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From the Archives: Compulsory Figures Explained by Dick Button

With compulsory figures still on my mind from my last post, I came across this fascinating TV clip from the 1988 Winter Olympics with highlights from the women’s compulsory figure event in Calgary. There are two especially interesting moments in this 10-minute clip, narrated by American figure skating bigwigs, Dick Button and Peggy Flemming.

First, starting at minute 4:52, there’s discussion (likely one of the first) about the International Skating Union deciding whether or not to remove figures from World and Olympic competition. This was monumental news at the time. I’m very intrigued by the US skaters’ opposition to that move. Scott Hamilton goes as far as to say it would ruin the sport. To be honest, I felt the same way at the time. In part, because school figures were my strong suit. However, I think it’s fair to say the opposite has occurred. Many of the hours devoted to practicing school figures has shifted to improving artistic elements of free skating like spirals, spins and footwork. Plus, improved jumping has increased the thrill of the sport for spectators.

The second item in the video that fascinates me starts at 9:05. It’s an American view of Katarina Witt’s training regime and relationship with coach Jutta Muller. Given the ‘Battle of the Carmens’ between Witt and American Debbie Thomas at the Games, this reporting feels a lot like war time propaganda.

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