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Behind the Scenes at the 1990 Goodwill Games

by Gerri Walbert

(I have attended over 90 skating competitions. The following is from my memoir of my very first job working for TV.)

Lights! Camera! Action! Sound exciting? The world of television and movies is often perceived as wonderfully glamorous – and it is for those on the receiving end of the camera. Behind the camera, television production is simply a matter of hard work. The opportunity to be on the research staff  of the 1990 Goodwill Games was offered to me just after the U.S.Nationals in Salt Lake City. My job was to write down the technical elements in the short and long programs , which requires one to watch all the practices as some competitors rarely run through their full programs at any given time. Nevertheless you can’t always get the order of elements. Talking directly to the competitors and coaches, it was surprising to learn that even they often couldn’t recite the correct order of the elements in their own programs.  One coach insisted that there were only 7 required elements in the Short Program, when at that time there were 8 required technical elements. Some skaters routinely interchanged one set of moves for another. The Soviets were notorious for doing several different variations of their programs. Aggravating!

Besides collecting technical elements of programs, I also provided biographical as well as incidental information on the skaters. My unofficial interpreter for the Soviets was Olga Moskvina, a delightful 20 year-old student from Leningrad who was visiting Seattle at the time. Olga was a product of glasnost. She expounded very western ideas and was an avid viewer of MTV. Olga’s fashionably cut red hair, shorts and tank top screamed L.A. and despite being the daughter of famed Soviet pairs coach Tamara Moskvina, she knew absolutely nothing about figure skating. Olga was anxious to please but after two days, Olga decided I was one of those “crazy Americans” who do nothing but work and I never saw her again.

Production people are only concerned with the ongoing aspects of putting on a show. They time the numbers and decide which skaters will be featured. Being prepared for anything is essential in television. At a production meeting we were handed a list of the skaters to be televised. A virtually unknown  (to me) Soviet skater Tatiana Rachkova, was not on the list, but the crew taped to air her performance. I had to hunt down her coach, driving 80 miles one way in search of information.

I was never on camera because the network would have had to pay me additional money, so I was rushed out of the broadcast booth to hide behind a screen. The commentators spoke into headsets with microphones but I hadn’t the slightest idea what was actually said. I hoped it was interesting.