By Alina Adams – Originally published on Soap Opera 451.
It’s the Cyber Monday prior to a Winter Olympics! That means every skating fan’s virtual basket should be filling up with books dedicated to their favorite sport, including veteran ABC Sports director Doug Wilson’s The World Was Our Stage(see the Buy link at the bottom of this post).
In the meantime, in honor of the upcoming Sochi Games, I have been posting free excerpts from my 1999 book, Inside Figure Skating, specifically the chapter, Lights, Camera, Axel: How Television Changed Figure Skating.
And enjoy Part #5 – The Scandal Edition, below:
Wilson reveals, “There’s a no-man’s land between center ice and the corner, where we have no camera. Very often, great skaters — because when they skate in arenas they want to cover the whole audience — will stand in that position, making eye-contact with the audience. And all I see is an ear. They’re looking away. What they want to do to the audience of 1,000 people in front of them, they’re not doing to the TV audience that’s ten million people watching center-ice. If they’re about to present themselves to the world, it’s better if we see their faces.”
However, sometimes the face television presents to the world is not necessarily the one the skater wants.
Wilson asks, “How long, especially if you’re live, are skaters sitting in kiss and cry and you’re looking at their eyes and you’re looking at their tears and you’re looking at their emotions and you get to see what kind of people they are? You can see if they have grace under pressure, or if they’re not as admirable.”
Those less-admirable attributes brought up by the media and grumbled about by the skaters include 1994 Olympic Silver Medalist Nancy Kerrigan’s less-than-kind remarks about rival Oksana Bauil — and about Micky Mouse. Bauil’s 1997 drunk-driving charges. 1995 U.S. Champion Nicole Bobek’s arrest for felony burglary. French Champion Surya Bonalay’s romantic claims of being born on Reunion Island, despite the fact that she’d been born in France. U.S. Dance Champions Punsalan & Swallow signing a petition to keep their main opponent, Russian-born Gorsha Sur, of Roca & Sur, from getting his U.S. citizenship in time to challenge Punsalan & Swallow for the one 1994 Olympic berth. Punsalan & Swallow freely admitted their act on television, then, stunned by the backlash their confession triggered, blamed ABC for airing the segment, and refused to grant them anymore interviews for over a year.
On the other hand, when, in 1997, Russian, World, and Olympic ice-dance champions Grishuk & Platov split with their coach, 1980 Olympic champion Natalia Linichuk, they chose to fight all of their battles exclusively in the press. In December of 1996, Grishuk & Platov, having been off-ice for most of the season due to Platov’s knee injury, reportedly travel led to Moscow, for a secret meeting with the Russian Federation. There, they sought a guarantee that they would win all the competitions they entered, leading up to the 1998 Olympics. The Federation told them they could provide no such guarantee. Grishuk & Platov then returned to their home-base in Newark, DE, to ask their coach, also coach of the 1996 World Silver Medallists, Krylova & Ovsianikov, to insure another year of victory for them, by deliberately weakening the second team. When Linichuk also refused, Grishuk & Platov split for Marlboro, MA, and Tatiana Tarasova, trainer of 1996 World Silver Medalist Ilia Kulik. At the 1997 European championship, after Grishuk & Platov’s new dances not only won them the gold, but also an almost record-breaking twelve perfect 6.0’s (England’s Torvill & Dean still hold the record, 17 6.0’s at the 1984 Europeans), Linichuk tried to take credit for the stunning victory, by claiming she’d participated in choreographing their new numbers. Grishuk categorically denied the contention, adding “Let God be her judge.”
God, or at least, the Russian media, who sided squarely with the skaters over their ex-coach, asserting in “6.0,” the official publication of the Russian Skating Federation, “Linichuk did every-thing in her power to push Grishuk & Platov into the professional realm. This duo had already done their thing for her (won Olympic gold) and she was convinced it was time for them to leave.” At Europeans and the subsequent Worlds, even the Ukrainian media got into the act, ruminating about their national champions, Romanova & Yaroshenko, who also trained under Linichuk, “One can only feel sorry for the athletes. Their mentor will never make champions of them. Linichuk is a trainer first and foremost of Russian skaters, and she always places her bets on the Russian athletes. As long as (Romanova & Yaroshenko) keep training with Linichuk, they will see medals hanging only on the necks of their opponents.”
Within months of the media declaring Natalia Linuchuk persona non gratta of skating, the coach who, at the 1996 Europeans, saw a podium filled with only her skaters (Grishuk & Platov Gold, Krylova & Ovsianikov Silver, Romanova & Yaroshenko Bronze) was down to one winning team. Heeding the advice of the Ukrainian press, Romanova & Yaroshenko also defected to Tarasova.
But, the ice-dancing controversies didn’t stop there. At the 1997 Champions Series Final, where Grishuk & Platov won gold over defending champions, Canadians Shae-Lynn Bourne and Viktor Kraatz, a reporter stood up at the subsequent press-conference, and, under the guise of asking a question, proceeded to deride the abilities of Bourne & Kraatz. The woman was later revealed to be Grishuk’s aunt. Grishuk claimed ignorance.
Of course, there are those who claim that controversy is good for skating. After all, didn’t the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan saga trigger the 1990s-era boom of interest in the sport?
The experts weigh in on that controversial topic in upcoming installments.