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Thread: Which skaters “changed the course of figure skating?”

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    Custom Title Mathman's Avatar
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    Which skaters “changed the course of figure skating?”

    This thread was inspired by the ongoing discussion of Yu-na Kim’s influence and legacy. Together with Mao Asada, these are two of the finest athletes in the world. Going back a little ways, Katarina Witt won four world championships and two Olympic gold medals. Michelle Kwan gave us bucketsful of oohs and aahs.

    But did any of these “change the sport” as much as Frank Zamboni? Or as much as the guy who built the first mechanically cooled indoor ice rink? (That would be John Gamgee, 1876 – very likely a descendant of Frodo’s faithful gardener, Sam Gamgee. )

    Here is my short list.

    1. Jackson Haines. Invented free skating – performing a choreographed program to music, punctuated by fancy spins and tricks. (He also invented a way of attaching the blade permanently to the boot, instead of strapping it on.)

    Haines changed the sport from being a succession of stiff formal figures, turns and postures, to being flowing performance art.

    2. Madge Syers. Entered the 1902 men’s world figure skating championship and won silver, forcing the ISU to establish women’s championships, starting in 1906. She won the first two ladies’ world championships and the first ladies’ Olympic gold medal (1908).

    Syers changed the sport from being exclusively a man’s sport to being primarily a woman’s sport.

    3. Sonia Henie. Besides her ten world championships and three Olympic gold medals, Henie glamorized the sport and took it to Hollywood.

    She changed the sport from being a semi-popular participatory winter recreation to being big time show business.

    4. Dick Button. Button invented the jump technique of “spinning in the air.” This technique made possible all subsequent triple and quadruple jumps, which came on the scene in rapid succession after the 1950s.

    Button changed the sport from being a gliding/spinning contest to being the jumping contest that we know today.

    5. Sonia Bianchetti. This high-ranking ISU official spearheaded (for better or for worse) the movement to do away with figures altogether. The last nail in the coffin came in 1990.

    Bianchetti changed figure skating from being figure skating into being not figure skating. What could be a bigger change than that?

    Comments? Who are your candidates?

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    Banned janetfan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mathman View Post
    This thread was inspired by the ongoing discussion of Yu-na Kim’s influence and legacy. Together with Mao Asada, these are two of the finest athletes in the world. Going back a little ways, Katarina Witt won four world championships and two Olympic gold medals. Michelle Kwan gave us bucketsful of oohs and aahs.

    But did any of these “change the sport” as much as Frank Zamboni? Or as much as the guy who built the first mechanically cooled indoor ice rink? (That would be John Gamgee, 1876 – very likely a descendant of Frodo’s faithful gardener, Sam Gamgee. )

    Here is my short list.

    1. Jackson Haines. Invented free skating – performing a choreographed program to music, punctuated by fancy spins and tricks. (He also invented a way of attaching the blade permanently to the boot, instead of strapping it on.)

    Haines changed the sport from being a succession of stiff formal figures, turns and postures, to being flowing performance art.

    2. Madge Syers. Entered the 1902 men’s world figure skating championship and won silver, forcing the ISU to establish women’s championships, starting in 1906. She won the first two ladies’ world championships and the first ladies’ Olympic gold medal (1908).

    Syers changed the sport from being exclusively a man’s sport to being primarily a woman’s sport.

    3. Sonia Henie. Besides her ten world championships and three Olympic gold medals, Henie glamorized the sport and took it to Hollywood.

    She changed the sport from being a semi-popular participatory winter recreation to being big time show business.

    4. Dick Button. Button invented the jump technique of “spinning in the air.” This technique made possible all subsequent triple and quadruple jumps, which came on the scene in rapid succession after the 1950s.

    Button changed the sport from being a gliding/spinning contest to being the jumping contest that we know today.

    5. Sonia Bianchetti. This high-ranking ISU official spearheaded (for better or for worse) the movement to do away with figures altogether. The last nail in the coffin came in 1990.

