The Inside Edge with Sarah and Drew - Jan. 4

The decade in skating; Drew and Jessica call it quits

Tuffy Hough and Drew Meekins practicing together in Boston.
Tuffy Hough and Drew Meekins practicing together in Boston. (Sarah S. Brannen)


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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to
(01/04/2010) - Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins cover all the bases in the latest version of The Inside Edge.

Happy New Year!

We're agog with excitement for the events of the next two months, aren't you? But first, a look back. We were inspired by all the columns recapping the last ten years, so we asked around to find out what you thought were the most significant figure skating events of the first decade of the 21st century. Here are some of the highs and lows remembered by fans and skaters. We realize that this is not at all comprehensive, but it's what people took the time to write to us about.

2000: Marina Annissina and Gwendal Peizerat's free dance at the world championships.
2001: Michelle Kwan's short and long programs at the U.S. national championships in Boston.
2002: Alexei Yaguin and Evgeny Plushenko's battle at the Grand Prix Final; the judging scandal at the Olympics, which led to the institution of the new judging system.
2004: Brian Joubert's silver medal at the world championships.
2005: Irina Slutskaya's comeback from major illness to win the world title. The tragic death of Angela Nikodinov's mother at the U.S. championships.
2006: Olympics: Totmianina and Marinin winning the gold medal; Barbara Fusar-Poli's "death stare;" Johnny Weir's "Swan." Kimmie Meissner winning the world title.
2007: Isabelle Delobel screaming backstage at the European championships; Sinead and John Kerr's Scottish original dance. 2008: The Johnny Weir-Evan Lysacek tie at the U.S. championships; Jeremy Abbott's win at the Grand Prix Final; Christopher Bowman's death; Daisuke Takahashi's record-breaking Four Continents win.
2009: Johnny not being named to the U.S. world team; Evan winning the world title; Yu-Na Kim breaking 200 points for the first time; Nicole Bobek's arrest; Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao's return to competition.

Apparently nothing memorable occurred in 2003, and frankly we don't remember much about that season either.

Youtube-meister Michael Buckley (What the Buck) made a video for us, discussing his thoughts on the major events of the past decade. He said:

1. The fall of professional skating, because professional skating was so popular in the 90s and now there really is no such thing. All those pro skating competitions, they don't do those any more, they used to be on TV all the time.
2. The fall of U.S. female skating... Tara Lipinski and Sarah Hughes retired and now we have nothing.
3. The rise of U.S. ice dancing, that's been very exciting, because nobody really cared about ice dancing ten years ago in America, let's be honest. I don't even know who was an ice dancer in the 90s. Ice dancing has captured the American public, so that's exciting.
4. The change in the scoring system and the 2002 pair controversy.

Tuffy on TV
Lucky skating fans in Canada got to watch figure skaters pair up with hockey players on the reality show Battle of the Blades last fall. Our friend Christine Hough-Sweeney, known to all as Tuffy, made it to week five of the show. We've been wanting to hear the inside story on the show ever since we heard Tuffy was doing it.

Eight teams competed, each pairing a female pair skater or ice dancer with a Canadian NHL hockey player. In addition to Tuffy, the figure skaters on Battle of the Blades were Shae-Lynn Bourne, Barbara Underhill, Marie-France Dubreuil, Isabelle Brasseur, Jodeyne Higgins, Kristina Lenko and the eventual winner Jamie Salé.

"Sandra Bezic called me in April to ask if I would be interested in doing the show," said Tuffy. "I was in Target with my kids when she called. I said, 'I haven't asked my family yet, but I'm in!'"

Tuffy has been married for thirteen years to former Boston Bruin Don Sweeney, who is now the assistant general manager of the Bruins, so she's used to skating with a hockey player. Did the two of them ever try pair skating, ala Cutting Edge?

"We used to fool around a little bit when we first got married," said Tuffy. "We'd do the 'butt lift' for fun and we did a couple death spirals at Christmas parties and things. Don has a lot of respect for figure skating because he is Canadian. If they ever asked him to be on the show I think he's ready to go."

