Romance and Mystery Novels

by Alina Adams

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Friday, January 27, 2006


But, wait, there's more! It's not just Skating With Celebrities! There's also Ice Diaries! And Skating's Next Star! And Sasha Cohen on Project Runway!

How did all this television special skating madness start?

Well, it started here, and here.

And then what happened, Alina?

Well, then it was the mid-1990s and everything really went wacky!

Figuring that if one Olympic champion was good, and two even better, then an entire contingent would have to be ratings gold, in 1993, ABC presented Skates of Gold, billing it as a one-time only gathering of past Olympic winners in each of the four disciplines. Three dance teams performed, along with four ladies, three pairs, and four men. Among the non-skating highlights was a chance to see Irina Rodnina wave to the crowd alongside both her former partners, Alexei Ulanov and Alexander Zaitsev.

In 1994, NBC broadcast Skates of Gold II, with medalists from the Lillehammer Games as part of the cast.

Then, in 1995, the one-time only event returned to ABC for Skates of Gold III, although by then the fellowship was visibly shrinking. In the Pairs, Valova & Vasiliev's divorce, and Mishkutenok & Dmitriev's break-up left only Gordeeva & Grinkov to represent the discipline. In Dance, Torvill & Dean's exclusive agreement with CBS allowed them to skate in the show, but prevented ABC from showing their performance, or the team from skating out to take their bows alongside the rest of the cast, leaving viewers in the arena and at home to wonder what the British champions had done to warrant such banishment.

Another once-in-a-lifetime event that somehow stretched into a three-parter was Symphony of Sports. In 1989, the Women's Sports Foundation conceived of a fund-raiser where skating and gymnastics would share the stage. For one night only, Brian Boitano, Robin Cousins, Underhill & Martini, and Rosalynn Sumners were joined by Olympic gymnasts Bart Conner, Marcia Frederick, Kristi Phillips, and Peter Vidmar.

A mat was laid on the ice, leaving the skaters to maneuver around it in a V-configuration without tripping into the audience, and the gymnasts to tumble on a smaller-than-average square without slipping off onto the frozen water.

For many, the highlight of the program came in a romantic duet between Cousins, on the ice, and, on the mat, Katherine Healy, a twenty year old ballerina best known for acting in the movie Six Weeks (with Mary Tyler Moore and Dudley Moore) and being featured in the children's book A Very Young Skater. Because she'd been a skater as well as a dancer, when Cousins briefly lifted her off the mat for a swoop around the ice, Healy knew how to hold her position, making for a seamless transition and a perfect blending of the two art forms, something the other gymnasts, despite their varied skills, simply could not do.

ABC director Doug Wilson adds another reason why that number is the one viewers remember best. "Robin is very much a producer as well as a skater. And so to work with him was a pleasure because he created (that pas de deux) especially for the camera."

Another treat for skating fans came at the conclusion of the Symphony of Sports when 1984 Olympian Bart Conner put on a pair of skates and performed a mean set of butterflies, holding hands with Roz Sumners.

A year later, Bart's soon-to-be wife, Nadia Comenici, joined the company of a second Symphony of Sports, along with Peggy Fleming.

And, the year after that, Brian Orser and Peter and Kitty Carruthers contributed their talents to a third show. There, Orser got to take center stage as a leather-jacketed 50s rocker inspiring starry-eyed swoons from a gaggle of giggling gymnasts and skaters, including Fleming, dressed as a bobby-soxer waitress, who literally back-flips for Orser (with a little help from a muscular gymnast), in a move that, during rehearsal, required much nervous shrieking before actually being executed for the first time.

Though the shows were fun and different it took another fifteen years for a follow up. Hilton Hotels sponsored the Skating & Gymnastics Spectacular. Missed it when it aired on NBC? You can still catch it in your room at the Hilton!

Skating Television Specials... they're not just on television anymore!


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