Natural on the Ice: the Career of Nicole Bobek

Nicole Bobek, the talented American figure skater with Czech ancestry, has had a topsy-turvy life. This amazing skater has shown the world that adversity is her greatest challenge. Nicole started skating at the very early age of three years old. She was a natural on the ice and her mother pursued this as a lifelong dream for their family. She was raised by a single mother and a family friend, who moved all over the country to provide the best opportunity for Nicole’s figure skating career. She has seen great triumphs as well as devastating disappointments, but through it all she has been able to learn and grow from each one of her experiences.

This bright talented skater is known for her charisma and unique improvisation on the rink. She romances the crowd with her incredible rhythm and dance moves as she makes each and every advanced skating move look and seem natural. Her blonde hair and gorgeous smile has won the hearts of many fans around the world. Bobek is a United States Olympian who climbed the ranks of skating. This did not come without major challenges and hard work. Nicole’s entire childhood and more specifically her adolescence was for public view. Her career as an ice skater has brought great advancements and opportunity but it has also brought strain and pressure. Through her career she has had over eleven coaches and has seen her favorite coach die of a heart attack at a World Championship event. Much of the growing up Nicole experienced was under the watchful and often critical eye of the public. She has seen her share of public ridicule through tabloid rants about her character. She has shown the world the woman of great strength she is by overcoming many overwhelming challenges that life has thrown her way.

Childhood

Nicole Bobek was born in Chicago, Illinois on August 23, 1977. She was raised by her mother Jana Bobek and her mother’s friend Joyce Barron, who escaped the Czech Republic when Jana was 21 years old when the Soviets came into Prague with their tanks in 1968. Jana Bobek and her friend Joyce Barron were amateur skaters back in the Czech Republic so they were native to skating. Nicole’s mother Jana was not married to Nicole’s father and Nicole has never met him. She has stated that she has no desire to meet him either.

She started skating at the age of three years old. She was introduced to the ice in Chicago and would spend hours on the ice with Debbie Stoery her first coach. Debbie has been reported stating that Nicole had a gift for dancing on the ice. Nicole’s mother reflects on this time stating that the ice was Nicole’s sandbox, where she would spend hours bringing her own dances to the ice. In 1990 the Chicago Tribune did a story on the young rising talent, Nicole Bobek. The piece was written about a child growing up without a father in a high-cost sport. A small dress maker in the area would donate the ice skating outfits for Nicole to wear during competitions. During this time Jana Bobek and Joyce Barron supported the family by running ice cream trucks through the city of Chicago until they lost their contract with the city leaving them without an income.

One of the most amazing highlights of Nicole’s childhood was at thirteen years old, George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees, paid a visit to Nicole during one of her skating practices. After seeing Nicole skate one time, he cut a check for $15,000 to pay for her training. Steinbrenner was known for favoring the US Skaters and helping them get to the Olympics to represent the United States team.

Figure skating

The family moved to Los Angeles and then to Colorado Springs where Jana Bobek bought a tanning salon to help support the family. The family primarily relied on Nicole’s skating income to survive. In Colorado, Nicole trained with Kathy Casey, which did not last long. Kathy Casey and Nicole’s personalities clashed. Nicole finally ended up with Nancy Kerrigan’s former coach Richard Callahan. She was successful under the watchful eye of Richard Callahan. He provided many of the rules and boundaries that had been missing. He was strict but this helped propel Nicole ahead in her career.

Nicole was coached by Carlo Fassi and his wife Christa Fassi. Carlo took a job coaching in Italy and moved away for a short time. Upon his return, Nicole jumped at the chance to have him coach her again. He was like a father figure to her. During the 1997 World Championship Games in Lausanne, Switzerland in the CIGM Arena, Carlo Fassi had a heart attack and died. His wife was able to coach Nicole and she made it through her routine but she was devastated and crying the entire time. She has stated that this was the hardest thing she had ever done, but if she did not complete the competition, she would have regretted it. 

