Meet Ted Barton
You could call him the Mr. Rogers of figure skating, and you know what? You'd be absolutely right. Meet the New Zealand-born, Canadian-raised Ted Barton, a man of many talents and many words - all of them kind, constructive, and respectful. The man is modest to a fault, exceedingly humble, and unbelievably caring - qualities in such quantities that if it were anyone else, I would think it was disingenuous. But it's not - Ted really is that nice. In fact, he's ten times nicer than you think he is.
You probably know him as the face (and voice) of the ISU Junior Grand Prix series, where he lends his positive, thoughtful commentary to hundreds of skaters' programs every season. But did you know that he's the main reason why we are able to watch the Junior Grand Prix, which is livestreamed for free on YouTube worldwide? Did you know that he's the executive director for the British Columbia/Yukon section of Skate Canada, and that he was a key figure in creating and implementing the new judging system (IJS) following the 2002 Olympic scoring scandal?
Figure skating fans can't agree on anything... except the fact that they love and adore Ted Barton and all he represents. There is no one quite like Ted, and we are so fortunate to have a person so down-to-earth, empathetic, and intelligent in our midst. From Montreal to Moscow and beyond, Ted has definitely made his mark on figure skating... and done it in the most Canadian way possible. Learn what made Ted choose being kind over critical, how the Junior Grand Prix series coverage came about, and how he applies lessons learned in skating over to his parenting style!
Birthday: "forever young in my mind"
Born: Auckland, New Zealand
Hometown: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Currently: West Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Job Titles: Host and commentator for the ISU Junior Grand Prix, executive director of Skate Canada British Columbia/Yukon, ISU consultant, former judge, former technical specialist, former coach, former singles skater
Blades: John Wilson
Q: You were born in New Zealand, grew up in British Columbia, and had a successful figure skating career in men's singles - even becoming the Canadian junior national champion in 1973. In what ways did your experiences as a young skater inform the way you commentate and interact with today's young skaters?
A: I was a strong skater, as I also played rugby at the same time, but I never understood why others could do elements that I could not, because I had all this strength, but of course was using it all the wrong way. So, it was through a coach (Brian Power) who was patient and supportive of me and taught me about using the strength at the right places and letting the blade and momentum do the rest. It was only then that I began to discover that I could learn what others were doing. So, understanding the frustration for skaters and the role of coaches helped me try to be a positive voice for the skater and supportive voice for the coach while commentating.
Q: After your amateur skating career got cut short due to injury, you turned professional, toured with Ice Follies, and - as many former skaters do - started coaching. What were some of the challenges you faced transitioning out of your competitive skating career, and how do you think we can better support athletes going through that difficult life change?
A: That is such a good question. I do not believe we do a very good job in helping skaters transition out of all that they have known up to that point in their life. I was lucky because I had a common sense mind, knowing the cost of the road ahead and the skating opportunities that lay in front of me. I also clearly understood that only through incredibly hard work would I survive in any of the future. A fear of failure energised my work ethic, and also in the belief that given time, I could learn anything, but learning my passion would be a more enjoyable pathway.
Ted circa October 1996, pictured at the Burnaby 8-Rinks, where the BC Centre of Excellence was created.
(Photo courtesy of Brian Langdeau, Burnaby News Leader)
Q: In 1983, you began your journey with the British Columbia/Yukon section of Skate Canada, eventually earning the title of executive director in 1991 and helping bring a figure skating-specific training facility to Burnaby, in the form of the BC Centre of Excellence. What were some of the biggest life lessons you learned over the years in that position of leadership?
A: The first thing I learned was that nothing was going to change fast, and that I needed to understand how all the stakeholders saw the world of skating. I also needed to understand what style of communication people liked to use, as if you speak to a person with the most common words and phrases they use, then they will understand your message more clearly and quickly. While slowly understanding what we were missing in BC, I had to begun to make changes (in some cases radical) that would allow us to become successful and innovating in the sport. I knew that there would be criticism and frustration from others around, but that if the statistics proved the decision wise, then people could not argue so much. I was prepared for people to aim their anger at me, as long as I knew or believed we were on the right course of action and that the stats and results would begin to prove that. That's what happened, and people look back today and say they were good decisions.
