Dick Button Talks Sochi Security, Today’s ‘Pip Squeak’ Jumps and Nonsensical Scoring

Lunch At Michaels
Diane Clehane and Dick Button

With all of the Northeast in the deep freeze and the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics just hours away, it seemed more than fitting that this week’s “Lunch” date was with Dick Button. (Since the umpteenth snowstorm of the season kept us away from Michael’s yesterday, we decided to meet today for a special Thursday edition of this column.) The two-time Olympic gold medalist and legendary broadcaster has written a new book, Push Dick’s Button, which he adamantly says, “is not a biography or a memoir or about the history of skating” but rather “a conversation” because, he explained, “I’ve got plenty to say about a lot of things.” I’ll say. Dick told me the self-published tome’s title comes from the name of the popular segments he did on various networks while covering skating competitions in 2006 and 2007, inviting viewers to send in questions that he answered on air. “NBC once told me that all that material used on-air was their property. I was told you can’t copyright a title so if they sue me, it’s more publicity for the book!”

We were joined by public relations maven extraordinaire Judy Twersky and Pat Eisemann, director of publicity at Henry Holt and Company, who are both good pals of Dick’s. It was Pat who signed Dick to write what was supposed to be a memoir back in the late nineties when she acquired the manuscript while at Scribner. Since then, she told me, she’s helped him shape his story and advise him on self publication. Why the long delay? Dick told me a serious brain injury (from which he’s fully recovered) which resulted from a bad fall while skating (just for fun) made him shelve the project because, as he said with characteristic candor, “I just couldn’t hack it at the time. Writing a book is hard work.”

Not that Dick has ever rested on his laurels. After an extraordinary and much lauded tenure as one of America’s best figure skaters, Dick began his decades-long career in broadcasting in 1960 as a commentator for CBS covering the Winter Olympics. He moved to ABC in 1962 and in short order became figure skating’s most colorful analyst best known for his sometimes-irascible and often-irrepressible appraisal of skaters’ performances. His last Olympics as an on-air commentator was in 2010 at the Winter Games in Vancouver. “I’ve said I’m glad I’m not going to Russia, but I lied,” Dick told me between bites of roast chicken. “I’d love to be there.”

As we sat down to lunch he was searching his iPhone for word from friends in Switzerland on today’s results of the first-ever team figure skating competition. Ten teams, including those from the United States, Canada and Russia, comprised of  skaters in women’s, men’s, pairs and ice dancing, will do their best to add to their countries’ totals.  The top five will then go on to the finals. “My friends in Switzerland are watching it live,” he explained.

When I asked him if he thought the athletes were worried about the security concerns surrounding Sochi, he quickly dismissed the idea. “Forget it. I don’t think they could care less. I’m told there is a casualness about [the security]. If these terrorists wanted to do something, they’ve achieved as much as they would otherwise because there is so much talk about it,” he said before quickly adding, “It’s not the same as Munich, which was a terrible disaster.”

This go round, Dick will be live-tweeting the men’s and ladies’ events — but don’t expect bouquets for most skaters. “I don’t like what I’m seeing,” he told me referring to the performances during the competitions leading up to the Olympics. “I don’t watch [skating] very much now because there’s so much duplication. All these cookie-cutter programs don’t interest me.” With that, he reeled off what jumps and choreography viewers will likely see when watching skaters hoping to medal in their events, down to how many times to expect them to raise their arms above their heads (20, if you’d like to keep track). “They’re like drunken windmills,” he explained. “The women do it more than the men and that’s because they get points for them.”

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