|Linda Fratianne, left, and Craig Heath perfect their judging faces at the Sun Valley ice rink. The duo will be joined at the judging table by last year’s winner, Langely McNeal, right.
Express photo by David N. Seelig
During 2010’s tough economic climate, the Sun Valley Figure Skating Club was trying to come up with a way to continue to fund its programs, which help local children into ice skates and onto the ice.
The result of the club’s brainstorm was the fabulous Battle of the Blades. Modeled on the reams of popular reality television competition series, in particular ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” the premise is local celebrities paired with professional ice-skaters, performing in front of a live audience and a panel of judges.
Attracting more than 2,400 paying customers, last year’s event was an unqualified success. The club raised enough money to keep its programs going and $3,000 was split among the nonprofits of the top three contestants’ choices. So, next month on Sept. 8 “Battle of the Blades … It’s Back!” takes Sun Valley Resort’s ice rink by storm. There’s been no tweaking of the formula, just a new crop of “celebrities” (see Contestants below), who will perform professionally choreographed and staged ice dance programs, competing for victory and cash awards for their chosen nonprofit.
The organizers are promising that this year’s event will be “bigger, bolder and full of new surprises!”
“It’s such a crazy mix of putting your dignity
on the line, doing a sport you’ve never done
before and wearing a fancy outfit,
all while trying not to get hurt.”
The Idaho Mountain Express sat down with Sun Valley’s own “Simon and Paula” to get the skinny on what to expect at this year’s event. Linda Fratianne, the 1980 Olympic silver medalist and two-time World Champion, returns to the judging table this year, joined by perennial Sun Valley ice-show favorite and 1998 World professional bronze medalist, Craig Heath, who helped choreograph last year’s performances. The 2011 champion, Langely McNeal rounds out the threesome (see sidebar).
What do you think made last year’s show such a big success? It was a great community event.
Craig Heath: The community feel last year is the thing that stood out the most to me, having the whole community come together. They were so into the show, it was packed—people were lined up to get in.
So, was it a fun experience for you?
Linda Fratianne: It was so much fun. I was a little nervous doing the judging, but I loved it and I was hoping they would ask me again to do it. I’m really excited to judge it again.
Are you going to adopt any characters in your role as judges this year?
CH: Kipp [Nelson] was hilarious last year. He was so funny. He was in character the whole time, he said he was Bruno, but he looked like Willy Wonka … I think I’m going to go with flamboyant.
LF: They told me I had to be the Paula Abdul, the nice one. Last year the whole audience booed me when I made one slightly negative comment—I was mortified! But I’m staying in character, I’m going to be the glamorous one, wear heels, a long dress, bring out the diamonds.
CH: It’s not even a character, it’s who you are!
What is your plan for your judging style?
LF: Well, I’m the nice one, but I’m not going to throw 10s out a lot. Because that’s not my style. I think 10s are really special, I only gave one last year, to Langely.
CH: A 10 is a special thing. I’m going to be the funny one. Kind of in the middle, but I’ll be tough if I have to.
LF: I want to be fair, really fair, judge on what I see.
So, you’re judging this as you would any real competition?
CH: That’s what makes it exciting—we’re approaching it as a real competition. It’s a serious thing. We’re taking it seriously. If we get booed, we get booed.
LH: We want to judge on what we see and be fair about it. We’re taking it very seriously, as fun as it is. We have a responsibility to take it seriously.
CH: The competitors are working so hard on this—we need to do our job.
Do either of you watch any of the reality television shows that the competition is modeled on?
CH: I don’t watch any of them.
LF: Oh yes, I do! In fact the only things I watch on TV are “American Idol,” “The Bachelor,” “The Bachelorette,” “Bachelor Pad” and “X-Factor.”
CH: Those are so cheesy.
LF: That’s why I make such a good Paula!
You’re both highly successful professional figure skaters. Can you provide any insight into how it feels to go out there and be judged on your performance?
CH: When you do it from when you’re a child, it’s natural. I thrive on it. I get really nervous right before and say, “Why am I doing this?” But the minute I’m out there, I’m like, “This is why I’m doing it!”
LF: For me it’s about the anticipation and when I get on the ice and I hear the music, I know thats why I’m supposed to be out there. It’s about doing the best I’m capable of doing. When I’ve worked so hard all year and if I can produce that in a program, it really doesn’t matter where the judges place me. What I want out there is my best performance, and if that takes me first or last, it really doesn’t matter—I just want to be the best I can.
CH: No, it’s true. But come on, if you got last, you wouldn’t be so happy about it.
LF: No one wants to come in last, but that’s all I can do, the best of my ability out there.
CH: I was always so happy if I won. I was never skating to win, never.
LF: No. You can’t, you’d be disappointed all the time.
What has been the highlight for you from your time in front of the judges?
LH: Probably becoming world champion in 1977. That was an incredible moment. I was never expecting it.
What went through your mind at that moment?
LF: It was in Tokyo, Japan, and I was very sick, I had an inner ear infection and my balance was off. I wasn’t sure I was even going to compete—I had a 101 fever. My first jump was a triple salchow and I fell flat, and I got up. On the other end of the ice I did a triple toe loop and two more double axle combinations and I won. I tell my students now that just because you fall doesn’t mean it’s over.
Do you remember your moment on the ice that meant the most to you?
CH: I didn’t even win—I was third, but it was in the World Professional Championships in Spain. I got invited and it was such a surprise, I didn’t expect it. I had a really good program and I was shocked. I was all undressed and ready to go, thinking it was over and someone came in the room and said, “What are you doing? You’re supposed to go out there and get your medal!”
“Battle of the Blades” returns Saturday, Sept. 8. Tickets are on sale now at www.battleoftheblades.org from $25 to $150 ($10 for students). Organizers are anticipating another sellout, so get those tickets early.
Langely’s back ... as a judge!
Last year’s “Battle of the Blades” champion, professional alpine skier Langely McNeal, will be sitting at the judging table this year. She gives some insight into what the competitors have in store:
What is your judging style going to be?
Langely McNeal: I’ve decided I’m going to be the nice judge, because I’ve been on the other side of that table and that sport is so difficult. I’ll be giving the high scores. I think Craig will be the Simon, the sassy one, Linda will probably do the technical aspects and I’ll probably do the athleticism.
How did you feel being on the ice in front of the judges at last year’s event?
LM: It was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. In skiing you’re in your own head, doing your own thing. With your helmet on you don’t hear anything. With figure skating you can see and hear everything, and there were about 3,000 people there. It was scary.
How does it feel to be the champion?
LM: It was really fun, and it was really fun watching everyone progress—we all got really close through the process. And it was such a great fundraising event for the community, a real locals event.
Have you continued your skating efforts?
LM: I hung up my blades that last night and haven’t put them on since. It’s quite a commitment, ice skating. I hope everyone that comes appreciates the hard work of the contestants. It’s such a crazy mix of putting your dignity on the line, doing a sport you’ve never done before and wearing a fancy outfit, all while trying not to get hurt.
I have gained so much respect for figure skaters—you fall on hard ice, it’s like concrete. And then, to make the presentation look good, hold your shoulders right, have perfect makeup, all that stuff matters, on top of putting on an excellent athletic performance.
Skating for Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation
Skating for World Cup Dreams Foundation
Firefighter & Animal Activist
Skating for Defenders of Wildlife
Skating for WR Bicycle Coalition and Michael J. Fox Foundation
Skating for St. Luke’s Wood River
Sun Valley Adaptive Sports Leader
Skating for Sun Valley Adaptive Sports
Skating for BCRD and SVSEF
Community School Teacher
Skating for Community School
Skating for Blaine Manor