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Jewish Journal

Olympian skates to hall of fame

By Leila Miller

February 5, 2014 | 3:24 pm

Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert during their program in the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. Photo by Kurt Strumpf/AP

Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert during their program in the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. Photo by Kurt Strumpf/AP

As the end of her ice dancing program approached during the 1984 Winter Olympics, Judy Blumberg’s partner held her body, arched in a horizontal half-moon, all the way around his back. 

The final notes of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” sounded and she slid down his legs, remaining curled at his feet for more than five seconds as her partner continued to glide across the ice, demonstrating, as one TV commentator said, “the story of a slave, finally freed, that would not leave.”

“I love the ability to show chemistry on the ice with one another,” Blumberg recently told the Journal. “We do tell stories. We completely bring you into our world.”

On Jan. 26, Blumberg, now 56, was one of 15 honorees inducted into the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame at American Jewish University. Among her fellow enshrinees are former Los Angeles City Councilwoman Rosalind Wyman, who helped bring the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles in the 1950s, and surfing legend Shaun Tomson.

A two-time Olympian and five-time national ice dancing champion, Blumberg is now an ice dancing technical specialist and coach. She is also a specialty coach for figure skating pair Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay, who are competing in this year’s Winter Olympics. The opening ceremony is on Feb. 7 in Sochi, Russia.

Blumberg grew up in Tarzana and started skating at age 10, after seeing her neighbor’s red polka-dotted, corduroy and satin figure skating dress.

“I fell in love with it,” she said. “I figured I had to start skating to get one of those dresses.”

Blumberg trained at a rink in Tarzana, skating for nearly three hours every morning beginning at 5 a.m. and then again after school for a few hours. Her training schedule didn’t allow for a traditional high school social life — she never attended any parties — but she said she didn’t mind.

“I had no ambition to do anything except to be in that skating world,” Blumberg said. “It was a very busy time in my youth, but I always knew that this was something I was passionate about, and I knew it would come through in some way.”

Success did come when, at age 18, Blumberg switched from singles figure skating to ice dancing — partner skating modeled after ballroom dancing — because of the difficulty she had performing the jumps required in singles competitions.

“Ice dancing is about deep edges and being musical and listening to the beat and working with a partner,” Blumberg said. “I couldn’t execute the jumps when I was under pressure — I was very nervous. For ice dancing you didn’t need to do that, you just had to be able to skate.”

She met her ice dancing partner of 14 years, Michael Seibert, at age 20 at the 1977 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Hartford, Conn. They both had partners at the time, but that didn’t last. A year and a half later, Blumberg moved to Colorado Springs, Colo., to train with him.

“I knew this would be the boy I would skate with,” she said. “You know when you move similar to someone, when your knees work with someone.”

The pair quickly rose up in the ice dancing ranks and competed at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., placing seventh. In the years that followed, they went on to be five-time U.S. ice dancing champions (1981-1985) and three-time world bronze medalists (1983-1985). 

Their musical accompaniment varied from country singer Patsy Cline to Elvis Presley, and they even used selections from the “Madame Butterfly” opera. Instead of adhering to the norm of ballroom-style music for ice dancing, they became known for using more melodic music, typically reserved for figure skaters.

Blumberg and Seibert were the highest ranked U.S. pair going into the 1984 Olympics and had high hopes for a medal.

“The idea is you want two people who move similarly and who have similar goals to be together,” she said. “By the time the next Olympics in ’84 came around we were thinking we could be up to the medal, which we were.”

But despite managing to skate a clean program — complete with that horizontal half moon behind Seibert’s back — the pair finished fourth at the Winter Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, because of a low score from a judge who claimed that the pair’s choice of music, “Scheherazade,” was improper for ice dancing.

“We were devastated when we dropped to fourth. We were out of our medal that we had always hoped we would get,” she said. “[But] our skating grew from that, and it got better and we were better performers.”

Seibert and Blumberg competed for one more year before transitioning from competitive to professional skating. Blumberg went on to perform with Stars on Ice and in other skating exhibitions, and was a figure skating commentator for CBS Sports as well as the ensemble director for Ice Theatre of New York. 

Today, she lives in Sun Valley, Idaho, with her 8-year-old daughter. She teaches at a local rink and is the head coach of Chloe Rose Lewis and Logan Bye, an ice dancing pair that won the national novice ice dancing title in the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

“I really helped them develop that inner story coming out, and the characterizations were right on and I’m amazed how beautifully they portray that,” she said, referring to one of their programs skated to the theme from “Schindler’s List.” 

“I see myself in [Chloe].” 

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