Champions on Ice, 6/19/1999, Seattle

Saturday evening, the 19th of June, I went to see the Champions on Ice tour in the Key Arena, downtown in Seattle Center. I had never actually been to a skating event in person before, mainly because I had never been in a position to go and see one of these things before. As it turned out, I'm really glad I went.

The show was scheduled to start at 8pm, and since I hadn't ever been to the Key Arena I left my house early, at 6pm. I wanted to stop and buy film anyway, and I figured I would need extra time to park my car and find my way to the arena. I only live about 15 minutes from downtown Seattle, and I wanted to arrive in plenty of time. However, since the initial plan never survives first contact with reality, I soon discovered I had left home way too early.

Not a big deal, though. I found a parking garage on the north side of Seattle Center, walked across the skybridge, down to the sidewalk, and headed off toward the west side of the park. I had researched the location of the arena in advance, so I wasn't going in totally blind, but I still didn't know exactly where it was or how long it'd take me to get there.

I ended up getting to the arena at about 6:30. They weren't letting anyone in until 7, so I killed the half hour watching people play in the International Fountain. This thing is actually very cool, it's a concrete bowl shaped depression that's probably 150-200 yards across, with a great big steel dome in the middle of it. The dome is the source of the fountain water, it has a series of holes irregularly spaced around its sides and top, and what it does is to shoot water from these holes at random intervals and velocities. The water can spray a couple hundred feet into the air, and well up the sides of the bowl it sits in, and people go down there and play in the water. This looked like a lot of fun, one of these days I'm going to go back there and try it out.

They opened the doors right on time at 7, so I headed over and joined the line. Getting into the arena was quick and painless, which was kind of surprising considering the way the crowd gathered so quickly. I found my way to my seat without any problems, discovering with pleasure that I was located right over the corner of the arena where the skaters would enter and exit the ice. I was in row 9, which is about 10 vertical feet above the floor, and the spot I was in placed me in essentially the front row, with an unobstructed view of the entire arena. Since I got in so early, I had plenty of time to sit and prepare my camera, and shoot the breeze with the other people in my row.

A few minutes before 8 this guy from KOMO TV came out and went to work whipping up the crowd. He did a good job, I was already excited just to be there, by the time he left the place was positively frothing at its collective mouth. Then they shut off all the lights except for the ring of little white bulbs around the edge of the ice.

The music started, and they started playing spotlights over the ice. They had this way cool lighting system, it projected images of world flags on the ice, they could spin the images and move them all over the place. After a couple minutes of watching the pretty light show, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I snapped over to the left just as the announcer started talking again, and I looked in time to see the first group of skaters hitting the ice.

They came out in a flood. It was so impressive the way they moved, rushing out onto the ice at a dead run, with next to no light to see by. The lights that were on were swirling all about, covering the rink with a confused blur of movement and color. As I watched I started to be able to pick out individuals as the light caught them, which led me to an interesting revelation: I recognized these people on the spot as I saw them, before the announcer even started introducing them. I guess this makes me a first degree figure skating fan now, or something. Heck, I even recognized the Russian pairs skaters who's names I never can remember. The announcer introduced each skater, and one by one they left the ice, leaving the arena in pitch darkness again.

From my vantage point I could see each skater when they entered, so I had a bit of an advantage, I knew who was coming out right away. First on the ice to perform was Elizabeth Manley. She was wearing a black pantsuit kind of outfit, with a vest striped in pink and yellow, a black bowler hat with a pink and yellow band around it, a pink glove on her left hand and a yellow glove on her right. This woman is incredibly buff, folks. She looks like she could bench press me without breaking a sweat, and I'm not a featherweight. For part of her routine they spotlighted her with ultraviolet light, it made the colors in her costume fluoresce, she looked really cool. She's very athletic, she moved so incredibly fast it almost made me dizzy to watch her.

Next out were Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow. I don't really follow the pairs skaters, but I remember seeing them at the U.S. Nationals. They came out wearing these garishly bright colored 60s retro tie-dyed outfits, and did a routine to a couple of Sonny and Cher songs. Very nice stuff.

Next skater was a blonde woman who I hadn't recognized earlier. She was the only one who I completely blanked on. I thought at first she might be Maria Butyrskaya, but I knew that Maria wasn't at this particular show, a fact that I had been moaning about to anyone who would listen a week before the show. Besides, even though her hair was short, it wasn't short enough to be Maria. I was quite surprised when the announcer spoke up, and she turned out to be Nicole Bobek. The last time I had seen her was at one of the Grand Slam competitions last year, and she was still wearing her hair in a long ponytail, pulled back behind her head. I have been fond of Nicole for a while, but I thought she'd lost her edge and I was afraid she was going to fade from the scene. She skated to a medley of Blondie songs, and she was just excellent. She looked really good, and I was very pleased to see her doing so well. She does this very cool spiral where she tucks her right leg behind her left ankle, bending the left leg while her upper body leans off to the right with her left leg counterbalancing her the other way. It looks really neat, but I imagine it must be murderously uncomfortable to hold that position for very long.

Next were the Russian pair of Elena Bereznaya and Anton Sikharulidze. Don't let that fool you, I can't spell his name, I'm cheating from my copy of the program. They skated essentially the same short program they skated at the Worlds this year, right down to costumes and everything. They were exquisite, if I do start following pairs more closely it'll be because of them.

