My “Desert Island” Skates

As a true “fanatic”, assembling my “Desert Island” Top Ten Lists of operas, recordings, movies, skating performances, and so on is part of my “religion”. These über-favorites spring easily from my memory, because they have resonated to me on such a deep level (although it is always a challenge to narrow the list to JUST ten).

My "Desert Island"!

This time up I’m focusing on favorite all-time skates, in which ALL the stars align… choreography, music, competitive triumph, expression, and in the case of these videos, the performance itself (thankfully captured for posterity). These transcend skating as “sport”, and express something on a heightened spirit and soul level. They make me really feel something. I’ve tried to include more than just the universal favorites (although a few of those are in here too). Rather than revealing a total bias towards classical/semi-classical and operatic repertoire, I honestly feel the finest skaters are most transported by this genre, and offer something extra when performing to it.:

10. A tie — a study in ice dance contrast, stunning flash vs. simple elegance:
Annisina/Peizerat: Time to Say Goodbye, EX, ’99 Worlds
Dubreuil/Lauzon: Somewhere in Time, FD, ’06 Worlds

9. The Protopopovs: Ave Maria, LP, ’84 World Pros
Amazingly, Lyudmila was 48, and Oleg 51.

8. Janet Lynn: Afternoon of a Faun, EX, ’83
This was her televised “swan song” performance. She sure went out in top form with this iconic program.

7. Michelle Kwan: Rachmaninoff, SP, ’02 Olympics
I was lucky enough to be there, although every performance of this program on youtube is near perfect. She clearly really felt in her groove with it. Her East of Eden, ’01 Nats SP was a close second.

6. Oksana Bauil: Swan Lake, SP, ’94 Olympics
Her Swan EX from the same Olympics is on equal par.

5. Sale/Pelletier: Tristan und Isolde, LP, ’01 Worlds
And, their Love Story is of course legendary, for it’s flirtatiousness and storytelling.

4. Chen Lu: Butterfly Lovers, LP, ’98 Olympics
The expression of her own culture through this music is transcendent. Her ’96 Worlds Rach. was perfection too.

3. Shen/Zhao: Turandot, LP, ’03 Worlds
They waited for this day for a long time. And, boy did they deserve it.

2. Denise Biellmann: Beau Soir (Debussy), LP, ’99 World Pros
One of her last competitions, at 37 years old. A testimony to her training and commitment to her sport.

1. Matt Savoie: The Mission, LP, ’06 Nats
I had waited two decades for someone to skate to this soundtrack. It was worth the wait. This is what I love about skating: intense focus, meaningful storytelling… and pure soaring!

Gordeeva/Grinkov’s Moonlight Sonata, Angela Nikodinov’s Sleeping Beauty, Lucinda Ruh’s mezmerizing, modern Prayer Cycle: Mercy (by Alanis Morissette), Kurt Brownings’ sexy, flamenco Naya, Klimova/Ponomarenko’s Bach, and anything by John Curry almost made the list, but something had to get cut, and some of these aren’t on youtube yet. Let’s hope the upcoming Worlds provide a new one for my list! And, if you demanded I select some non-classical favs, I’d note Kwan’s Fields of Gold, Cohen’s Don’t Rain on My Parade, Nikodinov’s To Love You More, and Underhill/Martini’s Unchained Melody. It’s interesting how MOST all of the duos I selected are actual couples. The added dimension of having an off-ice relationship/romance must offer skaters entry into something even deeper.

What skates would you take on your “desert island”? [Next up will surely be my “desert island” operatic divas/divos, and their recordings.]

4 comments so far

  1. […] “Desert Island” Skates « jumping clapping man unknown wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptGordeeva/Grinkov’s Moonlight […]

  2. Connie "Chesty" Del Mondo on

    Love the blogsite! Love the skate list… but what insanity is this?.. “cutting” John Curry’s 1976 Olympic gold medal skate to the Don Quixote pas de deux to put Matt Savoie’s flawed performance at the top of the list?… because you like the movie music he skated to?!

    Why… that’ – that’s like putting so & so’s opera performance at the top of a list because she wore the best costumes ever designed. Get a grip, man!

    Of course all lists are subjective & bound by one’s own time-period, but I could not have left off Paul Wylie’s 1992 Olympic silver win nor Todd Eldredge winning the ’96 Worlds – both also to inspiring movie music (from Henry V & First Knight).

    And these three are all available on YouTube.

    So congratulations on a great blogsite – and keep us riled up!

  3. jumping clapping man on


    thank you for your impassioned comments. I look forward to hearing more from you. Any chance you’re related to “Chesty” Swenson?

    As always, some fans will be outraged at the forgotten favorites… a top ten list can only accommodate so many. Curry is definitely a favorite of mine. One reason why I left him off this list is that, frankly, he was such an obvious choice (like Torvill and Dean would have been), and I wanted to at least provide some perhaps lesser known great skates.

    Also, Curry is the perfect technician, and on par with the greatest ballet dancers, however, there can sometimes be an emotional iciness (ala Weir, who I’m also a fan of)) in his performances, which his absolute “perfection” almost accentuates. I like a bit more vulnerability in my favorite skaters.

  4. matt on

    Really like this blog! Esp. as a skating fanatic. I agree with certain items on your list, particularly Janet Lynn and Shen and Zhao: My other eight would be, in no particular order:

    1 & 2) Midori Ito, Calgary short and long programs

    Seven triples; the phrase “ahead of her time” was written for Ito. She electrified the crowd, and blew the house down. As Cranston put it: “She is beyond 6.0.”

    3 & 4) Artur Dmetriev & Natalia Mishkutenok, 1994 Olympic Long Program and Exhibition

    I remember watching these programs and (not a huge fan of skating at the time b/c I was young) crying my eyes out. They were passionate and incredibly dramatic. There exhibition, to me, rivals Torvel and Dean’s Bolero and Baul’s Swan. Breathtaking beyond belief. I must mention that, to me, they won the gold.

    5 & 6) Michelle Kwan, Lyra Angelica 1998 Nationals and 2001 World’s Red Violin.

    Kwan is one of my all-time favorites, and she has SO many masterful programs, but these two, if I had to choose, were the most emotionally satisfying for me.

    7) Maria Butyrskaya, 1999 Worlds Otonal

    While not one of the greatest of all time, I always loved her and her underdog story, and she defied all odds by nailing a perfect 7-triple flawless program, beating Kwan, and becoming the oldest woman to win worlds ever.

    8) Sasha Cohen, 2005 Nationals

    I know, I know. She didn’t have consistency, but I LOVE “The Nutcracker,” and she was flawless with every single thing she did (with the occasional jump problem). But, regardless, she always left me completely impressed and in awe.

    What do you think? Like I said, as a huge fan, I could make a list of 50 performances, but these are ones I keep coming back to.

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