Junior World Championships

Bobek’s first championship accomplishment was placing second at the novice level World Championships in 1989. The then 11 year old Nicole was a fresh face in skating and she charmed the crowd and worked her way up the competition chain. She moved up to the junior level three years later and did great by placing fourth at the Junior World Championships in Canada. In 1993 Nicole dropped to sixteenth place after she left the competition with an injury as she sliced open her thigh and was bleeding porously.

Senior World Championships

Nicole’s first year at the Senior World Championships was 1994. She was placed in the competition because the infamous Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan both dropped out of the championship competition. Nicole did make it past the qualifying rounds of the competition in her first year. Bobek had a great year in 1995 coming back from an injury, Nicole placed 3rd at the World Championships in Birmingham, England. She was not able to compete in the 1996 World Championships due to an injury. After the sudden death of her coach Fassi in 1997, Nicole placed 13th at the World Championships in Lausanne. She was grief ridden at the loss of her favorite coach, friend and the father that she never had. She stated in several interviews, Fassi really loved her and that she felt the most comfortable and competent when he was coaching her. She stated that he did not ever shout at her, unlike most of the coaches she had. Carlo Fassi was by far her favorite. 

US Championships

The US Championships were where Nicole first propelled into serious competition skating. IN 1989 Nicole placed 2nd in her division. She won in 1993 1st place at Nationals. She continually held 3rd or 4th place with the exception of 1992 and 1993 where she dropped to 8th and 7th place respectively. Placing high in the US Nationals gives skaters a chance to skate in the World Skating Championships. The next level after the World Championships is the Olympic, which is the ultimate competition for a figure skater.

Winter Olympics

The 1998 Nagano Olympics was quite the experience for Nicole Bobek. Although she only placed 17th, she was able to make it to the Olympics which had been a dream of hers since early childhood. Although Nagano offered great potential for Bobek, she was again hit with an injury to her hip flexor. This made it difficult for Bobek to remain at the top. She was unable to perform her routines successfully, which was what led to her eventually placing 17th.

Career Set Backs

In 1992 Nicole was rushed to the emergency room for an urgent appendectomy. She almost died as her lungs collapsed. She left the 1993 World Junior Championships with a gash to her leg because as she performed a jump landing during the show, she cut her thigh with her skate blade. She was bitten by a friend’s Labrador retriever and was able to attend the 1994 competition in Philadelphia but she had bite marks from the dog on her neck. She has had multiple injuries to her hip flexors.

In late 1995, Nicole suffered from an ankle injury which she had to work through, but she was relentless and went on tour with The Nutcracker despite the injury. She was unable to perform at the 1996 World Championships because of this injury. By this time the ankle was badly injured and needed rest.

During the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano, Nicole suffered an injury to her hip flexor and placed a disappointing 17th in the games. She was not able to follow the year with the World Championships due to this and other injuries. She rehabilitated with coach Callahan in 1998 and 1999 and was ready for the US National Championships when she was unable to compete due to a sciatic nerve problem.

She has overcome injuries, gossip, teenage problems, and more serious issues. Following each one of Nicole’s setbacks she is able to show herself and the world around her just how strong she is. Nicole bounces back with more charisma than she started with. Through her competition days and all of the coach changes and awful experience of coach Fassi’s death, she has remained true to herself. Bobek does not let her creative spin be smothered. She likes to improvise on the ice with her creative dances and this typically draws the crowd in. She has a great deal of audience participation because of this. 

Coaches

At the age of three, Debbie Stoery became Nicole’s very first coach. This would be the first of a long string of coaches to pass through Nicole’s life. Debbie also said that Nicole was a bright and creative young child who naturally took to the ice. She was creative at a very young age and found ease in the ability to dance on the ice. Financial issues forced the family to move to Colorado Springs, Co. This is where Nicole hired Coach Cathy Casey. Cathy and Nicole had a very short coaching relationship because their personalities clashed. Cathy saw Nicole as an unruly child who failed to follow rules. Nicole was a creative and bright child and needed a different coaching approach.

Carlo Fassi soon became Nicole’s coach. He worked really well with her and they found balance. Many disturbances in Nicole’s personal life affected her skating but eventually Nicole was able to find balance. Unfortunately Fassi moved back to Italy to take a coaching job he was offered. They parted ways on good terms. The Bobeks moved to Massachusetts and hired Coaches Evy and Mary Scotvold. They have coached professional skaters such as Nancy Kerrigan and Paul Wylie.

