Christie Jenkins

Insightful John Curry Documentary Has NY Premiere

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While British filmmaker James Erskine is too young to have seen legendary skater John Curry (1949-94) perform live, he had seen performances on television and was certainly aware of the artistic influence of the 1976 Olympic men’s gold medalist from Great Britain. After reading an article about Curry’s complicated life, he felt moved to bring the story to the screen.

“The idea of someone who had to win a gold medal to fulfill his artistic dreams seemed to me remarkable,” said Erskine. “Curry had to overcome these incredible odds to succeed on one level, and having succeeded parlayed that success onto another level.

“When that combined with his personal struggles and what was going on in New York in the early 1980s, it seemed to be a story worth telling,” he continued.

Erskine’s documentary film, The Ice King, debuted in the United Kingdom earlier this year. It had its U.S. premiere on Nov. 9 in New York City and is now available on iTunes. Among those in attendance at the premiere were several people featured in the film: Nathan Birch, Timothy Murphy, Cathy Foulkes, JoJo Starbuck, William Whitener and Meg Streeter Lauck.

Credit: Lois Elfman
JoJo Starbuck with filmmaker James Erskine. Credit Lois Elfman

Using archival interview footage, current interviews with friends and colleagues and at times Curry’s own words from letters written to friends and family, it depicts his struggles with the sport’s rigid style for male skaters and his desire to elevate skating’s artistry. It also details his extremely unhappy early home life and his search for love and affection throughout his life.

“I’m really interested in genius and how genius interacts with society and the struggle to express yourself and be permitted to be yourself,” said Erskine. “To reach for any artistic ideal is in itself a great challenge. When you add in somebody who grows up in a society and a family that rejects the right to be themselves, I thought there was great symmetry between the personal and the professional in Curry’s life that was moving and also resonates.”

The film shows bits and pieces of Curry’s amateur skating, which culminated with him winning European, Olympic and World titles in 1976. It delves deeply into Curry’s post-Olympic collaborations with dancers and choreographers such as Twyla Tharp, Peter Martins and Laura Dean as well as his own choreography. The Ice King includes some rarely seen footage, such as “Moonskate,” a melancholy masterpiece created for Curry by modern dance choreographer Eliot Feld.

“We wanted to construct the film around specific performances that were emblematic of his journey,” said Erskine. “He was a man who spent his life expressing himself on the ice. It would be correct to try and parallel that in his life story.”

Lauck’s mother, the late Nancy Streeter, welcomed Curry into their New York home in the early 1970s when Curry was floundering as a competitor. She encouraged Curry to not sway from his vision of bringing artistry to his programs.

“My mother encouraged him in some of the darkest times, and I think that’s where he drew strength. It was that deep faith she had in him that I believe was at the core that helped him bring his dreams to fruition,” said Lauck, who worked in TV production for more than two decades. As she directed skating broadcasts in the 90s and early 2000s, she saw Curry’s influence.

Two-time U.S. men’s champion and Olympic bronze medalist Scott Allen attended the premiere. “The film was a stunning example of the fusion of skating and art,” he said. “There was no higher example of that than John Curry.”

Following his golden season, Curry set about forming his own skating company. After debuting in London, he brought the company to the U.S. in 1978, performing for several weeks on Broadway at the Minskoff Theatre until it abruptly closed after Curry’s emotional breakdown during a show.

Credit: Lois Elfman
(l-r) Nathan Birch, Cathy Foulkes, William Whitener and Timothy Murphy participated in a Q&A after the film. Credit Lois Elfman

Several years later, after getting financial backing, Curry organized a company that spent time in Colorado rehearsing, toured internationally and ultimately had a triumphant run at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. An international tour commenced, but the show was plagued with financial issues as well as Curry’s desire to stop skating.

Three-time U.S. pairs champion, two-time Olympian, longtime professional skater Starbuck performed extensively with Curry, including originating the renowned “Tango, Tango” program choreographed by Martins, then a dancer with the New York City Ballet.

“It was a really special, magical time,” said Starbuck, after seeing The Ice King for the first time. “All of us came together and we were in this beautiful bubble. We got to perform in beautiful theaters with people who loved and appreciated what we were doing. We got to be part of John Curry’s vision. It was a magnificent ride.”

