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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On Karen Chen's first Olympics and Frank Carroll's last

On Karen Chen's first Olympics and Frank Carroll's last

Frank Carroll's 12th and final Olympics as a coach ended a day earlier than expected.

Although the premature finish owed to the misfortune of his last Olympic student, Denis Ten of Kazakhstan, it turned out to be advantageous for Carroll, 79, who left for home in Southern California on Saturday, the day after Ten failed to qualify for the free skate.

"I'm sick as a dog," Carroll wrote in a text message Sunday, calling his illness "cold-like but getting worse."

Ten, the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist and two-time world medalist, placed 27th of 30 in Friday's short program. Only the top 24 made Saturday's free skate.

His poor performance was not a surprise, given the foot problems that have plagued Ten since the 2015-16 season and were exacerbated by a severe ankle injury suffered last August. Ten, 24, said Friday it was painful even to put on skating boots.

"It has been incredible," Carroll said of his Olympic coaching career.

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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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Figure skating worlds could bring widespread medal count for USA

Can veteran Jason Brown, seen in a split jump, combine with phenom Nathan Chen to help the U.S. get three men's places in the 2018 Olympics?

Can veteran Jason Brown, seen in a split jump, combine with phenom Nathan Chen to help the U.S. get three men's places in the 2018 Olympics?

The 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships are now in the books, and after yet another successful affair -- which saw Nathan Chen shatter numerous records en route to the senior men's gold medal, and the Shibutanis continue their U.S. dance reign -- here are five thoughts I have about the event in Kansas City.

1. The United States has a chance to do something rare in its recent figure skating history at the world championships in March: win medals in three separate events.

Those medals, should U.S. skaters earn them, would come from singles -- with Ashley Wagner and Nathan Chen -- and dance -- with Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani and/or Madison Chock and Evan Bates.

That has not happened since 2006, when it did in the same events. Kimmie Meissner and Sasha Cohen won gold and bronze, respectively, while Evan Lysacek earned the men's bronze medal, and Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto received bronze in dance.

Considering the United States has won world medals in two events just once since 2006 (last year, with Wagner earning the silver, the Shibutanis winning silver and Chock and Bates picking up the bronze) and just one medal in singles since 2009, medals in three events would be quite impressive.

2. U.S. Figure Skating's international committee got it right on all the world team selections.

The committee had no choice but to bypass two-time U.S. champion Gracie Gold, notwithstanding her having ticked off higher marks in as many or more boxes on the selection criteria list than either new U.S. champion Karen Chen or bronze medalist Mariah Bell. Gold, who finished sixth at the U.S. championships, showed no signs all season of being able to perform remotely near her past excellence.

Would Mirai Nagasu, 10th at worlds last year, have been a better pick than Bell? Not based on Nagasu's uninspired free skate in Kansas City, with several under-rotations and negative Grades of Execution after a strong second in the short program. She had a world team place in her hands and let it slip away.

In men's, the choice of U.S. bronze medalist Jason Brown, a veteran with Olympic and world meet experience, over silver medalist Vincent Zhou was also justified if the goal is to get three Olympic spots for 2018. Zhou, 16, has yet to skate in a senior international event; as of now, he does not even have the technical minimums for worlds.

Granting the world team petition of Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim in pairs was also logical. Although they have been out of action all season because of Alexa's surgery, the Knierims are by far the most talented U.S. pair, and their record over the time period used in the selection criteria is far superior to that of any pair who competed in Kansas City.

The dance selection was easy. The three teams with the most noteworthy achievements, past and present, finished 1-2-3.

3. Odd as it seems, the U.S may have a greater chance at getting three Olympic singles spots in the men's event than the ladies.

To get three, the 2017 worlds placings of the top two finishers must add up to 13 or fewer: second and 11th, fifth and eighth, fourth and ninth, etc.

Although this is Chen's first senior worlds, he was second in the Grand Prix Final and should -- barring a few bad days in Helsinki -- finish no lower than fifth. Brown was fourth in the 2015 worlds and, even if he cannot manage a quad, has a good shot at eighth or better. After all, Adam Rippon finished sixth at worlds last year with no quads in the short program and an under-rotated one in the free skate.

Wagner, the reigning world silver medalist, probably needs to get another medal for the U.S. women to have a shot at three Olympic places. Senior worlds debutantes Chen and Bell have had completely unremarkable senior international careers so far, save for Bell's second-place finish at Skate America last October.

One of the aforementioned skaters will almost certainly have to break into the top 10 if the U.S. total is to stay under 14. With Wagner, three Russians, three Japanese skaters, two Canadians and Italy's Carolina Kostner favored (on paper) to finish ahead of Chen and Bell, that won't be easy.

4. Now that Gold and coach Frank Carroll have split, where will Gracie go next?

The best bet is back to Alex Ouriashev, who coached Gold until they suddenly split in September 2013. That would put Gold in the Chicago area, meaning it would be easy for her to also spend some time in Canton, Michigan, where artistry guru and ice dance coach Marina Zoueva attracts a rotating cavalcade of stars from all of figure skating's disciplines.

Big props to Gold for the way she publicly handled her disastrous season. She ducked no questions, offered no excuses and made no attempt to paint over the obvious holes in her performances this season.

Admitting problems is often a key step in solving them. One should be easy to overcome: Gold needs to get herself in better competitive condition before next season. Both Ouriashev and Carroll told me Gold was not in the same shape she had been in previous years. She clearly ran out of gas near the end of her free skate at the U.S. championships, and stumbled to a sixth-place finish because of it.

5. Over the past 37 years, I've had the good fortune of being a first-hand witness to several indelibly brilliant moments in figure skating, especially at the 32 United States championships I have covered.

The latest was being on hand to see what Nathan Chen did Friday and Sunday at the Sprint Center, especially from the stunning perspective provided by the Kansas City organizers and U.S. Figure Skating, who put the media in seats right next to the ice -- the closest-to-the-action seat I have ever had at the event.

Chen rolled off seven clean quads so effortlessly -- two in the short program, a history-making five in the free skate -- that the inclination was to think they were triples. At some point, as my jaw dropped to the floor, I found myself chuckling at just how easily he was doing what would be considered incredible by any standard of any sport you choose.

As Chen was first to admit, the program had lacunae on the presentation side, which he explained by saying, "Stuff happens when you're pushing the technical elements to the max."

It seems likely that he or others will reach that jumping max again -- or even top it. That will never lessen the awe and delight I had watching him do it for the first time, as witnessing greatness is unforgettable, a privilege and just plain fun.

(This article originally appeared on icenetwork.)

Still no room at the top for U.S. singles skaters

Still no room at the top for U.S. singles skaters

I left for a long-planned vacation in New Zealand just as the figure skating Grand Prix was starting.

By the time I returned, two weeks later than planned, the season was mostly over, and I had other immediate priorities than trying to catch up.

Now that I have had the chance to take a closer look in time for this week’s Grand Prix Finals – junior and senior - in Marseille, France, it’s plain that most of what happened was pretty predictable – and that I didn’t miss much.

*Led by Evgenia Medvedeva, the wondrous reigning world champion who just turned 17 but has added an air of maturity to her soulful expressiveness, Russians are dominating women’s skating more than ever, producing four of the six senior GPF qualifiers for the second time in three years and the top three spots in this season’s standings.  More tellingly, there have been six different Russian women in those two sets of four.

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