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Here Are the Skating Routines We Can't Stop Watching

Friday, April 22, 2016 - 05:10 PM

For our latest episode, we took a whirl through the wonderful world of figure skating and took a critical eye to the competitive career of French skater Surya Bonaly.

Here are some of the clips we feature in the episode.  

Surya Bonaly’s long program at the 1994 World Figure Skating Championships. One of the announcers says she's “here for business.” We agree.


Bonaly’s 1998 long program at the 1998 Olympics wasn’t her best performance but it does include her famous one-footed backflip. (Of course, she had been doing two-footed backflips since she was 12 years old.)


When we decided to do an episode about Bonaly, a lot of us really hadn’t paid much attention to the sport in years. But it wasn’t long before we were passing links to our faves back and forth.

Tracie Hunte:

Debi Thomas was the first black woman to medal in figure skating at the Olympics when she won the bronze in 1988.  I love this energetic and fun short program choreographed to Dead or Alive’s “Something In My House."


The Duchesnay siblings with their choreographer Christopher Dean (who is also an ice dancing legend) are credited with tackling more serious subjects with their routines. Their emotional performance at the 1990 World Figure Skating Championships was dedicated to the “disappeared” in South America.


Latif Nasser:

In his Dragonheart routine, Elvis makes these quad-triple combos look as easy as taking out the recycling.  For weeks after watching this performance in 1997, I jumped around my house, flailing my arms around and staring intently at my open palms. Try not to do the same.


I remember doing a double-take the first time I ever saw Emmanuel Sandhu skate. A half-Italian half-Indian figure skating for Canada.  He wasn’t always consistent as a skater, but when he was good, he was really really good. A dynamo. The footwork in this video alone will make you go cross-eyed.


Matt Kielty:

Tonya Harding's historic moment in my hometown when she becomes the first American woman to land a triple axel in competition. Her reaction after she lands her jump is priceless. Oh, and she’s skating to Tone Loc.


Patrick Chan’s 2015 performance at Skate Canada is just kind of perfect. The perfect balance of athleticism and artistry.



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Comments [19]

Jeanne from New York

I think Gary Beacom skating I'm Your Man was one of the greats!

Jun. 18 2017 07:21 AM
jj from atl

UGH - I hate this debate that never goes away. Surya was a stiff, inelegant skater. She could do one thing that no one else could - landing a backflip on one foot. This should have been a legal jump. I assume the skating world thought it too dangerous? (but then, how to explain Pairs???).
Racism, perceived beauty, nationality all may have played into it. But the truth is - she was never a good skater. She was stiffer than Tonya AND Nancy!
The skater I disliked the most? Lipinski! A little girl who could artlessly spin like a top. We traded Michelle Kwan for that? I watch less skating because of her and Weir, commentating. They disgust me. Especially the way NBC shoves them down our throats!

May. 01 2017 01:01 AM
Juan Smith from Detroit, MI.

Surya Bonaly is one of the best figure skaters along with Oksana Baiul. Surya's athleticism and Oksana's artistry is unmatched.

Jan. 25 2017 10:16 AM
cp from bklyn, ny

i loved the radiolab piece & was riveted about surya. i thought she was robbed of 1st place based on it. but when i watched the two top performances i had to grudgingly admit i thought yuka sato deserved the top win.

Nov. 29 2016 06:47 PM
Heather from Canada

I loved this show!!! As a long-time fan of Radiolab, and a life-long figure skater, I loved hearing the analysis of my sport from this perspective - and how difficult it is to explain to people outside the sport! Surya was a fabulous skater, she deserves recognition for what she accomplished and I remember being in awe of her, she was one of the few female skaters who was really consistent with her jumps.

Just a couple of small notes on the discussion in the episode... I think the analysis of the Olympic-World's of 98 was a bit simplified. Yuka Sato wasn't just some upstart who placed 5th in the Olympics and stole the World Championship from Surya. Yuka missed a jump in her short program at the Olympics, leaving her 7th, and after her free skate she moved up to 5th behind Surya. At World's, Yuka had 2 flawless performances to move ahead of Surya. The other thing is that it was made to sound like there was a tie - and then the judges voted to break the tie. But the judging system has the tie break built in to its system, the matrix of ordinals that each judge is awarding to each competitor. And, in the free skate program, the artistic score is the tie break.

Figure skating is a balance of dance/artistry and athleticism - that's what makes figure skating SO hard!!! It's not just about the jumps, it's not gymnastics on ice. You need to have the jumps, the spins, the quality of edge (what Sandra was trying to explain), the footwork, and all while interpreting your music with timing, expression, and performance. Once of my all-time favourites is Kurt Browning, who skated at the same Olympics, was the reigning World Champion (and had won 3 previous World titles), missed one jump in his long, and came 4th - but his performance is fantastic. You could almost think his missed jump was part of the performance, the way he hit his forehead after, like Bogie feeling that part of the scene.