Michael Weiss came out next. I really like him, he's a tremendously powerful skater, but he also looks like he's having a great time when he's out there. I was kinda hoping for his Doors routine, but he actually did this great program to a medley of K.C. and the Sunshine Band. He was dressed in a frighteningly good 70's outfit, right down to this gigantic afro wig. He had the crowd on its feet, it was a tremendous performance.

Naomi Nari Nam is one of my new favorites. She's something like 12 or 13 years old, I forget, but she's just so irresistably cute. She performed to a song called 'Getting To Know You', I think from 'The King and I'. She's going to be one to watch in the next couple of years. She's just so bubbly you can't help but grin when she does.

The German pair of Mandy Woetzel and Ingo Steuer performed to the song 'Last Dance'. Again, another pair I wasn't immediately familiar with, but they were great fun to watch.

Laurent Tobel is the current French national champion. He's the only one in the show I hadn't heard of before, and his routine had him dressed up as a baby. It was very cute, but I don't have the foggiest idea what the music was.

Surya Bonaly is another skater I've liked for a long time. I don't think she ever got the respect she deserved from the international skating community, despite her athleticism and powerful skating. She's another one who's really buffed out, when she skated away from me I could see every muscle group in her back. She'd make a hell of an anatomy model. I got a picture of her just as she launched into her backflip, always one of the best parts of her performances.

I really like to watch Rudy Galindo because he goes out there to have fun. He did his Village People medley, and I was on my feet with everyone else doing the YMCA thing. I don't have a whole lot to say about this particular one, because I've seen him do it many times before, but it was great fun to watch in person. After he finished, they had a 15 minute intermission while they resurfaced the ice.

First one back up in the second half of the show was Elvis Stojko. I've never been able to decide if I really like him or not, since I know very little about him. He's a very strong skater, I think he jumped higher than just about everybody in the show.

Next came Todd Eldredge. This guy is so unbelievably good. He ripped off the only quad jump of the night, and I swear I thought he was going to leap right into the air and not come back down. My only problem with him is he never seems to come out of his shell. He skated to some very somber music, and I never can shake the feeling that he's somehow preaching.

Then came Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko. Russian ice dancers, they were beautiful. It happens to be another facet of the sport I don't follow all that much, but I still appreciate them. I just wish we could bottle whatever it is that gives the Russians such good ice dance and pairs skaters.

Next was Victor Petrenko. This guy just oozes personality, his routine was a Michael Jackson medley. He was wearing spats on his skates that made it look like he was wearing black loafers with white socks, and when he moonwalked across the ice I couldn't help but think about the first time I actually saw Michael Jackson do it. All in all, a good rocking performance from Victor.

Last set of pairs skaters, more Russians, Oksana Kazakova and Artur Dmitriev. Not much to say about this performance either, other than they were splendid.

One of the best performances of the night came from Oksana Baiul. She's struggled, since she moved to the states after her gold medal at the Olympics, and I've wondered if she was going to be able to put it back together. She started her routine on the edge of the ice, sitting on the wall right in front of the first row on one of the short sides of the arena. The music was rather typical of what I've gotten used to seeing from the European/Russian (and former Soviet block) skaters, this stately classical music, a selection from Bach. Her form was perfect, she nailed every jump, and when she did it you could hear her make a sort of 'Raaah' noise each time she landed and knew she'd done it. When she finished and the lights went out, I could still see her jumping up and down on the ice and pumping her fists in the air. Made me feel good for her.

One of the skaters I'd been waiting all night for, they held Philippe Candeloro til almost the end. He performed his Three Musketeers routine, which is always a lot of fun to watch, but he took his own sweet time getting started. He came out and skated around the rink for a while, revving up each side of the arena, then he skated off one side and knelt in front of this one woman, asking her to hold his sword. Of course, she did, and he headed off to the other end of the arena to wait for his music to start. Well, it was thrilling and fun to watch, and he was well into it, when all the sudden he blew a jump. He was moving backward right toward me, and I could see he was getting set to jump, and somehow something happened and instead of going up he went right down, wham, on his butt. Now, some of the other skaters had fallen as well, and I while I hate to see that happen to anyone, they all just got up and went on like nothing had happened. Philippe's music was in kind of a down tempo dirge moment at the time, so when he got up he staggered across the ice, with one hand held behind his back, leaning to his left. The whole movement just communicated pathos and pain, and when he got back across the rink he just threw himself into the lap of the woman he'd left his sword with and put his face in her shoulder. It was so funny, the whole place was dying, this woman is there patting him on the back, and the whole time the music is still going. Finally he jumps up, kisses her hand, grabs his sword and jumps back onto the ice for the fast footwork fencing part of the program, and he finished the rest of it without anything else untoward happening. Bar none, though, his performance was the one I had the most fun watching.

Finally, the last skater on the ice was Michelle Kwan, the one I most wanted to see. I saved the last five frames on my roll of film for her, and I also learned an important lesson as well: Next time I do this, take more than one roll of film! Michelle is just beyond words, her form was perfect as usual, and her music and everything else just works for her so well. She transcends the usual words and phrases one hears to praise athletes, to me she was just stunning, she left me breathless.

Well, after that, they wound the show down. All the skaters had changed costumes for the third time, they all came back out onto the ice like they had at the beginning of the show, and the announcer called out their names at center ice all over again. Then they all took their last bows, we all gave them a standing ovation, and it was over. *pant* I'm going to be on a high for at least a month after seeing that show, from now on I'm going to go out of my way to see any of these events that come anywhere near me. I had a great time, and I recommend the show to anyone who enjoys figure skating.

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