Entertainment Weekly

Subscribe

Stay Connected

Subscribe

Advertise With Us

Learn More

Skip to content
Emmys 2017
Every unforgettable moment, every gorgeous dress.Click here

Article

Why Olympic figure skating is hot TV

Why Olympic figure skating is hot TV — Despite scandal, NBC is enjoying high ratings in Salt Lake City

Posted on

Winter 2002
Olympics: Lionel Cironeau/AP/Wide World

Vince McMahon could not have orchestrated it better: Two tag teams battling for a championship crown become embroiled in a public tempest that includes charges of shady judging and favoritism…not to mention an unsportsmanlike sprinkling of trash talk. But this wasn’t The Rock strutting around a flashy ring, bellowing scripted insults at a hapless jabroni. This was the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City — and the biggest figure-skating brouhaha to rock the graceful sport since 1994, when Jeff Gillooly’s goons made the iron-pipe strike heard round the world.

Canadian figure-skating pair Jamie Salé, 24, and David Pelletier, 27, and their Russian nemeses, Elena Berezhnaya, 24, and Anton Sikharulidze, 25, have captivated viewers since their Feb. 11 face-off, the subsequent decision to give the gold medal to the Russians, and the Feb. 17 awarding of a second gold to the Canadians. (About 66 million viewers tuned in for at least part of the Feb. 11 broadcast, the highest Monday-night rating in nearly four years.) With this latest smackdown, the sport has practically become a more female-friendly version of the WWF.

Will the controversial rinksmanship heat up the ratings for future skating competitions? History suggests that viewers are drawn to scandal like a Zamboni to ice. The 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer at the height of the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding mess drew a Super Bowl-comparable 48.5 percent of all viewers, and this year’s Salé-Pelletier drama added further ratings fuel to the second-highest-rated Winter Olympics since 1980. ”Figure skating, from a television ratings standpoint, is the most popular [Olympic] sport, summer or winter,” says Kevin Sullivan, VP of communications at NBC Sports. ”And it’s the only Olympic sport — other than basketball — that will still deliver pretty strong ratings outside of the Olympics.”