Remember before cable TV and the Internet, when you had to wait for the Olympics to roll around in order to get a good dose of figure skating coverage? In between The Games, my brother and I religiously tuned into ABC’s Wide World of Sports on Saturday afternoons to catch the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” hoping Jim McKay would show a few snippets of skating.
We anxiously waited for our copies of Skating Magazine to arrive in the mail and even subscribed to that newspaper, American Skating World. We scoured these pages to find out results and glean at least a few personal tidbits about the skaters at the top. But information was scant, and slow to come. The world has obviously changed.
Of course, after the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan debacle in 1994, there was a skating frenzy. It seemed like skating was on TV 24/7, but in weird versions, like fabricated professional competitions — with the skaters grouped into ad-hoc “teams.” For a time, skaters such as Oksana Baiul and Tara Lipinksi appeared in tabloids like People and US Magazine. Some think all this was over-kill and the wrong kind of exposure. Some think that the 2002 judging scandal and the new IJS system have dampened popular interest. Whatever the case, it’s once again hard to catch much skating on television.
In comes icenetwork, which was launched in 2006, and then re-launched on a more full-scale basis in August of 2007. This website is a joint venture between U.S. Figure Skating and MLB Advanced Media (Major League Baseball). I think it has significantly changed the way you can experience the sport (and I would say this even if I didn’t occasionally write articles for the site).
Thanks to icenetwork, you can get more access than ever before. You can track individual skaters and events with unprecedented immediacy and specificity. Even at the height of the media’s fixation on skating, it was rare to see more than the top-five finishers of any event at nationals or even worlds. It has always been impossible to catch any of the short program or original dance segments. It was all about top finishers and final events. Now, you can watch video footage of everybody on icenetwork, from juvenile skaters at regionals all the way to the top.
I myself have been involved in figure skating as a competitor or a coach for almost my entire life, but I’m more of a “fan” of the sport than ever before — via my laptop — I’m keeping up with the new faces and the new names of skating. For example, this week, there’s an article detailing the newest world rankings (based on points earned). This references performances and results at the recent Four Continents in Vancouver and serves as a helpful guide for worlds. (To read it, click here).
During the week of nationals in Cleveland, I kept track of things there by watching both live and archived videos after getting home from work. While eating dinner at my desk, I flipped through photo galleries of skaters in action and backstage. I read the icenetwork articles and especially enjoyed the fact that we could get live results…IMMEDIATELY. Watching all this coverage reminded me how incredible it was to compete at nationals… this time, I almost felt like I was there, again. It also made me wonder what it’s like to coordinate all these different kinds of media.
I contacted Linda Przygodski, icenetwork’s Senior Editorial Producer, to find out, and she was kind enough to answer a few questions. She is a journalist who has been covering sports, entertainment, and all kinds of other subjects for over 20 years. In fact, before taking on this role with icenetwork, she was a beat reporter for NASCAR.
Jocelyn Jane Cox: I’m really impressed with the amount of coverage you provided for people at home during nationals: on-demand videos, live results, blogs, news articles, photo galleries, element sheets. How on earth did you pull all of this content together?
Linda Przygodski: First of all, I have a great team, some of whom were in Cleveland and some of whom were back in New York, at the MLBAM headquarters. I was basically on-site overseeing all information, assigning feature articles to freelance writers, coordinating interviews, and getting quotes. We had writers Mickey Brown and Rebecca Staed there from U.S Figure Skating and Sarah S. Brannen and pair skater Drew Meekins doing blogs. Todd Hinckley, back in New York, made sure that everything got up on the site in a timely fashion and we both monitored the live feed. This is actually the most challenging part, since we might hear that what looks great in Maine doesn’t look as great out in California. The crazy thing is that the European Championships were happening simultaneously and we wanted to keep track of that, as well. It was a challenging week to say the very least.
JJC: What was typical day like for you at nationals?
LP: I got up at the crack of dawn and checked what seemed like 172 e-mails from the hotel. I got myself together and tried to get to the rink between 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. I learned last year that I couldn’t do this without any sleep. Usually, Lynn Rutherford (one of my freelance writers) and I would stay at the rink until the security guards kicked us out at night. At Skate America, we were locked in the arena and no one could seem to let us out. We had to follow the trash man to the nearest exit. We made a conscious effort to not have a repeat performance of that, but we missed the last bus back to the hotel most nights. Eventually, we gave up and just had cab come fetch us.
JJC: How many competitions do you, personally, go to per year?
LP: Skate America, U.S. Championships, and this year, I’ll be going to worlds. Next year, I’ll also be going to the Junior Grand Prix in Lake Placid and the Olympics. Sometimes it’s better for me to go, and sometimes it’s better for me to oversee things from the office. I absolutely have to be wireless, in case something goes wrong, so we decide on a per-case basis.
JJC: What is the best part of this gig?
LP: I love everyone I work with at MLBAM. It’s nice to travel only 20 percent of the time rather than 90 percent, which is what I used to do. You can only live out of a suitcase for so many decades! I also enjoy the athletes. The kids are great — we want to present them in their natural form and provide interesting content. Todd Hinckley and I have a shared and particular vision for the site. For example, we agonize over what pictures look best for the homepage. It’s really a thoughtful process.
JJC: How would you characterize the icenetwork fanbase?
LP: Die hard fans, casual fans, and the curious. We have lots of international fans.
JJC: So what are the differences, or any similarities, between skaters and race car drivers?
LP: It’s difficult to find any similarities! The divide is so great. Let’s just say there is no Kiss and Cry in NASCAR.
I have been busy moving (and thanks to all this caffeine…) shaking. To see the piece I wrote about one of my favorite Upper East Side coffee shops, click here.