Transcript of Japan Skates' interview with Janet Neil at Skate Canada, Nov 4, 2007.

By Mark S., (c) Japan Skates 2007.

One of the nicest things about being a skating fan is meeting other fans at the various competitions.  One fan who is easily recognized by other fans, the skaters, parents and officials is Janet Neil of London, Ontario.  Janet has been travelling to figure skating competitions since the World Championships in Halifax in 1990.  She is well-known for throwing stuffed animals on the ice for virtually all the skaters at every competition she attends.  The skaters know her and like her, and she has had many fun and rewarding adventures while on the road enjoying her favourite sport.

Although I'd seen Janet at numerous events in the past, I didn't meet her personally until Skate Canada.  I had known her better as "Yukisnowflake" from the Japan Skates discussion forum.  Another contributor to the site spotted her in the stands and mentioned that it was her, recognizing her from the photo she had taken with Fumie at last year's Skate Canada in Victoria.  We all went over and made her acquaintance officially.  Later on in the weekend, I thought it might be fun to interview Janet and find out more about what motivates her to take time out to travel the globe to attend competitions (including the Worlds in Tokyo last season) and to see why all of the skaters look forward to seeing her.

JS:  Japan Skates
JN:  Janet Neil

JS:  Janet, can you tell me about yourself?  How did you become a skating fan?

JN I always loved skating as a child. Nothing to do in a small town in Ontario but skate.  My brothers played hockey and I skated.  My older sister skated, my older sister taught figure skating in Lucan, and she helped at the carnival we had every year.  And then when she moved away, got older and got married, the carnival petered out a little, but I always loved it.  The boys had hockey, so I had to have something that was mine!  I loved skating... you couldn't get me off the ice when I was a child.

JS:  Who were some of your early favourites?

JN:  Oh...Toller Cranston, Brian Orser, Tracy Wilson/Rob McCall, Brian Pockar, Dorothy Hamill, Scotty Hamilton.  That was about it.  Then Kurt Browning...then when I met Takeshi Honda that was it!  The Japanese all the way now!

JS:  Great!  When did you start attending competitions on a regular basis?

JN:  1990 was my first Worlds, in Halifax.  Then I went to the 91 Skate Canada was in my city, London, 93 Nationals.   95 for Worlds, Edmonton 96 for Worlds.  Did all the shows in between, Brasseur and Eisler's "Dreams On Ice", that kind of thing.  Minneapolis 98, then Nationals in between, and Skate Canada.  And I really liked going to Skate Canada.

JS:  When did your tradition of throwing stuffed animals begin?

JN:  I believe it started when we had more skaters from more countries.  Not simply Russia-Canada-America, but more skaters coming from more countries.  And I think because they come from far away, and they're young, so I tried to wave a flag too.  And I tried to throw them out to some to encourage them, to keep going.  They need a hug sometimes!

JS:  They do seem to know you, recognize you, come and give you a hug.  How did you get to meet them?  Has it mainly from sitting in the stands and talking to them?

JN:  Yeah, and throwing the animals.  Like Jamal Othman last year in Victoria, and before that in Newfoundland.  He was on my flight coming back from Newfoundland.  And he sat one aisle over from me.  The pilot said "I think we should give a round of applause to the skaters" and I cheered and applauded and I think I was the only one!  And Jamal smiled and thanked me, and that's how that started!  And walking the corridors, some of them say 'hi'.  They recognize the sweater, that's the thing!

JS:  So your capacity really isn't official, your kind of an...

JN:  Unofficial ambassador!  I give them pins from my city, to skaters from other countries.  I give them the Canada pin, and I've been passing out Olympic quarters... good luck tokens for 2010.

JS:  Are you planning on going then?

JN:  I don't think so, it's a lot.  So I'll do Skate Canada and Nationals.  Tokyo was my big thing, I just wanted to get to Tokyo!

JS:  Yes, how was your trip to Japan?

JN:  Excellent!  Wonderful.  I had a great time, a great two weeks.  I didn't see much of Tokyo because the World Championships kept me so occupied, but it was a great time.  And I had an extended great time right after that with the World Synchro in London, because the Japanese team was on my flight coming back from that.  So I got in Monday night at midnight, and Tuesday was the run-around errand day, and then Wednesday and Thursday was practice, Friday/Saturday the competition, and Sunday I slept!  I had jet-leg too... I was just going on adrenaline!  I had to be there for the Japanese team.  I got invited to the Japanese lunch, by the families of the skaters, because I got the reservations for them.  I had found them the restaurants, took pictures, took them all to Tokyo, showed the mother of one of the families who was a representative, showed them all to her, told her to pick out what she wanted on the menu, told her I'd take it all back, and the lady at the restaurant said she'd have them all made up, ready for when they came on the Friday.  So they did all that, and then they all had lunch.  They had a young Japanese girl there as the designated translator, so that was good, so I didn't have any problem.  And I was told on Saturday to meet the team outside at 3:00, to have a group picture!

