The role of commentators in figure skating

Sylvia

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I thought this could be a worthy topic as a separate discussion thread in GSD?
Here's an interview I did with Ben Agosto at Four Continents:


The focus of this was on his work as a commentator, and the role of commentators in skating.
Excerpts:

Q: I have a question about commentary. I assume that you personally know most of the ice dancers. How do you commentate on their performances in a way that’s fair, but also respectful of them as people? Is there ever a concern that it will affect your personal relationship with them?

Agosto: Well, as time goes by, I know less and less of them closely. But it’s certainly something that is important. I think my general philosophy is to always be kind, regardless of who it is. Because what everybody is doing is really hard. I have so much respect for the time and effort that everybody puts into their training to be prepared, to go to these competitions. When it doesn’t go right, that’s already difficult for them.

So I think number 1 is to be kind. And then, to call out when something’s not what it should be, or as good as it should be. If I can stay with those two pillars in mind–to be critical and informative, but also kind–then I think it’s okay. That’s the guiding light. If my friends skate poorly, they know they skated poorly. They wouldn’t want me saying that it was an amazing performance, anyway.

Q: Skaters get a lot of feedback from judges and coaches and officials. Since they’re so used to getting all that feedback/criticism, I sometimes wonder if it makes it harder or easier to hear negative commentary in a more public forum, such as TV or print journalism. What’s your take on that?

Agosto: Well, as a judged sport, figure skating is a very judgmental sport. And, unfortunately, I think skaters get too much criticism, on things that are either not in their control, or necessarily relevant. There’s always so much discussion about the way people look, and their size. And those things have nothing to do with how good their skating is, or the elements or the content of their programs, or how innovative or interesting or difficult it is. So, I think, unfortunately, skaters are used to that.

It goes right back to being kind. The critique should be on the skating. Either the technique or quality or content. How did their execution match what the rules are requiring, and will they be able to earn the levels they’re going for? Not things like, Do I like their hair?
 

Sylvia

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Excerpts from an archived version of last summer's IFS magazine article on Mark Hanretty before he made his commentating debut on the JGP with Ted Barton this past fall:
That conversation led to the job as a “color commentator” at 2016 Worlds, where Hanretty’s role was to provide skating insights during the slow-motion playbacks. “I didn’t have to lead anything or know the ins and outs of the actual commentary process with regard to direction and production,” the 37-year-old said.
“Eurosport has various outlets and during that event the producer explained that the feed we were working on was going out to different places at different times, so I would have to enter a separate booth and do the entire thing on my own for one of the feeds.
“Having someone talking in your ear and knowing when to speak and when not to speak for a large audience with no prep was terrifying, but it was perhaps a baptism of fire.”
In 2021, Hanretty said he got a call “completely out of the blue” asking him to provide commentary for the 2021 World Championships. “I think there was a double booking or clash of availability for the regulars, and I was asked to help out.
“I never expected to get the feedback I received post commentary. The world of social media can be a very terrifying place and particularly through being on TV with ‘Dancing on Ice,’ I know how cut-throat some keyboard warriors can be. To have had such kind reviews about my commentary was humbling and so appreciated.”
Even though he has a background in the sport and continues to follow it, Hanretty said he “preps endlessly for hours” before an event. “I know the amount of sacrifice the skaters give to compete at this highest of levels, and I think it’s only fair and right that I respect and honor their graft by doing due diligence on my prep.”
 

caseyedwards

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Feel he is the anti Sandra bezic
Because what everybody is doing is really hard. I have so much respect for the time and effort that everybody puts into their training to be prepared, to go to these competitions. When it doesn’t go right, that’s already difficult for them.
 

A.H.Black

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This is simplistic, but mostly I want commentators to SHUT UP while the skating is taking place. Talking can come when the highlights are shown.

I don't need someone to tell me the skater fell - I can see that. A commentator should add to my enjoyment of the skating - not detract from it. Adding to my enjoyment can mean a host of things, from knowing about skating and the skater, to know how to use the (English for me) language, to having a respect and commitment to the sport.

If, when I go back to watch a skating performance years later, I still want to hear the commentator, they did their job. If I keep thinking, "Shut up", they didn't. It's a subjective and personal thing for each viewer.
 