That said, the new judging system seems to be much better at quantifying an inherently subjective sport, and laying out for skaters what their goals are in order to win. It would be really interesting to have a panel of judges analyse Surya's skate today and see how she would rank against other skaters! It would also be really interesting to look more in depth at the judging system of that time, and a timeline of the scandals that happened - which was just lightly touched with your interview with the French judge Marie-Reine, and which caused the complete overhaul of the scoring system.

Aug. 29 2016 11:22 AM

Natalia Mishkutenok & Artur Dmitriev
Their choreography was beautiful, their costumes were beautiful (why do they usually put the guys in dorky costumes??) and I especially loved the way he gave himself emotionally to it, just as much as she did. It seems like a lot of their moves were adopted by other people - maybe that's why they get lost in the shuffle? (Also, it was right as the Cold War was ending.)

Paul Wylie
Also I have a spot for Paul Wylie's 1992 medal-winning performance. All the big names were expected to win - and one by one, they literally fell on their butts. And here's this guy, was planning to get a degree majoring in something else because obviously the skating thing isn't viable, and then - one of those magic moments when everything goes perfectly.

May. 21 2016 05:10 PM
ira letras from Dallas

Hi all, thanks for these.
I tried to watch the Surya Bonaly youtube video but the link took me to a sign in page for Microsoft Outlook.

Just letting you know.

Thanks again, I really enjoy your show.

May. 15 2016 02:10 AM
E Stanley

This has taken me back! Watching these people do something they love at such an incredibly high level of talent is inspiring. Kristi Yamaguchi will always be my favorite! Though there are so many to choose from!

May. 07 2016 10:25 AM

Really Radiolab? It wasn't about racism? Are any of you who didn't think it was about racism black? Just curious and if you aren't you know what would be a good show - having 3 or 4 black people listen to this and check whether their conclusions are the same as yours.

May. 04 2016 03:38 PM
Carol from Brooklyn

Thank you for posting these videos! I have always liked figure skating but have never been a huge Olympics fan, and have never had a clear understanding of the rules governing scoring.

This episode was not only an interesting personal and cultural journey, but intriguing and informative for us non-sports people.

On a sidenote, the "backflip" link appears to connect to something in a personal email. Can you please put in the appropriate link? I'd like to see the content.


Apr. 29 2016 01:08 PM

The Protopopovs from the 1950s, early 1960s set the standard for couple unison.

Then, of course, there was Torvill & Dean's Bolero.

Apr. 28 2016 07:40 PM
Andrew from USA

Robin Cousins performance to Satan Takes a Holiday is just fun to watch. To quote the commentators, he "always puts on a good show". He also does a (two foot landing) backflip in this routine.

Apr. 27 2016 01:16 AM
cdes from usa

here [[|steallet codes]] dj

Apr. 26 2016 12:16 PM
sabir123 from usa

thanks [steam walodes]( here

Apr. 26 2016 12:14 PM

I cannot believe the editors to this podcast let this pass. At the same time, thank you for showing what white privilege looks like. The fact that "being black can make you crazy" was even tolerated is absurd. It is disheartening to see how quick you all were with eliminating racism as a reason she did not receive first place. Shame on you Radio Lab.

Apr. 25 2016 11:32 PM
Casey from New York

Practically anything from Michelle Kwan - her 1998 Nationals LP and SP are legendary. Sasha Cohen was breathtaking to watch. Surya Bonaly had great athleticism but her artistry was lacking. Too herky jerky for my taste.

Apr. 25 2016 03:32 PM
A.B. from Maryland

You guys should have mentioned Lucina Rou - absolutely the greatest spinner of all time!

Apr. 24 2016 10:22 PM

Another beautiful skater is Polina Edmunds. She is very ballet and graceful in her style, but she has some of the hardest combinations, footwork, and spins in competition today. She's only 18, but she's already been in the top ten at the Olympics. Like Surya, Polina isn't really favored by the judges the way that Gracie Gold and Wagner are (she is white, not black tho), and consistently is told that her "performance" value needs improvement. She is not as brilliant at Surya at leaps, but she has some truly breathtaking jump combos and spins.

Apr. 23 2016 06:52 PM
Jackie Regan from Canada

Somewhere there's a clip of Toller Cranston in the '70s doing 25 russian splits in a row (I counted) in a Skate Canada competition

Apr. 23 2016 10:53 AM

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