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Ten questions with Tai and Randy

Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner at the Team 2014 breakfast Tuesday morning.
Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner at the Team 2014 breakfast Tuesday morning. (Mickey Brown )

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By Mickey Brown, special to icenetwork.com
(01/22/2008) - Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner teamed up as a pairs team 40 years ago. Throughout their career, they won five consecutive U.S. pairs titles, as well as the 1979 world championship. They represented the United States at two Olympic Winter Games but had to withdraw from the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., because of an injury sustained by Gardner. They have since been inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame.

Babilonia and Gardner are in Saint Paul this week for the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The Twin Cities are a special place to the pair, as they won their first U.S. title, in the junior division, in Minneapolis in 1973. They were the keynote speakers at U.S. Figure Skating's Team 2014 breakfast Tuesday morning. Afterwards, icenetwork.com sat down with the two skating icons for an informal Q & A session.

You two have performed for and met several presidents and even the Queen of England. Who was your favorite world leader you met?

Tai: The morning after the 1980 Olympics, we received thousands of telegrams. We got a phone call from President Carter. We got to meet him with the whole U.S. Team.

Randy: The most impressive one and the one that had the most impact on me at the moment was Queen Elizabeth. She watched us skate. She was in the audience, in the 'royal box.' They told us there was a receiving line afterwards, not speak to her until spoken to, all that protocol stuff. That was the first time I experienced something like that.

Tai, you named your son Scout after one of the character's in the book To Kill a Mockingbird. What are each of your favorite books?

T: My favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird. I love the character Scout. I knew if I were to have a girl or boy, it would be Scout - either way. I love Gregory Peck's character -- so handsome -- and just what the whole story meant. I thought it was brilliant.

R: I'm reading a lot of Augusten Burroughs right now -- satire stuff. He's one of my favorite writers at the moment. He did Running with Scissors. Biographies are some of my favorites. I just read Dorothy Hamill's book, which is interesting to me because it's the same era as us, and she's a friend.

I read that you two had to be bribed to hold hands in your first performance with candy bars. What are your favorite junk foods?

T: I'm not a big sweet, sugar person. I like salty. I love a big bag of French fries, a piece of pizza -- saltier things.

R: I like chocolate. I like any kind of ice cream. Angel food cake with chocolate ice cream.

Your skating has taken you two all over the globe. If you could spend a month in any place in the world, where would it be?

T: I've never been to Australia. Our friend, Peter Cain, is from there. I've heard so many wonderful things about it.

R: I'd go back to the Galapagos [Islands] of Ecuador. I like the tropics, being around water. Hawaii -- I could go there easy anytime. I'm dying to go down to Bora Bora, Tahiti -- island hop, hut hop.

You two work as motivational speakers. Who are some people who have inspired you over the years through either their words or their actions?

T: We went back to Lake Placid for the 25th anniversary of the [1980 Olympic] Games and Mike Eruzione. He's so amazing to listen to. I'd always heard he was a great motivational speaker. He did a speech at the rink, and it was amazing. He brought you right back to that night when they won. He inspired me.

R: I've always been one for people who are underdogs or overcame some sort of injury or adversity. Those people who are out in the wilderness for three or four days and come walking out -- those stories inspire me.

You both have been involved with the show Skating with Celebrities, and Randy, you've worked on such TV shows as Ally McBeal. What are some of your favorite TV programs?

T: I can't keep up with what's on now. There's a show called Sunday Morning on CBS I always watch. I love Biography. I don't watch much nighttime TV. Nickelodeon -- the old shows, TV Land. Those shows blow away what's out there now.

R: I'm watching Pushing Daisies right now. I need to start my day with at least a half hour of The Today Show, Matt and Meredith. I like the magazine shows. The New Adventures of Old Christine -- I always watch that on Monday nights.

Tai, you competed with Bruce Jenner, at one time considered the world's best athlete, on Skating with Celebrities. Who are some athletes you admire most?

T: Bruce would be in there. [1960 Olympic gold medalist decathlete] Rafer Johnson. Dorothy Hamill. Peggy Fleming -- that's how I started skating was watching her. Janet Lynn was one of my favorite skaters. Jackie Joyner-Kersee. I love John McEnroe, the feisty John McEnroe. Bruce was great. I found out how great an athlete he was when he picked up skating. He had never skated, and he did it. Randy got him to do things that were incredible. He was dying to lift me over his head and throw me. He almost got the best of me.

R: [Five-time Olympic medalist speedskater] Eric Heiden. I think speedskaters are terrific. Apolo Ohno. I love that short track. Their skating is not like ours at all, but the gliding and speed and push and being hunched over, doing those laps -- it's kind of wild to me. Billy Jean King. Greg Louganis -- what a spectacular, beautiful diver.

Tai, you create your own art in the form of "Little Wing Creations" and Randy, your choreography contains a lot of artistry. Who or what are some of your greatest artistic influences?

T: Toller Cranston. His work is wild. He was selling some of his work [at the world championships] in Munich in 1974, and I bought one of his earlier prints. In music, I'm a big fan of Stevie Nicks [and] Aretha Franklin. We were just listening to Ella Fitzgerald. There's always music in the house; it relaxes me. A great architect I like is Paul Williams.

R: David Hockney. His stuff is very colorful, bold. When he has exhibits in L.A., I've got to go see them whenever I can. [Architect] Frank Gehry. Baryshnikov -- a strong male presence but still really artistic.

If you could go back in time and change one thing that you did or one thing that happened to you, what would it be?

T: I wouldn't change anything. I've learned so much from life. I've made huge mistakes, but I had to. It shaped me to be the person and woman and mother I am.

R: I'm kind of of the same philosophy. Do I regret things? Not really. There are things I've done that I wish I hadn't done. With [us having to withdraw from the 1980] Olympics, of course I wish it didn't happen, but I learned from it. If I could paint my life again, I'd take that out.

What's your favorite joke of [Tai's fiancé] David Brenner?

T: One of his earlier ones. He's sitting on a newspaper, and someone asks, 'Are you reading that newspaper?' Don't know how it goes. I guess it's the newspaper joke.

[Editor's note: The joke goes like this. "I was on the subway, sitting on a newspaper, and a guy comes over and asks, 'Are you reading that?' I didn't know what to say. So I said, 'Yes.' I stood up, turned the page and sat down again.]