    Bianchetti changed figure skating from being figure skating into being not figure skating. What could be a bigger change than that?

    Comments? Who are your candidates?
    Nice list - but 20 years before Bianchetti helped eliminate figures there was Trixie and Janet. One was too good at figures for the good of the sport - and unlike the credit you give totally to Haines - it was Janet who is credited in the modern era with turning the free skate into performance art.

    And speaking of innovators - Midori was the first lady who truly showed us that ladies could jump and spin in the air just like the guys.

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    Custom Title skatemom1122's Avatar
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    Nice list! However, I must add one.

    6. Marie-Reine Le Gougne - French judge caught in pairs figure skating scandal in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Winter Games. This incident prompted the doing away of the traditional '6.0' judging system and the implementation of the International Judging System, or IJS, a complicated system of points, in an attempt to deter conspiracy. The new judging system would forever change the face of figure skating, for the better, in my opinion.

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    I agree with all of Mathman's suggestions. I'd also propose John Curry, who added significant artistry to men's skating. The Soviets made pairs skating both more athletic and more artistic. I'd cite their whole program, but if we have to limit the list to a single pair, it would have to be the Protopopovs.

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    Custom Title Mathman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by janetfan View Post
    Nice list - but 20 years before Bianchetti helped eliminate figures there was Trixie and Janet.
    Back in the early 70s Sonia Bianchetti was the ISU official who took took the Janet-Trixie thing by the horns and actually did dsomething about it.

    Bianchetti was elected to the ISU Figure Skating Committee (the first woman elected to high position in the ISU) in 1967 and served until the ISU reorganized in 1988, rising to the powerful position of chairman. (Afterward, she served on the ISU Council from 1988-1992, and was poised to become President of the ISU, but lost out on a coup the the speed skating side led by Ottavio Cinquanta.)

    In the early 1970s when Janet Lynn s was competing, it was Sonia Bianchetti who conceived of the short program, wrote the rules for scoring it (assisted by Tamara Moskvina), and then campaigned tirelessly for the rules changes that came into being for the 1973 world championship in which Janet Lynn competed the ladies short program for the first time.

    ...and unlike the credit you give totally to Haines - it was Janet who is credited in the modern era with turning the free skate into performance art.
    I don;t think so. There were plenty of artistic skaters -- Sonia Henie, Celia Colledge, Barbara-Ann Scott, Jacquelune Du Bief, Peggy Fleming, not to mention pairs teams like Wagner and Paul and Belousova and Protopopoff -- long before the "modern era." Janet was the best, but I would say a long way from the first.

    Jackson Haines really did come up with something that no one had ever imagined before. He was a ballet master who was forced to "take his show on the road" when he could not stir up any interest in "fancy skating" in New York. He settled in Austria and soon the "Austrian-style, or "continental style" of skating completely took over from the then dominant "British style."

    Eventually the British style skating pretty much dropped out of the competition altogether. The British attitude was, how can this new style of skating possibly have any merit if we didn't invent it?

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    Dreaming and dancing Bennett's Avatar
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    midori ito.

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    Mashimaro on Ice
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bennett View Post
    midori ito.
    Agree. I think Midori is the one who really pushed the technical content for ladies. She pushed her contemporaries (Yamaguchi, Harding) to up their technical content as well. We see her influence in every female skater who are doing difficult 3-3 combos and 3A's. In the artistic department, I think Janet Lynn definitely set the standard for many of the skaters in later generations. Her influence is seen in Michelle Kwan, who in turn influenced many of the skaters we see today.

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    Probably not to the extent of the above pioneers, but maybe Nicole Bobek? AFAIK Nicole was the first to do the full-split spiral position with pointed toes that was later popularized by Sasha Cohen (Sarah Hughes had a nice one too). It seems to me that the quality standards for spirals were never the same after that.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mathman View Post
    Back in the early 70s Sonia Bianchetti was the ISU official who took took the Janet-Trixie thing by the horns and actually did dsomething about it.

