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Figure SkatingFigure skating superfans span the globe

Posted: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 | 03:33 PM

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The banner Momo Kano Podolsky made to support Japanese skater Yuzuru Hanyu. (Photo courtesy Momo Kano Podolsky). The banner Momo Kano Podolsky made to support Japanese skater Yuzuru Hanyu. (Photo courtesy Momo Kano Podolsky).

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People are always trying to convince me that there are no figure skating fans left. Nonsense, I say. The following blog is devoted to all of those devoted fans out there in figure skating land.
People are always trying to convince me that there are no figure skating fans left. Nonsense, I say. The following blog is devoted to all of those devoted fans out there in figure skating land.

I have always wanted to write this blog since seeing the Olympic champion Yu-Na Kim's fans walking along the concourse in Vancouver at the Four Continents Championships in 2009. Many were dressed in tights and replicas of Kim's skating dresses. I affectionately nicknamed them the "Yu-Na-tics."

Momo Kano Podolsky is a Japanese-Canadian fan who has been very generous over the course of time with her observations on the sports' Japanese landscape.

The Yuzuruha shrine

Japanese teenager Yuzuru Hanyu is the subject of a lot of fan attention. Hanyu recently took the Japanese national title ahead of former world champion Daisuke Takahashi. Hanyu is considered to be on the leading edge of a wave of young male skaters -- like Canada's Patrick Chan and Spain's Javier Fernandez -- who are able to jump like crazy and deliver the style goods as well.

Momo recently got in touch with me to let me know about a group of devoted Yuzuru Hanyu fans that she saw on her last trip home to visit family. She wrote:

"It is hard to believe the world championships are less than two weeks away, but I know figure skating fans in Japan will be out in full force in London [Ontario] soon.

"I had the opportunity to meet some of them in Japan a few weeks ago when I went to visit my mother. I thought I would relate an episode that I witnessed and that illustrates to what length fans will go.

"Would you believe that Yuzuru Hanyu fans are now treating a certain Shinto shrine in Kobe as a "holy site" to pray for his health and success? Quite accidentally, this shrine happens to be the one my family has been visiting for generations, as it is located five minutes away from our home, but the reason why it has become so popular is because it is called... Yuzuruha Shrine. Not even exactly the same Kanji [Japanese characters] but close enough, and certainly the sound of its name is too much to resist.

A substantial group of fans got together right after the Four Continents event at a little train station in Kobe, and walked over to the shrine to have the Shinto priest perform a very formal ceremony asking the Gods to protect Yuzuru. I must say the priest was very understanding, and even incorporated Yuzuru's  results  from the Four Continents ("..came in second during the latest competition, but hopefully will perform at his best in the upcoming World Championships,...") in his incantations. It is nice to see people who care so much for an athlete.

Some of them had brought teddy bears wearing the exact replicas of Yuzuru's costumes from the short and long programs as a token of their admiration for young Mr. Hanyu."

I love that kind of dedication!

There is no doubt that the Japanese fans love their figure skaters. On a recent post-competition  shopping excursion in Osaka, Canada's Four Continents men's champion Kevin Reynolds and pair skater Rudi Swiegers were met by a TV crew looking to interview English-speaking tourists. The well-known Japanese comedians didn't know who the two skaters were at first. You don't need to understand Japanese to get what's going on:

The Spec-Skaters

My final fan story is home-grown Canadian. I have seen these four couples in hot pink sweatshirts at competitions in Canada for over 10 years, but it was only this season that I got the chance to catch up with them to get their story.

They call themselves the Canadian Spec-Skaters but are also widely known as the Pink People. I turned to their spokesperson, Gilda Spitz, for a Q & A on the inside story of the group.


Who are the Spec-Skaters?

Gilda: There are eight of us: Gilda Spitz (an information developer: "I write documentation for computer software"), Peter Spitz (a software developer), Dianne Levstein (retired administrative assistant), Malcolm Levstein (marketing executive), Celia Louthood (retired school principal), Fred Louthood (retired business analyst), Cheryl Rosenthal (retired high school teacher), Hersh Rosenthal (retired data centre operations manager).

Pj: Whose idea was this?

The birth of the Spec-Skaters was a collaborative effort among all of us. The group started with just the Levsteins and the Spitzes. Dianne and I met when we were both pushing baby carriages along the sidewalk in the same North York [Ontario] neighbourhood. We eventually discovered that we had a common love of figure skating. The first event that the two couples attended was Skate Canada in Kitchener [Ont.] in 1982. We loved it and we were hooked!

Then we planned our next trip -- the worlds in Ottawa in 1984. How lucky were we that the second competition we ever attended was a world championship? In Ottawa, totally by coincidence, the Rosenthals were sitting right in front of us for the entire week. Cheryl and Dianne happened to know each other because they had shared the same hospital room after they gave birth to their first sons. That connection brought the group count up to six.
Then Cheryl invited her longtime friend and teaching colleague, Celia, and her husband, Fred, to join the group. So that's how all eight of us got together. But we weren't the "Spec-Skaters" just yet.

For about the first nine years, we wore regular clothes to skating events. In preparation for each trip, the women would all call each other on the phone (no email or texting in those days), asking each other what sort of clothes each couple was planning to pack. Eventually we got tired of all the phone calls, and someone suggested that we design and wear matching shirts, which would simplify the packing issue.

One night in 1991, we all got together around the Rosenthals' dining room table. We came up with the name Canadian Spec-Skaters, and we designed the logo using one of Cheryl's teacups to trace the circles for the lenses. We used computer clipart for the skate, and we adapted a picture from a Skate America ad for the pairs couple. Cheryl arranged to send our newly designed logo to a company that she knew, to be printed on our new sweatshirts.

Pj: When did you start and how many events have you been to?

Gilda: As mentioned earlier, the first events for members of our group were in 1982 and 1984. Since then, we have tried to travel together if at all possible -- it's so much more fun that way!  However, sometimes we do go in smaller groups.

Altogether, we believe that the Pink People have attended about 31 competitions from 1982 to 2013 -- Skate Canadas, Skate Americas, Canadian championships, Four Continents and Grand Prix Finals. Surprisingly, London will be the first worlds for the entire group to attend together!

Pj: Why figure skating?

Gilda: That's easy -- we all love this artistic, athletic, and inspiring sport. None of us was a skater in our younger days -- that's a question that we are asked often. But we all just fell in love watching it on TV and realized that it's even better in person. It's great to hear expert commentary on television and instant replays are often invaluable. But nothing can beat the excitement of breakneck speed, breathtaking tricks, heartbreaking disappointments, and triumphant successes -- live, right before our eyes.

Pj: What would you like to see happen at worlds in London and how many of you are going to be there?

All eight of us will be attending the worlds in London. Of course we are hoping for repeat world titles for Patrick [Chan] and for Tessa [Virtue] and Scott [Moir]. We think that Megan [Duhamel] and Eric [Radford] have a good chance to make the podium in pairs, and if the stars align, we might even get two Canadian pairs in the top five. And we all have very high hopes for Kaetlyn [Osmond] Awesome despite her youth!

Gilda and company have graciously allowed us to share their Canadian Spec-Skaters (aka Pink People) photo album.

For the Yu-Na-Tics, Yuzu Han-Fans, Canadian Spec-Skaters and all other skating fans -- enjoy the best that the world will be bringing next week to London, Ont., at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships. Figure skating would be lost without you.

Pj Kwong is CBC Sports' figure skating analyst. Follow her on Twitter @skatingpj.

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