JS:  Who are some the skaters that you admire from today's circuit, and also maybe who you're closest to?

JN:  Ah... Who knows me best?  Karel Zalenka, Italy!  Nobunari Oda and Fumie Suguri.  And...Binshu from China knows me now.   Patrick Chan, Yukari Nakano, Annabelle Langois and Cody Hay, Qing Pang and Jian Tong, and the two Chinese ice dance teams Xintong Huang and Xun Zheng, and Xiaoyang Yu and Chen Wang.  Mao now of course, and I met Mai last week at Skate America.  And Nobu, because his mother always recognizes me.  At the Juniors in 05, I went to get my picture with Nobu, and right away she noticed I was wearing the "Yen", and she pointed it out to Nobu, so that's why they remember me.  I got a pendant right now with the Lucan Community Centre, and I showed it to Scott and Tessa, because that's where they met, at that arena!  I saw them in the hallway... well, I didn't...he said "hi" to me as I went by.  They were practicing.  I showed it to them, and they knew the significance of it.  And they have a summer school there every year, Scott and Tessa have a summer camp.  I'll have to go to the next one!

JS:  What allows you to do this?  Are you retired?

JN:  No, I've been working for 25 years at the University of Western Ontario.  I work in the main library, Weldon Library.  During the first two years of work, you get two weeks holiday; after two years you get four weeks.  So I've had four weeks I have to fill... so what do I do?  And I've raised my family now, and they're out on their own.  And now I get five weeks holiday, so I'll have to fill that week!  I work all summer, when everybody else is off and do their jobs, so when they come back, I go!  And I don't feel guilty at all!

JS:  Can you tell us a little about your family?

JN:  I have a daughter in her mid-30s, who is married and has two children.  I have a son, Jacob, 27 years old.  He's working and lives with his girlfriend; he likes to watch the skating on TV to find mom in the audience.  He'll say "I saw you the other night on TV at the skating!"  His favourite is Jennifer Robinson.

JS:  Two more.  You may have already said it, but what would you say your career highlight is?  A competition that really stands out?

JN:  Tokyo, that's right up there!  Especially because I didn't do it with a tour group, I did it myself.  And I have to go back to 1990 in Halifax.  That was my first plane ride, my first time down east, my first competition at the world level.  It was a pretty big one to start out with.  I'll always remember Halifax.  And England, because I never thought I'd get to England.  So those are highlights, travel-wise.  Junior Worlds (in 2005), seeing Mao and Nobu and the Japanese skaters there.  96 Skate Canada was when I met Takeshi, and he's been my all-time fave... my baby, I adopted him!  And I knew he was going to do something!  People laughed at me at the time, and I said "No no, I'm keeping my eye on him, he's young and he's going to do something.  Maybe not get gold, but he's going to medal somewhere along the line."  I thought he was that good.  I just hung in there.  I went to Calgary for 06 Worlds and stayed with a lady I had met at the Edmonton 96 Worlds. If we lost each other, we'd meet at the casino, because we knew we could find each other there easily. I went through the casino one night to meet her, and two ladies stopped me and said "You were in Vancouver 01 for Worlds."  I asked if they remembered the sweater and they said "No, we remember you were the big Takeshi Honda fan!" And that was five years before. And I said "I guess I really promoted him, didn't I?"  Now everybody knows about the Japanese skaters, right?.

JS:  That's right, that's why I'm here!  Do you have a message or word of encouragement for people who'll be reading your interview at Japan Skates?  I ask the skaters this!

JN:  Oh... words of encouragement!  Just go to the events and cheer for everybody.  Cheer for your favourites, but cheer for the young ones coming up especially!

Later that day, Janet joined Gigi and me, along with a few fans and webmasters from Japan, at a posh restaurant in downtown Quebec City.  A good time was had by all.  I'd like to thank Janet for this interview, and apologize for being so late to post it!  I hope that you readers enjoyed getting to know one of skating's most enthusiastic fans!


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