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Orm Irian

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I was very impressed by Belinda Noonan's teamup with Mark for Worlds 2023. She brought a ton of expertise and absolutely no fear to her commentary and was able to speak to both novice and educated viewers, explain what the skaters were doing so that the scoring box made sense to casual watchers, and unpick points where the skaters made errors to explain why their score was what it was - sometimes with surgical accuracy, e.g., re the infamous Saltoe - without ever being unkind to or dismissive of the skaters themselves, and Mark stepped up to meet her more and more as the event went on. They absolutely enhanced the event.

I do not care that they spoke during the program. That's a live TV commentator's job - to explicate the details for the viewer - as much in figure skating as it is in footy. A commentary-free version is for when I already know what's happened.
 

Hedwig

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I agree. Belinda talked a bit too much during the program but mostly this was a good pairing that I enjoyed!
 

4rkidz

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I think PJ Kwong is one of the best commentators. It also helps she speaks so many languages so pronounces names correctly. I personally like a little commentary during the performance but not irrelevant constant chatter. I do enjoy Marks commentary and eventually Belinda when she stopped with her “paint by numbers” commentary and added more insight. I also think viewers online are different to tv viewers, so need less explanations and more insights? I can understand tv commentators doing a more “paint by numbers” approach as more likely a casual viewer. I enjoy Teds commentary but can also find him annoying with his inconsistent pronunciation and errors.
 

Kateri

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It seems to be that for important broadcasts, commentators are required to speak during the skate, presumably to stamp that broadcaster's copyright on the recording. IIRC, Ted mentioned having to adjust to talking during the skate, for some competitions, when he didn't do that on the JGP.
 

Icetalavista

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I always smile when I read an Agosto critique of a skater. He is like a case study of good criticism: give a compliment, then give a specific critique that skaters can actually fix (example shallow edges in a section of the program), then give another compliment
 

On My Own

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I liked Belinda the most of the ISU commentators. I enjoyed her more with Olly at the Olympics. At worlds, she was a bit more talkative, possibly because she was asked to be.

I didn't like the others. I think I might find Chris Howarth least offensive simply because he's not commenting on technical bs most of the time, and I can ignore his platitudes. I can't take Mark or Ted, although I guess Mark is lesser evil of the two to me.

I don't really need to hear who is or isn't a legend, and I'd like commentary specifically on what was put out there on the ice by the skater who actually skated and what was done well and what was not done well. Or a no commentary stream. In general, I tire of skating commentary that sounds more like a ridiculous story someone wrote, rather than treating it like an actual sport.
 
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DreamSkates

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This is simplistic, but mostly I want commentators to SHUT UP while the skating is taking place. Talking can come when the highlights are shown.

I don't need someone to tell me the skater fell - I can see that. A commentator should add to my enjoyment of the skating - not detract from it. Adding to my enjoyment can mean a host of things, from knowing about skating and the skater, to know how to use the (English for me) language, to having a respect and commitment to the sport.

If, when I go back to watch a skating performance years later, I still want to hear the commentator, they did their job. If I keep thinking, "Shut up", they didn't. It's a subjective and personal thing for each viewer.
Yep! My sentiments, exactly,
 

SkateFanBerlin

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Belinda filled the Dick Button place that`s been empty. When something is not good I want to hear about it and why. Ted is fine with juniors as it´s a very scarry thing for kids that age to be before the public.

I liked Johnny Wier; he did know something about the sport and was able to analyze. His sidekick, not so much.
 

On My Own

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Belinda filled the Dick Button place that`s been empty. When something is not good I want to hear about it and why. Ted is fine with juniors as it´s a very scarry thing for kids that age to be before the public.

I liked Johnny Wier; he did know something about the sport and was able to analyze. His sidekick, not so much.
Now that you say it, I might be fine with Belinda/Johnny? Haha.
 

A.H.Black

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It seems to be that for important broadcasts, commentators are required to speak during the skate, presumably to stamp that broadcaster's copyright on the recording. IIRC, Ted mentioned having to adjust to talking during the skate, for some competitions, when he didn't do that on the JGP.
For me, this is where the use of the language comes in. The best commentators know how to be brief and use a variety of adjectives that add to my enjoyment. They also know the programs well enough to shut up during highlight moments and, perhaps, use one word comments at that time.

It's always so frustrating for me to listen to 4 sentences when one phrase would do.
 

Marco

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Belinda is wonderful. She commentated skating at the 1998 Olympics for Aussie TV and that's how I got into watching figure skating. Her comments made sense to me then as someone clueless to the sport and then watching the tape back some time later she did have some good insights too that I was able to catch after I understood the sport more.

