I spent last weekend attending every session of my very first world-class figure skating competition, Skate America at the UWM Panther Arena downtown.
The event was the first in the world-wide Grand Prix series of events that concludes with a final in Barcelona in December. Skaters have to qualify for Barcelona and the Milwaukee event was the first of five qualification competitions.
I sat through 70 programs, both long and short; 12 men’s, 12 ladies, eight pairs and eight ice dance. I watched the two-Zamboni team resurface the ice at least at least 32 times.
I met and talked with skaters and skating officials and fans from dozens of states and from Japan, Russia, Finland, Canada and China.
The whole thing was quite an experience and it left a bunch of impressions, most very positive. But there are still questions about figure skating.
Q. Who would have thought there were bad boys in skating?
They ply their trade under the sobriquet "The Skating Lesson." It’s a website, a live Skype broadcast and podcast, a blog and a YouTube channel. The entire staff is Jennifer Kirk and David Lease. Kirk is a darling and diminutive former world champion skater. Her bonafides are unquestionable. Lease is just as darling and he has a degree in journalism and has always wanted to be a skater. The two of them are absolutely outrageous in their brutal honesty when they talk about skaters and skating. One time the U. S. Figure Skating Association refused to give them credentials to a competition. Now, however, they are credentialed members of the media, as hard as this may be to believe. Controversial doesn’t begin to describe them. Watching their show I’m reminded of the famous Jack Nicholson line, "You can’t handle the truth!" No wonder they got banned. You can see the show here. And they are incredibly popular with fans. Hanging out with them during the breaks in the competition it was fan after fan coming up to take a selfie with the pair. "Hi," one fan squealed. "‘m Karen from Japan. And I love you. I watch all your shows." These bad boys of skating have obviously hit on a winning formula and they are probably the future of television. Do it in a living room with one camera and tell the truth. Rare, I know.
Q. What’s up with the music?
Music plays a tremendous role in the whole figure skating experience. There is music, of course, during the programs. There is music between events. Fans are surrounded by music. If I was in charge of music I would do try to provide music that might actually be interesting. First off I would ban violins. Almost every song featured soaring violins. Then I would ban Abba, Celine Dion, the Bee Gees Demi Lovato and anything by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Specifically I would ban "Dancing Queen," "Stayin’ Alive," "Coming to America," Lovato’s "Stars" (Oh, yeah, we really don’t need the light/ ‘cause we’re stars tonight.). But by far the most banned song would be "Don’t Stop Believing," by Journey. I can’t count the number of times I heard it inside the arena. Then when I went out to the tailgate party Friday night between sessions, the band "Alter Ego," which was described as the "best band in Milwaukee," sang the song to start off their set. I had never heard of "Alter Ego" until the party.
Q. What’s up with some of the music choices made by skaters.
A dance team from China, Shiyue Wang and Xinyu Liu, had this odd choice for their short program. They started with a version of "Piano Man" that was sung by someone who sounded like Michael Buble. Then they segued into a version of "Fever" sung by someone who sounded like Doris Day. In the editing process for both songs, the lyrics were mixed up so that where there should have been a rhyme, there wasn’t a rhyme.
Q. Where else can you see this kind of beautiful athletes?
The answer is, of course nowhere. But it's not the ladies I'm talking about. They are cute and wear cute costumes. But the men are absolutely gorgeous. All of them are tall and strong and incredibly put together. They all have great hair. And they have names like Alexi, Brendan, Florent, Shoma, Jean-Luc Nikita, Fedor and Max. All centerfold potential.
Q. Whatever happened to the perfect 6.0?
I loved the perfect 6.0 in figure skating just like I loved the perfect 10 in gymnastics. The average fan saw the score and knew immediately how close to perfect the skater was. Now they have a system so complicated that you need a degree in advanced mathematics to figure it out. The bosses adopted this new system to put a halt to the idea that some judges might assign scores based on their home country rather than just the quality of the skating. Don’t people realize that about the only time that the general public is even aware of figure skating is when they have a controversy over the judging and awarding of medals?
And the final question…
Q. When the hell are we going to stop using Laverne and Shirley as our calling cards?
The opening ceremony was called a "Tribute to Milwaukee" and featured three groups of skaters from the Wisconsin Figure Skating Club. The smallest skaters did their ting to the theme song of "Laverne and Shirley," complete with video from the show. The middle group of skaters did their dance to the theme from "Happy Days" with plenty of shots of the Bronze Fonz to tantalize all those tourists watching.
And finally the older skaters came out to "Leader of the Pack," which was followed by the entrance of a growling three-wheel Harley that sat in the middle of the ice with dancers going crazy to "Born to Be Wild." I don’t know who put this whole "tribute" together but I suspect it was a combination of work by the skating club and Visit Milwaukee. Milwaukee is a lot more than Laverne, "Happy Days" and Harleys. If you are going to put together a tribute to Milwaukee that will be seen by millions of people all over the world, it sure would be nice to come up with something beside the tired old stuff that doesn’t come close to capturing what we are about.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.