Celebration time! Ten years with Absolute Skating


November 16, 2014
By Mireille Geurts, Magdalena Osborne
Photos © Absolute Skating

Absolute Skating was founded based on a passion for the sport, curiosity to get to know more about the skaters and their coaches, learning what goes on behind the scenes, and interest in how a competition or a show gets put together. It was also based on a firm belief that the sport could use a lot more positive coverage. That parts of the skating world were overlooked, and 'younger stars' deserved more spotlight. Every skater has an interesting story to tell, no matter in which spot in the competition he/she ends up. These are the principles we still stand by today.

It is as hard to believe we've already existed a decade, as well as only a decade. It still feels like only a short while ago, that a figure skating fan with a marketing and PR background came together with a skilled web designer, a journalist in training with great ideas and an eye for the English language, and several enthusiastic volunteers and created this place. And yet, the amount and wealth of memories and knowledge about the figure skating world has grown immensely. Not to forget how much the skating scene and the media landscape has changed these days.

Mireille Geurts, the Netherlands - Founder, Editor in Chief, Journalist, Photographer, Web Editor

It is hard to explain what Absolute Skating means to me. It is so incredibly fulfilling to watch young skaters grow up, to really follow their first steps into the international scene until they are out there at the World Championships or even the Olympics. To really get to know these skaters, instead of only seeing them skate a few times a year.
I think those are some of the richest memories I have of this past decade.

At one of the first events we were accredited at, the Stars on Ice shows held in Antwerp, Belgium, I got to witness for the first time how show programs sometimes naturally arise on the spot, and how group programs with experienced skaters can be put together within just a day. Of course it was also incredibly cool to be in the immediately company of Olympic and World medalists like Ilya Kulik, Katia Gordeeva, Margerita Dobriazko & Povilas Vanagas and many others. It was there we met the young Belgian Ruben Blommaert, then only 12 years old and a single skater, who is now an up and coming successful German pair skater with Annabelle Prölss. We had interviews with Kevin van der Perren in his hotel room, and still laugh about the famous anecdote where he sneakily dumped his sandwich in our interim office (pic above). The friendship we built with Kevin still lasts, and it was at his 'Ice Fantillusion' shows, where we still get amazed every year by the creativity, where we first met Jorik Hendrickx. He was only 16 at the time, but now actually has a special series on AS where his entire career path is followed [part 1, 2, 3].

The 'Ice Fantillusion shows' (pic below) are also a recurring feature on our site, not only due to the incredible shows which get created every year, but also due to how we're practically received as family there. Treated like part of the crew and are sometimes consulted about how things look, if parts of the show work, if the lighting is okay. We've even advised a concerned parent on how their young daughter should deal with the growing media attention.

These are the things that make up the fondest memories. Not the hard work at night after a full competition day, where photos for our daily coverage (usually one per skater/program) not only have to be selected but also cropped, resized, edited, copyrighted and then mailed off. Or the work at home after the event is all over: sorting and selecting all those photos for albums, transcribing and working out interviews etc. Those are the things that come with the job as well. Just like coordinating which crew member goes where and who does what and creating a publication schedule. And when doing a layout, the attention to pick photos showing what the text describes, but also physically fitting the text. Those are our behind the scenes, and perhaps it is a good thing that the reader, you, does not know how much time or effort goes into what you find on the site. ;)

With that also comes a lot of teamwork, and within that team, close friendships have built. Also through photographing figure skating, I have learned to enjoy photographing in general.

Magdalena Osborne, Sweden - Administrator, Editor, Journalist

I started collaborating with Mireille and Ioana even before Absolute Skating was launched. I had been out of the skating loop too long and was very motivated to dive back in. The Proximus Stars on Ice show in Antwerp, Belgium (2003 – 2006) was a great opportunity and some incidents from that time still make me smile. Imagine a knock on your hotel-room door, and when you open Miki Ando and her mom are standing there wondering why you are in their room (a slight hotel mix-up). Over the years great memories from various events have piled up. Splashing in a hotel pool with Alexei Yagudin. Being led past all the stern security guards and into the skater's reception by Irina Slutskaya. Having breakfast with Brian Orser or lunch with Kristoffer Berntsson. Laughing and laughing with Kevin van der Perren while trying to conduct a serious interview. Being overwhelmed by the big heart of Carolina Kostner. Offering Brian Joubert the opportunity to try Swedish chocolate. Keeping up with the Swedes and covering local events (and there have been surprisingly many!). Being moved by the hard work and determination by skaters / coaches / choreographers to reach their goals and bring the best programs to the audience. Being awed by breathtaking performances and loving the greatest sport there is.

