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The Ugly Truth of Figure Skating Behind the Scenes

In 1991, I wrote my first article for the NY Times called "Stop Freezing Out the Pro Skaters." The reaction was amazing. Without it being my intent, the article and the attention it garnered had made a crack in the power structure of the sport. Pro skaters would eventually be able to compete in the 1994 Lillehammer Figure Skating Olympics. And all I had done was lay out the truth of the situation.

Why should professional skaters not be allowed to compete in the Olympics when professionals from countless other sports did starting in 1986 when the International Olympic Committee changed its regulations to permit “all the world’s great male and female athletes to participate?”

The answer? Power. Money. Look for reasons for cheating and those are usually at the core of the situation.

In the 1990’s, figure skating was growing in popularity and was on the verge of exploding into the public eye with the Tonya Harding Nancy Kerrigan scandal. Thanks to wall-to-wall coverage of the attack on America’s ice princess, we just couldn’t get enough of the figure skating drama and the skaters who had on-ice personas that were irresistible.

Scott, Brian, Katarina, Kristi, Torvill & Dean, Gordeeva & Grinkov, Oksana, Viktor, Michelle. They didn’t need whole names. Even the supporting players were interesting. The Olympic rivalries were fascinating. The performances, electrifying. Memorable.

Admit it. Their names evoke a smile and a memory of being amazed at what they could do –  float, spin, and fly over the ice, defying laws of physics and personal safety.

It was a wild ride that would eventually be derailed by greed and arrogance. Ultimately, this string of events would inspire me to write my award-winning detective fiction murder mystery, The Chosen Ones. But at the time, on behalf of all skating fans, I tried to warn them with the NY Times article. 

Two decades later, I settled in to watch the 2014 Sochi Olympics. There was a new scoring system that is incomprehensible to most of us. But at least they had tried to right the ship that had gone so off course as demonstrated by the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics during the pairs event, right? Uh… not so much.

They just couldn’t help themselves. Is power that enticing and irresistible? Apparently so. Are we fascinated? Completely. Hundreds of articles have been written about the 2014 figure skating dramas that took place. And so it began… again.

French novelist Alphonse Karr once wrote, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Thank goodness. Otherwise, I’d be out of business.

Excerpt from The Chosen Ones:

'All the skaters had been placed on the same floor for security reasons. If anything was going to happen, chances are it would be here. Whispers coming from around the corner stopped Brody in his tracks. For all he knew, it was nothing more sinister than two maids folding bed sheets, but he’d learned never to ignore even the most seemingly inconsequential occurrence. Like his daddy always said, ‘It ain’t the tornado that kills ya. It’s the paper clip comin’ at your head at a hundred miles an hour.'

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