I might have missed my chance with her. And I almost did, but I snuck out of the country and went to Isabelle & Lloyd's farewell show in 2004. When my mother found out, she nearly disowned me. I think she was going to, but my fiancé broke up with me right after she found out, and I think she felt a little bit bad for me. But it was worth it, to see my seven-year-old hero, still able to completely captivate me.

Also like Josée, it was Kristi's professional career that really endeared her to me. For some reason, I often remember seeing "Doop Doop" for the first time on TV, lying on my parents' bed while they watched something boring in the living room. It's funny how certain performances, though only viewed on a TV, are such happy moments from my childhood.

I finally met Kristi last year, at Thin Ice in Connecticut. I'd had the opportunity a couple of times before, but she's one of the few people that I've literally frozen in front of.

Meeting Kristi in 2010
Proof that I got over my stage fright and met Kristi!

4: Michelle Kwan
Though Kristi and Josée were my first loves in figure skating, Michelle was the one that I grew up with. I remember her first Nationals, how young she was, how much I wanted to be like her. And every year after, I was in front of my TV for Nationals again—captivated in '96, heartbroken in '97, overwhelmed with emotions in '98. Even in the years after Nagano, when high school took over and I didn't watch nearly as much skating anymore, I still kept tabs on Michelle, checking in on an old fansite, happening to catch Nationals or Worlds performances, at least most of the time.

In the years after Salt Lake, it got hard to be a fan. I started following the sport more closely, and it was maddening that it never seemed like her heart was all the way in the sport anymore. She didn't learn the Code of Points properly, always seemed to be bouncing between coaches, and it seemed like she withdrew from events more often than she skated in them. During that time, I was going to Canadian events anyway, so I kind of lost interest. Plus, she had some really creepy fans, I never wanted to be associated with that.

But looking back, it's impossible to say that overall, she's not still one of my favourites. One of the most consistent, genuine performers of her era, and also one of the most decorated. My uncle, who watches skating occasionally but is far from a close follower of it, was watching the Tribute to American Skating, or whatever it was called, on Christmas with me. When they mentioned Michelle, he said something about how it was too bad she never won an Olympic medal. I was quick to defend her: "She won two!!" Of course I didn't fault him for not remembering her credentials properly, but it's too bad that the general American public remembers Michelle as "the one who never won," when really, she won so much.

I don't have any photos of Michelle that I can post. Sadly, I've never met her, nor have I ever even seen her skate live. So unless I dug out my poster of her from Sports Illustrated for Kids, circa 1993, and took a photo of that, I don't actually own any photos of Miss Kwan.

And I don't think I'm going to pick a fifth. There are, of course, many other female skaters that I admire, but none who are on the same level as Josée, Jo, Kristi, and Michelle.

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