However glamourous all that sounds, the truth is that most of my time is spent by the computer editing the works of others and handling administrative matters. While being out in the field may be more fun, both are necessary for AS to be able to keep publishing. The success and survival of AS is dependent on the combined effort of all involved and has sometimes come with blood, sweat and tears. But the result has been wonderfully fulfilling. Ten years have already passed and I can't wait for the next ten!

Ioana Visan, Romania – Administrator, Web designer, Web Editor

I met Mireille and Magdalena on an Alexei Yagudin figure skating mailing list shortly after the 2002 Olympic Games. We didn't get to watch much figure skating other than the Euros and Worlds in Romania at the time, so this was a way of keeping up with the news. Our common love for figure skating and literature brought us together, and we stayed in contact even during the off season and became friends.

When Mireille came up with the idea of Absolute Skating and asked me if I could design such a website, I had just finished my studies and found the endeavor challenging, but also fun. I didn't think about what would happen in ten years, how the site and our team would evolve. It amazes me that we're still here.

The job is not always easy. The skating season can be busy even when you're not attending a competition or show, but instead deal with background work like making layouts, scheduling and publishing articles. This, plus my non-AS related writing, not to mention real life that has the bad habit of getting in the way; often makes it feel like a full time job. However, I still enjoy fiddling with code and playing with pretty pictures. And sometimes I get to hear the latest news ahead of other people.

The bottom line is that my love for figure skating remains. It's a wonderful sport that crosses the barrier towards art, as it requires more than just skills. Whenever you watch skaters perform their programs, you also catch a glimpse of their souls. At the end of the day, this makes life even more beautiful.

So here's to another ten years!

Titanilla Bőd, Slovakia - Journalist

I first heard about Absolute Skating thanks to my friend, Helga (Dobor - ed), who also used to work for the site. She made interviews and reports from events we attended, and as we often shared rooms in hostels, I got interested in her work. Unlike many of the AS crew, for whom writing, editing or web-design is a passion besides a "normal" job, I'm a full-time journalist and work for Új Szó, the only daily newspaper in Slovakia published in Hungarian. However, I found it very appealing to be part of this international project run by devoted and enthusiastic people.

My first interview on AS was published in 2007, and I did my first daily reports at the Europeans in Zagreb 2008. It was a big challenge; I wasn't very good at time management back then and ended up sleeping three hours per night. Since then I have improved (sometimes I even sleep seven hours at a competition!) and hopefully my writing and reporting skills have improved as well. It was a pleasure to find an article I wrote for AS on the "newspaper clippings" wall in the press centre of a major event for the first time.

I've also learnt that you don't need much money to run a successful project, you just need the right people who are passionate about the sport. I've met many great people through AS and we are not just colleagues, but also good friends.

Working for AS is a win-win situation for me. Being a professional journalist I have experience which is useful when covering major events, and noting that I work for an international site makes the skaters much more willing to agree to an interview, than if I say I work for a minority daily. I've talked to many skaters, written many reports and always felt grateful and privileged that I can do something I'd appreciate as a fan: trying to bring the event and the skaters closer.

Happy anniversary, Absolute Skating!

Suzanne Herrmann, USA – Editor, Journalist, Photographer

In a way, I have Sinead and John Kerr to thank for belonging to such a great community! Rewind to 2004. I had the privilege of attending Skate America in Pittsburgh. It was there I came to know Sinead and John and was impressed with their personality and how down-to-earth they were. As soon as I returned home, I joined their message board. Within a month it transitioned to Absolute Skating. From that point forward, I have been involved with moderating, editing, interviews and reports – which include text updates, event recaps and photos. I have enjoyed dabbling in every aspect and sharing my experiences.