The film also focuses on Curry’s complex and often self-destructive romantic life. One former lover interviewed said Curry was always searching for love, but that often had a dark side.

“We wanted to get the truth and persuade the people [interviewed] about the emotional honesty of the film and that we wouldn’t speak of his private life in a prurient way,” said Erskine, who shared details of the film with Curry’s brother. “It was a sincere attempt to understand him and his world.”

Curry, who was outed by a journalist during the 1976 Olympic Winter Games, was diagnosed HIV-positive in 1987 and developed AIDS in 1991. He returned home to England and spent the final years of his life living with his mother.

Although it is nearly a quarter of a century since his death, his impact continues in contemporary men’s competitive skating, where skaters such as Patrick Chan of Canada, Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and Jason Brown of the U.S. move audiences with musicality, choreography and exquisite line.

Curry’s concept of ensemble skating and dance on ice continues with artistic skating companies such as the Next Ice Age, founded by Birch and Murphy, both of who were members of the cast at the Metropolitan Opera, and Ice Theatre of New York.

Birch and Murphy recently revived the piece that closed the film, “On the Beautiful Blue Danube,” which Curry choreographed for the Next Ice Age in 1990, as well as other Curry programs, “Tango, Tango” and “Skaters’ Waltz.” Curry never wanted anyone to restage his work, which they honored for decades, but The Ice King inspired them to show these programs to the world once again.

“It’s been wonderful,” said Birch. “The best thing of it is actually studying the dances themselves and the way he moved.”

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How to watch Olympic sports on NBC Sports this week

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Mikaela Shiffrin‘s pursuit of her 50th World Cup win highlights this week’s winter sports coverage on NBC Sports and Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

Shiffrin, with 48 World Cup wins, is slated to race two of the four women’s World Cup events this week — a giant slalom and slalom in Courchevel, France, on Friday and Saturday. She is sitting out a downhill on Tuesday and a super-G on Wednesday in Val Gardena, Italy.

Only Lindsey Vonn (82), Annemarie Moser-Pröll (62) and Vreni Schneider (55) have more World Cup wins among women. Vonn is out until January after injuring a knee in a November training crash.

Shiffrin, a two-time Olympic champion, has five wins in the first nine events this season, including the last three in a row. With a slalom win Saturday, she will tie childhood idol Marlies Schild for the female record in the discipline with 35 victories.

U.S. Olympians are also in action among biathlon, freestyle skiing, Nordic combined and snowboarding World Cups.

ALPINE SKIING WORLD CUP — Austria, France, Italy

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Tuesday 6:30 a.m. Women’s Super-G Olympic Channel NBC Sports Gold
Wednesday 4 a.m. Men’s Giant Slalom (Run 1) Olympic Channel | NBC Sports Gold
5:30 a.m. Women’s Super-G Olympic Channel NBC Sports Gold
7 a.m. Men’s Giant Slalom (Run 2) Olympic Channel | NBC Sports Gold
12:30 p.m.* Men’s Giant Slalom Olympic Channel
Thursday 4 a.m. Men’s Slalom (Run 1) Olympic Channel | NBC Sports Gold
7 a.m. Men’s Slalom (Run 2) Olympic Channel NBC Sports Gold
Friday 4:30 a.m. Women’s Giant Slalom (Run 1) Olympic Channel | NBC Sports Gold
7:30 a.m. Women’s Giant Slalom (Run 2) Olympic Channel NBC Sports Gold
12 p.m.* Women’s Giant Slalom NBCSN
Saturday 4:30 a.m. Women’s Slalom (Run 1) Olympic Channel | NBC Sports Gold
7:30 a.m. Women’s Slalom (Run 2) Olympic Channel NBC Sports Gold
9:45 a.m. Men’s Slalom (Run 1) Olympic Channel | NBC Sports Gold
12:30 p.m. Men’s Slalom (Run 2) Olympic Channel NBC Sports Gold
2:30 p.m.* Women’s Slalom NBCSN
Sunday 2:30 p.m.* Women’s GS and Slalom NBC

*Delayed broadcast
All races stream live on NBC Sports Gold for “Snow Pass” subscribers and will have a replay of the event. Click here for more info.

