Figure skating is a lot like leap year – many only acknowledge its existence once every four years. When the great athlete/celebrities like Michelle Kwan and Tara Lipinski fade from the limelight, the interest and prominence of the sport dwindle.
After seeing Champions on Ice at the Verizon Center last Saturday, it is hard to imagine how America could forget the tradition, which is arguably one of the most competitive on Earth. After all, in what other sport does one Olympic hopeful hire someone to incapacitate his or her competitors with a baseball bat? Fortunately for last Saturday’s audience, Champions on Ice was not a competition at all.
The Champions on Ice tour features individual and pair medalists from the US Championship, World Championship, and Olympics. The tour allows skaters to show their skills and creativity without requiring an act that tells a story. Champions on Ice typically begins with a short, introductory skate from all performers, moves on to individual routines and closes with a finale in which all skaters work together to tell a story.
This year’s U.S. silver medalist, Ryan Bradley, began the individual skates with a mariachi/disco routine in which he landed both triple and double jumps with ease. Alissa Czisny, the ladies bronze medalist, followed Bradley’s act with several technical difficulties, recovering awkwardly from an almost-failed triple to fall while attempting a second later in her routine.
Rudy Galindo took the ice after Czisny, making both her and Bradley’s routines look like the work of amateur leaguers. The current U.S. and World Champion – and former partner of Kristi Yamaguchi – landed triple jumps and back flips easily and seamlessly without making the momentum-building glide that gives away the skater’s intent. The crowd was wildly enthusiastic after the charismatic Galindo left the ice. One would imagine that this larger-than-life act would be difficult to follow, but Dan Hollander was up for the challenge. Clad in a Batman costume and carrying a damsel in distress (blow-up doll) tied to railroad tracks, the beginning of Hollander’s routine included double and triple jumps to the tune of Enrique Iglesias’ “Hero.” The music then changed to the song, “I Need a Hero,” and Hollander stripped away the dark knight persona to reveal a Wonder Woman costume. When the music changed a second time, the recipient of the ’96 and ’97 U.S. bronze became Superman, skating to the tune of Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl.”
This comedic routine was followed by a more classic performance from current bronze winner Johnny Weir. His routine was followed by a three-time European Championship female skater Surya Bonaly and two-time World Championship-winning pair skaters. Both performances were slow in tempo and artistic, as one would typically imagine a figure skating routine to be.
Stereotypes and expectations were pleasantly broken, however, when Irena Grigorian took to the ice. More of an acrobat than a skater, Grigorian performed a Catwoman-themed routine while traveling around the rink in a human-size gerbil wheel – all while dangling by one foot and using her arms and acrobatics to propel the wheel forward. Skating legend Victor Petrenko also surprised the crowd with a cowboy-themed routine including a triple-triple jump combination. Olympic silver medalists Ben Agosto and his partner Tanith Belbin also wowed the crowd with a Justin Timberlake-inspired “SexyBack” routine that had male audience members whistling and stamping at the end of the performance.
Following intermission, world champions Marina Anissina and Gwendel Peizerat performed a circus-themed “Candyman” routine that included a lot of dance-y footwork that gave the routine its own style. Their performance was overshadowed, however, by the appearance of hometown favorite Kimmie Meissner, a Maryland native. Her performance was slow and beautiful, though slightly flawed as she attempted a double but recovered well with a single.
New U.S. men’s champion Evan Lysacek and Olympic gold-winning pair Tatiana Totmianina and Maxi Marinin put on good shows following Meissner, but the crowd was not on its feet again until seeing Vladmir Besedin and Oleksiy Polishchuk finished their astounding ice acrobatics. The two men performed an amazing series of lifts and headstands on one another. At one point, Polishchuk balanced himself one-handed on Besedin’s head.
The only skater capable of following such an act, World Championship and Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen closed the individual routines, perfectly executing a series of toe-touches and triple jumps to a soulful Christina Aguilera tune.
After Cohen’s performance, much of the audience vacated the facility, despite the group performance, James Bond 007, which had yet to take place. While interesting, the synchronized skate that included all of the champions stretched on for ten minutes and was nowhere near as impressive as the individual routines themselves. Future attendees are encouraged to follow suit and skip this segment of Champions on Ice next year.