U.S. figure skating legend all settled in

Tai Babilonia starts own line of apparel

Tai Babilonia wears a gold half-moon charm around her neck, given to her by Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac. The only time it ever came off was at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, New York; she will never take it off again.

That year, an injury to her skating partner, Randy Gardner, caused them to withdraw from the Olympic competition. The two, dubbed “America’s sweethearts,” by the press and fans, saw their dreams of Olympic gold disappear.

These days, the figure skating legend has traded in her skates for a combination of different hats: mom, Ashlander, author, journalist and designer of skating apparel for women.

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The Tai Collection is the culmination of a 10-year dream for Babilonia and has come into fruition over the past two years. The clothing line, distributed by Bear Hill Sports, is available on www.taibabilonia.com. Babilonia said the collection fills a need not available in other skating and dance apparel.

“It is something I’ve always wanted to do, but I never followed through,” Babilonia said. “I wanted to target older women and young girls who really don’t have anything feminine to wear.”

Being hands-on in all aspects of the collection, the result is totally Tai, bringing back simplicity and elegance to this type of apparel. Other options, including leggings and accessories, will soon be on the way.

“The focal point of the collection are the chiffon skirts, so I love them,” she said. “It’s really a dream come true. I’m going to continue adding to the collection.”

Babilonia is also a contributing columnist for “International Figure Skating Magazine,” interviewing figure skating legends, giving them a platform to say whatever they want. Most recently, she interviewed 1972 Olympic skater Janet Lynn. While doing the interviews, Babilonia found things she is not happy about in figure skating today.

“The love and the enjoyment got squeezed out of it,” Babilonia said. “Now it’s so technical, it’s all about points, numbers, and so many tricks that they lose the skating. I am glad I was a part of it when it was less complicated.”

Babilonia believes this contributes to the overall drop in figure skating ratings, and said it is, “Because people don’t understand it.” She is happy that she and Gardner skated competitively in the 1970s, a time when skaters stayed together.

“It was unheard of that I would skate with a different partner,” Babilonia said. “Through thick and thin, we stuck it out.”

Team Tai and Randy began in 1968, when she was 8 and Gardner was 10. The life-long relationship has been both complicated and rewarding, and is best described as “Respectfully complicated dysfunction.” The two speak often, last week being the most recent.

Moving to Ashland in November has brought peacefulness to Babilonia’s life, a polar opposite to the pace of Los Angeles. Although L.A. is home, she vowed not to move back. Since living here, her priorities have changed, and in order they are: “My health, my son Scout, work and peace.”

“I didn’t know what to expect, the people just embraced me,” Babilonia said of Ashland’s residents. “I have found my happy place. There is a freeness about it and I feel safe here.”

In Ashland, Babilonia has found some cool places to hang out, and she occasionally travels to Medford to shop at Target and to help the Medford Rink. She has recently donated the “Tai Artistic Award” to the rink, which is awarded annually to a young skater who demonstrates creative skating.

Babilonia’s 14-year-old son, Scout, is an active tennis player and currently lives in Los Angeles with his father, Carey Butler. His name comes from a character in the Gregory Peck movie, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” His tennis goals keep him in L.A., a situation she understands.

“He stays in L.A. because his coach and father are there,” Babilonia said. “Being an athlete myself, I completely understand the situation. If I weren’t, there would be a problem. He loves Ashland and knows he can come back anytime.”

Although busy with many projects, Babilonia has not ruled out the possibility of lacing up the blades in the near future. She hinted at dusting off her skates for a possible comeback, but was reluctant to say more.

“If it happens, it will put smiles on people’s faces,” she said. “I don’t put my skate’s on for just anyone.”

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