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Olay Presents Ice Wars: Battle of the Sexes

Peoria Civic Center - Peoria, IL - Nov. 17, 2005

Written by Tina

On a brisk November night in Peoria, IL, the crowd at the Peoria Civic Center was energized and ready for an exciting night of skating. The event was Ice Wars XII, one of the two remaining pro figure skating competitions in existence today, and the only pro skating event that airs in primetime (CBS, Dec. 10, 2005, 8-10PM EST). Typically set up as a team competition of US skaters versus skaters from all over the world, this year the format had been reworked into a battle of the sexes - men vs women. Although the crowd wasn't huge, it was highly enthusiastic, quick to cheer and call out to their favorite skaters, holding up signs for the TV cameras, and just plain enjoying the skating.

The competition opened with the skaters being introduced to the audience. On the men's team was Brian Boitano, Kurt Browning, Elvis Stojko, and Alexei Yagudin. The ladies' team consisted of Oksana Baiul, Maria Butyrskaya, Nancy Kerrigan, and Yuka Sato.

The competition was formulated in two parts. In the first part, the skaters competed individually and their scores were added up to generate the team score. In the second part, the skaters were pitted in head to head battles, with their scores compared to each other. The scores from the second portion of the evening were doubled. There was a panel of seven judges, each of whom gave one score on a 10 point scale, with the highest and lowest scores thrown out.

Before each program started, a pre-recorded video was shown on the video screens of the skater giving a short introduction to the program he or she was about to skate.

Elvis Stojko - "Alla Luce del Sole" by Josh Groban

After an initial five minute warmup of the first group of four skaters ended, Elvis Stojko took to the ice to open the competition with his program to "Alla Luce del Sole" by Josh Groban. As he explained in his opening video, he was known for skating rock 'n roll type numbers, and wanted to do something different. If this program is any indication, he should try something a little different more often. Elvis compellingly injected a great sense of drama and expressiveness into his skating, showing that he's a fine interpreter of more classical, serious music. His fluid skating was complemented by solid jumps and a speedy scratch spin that brought a great roar from the crowd.

Scores: 9.7 9.6 9.7 9.7 9.7 9.7 9.7
Total: 48.5

Oksana Baiul - "A White Snow" by Alla Pugavcheva

In her video introduction, Oksana Baiul said that she had wanted to skate to this Russian singer since she was a little girl, and that the singer was singing about white snow and about love. Oksana opened the program with a feathery blue wrap that she quickly left behind on the judges' table, and a rose. The music suited Oksana well, and she clearly loved skating to it. The song was quite interesting, with a dancey beat and interesting feel to it. Oksana skated with the rose quite a bit, using it as the centerpiece of her choreography as she skated around it or showcased it. Her jumps weren't quite up to speed, however, as she two footed at least one landing, doubled another, and stepped out of another jump. In the interview afterwards, the interviewer wished her a happy belated birthday, to wish Oksana quickly replied that she had just turned 21, getting a big laugh.

Scores: 9.6 9.5 9.5 9.6 9.6 9.5 9.6
Total: 47.8

Alexei Yagudin - "Sway" by Pussycat Dolls

The lights came up on empty ice as Alexei's video introduction explained that there were two parts to his program: the first part "really, really sexy" to "Sway", and the second part "really fast and upbeat". It took some of the audience a little while to locate Alexei, who started his program up in the audience (unfortunately, on my side but far down, so I couldn't see what he was doing) before making his way down to the ice. There were clearly a lot of Alexei fans in the audience that night, and Alexei also knows how to engage the audience (kissing members of the audience and giving a lap dance to others helps). Apparently, part of skating "really, really sexy" included breakdancing on the ice. At the transition in the music, Alexei shed his outer shirt (to the whoops of the crowd), and skated in just a tank top that showed off how much he must be working out these days. This portion of the program was to a driving drumbeat and had Alexei doing a lot of quick, intricate footwork down the ice. While I'm quite sure the footwork was very difficult, it struck me that the steps seemed quite small and did not let him make very much progress down the ice in a particularly speedy fashion, and I wondered how well it sold to the upper rows. This didn't bother the mostly female audience, though, who were mostly focused on his upper body musculature during the program.

Scores: 9.8 9.7 9.9 9.9 9.9 9.9 9.9
Total: 49.4

Maria Butyrskaya - "The Color of the Night" by Lauren Christy

Maria explained that she had chosen to skate to "Color of the Night" because she thought it was "strong, emotional music". She delivered on that interpretation, skating a beautifully heartfelt and passionate program. The choreography was quite introspective, with Maria gazing off into the distance and seeming to skate to an unseen lover, at times pleading, at times rueful. Of all the ladies' team, Maria seemed to be having the strongest night, technically, executing her triple jumps and spins without much problem, including a lovely triple loop. This was reflected in her scores, which were the highest of the ladies.

