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Figure Skating Drama Among Gen X Ice Skaters

Gen X Ice Skaters Nicole Bobek in watercolorThis Sunday is the Figure Skating Exhibition Gala of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, and the perfect opportunity to pause and reflect upon the most soap operatic moments in Gen X ice skater history.

Our generation, by broadest definition born between 1961 and 1981, has produced many extraordinary figure skating talents, including the formidable jumper and now infamous, Tonya Harding. What may be even more extraordinary, however, is just how troubled the lives of these Gen X ice skaters have been. I mean, honestly, has any other generation produced more drama and heartbreaking stories on ice? If so, let me know.

Nancy Kerrigan (b. 1969)
Kerrigan earned everyone’s sympathy after she was bashed in the knees at the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championship. The assault was planned by rival Tonya Harding. But Kerrigan quickly fell from grace when she was 1) Rumored to have an affair with a married man, her manager, whom she later married; 2) Recorded saying while riding a float in a Disney parade that it was stupid, she hated it and it was corny; 3) Delivered jabs at orphaned figure skater Oksana Baiul for frequently crying and 4) Overly indulgent spending (in excess of $9,000) on some figure skating costumes. Kerrigan was recently in the news when her brother allegedly killed her father.

This video features Kerrigan’s famous cry, “Why?”

Rudy Galindo (b. 1969)
Galindo was the first American figure skater to admit he was gay. He retired from eligible competition in 1996 after revealing he was HIV Positive. More confessions of his tyrannical father and mentally unstable mother followed. Galindo, who lost many people near and dear to him to AIDS, is a former U.S. Pairs Champion (with Kristi Yamaguchi) and the 1996 U.S. National Champion. He has written an inspiring autobiography.

Tonya Harding (b. 1970) 
Where do you even begin with Harding? Clearly, she had a troubled childhood, and as an adult, her life has been filled with disappointment and heartbreak. After the assault on rival Nancy Kerrigan she was banned from figure skating for life. It’s hard for me not to feel sympathy for her. I guess I always wonder if things would have been different if she’d had a stable home life. I’m not excusing her behavior, just sayin’.

Aside from all that, Harding brought great drama to the rink, and was undeniably a fabulous jumper.

I clearly remember watching this performance when her skate malfunctioned. It was so cool watching her fix it herself. Fast-forward to 3:30 where she approaches the judges with her boot issue.

Nicole Bobek (b. 1977)
Like Harding, Bobek was raised by a single mom, and she never knew her father. She was the 1995 U.S. Figure Skating Champion. In 1994, however, she was convinced of first-degree home invasion. She pled guilty to stealing cash and in return for a clean record did a youth program. Sadly, last year, Bobek was charged with conspiracy to distribute meth and is facing 10 years in prison. She was considered an undisciplined skater who smoked and changed coaches 11 times. She was sometimes criticized for her crazy costumes, but I really liked them. The following video from 1995 features Bobek skating to Dr. Zhivago.

Oksana Baiul (b. 1977)
Nobody does heartbreaking like the Russians. Ukrainian figure skater Baiul was the 1994 Olympic Gold Medalist in women’s figure skating. Her parents divorced when she was two and then her mother died when she was 13. She lived at the skating rink until a coach took her in, and fellow skater, Viktor Petrenko covered her expenses. In 1997, she was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. She crashed her car into a tree in Connecticut. Charges against her were dropped after she went through an alcohol education program. The video below is one of her performances at the ’94 Olympics.

Sergei Gringkov (b. 1967) and Ekaterina Gordeeva (b. 1971)
Outside of Romeo and Juliet, I’m not sure there has been a more tragic romance than married figure skating pairs champions Sergei Grinkov and Ekaterina Gordeeva. Once known as G and G to the figure skating community, tragedy struck the 1988 Olympic Gold Medalists in 1995, when Grinkov died unexpectedly from a heart attack. Later, tests revealed he had a predisposition for early heart attack.

I remember watching a TV special about his death. Gordeeva, who began skating with Grinkov when she was not yet a teeanger, said she grew up in his arms and would never recover from his death. The couple had a daughter together, Daria, who was three when he died. Later, Gordeeva married Russian skater Ilia Kuluk, several years her junior.

The videos that follow are of their 1988 Olympic performance and Gordeeva’s first solo performance following the death of her husband. It is probably the most memorable figure skating performance I can remember.

Surya Bonaly (b. 1973)
Bonaly, the amazing French figure skater, was known for being just a tad bit bratty on the ice. At the 1994 World Figure Skating Championship, she skated exceptionally well, but the gold went to someone else – Yuka Sato. In defiance, Bonaly stood beside the medals platform instead of on it. She was eventually convinced to take her position on the stage, but following the ceremony took off her medal to a chorus of booing fans. She also thought she’d been robbed of a medal the year before by Oksana Baiul. She’d out-jumped Baiul, but failed in artistic presentation.

This video shows Bonaly refusing to stand on the medals platform. (Fast-forward to 6:55)

Have I forgotten anyone? Who are your favorite Gen X ice skaters of all time?

Gen X Blog Jennifer Chronicles

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1 Comment

  1. Andi

    Mine is the Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner and the drama when Randy got hurt for the 1980 Olympics.


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