At the 1990 World Figure Skating Championships in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, American Champion Jill Trenary won the world title. Japan’s Midori Ito placed an unheard of 10th in the compulsory figures – unheard of for a defending world champion while Trenary won the segment.
But a short program was a different story. After a perfect skate, Ito jumped into fourth place. However, Trenary downgraded the triple in her triple toe-double toe combo, placing fifth – and third overall. Natalia Lebedeva from the USSR led the ladies free skate – which became a numbers game.
To defend the world title, Ito needed help from other skaters – aka the 6.0 system – entering the free skate. It was a “if this skaters beats this skater but not this skater” situation.
The numbers game calculated in Trenary’s favour, and Ito won the silver medal. However, despite Trenary’s comeback, her win wasn’t the only story of the night.
Trenary’s teammate, Holly Cook, a 19-year-old teenager from Bountiful, Utah made her World Championship debut – and she quietly sat in second place after the short program – and she’d ship off with a 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.
Cook 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 at the U.S. Nationals. Cook 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. However, no one could have predicted how the ladies short program would unfold.
When Holly Cook took to the ice, 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 she headed into the free skate in second-place – one placement ahead of teammate Trenary.
But Cook didn’t have the performance of the night in her free. She landed only two triple jumps, and again, with sparse choreography, she placed fourth in the segment. It was good enough to secure her the bronze medal.
One of the highlights of Cook’s 1990 programs was a travelling two-foot sit-spin that covered the width of the ice. It was a spectacular move that even Toller Cranston commented, “that’s a movement that I have not seen for many years. The last skater that did that was Gord McKellen,” the 1973 to 1975 U.S. men’s champion.
One criticism about Cook’s skating, voiced loudest by Cranston in Halifax, was her lack of choreography. She skated from jump-to-jump with a somewhat erratic style. Her lack of concentration was best demonstrated at the 1988 U.S. Nationals, where Cook seemed to lose her focus near the end of her free program.
If there is a defence for Holly being Holly, seen notably at those 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, Cook’s improved her artistry and she place third at Skate Canada. Cook seemed to have listened to the comments and made drastic changes. However, with the elimination of the compulsory figures, she became another skater the world lost. At the 1991 U.S. Nationals she entered into the free skate 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.