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Figure Skating's Greatest Stars
Figure Skating's Greatest Stars Figure Skating's Greatest Stars Figure Skating's Greatest Stars Figure Skating's Greatest Stars Figure Skating's Greatest Stars

* Book Type:

Publisher: Firefly Books

Author Statement: by Steve Milton
Audience: Trade
Specs: over 120 color and black-and-white images, index
Pages: 196
Trim Size: 9" x 11" X 13/16"
Language code 1: eng
Publication Date: 20090925
Copyright Year: 2009
Price: Select Below


Figure Skating's Greatest Stars

A beautifully illustrated celebration of the best athletes from this widly popular sport.

A beautifully illustrated celebration of the best athletes from this wildly popular sport.

Figure Skating's Greatest Stars profiles 60 great skaters, including champions in men's, women's, pairs and ice dancing. Informative essays describe their careers and championship moments, as well as the definitive events that have made figure skating one of the leading spectator sports in North America.

Fans of all ages will delight in reading the stories of these stars who have jumped higher, spun tighter and skated more gracefully as they pushed skating's artistic and technical boundaries.

Some of the 60 athletes featured are:

  • Dick Button (late 1940s and early 1950s), United States
  • Liudmila and Oleg Protopopov (1960s), Soviet Union
  • Brian Boitano (1980s), United States
  • Elvis Stojko (1990s), Canada
  • Oksana Grishuk and Evgeny Platov (1990s), Russia
  • Jamie Sale and David Pelletier (late 1990s and 2000s), Canada
  • Brian Joubert (2000s), France
  • Qing Pang and Jian Tong (2000s), China
  • Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto (2000s), United States
  • Michelle Kwan (2000s), United States.

Figure Skating's Greatest Stars is the perfect fanbook for the millions who love this sport.


Steve Milton is a sportswriter who has covered six Winter Olympics and more than a dozen World Figure Skating Championships. He is the author of nine figure skating books, including Figure Skating Now.



Greatest Stars and Leading Legends

How does a figure skater become one of that elite group of athletes recognized around the world as a "greatest star"? There is no specific blueprint, no foolproof plan that works for everybody and the criteria for greatness has changed over time. Figure skating has always been an uneasy blend of science and art; of athleticism and aesthetics; of purposeful power and elegant ease; of the feminine and the masculine; of apparent abandon and disguised restraint; and of the East and the West. It is because of these inherent contrasts that it is difficult to distinguish what separates a star performer from the rest of the herd. It is also because of these contrasts that figure skating is one of the most fascinating of all athletic pursuits.

The title "greatest star," as it applies to the figure skaters covered on these pages, has been bestowed by the author. This book tracks figure skating history through the athletes who were, and are, most responsible for the direction the sport has taken. So, a skater's impact on the sport was a major factor in awarding him or her the delineation as a "star."

Compared to other major sports, figure skating has not yet enjoyed the same level of sustained celebration of the men and women who have made the sport what it is. The World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs has been the leader in recording and publicizing the history and glory -- and some of the warts -- of the sport, but figure skating writers and broadcasters tend to deal with current events, and make little reference to the history of the sport.

Other sports have been much better served. Millions of North Americans are aware that Abner Doubleday is the accepted founder of baseball, that Ty Cobb was its earliest mega-star, that Babe Ruth was its defining and history-altering player and that Mickey Mantle was its post-war face. Skating, however, though more than a century and a half has passed since Jackson Haines turned a pastime into a sport and spectacle, still lacks the basic public awareness of its history. And, although the general public may not be aware of it, skating has its own Doubledays, Cobbs, Ruths, and Mantles in Haines, Gillis Grafström, Sonja Henie and (take your pick) Dick Button or Peggy Fleming.

It was a wrenching process to separate the 63 skaters and pairs who made it into this book from the other magnificent athletes who skated in the various eras. For that reason, those selected have not been ordered from 1 to 63. As John Updike famously wrote of transcendent athletes, "Gods don't answer letters" and in the same vein, these Legends don't need registration numbers.