The first step toward the live shows was a "boot camp" in July, which was when Tuffy found out that she would be partnered with the famous NHL enforcer Tie Domi. The women spent a few days introducing the hockey players to figure skating.

"They tried so hard," said Tuffy. "I had so much respect for how they put themselves out there. They said it was a lot harder than they had thought! Tie said he wished he had put his son on figure skates when he was little, because he realized how well you learned the skills.

"We always said we weren't going to try to make them figure skaters. Tie said. "I am no figure skater, not would I try to be. It's too difficult!'"

The show started filming in Toronto right after Labor Day. "We had a live show on Sunday, and then we'd start practicing [for the next show] on Monday," said Tuffy. "We got the music two weeks ahead."

Although a couple of the hockey players originally said they were going to wear their hockey skates instead of figure skates, everyone but Tie ended up switching to the proper boots and blades.

"Tie fell a few times really hard, once on top of me, so he felt more comfortable in his hockey skates. If he had put in more time in the very beginning in figure skates maybe he would have learned how. The problem was he never stayed in them long enough."

Doing lifts with a guy in hockey skates was probably risky, but they did it.

"We stayed with straight carry-lifts only, or half-lifts. I wasn't afraid," said Tuffy. "He was a brute. He's really big! You always depend on your partner as a pair skater, and you hope he remembers what he's supposed to do."

Performing the 90-second programs was a completely new experience for all the hockey players. "They had never been under spotlights," said Tuffy, "And it was a very small rink. I was supposed to be the pro, and I was a nervous wreck! But Tie was a crowd-pleaser. Ken Daneyko said it was as exciting as the Stanley Cup."

It was sometimes hard for the guys to remember the choreography, which was, of course, all new to them.

"They don't learn sequentially," said Tuffy. "You know how you work on a step for an hour or two and then decide it's not going to work? They were like, 'You mean we're not going to do that now? We worked on it for an hour!'"

Both Sandra Bezic and David Wilson choreographed for the skaters.

"I had never worked with David before," said Tuffy. "He was fantastic, as was Sandra. He was unbelievable; I can't tell you how privileged I was."

Tuffy had hoped, in the beginning, to be able to show off more of her pair skills.

"I thought for sure I'd be able to do a throw, like a Salchow," said Tuffy, but the hockey players weren't able to do the turn and step leading into the throw. "All of us girls bailed, even though we were all known for our throws. We did death spirals but we couldn't teach them to do pivots. We could do a lunge-style death spiral. They were really powerful when they felt good about stuff. They're used to going fast. They were really strong so that was their biggest asset."

Just like in the movies, the hockey players were taken aback by the necessary intimacies of pair skating.

"They all wanted to learn lifts," said Tuffy. "At first they were completely horrified: 'You want us to grab them where?' And David said, 'Grab her anywhere, just don't let her fall.'"

Tuffy got a little emotional as she admitted it had been nice to be "somebody" again, after many years of home life and some coaching.

"To go back after thirteen years of not doing anything... I almost cried the first night. It was so wonderful to be back out there. The crowd was so great, and to be back in my home country... I love being a mom, but no one is clapping for me when I make dinner!"

Tuffy told us that there will be another season of Battle of the Blades next year. Would she do it again?

"They haven't asked me yet -- I would love to do it again!"

Drew's partnership
A message from Drew: As you may have heard by now, Jessica and I have withdrawn from nationals and also ended our partnership. A couple of weeks ago Jessica came to the rink and told me and Dalilah that, for personal reasons, she didn't feel that she could skate right now. I respect and understand her decision, although I will miss skating with her. I'm very sad to not be skating at nationals but I'm looking forward to finding a new partner and continuing to pursue my goals.

I'm very grateful to all of my coaches, to U.S. Figure Skating and of course to my family and friends for their constant support. I would also like to say a HUGE thank you to all of the fans who have written, e-mailed, and tweeted their support for me. It means the world to me!

See you in Spokane,

Sarah and Drew
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