Scores: 9.8 9.8 9.6 9.9 9.8 9.8 9.8
Total: 49.0

At this point in the competition, the men led by 1.1 points, with a total of 97.9 to the ladies' 96.8.

During the next five-minute warmup session, Kurt skated by my section of the audience and told them "Everyone, it's going to be very confusing. I'm going to be skating for the ladies, but I'll need the support of the men. We'll see if I can pull it off," earning him a big laugh.

Kurt Browning - "Peace Frog" by the Doors

To his own confusion, Kurt was introduced as "four time Canadian athlete of the year, a member of Canada's amateur hall of fame, and four time World Champion Kurt Browning." Kurt choreographed his program to this song by the Doors because he's a huge Doors fan, and always wanted to skate to them. He said in his intro that he was out there to have fun, and to entertain us. The song actually has an opening rhythm that reminds me a great deal of "A Little Less Conversation", the song that Stars on Ice used for its Studz group number several years ago. This was a fast-paced, footwork-filled, dancey number. Kurt's feet never stopped moving, and he reached out from the ice and drew everybody into the program. The program also featured Kurt's typical jumps out of nowhere - mostly triple toe and double axel, because he was having problems with the ice. Kurt continued to play to the audience at the close of his program, drawing out his flirtatious persona from the program, even extending it to flirting teasingly with the interviewer, before laughing at himself and settling back down. He went on to joke "I like putting pressure on the competition. Especially when you're competing against the girls. I'll be honest with you..I don't want to lose", then whispering "don't tell anyone, but I don't want to lose!"

Scores: 9.8 9.9 9.8 9.9 9.9 9.9 9.9
Total: 49.4

Yuka Sato - "Beanfields" by Penguin Cafe Orchestra

Yuka Sato's explanation for her choice or program was that the music made her think of going out and doing a lot of footwork and having fun, so she did just that. The music was some very light-hearted, fast paced banjo music that immediately got the crowd clapping along. Yuka is always a joy to watch on the ice, but for this program in particular, I have to say that she was quite possibly the cutest thing I have ever seen on the ice. Bright, beaming smile with the joy just pouring on through, cute little pigtails over the costume she wore for "Wine Safari" at the Tribute to Movies show last year, and incredibly light, airy footwork. Yuka's always been praised for her footwork, and she put it on great display in this program. She seemed to dance lightly over the ice, and looked like she was just having a great deal of fun. Unfortunately, she also doubled two of her jumps - I believe a loop and a toe-loop - which hurt her scores. She said in the interview afterwards that this was the debut of the program, so she was a bit nervous and not entirely comfortable out there, and that she had lots to work on.

Scores: 9.7 9.7 9.7 9.7 9.7 9.7 9.8
Total: 48.5

Brian Boitano - "Man of La Mancha" by Colm Wilkinson

Brian was introduced as "one of the greatest skaters of all time". He explained that he liked playing the character of Don Quixote because the character was both strong and romantic. This was a program right up Brian's alley - slow, dramatic, and powerful. I'd have to say that the word that really comes to mind when watching Brian skate is power. Especially when he pulls off his gorgeous, jaw-dropping death drop (my jaw literally dropped, which kind of impeded my ability to take a photo of the move) or his beautiful 'Tano triple lutz. I don't understand how he doesn't just pull his groin on the death drop with the height and extension he gets. Gorgeous program which might have had technical problems I didn't catch (not my strong point), since his scores weren't nearly as high as I would have expected. The scores were roundly booed as they got lower and lower. There may have been a problem on the landing of the 3-lutz...seems the judges closer to the jump scored him lower than the ones further from it. Amusingly, when the interviewer asked him "you continue to amaze us...do you continue to amaze yourself?", Brian's response was "I think when I start to amaze myself, I'll be in trouble."

