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.

The innate grace and crispness of his movement drew comparisons to John Curry from TV commentators. Tony Wheeler, a prolific blogger and longtime skating fan who formerly curated the long-running Flutzing Around blog and currently hosts the Skate Talk Online podcast, once described Liu as “The most underrated skater of all time – light years ahead of the field in terms of presentation ” (2013 Skate Guard interview).

“I think he was way ahead of his time in the sense that he really developed his programs and was able to tell the stories in his movement. That was not something you saw often during that era,” Wheeler comments with regards to Liu. “In his 1992 SP to The Mission, for example, we see a lot of the intricate details that are present nowadays under IJS – the extended landing on the Axel, the glorious positions in his camel spins and the variations in his other spins, the movement and exact rise and fall to the music, the one-foot step sequence where he was still able to relax his body and sell it, ending the program with a jump. Skaters now are working out the perfect plans to check the boxes. But there weren’t any boxes back then. He did this all in a time when we hardly saw any variation to anything, and it really wasn’t respected.”

David Liu was one of the few skaters who not only presented a completely different vision in the sport but were there to also make you fall in love with figure skating as a timeless, ethereal form of art.

Following his retirement, David enjoyed a prolific career as a show skater and choreographer, being active both in figure skating and dance. In addition to giving lessons and workshops worldwide for years, he has also collaborated on multiple projects including the Ice Theater of New York, Holiday on Ice, major television specials like Kurt Browning’s Gotta Skate, Divas on Ice with Katarina Witt and PBS’ An Evening with Champions, among others. He has choreographed programs for skating legends like Brian Boitano, Lu Chen, Midori Ito and Rosalynn Summers. Additionally, Liu was noted as being one of the first persons to bring the spotlight on now two-time world champion Nathan Chen when in 2010 he invited the 10-year old Chen to perform the head role in a series of ice spectacles in China titled WIWA The Ice Show.

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Competitive Achievements:

3x Olympian (1988 Calgary, 1992 Albertville, 1998 Nagano)

9x World Championship participant

1992 Nebelhorn Trophy winner

1991 Piruetten and 1992 St. Gervais Silver medalist

First male singles skater to represent Taiwan at the Olympic Games and World Figure Skating Championship (1988)

First and only male skater from Taiwan to reach the final stage of the Olympic Games (17th in 1992) and a World Championship (21st in 1994)

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Claudia De Leeuw. How did you get into figure skating and what made you realize that this was your sport?

David Liu. I was born in Taiwan and I have two brothers and two sisters; they’re all older than me. My sisters danced and my mom used to go and pick them up from ballet classes; she would also take me along and that is how I fell in love with dancing – it was my first love.

When I was around six, my family emigrated to USA and my parents were too busy to take me to dance classes. However, we lived near a park that had an outdoor rink during the winter time. I saw figure skaters out there spinning around and jumping – it all looked like dance to me and I really kind of fell in love with it and begged my parents for lessons because we lived so close to the park.

This was very convenient and also a good way for me to spend my time  so I started skating without any lessons in the beginning. I think I managed to learn up to the single axel on my own – of course it wasn’t a proper technique but I just loved to skate on my own. I then received some lessons and things worked out from there.

C. So it was love at first sight for you?

D. Yes, almost. Dance was my first true love but then skating kind of intrigued me and once I did it, I got so much joy out of it that I realized that this was truly what I wanted to do.

C. How did you decide to get more serious about the sport and what were your aspirations in the beginning? Did you ever dream of being a World or Olympic Champion?

D. At the time, it was funny because there were the Olympic Games, but very early on I didn’t really know anything about the Olympics. Additionally, when growing up in Taiwan, skating was not a popular sport. But Dorothy Hamill was the big rage back then, she was always on TV, being in commercials…

It was kind of in my psyche but I didn’t really understood it; I just loved skating, jumping and going fast – I wanted to fly. And slowly, progress is built – once you learn one jump, you want to learn more, then you move to more difficult jumps and it all builds on.

I was very fortunate to have really wonderful coaches who took an interest in me. At the time my family wasn’t well off at all so we couldn’t really afford that many lessons. Many of the coaches gave me extra time so they really helped nurture my development and then it just kind of went from there.

At one point there was a coach who really wanted to coach me and asked my parents if they would be willing to let me stay with them and skate. I did that from the age of 10 to about 12 ,so roughly almost 3 years – that’s when I got more competitive. But then skating just became so expensive: if you can imagine, in my family there’s five of us five kids and my dad’s health wasn’t very good so there was a lot of financial burden on my mother.

