Thrill List: Figure Skating
Gillis Grafström was one of the most innovative architects of skating
Dick Button rarely went a season without inventing a new jump
Despite his dwarfish size, Scott Hamilton competed with fierceness
These lists are not mere compilations of all-time bests in their respective sports but all-time bests at quickening the pulse and evoking a visceral response from those fortunate enough to have witnessed their artistry.
10. Sasha Cohen
Watching Cohen bend and contort, you would think her spinal column was made of rubber bands. Her flexibility allowed her to set the standard in the sport for spins and spirals. But she was always a better performer than competitor and her many detractors snickered that watching her implode was half the fun.
Judges didn't know what to make of the Canadian-born siblings who pushed the limits of ice dancing and challenged officials to re-examine the restrictions that distinguished the event from pairs. When their national coaches deemed their avant-garde style too radical, they changed citizenship and competed for France, bucking the classical norms of dance with funky drum solos, percussive beats and safari outfits made of fake animal skin.
8. Scott Hamilton
He compensated for his elfishness (he was 5-foot-3 and 110 pounds) with a fierce attacking style of leaps and spins, and looked like a whirling dervish as he cut across the ice. Though he wasn't a technical innovator in the class of some other greats -- Hamilton's routines didn't include a triple Axel -- he competed with caffeinated fearlessness.
7. Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean
The British duo of Torvill and Dean was the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of the ice. Their performance of Bolero during the free dance at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics received 12 perfect scores of 6.0, including perfect marks for artistic impression from every judge. To the classicists, Torvill and Dean are the standard of what the discipline is supposed to be.
6. Michelle Kwan
Though known as the greatest figure skater never to win the Olympics, Kwan was also among the most popular, matching class and grace on and off the ice. Though she couldn't bend like Sasha Cohen or jump like Japan's Midori Ito, Kwan patented the change-of-edge spiral and she had a mature interpretation of music that allowed her to skate to any genre from Eric Clapton's Rush to Puccini's Tosca and a Rachmaninoff concerto.
5. Katarina Witt
Along with the coquettish seduction, Witt lured fans and judges with her superb athleticism. Though Witt's jumps in major championships were sometimes cautious and conservative, nobody was better at getting caught up in a character, as she proved with in her triumphant role as Bizet's Carmen at the 1988 Calgary Olympics, the second consecutive gold medal for the German.
4. Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov
The married Russian pair complemented one another to a T. At 190 pounds, Grinkov could skate across the ice without making a sound. His partner, at a willowy 90 pounds, was beauty on the ice. Their size difference also enabled difficult lifts and throws such as the quadruple twist lift, a move they perfected.
3. Gillis Grafström
The three-time Olympic champion from Sweden was one of the sport's early innovators. He created the Grafström pirouette on the blade's back outside edge and coined the now-common flying sit spin. He is considered the finest compulsory figure skater in the history of the sport and later utilized his creative eye as a coach (of Sonja Henie among other skaters) and architect.
2. Dick Button
So common was it for the two-time Olympic champion to invent a new jump that fans expected him to reveal a new one each season. Button rarely disappointed, landing the first double Axel and first triple jump, a loop, in competition. He invented the flying camel sit spin that became known as the Button Camel and was constantly pushing the sport forward. With a keen eye for entertainment, he later developed a number of made-for-TV events, some of which, like The Superstars, did not include skating.
1. Sonja Henie
The three-time Norwegian Olympic champ became the first skater whose star appeal crossed the borders of her country and her sport. Taught by a ballerina and attuned to choreography and glamour, Henie later appeared in more than a dozen Hollywood films, often playing herself.
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