Figure skating will always be a sport of the 90s for me. First of all, you have a soundtrack of smooth soft-rock and soaring pop ballads for the routines. I know you can use modern or classical music, but when I think figure skating I think Celine Dion, or music from Beauty and the Beast.
Then, you have the sequined, fancy costumes. And finally, the shellacked hair, often with permed, hairsprayed bangs. Not to mention the pre-2000s pop culture nods to skating – Ice Castle, The Cutting Edge, this one episode of 90210 I probably wasn’t supposed to be watching.
Somehow, it’s been 20 years since many of these skaters first graced the ice. As part of our Sochi 2014 coverage, and in celebration of the most 90s-tastic sport ever, we present 90s Figure Skaters: Where Are they Now.
Michelle Kwan was your classic, girl-next-door skating champ — if the girl next door to you was an internationally ranked elite athlete, that is. You may remember that Kwan probably should have made it to the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, but the spot went to Nancy Kerrigan instead. But in 1998, Kwan won silver in Nagano, and four years later she took the bronze in Salt Lake City — all at the age of 17 and 21, respectively.
So what’s Michelle up to these days? Get ready to be really, really impressed. She has worked as an American diplomat, earned a master’s from Tufts, and works for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural affairs. She recently married Clay Pell, of the Pell Grant Pells. You can listen to her figure skating commentary during the Sochi games.
Ukranian teen Oksana Baiul took the figure skating world by storm in 1994, a year that was to figure skating what 1996 was to gymnastics. Competing on injected anesthetics after a blade-induced injury, then 16-year-old Oksana took gold in women’s singles. Shortly thereafter, Baiul turned pro and toured in one of those Champions on Ice tours that were all the rage at the time. After falling on some rough times – she was charged with driving while intoxicated, and attended rehab – Oksana made a turnaround (a triple toe loop, if you will) and began designing clothing for the Oksana Baiul Collection, starred in an ice skating musical (no, really), and even appeared on the Celebrity Poker Showdown. As recently as 2012, Oksana was still making occasional figure skating performances. She is planning a tour for 2014, and working on an autobiography.
I still think of Oksana Baiul every time I hear the Gin Blossoms song “Found Out About You,” because at age 7 I started mentally replacing the title lyrics with “Oksana Baiul.” I’m not sure if I misheard it or was just a weird child.
Today, as in the early ’90s, Boitano maintains a higher profile than most of his peers. Boitano ‘Tano triple lutz-ed onto the scene in the ’88 Olympics, winning Gold with his namesake move (which you may have seen at the men’s singles portion of the team competition in Sochi). Remember how he wiped ice off of his skate blade after his triple axel? Basically the skating version of brushing your shoulders off.
Boitano then turned pro, winning an Emmy for his turn in Carmen on Ice, because it was the late 80s and that’s sort of just where we all were as a people. He then re-upped as an amateur and competed in the 94 games, to so-so results. He may be more famous for what happened after his Olympic career. He inspired the South Park tune ‘What Would Brian Boitano Do?,” starred in the Food Network show “What Would Brian Boitano Make,” and has made several TV and film cameos — including one of my personal favorite skating films, Blades of Glory. He now has a series on HGTV,
“Where Would Brian Boitano Live” “The Brian Boitano Project.” He came out in 2013 and was part of the U.S.’s Gay Athlete Dream Team that was sent to stick it to Russia.
Once lauded by Time Magazine as “the most beautiful face of socialism” (you cannot make this stuff up), Witt rose from East Germany to become a mid-80s superstar. Decades before little Yulia Lipnitskaya performed a routine as the girl in the red coat from Schindler’s List, Witt… also performed a routine as the girl from the red coat from Schindler’s List. After taking gold in Calgary and Sarajevo, Witt started a professional career – only to return to competing for the 1994 games. She spent the 90s touring in skating shows, making cameo performances, publishing an autobiography and posing for Playboy. These days, Witt seems to be focusing on acting. After her skating farewell tour in 2008 (at age 43!), she appeared as a judge on TV skating show, and most recently starred in a German TV movie. Her website lists numerous TV hosting gigs and stage performances, as well as the formation of the Katarina Witt Foundation, which helps children with disabilities.
