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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,
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,
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
www.soniabianchetti.com). 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
She should still be an honoured and treasured member of the
That she is not makes her book even more relevant.