    Bianchetti was elected to the ISU Figure Skating Committee (the first woman elected to high position in the ISU) in 1967 and served until the ISU reorganized in 1988, rising to the powerful position of chairman. (Afterward, she served on the ISU Council from 1988-1992, and was poised to become President of the ISU, but lost out on a coup the the speed skating side led by Ottavio Cinquanta.)

    In the early 1970s when Janet Lynn s was competing, it was Sonia Bianchetti who conceived of the short program, wrote the rules for scoring it (assisted by Tamara Moskvina), and then campaigned tirelessly for the rules changes that came into being for the 1973 world championship in which Janet Lynn competed the ladies short program for the first time.



    I don;t think so. There were plenty of artistic skaters -- Sonia Henie, Celia Colledge, Barbara-Ann Scott, Jacquelune Du Bief, Peggy Fleming, not to mention pairs teams like Wagner and Paul and Belousova and Protopopoff -- long before the "modern era." Janet was the best, but I would say a long way from the first.

    Jackson Haines really did come up with something that no one had ever imagined before. He was a ballet master who was forced to "take his show on the road" when he could not stir up any interest in "fancy skating" in New York. He settled in Austria and soon the "Austrian-style, or "continental style" of skating completely took over from the then dominant "British style."

    Eventually the British style skating pretty much dropped out of the competition altogether. The British attitude was, how can this new style of skating possibly have any merit if we didn't invent it?
    Interesting information about this lady Sonia Bianchetti. The only time I ever saw her name mentioned was a quote in one of Yuna Kim videos where she was speaking about what a special skater Yuna Kim was. I never knew who she was and why she was being quoted along with other names that I knew. You learn something new about the skating world in this forum every day. Thanks.

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    I love you, Jeremy! GiuliaPlum's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by janetfan View Post
    Nice list - but 20 years before Bianchetti helped eliminate figures there was Trixie and Janet. One was too good at figures for the good of the sport - and unlike the credit you give totally to Haines - it was Janet who is credited in the modern era with turning the free skate into performance art.

    And speaking of innovators - Midori was the first lady who truly showed us that ladies could jump and spin in the air just like the guys.
    Can I ask you what figures are? Thanks!

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    Doris, thanks so much for the link to that Cecilia Colledge video! I knew about her of course, but I had never seen anything but still photos of her. What a gorgeous spread eagle. I'm sure she would have won the Olympics but for the war-years suspensions in '40 and '44.

    And thanks to the person who mentioned Toller Cranston. Interestingly, though Cranston and John Curry weren't exactly buddies, together they changed men's skating during about the same era. (I think they were even born the same year, which means they both made it to their Olympic glory rather late for men, at the age of 26.) This is because both were mature artists, not just well-trained athletic machines. During the Olympics, Button said that Curry was the dancer of the ice, while Cranston was the artist of the ice. That's a pretty good distinction. Both skated with feeling, command, and meticulous technique.

    John Curry
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z79TMsYRnEc

    Toller Cranston
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZJr7g0C9S0

    Cranston was undone by school figures. He was either seventh or ninth after figures in the '76 Olympics, clawed himself up to fifth after the short program, and ended up in bronze position after this long. Curry developed a ballet-based classical style, while Cranston added all sorts of individual positions--he was famous for the broken-leg sit-spin, for example. I've often thought of them as the Apollo and Dionysus of skating: one celestial, cerebral, and classical, the other emotional and Bohemian. What a pair for the ages!

    And it says something about the breadth and depth of Canada's skating tradition that the same country's pantheon of male skaters could include both Toller Cranston and Elvis Stojko, not to mention the Gene Kelly dynamism of Kurt Browning. What a grand history Canada can boast!