When I was around 12, my family couldn’t afford it any longer so my mom suggested that I go back into dance since it was my first love. So during the summer I took a course. Because of skating I had the benefit of knowing how to jump and turn, therefore it all felt very natural to me. Then I auditioned for the School of American Ballet in New York and was able to receive a full scholarship, both academically and for ballet. It was a very competitive ballet school and I was there from the age of 12 to about 16-17. During those years I didn’t skate.

C. At the New York City School of American Ballet you did remarkably well: you were quickly promoted to first special class and you even had the chance to work with George Balanchine, is that correct?

D. Well, Mr. Balanchine at that time was already very old but he still came to our classes. He didn’t really teach us at that point though, since his health was getting worse but he would come and lecture us on things that didn’t relate much to dance –  he would tell us that we needed money for shoes, he would tell us not to eat the hot dogs from the hot dog stand, funny stuff like that… But of course, he is such a legend and so revered by everyone that we just felt very lucky to be in his presence and even to be noticed, so it was an honor for us.

I was very lucky to have been chosen and even though he did not teach us that much, I had really great teachers at the school who paid a lot of attention to my development as a dancer.

C. It is really astonishing that even though you had a 5-year break away from skating, you still managed to come back and have such a lengthy career, making 3 Olympic appearances. Not many figure skaters can say that. How did the intensive ballet training help you for the next step in your career – how did it improve your skating and were there any drawbacks?

D. This is a good question. There are some obvious things everyone can learn from dance – understanding your body, the classic lines, a bit about performance. But for me, personally, dance and theater  provided a different perspective: I found it unusual translating dancing into skating, especially the musicality and sensitivity as well as the physical sensations and images that you create with your body – it all came with the help of my previous dancing experience.

It was very challenging at times because in skating, as you probably can tell, there is so much emphasis on the technical aspect so you’re always pushing the boundaries of difficulty. This is really exciting, of course, but in theater and dance technique, while also important, is a means to an end rather than the end itself.

Sometimes, in skating, it feels as if the technical elements themselves are the ultimate ends rather than the technique itself being a means to show a certain expression or a way to tell a story and elicit any kind of emotion and excitement from the audience.

I would say that there are also amazing skaters that are doing all these technical feats while still being able to show a lot of creativity – this is a very, very difficult thing to do in skating. It was a big challenge for me because when so much was stressed on the technical part, you sometimes lose the joy and the expression to communicate to your audience. Some may disagree, of course, but that is how I saw it.

When competing, the advantages that I had were the very clean lines and how I utilized my body and physical expression; I’ve read a lot of things that were written about me – some were true, some not. Yes, I did struggle with nerves a lot because in skating, it feels as if you are under the microscope – you’re the only one out there in that huge, huge,space and sometimes the fun of it can be lost.

I’m a practicing psychotherapist now and I understand better the mental framework in which an athlete needs to be, as well as how it is paramount to their performance. There was not a lot of focus on psychology when I was competing though. While people today are using  sports psychology more and more, I find it still very textbook oriented and not so much case by case, where you can understanding the skater themselves and find ways to help them combat personal challenges.

In short, in competitive skating,  there were times when it was very joyful and wonderful, when everything clicked, but then there were also times when it was very difficult to navigate that kind of arena.

An early perfrmance by David.

C. I think figure skating, unlike other sports, let’s say track and field or swimming, is just so much more demanding in terms of the versatility of physical qualities that the skater must possess; but also during a program, there’s so much to keep track of, so many elements and components. I agree that artistic aspects such as the overall beauty, the ability to tell a story, to blend with the music can get lost among the jumps.

I’m not a skater myself but I guess that in a competitive program it requires a lot of effort, both physical and mental, to set up and land all jumps properly. With all the focus on them, we not only end up with too many programs looking similar but since those elements have such high payoff, it seems it is also difficult for skaters to be in the right set of mind where they can incorporate the presentation into the program equally and do their best artistically.

D. I agree, I do love technique as well and it is fun to perfect your technical elements and use them as a means to an end.

But in skating it always felt so unusual. How should I say, it is a very high pressure environment and  I think if you are well prepared mentally and have that type of competitive personality, it can really work for you. I’ve kind of made my peace about that. But there were times when I performed really well in practices but during the competition, because I desired so much and wanted to do even better, I would put in even more effort or try too hard and that would ruin my timing.

