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[ICE TIME] Skating Legend Dick Button Deserves ISU’s Lifetime Achievement Award

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The International Skating Union announced on June 10 that next month it would be presenting a Lifetime Achievement Award to an individual in a virtual event streamed online.

Last year the inaugural ISU Skating Awards, which were scheduled to be held at the world championships in Montreal, had to be postponed by the pandemic and were ultimately held virtually, with winners in several categories being announced.

Because of the odd nature of the past season in which most of the events being held were domestic ones, the ISU has decided to only give out the Lifetime Achievement Award this year.

If ever there was an overwhelming choice for the honor, then American Richard Totten Button is it for this year’s ISU’s Lifetime Achievement Award. I can confidently say that Button has done more for the sport than any other living person. 

The legendary two-time Olympic champion and five-time world titlist, who went on to become a television analyst and show promoter for decades, will turn 92 next month, and now is the time to recognize his immense contributions to skating.

In his competitive days the seven-time U.S. champion Button was to skating what Babe Ruth was to baseball. An absolute giant without equal.

What is most amazing about Button’s record is that he won his two Olympics (1948, 1952), five world championships (1948-52), and seven U.S. titles (1946-52) consecutively. He topped the podium at every single one of them, an incredible accomplishment. Not once could anybody beat him, such was his dominance.

It took 66 years, until Yuzuru Hanyu won his second consecutive Olympic gold in Pyeongchang in 2018, for Button’s achievement to be equaled.

Button’s staggering list of trailblazing feats is phenomenal and includes being the first American to win the Olympic title, the first American to win the world championship, and the first skater to land a double axel.

Button was even invited to the European Championships one year (1948) and won that! The same year, he won his first Olympic gold medal at the St. Moritz Games in Switzerland, making him the youngest ever to do so at 18.

He concluded that season by simultaneously holding the Olympic, World, European, U.S. and North American titles.

Legendary skating writer Phil Hersh, who has covered every Winter Olympics since 1980, gave Ice Time his thoughts on Button.

“Even with Hanyu, you can still make a strong case that Dick is the greatest male skater of all time,” Hersh wrote in an email. “Not only did he win two straight Olympic golds and five straight world titles, he won them all by commanding margins and pushed the sport’s envelope technically, having been credited with landing both the first triple jump and the first combination of three double jumps in competition. He is also credited with executing the first flying camel spin. After a controversial defeat at the 1947 worlds, Button was undefeated the rest of his career.”

Button, a native of Englewood, New Jersey, also showed that he was a lot more than a skater, as he earned his degree from Harvard in the midst of his incredible run on the ice. He followed that by graduating from Harvard Law School.

After finishing his competitive career, Button went on to skate for the Ice Capades, provide television commentary on skating, then later started his own production company that created the World Professional Figure Skating Championships. In 1974 he brought a skating event to Tokyo to showcase Janet Lynn, the American who was the bronze medalist at the 1972 Sapporo Olympics.

“Dick did more to popularize the sport in the United States than anyone, both as a TV commentator for several decades and as a creator and promoter of professional competitions,” Hersh noted. “Following Sonja Henie, whose ice shows and movies attracted huge U.S. crowds in the 1930s and 1940s, Button’s influence as an athlete and personality were instrumental in creating a golden age of U.S. singles skating that lasted for nearly 50 years.”

After Hanyu’s second Olympic triumph in South Korea, Hersh wrote a story debating who was the greatest male skater of all time.

“The greatest must be Dick Button,” John Nicks, a longtime coach and a pairs skater who competed in the two Olympics when Button won the gold, commented to Hersh. 

“Whatever competition Dick ever skated in, everyone knew he was going to win. He was miles ahead of the competition, the most dominant and consistent skater I ever saw. And he introduced advanced jumping to the Olympics.”

Britain’s Robin Cousins, the 1980 Olympic champion, told Hersh how Button set the path forward for skating.

“Dick is a hero for his longevity and the back-to-back Olympic titles. … He was somebody who broke the mold of his era,” Cousins stated. “Without his having done what he did, the rest of us after couldn’t have done what we did.”

American Paul Wylie, the 1992 Olympic silver medalist, explained to Hersh his view on where Button should rank.

“Dick Button was inventive and really redefined what the sport of figure skating would become,” Wylie remarked. “That’s why I think he is the greatest.”