All the exceptional skaters featured in this book have entered the wider public consciousness in one manner or another: by their remarkable stretch of dominance; by their pioneering style; by their technical innovation; by their impact on a major skating country; by their sustained influence within their discipline; by their roles as signposts of a new era; by their ability to compel others to take up the sport; and by their personification of the skating ideals of their time. And all are worthy of legendary status.

What is often most striking about any catalogue of "greatest stars" that spans many eras are those who are left off the list. The exclusions tend to generate as much criticism and debate as the selections do. Athletes the likes of Willy Böckl, Ronnie Robertson, Vladimir Kovalev, the incomparably exciting and funny Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler; as well as pre-World War II pioneers like Cecilia Colledge and Megan Taylor, and young champions from the turbulent 1990s like Alexei Urmanov, Ilia Kulik, Oksana Baiul and Tara Lipinski, were all tremendous skaters worthy of the praise and championships they won. But, for reasons ranging from being just one of many superb skaters in a very deep field of great skaters, or to careers that were prematurely ended, these athletes were left off the list.

And even though victory is the ultimate goal in all competition, and most of the greatest stars presented here (and many of the names above) have been world and/or Olympic champions, some haven't. Jackson Haines predated major skating tournaments, but international competition started because of him. Toller Cranston never finished higher than third on the big-time international stage, but there can be no disputing that he has had the most enduring stylistic impact of his, and perhaps of any, generation.

Werner Groebli and Hansruedi Mauch were unknown by their given names, but as Frick and Frack, they motivated thousands of youngsters to take up figure skating, including many who later became world champions. They did this by being part of a legion of professional skaters during the 1940s-to-1960s era of touring shows. Other long-touring pros such as Richard Dwyer, Freddie Trenkler and dancers Rona and Cliff Thaell also spread the gospel to the furthest corners of two continents. But Frick and Frack were the ones who entered the North American lexicon.

And the mere mention of Janet Lynn, whose best world finish was second, still evokes the image of what chief rival, and fellow legend Karen Magnussen refers to as "ethereal skating." Magnussen and Beatrix Schuba regularly beat Lynn, but Lynn's heartbreaking style prompted young Americans to stampede to their local arenas to see if they could glide across the ice like her.

In all sports, stars are born at the convergence of opportunity and ability. There is a similarity between the indomitable character traits of the Greats in one era to those of another era. In figure skating, there has been a remarkable chain of personal inspiration from one star to another. The audience that watched Jackson Haines in the 1860s included those who became the champions of the first international competitions two decades later. Their audience, in turn, included the first formal world champions. Sonja Henie's tours inspired a number of future North American stars who, after meeting her in person, further committed themselves to the sport. Carol Heiss recalls being at the Dartmouth Winter Carnival as a nine-year-old when Barbara Ann Scott presented Heiss and her sister Nancy with lapel pins in the shape of tiny silver blades. Those pins proved to be symbolic relay batons: Heiss herself met other future champions at rinkside at local carnivals she skated. Donald Jackson, the world's first triple Lutzer, saw Scott skate live and himself passed the torch to Axel king Brian Orser, a nine-year old soloist sharing a dressing room with Jackson at the 1971 Midland Skating Club carnival.

There have been countless other such moments of pivotal personal contact, but their frequency and impact are lessening. In the current big-money era, it is very rare for a young skater to meet a star in a local club show. The skating muse is now most-commonly transferred via television. It may be less intimate, but it also reaches a larger pool of potential superstars.

Woven around the 62 biographies of these greatest stars are essays and sidebars that analyze some of the most important themes and moments in skating's history. They provide the wider context for the individual skaters.

Decade after decade skating fans have celebrated the best and brightest that the worlds' skating nations have had to offer. I hope you will enjoy this tribute to skating's heritage and that it will help you to appreciate the next groundbreaking routine, the next genre-altering moment and the next legendary performance. Looking back gives us the understanding to move forward.

Steve Milton


Table of Contents

Greatest Stars and Leading Legends
The Men
Figures and 6.0
The Women
Nationalism and the Building of Champions
The Pairs
Pivotal Moments
The Dancers
Legends in the Making
Further Reading

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