At the 1990 World Figure Skating Championships in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, American Champion Jill Trenary won the world title. Japan’s Midori Ito, the 1989 World Champion, placed an unheard of 10th in the compulsory figures and sat in fourth place after the short program. It became a numbers game, and she needed help from other skaters in order to win back her world title – one of the drawbacks of the 6.0 system. The dreaded flip-in-the-ordinals could garner Ito the gold medal and leave Trenary covered in silver dust if the long program played out in Ito’s favour. That scenario did not play out, and Trenary triumphed that night, with Ito behind her. And despite Trenary’s comeback, her win wasn’t the big story of the night.
Trenary’s teammate, Holly Cook, a 19-year-old teenager from Bountiful, Utah made her World Championship debut and won the bronze medal.
Contrary to popular belief, this wasn’t Cook’s first taste of international victory. In 1986 she won the Coupe des Alpes competition, part of the Nebelhorn Trophy.
She competed as a junior in at the 1987 World Juniors, where she placed fourth, weeks after she competed as a senior at NHK placing fourth. On the strength of her compulsory figures, she placed fourth in 1988 and 1989. She leaped onto the U.S. National World Team for the first time in 1990 to head north to Canada for the World Figure Skating Championships in Halifax.
After 99 years of slicing of figure eights, 1990 would signal the end for compulsory figures. For a well-known skater, a solid placing could secure their fate in the competition. Cook placed fourth in the compulsories, but was not well-known. However, no one could have predicted how the ladies short program would unfold.
When Holly Cook took to the ice, I’m sure few knew what to expect from the teenager. Cook had a somewhat bizarre jumping style – she would press her hand palms facing forward, fingers up, and once in the jump, she would press her chin to her chest. Despite this, along with minimal choreography, she was a powerful skater, with huge double Axels that floated across the ice.
Although she lacked the refinement of Trenary, she did what the majority of the ladies that night were unable to accomplish – complete the required elements and stay on their feet. Cook earned a well-deserved standing ovation, and a third-place finish in the short, and at the end of the night, thanks to a flip-in-the-ordinals, she headed into the long program in second-place, one placement ahead of teammate Trenary who placed fifth in the short program and fidgeted uncomfortably in third overall. Ito won the short program and inched her way up to fourth.
Cook didn’t have the performance of the night in her long program. She landed only two triple jumps, and again, with very little choreography, she placed fourth in the segment, but it was good enough to secure her the bronze medal.
One of the highlights of her programs in 1990 was a travelling two-foot sit-spin that covered the width of the ice. It was a spectacular move that I haven’t seen since anyone perform since the 1990 World’s.
The one criticism about Cook’s skating, voiced loudest by Toller Cranston in Halifax, was her lack of choreography. She skated from jump-to-jump, with very little in between. She had a somewhat erratic style. Her lack of maturity and concentration was probably best demonstrated at the 1988 US Nationals, where Cook seemed to lose her focus in her program.
If there is a defense for Holly being Holly, seen notably at the U.S. Nationals when she took her bow in the short program, she skates with joy, and not the bland seriousness that can destroy a skater.
During the 1990/1991 season, her musicality improved immensely. She placed third in Skate Canada. Cook seemed to have listened to the comments and made drastic changes. However, with the elimination of the figures, she became another skater the world lost because of the death of the compulsories. At the US Nationals she entered into the long program in fourth place, and after a disastrous long program, she placed sixth overall.
Holly Cook-Tanner, as she goes by now, coaches out of the South Davis Recreation Center in Bountiful, Utah.
There are some figure skaters who make an impact on the sport. They revolutionize it or they make a statement. Cook’s statement was that brief appearance in Halifax, Nova Scotia where she left her impression on the world, and she showed everyone what it’s like to go out there and not take herself too seriously. And she was rewarded for it.
Talk about making a statement.