BIATHLON WORLD CUP — Nove Mesto, Czech Republic

Day Time (ET) Event TV Live stream
Thursday 11:30 a.m. Men’s 10km Sprint Olympic Channel | NBC Sports Gold
3 p.m.* Olympic Channel
Friday 11:30 a.m. Women’s 7.5km Sprint Olympic Channel | NBC Sports Gold
1 p.m.* NBCSN
Saturday 9 a.m. Men’s 12.5.km Pursuit Olympic Channel | NBC Sports Gold
11 a.m. Women’s 10km Pursuit Olympic Channel | NBC Sports Gold
2 p.m.* Men’s 12.5km Pursuit Olympic Channel
3 p.m.* Women’s 10km Pursuit Olympic Channel
6:30 p.m.* Men’s 12.5km Pursuit NBCSN
Sunday 5:45 a.m. Men’s 15km Mass Start Olympic Channel | NBC Sports Gold
8:30 a.m. Women’s 12.5km Mass Start Olympic Channel | NBC Sports Gold
1 p.m.* Men’s 15km Mass Start Olympic Channel
2 p.m.* Women’s 12.5km Mass Start Olympic Channel

*Same-day delay
All races stream live on NBC Sports Gold for “Snow Pass” subscribers and will have a replay of the event. Click here for more info.

FREESTYLE SKIING WORLD CUP — China, Italy

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Friday 7:20 a.m. Ski Cross Olympic Channel | NBC Sports Gold
10 p.m. Halfpipe Olympic Channel
Saturday 5:05 a.m. Ski Cross Olympic Channel | NBC Sports Gold

All events stream live on NBC Sports Gold for “Snow Pass” subscribers and will have a replay of the event. Click here for more info.

NORDIC COMBINED WORLD CUP — Ramsau, Austria

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 6 a.m. HS98 NBC Sports Gold
8:45 a.m. 10km NBC Sports Gold
Sunday 4:30 a.m. HS98 NBC Sports Gold
6:30 a.m. 10km NBC Sports Gold

All events stream live on NBC Sports Gold for “Snow Pass” subscribers and will have a replay of the event. Click here for more info.

SNOWBOARD WORLD CUP — China, Italy

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Thursday 8:30 p.m. Halfpipe Olympic Channel
12 a.m. Slopestyle Olympic Channel
Friday 5:30 a.m. Snowboard Cross Olympic Channel | NBC Sports Gold
Saturday 5:30 a.m. Snowboard Cross Olympic Channel | NBC Sports Gold

All races stream live on NBC Sports Gold for “Snow Pass” subscribers and will have a replay of the event. Click here for more info.

South Korea Olympic star alleges concussion, sabotage at hands of coach

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Shim Suk-Hee, an Olympic short track speed skating champion, said that her now-banned, ex-coach gave her a concussion that caused her to faint during the Olympics, according to South Korean media.

Shim’s former coach, Cho Jae-Beom, received a life ban from the Korean Skating Union and in September was sentenced to 10 months in jail for assaulting athletes between 2011 and 2018, according to the International Skating Union.

“Before the PyeongChang Olympics, he kicked and punched me so hard that I thought I was going to die,” a tearful Shim testified Monday in Cho’s trial appealing the sentence, according to a Yonhap News Agency translation. “I had a concussion afterward, and I fainted and fell down during the Olympics because of that.”

Cho was first suspended in January, less than a month before the PyeongChang Winter Games, after allegations arose. Shim reportedly said Monday that, among years of abuse, Cho secretly changed her skate blades before World Cup races leading up to the Olympics to improve the chances of another South Korean skater.

“When I was in fourth grade, I suffered broken fingers after getting struck by an ice hockey stick,” Shim said of Cho, whose attorneys called her allegations “preposterous,” according to Yonhap. “Once I got into middle school, he became even more violent. He dragged me into confined spaces to beat me up mercilessly, and other athletes suffered ruptured eardrums and other injuries.

“I hope he will be punished so severely so he won’t be able to do these things again.”

Shim earned relay gold medals at the last two Olympics, plus individual silver and bronze medals in Sochi. She was the 2014 World overall champion and the overall silver and bronze medalist the last two years.

She struggled in individual events in PyeongChang. In her lone final, she was disqualified after crashing with countrywoman Choi Min-Jeong on the last lap. Shim has a best individual finish of fourth in two World Cup stops this season.

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