Review - Edge of Glory: The Inside Story of the Quest for Figure Skating's Olympic Gold Medals
by Christine Brennan

by Lorrie Kim
Originally posted to on March 29, 1998

I got Christine Brennan's new book at Barnes and Noble today. It covers the past year and deals with Kwan, Lipinski, Weiss, Eldredge, Davis, the St. Petersburg skaters, Kulik, and a few others. Ice dance is absent, and for pairs, only B&S and K&D are covered.

The book is extremely damaging to Team Tara, largely because what Brennan says is 100% believable. Pat Lipinski's stage mom behavior, she says, has been extremely destructive to Tara; it lost Tara her adored coach, Jeff DiGregorio, for example. Mike Burg, surprise, is portrayed as a boor. Brennan steers extremely clear of discussing Callaghan, except to say that his priority is Eldredge. She doesn't blame Lipinski, but seems to have concluded that there are unwise adults on Team Tara.

But. Brennan both documents and participates in a Michelle Kwan lovefest that unmistakably leaves Lipinski out in the cold. Make no mistake, despite this book's general range, it is foremost a construction of Michelle Kwan as the skater of the era. While I adore Kwan and Carroll completely, I found it a bit much. The book is laced with testimonials to Kwan's lovability and her "perfect package." Those who wish Lipinski would get a fair shake may experience some queasiness.

Brennan makes up for her famous dismissal of Rudy Galindo in her 1995 book. She's obviously thrilled for him. She discusses him in a chapter called "The Athlete and the Artist," which basically posits Galindo as the solution to the problem of Stojko. Stojko fans will further not appreciate her ridicule of Stojko's "artistry" and speech.

Which brings me to my biggest annoyance with this book.

Throughout, Brennan presents "the media" -- skating reporters such as Phil Hersh and Jere Longman -- as a sort of Greek chorus, swaying in unison while commenting on the action. Which might have been interesting, except for the pervasive sense that the whole lot of them are overcome with their own wit and importance. It was painfully tedious to read umpteen times that they call Bereznaia "Skate in the Head," or that Yagudin was called "Ya-bad-in" after a poor performance. Does anyone care?

The book takes flight and soars, though, when Brennan covers the St. Petersburg skaters. The book's photo section is unremarkable, save for a shot of Carol Heiss Jenkins with eight-year-old Tonia Kwiatkowski, and one picture worth the price of the book: Moskvina and Mishin atop the podium of 1969 Russian Nationals, over the Protopopovs and Rodnina and Ulanov. In every way, Moskvina and Mishin prove themselves equal to the entire U.S. put together, and Brennan captures their wizardry. It's fascinating reading, especially the heartbreak coverage of Urmanov. Brennan seems so taken with these people that she rather neglects Kulik, although she does give him the sexy moniker of "the baby-faced assassin." But who can blame her? I could listen to Moskvina and Mishin for days.

Like Beverley Smith, Brennan's handling of Asian Americans in the sport hurts to read. The index actually has an entry for "Asian women, as figure skaters." I suppose "Black men, as basketball players" is next. Yes, so mysterious, isn't it? I suggest for all mystified folk that they research life in the Asian diaspora in the same way that Brennan strove to understand life in St. Petersburg. Therein lies your answer, folks. Don't waste your time fretting over Asian genetic makeup or ancient secrets of the race.

The biggest question: how does this book compare to Inside Edge? Well, there's no breathy chapter about "the big secret" of gays and AIDS, and she doesn't talk about the inherent ludicrousness of judging and the whole sport in general. She does still perpetuate some myths, such as the one about how "saving marks" is unfair for skaters who go early. There's less gossip.

She proves that she's no longer just counting jumps, but she says nearly nothing about what else matters; as the anointed "expert" on figure skating in U.S. popular culture, I wish she had, and I feel she has some measure of responsibility to do so. There is one tantalizing crumb -- Lori Nichol and Frank Carroll placed Kwan's sensational change-edge spiral late in the short program, rather than an early spiral like other years, because they feared the spiral stretched her muscles too long and she didn't have time to recover for the explosive triple lutz. That sort of information treats skating more as sport and less as spectacle.

It was odd to read a hardcover about events that happened only weeks ago. I have to admire Brennan for that achievement. But perhaps because covered much of the same information, it won't be a compelling read for many people here. Edge of Glory is more valuable as a historical document than a source of current exclusive news, during this thoroughly documented Olympic season. Buy it if you love Kwan, Weiss or the St. Petersburg folk, if you want to see what got Mike Burg so mad, or if you know, in a few years, you'll want to see this year's players come to vivid life again.

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