Getty Images

Karen Chen out of Grand Prix Series

Leave a comment

U.S. Olympian Karen Chen will miss the entire fall Grand Prix Series, withdrawing from this week’s Rostelecom Cup in Moscow with an injury.

“Although I know that injuries make me stronger, I also understand that it takes time,” was posted on Chen’s social media. “I need to be patient with this whole recovery process, so I realized that Russia isn’t doable. This wasn’t an easy decision, but I know that I want to feel 100% ready when I emerge back onto competition ice.”

Chen, third at last year’s nationals and 11th in PyeongChang, also withdrew last month from her other Grand Prix in Helsinki, citing a foot injury, as well as lower-level events in the summer and the world championships in March.

If Chen’s next event is the U.S. Championships in January, she will go 11 months between competitions.

Chen is the latest in a string of U.S. Olympians to sit out the Grand Prix for various reasons, not uncommon in a post-Olympic year. Mirai NagasuAshley Wagner and Adam Rippon are on indefinite breaks (Rippon said he’s likely retired). Polina Edmunds plans to return next season from a long-term right foot injury.

Ice dancers Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani are also taking time off, while Madison Chock and Evan Bates withdrew from their Grand Prix assignments as Chock recovers from ankle surgery.

Chen, 19, broke out in 2017, winning her first U.S. title and placing fourth at the world championships, the best debut by an American woman since Kimmie Meissner took gold in 2006.

Bradie Tennell is the lone female U.S. Olympic singles skater competing in multiple Grand Prix events this fall. She was fourth at Skate America and must finish on the podium at next week’s event in France for a chance at the six-skater Grand Prix Final in December.

If Tennell does not qualify, the U.S. will have zero women in the Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual international event, for a third straight year.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE 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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Back from concussion, U.S. ice dancers win first Grand Prix title

Insightful John Curry Documentary Has NY Premiere

Christie Jenkins
Leave a comment

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.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Yevgenia Medvedeva thankful for Brian Orser late-night talk after Skate Canada disaster

Kaitlin Hawayek, Jean-Luc Baker notch first Grand Prix win at NHK

Leave a comment

The U.S. has yet another Grand Prix title-winning ice dance couple.

Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker rallied to capture their first Grand Prix crown at NHK Trophy in Sunday’s free dance.

Hawayek and Baker, fourth at last season’s nationals, overcame Tiffany Zahorski and Jonathan Guerreiro‘s 4.78-point lead from Saturday’s rhythm dance to win by 1.58 over the Russians. U.S. siblings Rachel Parsons and Michael Parsons, fifth at last season’s nationals, took bronze.

Hawayek and Baker delayed their season debut until this week after Baker, whose mom was a 1988 British Olympic ice dancer, suffered a second concussion in three years in August. Last season, the former junior world champions won their first senior international title at the Four Continents Championships in January and placed 10th at the world championships in March.

They topped Sunday’s free dance but also received help as Guerreiro wobbled on twizzles, and the Russians’ rotational lift received a one-point deduction for being too long.

Hawayek and Baker became the seventh U.S. dance couple to win a Grand Prix in the series’ two-decade history, joining Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod SwallowTanith White and Ben AgostoMeryl Davis and Charlie WhiteMadison Chock and Evan BatesMaia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani and Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue. Five of those six went on to earn Olympic and/or world medals.

Hawayek and Baker can clinch one of six spots in December’s Grand Prix Final with another strong finish at their second Grand Prix in France in two weeks. Hubbell and Donohue already clinched a spot in the Final, the second-biggest international event of the season behind worlds.

Olympic silver medalists and world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France withdrew before NHK due to Cizeron’s back injury, which keeps them out of the Grand Prix Final. The Olympic gold and bronze medalists — Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and the Shibutani siblings — are on indefinite breaks from competition.

Hawayek and Baker rank seventh in the world this season by total scores.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE 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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

NHK TROPHY: Results | TV/Stream Schedule