Bonaly brought a sense of athleticism to figure skating – as a former gymnast, her jumps were ridiculous. Competing for France, Surya failed to medal in the three Olympics in which she competed (1992, 1994, 1998) but many believe that she was totally robbed – particularly in the Nagano games, when she landed a backflip on a single blade and placed 10th. However, she did win silver in World’s for three consecutive years, so the judges weren’t always completely against her.
After the Nagano games, Surya turned pro and toured with Champions on Ice until 2007. A year after that, she proved she could still land that backflip in a gala performance. She has also appeared on TV, both in cameo performances and on the French version of The Farm. Just last month, she skated in Holiday on Ice in France and modeled for DPM stores. Now a U.S. citizen, Bonaly lives in Las Vegas and campaigns for PETA.
So much of the Harding/ Kerrigan scandal was due to forces outside of the skaters’ control. Basically, Harding seemed like the blue-eyeshadowed, crispy-permed bad girl who would shoplift from Contempo Casuals after cutting class, whereas Kerrigan had the wholesome vibe of Sandra Bullock and the patrician features of Jackie O. Harding could have been classy as Audrey Hepburn, and Kerrigan may have been a Jerry Springer-watching potty mouth for all we know, but public opinion is a tricky thing.
We all know the story: Kerrigan gets kneecapped, Harding’s ex-husband was behind it, Harding claims she knew nothing about it, and a TV movie was born. But what happened next?
Harding had some tough times – being effectively ousted from the skating community and having forgone education in order to skate, she had trouble finding work. You probably remember her stint in celebrity boxing, or the Jeff Gillooly sex tape. Harding has appeared as a commentator for TruTV, and – after a few run-ins with the law – has married, had a baby, and hopefully cleaned up her act.
Kerrigan, first of all, is a bit of a secret sass factory, and I love it:
Okay, so like just about everyone else on the list, Kerrigan toured in skating shows after her Olympic run. She also has appeared as an ice skating commentator on Entertainment Tonight, and has had a few tv and film cameos. She was once again dragged into controversy in 2011, when her brother was charged with the manslaughter of her father (he was ultimately convicted of assault). She is married and has three children. Kerrigan now supports several charities, and will be commenting on the Sochi games for NBC/Universal.
Not exactly a 90s star, it has nonetheless been 12(!) years since Hughes won gold in Salt Lake City, and I think we’re due for an update. Not long after the games, Hughes enrolled in Yale. After taking a year off to tour professionally, she graduated in 2009 with a degree in American studies. She is currently providing commentary on the Sochi Olympics, and works with the Figure Skating in Harlem program.
You probably know the drill by now: Olympics -> professional tours -> charity work. Well, that’s pretty much the case with Kristi, too. After winning gold in Albertville in 1992, Yamaguchi toured with Stars On Ice. In 2000, she married hockey player Bret Hedican and had two children, who I assumed learned how to skate before they could walk. Kristi always seemed like the classy smart girl of the early-90s figure skating circuit, and I think maybe she really was. She started the Always Dream Foundation, focusing on childhood literacy, and wrote a successful children’s book, Dream Big, Little Pig. Yamaguchi also wrote a few figure skating books for adults — including (no lie) Figure Skating For Dummies. Kristi’s reality TV career is soaring — the winner of Dancing With The Stars, she also hosted the reality show Skating’s Next Star, had her genealogy traced on a PBS show, and has had cameo performances on a number of TV programs. Yamaguchi even has a fitness DVD out for all of us figure skating-wannabes.
