By Alina Mamedova
What things or who are considered to be the main hallmarks of Switzerland? Swiss cheese? Swiss chocolate? Swiss knives? Swiss fondue and raclette? Roger Federer? Swiss banks? Well, and how about figure skating? In my experience, myriad people do not relate figure skating to Switzerland at all, and I cannot wait to show you that these two have a lot to do with each other.
Here, I need to take a little time with a preamble before pushing forward. I am myself a foreign student, who did not know much about Switzerland before coming here. What did I know about this amazing country? Of course, I knew that Switzerland was kind of a wonderland with its amazing nature, fresh air, the best chocolate in the world, ski resorts, and, strange to many of my Swiss friends as it may sound – Stephane Lambiel, Sarah Meier, and Denise Biellmann. The cream of the crop of Swiss and international figure skating.
However, to my surprise, when I started asking my Swiss friends of different ages whether they have ever heard these names, the answer was pretty often – “no”. Perhaps, Stephane’s name is more or less in the limelight, since he had been touring with his show “Art on Ice” around Switzerland for seventeen years, though recently he has announced its cancellation. Yet, Sarah Meier or Denise Biellmann seem to be not gaining as much recognition as they could.
Since these three prominent skaters used to represent the Swiss flag in the international arena for many years, I decided to share with you some information on what they actually did for Switzerland.
The first person I would like to speak about is Denise Biellmann, the European and World champion (1981) and the bronze European medallist (1979). The participation at the Olympic Games 1980 is also under her belt, however, Denise’s compulsory figures performance was not successful, and even her brilliant free skate did not lead her to a podium: she finished fourth. Aside from numerous victories, Denise Biellmann is also considered to have popularized a spin which was eventually named after her, the Biellmann spin.
Besides, Denise is credited for being the first woman who landed the triple lutz at the international competition, the European Championships 1978 (Stevenson par. 10). Just in case if someone is eager to watch Denise skating, I have included a few links with her best performances, in my opinion, particularly that victorious one from the World Championships 1981:
- https://youtu.be/2jnAV2bVBcY (Short program, WC 1981)
- https://youtu.be/ucCMZffihRA (Long program, WC 1981)
- https://youtu.be/RwNKAJMrTjw (The World Challenge of Champions, 1995)
Denise Biellmann retired at the age of eighteen after her victory at the WC 1981. Denise was utterly impressive on the ice, whether she skated to “I’m a Man” by Macho (SP at the Worlds 1981), or “The House of the Rising Sun/Quasimodo Suite” by Santa Esmeralda feat. Leroy Gomez. Simultaneously, she appeared to be very lyrical and ethereal to “Bilitis” by Francis Lai. Denise would have been able to win many more titles, I believe, if she did not have to retire; she had it all, a potential difficulty of her technical content, and many thought she was ahead of the time in terms of her technical abilities, her artistry and good skating skills. Denise Biellmann became the first Swiss woman to be included into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2014, which is one of the highest honours in the world of figure skating (www.denisebiellmann.com).
Sarah Meier, in turn, kept up Denise’s traditions by decently representing Switzerland in the international arena. She was European champion (2011), a two-time European silver medallist (2007, 2008) and the bronze medallist of the Grand-Prix Final (season 2006/2007). Born in Bülach, she began skating at the age of two. The biggest achievement of Sarah’s junior career was the bronze medal at the World Junior Championships 2000. As Sarah moved to the senior level, she had her huge success there; she won the European championships in 2011 at the age of 26. With the programs to “Samba Para Una Sola Nota” by Michel Legrand and “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Antonio Pinto she beat Carolina Kostner, an Italian figure skating superstar. Although those were her winning programs, I personally prefer the other ones: a short program 2008 to “Children’s Ward” from “Patch Adams” by Marc Shaiman and one of her exhibition programs – “Amelie”, the links are below:
And finally, a man who I will be speaking about now is exceptionally loved literally almost by every figure skating fan. He is a figure skating sweetheart, a person who keeps getting standing ovations even while standing behind the ice rink board as a coach and not actually on the ice as a skater (I witnessed it). His magical spins are captivating and his all-around shiny personality attract everyone. I think his name would not be a huge surprise for anyone: I am talking about Stephane Lambiel. He actually has it all: a two-time World Champion (2005,2006), the 2006 Olympics silver medallist, a two-time Grand-Prix Final champion (2005, 2007), and a three-time European silver medalist. Currently, he is a coach, choreographer and a producer of his own ice show. It would take an eternity to list all his accomplishments, so I will move on to his performances and share with you some of the most prominent ones. I have interrogated several sophisticated and experienced fellow figure skating admirers and here is the list of the 7 most beloved programs:
- https://youtu.be/esn_mrI_lVY (Un giorno per noi, EX program)
- https://youtu.be/QQ–iQuOBlM (Malaguena, SP 2005)
- https://youtu.be/DkkLAGKnv3o (La Traviata, LP 2010)
- https://youtu.be/605rENQb3_E (Run, EX 2013)
- https://youtu.be/ZwoLmiXUCds (Ne Me Quitte Pas, EX 2018, tribute to Denis Ten)
- https://youtu.be/aPHwkw2HmEA (The Four Seasons, LP 2006)
- https://youtu.be/PE1_0xd9A4k (La Poeta, LP 2007)
La Poeta was chosen as a favourite one by the majority of people I talked to. Stephane stood out among his contemporaries by his unique ability to be authentic, while performing this or that particular genre of dance or music on the ice. Here, he performs Flamenco which sometimes is not a piece of cake even for dancers, but Lambiel has the gift to embody anything on the ice. His flamenco turned out to be sharp and passionate, though his plastique is naturally flowing and fluid. I personally like this program, and agree with those who named it their favourite program of Lambiel’s of all time. As for Malaguena, I would say that in terms of choreography, there is a lack of nuances and uniqueness in comparison with La Poeta. Though a step sequence is pretty impressive and his posture is great as always. The Four Seasons was perceived as quite a controversial program mainly due to Stephane’s “zebra costume”, designed by himself. According to Stephane, there was a special meaning behind this ensemble, “a zebra looking at snow for the first time in his life” (Adams par. 1). Anyway, although the outfit looked pretty crazy, this program and this costume were lucky for him, since Stephane won the silver medal at the Olympics in Turin and the gold medal at the World Championships 2006. Ne Me Quitte Pas was a tribute to Denis Ten, the bronze Olympic medallist 2014, Stephane’s friend, an incredibly gifted person not only as a skater but as a choreographer and producer as well. He died at the age of 25, when he was stabbed in his homeland, Kazakhstan. Stephane performed this program at the Japan Open in 2018. Run is probably one of my favourite programs, I would compare Stephane here with a gush of the wind, his movements are fluid, he emphasizes nuances of the music with his melodious arms and hands. I indubitably recommend everyone to watch this performance. Then La Traviata – classic lovers will definitely enjoy this program. Finally, though Stephane is a versatile performer, Romeo who he performed in Un Giorno Per Noi seems to be his innate role: his bodily lines, sense of music, capability to interpret this melody and portray a canonical character on the ice, wearing a simple black outfit. The epitome of romance with a white rose in his hand.
If I had to rate these programs, my list would look like this:
- “Un Giorno Per Noi”
- “La Poeta”
- “Ne Me Quitte Pas”
- “The Four Seasons”
- “La Traviata”
Williams Lee. “Top 10 Worst Figure-Skating Costumes”, Time. Web.
Stevenson, Alexandra (2011). “2011 European Championships Preview”