Scores: 9.9 9.8 9.8 9.8 9.8 9.8 9.7
Total: 49.0

Nancy Kerrigan - "Sway" by Pussycat Dolls

Nancy Kerrigan closed out the first act skating to the same song as Alexei's program. From the music listing I got later, it seems that the song is off of the "Shall We Dance" soundtrack, so maybe they both discovered it through that. Nancy explained that she chose the song because it had a bit of a sexy edge, which she thought suited the "Battle of the Sexes" and that she hoped it would make the audience want to get up and dance. The program had a great deal of dancing in place, which Nancy pulled off well. She seemed to really enjoy being out there, and really made a connection with the audience. Unfortunately, her jumps weren't quite as on as the rest of her skating, with a bunch of doubles, and a bit of problem in one of the landings. I think it was those jump issues, which were worse than Yuka's, along with the lack of in-between difficulty, like Yuka's footwork, that got her marked lower by practically all of the judges. Nancy was asked in the interview afterwards how it felt to be back on the ice after a year off and having a new baby, and she responded that it was difficult, but that it felt great to be performing again.

Scores: 9.8 9.6 9.6 9.6 9.6 9.6 9.6
Total: 48.0

At this point in the competition, the men led by the women by 3 points, 196.3 to 193.3.

After an intermission to zamboni the ice, the second half began. In this half, the skaters were paired in head-to-head matchups, with the scores for each pair announced after both skaters had skated.

Oksana Baiul - "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong

Oksana Baiul opened the second half skating to Louis Armstrong because she thought he had a wonderful voice and that "What a Wonderful World" was such a pretty song. This was a really nice program that she choreographed herself, with Oksana dressed in a glittery gold open-backed dress. She did a lovely Ina Bauer, some nice spins, including her trademark spin where she pulls her leg around to her head - a donut spin? and some dancing on the ice. I've noticed that Oksana does huge setups for her jumps, but unfortunately they didn't help her this time, as she doubled most of her jumps.

Elvis Stojko - "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" by Jet

While Elvis' first program was a self-declared departure for him from the norm, his second program, a new one, was right up the alley of the typical Elvis exhibition number. In other words it was to a rock song, and featured him pointing into the audience a lot, mouthing the words, and dancing around a bit. To be perfectly honest, I'm not a huge fan of these kinds of numbers from Elvis, and I find them rather indistinguishable from each other. I was surprised when he said it was the debut of the program, since I thought I'd seen it before. The program didn't lack technical content - he had a number of nice triples, footwork, spins, etc. Also, some of his trademark spinning on the ice moves (which I have to say, he does attack with a great deal of speed and energy). He also didn't stop and point into the audience as much as he has in previous programs. It was a fun, dynamic program, and he performed it well. I just could stand to see other types of programs from him.

Elvis had enough edge, technically, to soundly defeat Oksana in this matchup:
Oksana: 9.7 9.6 9.7 9.6 9.8 9.8 9.7 Total: 97.0
Elvis: 9.8 9.8 9.8 9.8 9.9 9.9 9.9 Total: 98.4

Maria Butyrskaya - "Abba Mix (Money, Money/Winner Takes It All)" by Abba

It may be my fondness for Mamma Mia biasing my preferences, but I quite enjoy Maria's "Abba Mix" program. She seems to be very comfortable performing it and dances quite well to the music. I also like the costume - I'm not sure what its significance is (ie, if it has something to do with Abba I'm not aware of), but I think the white and gold suits her quite well. Maria was quite on all night - at ease on the ice, connecting to the audience, and seeming to have a lot of fun performing the number. She was also one of the few ladies to successfully land her triple jumps, along with a nicely extended spiral and other fun moves.

Alexei Yagudin - "Shout" by Otis Day & the Knights

I'll confess right off the bat that "Shout" is not one of my favorite programs by Alexei. I'm not fond of programs whose sole purpose is audience pandering, to the point where the choreography is so focused on whatever gets the biggest cheer out of the crowd that any artistry is lost. It sounds harsh, but the more I see the program, the more irritated I am by it. And it sounds particularly contrary, but the more the crowd eats up stuff like the skater climbing into the audience to kiss audience members or blowing kisses and pointing into the audience, the more it irritates me. Shout isn't contentless - there is some nice footwork in it, a few triples, it's fun, energetic, and definitely draws the audience in. But two programs in which Alexei actually goes into the audience to molest the audience at a competitive event, even if it is a fun team competition like Ice Wars, just sets my teeth on edge.

Maria: 9.9 9.8 9.8 9.8 9.8 9.8 9.8 Total: 98.0
Alexei: 9.9 9.7 9.9 9.9 9.9 9.9 9.9 Total: 99.0

Yuka Sato - "Wine Safari" by Rolfe Kent

In her intro, Yuka said that she likes this program because the music just makes her feel so free. In her post-skate interview, it came out that Kurt Browning had actually choreographed this program for her, which made it an interesting choice for their head-to-head matchup. The song is from the soundtrack to the movie "Sideways", and it has a kind of free-wheeling, light-hearted, almost whimsical feel to it. The program was filled with footwork, with sequences that had her turning in both directions down the ice, mixing toe work with edges in interesting ways. Yuka also nailed the triple loop and triple sal she'd doubled in her first program. The program was quirky, fun, and light-hearted, in a different style than the first program, and really enjoyable to watch.

