Lois Elfman

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Bradie Tennell eating up the Yuletide spirit before prepping for defense of national title

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Reigning U.S. ladies’ champion and 2018 Olympian Bradie Tennell is filled with Christmas spirit. Her family’s tree is up and decorated, she has her Christmas pajamas ready, and most of her gift shopping has been done.

“We have a Christmas Eve tradition where my mom always makes crepes,” said Tennell. “She fills them with applesauce. She asks if we want cinnamon applesauce or regular applesauce. Everyone always wants cinnamon apple sauce. So, we end up eating the regular applesauce with spoons out of dishes.”

Crepe preparation takes about two hours. By the time it’s finished, some are cold, so they warm them up in the oven. The family watches a Christmas movie together while eating the crepes. Tennell, 20, is the oldest of three kids. Brother Austin is 19 and Shane is 17. For Christmas day, Tennell is going to try and make a pumpkin pie.

Some skaters move away to train, but Tennell has been able to live at home with her family while training at the elite level. She considers herself fortunate to have her mother and brothers present in her daily life.

“It’s played a huge part,” she said. “My family is so important to me. All these traditions shape who you are as a person. Being able to hear about my brothers’ days at school every day or go to my mom with a random topic, like a problem, even some funny story that happened that day, it’s been really awesome. I’m so grateful I have the resources here to be able to live at home.”

The Christmas Eve crepes and a movie is strictly for Tennell, her mother and brothers. She doesn’t have a favorite Christmas movie and admitted she hasn’t yet seen classics like White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life, but said she’s going to check them out.

Tennell’s mother, Jean, is a nurse, but she makes it a point to not work on Christmas Eve. “She’s really proactive about making sure she’s home on Christmas Eve because both we’re huge Christmas fans,” said Tennell. “We love Christmas.”

The Christmas tree went up the weekend after Tennell got home from Internationaux de France. She caught up on TV shows while decorating the tree.

“Putting the tree up is a big task, but my favorite part of Christmas is coming home and seeing the tree every day,” said Tennell. “I learned how to put up the Christmas tree from my mom, obviously. My favorite part is she always puts so many lights on, so the tree is bright and beautiful. Over the years, I’ve collected quite a few skate ornaments, so you can always tell which ornaments are mine.”

She brought a couple of ornaments back from her recent trip to Golden Spin of Zagreb, which she won. Tennell also does some of her Christmas shopping during her skating travels. Shopping overseas enables her to find new and unusual things.

“You’ve got all these really unique gifts for people,” she said. “It’s really fun for me to give my friends and family gifts from overseas. The looks on their faces when they see a really interesting gift is so much fun for me to see.”

Bradie Tennell and her mother at the Golden Spin competition in Croatia. / Credit: Courtesy of Bradie Tennell

Gifts are opened on Christmas morning and she does not reveal in advance what she got someone. Tennell will be wearing Christmas pajamas and her mother has a pair of Mickey Mouse Christmas pajamas that she likes to wear.

As Christmas approaches, Tennell can be found channeling the season at the ice rink. She wears green pants paired with the brightest red shirt she has. The fun of it makes the training day go by more easily.

Shortly after Christmas, Tennell heads to Lake Placid, N.Y. for Stars on Ice. There will be no overindulging on Christmas, but she definitely will have at least a couple of Christmas cookies.

“How can you not?” she said.

Looking back on her 2018, Tennell knows it’s been a good year—winning a U.S. title, going to the Olympics and winning a bronze medal in the team competition. Her Olympic gear is perfect for the cold Illinois winters.

“The jacket is so warm,” she said. “It’s great to whip that out when I’m going to my brother’s hockey game.”

Right after the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Tennell turns 21, but she hasn’t given that big birthday too much thought.

“Why don’t we get through nationals first, and then I’ll focus on that,” she said.

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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MORE: Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue starting new holiday traditions

Madison Hubbell, Zachary Donohue starting new holiday traditions

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If anyone has reason to celebrate during this holiday season, it’s defending U.S. ice dance champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. They’ve had an outstanding autumn, which they kicked off by winning their fourth U.S. International Figure Skating Classic and then cemented their place in the ice dancing hierarchy with gold medals at Skate America, Skate Canada and the Grand Prix Final.

This year, they’ll be celebrating Christmas separately. Hubbell is heading home to Sylvania, Ohio with fiancé Adrian Diaz and Donohue is going to England with girlfriend Olivia Smart.

They’re training at the Gadbois Centre in Montreal until Dec. 21, so for now, they’ve brought the holidays into their training base. Hubbell has put up Christmas decorations in her apartment, including a tree, stockings and candles that smell like pine trees.

Donohue decorated both Smart’s apartment and his, with Hubbell’s assistance on the latter. He hosted a holiday get together for the skaters heading off to other destinations. He admitted that he just began his Christmas gift shopping on Saturday.

While it’s pretty cold and snowy in Montreal this time of year, Hubbell and Donohue said the Christmas spirit is evident. “Everybody is out shopping,” said Hubbell, who hoped to check out a Christmas market near where she lives. She’s been following it on Instagram and said it looks lovely.

This is Hubbell’s first Christmas visit home with Diaz. It will be his first American Christmas. Diaz has always lived in a city in an apartment, so the Hubbells’ decorated house will be a big change for him. Also, Hubbell’s mother, Susan, is very detailed in making Christmas stockings.

“My mom has always been like ‘Stockings come first,’” said Hubbell. “She makes these beautiful heirloom stockings and embroiders our names on them. Even this year, we’re not doing any big presents, but we fill our stockings with small gifts, which is really fun. It’s a bunch of little tokens that reminds you of that person. It will be his first year waking up to a stocking that is actually made by my mom, which is really special because she puts so much time into it.”

The house will only be quiet for a short time on Christmas morning. Soon, Hubbell’s older brother, Zach, his wife, Nicole, and four young sons will arrive.

“That’s a lot of energy,” said Hubbell. “You get to wake up with a coffee before the chaos ensues.”

Hubbell’s other brother, Keiffer, her former ice dance partner, will be coming from Michigan.

Smart’s family lives outside Sheffield, England. This will be their first holiday in a new home. They celebrate not only Christmas, but also Boxing Day, which is Dec. 26. Boxing day originated in the United Kingdom, with the origin of the name referring to a Christmas box, containing money or presents, being bestowed to servants or workers. In recent times, it has other interpretations.

“Everyone gets up at 8 a.m. at the latest, and we’re going to go to a cool village that’s got tons of sales on for shopping,” said Donohue. “The first year we started dating we went to the UK and had a huge party with all of her family. Christmas Eve is the bigger celebration.”

Christmas Day will begin with just immediate family in the morning and then Smart’s grandparents will come over. Later, they’ll connect with other relatives.

Following Christmas, Hubbell and Donohue head to Lake Placid, NY for a Stars on Ice performance on Dec. 30. New Year’s celebrations will be fairly low-key, but still festive.

Diaz is from Spain, where they not only celebrate Christmas and New Year’s, but also Feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6. Hubbell never placed a priority on New Year’s Eve, often falling asleep before the clock struck 12, but celebrating the New Year is a big deal to Diaz.

“It is so important to end it with family and turn over the new year,” said Hubbell. “One of their big traditions is in the last 12 seconds of the year you have to eat 12 grapes.”

Training begins again the first week of January to prepare for the U.S. Championships. They’re excited that the competition will be in Detroit, where they lived and trained for many years. Many of Hubbell’s relatives will be present and they are even planning a tailgating party.

“They’re going to pretend figure skating is like football,” she said.

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Insightful John Curry Documentary Has NY Premiere

Christie Jenkins
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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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