It's hard to choose just one "stand-out" moment from my time with AS. There was the time Javier Fernandez invited me to his apartment for an interview… And I always enjoy interviewing Valentina Marchei. She has such passion and resilience for her skating and life. We met one time at a coffee shop in Kingston, Ontario after Skate Canada. It was a pleasure to sit and listen to what she had to share. Sometimes I like the subject to take the reins. I don't always want to direct the conversation with expected questions. Worlds 2013 was a treat. I had a fantastic time tweeting updates, photos and conducting interviews in the mixed zone. You can feel the energy from the skaters that performed extraordinarily as well as the relief from completing the final event of the season. As a skater, I can understand the feelings – good and bad – and the relief of finishing a program. Try holding your breath for a minute. You know how much of a relief it is to breathe again? I guess it's something like that. To be a part of that from the other side is a fantastic experience.

Joy Geurts, the Netherlands - Photographer, "Jill of all trades"

Photographing for Absolute Skating - talking about a 'hobby getting out of hand' - I always loved watching figure skating, and I liked taking photos in general. But from the first time I took photos at a figure skating event I was hooked... Finding just the right time to click, to capture some of those fantastic moves and moments in a program... It was a challenge, but also felt a bit magical when seeing some very nice results.
So when Mireille - whom I have known all her life by the way - started up AS, it was very easy for me to get involved, and be able to make some good use of those photos I so loved taking.
As the years went by, I evolved from a hobbyist into something more. I now dare to call myself a part-time figure skating photographer, and I have AS to thank for the chance to do so.

Absolute Skating gave me opportunities I never would have had, had I not been involved. It's given me some really fond memories; like the Proximus Stars on Ice shows, Ice Fantillusion and lots of competitions. But I think my fondest memory is from the first European Championships I was accredited for in Zagreb 2008. Being able to be so close to the boards at a competition, and really feel the excitement and tension of the skaters from such a close distance - it was really exhilarating! Not many people can claim Brian Joubert stopped a few meters in front of them to pull off his step sequence... However, the tense atmosphere during the Pairs Free program is still with me as the most memorable feeling of that entire competition. Watching Aljona Savchenko and Robin Skolkowy win one of their first Euros, and very much deserving that win, is still one of my highlights, and a cherished experience I'll never forget.

Reut Golinsky, Israel – Journalist, Photographer, Web Editor

I live in a country with one or two days of snow in a year at best, with only one Olympic size rink (4 hours away), and I am a software engineer by profession. From all this you can already conclude that the chances of me being interested and later involved in figure skating were really small. But to make a long story short: thanks to my friends, to Ilia Averbukh's TV show and to a few particular skaters I joined this fabulous world of skating fans somewhere in the middle of season 2006/07. At the Trophée Éric Bompard 2008 we arranged a fan meeting with Sinead and John Kerr. The talk was so lovely that my friend Anna and I wanted to share it with as many fans as possible, and this is how our first interview on Absolute Skating came to life.

I've started my seventh season with AS and, of course, a lot has happened in the meantime. I've traveled a lot, experienced a lot, met wonderful people, learned enormously from my colleagues and editors. So many magical moments come to mind: witnessing how a huge production like "Art on Ice" is created, going with Sinead and John Kerr to their costume fitting, making an interview with Jeremy Abbot while sitting on the floor, passionately disagreeing with Stéphane Lambiel about the Internet...
There are two things I really appreciate about AS. First, that every single skater counts; no one is "uninteresting" or "unimportant". I know for certain that if I want to write something about someone still unknown, it will never be refused based on "he/she doesn't have enough medals".
Second, I have complete freedom in what I do. This goes for being creative in interviews as well as for how I arrange the material afterwards. My pieces are like my "children" - every single step of their development is important to me. I know that I can discuss all the changes with editors, that my opinion will be heard. And I can also decide exactly what my material will look like when published.
AS is a site "for and by the skaters and their fans" and this perfectly sums up why I love it and want to be part of it.

