Cracked Ice
About Sonia

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Book review: Cracked Ice

By Alexandra Stevenson for Blades on Ice, January/February 2005

Never before has a top International Skating Union official promised to "tell all" about her years in the service of skating, but Sonia Bianchetti lives up to that promise. Her book reveals an organization whose operation was, for so many years, 'An Old Boys' Club' aimed at maintaining the status quo, whose elite members led a cosseted existence traveling the world, staying in the best hotels, and thoroughly enjoying, and in some cases abusing, the perks of power.

Bianchetti was the first woman ever elected to a Technical Committee (in 1967 at age 33). She spent 21 years in the service of the ISU (including 15 years as the Chair of the Technical Committee) before taking a place on the Council. Now in her 70s, she was a glamorous, smiling face at all the top competitions for decades and earned the support of leading coaches. The world's foremost pairs teacher, Tamara Moskvina, writes of her admiration for Bianchetti who asked for her help in creating Judges' Handbook III for Pair Skating.

Another major name in the coaching world, Tatiana Tarasova, calls Bianchetti "the architect of the new era in figure skating." Dick Button, Robin Cousins, the Protopopovs and Brian Orser all wrote endorsements. No doubt those who are trashed in the book will feel differently. Recipients of acid-coated jibes include the current ISU President, Ottavio Cinquanta, whom Bianchetti has known since he was a youngster.

She includes some amusing incidents such as when in 1989, another member of the Council, Lawrence Demmy, thought he had made a great deal on the black market illegally changing money in Bulgaria, a crime for which he could have gone to jail if caught. But the black marketeers outfoxed him. When he went to unwrap the package of money, there was a genuine bill on the top of what looked like a stock of money, but the rest was merely paper.

Unfortunately Demmy had taken the Council members to a very expensive restaurant to calm down the atmosphere after a very unproductive meeting Bianchetti termed "poisonous." He planned to pay with this money. When the trick was discovered Demmy's guests were left to turn out their pockets trying to rustle up enough cash to pay the bill. (The reviewer received confirmation of this incident from another high ISU official.)

Pages 88-153 are absolutely riveting, beginning in 1988 when Bianchetti left her position as head of the ISU Figure Skating Committee and ran successfully for office as one of the 11 Council members. "It did not take long for me to find out what a mistake I had committed in running for Council," she writes and, indeed, her days in that elevated status were stormy and short. She railed against the organization and they turned their backs on her.

She writes of her disgust, "The ISU was run like a little mom-and-dad corner store with the general secretary sitting on top of the Union's money."

The Council schemed against her and eventually, in 1992, gave her a vote of "no confidence" which led to her ouster. One chapter is named "The Dirty Game Begins." She makes many charges, including very serious ones -- that minutes of meetings were rewritten to change the truth. Understandably, but unfortunately, the book uses the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic pairs scandal as a marketing ploy to attract as large an audience as possible, even though Ms. Bianchetti's "reign" was long over by then.

She watched those Games on television and from this restricted view, and from her conversations with many friends still involved in the sport, she presents the three page Chapter One on her theory of the behavior of why the French Judge Marie Reine Le Gougne voted for the Russian pair. She returns to this scandal much, much later -- beginning at Chapter 34 "The Other Victims, 2002." In 2003 Bianchetti became part of the newly formed World Skating Federation. The aims of this organization and progress, or rather the lack thereof, are also discussed.

There are both many laughable and sad revelations. The ISU, which dealt with million dollar television contracts, did not have a treasurer, or even a legal staff member, until relatively recently. And Bianchetti's take on the many past judging scandals is priceless.

At one point she contends that Katarina Witt made "a mess of her figures" in her last championship (Worlds 1988), for which Bianchetti was the Referee. She writes that she and her Assistant Referee, Britta Lindgren, thought Witt should have been no higher than sixth in this section. However, six of the nine judges put the twice-Olympic champion first.

(Bianchetti's comments will be very gratifying to Liz Manley's coach, Peter Dunfield, who was so mad at the situation he escorted people onto the ice after the loops for a close up look at Manley's and Witt's tracings. Certainly on that figure, Manley's were far superior.)

Chapter 38 takes a rather prejudiced look at "The Revolutionary New Judging System 2004."

Bianchetti concludes in a lighter mood with "The Skaters Who Made the Sport Great," starting with the Protopopovs and concluding with Michelle Kwan.

The trouble with these memoirs is that those who are attacked don't get a chance to reply. It is possible that everything Bianchetti says is the unbiased full truth, but how can we really know that? In any case, the book makes juicy reading.