Cracked Ice
About Sonia

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News and Reviews

An insider's revelations of figure skating's dirty linen

By Steve Milton for The Hamilton Spectator, February 9, 2005

Recent evidence suggests that figure skating's coat of many colours is starting to come apart at the seams.

The American television rights for international skating went for about one-quarter of what they were in the sport's heyday of the late 1990s and non-domestic events are seen only on ESPN 2, a channel which is unavailable in many U.S. homes.

The president of the United States Figure Skating Association quit last week in frustration over certain ways the sport is run.

The International Skating Union, as reported in last week's Spec, is trying to make ineligible four of its former brightest judging and organizational stars. Pro skating struggles mightily to find audiences and a personality.

And the scandal of Salt Lake City still resonates like a massive, daily, gong.

But as Sonia Bianchetti Garbato informs us, the sport has been coming apart for many years.

Bianchetti Garbato--known as Sonia Bianchetti or more often as simply Sonia, when she was the most powerful woman in world figure skating for a quarter century or more -- has written a very necessary expose of the corridors of skating power.

Don't be fooled by the soft cover and unassuming look of CRACKED ICE: Figure Skating's Inner World (available only at This book packs a punch and is an essential addition to the thickening bibliography of figure skating.

The provocative opening -- "Marie Reine Le Gougne has sold herself to Russia!" -- not only indicts the pathetic, hurtful charade of the 2002 Olympic pairs competition, it heralds the similarly sordid revelations to come later in the book.

For many casual skating fans, this book will feel a little too inside, perhaps a little too history-minded. But for the thousands and thousands who thrive on every detail of this sport, the characters -- former ISU head Olaf Poulsen and his successor Ottavio Cinquanta, among them -- loom large and are brought nicely to life in Bianchetti's descriptions of personalities and events.

At her first competition as an international championship judge 41 years ago, Bianchetti was told by an Austrian to vote for his skaters. Bianchetti would not be moved and when in later times, she became the first female referee, then the first woman member of the ISU's power technical committee, she campaigned for fierce penalties for bloc voters.

There are close-to-the-bone tales about duplicity in the highest places, blatant national bias and attempts to cover up scandals. She cites numerous examples of judges or officials who'd been suspended for national bias eventually rising to greater power. Russian federation head Valentin Piseev happens to be one.

Bianchetti says she detested all the oppressive intrigue, spoke against it within the inner sanctum and demanded accountability from all corners of the ISU. Because of that, she argues, she soon found herself on the outside looking in at an organization she had helped shape through 30 years of service. She was removed from the ISU corridors of power, ironically, by the election of another Italian -- speedskating's Cinquanta -- to the ISU Council in 1992. No country may have two members on the council.

"Ostracism was part of the plan," she writes, presaging the scene a dozen years later as the ISU treats the whistle blowers from Salt Lake City so shoddily.

To be fair, Bianchetti had her share of harsh critics when, as head of the ISU's technical committee for figure skating, she wielded incredible influence over every detail of the sport.

But there was never, and still isn't, any doubt about her love for skating or her desire to see the best skating rewarded by the judges.

She should still be an honoured and treasured member of the ISU.

That she is not makes her book even more relevant.