When University of Delaware ice skating coach Suzanne “Suzy” Semanick-Schurman represented the U.S. in the Olympics 30 years ago, her sport — ice dancing — was relatively new to the Games.
The first Olympic ice dancers to win medals did so in 1976 in Innsbruck, Austria. In ’84, British skaters Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean became ice dancing’s first international superstars.
Four years later, Semanick was 21 years old, and pre-hyphen. She and partner Scott Gregory had twice won gold at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. In Calgary in ’88, the pair (also a real-life couple at the time, matching ’80s jeans jackets, hairstyles, and all) came in sixth.
Gregory was recovering from a ruptured disc. Semanick fell during the compulsories.
That was then. Semanick-Schurman and Gregory are no longer together, at least not romantically. They do continue to share the ice, coaching at the storied rinks of Newark, Del. Here, Semanick-Schurman looks back on 40-plus years of skating, including the ’88 Olympics (when Debi Thomas, Katarina Witt, Bonnie Blair, Brian Boitano, and Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards were household names), and weighs in on the current state of the sport. And the costumes.
Ice dancing versus pairs ice skating: There are no throws or jumps in ice dancing, and different lifts. Anything else?
The two are very similar, as far as the relationship between the skaters. You’re skating as a pair, you absolutely have to be so in sync with your partner: You should be able to close your eyes and find each other’s hands. If he’s off, you’re both off. You can’t have a weak link. You have to mentally be in the same game.
How did you become a figure skater?
My mother worked in a skating arena that had two sides: roller skating and ice skating. I roller skated first. When I was 6, 7 and 8 years old, I went to nationals in roller skating. Then came Dorothy Hamill. At 8, I switched over to ice skating.
And you trained at the University of Delaware?
First Ron Ludington was my coach at The Skating Club Of Wilmington. After the facility was built down at the University of Delaware, he moved his whole group there. I was his 32nd Olympian. Mr. Ludington is still teaching, at the Pond (in Newark, Del.), at age 83.
What’s it like, skating as a pro?
I just loved the performance aspect. I loved entertaining people, loved looking up way into the seats, hunting people out, making eye contact to pull them into our performance. I also loved the competition — I thrived on that.
But, it was hard: All you do is eat, sleep, and skate. There were definitely rough days of training. My partner, Scott Gregory, ruptured his disc when he was in Germany. We survived. It made us stronger. And we got to compete.
Yes, in the ’88 Olympics, in Calgary: Discuss.
It was so much fun, representing the U.S.A., so neat to have such great support. We Olympians did get to mingle. I met Prince Albert of Monaco. Eddie “the Eagle” was at my Olympics, and the Jamaican bobsled team.
We recently had our 30th reunion. It was a nice dinner and gathering. Brian (Boitano) said our Olympics’ U.S. ice skaters scored such high points and won so many medals, we should go back to petition for the team medal. Team medals for ice skating didn’t exist when we were there.
What was life like post-Olympics?
We did the world tour for a few years. We hit 32 cities in a month and a week. It was a blast, so wonderful. I also did a movie called The Oksana Baiul Story. I played one of her coaches.
How has ice dancing changed?
It’s now like Cirque du Soleil on ice. Whoever can climb their partner and make it look elegant, and do it within the time limit to get those points, wins. Before, when you would watch ice dancing, I’d think: I love that, let’s do that move, to this music. Now, you have seven elements to work, each at the highest level, which is level four. It’s crazy.
And now, you coach.
I teach about 40 students a week, students of all ages and abilities. I teach with my skates on — most of the time, anyway. Some of my days are 10-hour days, so my skates come off then.
You’re a mom, too. Any future Olympians in the family?
I have an 18-year-old who is going to school at the University of Delaware and a 13-year-old who’s a softball player. My 18-year-old is on the ice hockey team at Delaware. She did go to Nationals in ice dancing. Now, she’s focused on hockey. Her team is currently ranked No. 1.
Have you seen “I, Tonya?”
I haven’t. I traveled with both of them (Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding), equally. It still baffles me, how people can think of that as entertainment. It’s not funny. Everybody else who competed that year was a shadow because of that incident. That’s what was sad.
Is it wrong to admit that skaters’ costumes seem worthy of their own competition?
(Laughs.) My mother did all our costumes. She was amazing. She made our Olympics outfits out of a 1920s peignoir she found in a thrift store and bought for maybe 50 bucks. It was tons of chiffon with gorgeous smocking. She dyed it teal and even made Scott’s shirt out of it.
Any advice for couples who’d like to skate together for Valentine’s Day?
I think they should try to cram in some lessons.