Esteemed US Olympic coach teaches local young figure skaters

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Legendary figure skating coach John Nicks coaches local skaters on Tuesday, January 26 at the Stephen C. West Ice Arena in Breckenridge. Nicks has coached US and Olympic medalists in 41 world championships and nine Olympic Winter Games. He is a member of the American Figure Skating Halls of Fame and World Figure Skating Hall of Fame.
Photo by Jenise Jensen / City of Breckenridge

The town of Breckenridge was fortunate enough to have an unexpected and atypical sporting opportunity this week at the Stephen C. West Ice Arena. World and American Hall of Fame figure skating coach John Nicks was in town for a ski trip with his daughter, their first time in Breckenridge, and he was in contact with the town’s recreation department. They asked if Nicks, 91, would be interested in a figure skating clinic, and the recently retired longtime coach of US Figure Skating couldn’t say “no.”

Back when Nicks was the young age he was teaching at Breckenridge this week, he discovered the sport through his father’s sports equipment store in Brighton, England. Nicks was his father’s “guinea pig” for the ice cream gear he sold. Fairly quickly, Nicks and his younger sister developed as pairs skaters, eventually winning the British, European and World Championships in 1953.

In the years that followed, Nicks toured as a skateboarder in South Africa before coming to the United States in 1961. Until then, Nicks had admired American skateboarders from afar. Sadly, the reason Nicks came to the United States was due to the 1961 plane crash that killed all 18 members of the US figure skating team on their way to the world figure skating championships in Prague. The crash also killed several team officials and coaches, so the Americans called on Nicks to fill a coaching position.



“I was asked to go to Long Beach, Calif., To replace one of the coaches who was killed,” Nicks said Wednesday. “Then I worked in this field for the next 50 to 60 years. “

During this time, Nicks helped coach seven Olympic Winter teams, several world champions and some Olympic medalists, including Sasha Cohen, who won silver in Turin, Italy in 2006. Over the years , Nicks said the sport hasn’t just progressed on the ice. – where skaters have gone from single spins in the 1940s to quadruple spins these days – but in the media.



“At the Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in 1948, they competed on an outdoor surface,” Nicks said. “The wind was blowing. The snow was falling. They had to stop competing for half an hour and then continued. And after all, there were only five to six press photographers there. I was in Turin, when Sasha walked into the newsroom, there were around 170 journalists. ”

This multiple exposure photo shows young local figure skater Danielle Weisberg performing a flip jump during the John Nicks Clinic at the Stephen C. West Ice Arena in Breckenridge last week.
Photo by Jenise Jensen / City of Breckenridge

Nicks also hopes casual fans appreciate the mental and physical strength of figure skaters. He said it takes someone special to gradually and sometimes painfully learn a new turn when the margin for landing error on a quarter-inch blade is slim.

This is why the “triangle” of athlete support is so important to him. The three sides of the triangle are athlete, coach and parent, and Nicks said part of his success as a coach of over 1,110 skaters over nearly six decades is due to his understanding of the balance between when the athlete needed the parent and when the coach needed and vice versa.

“In figure skating you have to be aware of so many things,” said Nicks. “You have to be athletic, artistic and understand the importance of music in a program. You have to be tough enough with all the falls and injuries that you are going to have. And you have to handle the pressure.

Local figure skaters participate in a clinic with famous Olympic coach John Nicks last week. Nicks has coached American athletes at 41 World Championships and nine Olympic Winter Games, and is a member of the US Hall of Fame and the figure skating world.
Photo by Jenise Jensen / City of Breckenridge

Now “semi-retired” from training three years ago, Nicks stopped by the Stephen C. West Ice Arena to work on 15-20 technical aspects of skating with the Summit Skating Club. He said his goal was for most athletes to be more confident in two or three of the elements by the end of the week.

Two of those athletes were May Omori, 12, of Frisco and Katrina Baird, 17, of Breckenridge. Omori said she will remember the importance of presentation skills, including keeping your head and arms high with your chest open. Baird said Nicks had helped her improve her jumps, spins and presentation skills.

“We are really lucky to have this opportunity,” said Baird.

Olympic coach John Nicks works off the ice with skaters before teaching a clinic at Stephen C. West Ice Arena in Breckenridge on Tuesday January 26th. Nicks has coached American figure skaters at national, world and Olympic championships, including nine Winter Olympics. and 41 world championships.
Photo by Jenise Jensen / City of Breckenridge


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