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Tai and Randy, Skating’s Dynamic Duo

A lifetime on ice has done little to chill Tai Babilonia’s passion for ice skating.

The former pairs figure-skating world champion who grew up in Mission Hills began skating at 6 and, with partner Randy Gardner, has dazzled audiences around the globe for three decades.

“I enjoy [skating] more than ever,” said Babilonia, 37, of Sherman Oaks. “I’m reflecting more these days on skating 30 years together with Randy and the friendship we’ve had.”

The duo, known for breathtaking maneuvers and innovative routines, soared to fame after winning five consecutive U.S. amateur pairs titles from 1976 to 1980.

In 1979, Babilonia and Gardner reached the pinnacle of their profession, sweeping to a pairs figure-skating world championship with perfect scores. They are the only American duo to capture the coveted title in 74 years of world championship competition.

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A gold medal at the Lake Placid Olympics in 1980 seemed on the horizon, but an injury to Gardner forced them to withdraw. They went on to a successful pro career, but Babilonia became depressed, drank heavily and was dependent on amphetamines. She attempted suicide in 1988.

With therapy and the support of Gardner, Babilonia returned to performing in less than a year.

Babilonia and Gardner, of Marina del Rey, were inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1992 and continue to be a marquee attraction on the pro figure-skating circuit. They appear Sunday at the L.A. Sports Arena with the Campbell Soup 1997 Tour of World Figure Skating Champions.

Skating is a big part of her life, but Babilonia has shifted her focus from the ice to her son, 2 1/2. "[Scout] has balanced me,” said the divorced mom. “My life was just skating. . . . When you’re young, fine. But when you’re older, there has to be something else.”

Babilonia and Gardner train four times a week at Simi Valley’s Easy Street Arena. Young skaters often watch in awe.

Many “weren’t even born when I started,” Babilonia said. “I’m . . . honored that they look up to us.”


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