Whether skating, coaching, or commentating, the ice always has and always will be a second home for Ted.
Q: Following the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics judging scandal, you were instrumental in helping to develop the new quantitative-based scoring system (the IJS) that replaced the old 6.0 system. What it was like being a part of a history-making project and knowing you were helping to change the infrastructure of the sport?
A: It was a big challenge, but in the end a great one. I loved the basic concept of a skater knowing where they earned and lost points and the common sense approach to the basic idea of the system. At the time, people were angry about the change and angry with the people who were working on it. But as with all big changes in life, if the concept is correct, and as in this case, for the betterment of the sport and athlete (as this was), then time will dilute the anger. It is not that the system is perfect - and there probably will never be a perfect system - but it is more fair and consistent. It was an honour to be asked to work on the project and took many years of work and travel, but we were also aware that the long-term health of the sport was at stake. I completely believed in what and why we were doing it, so it made it easier to do all the work.
At the 2006 Torino Winter Olympic Games, Ted demonstrates the new IJS scoring system - a system that he helped develop.
Q: Perhaps one of your most important contributions to the skating world is your coverage of the Junior Grand Prix circuit, with you and your talented team hitting the road for two months to livestream every #JGPFigure event. For those who don't know, can you tell us what inspired this project and what some of the most rewarding moments have been for you?
A: I started streaming many, many years ago for development reasons, so that young children in very remote areas could see what other children their same age were doing. I thought if they would see a skater their same age, they might say to themselves... well if they can do that jump, then maybe I can! It was that simple of a thought. I was not trying to create a business model or anything like that - it was simply to expose the sport to a wider area to hopefully inspire.
Now, as time went on, I was completely impressed with the positive effect it was having on many aspects, and only then did I understand the power and potential of this service. So…. skip ahead give years, and I had this idea about the Junior Grand Prix as the only ISU property that was not exposed or developed yet. So, I presented the idea to Peter Krick (Sport Directorate at the time) as we took a very long walk on the river out by the Vancouver airport - he was on his way to Korea and stopped to discuss this and other items. He also saw the potential, and really it was Peter who through time convinced the council to give it a try. Peter brought on TV producer Rob Dustin and another person with vision and a "find a way" type of approach. In the beginning, there were only four of us on tour, and I really do not know how we did it, but we found a way. I must admit as a commentator or host, I was the very worst to ever present the sport, brutally awful. However, I learned and finally understood what I thought was important for the development of juniors.
There have been many proud moments, but mostly they come in the form of coaches thanking me for being so supportive of the skaters and the sport. To be valued by your peers is always an honour. It is always a fine balance of being honest, positive, supportive, and realistic. I try hard to find that balance, and it is always tricky and challenging for each skater.
The intro for this weekend's #JGPFigure competition in Gdańsk, Poland - featuring the harmonious voice of Mr. Ted Barton, of course. Always top-notch production quality from the Junior Grand Prix team!
Q: As a skating commentator, you are such a breath of fresh air - positive, encouraging, respectful, and very, very knowledgeable. So I have to wonder, are you the same way as a parent? I know your daughter Katia used to skate, but off the ice, what is Dad Ted Barton like?
A: I have to say that honestly there is not a negative bone in my body! I understand frustration and disappointment and anger, but at the end of the day, life is wonderful and a privilege. We ask our skaters to tune out the negative and focus on the positive in skating... well, just apply this in life. That does not mean to ignore the risks and danger, but to adapt, cope, and enjoy.
Ted with his daughter Katia at the beach. I think everyone wishes their dad was as nice as Ted Barton!