Ia Remmel, Estonia – Journalist, Photographer, Web Editor

I must admit the reason I discovered Absolute Skating was Stéphane LambielI always liked figure skating and followed it, but in the '90s and early 2000s I gradually lost interest. I didn't like the tendency where figure skating got too technical, too focused on jumps, less artistic and less inventive. Then in 2004 I suddenly discovered Stéphane, a highly artistic young skater who reminded me of John Curry, Toller Cranston or Robin Cousins. Then later, in 2007, I was watching the Tokyo World Championships. I saw his flamenco program “Poeta” and was overwhelmed. I still consider it one of the greatest masterpieces in Mens' skating. That was enough for me to start looking for more information about him, and that led me to his official forum at AS. I started reading other articles as well in the "Basic Skating" section,  and got more and more interested in skating in general.

As one part of my regular work is associated with media – I am a cultural journalist and write mostly about music – I decided to contribute to the site. I started in 2009 with a show review and a short Stéphane interview, after which I continued with more event reports and interviews. I have learned so many exciting things thanks to AS! I have acquired more and more knowledge, learned how to take skating photos and have had a chance to meet some very interesting people, both skaters and coaches. And of course I have met many wonderful collegues at the site and made new friends.

I think sites like Absolute Skating are very, very valuable to the skating world. Figure skating is an extremely beautiful and hard sport. Nonetheless, it's not as popular as many major sports (football, tennis etc). There is not as much written about figure skating in regular media, and TV coverage is sporadic. Skating sites open up for large media coverage to a sizable audience, and give people the opportunity to get informed through in-depth articles about skating and skaters.

Melanie Eley, Scotland - Web Editor, Editor

I used to skate at the Murrayfield ice rink in Edinburgh, Scotland. I started in 1978 when I was 10 years old, but didn't get far before I became a teenager and the lack of money ensured I could go no further. I could just about land a single Axel. My coach was shocked as she had never taught me the jump. I practised off ice and taught myself. I'd won one gold medal and one bronze at local (rink) level. I had second-hand skates (Alvira) and blades (Coronation Ace).

Then I didn't skate for about 20 years, but decided to go back in 2000. I took lessons and sat some tests that I didn't do when I was a child. That's when I met Sinead and John Kerr (who won bronze at European's twice and competed in the 2006 and 2010 Olympics). Sinead kindly agreed to coach me and got me through the tests I wanted to do.

At some point, before the Kerrs became national champions in Ice dance, I became the editor of their official website. I'd met Mireille somewhere online. I registered with AS on 3rd November 2004 and we joined up Sinead and John's website to the AS message board. I helped edit other skaters' articles now and then and moderated the message board. It was a great way to keep in contact with fans, friends and get news or results, sometimes live, which I would otherwise not have accessed. I was able to meet a few of the AS posters in the flesh at competitions. I've worked with many of the AS crew and it has been my pleasure.

I'm not online so much now but I still help out with editing some articles. Any website that promotes figure skating has the thumbs up from me.

Atsuko Kuryu, Japan - Journalist

I wrote my first report for Absolute Skating in 2009. Back then I was writing a blog in Japanese and I asked permission to translate an AS article to post on my blog.
It was Ioana who first suggested that I write a report for AS. I was reluctant because my English was not that good, but she encouraged me.

Since then, I've had a lot of great experiences. I've been able to talk to skaters I seldom had a chance to see, and even interview some of them! I could attend many big figure skating events such as the Worlds, the Grand Prix Final, Four Continents and the World Team Trophy. I also went to many national events in Japan, which is now a powerhouse in the single's disciplines. Through writing reports I could express some journalistic views I would not have had if watching this sport only as a fan. 
The highlight of my work for AS so far was the interview with Nobunari Oda. It has been quite difficult to get interviews with the big stars in Japan, but Nobu readily accepted the request and talked very openly.
I'm so lucky to be able to report at this particular time when Japanese figure skaters are so strong, and getting attention from all over the world. I wish to continue to contribute to AS for as long as I can.

