Wednesday, March 13, 2013


In honor of the World Figure Skating Championships currently going on, I use my experience as a researcher for ABC, ESPN, TNT and NBC to peel back the curtain and reveal what really goes on behind the scenes during an event - and just how much of an influence television has on sports and their results.

This excerpt from Murder on Ice: Enhanced Multimedia Edition takes places as the American Ladies champion, Erin, skates against the Russian Champion, Xenia, for the gold at Worlds.  Our heroine, Bex Levy, sits in the broadcast booth with announcers Francis and Diana Howarth as they call the event....

"Did we just witness a world championship performance, Francis?"

"I'd bet my Olympic gold medal on it!"

"Hey, you be careful! That's our gold medal you're gambling with there!"

"Do you disagree?"

"Oh, no, not at all, my dear."

Bex's tolerance level for cutesy dialogue reached gag proportions. Meanwhile, from the booth, Gil cheered, "Excellent, guys, excellent! Keep it going! We'll go to commercial before the marks come up; that'll really keep the tension high!"

Bex gritted her teeth—and not just to hold back nausea. Holding the marks for commercials was a practice she hated. Whenever television bought the rights to an event, they also bought the right to keep the scores from being announced until the time was convenient for them. To Bex, it didn't seem fair to make an athlete who'd worked their whole life for this moment wait an extra five minutes to find out if they'd succeeded or not, all in the name of ratings.

And Erin Simpson didn't seem to think it was too hot of a strategy, either. As soon as she dropped her closing pose, she was looking at the scoreboard. She was looking at it as she waved to her standing ovation. She was looking at it as she skated around to pick up the teddy bears and flowers thrown on the ice. She was even looking at it as she jumped off the ice and into the arms of her nearly hysterical with ecstasy mother.

And still, there were no marks.

The wait whipped the crowd into even a greater frenzy.

As Erin sat in the kiss and cry, waving her arms above her head and grinning even more broadly than usual, the fans began chanting, "Six! Six! Six!"

Patty joined in the chant, then hugged Erin, then looked at the scoreboard.

But they were still in commercial.

Patty hugged Erin again. Erin hugged her back. They kept hugging tighter and tighter, until, at risk for suffocation, both awkwardly let go and, running low on patience, looked around as if the scores might be playing hide-and-seek with them. Starting to get pissed off now, they looked down at the ground, then up again at the scoreboard. Erin jiggled her knees. Her mother put one hand on her thigh and shook her head. Erin quit it and chewed on a cuticle. Now Patty's knees started jiggling.

Finally, Gil Cahill told the referee, "TV's good. Release the scores."

The scores came up: 5.8s and 5.9s for technical.

Erin and Patty hugged again. The fans screamed.

And then the presentation marks: 5.7s, 5.8s, and a 5.6 from the Russian judge.

Erin's perky grin turned into a furrowed brow. Her mother's brow furrowed, too.

The ordinals came up. A five-four split. Four votes for Erin, five votes for Xenia.

Xenia Trubin was the world champion.

"Impossible!" Francis sputtered.

"It's a travesty!" Diana almost beat him to the punch.

"This makes no sense." Francis's finger poked the monitor in front of him. "Both skaters landed the same number of jumps, but Erin had a triple-triple combination!"

"She seems to have lost this event on the artistic mark!"


"I agree! Her program was lovely. Youthful and joyful and carefree, it's everything one can hope for in a skating performance."

"You know what the problem is." Francis was peering closely at the marks now. “Take a look at this panel, Diana. We have one, two, three, four judges from America, Canada, France, and Australia giving the win to Erin, and four judges from Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Latvia giving the win to Xenia. The interesting decision is right here, by the Italian judge. By all rights, she should have voted with the West."

Bex's mouth dropped open. Was Francis saying what she thought he was saying? Was he honestly going live on national television and explaining that Western judges were obligated to vote with their Western counterparts?

"You're right, Francis," Diana concurred. "The Italian judge seems to have voted with the ex-Soviet bloc. That doesn't make any sense."

"You know, Diana, as a citizen of the world, it was my sincerest hope that with the dissolution of the Soviet Union we would finally see an end to block voting. And yet, here we are again, the ex-Soviets all voting together and, clearly, somehow swaying the Italian judge, too."

Bex's mouth could no longer drop open. If it dropped open any further, she would be licking her shoes, and in this booth, there was no room for it. What the heck were Francis and Diana saying? Could they even hear themselves? Could they hear what they were suggesting? What can of worms were they opening?

"Gil," Bex whispered into her headset. "Gil, we can't let them say this. Stop them, please. We have no proof. It's libelous. And it doesn't make any sense—“

"Be quiet, Bex, it's good television," Gil flicked on his switch to the announcers. "Great chatter, you two, keep it going, keep it going."

"I wonder how they did it," Diana mused. "I wonder what they offered the Italian judge to ignore that beautiful performance by Erin in favor of that avant-garde mess of Xenia's."

"This is horrible. Just horrible." Francis's voice had dropped to funeral dirge mode. "I offer my sincerest apologies to everyone watching at home, but, for the life of me, I can't think of any way to explain this decision. I am embarrassed for our sport, Diana. I don't know what to say. Poor Erin Simpson. Poor, poor, lovely Erin Simpson. She won the world championship tonight. And the Italian judge stole it from her as surely as if she'd ripped the gold medal from that sweet, brave child's neck….”

Jordan Ares was the last skater of the night. She skated well and won the bronze medal. But, by that point, nobody cared. Even before the competition was officially over, the local radio station was announcing: "Corruption at the world championships!"

By the time Bex followed Francis and Diana out of the announcer's booth, the media, both print and television, was camped outside like a salacious throng, demanding that the pair comment on the travesty that had just occurred.

“Travesty," Francis said. "That's the perfect word for it. It's a travesty. Obviously, some sort of fix was in, some sort of deal was made, to keep our beautiful and talented, dear American champion from winning the gold medal."

"It's the Italian judge,” Diana repeated. "Look at her marks. She voted for Xenia over Erin, and there was no reason for her to do that. The Italian judge isn't part of the Soviet bloc. Clearly, she had to have been coerced."

"How can you say that?" Bex waited until she'd sequestered Francis and Diana in their 24/7 dressing room before unleashing all the comments percolating in her mind earlier. "Don't you realize that by suggesting there was a conspiracy on the part of the Soviet bloc, you're also implying that there was a conspiracy on the Western side? I mean, yes, all the ex-Soviets voted together, but so did all the Western countries. How is that not a conspiracy on both sides?"

Francis and Diana looked at each other.

"Hmm," Francis said, "I never thought of it that way."

"What an interesting point you've made, Bex."

And then they refused to say another word on the subject.

Read what happens next (and how the Italian judge somehow ends up dead) in:

No comments: