Figure skaters recall odd gifts from fans

Figure skating gifts
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Michelle Kwan still has bags of stuffed animals, and she doesn’t know what to do with them.

The toys are mostly at least 10 years old, thrown on the ice by fans after her figure skating performances. Kwan believes the bags are collecting dust in the attic of her parents’ home.

“I think it’s a little too late to give stuffed animals [away to children] because they’re so old now,” Kwan said at a Figure Skating in Harlem gala in New York last week. “The kids will be like, ‘They make these still?’ … I don’t think kids would want to play with them anymore.”

Ardent figure skating fans go to competitions toting presents they heave on the ice after their favorite skaters perform. Whether the skater lands quadruple jumps or falls on a simple spin, they will receive lovely parting gifts.

Usually, children called “sweepers” gather the teddy bears, fake flowers, even candy for the skaters, who will sometimes pick up one or two items themselves on their way to the kiss-and-cry area.

It’s one of the sport’s unique traditions that grew more visible this past season, if one looked closely.

In January, U.S. Olympian Gracie Gold received a small stuffed sea creature at the U.S. Championships in Greensboro, N.C. Her coach, 76-year-old Frank Carroll, appeared to try to take a bite out of it while Gold waited for her scores.

In February, Gold carried a stuffed white bear about half her size to the kiss-and-cry area at the Four Continents Championship in Seoul. The bear wore a pink backpack, Gold opened it and pulled out a bag of Reese’s peanut butter cups while waiting for her judges’ scores.

The world’s most popular skater, Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, is known to have a Winnie-the-Pooh tissue box with him at competitions.

In March, gold and red Pooh bears rained on the ice at the World Championships in Shanghai, China, following Hanyu’s short program. At least 10 sweepers required minutes to clean the surface.

Hanyu’s friendly rival, Spain’s Javier Fernandez, was scheduled to skate after Hanyu in the next day’s long program.

“I’m going to skate around [the bears] and try not to kill myself,” Fernandez reportedly said then.

Active and retired U.S. skaters agreed that Japanese fans are on their own level.

“There’s adoration, and then there’s that,” 1992 Olympic silver medalist Paul Wylie said. “It’s like worship almost. I think that would be overwhelming for a skater. That is pressure.”

Wylie competed in the pre-sweepers era.

“You would go around, and you would take probably two to three minutes and then greet anyone who was giving you a rose or something like that,” he said. “People wouldn’t throw them. They would stand at the edge of the barrier, and then the skater would come by and have this meet and greet. Based on that, it was taking too long.”

Wylie’s account conjures this Coca-Cola commercial from the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympics:

“Back in the ’90s, it was popular to do flowers, which I don’t think they allow anymore because of the debris,” 1992 Olympic champion Kristi Yamaguchi said.

In 2001, U.S. Figure Skating banned flowers “in part because of safety concerns related to the Sept. 11 attacks and subsequent anthrax scares,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

“Sept. 11 made the U.S. Figure Skating Assn. move up a decision it was already going to make,” said Larry Kriwanek, chair of the Los Angeles 2002 U.S. Figure Championships organizing committee, according to the report. “Flowers were going to be eliminated. It was just a question of when.”

That did little to quell fans’ creativity.

“We sometimes will get stuffed animals made in custom costumes to match what we’re wearing,” Sochi Olympic ice dance champion Meryl Davis said, referring to partner Charlie White and herself.

Davis remembered as a child watching Kwan skate, and seeing the stream of stuffed animals being thrown by people sitting around her. But she said she’s never thrown a gift on the ice for another skater.

There’s difficulty in deciding which items to squeeze into luggage for the flight home. The others usually go to children’s hospitals.

“It’s tough to leave stuff behind, because you know that people are going out of their way to give it to you,” Davis said. “Usually in Japan, you get the most.”

Sasha Cohen, the 2006 Olympic silver medalist, received marriage proposals and, once in Paris, a bunch of Cashmere sweaters. She made sure to find room for them on her return flight.

“I may have worn them back,” she said.

The 1988 Olympic bronze medalist Debi Thomas once received a box of Domino’s Pizza. Canadian Olympic silver medalists Elvis Stojko and Patrick Chan have both said they received lingerie.

“The panties came out on the ice after my short program,” Stojko said in 2010, according to ESPN.com, “and the top came out the next night after the long program, with a phone number and name attached.”

Kwan, a nine-time U.S. champion, still has a buttoned, navy blue figure skating outfit with a skirt tossed by a fan.

