Thursday, January 1, 2009

Yesterday's News...5 Signs of Skating's Times in 2008

When you start a new year, does the “old year” – you know, the one we left behind just 24 hours ago—become old news? That is, news too dated to still be discussed?

We’re about to find out. Below I’ve listed 5 headlines… or if they weren’t bona fide headlines, they should have been headlines in the mind’s eye of a skater or skating fan. In MY mind’s eye, these were 5 of the most unforgettable signs of skating’s times in 2008.

In Chronological Order (more or less):

1) Christopher Bowman Dies at Age 40 (January)
His death may not have directly affected the sport, but it was certainly an ominous way to start the year. And while his troubled life and much-too-soon demise was incredibly sad to those of us who remember him in his heyday, it’s the “post-mortem”, so to speak, that reverberates with me as well. Should Bowman receive a posthumous induction into the sport’s Hall of Fame, or does such an action send the wrong message? Shouldn’t NBC have spent some on-air time discussing him and his illustrious career when they covered Nationals a couple weeks later? And speaking of the media, what are we to read (if anything) into the fact that Bowman’s death barely registered in mainstream media? I might be comparing apples to oranges here, but I recall Sergei Grinkov’s premature death was covered to considerable extent when he passed away in late 1995… when skating happened to still be in a post-’94 Olympics groundswell of popularity. I hate to think of someone’s death as a barometer for those still living and breathing the sport, but in this case, I couldn’t seem to help it.

2) Doug Wilson Retires From ABC/ESPN After Worlds (March)
Of all three retirements I’m mentioning in this post, I think this one might be the saddest for me… even if it was the most expected. Doug Wilson was THE preeminent producer and director for all skating events covered by ABC/ESPN, and had been with the network for well over 45 years covering the sport. When the rights were not renewed with ABC this season, Wilson decided the time was as good as any to call it a day, so he ended his skating “career” with the 2008 World Championships.

I’ve personally interviewed Mr. Wilson at length, and he seems as kind and thoughtful as anyone you’d hope to meet in the TV industry. He played an enormous part in the way we all saw and heard the sport, literally speaking, from the 1970s on through to the 21st century. He earned his own spot in the Hall of Fame last year, and rightfully so. We can only hope his influence will still be felt, regardless of the forum in which skating continues to be shown.

3) Jeffrey Buttle Retires (September)/Stephane Lambiel Retires (October)
The double whammy! At a time when more and more skaters seem to shy away from Big Announcements and Bigger Decisions, the respective retirements of both the current World champion and a past World champion hit especially hard. Both came mere weeks before the new season began. Both wreaked havoc with the GP schedules. And both were rather unexpected anyway—Buttle at arguably the pinnacle of his career; Lambiel perhaps past the pinnacle, but seemingly with several more good years in him. Throw in the endless commentary about how, in Buttle’s choice, skating is losing one of its “true artists” at a time they are needed the most… and how Lambiel’s injury-related decision speaks volumes for how the CoP is tearing athletes’ bodies to shreds… and you end up with quite a one-two punch. Unfortunately.

4) Judging Panels to Shrink at Major Championships (October)
It’s too soon to tell just what sort of long-term impact this unpopular decision is going to have… but when a headline (and this one was an actual headline) essentially discusses judging and figure skating in the same breath, I’m not sure if there’s anyone who comes away with a good feeling about the news being delivered. Know what I mean?

5) Mao Asada Lands Two Triple Axels Within One Free Skate… the First Lady to Do So in International Competition (December)
I’m not at all sure if this was a headline, but it should have been. Asada’s accomplishment at the GPF was incredible and historic, as many have noted… but again, mainstream media has barely blinked thus far. Please, won’t someone tell me they saw a clip of her on ESPN or something? Again I must say I’d have a hard time believing coverage would have been the same had Asada (or anyone else) accomplished this in the mid-late 1990s. The sad truth is, stories can’t be written about things the story writers don’t care about. And if the majority of TV viewers don’t bother with Ice Network, and consequentially don’t even see much skating anymore… how can they care about it?

OK, so there goes last year’s news… on the next post, maybe I should think up some “dream headlines” for 2009. What do you think? :-)

For the
Clip of the Day I’m going all the way back to Torvill and Dean’s definitive Bolero Olympic free dance— as directed by the aforementioned Doug Wilson. Happy new year everyone!

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