"The figure skating community can seem strange to outsiders. There is a culture of silence, of being afraid to speak out publicly. Instead, a lot of communication goes on between individuals and small groups behind close doors and often takes the form of gossip. People who disagree with the popular view being expressed by the handful seen to have power often keep silent. They listen to the arguments and nod their head noncommittally and then seek out other members privately to sound them out and see if they are also dissenters. It some ways it reminds me of how contestants on Survivor decide who to vote out the tribunal council. It might make for good TV, but It’s not a particularly healthy way to debate issues and when an organization is poised at a crossroads as USFS is, it can be downright dysfunctional."
This is a direct quotation from a blog entry by Mrs. Marie Hughes, a former computer specialist and currently a professional sports photographer. Marie partakes in the workshops held annually by the USFSA (US Figure Skating Association) during its regular sessions.
Normally, people would not display great interest to what figure skating officials do or say. However, sometimes their activity stirs up public debates. Such was the case with Chuck Foster, the USFSA President, who announced his sudden resignation in February 2005 without even commenting on his decision.
Foster was one of the officials to foster and endorse a new judging system in figure skating. The system put forward by the International Skating Union (ISU) was designed to apply a “more objective” and accurate judging approach instead of an abysmally old 6.0 scoring system. Foster promoted the reform, while Hershberger, the USFSA Vice-President at that time, pursued its further implementation. It was due to Hershberger’s efforts that the new judging system was finally used during 2006 US Nationals.
The former colleagues; however, would criticize each other’s stances in press publications. Foster would say that USFSA officials lack professional attitude, whereas Hershberger would defend himself and the organization (he was USFSA’s Acting President after Foster’s resignation).
It is notable though that the USFSA presidents are elected and it is basically a freelance job. For a long time, Ronald Hershberger has been successfully combining his USFSA responsibilities with his duties at a California-based law firm, Thoits, Love, Hershberger & McLean.
Hershberger was one of two candidates to run for the USFSA presidency in May 2005. The other one was Ron Pfenning. The election campaign was clouded by someone’s “clever move,” that is, prior to elections, voters received anonymous e-mails in which they were called on to vote for Hershberger. Despite the intricate ploy, Pfenning lost and Hershberger took office.
Moreover, along with the election of the USFSA President, there were a number of even more bizarre, albeit not so significant coincidences during the 2005 session of the Governing Council. One of such examples was the speech delivered by the young and talented ice skater, Evan Lysacek, who kicked off the Annual Meeting of the Governing Council. Evan told the audience about his successful season and he also thanked USFSA, his family, coaches and friends for their support. He received a long standing ovation from 700 people who attended the event.
Also in May 2005, the new judging system was finally approved as a standard system to be further applied at US Figure Skating Championships.
Structurally, the USFSA now looks as follows. It is comprised of the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, which then was presided over by Ron Hershberger, three Vice Presidents, the Secretary, and other officials who oversee the activity of USFS departments. In 2005, David Raith was hired as the USFSA Executive Director. USFS Executive Director is not an elected body, as candidates are invited to assume the office by top US Figure Skating officials.
Raith earned a degree in journalism; he has broad experience in the sports industry. He also worked in sports marketing, management, and television programming and production. Like Hershberger, Mr. Raith is married and has two daughters.
As the USFSA President, Hershberger was said to lack leadership qualities, whose role was that of a pawn. Certainly, there is no evidence to prove the policy endorsed by Hershberger and his organization is inextricably influenced by any backstage intrigues. Regardless, Hershberger and Raith are the ones who determine and represent US Figure Skating and the policy thereof.
It would all unfold unnoticed if it were not for a series of misfortunate events, numerous complaints that appeared in a couple of blogs, and a number of allegedly spontaneous articles dedicated to the discussion of an issue made public due to some anonymous source. The issue was the one wittingly labelled “Skate Gate 2006” by one of the participants of the discussion board on the USFS website. This apparently witty person seems to be well-versed in modern history and is definitely interested in politics. Luckily, the accurate term was found.
However, there is no smoke without fire. We may all witness another turn of events, which will feature two American figure skaters Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek, also starring USFS executives Ronald Hershberger and David Raith. The timeline: 2007 US Nationals.
During last year's US Nationals, the figure skating devotees could avail themselves of a brochure designed to present the accomplishments of the leading American figure skaters. This brochure was part of the promotional campaign for the next US Nationals. Surprisingly, the name of a three-time and reigning US National Champion Johnny Weir was not even mentioned in the booklet, which, by the way, was published before the Olympics and the 2006 World Championship.
Later we learnt that the official site of next year’s US Nationals, http://www.spokane2007.com/spokane2007/default.aspx, had no photographs of or information about Weir. How could they all forget about the reigning US National Champion? I seriously doubt that we will ever find out whose letter, article or call it was to change the position of site officials. Nevertheless, in the wake of this disturbing turmoil, a tiny picture of Johnny appeared on the main page of the website.
The two and seemingly inconsequential details triggered the "Skate Gate" phenomenon. However, there are people who believe there were much more details that were deliberately overlooked. We can name at least three, including Marshalls U.S. Figure Skating International Showcase held in April. In fact, there was no competition per se, since this year figure skaters performed only their exhibition programs. Notably, in December 2005, it was Johnny Weir who won Marshalls Challenge held in Boston and he triumphantly won the competition, having received the votes of over 64 per cent of viewers.
The majority of Weir’s fans as well as some critics think that if the competition were held this year, Johnny would become a victor again, whereas Evan Lysacek, a USFS protégé, would lose. Such scenario appears so audacious that those who voiced it were quick enough to uphold another scenario suggesting that this year the competition would be a failure because America’s sweetheart Michelle Kwan would not be able to give her best performance due to her trauma.
Speaking about Michelle Kwan…this year, the USFSA has established an award bearing her name. This decision caused panic amongst Weir’s supporters. They are sure that the USFSA will never grant the award to Johnny even if he receives millions of votes. Hershberger and Raith would be very surprised, had they found out such panic and worries were common. Perhaps they already know all about this, since no news or event in the American figure skating world escapes their attention. Hershberger and Raith make official statements on certain occasions. Sometimes one of the occasions was Johnny Weir.
“Johnny is outspoken. And he is free to speak his mind. Primarily, we ask our athletes to be premier athletes.” (Ron Hershberger)
“Johnny's a flamboyant guy because he makes different analogies. There are certain analogies that could be more appropriate than others. At the right moment, we'll certainly address that.” (David Raith)
USFSA’s Governing Council will convene on May 2-7. This year, it will be held in Florida. This will be the same routine to include meetings, workshops, and discussions. As usual, the session will be opened with a passionate and stirring speech by a young and talented figure skater*. I doubt it will be Johnny Weir. Why not? Ah, so many reasons come to mind.
* According to the latest reports, Kimmie Meissner, 2006 World Figure Skating Champion, opened the Annual Meeting of the Governing Council.
Translation into English and editing by Lola and R.
The Russian article by Shura, posted: 4.30.2006
The information and facts used in the article were taken from:
Humphrey Bogart in Black Legion, Warner Bros., 1937, MPTV.net, via imdb.com
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