It is important for a commentator to be able to do both.
 

On My Own

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Belinda would murder him. At least any savage comments she makes are grounded in the technique of the sport. Weir is just petty and bitchy.
I think he's petty and bitchy with Tara. I remember for his early commentary, he used to be much more specific, while Tara was "lolololol <insipid comment><talk over the music><won't shut up about "mentality">". Then he became like that, either through osmosis, or because the network wanted him to be. Belinda should be able to keep him line.

But I'll take a Belinda solo run, especially if she tones it down just a little for her next try.
 

tony

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Why does anyone opt to watch NBC coverage though if they don't want to hear those two? If you're in the US, you have Peacock as a better alternative. If you're out of the US, I mean I guess you have to resort to videos of Tara & Johnny commentary for US Nationals since I doubt Russia is in a hurry to stream the event these days.

But otherwise and for all other events, there are options... easily attainable..

Network TV numbers for figure skating are abysmal in the States anyways, and they will probably get worse and worse aside from the Olympics. Let us pray they don't move commentators over to Peacock as the new home for all things skating, a la Ice Network. Bring Tonia Kwiatkowski back in that case.
 

skateboy

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Why does anyone opt to watch NBC coverage though if they don't want to hear those two? If you're in the US, you have Peacock as a better alternative. If you're out of the US, I mean I guess you have to resort to videos of Tara & Johnny commentary for US Nationals since I doubt Russia is in a hurry to stream the event these days.

But otherwise and for all other events, there are options... easily attainable..

Network TV numbers for figure skating are abysmal in the States anyways, and they will probably get worse and worse aside from the Olympics. Let us pray they don't move commentators over to Peacock as the new home for all things skating, a la Ice Network. Bring Tonia Kwiatkowski back in that case.
I like Johnny and Tara better than Scott and Sandra. Sometimes better than Uncle Dick.
 

Frau Muller

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Wasn’t Belinda the Synchronized Swimming commentator at the Summer Olympics? If so, she’s good/pleasant.
 

DreamSkates

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For me, this is where the use of the language comes in. The best commentators know how to be brief and use a variety of adjectives that add to my enjoyment. They also know the programs well enough to shut up during highlight moments and, perhaps, use one word comments at that time.

It's always so frustrating for me to listen to 4 sentences when one phrase would do.
I like Johnny and Tara better than Scott and Sandra. Sometimes better than Uncle Dick.
Johnny talks too much during a performance.
 

Aimless

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Tanith White is the best commentator I’ve ever heard. So good at a rapid summary of a competitor’s recent results, precise pronunciation, explication of esoteric fine points of performance and scoring. Gracious and good humored with her fellow commentators. Brainy, humane, communicative, and awfully pretty too. I miss her but wish her well in new pursuits.
 

MsZem

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Mark Hanretty is awesome. I liked Paloma del Rio despite not understanding Spanish. The third best option is no commentary ;)

Belinda did not work for me at Worlds. Too much stating what any viewer could see, and I've gotten used to a quieter experience over the years.

I haven't really had an exposure to the American commentators.
 

love skating

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Tanith White is the best commentator I’ve ever heard. So good at a rapid summary of a competitor’s recent results, precise pronunciation, explication of esoteric fine points of performance and scoring. Gracious and good humored with her fellow commentators. Brainy, humane, communicative, and awfully pretty too. I miss her but wish her well in new pursuits.
She was wonderful. She was great at other sports too - I know she did gymnastics commentary before and was very well-informed. And she was a sideline reporter for beach volleyball and diving. I'm guessing she doesn't do any sports commentary now?
 

Aussie Willy

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Having just watched the Synchro Worlds, I was incredibly impressed by Danielle Ostrower who was on the team along with Chris Howarth. She was excellent. I know a bit about Synchro but she certainly knew her technical stuff and was very educational for anyone who might not know much. She was able to breakdown the problems with the formations and levels, as well as highlighting the positives. Combined with Chris they were an excellent commentary team. I think other commentators could learn from her.
 

SkateFanBerlin

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Someon I think could be developed is Kaitlyn Osmond. She was on something with Ted (?). She gave clear comments about what she was seeing. At the same time she evidenced compassion. I thought "sure, it makes sence after the rough road she´s had to travel."
 

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