It’s a simple kind of concept but it is much easier to grasp in hindsight. Sometimes you have the pressure of your association, the country you’re representing or people that you don’t want to let down, so there is a lot happening.

I give so much credit to the skaters that are doing that now and I can’t imagine doing all of these quads at once – it does begin to kind of look similar at the end unfortunately. I haven’t spent much time watching skating, partly because of the direction my career has taken, but sometimes, when watching, it does feel like the same thing over and over again, with the exception of a few skaters. I don’t know how skating will continue to develop but I hope it it does make some shifts, and well, changes seem inevitable.

C. About the mental aspect: I have not been an athletic competitor myself but I can imagine it must be very, very difficult and I have deep respect and admiration for all the skaters who just go there and perform, even if they have a poor skate.

In such environments it is essential to be in the right spot mentally – you can’t be too nervous or too insecure, or overconfident and too relaxed, you just have to be in that very specific right spot. But things don’t don’t always work out and sometimes not everything is even dependent on you. With jumps, even the smallest lapse or imperfection can throw your entire timing off.

D. And also, there’s a lot of things that people don’t see behind the scenes, like injuries, for example.

C. That as well, sadly.

D. For me the towards the last two or three years of my career, it was just a lot of those things happening.

I had a very terrible accident in China where I was in the hospital for two weeks. I basically collided with a Korean skater at full speed because the rink was so foggy, it was during the change of seasons between spring and summer in China.

I had gone over there because they had wanted me to do a little, should I say, trade-off where they would help me with technique, and I would help
some of their skaters a bit artistically. So I went there, and it was at the beginning of my stay – the rink got so foggy but all the Chinese skaters were used to it. I went out there but then, as luck would have it, I collided and then was in the hospital for two weeks. I had to have reconstructive surgery on my lip – basically I split it open and my teeth were loose – it was just the most horrifying thing that I had happen to me while skating. That happened about a year and a half before the last Olympics that I went to in Nagano. Prior to the accident I had been skating really well and after that happened, I had to climb back from the bottom.

For me, personally, making it even to Nagano was an incredible accomplishment because my native country Taiwan didn’t have another skater. I felt a lot of pressure as a result, so it was kind of a mixed and bittersweet experience. I did manage to recover and get myself to a pretty good condition. But then again, during the performance, I wanted so much and am not sure if I either overdid it or underdid it, but again, it didn’t feel like it was my normal way of performing. As a result, I didn’t make it to the finals there.

After those Olympics I just pretty much wanted to take a huge break from skating and I went back into theater – I studied some acting, and then went back into dance. And that was a totally different journey in my life –  so I feel like I’ve had many lives, just like cats. You know, they have nine lives, and I think, I’ve had maybe five of them so far, haha.

C. Agree, many people take sports for a granted enterntainment without considering the toll it takes on the athletes’ bodies. Injuries, both overuse ones and the ones sustained in accidents like what you experienced, are extremely common and I have a feeling that sometimes fans and coaches expect skaters to operate like machines and perform at 100% no matter what, without thinking about their physical or mental wellbeing. How did you personally experience the recovery process from the injury , and how did you feel the next time you stepped on the ice at a figure skating competition?

D. I had some major competitions after the injury – Worlds 1997, for example, where I needed to place top 24 in order to qualify spots for my country. I was still recovering at the time and didn’t manage to achieve this finish but still wanted to give it a try.

Actually, Surya Bonaly and her mother, they were very kind to me. The injury had also brought me cosmetic problems – because I had split my lip open, I couldn’t get reconstructive surgery done right away because the scarring had to heal first. I had to wait at least a year before I could do that. Now, thinking back, I think I was crazy, I should have just said “No!” but when you’re young and determined, your mind is set on doing this, you can’t give up.

So Surya and her mom, they said to me “Why don’t you come and stay with us and train up here, we’ll set you up and try to get to Worlds?”, so I stayed with them in the French mountains. It is a very emotional memory –  being up in that mountain was very lonely because basically I didn’t want to see anyone, I didn’t want anyone to see me, the way that I looked, I didn’t want to smile. I think it took a lot of personal courage but at the end I still managed to get to Switzerland. I didn’t perform well – I forgot what place I came in but it was pretty much down in the bottom.