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    Custom Title Joesitz's Avatar
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    No matter who came later, no one but Sonia Henie drew more interest in figure skating as a competitor and an Ice Star. She brought more awareness to the sport and to the public's past time. Love her or hate her, that's the facts. Was she the best skater in the world? Hardly, but rinks begain to open all over the world and professional ice shows now had new glamour. Every mother would allow her daughters to study ice skating.

    If you can not believe this, or do not want to believe this, then by all means tell me who was it then, who got the ball rolling to make it a Big Time spectacle. There was precedence in the sport before Sonia, like Evans, Colledge, and my favorite, Helen Belita Jepson, but they were only for fans already 'in the know' They were not the Babe Ruth of the sport.

    All the other names mentioned in the thread did their thing to asist in promoting figure skating, if this is what the thread is asking. For me, it was Sonia first and all others followed with their contributions. It shouldn't be about revising history.

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    In addition to those already listed, Midori Ito, definitely.

    After all, she is (or rather her performances as 1990 Worlds are) the reason why they no longer have compulsories!
    Well, no, her 1990 performances obviously were not the reason why they no longer have compulsories. The process of devaluing and eliminating compulsory figures had started long before 1990, as mentioned in this thread -- even before the early 1970s and the Trixi Schuba-Janet Lynn contrast, although that certainly galvanized the development of major changes.

    The decision to eliminate figures entirely was voted on at the 1988 ISU Congress, to take effect 2 years later. So by the time Ito gave her 1990 performances, everyone already knew that was the last competition with figures. It wasn't the catalyst for those changes.

    Quite likely Ito's facility with all the different triple jumps, even before she landed triple axel in competition, was part of the context for the decision to finalize the end of figures at the 1988 vote. Of all the strong freestylers, especially strong jumpers, of the 1980s and early 90s, she was probably the most iconic of the increased importance of jumps in women's freestyle that coincided with the end of figures.

    I agree with most of the names mentioned before Ito and probably none of the names from the past 20 years. There have certainly been influential skaters during that period on smaller points, but I don't think we've seen an individual skater responsible for a major paradigm change in that time. The biggest change of the last few years has been the change in judging system, and if we have to single out one individual responsible for making that happen it would have to be Ottavio Cinquanta. (He's not the source of every major decision the ISU makes, but my understanding is that he really was pushing for this kind of change at least since 1997.)


    P.S. Oh, and I'd also add Axel Paulsen.
    Last edited by gkelly; 04-08-2010 at 08:58 AM.

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    If we are talkin about LEGACY, I'm happy how many times I've read the name of Toller Cranston and John Curry. I totally agree that they changed the men skating.

    In pairs:
    Protapopovs (art, edges, synchron, beauty)
    Shen-Zhao ( acrobaticism)

    Dance:
    Pahomova-Gorshkov : they have been the reason, why the sport became Olympic eligible.
    Torvil-Dean : total change of the sport
    ( in some way Virtue/Moir and Davis/White, because they madi it again enjoyable by a mass of people)

    Ladies:
    Sonia Henie (brought the glamour and the "celeb" business )
    Janet Lynn (never won, but the rules changed because of her talent)
    Denise Bielmann( needless to say why. also had the longest carrier-mainly as a professional skater)
    Michelle Kwan (capable to re-bring a mass attention)
    Yu-Na Kim ( a never seen technique, gracefulness and quality made again millions of die-hard fans all over the World)
    Last edited by bigdeal; 04-08-2010 at 09:47 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gkelly View Post
    I agree with most of the names mentioned before Ito and probably none of the names from the past 20 years. There have certainly been influential skaters during that period on smaller points, but I don't think we've seen an individual skater responsible for a major paradigm change in that time. The biggest change of the last few years has been the change in judging system, and if we have to single out one individual responsible for making that happen it would have to be Ottavio Cinquanta. (He's not the source of every major decision the ISU makes, but my understanding is that he really was pushing for this kind of change at least since 1997.)
    Except that this thread asks for (figure) skater, not speed skater. Cinquanta was never a figure skater as far as I know.

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