There is someone I'd like to give a special mention. When I started reporting, I had a hard time finding a photographer, but now I have Keiko Kasai! She is not only a good photographer, but also a good partner, and her dedication for the work has made her friends among other professional photographers. I am kind of shy; especially among journalists, but thanks to Keiko I now know some people and feel more comfortable and happy in the press area.
A special thanks also to Mireille, who has helped me in so many ways. And I want to thank Ioana because she encouraged me to become an AS reporter. And Magdalena, I really appreciate you! You edit my poor English and make my reports wonderful, at least English wise, and give me lots of great advice which helps me a lot.

I can't tell you all how much I enjoy working for AS!

Eva Maria Jangbro (EMJO), Sweden – Photographer, Journalist

My dad got me interested in photography. He had about 10 cameras in his collection, which I thought was crazy. Now I know better. He also introduced me to figure skating since it was he, not my mom, who always watched it whenever there was a broadcast. At the Junior Grand Prix Final 2003 in my hometown of Malmö, Sweden, I hooked up with Magdalena Osborne. Of course I had a camera with me, and I desperately tried to catch the skaters on the ice. It was very hard! Magdalena introduced me to several figure skating websites I didn't know about. Absolute Skating was not yet born but in the creating phase. Later Magdalena called me to say she had an appointment to interview the top Swedish skater at the time, Lina Johansson, and suggested I take the photos. Scary! After the interview I asked Lina if I could shoot during her ice training and explained that I needed the practice. She agreed and the rest is history.

Over the years I have experienced some funny moments taking pictures for AS: Eman (Emanuel Sandhu) is the only skater ever who asked to see the headshot I'd just taken of him. Shooting Adrian Schultheiss, his coach and choreographer in the locker rooms shower!
Me telling Kevin van der Perren: "Oh, you have really long eyelashes!" and Magdalena going: "He knows that, Maria!"  
Having a very-low-battery warning, but still asking Maxim Trankov for just one more shot, knowing it would take at least 2 minutes for the camera to produce it.
Complimenting Kyoko Ina on her great looking headshot and her replying: "Well, I thank my dentist!"
Suggesting the “brilliant” idea of daily photos and sneak peeks on AS only to realize you have to stay up all night to prepare them…

The experience I have gained from working with AS is not only about photographing. I once received a request for an interview with Alexei Yagudin, and accepted since I was sure I'd get some help conducting the interview. But I didn't. I had to do all the talking and the interview was a disaster, not because of Alexei, but because of me trying to get through the almost 3 pages of questions not prepared by me. It was very awkward, and it took a while before I dared to interview again. (And luckily she recovered, otherwise we wouldn't get gems like these 1, 2, 3 and many more! - ed)

 

We mentioned in the beginning how much the figure skating scene and the media landscape has changed. Within figure skating itself a lot has changed too; the natural leaving of the old, coming of the new, and the change in the judging system that has been implemented has had an immense effect. The way fans can follow their sport has changed as well with the upgraded technique (streaming instead of following the results) which ripples through all reporting. For example, publishing a report that handles merely what has happened, is already very outdated a week after the competition. New methods have arisen, like the use of Facebook and Twitter, for short and sweet updates and photos. This also changed how the viewers come together. When AS started, a message board or forum was the place to go, now we are all off to social media. This is not saying we've deleted the message board; everybody is still very welcome there, as well as on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

Throughout the years more enthusiastic people have joined our crew, which makes it possible to cover more competitions and shows. This has led to an exponential increase of articles/reports/interviews and photo albums per season. With that, our visitor count also exponentially increased. During several events this results in asking our server hosts to not shut us down, while within a few days it will return to more normal amounts again.

Absolute Skating means working on what we're passionate about with the tools we are skilled at, a place to get inspired and where we form friendships. And it also means a successful platform for positive, in-depth figure skating coverage, interviews with the top-skaters as well as the new stars on the scene and a beautiful collection of photos taken by the various photographers, all seen through your eyes, our visitors from all over the world. Cheers!






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