However, my trip to Worlds that year gave me an opportunity to go to another competition because a lot of the skaters who qualified for the Olympics – their countries wanted to use the funding allocated to them for other sports because they felt they would gain more possibilities to medal. It was horrible that they didn’t want to send their skaters but that opened up spots and since I was able to go to that qualifying competition, it allowed me the opportunity to get a spot. I think the competition itself was in Vienna – I did pretty well there, better than I did at the Worlds. So in a way, the trip to the World Championship was a blessing in disguise and opened more doors ahead.

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C. Once you were done with ballet school, how did you decide to transfer back to figure skating?

D. The ballet world was fascinating because I got to meet and be in the presence of incredible artists and legends, like Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolph Nureyev – they used to come and give classes. I had the opportunity to perform in several ballets with New York City Ballet such as The Nutcracker and a few others.

It was a lot of fun because people weren’t so uptight and you didn’t always have to be so perfect, even though dance has its own set of expectations and ideals. But in terms of creativity, dance offers so much more freedom than figure skating. I really loved it and think my skating training helped me a lot to advance fast through the classes. For the boys, we didn’t have that many different levels: there was basically a children’s level, intermediate level, advanced and then the special class.

At about 15 I felt very unhappy because there weren’t that many further options. Girls have the chance to get a job with a ballet company earlier but for boys it takes a bit longer, and it is normal. But at such an early age your mindset does not see it this way, and there were no counselors or therapists, or any kind of emotional support at the time. I felt like I wasn’t improving and that there weren’t many opportunities for me. In addition, my frame is short and light and I knew that it would be very difficult to become a principal dancer with such a stature. I would probably have had the chance to be a soloist; looking back there were plenty of opportunities I was not knowledgeable about at the time but height still limits you.

Anyway, I was feeling depressed at that time and my skating coach had also re-approached me and said: “You know, now you have all this great dance training, why don’t you come back and try a little bit of skating ,and see how it goes?” So, during my last year at School of American Ballet, I was secretly also going skating and I kind of slowly made my way back. Then, after finishing ballet school, I decided to go back into competitive skating.

I had jumped ship now, so to say. Even though the ballet school I attended was a very elite one, I was now back in figure skating and had a lot of catching up to do. At first, I started appearing at regional US competitions. In my first US Nationals, I placed 14th. It was at that time that my country of origin, Taiwan, had started to recruit its first Olympic team. Since Taiwan has a subtropical climate, skating was not so well developed there, so at the time I thought this was a great opportunity for me to do the shortcut and get on the Olympic team and represent my native country.

C. So it was an easy decision for you to represent Taiwan?

D. There were disadvantages to doing that too because as a skating association at the time, we didn’t have much support on the scene – we didn’t have a judge, we didn’t have a team leader, there was no training program, the funding was little.

But this also gave me was opportunity to compete internationally, whereas in the US, ranked 14th, I could still get some internationals but not first tier international competitions. It was not like “Boom, okay, I’ll do this immediately!”, it took a little while to take that decision but I weighed the benefits and costs and knew what I wanted – to take a step out internationally, see the world and go to the Olympics. And this was a great opportunity which allowed me to achieve all of this.

C. Growing up and also during your skating career, were there any skaters that you looked up to and that inspired you, besides Dorothy Hamill?

D. John Curry. He had an ice dancing company and one of my coaches, JoJo Starbuck, was a member of it at some point. He also taught me very briefly. John was a very unusual skater for his time, in the way he conveyed sensitivity in his skating, he was so expressive on the ice. For me, his style was very inspiring.

As for other skaters – I really like appreciating different things about skating and different styles, so it is difficult to mention specific names. I do like watching skaters like Paul Wiley and Jeffrey Buttle, for example, who both look so beautiful on the ice, but there are many more.

C. Can you tell me a bit more about studying with John Curry?

D. l very lucky to have had the chance to work with him. He is very particular and he really sees the details but not only in a way a skater would but also through a dancer’s perspective – he also studied ballet and at one point he wanted to become a ballet dancer.

It was easy to understand him and really wonderful to study with him but also a little scary because his personality sometimes can be quite British. I know I’m using stereotypes here but he could sometimes come across as being remote and not very approachable. If you put it in simpler words, he could look cold at times. But he was very nice to me and I learned some very fine details of skating from him. The period we spent together was short though – he was in New York only for a few months.

C. Speaking about training with coaches and choreographers, during your competitive career you have had the chance to work with different coaches, among which Sonya Dunfield, Toller Cranston, Jojo Starbuck… what was it like working with each of them and what did you learn? How did you apply this knowledge during your skating career and later when working as a choreographer?

