The Inside Edge with Sarah and Drew - July 13

Catching up with Mattis, discussing Abbott's hair

On-ice backflipping enthusiast Doug Mattis with coach Liudmila Nelidina.
On-ice backflipping enthusiast Doug Mattis with coach Liudmila Nelidina. (courtesy of Doug Mattis)


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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to
(07/13/2011) - We recently spent some time with 1985 U.S. junior champion Doug Mattis. One of us is, ahem, old enough to remember Mattis' last appearance at the U.S. Championships, in 1991. He celebrated the end of his amateur career by doing a backflip in his free skate, driving the crowd wild. A few years later, Mattis brought the house down again at the 1994 U.S. Open in Worcester, Mass. In his long program, he did spot-on imitations of several stars, including Dick Button, Scott Hamilton, Paul Wylie, Peggy Fleming and Tonya Harding.

"I test-marketed [the program] for over a year, because I wanted to make sure that it wasn't offensive to people," Mattis told us. "I wanted to make sure I was honoring my heroes as well as recognizing that the skating public loved these people for what they do too. Paul Wylie was the skater who skated right before me...he was so gracious and so wonderful! He saw the program in practice, and he said, 'This is a great number. So, if you're going to do me, my hands are like this.' He and I have always been good friends; he's one of the smartest people I know, and I so appreciated that he took it the right way."

You can watch both programs on YouTube; search for Doug Mattis.

Mattis grew up in Philadelphia and eventually moved to Los Angeles, where he trained with Frank Carroll alongside Christopher Bowman. He told us that he first met the irrepressible Bowman at the U.S. Championships in the official hotel, on a balcony high above a crowed lobby. Bowman walked toward him, idly picked up an ice bucket and tossed the ice over the balcony, then shook hands with Mattis as people shrieked on the ground below.

Mattis shared a lot of stories about his years of friendship with Bowman; despite his wild reputation, Mattis said he was a generous person.

"There were tons of times where Chris showed me unbelievable kindness and friendship," he said.

After winning the junior national title, Mattis competed as a senior for six more seasons. His best finish at the U.S. Championships was seventh; he won in St. Gervais one year, beating Kurt Browning and finished second at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf.

"My triple Axel kind of stunk," he admits now. "I could land one out of 20. I got better as a pro."

Mattis could not only land a backflip on one foot, he did it in combination with a triple toe. In a quixotic attempt to get the backflip included in the list of permissible competitive jumps, Mattis did the combination in all his official practices the last year of his competitive career. ,p> "Michael Weiss's dad taught me backflip," he told us. "I've known Michael since he was a baby."

After turning pro, Mattis said he spent a number of years doing shows, first going through what he calls "Bietak boot camp."

"You do six shows a day, six days a week at a theme park, and my very first one was the very toughest, King's Island, in Cincinnati. There were three male solos in a half hour, so basically something like twenty percent of the show was me, plus ensemble numbers. So I did at least one triple jump and a backflip in almost every number, times six shows, times six days a week, times fifteen weeks... that's a lot of flippin' skating! That's why they call it boot camp, because they work you hard."

Mattis went on to other shows and bigger tours, including some televised specials. About ten years ago, he decided to retire.

"Somewhere around 2001, 2002, I was like, 'I think I'm done. I've done everything I wanted to do. I've produced shows, and I've directed shows, and I've starred in shows, and it's time to move on.'"

Mattis spent seven years in Los Angeles, working as a writer for Universal Studios and Disney, and freelancing. He didn't leave skating completely, though.

"If you went to 2002 nationals, the program there had ten pages dedicated to the history of skating in L.A. I so treasure the fact that I got asked to do that. I got to go through Mabel Fairbanks' stuff, and Bill Udell's photographs over the years, and a treasure trove of stuff that got used in RISE, and it was really neat."

"I was also doing a little bit of choreography here and there, a little bit of teaching, just to sort of keep my pinky in the water."

Five years ago, after losing a couple of production jobs because he hadn't gone to college, Mattis decided to buckle down and get a degree.

"I got my bachelor's in business last November, and now I'm in my master's degree. I'm getting an MBA."

Mattis is now living in Las Vegas with the man he calls the love of his life, Terence Scipione.

"I met this gorgeous, handsome, tall doctor, who has an artist's heart and is the smartest person I've ever met, and is a genuinely kind person, and we're really happy," he said. "We're thinking about having kids, and I'll be the stay-at-home dad. If I get my master's degree I'd like to be able to teach online, and that will fit with the goal."

But, wherever life takes him, Mattis says he wants to stay in skating. He's currently closely involved with the Young Artists' Showcase choreography competition.

"YAS is very close to my inner heart. I want to give back as much as I possibly can. Someone was always there to help me when I was trying to make it in skating. It's never, ever, ever going to be about the money for me, it's always going to be about the give-back. I will continue to do choreography here and there. Mostly I am enjoying being a skating fan. I love the sport and I care less about all of the iniquities and complaints and frustrations as I do about how skating has the power to change lives, and I want to see that continue."

Skating class
Laney Diggs, who recently retired from competition, just finished her freshman year at the University of California, Berkeley. She is taking part in a program there in which students can create and teach their own classes. Diggs created the class, the DeCal Figure Skating Class, with two of her fellow members of the Berkeley skating team, Marissa Minovitz and Hannah Benet.

"I had to create a syllabus, with the lecture slides, and the content I want the students to learn," Diggs told us. "It will be a fun, easy class that you can learn stuff from."

The class will meet once a week for 13 weeks.

"Because this class is going through the legal studies department, we have an aspect on sports management and the judging system," Diggs said. "We're also talking about the history of the sport, and how media influences the skating. We have a lecture about the different shows: Ice Capades, Disney on Ice, Stars on Ice. We're hoping to show RISE and discuss it. We're going to have at least one guest lecturer, a technical specialist. As part of our curriculum we're going to have students read!"

Although the course will include optional weekly skating sessions, it will end with a mandatory skate night. Members of the university team will help the students navigate on skates.

"I'm hoping, if it's a success, to keep it going every year," Diggs said. "I have three more years at Cal. Then hopefully I'll pass it on to another member of the skating team to keep it going."

After college, Diggs hopes to become a sports broadcaster or sports psychologist. And she wants to become a skating judge.

"No coaching, too stressful!" she said, laughing.

There have been a lot of changes in the skating world recently, with lots of coach-changing and partner-switching. Along with all those changes, let's not forget to acknowledge Jeremy Abbott's hair. Since the spring, he has been a platinum blond, had a blond Mohawk, and he currently has a nearly-shaved buzz-cut.

"Hopefully my skating generates as much talk this season as my hair did in the off-season!" he told us. "I saw some people with white-platinum hair, and I asked Yuka, 'Can I go blond?' And she said, sure, it grows, you can cut it. I think I dyed it three or four times and it got really damaged. The last time I got it cut, it was getting really fried. So I had a platinum Mohawk for a little bit, and then I wanted a blank canvas and a fresh start, so I went in, and I was like, 'Buzz it.' I was really shocked. I don't like the buzz-cut, but it grows."

Abbott says he is enjoying sharing the ice with rival Adam Rippon.

"The first year it was just me, then last year it was me and Alissa [Czisny], and now there are like 20 people here! Adam's a great kid."

MIT student Curran Oi, who finished in sixth place at the 2009 U.S. Championships, is spending the summer in Thane, India, interning at an engineering company. To follow along with his adventures, read his blog at

That's all for now,
Sarah and Drew
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