“And it actually fit,” she said. “When I was a kid, I was 13 [years old] at Nationals, I used to keep every single toy. The next year, I got the same amount of stuffed animals, if not more, and I said, ‘What am I going to do with them?'”

Kwan said that, as a young spectator, she once threw a stuffed rabbit on the ice for Tisha Walker, a late 1980s and early 1990s U.S. skater.

Evan Lysacek, the 2010 Olympic champion, said he’s received a bobblehead of himself, among stranger things.

“I got a self-sufficient ecosystem with a statue of me in the middle, so if the earth ever like came to an end, you could open this up, and the earth would regrow again from the center of this ecosystem with a statue of me,” he said.

Wylie remembered a famous fan story from the late 1980s, when he skated on a tour that visited Milan.

The star of the show was East German Katarina Witt, the 1984 and 1988 Olympic champion. Wylie noticed a famous spectator, Italian Alpine skier Alberto Tomba.

“Tomba was kind of after her, you know,” Wylie said of the man-about-town, five-time Olympic medalist. “He came into the boys locker room and noticed that there was this mound of flowers that we had sort of set there because they were going to go to the hospital or whatever. He kind of second-hand picked up the flower and gave it to Katarina.”

Was the gift well-received?

“She kind of liked him, I think,” Wylie said, smiling. “I think it worked.”

Yevgeny Plushenko to return to figure skating competition

Valencia Marathon produces historic times in men’s, women’s races

2022 Valencia Marathon
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Kenyan Kelvin Kiptum and Ethiopian Amane Beriso won the Valencia Marathon and became the third-fastest man and woman in history, respectively.

Kiptum, a 23-year-old in his marathon debut, won the men’s race in 2 hours, 1 minute, 53 seconds. The only men to ever run faster over 26.2 miles are legends: Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge (2:01:09 world record, plus a 2:01:39) and Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele (2:01:41).

Kipchoge made his marathon debut at age 28, and Bekele at 31.

Beriso, a 31-year-old whose personal best was 2:20:48 from January 2016, stunned the women’s field Sunday by running 2:14:58. The only women to have run faster: Kenyans Brigid Kosgei (2:14:04) and Ruth Chepngetich (2:14:18).

Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey finished second in 2:16:49, the fastest-ever time for a woman in her marathon debut. Gidey is the world record holder at 5000m and 10,000m.

Valencia is arguably the top annual marathon outside of the six World Marathon Majors. The next major marathon is Tokyo on March 5.

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Aleksander Aamodt Kilde wins Beaver Creek downhill

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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde won his second straight World Cup downhill race to start the season, despite feeling under the weather.

Although dealing with an illness all week in training, Kilde powered through the challenging Birds of Prey course Saturday in a time of 1 minute, 42.09 seconds. It was enough to hold off Marco Odermatt of Switzerland by 0.06 seconds. James Crawford of Canada was third to earn his second career World Cup podium finish.

Kilde also won the opening downhill last weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta.

“It’s been a tough week,” Kilde said after the race. “I caught the flu in Lake Louise after a very, very nice weekend. It really hit me hard. Then I got a couple of days to rest and take it easy. … I felt OK. Still feeling it a little bit in my system.”

The Beaver Creek crew members had the course in solid shape a day after a downhill race was canceled due to high wind and snowfall.

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Kilde reached speeds around 75 mph in picking up his eighth World Cup downhill victory. That tied him with Kjetil Jansrud for the third-most downhill wins in the World Cup discipline among Norwegian men. The total trails only Aksel Lund Svindal (14) and Lasse Kjus (10).

“I found a really, really good set-up with my equipment and also with my skiing,” Kilde explained. “I believe in myself. I trust in myself. I have a good game plan. When I stand on the start, I don’t dwell on anything. I know that this plan is what I do and when I do that it’s going to be fast.”

Odermatt has been on the podium in all four World Cup races this season as he tries to defend his overall World Cup title. The 25-year-old finished third in the opening downhill of the season last weekend. He’s also won a giant slalom race and a super-G.

Ryan Cochran-Siegle wound up in seventh place for the top American finish. He was ninth in the downhill in Lake Louise.

“It’s been solid,” Cochran-Siegle said of his strides in the discipline. “A couple of little things here and there that pushed me off that top three. You have to ski with a lot of intensity and ski without abandon, in a sense. Today was a good step.”

Switzerland’s Beat Feuz, who won the Olympic downhill gold medal at the Beijing Games last February, tied for ninth.

The Beaver Creek stop on the circuit comes to a close Sunday with a super-G race. Odermatt will be the favorite after holding off Kilde in the opening super-G last weekend.

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