D. Well, they were all such unique people and I feel what I have learned the most in skating does not necessarily always come from the greatest technical coach that can get that result out of you.. I mean, for some skaters this works great, but I think a lot has to do with the relationship and the rapport, how you communicate, whether you really feel this person is on your side… I think, because of my dance training, I have had this mentality of “I’m going to learn something from everyone, all the teachers that I study with”.

A lot of people at the time would ask me: “Why are you going to so many different coaches, it’s not good to do that, you should just stick with one that works best with you!”. And there’s some truth to that statement but for me, I always had a very curious mind, I wanted to always know if there is another way of doing things better. And I also suffered a bit from that because I was the type of person who, if I went to someone, I would really want to do everything they asked me wholeheartedly. Changing techniques many times is time-consuming, may lead to injuries and sometimes the results didn’t work. It was like an experiment and through this process I learned who was more in tune to my type of skating, who I could communicate with – so I’ve tried to take something from all the coaches I have been to and I’ve learned something from all of them.

Sonya, for example, was a very nurturing coach, very motherly. Jojo, she was amazing: there are coaches who are technical teachers and then there are those who coach you to prepare you in the right mental frame of mind, who have a great attitude and help your work ethic – she was like that. I’m grateful that I can say I’ve had the chance to work with different coaches with different expertise.

The relationships are also interesting because the dynamic changes. For example, I also had the chance to work for a while with Frank Carroll, who is a very amazing, world-renowned coach but I certainly didn’t have the same kind of relationship that he had with Michelle Kwan, nor the kind of attention that he paid to her. You can’t force those things, so it taught me a lot about relationships and then also finding what works best for you.

C. What was working with Toller Cranston like?

D. (Laughs) I think that if you interview many people about Toller, that would be the first reaction – they would just laugh. He was really nice, he was unique, one-of-a-kind – he definitely marched to his own drum. He was an artist, temperamental, emotional, generous, selfish, crazy, insightful, full of contradictions…

It’s hard to describe him with a single experience because there were times I couldn’t stand him, and there were certain times that I was like, I’m so grateful to him, so I saw the good and the bad of Toller. But at the end, I would have to say he was a very unique human being and I feel really privileged to have known him. He contributed to my career in many ways. But as a coach, his personality was very difficult – it requires another person who needs exactly what he can provide them, and for me, it wasn’t a match. It didn’t give me the consistency and the steadiness that I needed but certainly he was a lot of fun – he was hilarious and always had amazing stories to tell.

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C. You have had the chance to go to three Olympic Games – 1988 in Calgary, 1992 in Albertville and Nagano 1998. Can you talk a bit about your experiences there?

D. It is difficult to compare to anything else in your life because it’s a really special thing to achieve.  In 1988 the Calgary Games, it was like a dream, your first Olympic Games! I was really new on the international scene, I think I had only competed at one international competition before, at NHK Trophy, and then went to the Olympic Games. It just happened like a whirlwind. I was very nervous during the competition but I remember after competing I had such a wonderful time.

Calgary was super cold and it was really easy to get sick. I remember it was that time when your immune system is really worn down so I was just trying to stay away from getting a cold, that was  a lot on my mind. I also remember there were school figures and I was always very nervous about them. I don’t really remember much about the opening ceremonies in Calgary; I do remember the closing ceremonies, though, where everyone traded their uniforms and pins. It was a fantastic introduction to the international world. Everything was very unreal because you never have so many different sports in one place.

After the Calgary Olympics, going to another competition just pales in comparison because of the magnitude of the games – you have all the teammates from all the different sports in one place at one moment, and then, let’s say, you go to the World Championships –  even though it is big, it’s just the skating world there.

Albertville, I would say, is the highlight of my career: I was training really well, I was in a really good frame of mind, I knew what to expect and what to look out for. Now I was no longer a rookie and I could go there and really enjoy all the perks, knew where to get the free stuff – in Calgary I didn’t know a thing! I had a very good performance and the whole atmosphere felt so magical: my friends and family were able to be there, my association, all teammates from the other sports came to root for me, it was just amazing.