Kurt Browning - "I Did It" by Dave Matthews Band

Kurt's intro to his second number was quite silly and humorous - he said that he was skating to "I Did It" by the Dave Matthews Band because it's like the title says - he did it, and he doesn't regret it. "Like rock stars. Everything they do is cool." This program wasn't a huge departure in style from his first program - both dancey rock numbers with lots of footwork and even similar style costumes (shiny buttoned long-sleeve shirt over black pants) - but I'd say this program relied more on attitude than the first number did, and had more of a slinky quality to the choreography, due to the different sound of the music. It was also choreographed by Sandra Bezic, rather than by Kurt himself. Though this program verged, at times, on being in danger of having a little too much in-place dancing and a little too much audience pandering (not in the climb into audience sense, in the hip gyrating, flirtatious looks into the audience sense), I thought Kurt broke it up well by breaking into interesting footwork and dancing that actually involved moving down the ice and utilizing his entire body in interesting ways. With the amount of footwork Kurt does in every program, you would think there wouldn't be anything new to see, but in this program he has some interesting edgy footwork where he pretty much doesn't lift either foot from the ice, he just swivels around and swirls on his edges to create interesting bendy movements and patterns on the ice. His jumps were on as well, including a triple-double combo (he and Brian were the only to do combinations at this competition) and several double axels.

During the post-skate interview, Yuka was asked about working with Kurt - she said it was fun - and then she rather cutely asked Kurt if she worked really hard, if she could ever be as good as him. Kurt was abashed by her compliments. It was rather amusing.

Yuka: 9.8 10 9.8 9.8 9.9 9.9 9.8 Total: 98.4
Kurt: 9.8 9.9 9.9 10 10 10 9.9 Total: 99.4

Nancy Kerrigan - "Born to Try" by Delta Goodrem

While her first program had that "sexy edge" and was more dance-based, Nancy's second program was much softer and more graceful, performed to a female ballady-type song. She wore a pretty, simple light blue dress, and just presented a lovely figure on the ice. Her choreography was more emotional and wistful, with spirals and a spread eagle and pretty poses. Unfortunately, she also had the only fall of the evening on one of her jumps, and landed only doubles outside of that. It's also a bit evident that she doesn't quite have the flexibility (quite understandable after the birth of two children and the year off) that she used to, as her spiral didn't have as much extension and reach as you could tell she was aspiring for. It was a beautifully skated, heartfelt program, though, and very pretty to watch.

Brian Boitano - "Elegy for Harp & Strings" by Lee Holdridge/Nuremburg Symphony/Richard Kaufman

Brian chose the music for his program because he loved the way it just built and built, and because he thought it was one of the most beautiful songs he had ever heard. This was a perfect program for Brian - a strong classical piece that started quieter and built more and more as the song progressed, letting him show off his dramatic, deliberate skating. I find it very enjoyable having Brian Boitano and Kurt Browning at the same event because both are such talented, incredible skaters with such very different styles. Kurt is quick, nimble, always perpetually on the edge, turning, stepping, moving fast. Brian, on the other hand, doesn't give off that sense of agility, he gives off a sense of great presence, deliberation, and control. He's about the long edges, the spread eagle that goes on and on, the held poses as he glides down the ice. This program also featured a lovely camel spin that he opened up so he was almost reaching upwards as he spun, and a triple-double combination. This was a gorgeous, well-skated number, and earned Brian a partial standing ovation from the crowd, and a full standing ovation from his fellow skaters. It may be Brian's last Ice Wars (after having participated in all twelve), but he certainly went out strong, and in style. Not bad when the 42-year old outshines the newer pros technically at his last pro competition!

Nancy: 9.7 9.6 9.7 9.6 9.7 9.8 9.7 Total: 96.8
Brian: 9.9 9.9 9.9 9.9 10 10 10 Total: 99.4

The men won. Final scores:

  1. Men: 592.5
  2. Women: 583.5

Overall, this was a very enjoyable night of skating. The men may have had an unfair advantage, what with two members of the women's team pulling out and having to be replaced, and one member coming back from a year's break from skating, but both teams tried hard and skated beautifully, despite what was apparently universally considered to be fairly crappy ice. This is definitely a competition worth catching on TV, not least for the opportunity to watch one of the greatest pro skaters skate his last pro competition. You'll be missed, Brian!