Q: I imagine it's not easy moving trucks of equipment - plus a hardworking production team - to and from several tiny European towns, some in very remote areas with limited internet access. What's a typical day in the life for you when covering a Junior Grand Prix?
A: Well competition days are full of checking scripts and doing the events for up to 12 hours, then writing highlight videos and voicing. Sunday and sometimes Monday is travel and recovery. But I have to begin with bios and scripts on Monday and heavy on Tuesday which is also the day we set up. Wednesday is always practices and final technical rehearsals. Basically it is non stop except for Monday.
Q: In your opinion, what are the biggest struggles that figure skating is facing today, and how do you see - or hope to see - the sport evolving in the next few years?
A: I believe (being positive) we have turned a corner on the sport. We are growing worldwide, we are reaching all of earth with exposure of the sport, we have remarkable stories coming from both junior and senior skaters. We very much need to keep expanding coverage around the world so we can have new countries join and build the sport.
Q: You've accomplished so much in your lifetime, but what are some personal and professional goals you have for yourself going forward?
A: I feel very responsible to begin to identify the next generation of leaders in the sport in the areas I have been involved. I very much want to continue to expose and see the growth of worldwide exposure. I have a few other vision initiatives but will leave that to hopefully develop. Time will tell.
Q: What is the best inspirational advice you would give to a young skater, regardless of their skill level?
A: Talent is an asset, but for me, talent can only be measured in how hard one is willing to work and discover their abilities and potential. You must love what you are doing and be willing to explore your potential and most importantly, be positive and realistic, which is a tricky combination. Look for the good in others because it is always there… sometimes deep, but always present.
At the 2018-19 Grand Prix Final, Ted interviewed famed Russian coach Eteri Tutberidze. Eteri has often been criticized in the media and even villainized, but Ted showed her kindness and compassion, resulting in a really nice, informative interview completely free of judgment. And that is why Ted Barton is amazing.
If you could only watch one skating program for the rest of your life, which one would it be and why?
The person(s) is still skating so I choose not to say at the moment.
Who have been the biggest inspirations for you in your career?
David Dore (CEO of Skate Canada and ISU Vice President), Peter Krick (ISU Sport Directorate), and Bob Moir (CBC Executive Producer of Skating for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) - they were always very tough people to deal with because they themselves had a vision and demanded excellence of people like myself. I learned much more from those who pushed me than from those who were nice to me.
What was the one skating element that always gave you trouble?
Triple salchow... because I would muscle the take-off and rip the ice as I tried to lift.
How do you decompress after a long day?
Classical music and a glass of wine.
Favorite spot to go fishing at?
The Ashlu River, where grizzly bears, wolves, and elk roam. The fishing is okay, but it is the most majestic place and so close to my home.
Ted pictured living his best life and enjoying his favorite hobby - fishing - in the beautiful Canadian wilderness.
What qualities do you look for in a friend?
A great sense of humour, a care for others, and forgiveness.
If you could start a charity, what would it be for?
What book has had the most significant impact on you?
Lee Iacocca's autobiography.
What are you grateful for?
The remarkable opportunities I have been presented with. Family always. People who have all helped and believed in missions and visions I have launched.
Quote to live by?
"Life is a rollercoaster - enjoy the thrilling highs and work through the lows to climb another hill."
KEEP UP WITH TED
Personal Instagram: @ted.barton.75
Personal Twitter: @TedBarton7
JGP Instagram: @isufigureskating
JGP Twitter: @ISU_Figure
JGP Facebook: ISU Figure Skating
Junior Grand Prix Baltic Cup 2019 is going on RIGHT NOW - keep up with all the action on the official ISU Junior Grand Prix YouTube. Only two more #JGPFigure events left (and chances to hear Ted's awesome commentary), September 26th - 28th in Zagreb, Croatia, and October 3rd - 5th in Egna, Italy).. plus the Junior Grand Prix Final in Torino, Italy, December 5th - 8th!
All other photos and videos courtesy of Ted Barton