By any measure, Nathan Chen’s performance at Worlds matches standard for transcendent greatness

By any measure, Nathan Chen’s performance at Worlds matches standard for transcendent greatness

Transcendent greatness in sports is both absolute and relative.

Absolute, because anyone who sees an exceptional performance can recognize it as exceptional judged against nothing but its own merits.

Relative, because we seek to define greatness by comparison, to determine levels of it (greater? greatest?) when judged by other exceptional performances we have seen or know of, no matter how hard it is to make such comparisons across long periods of time, with the wildly different athletic parameters of different eras.

No matter which standard we use, absolute or relative, what Nathan Chen did in winning the 2019 World Figure Skating Championships in Japan was transcendent greatness.


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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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Frank Carroll: At 80, he retires from a "frozen life" of transcendent coaching success in figure skating

Frank Carroll: At 80, he retires from a "frozen life" of transcendent coaching success in figure skating

It was the middle of 1964, and 26-year-old Frank Carroll was in San Francisco at a career crossroads.

He had done college, getting a degree in 1960 from the College of the Holy Cross in his native Worcester, Mass., with a major in sociology and Dean’s List grades.  He had done competitive skating, with national junior singles bronze medals in 1959 and 1960.  He had done show skating, spending four and one-half years with Ice Follies before leaving the show with plans to attend the University of San Francisco Law School, which had accepted him, then deciding he did not want to start academic studies again.

Over the years with Ice Follies, which was styled like an elaborate Broadway review, Carroll had made friends with many actors in musicals like “Kismet,” “Carousel” and “Hello, Dolly.”  One suggested he go to Los Angeles, where friends could help get him work in films.  He went.

“I would go to auditions, and when they would ask what I did, I said, `I ice skate,’’’ Carroll said.  “I was like a joke to them.”

But he was handsome, with a physique buffed in the gym, and that got Carroll parts as a “body person” in three of the eminently forgettable beach movies of the mid-1960s (think “Beach Blanket Bingo,” although Carroll declines to identify which movies he was in or what his stage name was.)  He would stand among a group of other “body people” in the background and sometimes sing with the group.

There would be months between film shoots, leaving Carroll to spend his days hanging at the gym or going to the beach until, as he puts it, “I got bored with this ridiculousness.”

A friend who had photographed Carroll at skating competitions suggested he might fill the down time as a skating teacher.  After all, he had done some coaching as a Holy Cross undergrad to help pay his school and skating bills and done some more coaching after graduation.  The photographer connected Carroll with a rink in the Los Angeles suburb of Van Nuys, where he began working in the 1965/66 skating season.

By 1968, Carroll was coach of a medalist at the national championships.  A year later, he had his first national champion:  Jimmy Demogines in the novice men’s division.  In 1972, he coached Olympic team alternate Robert Bradshaw. In 1976, he coached his first Olympian, Linda Fratianne.

Over the next 40 years, Carroll would become the most successful coach in the United States

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An Olympic figure skating fab five, U.S. gold medalists all, reflect on Nathan Chen

An Olympic figure skating fab five, U.S. gold medalists all, reflect on Nathan Chen

Five of the six U.S. men's Olympic gold medalists were in attendance at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, California. In the days following the competition, icenetwork asked them their overall impressions of Nathan Chen, one of the favorites for the gold medal at next month's Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

The respondents were:

- Brian Boitano, the 1988 Olympic champion and a two-time world champion, who has followed Chen closely for years.

- Evan Lysacek, the 2010 Olympic champion and 2009 world champion, who trained briefly on the same ice as Chen when the younger skater began working with Rafael Arutunian in California seven years ago. The 2018 U.S. Championships were the first time Lysacek had been in an arena to watch Chen compete.

- Scott Hamilton, the 1984 Olympic champion, four-time U.S. champion and four-time world champion, who has watched Chen compete at various levels.

- Dick Button, the 1948 and 1952 Olympic champion, who got his first chance to see Chen -- 70 years his junior -- in person at the 2018 U.S. Championships.

- Hayes Jenkins, the 1956 Olympic champion, who first saw Chen in person at the 2014 U.S. Championships in Boston, where Chen, then 14, won his second U.S. junior title.

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With tweaks, proposed figure skating changes make sense

With tweaks, proposed figure skating changes make sense

It used to be that the start of the Grand Prix Series marked the start of a figure skating season.

The first Grand Prix event of this Olympic season still is three weeks away, but so much already happened, on the ice in Challenger Series events and away from it with discussions of change in format and scoring, that it’s already time to offer some observations on the sport’s present and future.

I will do it in two parts, one today and one tomorrow.

Let’s start with some thoughts on the potential scoring and program changes I revealed in an icenetwork exclusive Sept. 11.  A top International Skating Union official called the changes "radical" and part of an effort to help figure skating regain some of its past popularity after its rapid decline everywhere but Asia, especially Japan, without whose fans the sport would be reeling toward irrelevance.

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