In 1997, tiny Tara became the youngest person ever to win the U.S. Championships, and later, the World Championships. The next year, she took gold in Nagano. Moreover, she had those round brush-curled bangs that everyone in my sixth grade class wanted. After the Olympics she went professional, toured for a few years, and started experiencing hip problems. Fortunately, she was able to fall back on a career of guest appearances on every late 90s- early 2000s family-friendly show you can think of. Lipinski is now a spokesperson for The Boys And Girls Clubs of America and works with Make-A-Wish. She is a regular figure skating commentator – including now, for the Sochi games. And, Tara still puts on the skates from time to time, including a Big Lebowski-inspired routine on Jimmy Fallon.
For you fans of those ‘Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln, Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy’-style coincidences: Lipinski was a 15 year old figure skater in 1998 when she won gold in the Winter Olympics. Today, Yulia Lipnitskaya is a 15-year-old figure skater – born in 1998 – who may be poised to take a medal as well. Yulia is a Russian teenager, and Tara skated to music from Anastasia … a cartoon about a Russian teenager. Crazy stuff. Okay, not really.
This husband-and-wife duo were the darlings of the pair skating circuit. They actually got engaged on the day of their performance at the 1994 Olympics! It was like a cheesy movie we all totally would have watched in the mid-90s, but real. Despite missing medals in their two Olympics competitions (’94 and ’98), the pair won bronze and silver at a few Worlds competitions, and regularly crushed the U.S. nationals. After turning pro and touring for several years, the couple settled down and began coaching. Jenni also appeared on the tv show Skating With Celebrites, which I imagine was like Dancing With The Stars, but with more falling. The Menno-Sandses have two adorable ginger sons, Jack and Matthew. From what I can tell they have bypassed the Sale-Pelletier curse, and are still married.
Nicole Bobek, like Dunkaroos or those rings you could pull your t-shirts through to tie it off to the side, is one of those 90s phenomena that we all kind of remember, even if it’s been years since we thought about them. Nicole only competed in one Olympics (1998), placing 17th due to injury, but she made good showings at U.S. and Worlds Championships for several years there in the mid-90s.
Other than Tonya Harding — who many Tonyas probably blame for tarnishing the entire population of Tonyas – Bobek was probably the biggest ‘bad girl’ of the figure skating sport. She smoked, she slacked off, and she wore flashy costumes and hairdos. As a teen, Nicole received probation for her part in a home invasion (she stole money after breaking into a friend’s garage). It only got worse from there. In 2010, she was convicted for her part in a drug ring after being charged with conspiracy to distribute meth. No, I have no idea why a former teen figure skater plotline wasn’t written into Breaking Bad, either.
This marked a turning point (a salchow, let’s say) for Nicole. She went back to the ice, has performed in a number of benefits, and started teaching. As of last year, she was working on getting her GED, and fellow skaters were impressed with her dedication and positive attitude. Bobek also performs as an acrobat. This has to be my favorite comeback story of all of our former Olympians.
You probably best remember Rudy as a two-time World Champion, or from his pairs career with Kristi Yamaguchi. Well, things have come full circle (let’s go with… half axel. Haven’t used that one yet), because now he coaches Kristi’s daughter. Awww! As you may have guessed, Galindo turned pro in 1996, and toured for several years. He also appeared on Yamaguchi’s reality show, Skating’s Next Star. The first openly gay figure skater in the U.S., Rudy announced that he was H.I.V. positive in 2000. He supports several AIDS charities — his brother died from the disease — and other than a few hip replacements, Galindo is in good health.
Slutskaya had a surprisingly long competitive career, skating in her first European championship in 1996, and completing her last Olympics event in 2006. She won gold, silver, and bronze medals on the international stage, with some interruptions for serious illness – including a kidney transplant in 2002. Since her last competition, Irina and her husband have had two children. She is a tv presenter – mostly for skating programs – in Russia. Slutskaya still performs on ice, and competed -and won bronze – in the Medal Winner’s Open in 2012.