Thanks to You Tube, I no longer have to wait forever to see figure skating performances. Today, the great Chinese pair skaters, Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, won the World Championships. They are beautiful skaters that have revived that division of ice skating which had too many falls and flubs to enjoy watching.
By SALVATORE ZANCA, Associated Press Writer Wed Mar 21, 11:10 AM ET
TOKYO - Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo became pairs champions for the third time Wednesday at the World Figure Skating Championships, and France's Brian Joubert skated into the lead of the men's competition.
Shen and Zhao also won world titles in 2002 and 2003, but missed the championships the last two years because of injuries.
Skating a lyrical program to "Meditation" by Massenet, the two-time Olympic bronze medalists combined artistry with the top technical feats of the evening to score an international best of 203.50 points.
Following in the footsteps of the great British ice dancers, Torville and Dean, they used lovely music that wasn't chopped up or mutilated with the traditional introduction, slow movement, fast end stuff. They simply choreographed increasingly exciting moves that ended with a flourish. Pair skating which took off with the Russians who brought a Balanchine/Petipa elegance and energy via the greatest ice pair of them all, Oleg Protopopov and Ludmila Belousova, the inventors of the famous Death Spiral.
Not many of the daring throws and thrilling jumps but the beauty of the ice dancing is still very moving. The fluid elegance which is possible on ice is expressed so clearly with the clean lines and creative interface between the two ice skaters: this is a legendary performance. And up until the Chinese came along, rediscovering this style of skating, lost due to the pressures of circus-atmospheric daring tricks.
Today's winners, like the Russians who dominated the event under communism, come from a state-supported system. With individual skaters, they don't need the resources pairs skaters need. So it doesn't surprize me to see the new regime coming out of China. From the collapse of the Soviet sports system until this last five years, pairs skating has frankly been pretty awful to watch. It used to be a top event but had fallen behind ice dancing!
Now it is taking off, for the breath-taking throws and hoists into the heavens that is part of these performances is awe-inspiring if no one falls down.
This page also has more videos of the Chinese pair doing the most amazing lifts and jumps. All of them are reccommended watching.
Yao Bin, born in 1957, is considered one of the pioneers of Chinese figure skating. As a skater, he was a product of the Harbin Skating Team, where he skated for fourteen years. Harbin, an industrial city with a population of about 3.5 million, is the capital of skating and ice sports in China and the home of many of today's young Chinese skating talents. Yao Bin and his partner Luan Bo were the first pair ever to represent China in world figure skating competitions. Yao has recalled in interviews the humiliating experience of performing at the 1980 championships in Germany, where the audience laughed at the couple's inferior skating. At that time, there were no experienced figure skating coaches or other material available in China to use as a guide in learning the routines. Yao and Luan learned the moves by studying pictures of other skaters' performances.
After finishing last in four consecutive figure skating championships, Yao decided to give up competing and dedicate his life to elevating the level of the sport in China to meet international standards. In 1984, Yao retired as an amateur skater and started coaching new young talents. In 1998, he was appointed director of the national figure skating committee and, throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century, Yao has been coaching China's top figure skaters. In 2004, Yao was awarded the title of the Coach of the Year by the International Figure Skating Magazine for his contribution to the sport.
I love to watch the people at the bottom of the skating pyramid. The losers can be very daring or interesting. For example, a Swiss skater in the women's competition almost 30 years ago did a 'flame' whereby she pulled her leg over her head in a spin. I fell out of my chair and yelled, 'Bravo!' She had points deducted for this but all the great skaters immediately imitated it and it is everywhere now.
I remember the Chinese team back then. The Chinese officials living with me thought it was great, I was cheering their skaters. I was skating back then so I hung out in that world a lot. I congratulated Yao for having lots and lots of spirit and a desire to master a very difficult art. I didn't know he learned it virtually by himself, on the fly.
He has a very good eye for choreography and sentimentality. I can see in his art and in the expression of this art with his skaters, the true nature of dance: the Dionysian joy of life. Throwing the head back heedlessly as the skaters fly across the ice is the heart of the dance: embracing Now with all one's heart, carving out of time and space, a form that changes with the mood, transcending mere gravity to fly into the sky, to swoop like a swallow.
I am looking forwards to the Olympics. Thanks to the Chinese. I wish our own country had a commitment for developing good skaters like this. Instead of forcing families to nearly bankrupt themselves trying to enable their own children to reach for the stars.