The ice dance judging was so bad, it made even the winners cry

February 22, 1994|By Phil Jackman

The TV Repairman:

At first it wasn't apparent why Oksana Gritschuk, the Russian ice dancer, was crying almost uncontrollably as she and Evgeni Platov received their marks in the ice dancing competition last night.

Then the final results of the three sessions were posted and Gritschuk and Platov were declared winners of the gold medal. Obviously, she was crying over the blankety-blank judging.

To borrow and paraphrase a line from baseball, kill the judges.

That's one thing you can always plan on at a figure skating championship event: controversy over who was best, worst and in between.

As Verne Lundquist of CBS so aptly put it thinking back over another flawless performance turned in by Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, "The crowd loved it; the judges did not."

Adding insult to injury, Torvill and Dean finished third.

Earlier, and to its great credit, the network had taken a none-too-subtle swipe at judging by pointing out how little movement there was in the rankings once the event began.

It all but suggested placings were made sometime around Christmas and that's the way things were going to be.

Analyst Tracy Wilson related the story of how, at the European Championships, competitors had remarked how the judging seemed to give indication of crawling out of the 19th century.

"Finally, the sport has changed," she said. Upon further review, however, she added, "Obviously not."

* You would never know it, judging from the reactions at the last couple of Olympics or on the news front lately, but there was a time when figure skating was no big deal at the quadrennial winter carnival.

In fact, the first time the sport made it into the Games, it was at the Summer Olympics of 1908 in London. Figures was such an overwhelming success that it was immediately dropped from the program for a dozen years. Imagine if we had to wait so long with only daily reports of what Tonya and Nancy were doing to sustain us.

Figure skating and hockey were contested at the Games of 1920, but barely noticed, before becoming mainstays with the inauguration of the Winter Olympics in France in 1924.

Then, just 16 events were spread over five sports, and perhaps the only memorable thing coming out of Chamonix was the fact a 10-year-old by the name of Sonja Henie competed in the ladies singles field.

From a last-place finish, the Norwegian princess went on to win three gold medals, later revealing in her autobiography that "figure skating had been rather stiff and pedantic in form" until about 1928.

Current and past skaters such as Elvis Stojko, Torvill and Dean, the Duchesnays and Philippe Candeloro probably would get a kick out of this assessment.

With one more day before Harding vs. Kerrigan vs. the World sends CBS ratings into the stratosphere, they drew positions for skating positions in tomorrow night's short (technical) program.

And if Tonya didn't have enough problems, she'll be going eighth among 27 skaters, and this is where low marks hang out, since so many early competitors are inexperienced and nervous youngsters working their way up and prone to taking some spectacular tumbles on the ice. Kerrigan goes 26th, back where mediocre performances are often over rated due to reputation and prior results.

* Bonnie Blair makes it easy to be a fan of hers. She lost out on a medal in the 1,500-meter speed skate by .03 of a second `D yesterday, but pointed out to a worldwide TV audience, "I won two races by just .04 of a second, so it all evens out."

* Mary Carillo, tennis commentator for CBS and a good one, has been reporting on a couple of different sports in Lillehammer, and she could use some work.

While it's true the compulsory portion of ice dancing is repetitious, Carillo saying, "I can't believe this is an Olympic sport," on camera is idiotic. Obviously, Mary has forgotten what first-round matches at a tennis major look like when Steffi Graf whacks somebody, 6-0, 6-0, in about 27 minutes.

* Having gotten a bad taste in my mouth for freestyle skiing aerials some years ago upon witnessing a guy land directly on top of his head, I've laid off. Until yesterday. Checking out the women's preliminaries, there was Kristean Porter smashing face first into an icy hill, which dictates another sabbatical. Full medal status, ugh!

* It's fun reading between the lines of hockey analyst John Davidson's commentary. Discussing Slovakia's team, John said, "This team plays with passion, something you don't always see in European teams." Ouch!

CBS play-by-play man Mike Emrich, after calling Team USA's 7-1 victory over Italy that made it the eighth and final qualifier for the quarterfinals tomorrow, thinks he's got the medals all figured out. He sees the Slovaks for gold, Sweden for the silver and the United States for the bronze. It's the first time he's done any cheerleading.

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