And then the French really knew how to put on an opening and closing ceremony even though they may not have been so great with security and the organization. But they were amazing in the artistic sense – it was marvelous to watch the ceremonies and I remember the fireworks after the closing lasted for so long, maybe over half an hour. I also gained some recognition that I didn’t really even expect or realize. Through that experience I got to meet people who actually helped a bit and sponsored me for some time. Paul Simon’s manager was one of them. It was a really rewarding experience and brought a lot.

I already talked about Nagano – most of the battle was just about getting there, so it was bittersweet. Even though I did not perform so well, I was still able to have a nice experience. I loved Japan, it was a very beautiful place and through the years I built up a really wonderful fan base there that was so lovely and came to support me, so that was very touching. Generally, I would say I have very good memories from there and feel very lucky.

C. How does it feel to skate your program in front of millions of viewers at an event of such magnitude?

D. In Albertville, I have to say my program wasn’t perfect, I had skated it even better in practices but I felt like I did well. I was happy with the way I performed and didn’t allow so much of the negative thoughts of pressure or fear to get to me. I was well prepared and in good condition, so it felt amazing: I was in the moment and wasn’t worried about whether I got applause or not. Of course, I wanted to get a good ranking but I wasn’t doing it for the marks, I just wanted to go out and do what I could do and really express myself. The French audience was amazing – they gave me a standing ovation which left me speechless; I felt really warm, supported and appreciated like never before.

In Calgary, it was a bit scary and it happened so fast, like I said, I was just trying to get through it. In Japan the fans were so great and this made the whole experience so special. If you have watched competitions, you can see how Japanese fans always go way beyond what you would ever expect – they would  shower you with gifts and make big posters. I did not skate as well as I wanted to, so I felt that in some ways maybe I let them down but they were still so supportive.

For the moment, when you’re out there and you’re in a good physical condition, you’re in the moment, you don’t think of anything other than how you’re expressing yourself at that very second , how you blend with the music… but when things aren’t going well, there’s this kind of mental battle, at least for me, of trying to stay on target, trying not to think of anything else. We are human, we sometimes can feel like we let ourselves down but then we still have to continue the fight and try to do our best – I don’t know if there is another way to describe this.

C. Besides the Olympic Games, are there any other competitions that are particularly memorable for you?

D. It’s funny that you mentioned that because after the Olympics in 1992, the World Championships was very disappointing. I didn’t get to go – there were some politics in my association and they sent another skater without giving me any reason. That was a real jump to reality about how powerless you feel sometimes when you feel like you’ve earned your spot and then it’s taken away from you. It felt like a very costly missed opportunity because in figure skating, when you are on a good track and you’ve had a good run, you want to ride that further because then the judges at the next competition are much more in favor of you, especially if you are from a small country. I was on a good track back then but because I wasn’t given that opportunity, I felt quite angry.

Anyway, I trained really hard during that summer and I went to the grand prix at that time, which was St. Gervais in France and then Oberstdorf for the Nebelhorn Trophy. That summer was just magical in terms of the weather and the beauty of the surrounding mountains. At those competitions in Germany and France my skating was really at its peak, I think. I felt like I couldn’t miss a jump and everything was just really clicking.

I finished second at St. Gervais and then I won Nebelhorn Trophy – for me this was a huge feat because I had not ever placed first at an international competition, and coming from Taiwan, I was the first from my country to do that so it felt really satisfying. It was a magical moment that I will always remember – it wasn’t just one great event, it was back-to-back competitions, so it was a very special moment for me.

C. What about the World Championships you have been to?

D. Yes, 1994 Worlds in Chiba! I had switched to a fairly new coach, his name was Tim Wood, and he had been working really hard with me. It was actually a very tough experience because he was a very demanding coach but he pushed me a lot technically and in terms of the speed and quality of my skating. We had gone to that competition and because at the time I was training in Lake Arrowhead, California, which was up in the mountains, it felt very secluded and I hadn’t gone to many internationals that year.

I remember it was the short program, I went out there and I skated; I didn’t think I did particularly great, nor bad – it just felt normal. However, the response I got was quite surprising – people congratulated me so much, and I was like “Oh, I didn’t really think it was that great!” But thinking back about that, I think there was a real shift in my technical abilities –  I was trying to do my triple axel at the time, and finally I did get it! And then I went to Canada and studied with Toller Cranston, and slowly my triple axel disappeared. (laughs)

But with Tim’s help, I made some real strides and at that competition, the response was really great and although I don’t think generally I did that well there (I don’t even remember what place I got at the end), I had a very a good performance and it felt really exciting.

(To be continued…)

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