LAKE PLACID - JoJo Starbuck has one of the most memorable names in figure skating, and one of the most memorable careers as well.
After skating pairs and singles on an elite level during her professional career, Starbuck segued to coaching and acting, and continues to be a popular coach around the world.
Serving as a judge, Starbuck was just one of the many luminaries in Lake Placid for the inaugural World Figure Championship, which took place from August 25 to 29 in the 1932 Olympic arena. Joining her on the distinguished judging panel were 1972 Olympic champion Trixi Schuba, 1972 Olympic bronze medalist Janet Lynn, two-time world champion Tim Wood, two-time world medalist Julie Lynn Holmes, 1962 world champion Don Jackson, 1969 Canadian national champion Linda Carbonetto Villella, 1963 national champion Tommy Litz, World Championship competitor Andra McLaughlin Kelly, and U.S. Junior national medalist and Olympic/world coach Slavka Kohout Button. Well-known ABC producer Doug Wilson and two-time Olympic champion and skating legend Dick Button were also in attendance to lend their support for the inaugural event.
The championship was preceded by several days of a figure festival, which was an opportunity for skaters of all ages and abilities to learn from the best figures experts in the world. Both events were organized by Karen Courtland Kelly and Patrick Kelly of Lake Placid's Peak Edge Performance Inc.
The championship boasted five men and 14 women competitors from all over the world, including a competitor from Russia, Dmitrii Peshkilev. An elite skater from Canada, Stephen Thompson, flew from Belgium to watch the championship. Thompson was so inspired by the excited energy surrounding the event that he decided to compete the evening before the first round.
It was this kind of loving, inclusive energy that permeated the whole week, and provided a welcome contrast from the usual frantic and stressful energy of skating competitions. Like the other judges, Starbuck expressed her joy at being a judge at the World Figure Championship, and her belief that the event will create a new discipline of figures.
"I'm thrilled that this competition has brought a renewed focus on figures, it's beauty and it's terrific challenges," Starbuck said. "I would love to see rinks around the country making a few hours available each week for skaters to practice this elegant discipline."
Starbuck was an impressive skater, showing incredible prowess in both singles and pairs skating. She is best known for her pairs skating accomplishments with partner Ken Shelley; together they were three-time US pairs champions from 1970 to 1972 and two-time Olympians in 1968 and 1972.
Starbuck was an excellent singles skater as well, competing in singles until she retired from the discipline in 1968.
"The highlight of my amateur career would be making our first Olympic team, and winning our first world medal (in 1971 Worlds)," Starbuck said. "The highlight of my professional career was when we signed with the Ice Capades a lifelong dream come true when we were 21.
"Another professional highlight was partnering with John Curry and being part of his company on Broadway (The Minskoff Theatre), in NYC at the Metropolitan Opera House, and around the world."
Like all skaters who competed in the time when figures were included in international competition (they were abolished by the International Skating Union in 1990), Starbuck remembers testing and competing in figures.
"I was always very nervous when competing or testing figures because the judges were so close, especially for loops," Starbuck said. "Since my competing in figures was less as a pairs skater (with Ken Shelley), my most outstanding memory of figures was the day I passed my 8th figure test (which included a freestyle test too). It was in the springtime after our first Olympics in 1968.
"I knew that after this test, I would probably not compete in singles again, so this could be my last day of doing figures. I passed and was thrilled. However, never did I dream I would actually love the beautiful challenges of figures so many years later."
Keeping the edge
Figures are a challenging part of skating, and some skaters struggle with them. The precision required, coupled with the challenge of skating a clean edge and placing turns or changes of edge on top of each other, make figures a discipline and an art all in one.
Starbuck found figures helpful, especially in pairs skating.
"Figures taught me to be exact in my body control," Starbuck said. "As a pairs skater, this is vital in order to skate in unison, to have the same flow, same arc on patterns and same timing on edges and turns."
At the Championship, the figures were particularly beautiful against the black ice, created especially for the event.
"This competition has made me go back to figures myself to see if I can handle the more difficult ones - I can't," Starbuck said. "I'm amazed that I ever could do them, traced and lined up. I'm so impressed with the courage of all the competitors coming to skate in this event."
After she retired from competitive skating, Starbuck skated professionally, including starring in Ice Capades with Shelley. She also appeared in several ice skating films including The Snow Queen, The Cutting Edge and Beauty and the Beast: A Concert on Ice. She currently choreographs and coaches skating. As a coach, she recognizes the value of figures practice today.
"While I know younger skaters may not always have a lot of patience for figures, they realize how much control they are lacking when they not only try to do them, but also to trace them," Starbuck said.
Starbuck is also a beloved teacher to adult skaters, and notes that the adult skaters seem to enjoy figures more than young skaters, and see the value in the discipline.
"My adult skaters love them because the challenge and joy of skating is present, but without the fear factor due to speed and other skaters racing past them. They love having their own patch and working on these skills in quiet solitude," Starbuck said. "I usually put on soft music, a peaceful instrumental, and they've commented that the counts in the music helps them with when to turn and when to move their arms or free leg."
Starbuck works with adult skaters frequently, and shares her joy of skating with them through classes and seminars. She teaches a "Great 8's Class" and "JoJo's Cool Workout Class" (starting in October) on Rockefeller Center's Ice Rink in New York City. Starbuck describes them as including "all kinds of basic edges, turns and moves, with combinations and great music."
Starbuck will travel to Hungary to teach a skating clinic for adults and teens September 7-11, along with Olympic silver medalist Paul Wylie. In October, Starbuck will coach with Dorothy Hamill at her Adult Fantasy Skating Camp in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Like many other competitors and judges, Starbuck enjoyed the World Figure Championship and believes the event will positively impact the sport.
"I'm so impressed by Karen Courtland Kelly, who can still do the figures so beautifully," Starbuck said. "She really took a big risk to produce this event and I know it will ripple across the skating world in positive ways, building and growing stronger in its influence as time goes by."
For more information on the World Figure Championship & Figure Festival, go to www.worldfigurechampionship.com. For more information about the new World Figure Sport Organization, visit their new site: www.worldfiguresport.org.