It was after she changed coaches to Richard Callahan that she saw the most success in her career. Richard Callahan was a no nonsense coach who set strict rules for Nicole. These rules turned out to be quite helpful as this advanced Nicole’s career. Nicole had a great year in 1995 under the guidance of Callahan. Soon after Fassi’s return to the states, Bobek hired Carol and his wife Chrita. They created a team of Barbara Role and Robin Cousins, who were both former skating figures. Cousins did most of the choreography and Roles handled assistant coaching. The team really worked for Nicole. Soon after Fassi’s untimely death at the 1997 World Championships, Bobek competed in the Nagano Olympics in 1998 with Tara Lipinski and Evan Lysacek. She fell to a disappointing 17th place because of hip flexor injuries. Nicole made several attempts at competing after this only to be stricken by injuries. The final injury came after her 1999 attempt to compete in the World Championships but had to drop out due to a sciatic nerve problem.

Through all the years of skating, Nicole has the fondest memories of Fassi. She looked up to this man she called a father figure. She took his death very hard and even attempted a failed performance in 1997 at the World Championships as a tribute to Fassi. The emotional upset was too much for her to handle and she collapsed several times after attempting her signature spiral jumps.

Career

Her trade mark spiral move that brought her leg straight up against her ear was a crowd favorite. She made the flexibility seem effortless as she perfected this move throughout her figure skating career. The crowds were drawn to her angelic beauty and grace as she glided across the rink. When she was on, she was really on. She decided to tour with The Nutcracker in 1995, in which she played the lead role of Clara. This was a 21 city extensive tour that featured Peggy Fleming as a Sugar Plum Fairy and Todd Eldredge as The Nutcracker Prince. She went on to do many tours on ice including Improv on Ice in 1999 and Grand Slam of Skating in 1998 and 1999.

The US regulations on ice skaters making money was lifted, which allowed Nicole to tour with shows such as Champions on Ice and Improv on Ice. This allowed an income stream to be available which was very lucrative during the times she was not in competitions. The sport of ice skating can be very expensive, and this allowed Nicole to bring in income to support her ice skating career. Along with her mother’s varied income stream and Nicole’s tour income, she was able to continue on and build a career.

After Nicole’s injuries in 1999 Nicole decided to go professional with her skating career and joined the Champions on Ice Tour. She signed a four year contract to tour the country with other professional skaters. Since then she has taken on coaching jobs in Florida. 

Endorsements

Her first and one of the most exciting endorsements Nicole experienced was by New York Yankees owner, George Steinbrenner. Nicole wowed Mr. Steinbrenner into contributing $15,000 to help fund her training. Mr. Steinbrenner was well-known for his financial assistance with those favored to make it to the Olympics. This was Nicole’s big break in terms of career. This made news and soon after reporters took an interest in Nicole’s life. There were several pieces written about her fatherless upbringing and the makings of a future Olympian.

While promoting the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, she picked up two endorsements. Campbell’s Soup was the major sponsor of the US Figure Skating Team for the Olympics. Campbell’s has a long history of supporting the US Figure Skating Team. Nicole also appeared with her teammates, Lipinski and Lysacek in several Panasonic commercials that ran during the Olympics in Japan. These endorsements helped fund the US Olympic team for the Nagano Olympics.

 Film

Nicole tried her hand at acting and was able to add another accomplishment to her resume. She was invited to be in the movie “All the King’s Men” starring with big named actors such as Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Anthony Hopkins, James Gandolfini and Mark Ruffalo. The film is based on the novel by Robert Penn Warren about the rise and fall of a Southern governor. Nicole played an ice skater and wooed the cast of the movie with her natural charm and beauty. Although the movie was not a huge success, Nicole was a great addition to the cast.

Nicole has performed multiple ‘made for TV shows’ such as the Improv on Ice and television broadcasts of Champions on Ice. These performances included other US figure skating competitors. A few of the shows included Evita, The Lion King and Honey on the Bee.