1981 and 1982 junior pair national competitor, with sister Suzy Nolt
Jeffrey Nolt, now based in Baltimore, has led three lives in skating: in pair skating, in coaching, and in television work.
As a pair skater, he studied under Ron Ludington with his sister Suzy. "We were very artistic," he recalled. Their best season came right after a recovery from a near-fatal accident at a televised competition. To this day, Suzy remembers nothing of the fall on a lift that resulted in a fractured skull for her, but her brother went into the following season with clear memories of it.
Nolt remembers thinking, "We have to do this." The team moved the dangerous overhead lift right to the beginning of their program for the next season, and Suzy practiced while wearing a hang glider's helmet. When they got to Nationals, "She came back stronger than ever," said Nolt. "People would never have known. It was our best year. I was just happy she was okay."
The Nolts toured with the Ice Capades for a few years, before retiring as a pair in 1989. Suzy now works in Allentown as a coach.
Nolt began working with ABC Sports on televising skating events in 1988, when he started out as a runner -- typically a young skater or former skater, who keeps tabs on competitors and programs for the directors. He moved on to sit at the judges' table, wearing a headset through which he received instructions on how to cue the referees. Despite being reprimanded for showing too much enthusiasm for well-done programs, he enjoyed that job for the opportunity to exercise his talent for calm under fire.
In recent years, he has been working as an assistant to ABC director Doug Wilson, a "gentleman" for whom he has only heartfelt praise: "He treats people with such dignity." Nolt now typically works four or five skating events a year, such as the Grand Prix Final and the World Championships. He has worked every U.S. Nationals but one since 1988. He has found that this schedule provides a good balance between television work and coaching.
The opportunity to view the top levels of the sport from a director's perspective has helped Nolt to clarify what he would like to encourage in his own coaching. At the 2000 World Championships, Nolt was especially impressed with the European ice dancers' facial expressions, and the unfettered creativity of the male partners. He discussed his observations on the "Technique vs. Artistry" discussion panel at the subsequent Professional Skaters' Association conference, at the invitation of organizer Carole Shulman. He spoke out against the cultural prejudices that discourage male skaters from perceived "feminine" moves such as spirals, when more fearless encouragement of male skaters can only benefit them and the sport.
Nolt began coaching while he was an undergraduate at Syracuse University. But he had to think things through before he embraced coaching as his life's work.
Although Nolt said, "I always knew I was gay," he dated "some great women" until he fell in love with a man around 1989, and came out.
"It was a little bit of an issue," he said of his younger self. "I didn't want to be another gay skater, yeah. I didn't want to be just another gay skating coach."
But after working some other jobs, Nolt settled on coaching. He concluded, "I'm good at it. It's what I know. I've always loved it, so why wouldn't I keep doing it? I quieted the little voice in me saying, 'Carve your niche in something else.' I wanted to see if I could produce good skating."
Nolt has been coaching freestyle, Moves in the Field, pairs, and performance classes. He teaches group classes, including adult groups, and an adult ice theatre ensemble called Fine Wine. Among his guest stints has been a creative dance movement class at Ice Castle International Training Center in the early 1990s, with students such as Michelle and Karen Kwan, and Lu Chen. An example of the exercises from that class: he had the students move as though they had just tripped over a rock, then turn as if to look at where the rock had been.
Nolt is out to his students and their families. "I get along with all the dads," he said. "I just don't make an issue of it. It's important to me to be accepted by straight men whom I'm doing business with." But he adds, "I'm fine with being gay. I don't apologize for it."
When asked how he might coach a young male student who felt self-conscious about performing a perceived "feminine" move, like a spiral, he said, "It depends on the relationship you have with the guy. You tell him what 'I, as your coach, find important in skating.' You come to some sort of agreement as to whether you could do this or not. If you make too much of a case of it, like weight in girls, it becomes a huge problem."
He added that he might tell a male student, "You like girls? Pointing your toe is not suddenly going to reverse that. Sometimes in life, you've got to know what's the greater good. Have confidence in yourself." Or, "I understand your fear, and it's a tough world out there, but I'm not asking you to declare your homosexuality by pointing your toe. It's better [technique]."
It is characteristic of Nolt that he will not allow homophobia to dictate how he skates, coaches, or choreographs. He takes his cues from the skating itself, what he finds important within it, and the kinds of skating he would like to see.