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Interview With Tim Wood

World Figure Skating Champion Tim Wood

It's interesting. Almost every interview that I do usually begins with whatever wonderful skater I'm lucky enough to be interviewing either asking me about Nova Scotia or telling me about a connection they have had to the area. My interview with Olympic Silver Medallist and two time World Champion Tim Wood was no different. Tim's Nova Scotia connection came from his brother, who came here and ended up out on lobster boats... which led to an annual family tradition of a lobster boil, which being a proper Nova Scotian I think is right some fantastic! It's nice to see we're rubbing off on the rest of the world! At any rate, speaking with Tim was an absolute pleasure. His incredible career which also included three U.S. titles and a North American title speaks for itself, but there's so much about his career that a lot of people probably don't know and would be fascinated by: how he lost the Olympics on a technicality, his work with Elvis Stojko, the fact he still skates three times a week at age sixty six and was landing double Axels - yes, you read that right - just a few months ago. Another thing that I think you will all really appreciate about this interview is Tim's frankness and honesty when it came to the very timely topic of Ottavio Cinquanta and the current state of skating. Grab yourself a coffee or tea (or a nice martini as Tim will soon suggest) and get ready for a fantastic read!

World Figure Skating Champion Tim Wood

Q: Your career was nothing short of amazing. You won the Olympic silver medal in 1968 in Grenoble, the World Championships in 1969 and 1970 and three U.S. titles and the North American Championships to boot. Looking back on your competitive skating career, what moments or memories stand out as the most special for you?

A: Well, in those days your focus was really different. There was no short program and your free skating was five minutes long. A lot of the focus was on figures, so I'd have to say I had two standout moments - one in figures and one in free skating. For figures, I wouldn't have to say the Grenoble Olympics. In figures, we had thirty six figures (in six groups) and you had to practice all thirty six... and I did for four to five hours a day for ten years. The problem was that in figures if you were getting scores of 4.5-5.5 you were winning, which is weird. The scores were lower on figures. When you added all of the scores out, it really was 60% in favor of figures. I realized that if you didn't get where you needed to be in figures, you were never going to win a championship. Look at Janet Lynn. You can't climb from that far behind and win. She should have been World Champion!  At any rate, the left backward change loop and the left backward paragraph loop were the ones everyone feared. I worked especially hard to make sure my left foot was strong. Guess what we ended up having to do at the Olympics? There were nine judges, they'd just made ice and I had to do the very first figure. No pressure there! Whatever happened out there on that figure, I could do no wrong. It was like somebody did it with a protractor. I just got in a groove and couldn't get out of it. It was really a once in a lifetime experience at the right time. When I finished, the audience was clapping and then I turned at judges and all nine judges were clapping. That just never happened! The freestyle performance would probably be Worlds in 1969 when I won my first world title. The problem with skating in competition is that there's so much in the way of nerves and compression through it all. It's so internal. Those perfect skates like you have in practice are very, very rare in World and Olympic competition. They're once in a blue moon things. Everyone is so focused and directed. I watched Elvis Stojko do it when he won his first World title in Japan, Michelle Kwan has had those moments and I'd have to say Meryl Davis and Charlie White had a moment like that in Sochi too.

Q: You decided to retire from competitive skating when you were on top after winning the 1970 World Figure Skating Championships. Did you give thought to continuing until 1972 and going for the gold at the Sapporo Games or was it simply time?

A: I considered continuing strongly. I wish I would have stayed in to do that. I was coming out of university, I was twenty one and I was really fed up with my coach at that time. Ronnie Baker was an old world English guy who wanted his skaters to be completely dependent. It became suffocating. When I won my second World title, I was so mad at him that halfway through the figures, I told my father to tell him I didn't want to see him anymore. I skated the rest of the Championships by myself. My father was a surgeon and he paid for my skating and education but we had four boys in my family who all got advanced degrees. My poor father had nothing left. It was time. I just couldn't ask him to support me for another two years. You weren't allowed to have support from outside back then but I knew other people were getting anyway, even if you weren't allowed to. No one came and offered to help and I was just DONE with my coach. I suppose I should have gone with Carlo Fassi if I wanted to stay. I should have jumped over to him. I needed someone to keep me interested. I didn't need someone technical; I needed someone to motivate me. He was a much better personal coach. He knew how to keep a kid inspired and motivated. That said, if I had become Olympic Champion maybe my life would have been different and maybe I wouldn't be doing what I am today. It is what it is.

World Figure Skating Champion Tim Wood

Q: You still skate regularly every week at sixty six. I think that's incredible! Would you ever get out there and perform professionally again?

A: Well, I am sixty six and still skate three times a week! I recently had to have a new hip put in on December 10 but I started back on the ice in March after being off for a few months. I'm not allowed to jump anymore. Up until thirty days before my surgery, I was still doing each of the double jumps up to a double Axel. I just go out and put my headphones and iPod on and have a blast. I am currently involved in a major project building a sports recreation/family entertainment area in a fifty acre zone. It will house venues for thirty two to thirty four different World and Olympic sports, and will also have a new high school, new hotel, performing arts center, pool, huge medical and sports performance center and gymnastics complex. We'll also be building a theatre similar to what they use on Dancing With The Stars as a dance center/nightclub kind of place. It's a new concept of mixed use space in real estate development and no one's done that in the country. This project will be the flagship for us and we hope to do something similar and bigger in Colorado.  I hope to be able to skate in the opening of that. I'm still alllowed to do things like ballet jumps, I just should not be doing double jumps and certainly not triples, although when I turned sixty and worked really hard to get all of my doubles back, I did try and land one but then I thought, wow... but I shouldn't be doing be that. The only triple I can do is copious amounts of gin with three olives.

