The World Was Our Stage by Doug Wilson: Must reading before the Sochi Olympics

Originally published on Lifeskate

Do not watch the 2014 Sochi Olympics without first reading Doug Wilson’s The World Was Our Stage. There are so many figure skating stories in this book that you will get a history lesson spanning 50 years and then more fully appreciate today’s skaters and also television’s coverage of skating!

Doug was producer/director of ABC’s Wide World of Sports for many decades and gives first hand accounts of working with Dorothy Hamill, Peggy Fleming, Katarina Witt, Brian Boitano, Scott Hamilson, Rosalyn Sumners, Janet Lynn, basically all our favorites! The stories are hysterical, insightful, sometimes sad and always keeps you turning the pages. Oh yes, lest I forget, there are other non-skating memories told in The World Was Our Stage and those are as riveting as the skating ones. My favorite nonskating stories involve Howard Cosell, Jim McKay and Muhammad Ali. My favorite skating stories are where Doug descibes how he and his crew filmed skating before the advent of technology — It was brutal! I could feel the freezing cold just reading his accounts.

Doug took some time to do a Q&A with us:

How will you be watching the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics — as a sports enthusiast like us or with a director’s eye?

DW: It’s often difficult to separate the two. Mostly, I’ll share the excitement of looking in on the Olympic games with the rest of the American audience. However, after 5 decades of thinking angles and story lines and focusing on “the human drama of athletic competition,” I often find myself tuned into the director’s mind. When the cameras are in harmony with the flow and emotion of a skating program, I’m less likely to think about the coverage. That’s especially true when we are all witnessing those special moments when we see true greatness happening before our eyes. Then, I’m just in awe and feeling “the thrill of victory” in the air.

What are you looking most forward to at the Sochi Games?

DW: There is always something special about the Opening Ceremony. Although I’m eager to watch the competitive challenges, there’s just nothing like the Opening Ceremony…the beginning of the winter “town meeting of the world,” as Jim McKay used to call the games. The Closing Ceremony also has a special feeling to it…mostly the scenes of the athletes celebrating spontaneously. Now…that said…in between those climatic events we all witness competitive conflict, athletic excellence, and just plain great sports events. The Ladies Free Skate is always magical. The Men’s dynamic. The Pairs…scary…and well, this time around we’ll all be on the edge of our seats for ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White. The pressure on Davis and White is huge. Greatness shows when the pressure is greatest. I think we’re in for a real treat.

Have you kept up with the figure skating scene lately? And if so, who are you most impressed with?

DW: I’ve gotten a bit distanced from it compared to the 45 years I was immersed. I’ve watched Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold, and Agnes Zawadzki. They skate beautifully…each one very impressive. Also, Max Aaron is terrific. They have their work cut out for them with Patrick Chan and Yuna Kim trying to retain their currently dominant positions.

What has NBC done right regarding coverage of the Olympic Games? What are some areas of improvement?

DW: The challenges NBC face in these 21st Century times are gargantuan—I talk a bit about this in The World Was Our Stage. The number of hours and the conduits of information beyond just the prime time hours….cable, cyberspace…interaction with social media…and on and on…boggles my mind. The service, the ability to cover the Games almost completely, is wonderful for the sports enthusiast. Also, the technical capabilities have become so all seeing and hearing, that the viewer is the beneficiary of absolutely brilliant pictures and sounds. Within all the modern day technical wonder, however, there is something that has never changed…a good story…told with a beginning, middle, and an end by fine journalist story tellers.

Sometimes I feel that too much money and time is spent on worrying about viewers’ attention spans. There’s so much happening on today’s flat screens that style sometimes overrides content and gets in the way of the story line. But let’s face it, no one is trying to produce a bad show, or create poor coverage and the folks at NBC do fine work. And… they have greater challenges to connect to the viewers…to tell the stories cleanly…than we had years ago. The scope of what they are required to do is expanded beyond the 20th Century imagination.

The World Was Our Stage covers many many sports disciplines. In another life, if you could come back as an athlete, which sport would you choose? Similarly, if you could be one of the sports heroes in your book for one day, who would it be and why?

DW: Oh my, what a question. What a difficult question. Really impossible… Hmmmmm….well…as you can imagine I would love to be a great skater…to do quads with seeming ease…to glide across the ice with the music in my soul…to watch 15,000 people stand and express appreciation for the emotions you have brought out of them. Wow! Hmmm….but let me think about that a little more…Ice facilities are cold, early morning practices in freezing arenas ….hmmmmm… I wouldn’t mind that really for part of the year. Love that really…but…hmmm…. being the winner of the U.S. Open Golf Championship, the British Open, and the Masters…especially the Masters wouldn’t be a bad way of going through competitive life — at least part of the time. Beautiful places in nice, pleasant, warm climates.

Do you think there might be a way to be the Men’s Olympic Figure Skating Champion during the winter and then in Augusta in May be the Masters Golf Champion? Be Scott Hamilton or Brian Boitano in the winter and Phil Mickelson the rest of the year? Just kidding, of course. I covered 51 different sports. When I was a kid I boxed, wrestled, played tennis, played soccer, competed as a springboard diver, ran the half mile in track, played a little baseball and intramural football…in general was a “master-of-none” athlete. I would want it all!