"Icebreaker: The Autobiography of Rudy Galindo"

Reviewed by Sandra Loosemore

I first saw Rudy Galindo skate at the 1984 US Figure Skating Championships, when he was competing as a junior. In the dozen years between this first glimpse and the defining moment of his career, at the 1996 championships in San Jose, I had watched Rudy's story unfold and come to admire and enjoy his skating a great deal. But I was strictly an observer of the competitive skating scene, with no particular knowledge of Rudy as a person. Now, with the publication of Rudy's autobiography "Icebreaker", I have had a chance to see his life and career from a more personal perspective.

While many of us skating fans were aware that Rudy's life was not easy and that he had a reputation for being emotional and hot-tempered, the book reveals that the truth of his situation was much worse than that. Rudy writes with flat, unblinking candor about his mother's mental illness, his brother George's prison time and general irresponsibility, and his own emotional problems and excursions into drug and alcohol abuse. Most horrifying of all is the story of how Rudy nursed George as he was dying from AIDS. In the final stages of his illness, George alternated between helpless passivity and delusional violence, and it was an overwhelming burden for Rudy. It must have been difficult to admit that he found himself wishing for his brother's death.

Rudy also is quite frank about his own shortcomings as a skater. One theme that recurs often throughout the part of the book covering his return to singles skating after the breakup of his partnership with Kristi Yamaguchi is his reluctance to really push himself on his training, or to work with a coach who would do the pushing. It wasn't until his career reached a do-or-die crisis in 1995, when many skating fans were expecting him to retire following a particularly disappointing season, that he seemed to find the focus, motivation, responsibility, and self-control he needed to make it to the top.

Like many other people who were present at the championships in San Jose, I was astounded by the "killer attitude" Rudy had apparently developed since the previous year, as well as his obvious improvements in technique and consistency. His on-ice demeanor in the practice sessions that week projected a flamboyant self-confidence that bordered on arrogance. You sensed that he had something to prove. In his book, though, Rudy gives very little hint of this; instead, he claims that the thought of winning never even crossed his mind. It is hard for me to judge how much of this is real, and how much is a deliberate facade of modesty.

While I have witnessed many of the skating-related events he writes about, I do not know Rudy personally, and I cannot accurately judge how well his collaborator Eric Marcus has succeeded in capturing his voice and personality. In terms of the skating, I noted a few factual errors. Perhaps the most intrusive error was that the US Olympic Festival in Los Angeles was in 1991 and not 1992, so that the discussion of this event makes no sense in the context in which it appears. Another annoying mistake is the claim that Rudy's performance in San Jose was the first at the US Nationals since 1988 to receive a perfect mark of 6.0; in fact, Paul Wylie received several 6.0's at the 1989 and 1990 championships, as had other skaters in the ladies and pairs divisions during the intervening years. The technical description of the skating, though, is generally quite accurate, with few of the usual errors in terminology that creep into most accounts of figure skating written by non-participants. The book even correctly accounts for the fact that Rudy is left-handed and jumps and spins in the opposite direction than most other skaters.

There are a few things I would have liked to have read more about. I felt that Rudy's experiences as a singles skater during the period of his partnership with Kristi Yamaguchi were given short shrift; after all, he won the World Junior title during this time, which was a considerable achievement in itself. He says basically nothing about this, or about his progress in learning the various jumps, or about how he developed his "trademark" spins and other movements that emphasize his flexibility. (Watching videotape now of Rudy competing as a junior, it's interesting to see that these elements are so conspicuously lacking, while other things from his mature style, like the use of the hands, are immediately identifiable.)

People who read this book expecting to find a juicy expose' of the skating world are likely to be disappointed as well, since Rudy has very little to say about other skaters or the politics of the skating world. The only complaint he makes regarding his own treatment by the USFSA has to do with being passed over for international competition assignments. He also editorializes about how the USFSA ought to do more to ensure that young skaters get an adequate education, and to promote AIDS awareness among skaters simply because so many of them are not attending regular schools where this would be part of the curriculum.

All in all, the book is an engrossing read, but it's not a heartwarming story of courage, or an inspirational book about a role model we can all admire. As I've said, parts of the book are extremely depressing. It's wonderful that Rudy has managed to overcome his family and career problems and find fame and wealth, and that he seems to be on the right track as far as sorting out his personal problems, but his is not a story that anyone in their right mind would want to emulate.

"Icebreaker: The Autobiography of Rudy Galindo" (with Eric Marcus), is published in hardcover by Pocket Books. It's 255 pages, and includes a few pages of B&W photos. The cover price is $23(US).

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