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The Inside Track | Q&A WITH TAI BABILONIA AND RANDY
GARDNER

They Are Throwing the Book at Their Past

March 21, 2003|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

After winning the 1979 world pairs figure skating title, Los Angeles natives Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner were poised to end the Soviet domination of Olympic pairs skating at the 1980 Lake Placid Games. However, Gardner had suffered a groin injury and hid the severity from Babilonia. An injection to ease his pain numbed too wide an area and he couldn't skate, forcing them to withdraw.

After the Olympics they toured with ice shows, a nomadic life that took a toll on Babilonia. After years of drinking and diet pills, she took an overdose of sleeping pills in 1988. She -- and their collaboration -- survived that and more.

Today, Gardner, 45, is a choreographer and producer. Babilonia, 43, is divorced and has an 8-year-old son, Scout. She also has jewelry and clothing lines and a Web site, www.taibabilonia.com. To commemorate the 35th anniversary of their partnership they wrote "Forever Two As One," a frank and lavishly illustrated book told in first person, written with Martha Lowder Kimball and published by Millpond Press. They also did a theatrical show in which they read from the book and presented video clips. Both plan to attend next week's world championships in Washington.

Q: Is it fair to say doing this book was difficult but cathartic?

Babilonia: That's the key word. We love that word. It was so nice because we've done endless interviews, and this is it. This is for us.

Gardner: It's an authentic interview.

Q: There are some places where the memories had to be fairly painful. Were there points you said, 'No,' or didn't want to talk?

Babilonia: I'd take a break and say, 'Look, Martha, just give me the rest of the evening.' It got really intense.

Q: It was startling to read that you've never talked about Lake Placid. Have you talked since the book came out?

Babilonia: Like this. When there's a reporter, yeah, but no.

Q: Will you have that conversation someday?

Babilonia: I sort of wait for him. It's his story. It's our story but really his. We could be 80 years old when it happens, and that's cool too.

Gardner: It could be in writing.

Q: Knowing the bloc judging that was so prevalent then do you think you could have won?

Babilonia: We had a great chance. I go back and forth with it. I keep going back to 1979, when we had that great performance, and I don't know if that's my insecurity or I doubt myself but I don't know if I -- and I won't say we -- could have topped my [1979] performance. Because it was on.

Gardner: But we might not have had to skate perfect at Lake Placid to win.

Babilonia: They [Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev] weren't at their best, yet they were the best that night. Another question mark.

Q:You had to pick up and go on with your lives.

Babilonia: It shaped us and made us the human beings that we are today. We gained a lot of fans from that. They just latched on and held on, how many years later. We still get the e-mails and people coming up to us. This is etched in their brains. 'I cried.' People will say they were little kids sitting with their parents, and now they're grownups.

Q: In the show you did, did you take questions from the audience? Did people ask about the chapter about the tough times you had in the 1980s?

Babilonia: It all comes up. There's no hiding. It's out there on the table ....I told them everything. There were children and grandparents. They were crying. They were laughing.... It's the journey. It's our journey, and they're into it.

Q: What do you think about pair skating today?

Babilonia: I was at nationals and I couldn't stop wincing. I think it's so much stuff and you don't see any skating. The fact I was sitting there and my palms were sweating just because it was trick after trick after trick, and I don't mean it in a mean way, but it was like being at a circus. It was acrobatics.

Q: Did it surprise you when the news came out about the deal making and the pairs judging scandal at Salt Lake City?

Gardner: The mobster [who allegedly fixed the pairs and ice dance events] surprised me.

Babilonia: We were there and we saw it first-hand. After they skated and after the results came in, I thought the roof was going to cave in. People were livid.

Gardner: I thought Elena [Berezhnaya] and Anton [Sikharulidze] skated really well and were good enough to win. But when your competitors skate the way [Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier] did, that's not right.

Babilonia: ... The Canadian team was perfect. They had that moment, that out-of-body performance where they can't do anything wrong.

Q: What do you think of the proposals to clean up the judging?

Babilonia: I get as confused as everyone else.

Gardner: I get it in theory but I watched one [competition] the other day and I went, 'Huh?' As a spectator I didn't get it.

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