Interview with Kiira Korpi (part 1)

Photo credit: Kiira Korpi

Kiira Korpi is one of the most accomplished Finnish skaters of all time: together with Susanna Poykio and Laura Lepisto, she helped put Finland on the map in the second half of the 2000s. Her lengthy career boasts two appearances at the Olympic Games (2006, 2010), 3 European medals (two bronzes in 2007 and 2011, silver in 2012), 2 Grand Prix wins and multiple Grand Prix medals. She is the first and only Finnish figure skater to have competed at the Grand Prix Final (2012/2013). An unfortunate series of injuries from 2013 on sadly cut her illustrious career short.

A star in her native Finland, Kiira has dedicated herself to advocacy work following the end of her athletic career. She is currently finalizing a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts (with a focus on Psychology) at The New School of New York and is a vocal supporter of children’s rights and the fair treatment of athletes.

In this interview conducted back in November, I had the honor to talk to Kiira about her decision to become an activist and her views on the present-day state of figure skating and the problems plaguing the sport. Additionally, she also shares her outlook for the future and her vision on how to make sport a fair and safe place for everyone involved.

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Ilia Klimkin, The greatest Russian skater that never was (Part II)

I. Klimkin at the 2004 World Figure Skating Championship. Photo credit: Susanne Kempf.

“In his performances, Ilya Klimkin attracted the attention of fans and specialists with the complex composition of his programs, his musicality, the spontaneous jumps, and especially, the spins in both directions – to my knowledge, he was the only one at that time able to do this spin combination. His jumps were unusually high and performed from unorthodox entries. This made his programs spectacular to watch.
To receive such a talented athlete in my group, whom I could help further with my experience and knowledge about the sport, was an absolute inspiration and honor for me work-wise.” –Viktor Kudriavtsev, honoured coach of the USSR and Russia 

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Portraits of Russian Ladies: Tatiana Rachkova

Photo Credit: Tatiana Rachkova.

Competitive highlights: 1992 Olympic Games (16th), 1992 Worlds (13th), 1992 European Championship (14th), 1992 Vienna Cup Winner, Russian National Championships (1992 – 2nd place, 1993 – 3rd place)

Tatiana Rachkova hailed from the same generation of Russian ladies singles skaters as 1999 World champion Mariya Butyrskaya but is not as widely known to figure skating fans today. She made a quick, very promising splash in 1992 by participating at every major event (including the Olympics) but sadly disappeared from the world scene quickly after. Her style merged athleticism, powerful jumps and strong technique with unconventional eye-catching choreography, turning her into a predecessor of a new generation of talented, original Russian skaters like Olga Markova (covered in my previous post) and Butyrskaya herself.

She first emerged in the early 90s in a diluted competitive field, at the background of the disbanding Soviet Union, amidst growing uncertainty in the political and sports arena alike. Women singles’ skating at the time had taken a step back in the USSR due to the higher popularity of pairs and ice dance, combined with decreased political support on the side of the federation and lack of attention on the coaches’ side.

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Portraits on Russian Ladies: Olga Markova

Olga Markova in 1995.

Before Sochi 2014 and the ensuing dominance of Russian girls in the latter half of the current decade, the country experienced another golden age in ladies singles skating that younger fans might not be so familiar with. In the late 90s Maria Butyrskaya (1999 World Champion) was the face of a rising force of strong Russian female skaters. The young Irina Slutskaya (2x World Champion, 2002 and 2006 Olympic medalist) followed in her footsteps and established herself as a top contender in the early 00s. With Their rivalry taking center stage on the domestic scene, more young ladies rose to the occasion and enjoyed international success, albeit not as grand as the former two, including Julia Soldatova (1999 World bronze medalist), Viktoria Volchkova (4x European bronze medalist) and Elena Sokolova (2003 World silver medalist).

This is a series of short portraits illustrating the careers of ladies who skated shortly before or during this hegemony but are hardly remembered by fans today. With totally different artistic styles and varying technical skills, they all had strong points in their skating, and could have risen to the occasion at one point. Today we take a look at Olga Markova.

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David Liu – One of the last true artists: An interview (Part I)

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During the late 80s and 90s very few male skaters ever displayed the same energy and light effortless elegance on the ice like David Liu of Taiwan did. Having first fallen in love with dance as a child and training as a classical ballet dancer, he had the perfect opportunity to translate the gifts of musicality and poise into each of his programs.

Throughout his long career on the international scene spanning from the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary up to the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, David Liu had the honor of being the very first skater to represent Chinese Taipei at international competition, as well as the first skater from that country to reach the final stage at the Olympics and Worlds, and win an international skating competition (1992 Nebelhorn Trophy). Despite not having his presentation talent properly appreciated by the international judges at the time due to the lack of political support, David is still remembered today by experienced fans as an exquisite artist who  instantaneously drew the crowd into his world, with his unforgettable performance at the 1992 Olympics being the crown jewel in his lengthy career.

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Ilia Klimkin, The greatest Russian figure skater that never was (Part I)

In the wild spectacle of elite sports, stars ascend quickly, shine brightly and fall down in an instant if they are not able to win big during the narrow window when their physical abilities are at their peak. Media and fans, hungry for thrill and eternally seeking new favorites to replace yesterday’s heroes, usually do not put much thought into this endless cycle. It is either a story of continuous undefeated success that sticks in the minds of the viewers, or a tale of defeating impossible odds to rise to the top. It is no wonder why these stories of overcoming adversity receive high coverage during the Olympics, with the emergence of the concept of athletes making miraculous comebacks to fulfill their “Olympic dream”.

And figure skating, like all sports, is a straightforward, simple and extremely cruel game: the most capable rise to the top, the less talented or lucky ones are easily replaceable both by their federations and in the eyes of the audience. Unfortunately, little attention do we pay to the fact that for every Yuna Kim, Yuzuru Hanyu or Evgeni Plushenko who garner and inspire countless dedicated fans with their astonishing abilities and competitive drive to beat all odds, there are thousands of equally amazing figure skaters who come painfully short of achieving their immense potential. A few of them live in the collective memory of the community as a cautionary tale for the dangers of the sport; the overwhelming majority end up a mere sporting statistic.

Ilia Klimkin is arguably one of the most talented figure skaters to ever come out of Russia – and probably one of the biggest wasted talents from there, and that says a lot for a country that prides itself on being one of the leading powers in the sport. He was almost up there with Evgeni Plushenko and Alexei Yagudin in terms of raw talent and artistry, but unlike the other two, he lives in the minds of figure skating aficionados today as a collection of a few faint fragmented memories. Yet, I am still to find a story which more beautifully illustrates the hypocrisy, unfairness and ultimate meaninglessness of elite sports on all sides, like the career of this largely forgotten skater does.

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Gone from the sport too soon: Jamie Silverstein

Jamie Silverstein and Justin Pekarek skating at the 1998 Junior Worlds. Photo credit: J. Barry Mittan

Competing in a discipline so dependent on visually pleasing aesthetics where graceful skaters effortlessly flow and fly together across the ice under enchanting rhythms, Jamie Silverstein and Justin Pekarek looked like they were poised to break through. Hailed as potential future world champions by Paul Duchesnay, among others, the young ice dance team swept audiences off their seats during their incredibly short career.

Back in 1999 – 2000, they were on the track of sporting success – equipped with superb skating skills, versatility, musicality and passion in their skating uncharacteristic for their tender age, Jamie and Justin made their senior debut following a very successful junior season. Fans and commentators alike were excited about the bright future prospects of the exceptionally talented and promising team. Little did they know, however, about the inner turmoil faced by Jamie at the time, and that the debut season would also be their last together…

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