At Home With Eric Scott Lansing
Blades On Ice, November-December 2001
In the midst of fierce competition, it had all come down to one critical moment. The final move belonged to Eric Lansing. Circling his playing field, he calculated the angles, weighed his options, and made his choice.
And with polished ease, he sank a nine-ball in the corner pocket--handily winning our impromptu billiards match at his luxury apartment in the Lincoln Hills suburb of Ambrose, Minnesota.
"My dad taught me to play pool," recalls the reigning men's world champion. "I was doing it before I ever started skating, and it's still something I enjoy. It's really relaxing."
Perhaps there is a common thread between his hobby and career. Because whether running the table or commanding the ice, says Lansing, the rules are much the same: "You take your shots, and you hope for a lucky break."
Lansing's game room was our last stop in a brief tour of his apartment, where he had graciously welcomed me for an interview. After I had been suitably trounced in our three-game billiards match, we moved to the dining room with its view of a garden four stories below. We chatted there as Lansing munched on a sandwich, and I got to know the earnest, quietly joyful champion skater a little better.
Skating since the age of seven, coached by former British and world champion Malcolm Redgrave since age ten, Lansing cheerfully labels himself a "late bloomer". Before this year, he had won two consecutive U.S. National bronze medals. But he had never won a world medal, placing sixth in his one prior trip to the championships in 1999 (as an alternate for injured U.S. silver medalist Justin Grafton).
Now, the 25-year-old Lansing is the reigning U.S. and world champion, considered a top contender for Olympic gold in Salt Lake City. His success was sudden and, to Lansing, completely unexpected.
"It's like I barely even recognize myself this year," he says. "My life has changed a lot; I think I'm settling down and getting more comfortable with myself in my 'old age'. And the reaction from my fans has been huge, which is really encouraging."
But while he's enjoying his newfound skating stardom, Lansing says he finds even greater joy in living an essentially quiet and ordinary life off the ice. When he's not skating, he admits the big-screen TV that also resides in his game room sees a lot of use. And his viewing tastes? Eclectic, to say the least.
"Some science fiction I like... Hiroshi (Kitamura, Lansing's training partner) and I will hang out and rent anime DVDs. And I watch music videos, a little bit of comedy... I have Turner Classic Movies on all the time. Cary Grant is one of my heroes."
At this point in our conversation, we were joined by another guest, in the person of a tabby cat named B.B. Browning--named in honor of two more of Eric's heroes, Brian Boitano and Kurt Browning.
"Last year I kept talking about wanting to get a puppy," self-confessed animal lover Lansing said with a laugh. "So giving me a kitten for Christmas was my sister's idea of a joke. But I fell for him, so here he is."
And here Lansing is, as well, thanks to his younger sister. He was made to tag along when, after seeing a holiday ice show on television, five-year-old Evelyn begged their parents to take her skating. But the boredom he anticipated changed to fascination, as he watched not just girls but other boys practicing spins and jumps at the local rink.
"I told my mom, 'I want to do that'," he recalls. "And the first time I stepped on the ice was like magic. I felt stronger--which was a big deal to me, because I was small for my age. And I felt so completely free. I knew right then, skating was what I wanted to spend my life doing."
It's a life for which Lansing has reaped generous rewards. But what comes next?
"This season, the goals are obvious. It'd be great to maybe repeat my national title--and of course, there's the big O-word (the Olympics). But no matter what happens there, I don't feel right now like I want to close the book on competing. I might not go for another Olympics. But as long as my body is up for it and I love what I'm doing, I don't have any reason to give anything up just yet."
But that doesn't mean he won't do some relaxing, and settle into what he calls a more "domestic" personal life.
"After the Olympics, if I do well there, I may go house-hunting," he says. "Maybe find a nice quiet place by a lake."
Lansing expresses himself as a man of simple, typically American values, and his skating often seems to reflect his uncomplicated attitude toward life. His programs, choreographed by himself and his coach, are streamlined, gracefully powerful and quietly emotive--much like the sense one gets of Lansing's own personal character.
He considers this year's "Robin Hood" free skate his best long program ever.
"I don't really go for Kevin Costner, so I didn't come across the movie "Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves" until about summer of 1998," he says. "But from the very opening credits, it's got such awesome music. I just heard it and said, ' That's my free skate for the next Olympic season.'"
Now having reached that season, Lansing's prospects are bright--and life, he says, is good.
"I love everything about where I am in life right now. The past year has been a blast, and I can't wait to see what's around the next corner."
The good life: Eric Lansing relaxes at home with
his cat, B.B. Browning.