Christine Brennan, the USA Today columnist and best-selling author of skating books Inside Edge and Edge of Glory, believes there is no question that Button deserves the ISU honor.

“The sport of figure skating should give Dick Button all the awards,” Brennan wrote in an email to Ice Time. “I would have thought it already would have. … He brought the sport into America’s living rooms at a time of massive TV ratings. To many, he is figure skating, and always will be.”   

To call Button’s life amazing is an understatement. To this day just the mention of his name carries significant weight in the skating community. His gravitas is profound.

Button has been critical of the ISU over the years, particularly over the fact that the leader of the organization has consistently been a person with a background in speed skating. He has also had issues with the judging and emphasis on jumps over artistry in recent years. It was clear that Button’s concerns only stemmed from his love for skating and its future direction.

“You can’t have technique without artistry, but neither can you have artistry without technique,” Button once told Ice Time in a conversation.

A few years ago, Button attended the U.S. championships, where an endless stream of prominent figures in the sport made sure to pay their respects to the living legend as he took in the competition.

It is time for the ISU to do the same now: honor Dick Button for his impact on skating and let him enjoy it while he still can.

It’s the right thing to do.

Japan Society to Host Online Event with Ando, Sato, Miyahara, Nagasu 

The Japan Society in New York City will present an interactive, online discussion with world champions Miki Ando and Yuka Sato, as well as Olympic medalist Mirai Nagasu on June 29 (9:00 AM June 30 in Japan), it announced recently.

“The Inside Edge: Skating Champions from Japan and the U.S.” will be moderated by Olympic and world medalist Nancy Kerrigan.

The panelists will discuss a variety of topics, including training and competing in both countries; the athletic mindset and resiliency in overcoming challenges; super fans and the popularity of the sport in Japan; and life after competitive skating.

What makes this event especially unique is that fans will have the opportunity to ask live questions to the panelists. Fans can register for free at japansociety.org.

New Season Schedule Announced

The ISU unveiled the calendar for the 2021-22 skating season recently and it will include a full slate of international events, following the irregular campaign of 2020-21 caused by the pandemic. Fans will no doubt be turning out to watch competitions live, after the frustrations of many for the past 18 months.

The season will commence in August with seven Junior Grand Prix events (Courchevel, France; Edmonton, Canada; Kosice, Slovakia; Krasnoyarsk, Russia; Ljubljana, Slovenia; Gdansk, Poland; Linz, Austria) on the docket.

ISU JGP announcer Ted Barton talked about the plans for the coming campaign in a phone call with Ice Time this week after last season’s JGP was canceled.

“Plan A is that we move forward as is. We travel, we execute, we produce, like we have always done at a high level,” Barton stated. “We introduce a whole new generation of young skaters because of the two-year gap. Any juniors that we would have known have now moved to senior.”

Barton said the new JGP season will offer viewers something unique.

“We will see the cleanest slate of juniors we have ever seen,” Barton commented. “Because we have always had a mix of some juniors who were moving to seniors the next year, some who were staying around for two years, or three years, or four years. But this is brand new and clean. We will understand, at least from my perspective, what this next generation over the next eight years will be when we take a look at these skaters.”

The senior GP season will get underway in October at Skate America (Las Vegas), before continuing at Skate Canada (Vancouver), Cup of China (Chongqing), NHK Trophy (Tokyo), Internationaux de France (Grenoble), and Cup of Russia (Moscow).

The junior and senior GP Final will be held in Osaka (December 9-12), marking the third straight time it has been contested in Japan ahead of the Winter Olympics. The Beijing Games will take place from February 4-20.

There is a full slate of Challenger Series events on tap for the season as well. The 10-competition lineup will kick off in September, with the following cities set to host: Bergamo, Italy; Pierrefonds, Quebec City, Canada; Oberstdorf, Germany; Bratislava, Slovakia; Espoo, Finland; Beijing, China; Almaty, Kazakhstan; Graz, Austria; Warsaw; and Zagreb, Croatia.

The world junior championships are set for Sofia (March 7-13), with the season concluding at the world championships in Montpellier, France (March 21-27).

Author: Jack Gallagher

The author is a veteran sports journalist and one of the world’s foremost figure skating experts. Find articles and podcasts by Jack on his author page, here, and find him on Twitter @sportsjapan.

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