Q: You actually lost the 1968 Olympic title to Wolfgang Schwarz on a technicality. Can you explain what happened?

A: They actually all thought I had won. Back then, at the Olympics the factor of scoring was ten and the factor was twelve at Worlds. You had a smaller margin you could give to someone if you were judging. The Canadian judge Ralph McCreath wanted me to win but he mismarked me and realized he made a mistake but it was on paper and you couldn't change it back then. He went to the referee Josef Dědič and there was nothing he could do. I lost the Olympics by one judge by one tenth of a point. Can you imagine that? My coach came over and could not have been worse about it. He just couldn't compliment anyone and give them credit. That was just him. He was more impressed with John Misha Petkevich than me, his own student. So here I am - I am the World Champion and he's telling me to skate like John. We were just at each other's throats and it was a shame it had to end that way. I think going through those kinds of experiences made me much more sensitive to the human being and sensitive side when I coach; when I work with kids. As they say, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why?

A: Janet Lynn for sure. Janet was a combination of Dorothy, Peggy and maybe Katarina Witt. She had all of the interpretive qualities and the power and energy, yet she had this delicacy about her. I remember specifically becoming aware of the ballet side of her skating. Janet had that. Her feet were magnificent and nobody has come anywhere close to that. I remember a footwork sequence she did where she got a standing ovation almost in a wave while she was going down the rink doing to a step sequence. It was one of the most incredible things I've seen. Michelle Kwan as well. Now there's a person who could perform! What she did out there transcended ice skating. It was like she was going on a journey and she was taking you with her. On the men's side, John Curry was one of my favourites. He could do camel spins and jumps in both directions, but there was just this talent there that was unbelievable. Another skater as well I'd have to say would be Doug Ramsay. He was a favourite of mine and we trained at the same club. I think Doug Ramsay without question would have been a World Champion.

Q: The loss of Doug Ramsay and the entire U.S. team in the Plane Crash in 1961... how do you look at all of that now?

A: I am sixty six and I have enough history behind me to look at things differently although it was so hard at the time. You tend to look at the bigger picture. They were saying that because the team and the coaches were all gone, it would take fifteen to twenty years to develop another team to get to that level. We did it in seven years. 1968 was one of the strongest years at the Olympics for the U.S.

Q: What don't people know about you? 

A: I used to play guitar and sang all the way through high school and college. I sang to my own vocals in a show as well. Music was always a big part of me. I used to write music. I wrote love songs. Also, my wife was my childhood sweetheart. We met in high school in Bloomfield Hills High School in Michigan. I was a senior, she was a junior. Our first date was a sweetheart's dance on Valentine's Day. Get out the saccharine, right? I need some insulin here! We have been married since August 1970. I first came to California when I signed Ice Capades in 1970 and I had family in the Van Nuys area. We bought a place and moved to California in 1976. I was the first person to put show in Knott's Berry Farm Good Time Theatre. That show still plays and I think Willy Bietak does it. I haven't had chance to see it recently.

Q: In skating with Ice Capades and later Ice Follies and producing and starring in the show at Knott's Berry Farm, you really did so much professionally as a skater beyond your eligible career. What did you love most about skating professionally?

A: I really enjoyed it. I did Ice Capades for two years then went to Ice Follies (we were the first to do the Vegas show), then I did two years with Holiday On Ice and moved on to do my own shows at Knott's Berry Farm. I decided to stop skating professionally regularly by around 1978. There wasn't anything for us to do beyond tours and shows back then. We really didn't have professional competitions just yet. I was tired of being on the road, there wasn't any new place to go and it was just time. 

Q: So much has changed since you skated competitively. Skating has a new judging system, compulsory figures are long gone and now ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta wants to get rid of the short program. What do you think of the way figure skating has changed or evolved over the years and its present state?

A: Cinquanta needs to go! He's single handledly done more damage to figure skating in the last twenty years than anyone else. He doesn't know what he's talking about. He was a speed skater. He used the Olympic debacle in 2002 as his political power to change the sport. What we do now in this system is give objective points to everything like in gymnastics. You know in high school when you dissected a frog in biology class? At end of the dissection, it's not a frog anymore, now is it? When you award more points for grabbing your skate and putting it behind your head than doing a spin well, you've completely missed the point of what figure skating is about. We don't know anything about skating under this system. Whenever I go to skate here in California, there is without fail a coach or a student who comes up and asks me to help them with something. In every single instance, I have to go back and teach them the principle of the very first figure. What does that tell you? That basic understanding of movement and of edges... they even don't know what it is! Never mind the intellectual understanding, they have no understanding of how to do it with their body. I'm not saying the kids aren't talented. I watched all of the Olympic men and women on TV and almost every single one did a triple toe jump (toe-loop, flip or Lutz) and the technique? I would scream at the top of the lungs if I saw a student of mine do that! They look at me like I'm the old guy but they have no understanding of what mastery is when it comes to skating correctly. They don't even know what mastery looks like. Officials in U.S. Figure Skating have asked me over the years if it's the judging system and I would have to say the judging system is the outward expression of what's really wrong. The judging system is ridiculous, don't get me wrong. The real error is that the knowledge of how the body moves to create good technique is gone. I worked with Elvis Stojko for a year. After eight months, he said to me "I never knew it could be this easy!" I told him that technique is all about the perfection of positions. There are so many training tools they're not using. Skating without figures it like taking the scales out of music. I'd also be shocked if 2% of the coaches in the U.S. had ever been to a ballet class or production. Look at all of the wonderful ballets in Russia - how does that fare for them? But as for Cinquanta, he needs to go. He's done more devastation to the sport than anyone.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":