Sonia Bianchetti Garbato, "Cracked Ice"

Reviewed by Sandra Loosemore

"Cracked Ice" is Sonia Bianchetti's memoir of her years as an ISU judge, technical committee member, and council member. Although the book opens with a prologue concerning the Olympic judging scandal in Salt Lake City in 2002, that episode is far from being the focus of the book. Rather, Bianchetti's thesis is that the Salt Lake City incident and other recent well-publicized episodes of corruption in the sport are only a continuation of what has gone on behind the scenes for decades.

Bianchetti reports, for example, that at her very first assignment in judging an ISU event, the 1964 European Championships, she was approached by Austrian ISU Council member Ernst Labin, who openly tried to influence her judging in favor of his country's skater. She also tells the story of the persistent bloc judging in the 1970's that led to the suspension of all judges from the Soviet Union in the 1977-78 season, and of continuing problems following the breakup of the Soviet Union in the 1990's.

She also reports shoddy financial and legal dealings of the ISU that she became aware of during her term as a council member. One story involves a large personal loan, without interest or a written contract, made by the ISU to Beat Häsler, who was then its general secretary. There's also the complicated saga of the ISU's former advertising contract with Gloria International, in which Bianchetti reports that a blatant attempt was made to bribe her.

Bianchetti takes some potshots at Ottavio Cinquanta, but in general he comes off lightly compared to her portraits of the previous generation of ISU leadership: Häsler, former president Olaf Poulsen, and former vice-president for figure skating Lawrence Demmy. In telling the story of how she was pushed out of her council position in 1992, Bianchetti portrays Cinquanta as a tool as the other three instead of as the villain of the piece. Among the more amusing photos in the book is one of Bianchetti and Cinquanta in younger days, smiling and standing arm-in-arm.

In addition to her stories of political shenanigans within the ISU, Bianchetti recounts her very real accomplishments on the technical side of the sport. She was the leader of the movement to eliminate compulsory figures from competition, wrote or co-authored the ISU judging handbooks, presented judging seminars every year, and was involved in the development of evaluation and disciplinary procedures for judges and in the fight to clean up judging from the persistant problems of national bias and misconduct that have plagued the sport from the beginning.

She also tells many stories of skaters and competitions over the years. In some cases, it's interesting to compare her versions of events to those which have been recorded by others -- skaters Scott Hamilton and Toller Cranston, for example, or Ben Wright in his book "Skating in America". For example, Wright says that Katarina Witt's win in the compulsory figures at 1988 Worlds was "probably correct", but Bianchetti, who refereed the event, describes it as "a real scandal"! This in spite of the fact that she writes glowingly of Witt in other contexts. Her take on most of the individuals she discusses in the book is similarly multi-faceted.

Such first-hand insights into historical events alone would make this book a valuable addition to the skating literature. Overall the book is a good read and those who pre-judge and dismiss its content based solely on its author's political reputation are denying themselves a unique perspective on skating history.

Bianchetti's written English is better than that of many skating officials who are native speakers, and has been only lightly edited to preserve her own conversational "voice" and style. I spotted only one minor factual error on my reading, which is very good considering how error-filled most skating books published nowadays are. An index would have been a nice addition to the book.

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