As skating returns to the scene of the crime, a look back at how expected big story at the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships was whacked into a footnote by. . .you know what

As skating returns to the scene of the crime, a look back at how expected big story at the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships was whacked into a footnote by. . .you know what

“They say history repeats itself. It’s been 25 years since Detroit was the epicenter of the figure skating world.”

— From a U.S. Figure Skating promotional video for the 2019 national championships in Detroit.

Todd Sand’s first response to the question of what he remembered most about the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit is not as surprising as it seems.

“It was the year the pros were coming back,” Sand said. “That was the main chatter leading up to the season and the nationals.”

Indeed it was.

And the 1994 nationals would be the first significant place to gauge the impact of the International Skating Union’s 1992 decision to give professionals the option to be reinstated for Olympic-style events. That put 1988 Olympic champion Brian Boitano and 1982 world champion Elaine Zayak into the mix for the 1994 Olympic team, a competition made more cutthroat by the U.S. having earned just two spots in both men’s and women’s singles for those Winter Games in Norway.

The denouement of those comebacks figured to be the big story in Detroit.

“Yeah, right,” Zayak said, with a hearty laugh, when reminded of that scenario this week. “I really made a comeback the right year, huh?”

Zayak’s standing-ovation-worthy skating to get fourth place after seven years away from any serious competition and Boitano’s making the Olympic team with a disappointing second to Scott Davis now are among the footnotes to the most attention-getting and notorious story in the history of figure skating in the United States.

You likely remember it: The attack on Nancy Kerrigan by associates of Tonya Harding that marked its silver anniversary on Sunday.

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Skating prodigy Alysa Liu, a senior national competitor at 13, is using the present to avoid future shock

Skating prodigy Alysa Liu, a senior national competitor at 13, is using the present to avoid future shock

The idea was to show Alysa Liu what her future might look like and for her to get comfortable seeing herself in that picture.

So Samuel Auxier, U.S. Figure Skating’s international committee chair, arranged for Liu and her coach, Laura Lipetsky, to attend the junior and senior Grand Prix Final competitions earlier this month in Vancouver.

“Having judged and watched the Junior Grand Prixes, it was clear our skaters competing their first time in them were often very intimidated by the Russian and Japanese ladies,” Auxier said.

He soon realized that Liu isn’t intimidated by much.

“At first, she was amazed by the Russian ladies, but then (she) wanted to get out there and show them her triple Axels,” Auxier said.

That’s right, triple Axels.

The triple Axels Liu, 13, plans to show in the senior competition at next month’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit.

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In "I, Tonya," truth is slippery as ice

In "I, Tonya," truth is slippery as ice

The screen is black.  There is a cough.  And then another.  This is the first 30 seconds of “I, Tonya.”  It is all the time necessary for those of us familiar with anecdotal details about Tonya Harding’s life to know that the screenwriter and filmmakers had done their homework.

Tonya Harding, a living series of contradictions, is an asthmatic who undermined her athletic career by smoking and, consequently, coughing.  Coughing is the first sound – and smoking the first view – of Margot Robbie portraying Harding on the screen.   

In watching the rest of the movie, knowing this story as well as those of us who covered it know this story led to a number of issues.

The first time I saw it, in a theater at October’s Chicago International Film Festival, I got hung up on trying to reconcile the film’s narrative with the facts.

My next three viewings, on a screener provided by the film’s distributors, Neon and 30West, allowed me to see “I, Tonya” for what it is as a movie:  a clever, farcical, sarcastic, wonderfully acted comic tragedy (or tragic comedy?).  But I came away feeling the film had mistakenly fallen in love with Tonya, making it prey to the temptation to pardon Harding for her missteps, her irresponsible behavior and her willful waste of a generational talent. 

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