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Was the Ice Dancing Competition in the Olympics Rigged?

Former Ice Dancing Gold Medal Winner Christopher Dean. In the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo he and his dance partner, Jayne Torvill received nine perfect marks, and a gold medal for their flawless performance. Now Dean works as a choreographer. He'll talk with Barbara Bogaev about the art of ice dancing, and about this year's Olympics.

14:22

Other segments from the episode on February 19, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 19, 1998: Interview with Christopher Dean; Interview with Jake Burton Carpenter; Interview with John Berendt.

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: FEBRUARY 19, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 021901np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Ice Dancing Champ
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

We're looking at two Winter Olympic sports today -- a new one, snowboarding, and one of the most popular -- ice skating. As the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano wind down, there are widespread suspicions that several of the judges of the ice dancing competition conspired to rig the voting in favor of certain pairs. Some skaters and coaches allege that the Russian pair, Platov and Grischuk (ph), were assured their gold medal before the competition even began.

Pairs skater and choreographer Christopher Dean has been following this controversy. In the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, Dean and his skating partner Jayne Torvill danced to Ravel's "Bolero." With that performance, they became the first skating couple to score perfect sixes. They also won a gold medal.

When they returned to compete in the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, they took home the bronze.

FRESH AIR's Barbara Bogaev spoke with Christopher Dean about his sport and the current judging controversy.

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: In the coverage, the commentators seem to imply that judging has been suspect in this sport for a long time.

CHRISTOPHER DEAN, FORMER ICE DANCING GOLD MEDAL WINNER: It's coming to the forefront because I think because of the Canadian dancers, who are creating a fuss about -- I think quite rightly so -- you know, that you spend -- dedicate all your life to this event, and then it's in the hands of nine people that are, you know, if they're judging honestly from the heart, you can't criticize that. But if they're doing it as a political thing, then you have every reason to stand up and shout about it.

And I think maybe this may be the case in this instant. It's not something that's new. You know, it's gone on for a long time.

BOGAEV: Did you ever in your experience have cause to question the judging?

DEAN: Well, we feel that we did, most probably in the last Olympics, that we felt there was a political push against us. We were coming in after 10 years away from the amateur sport that it was then, that became eligible -- we became eligible again to go into it and we wanted to go in and go through that experience again, because we thought it was, you know, it was a test for it. It was something that we wanted to -- to see where we stood up against where the amateur skating was of the day.

And we certainly felt outsiders; that we were coming into something that necessarily that we -- we weren't wanted back, if you know what I mean. And yes, we felt put out a little bit.

BOGAEV: Some skaters have accused the judges of not understanding the rules of the sport, and of voting in blocs because they're at a loss to figure out how to accurately assess a couple's -- a skater's performance. What do they mean?

DEAN: I think they know the rules. Every judge knows the rules. But it's the interpretation of it. And then, when you talk about the rules, a lot of dance comes down to subjectivity -- of what a judge feels. And so, you're never going to be able to mark it like somebody that jumps higher, skates fastest, you know, completes these particular jumps. This is very subjective of your personal preference. You know, if you ask somebody who their favorite painter was, you get a real cross-section of likes and dislikes.

And that's kind of what the -- certainly the free dance section is about. It's about those personal likes and dislikes. And -- but then they have to find a majority, you know, the judges have to come together to decide who is the favorite one. And I think this is happening too much.

I think, you know, they're getting -- a strong judge can influence several judges; somebody that has credibility; that's done a lot of international events; that may have been a past skater -- you know, in the judges room, his opinion may count for an awful lot against judges that aren't necessarily as experienced. And so, they could follow that person's likes and dislikes.

But I think sometimes what I think the skaters think is that they dedicate their life to the pursuit of what they're trying to do, and the intricacies and the subtleties of what they do. And you know, they study dance -- they're very arts-aware, I think. They go to visit a lot of theater, dance, and they soak this up and then they try and present it.

And possibly in comparison to that, the judges don't do that. You know, it is an amateur sport and these judges have other nine-to-five jobs. I'm not saying this is the same for all judges. I think some judges are very professional and immerse themselves into it and are very credible. But I think there are some people that, you know, are not as aware of what's going on and what the skaters are trying to demonstrate or to show off.

BOGAEV: You know, when you watch skaters -- and I skate, but I -- I'm not that good, so I've never achieved this feeling -- but it looks as if you're really flying. Is that the sensation you have competing?

DEAN: When you're skating, it depends where you are with the particular routine. I mean, when you start a routine, everything seems to be frantic and it's a whirl in front of you and it's not coordinated. But when it becomes -- when it comes together, when you harmonize and everything gets in tune, it's almost like it's in slow motion -- that you're ahead of what you're doing and you're actually able to put your emotion to the forefront, and that the steps, the movement are almost automatic. But what you are trying to do is let the emotion come out of the movement.

So it really passes through different stages of where you are. But by the time you get to competition, yes -- it should be a feeling that you are flying; that you are on top of it. And that you could almost do anything with the steps and the movement. It almost -- what you try to do sometimes is to look -- make it look spontaneous -- that it's happening for the first time.

BOGAEV: Now when you were just starting out, you had a full-time job. You were a policeman.

DEAN: Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: What did your fellow cops think of your skating career?

DEAN: They thought I was a little strange to begin with, I think. But when we started getting a little bit of success and seeing our names in the papers and then hearing about us, that they became very involved in wanting to know what was happening, where we were going. And then they became very supportive of what we were doing.

And it really turned around from the beginning to when I eventually finished with the police force because I just couldn't keep the two going. We had to -- one had to give and I decided that I'd rather skate.

BOGAEV: Now, did they think in the beginning you couldn't handle the rough stuff? You couldn't handle a rough arrest or mean streets or anything?

DEAN: Oh, no -- no, no, no. I mean, there wasn't -- you -- there wasn't any preferential treatment or anything like that. I mean, I would get sent to jobs just like anybody else; not like: "oh, he's a skater. We can't send him." It's -- if the job comes up and your name's next on the to-do thing, then I get sent.

BOGAEV: How did you first start skating?

DEAN: When I was 10 years old, I lived in a little village town. And there was no ice rink there. And my mother, who had been a recreational skater, bought me a pair of ice skates, just to get out of this small village to go into the town.

And we were fortunate in Nottingham, where I come from, with one of the towns that had an ice rink. I think when I first started, there were maybe 11 rinks in the whole of the country. So, we were fortunate there was one like 10 miles away. If there hadn't, I don't know what I'd been doing.

BOGAEV: Did you take to it right away?

DEAN: After the first 200 falls in the first day, yeah.

LAUGHTER

Like anybody else, I did my fair share of falling over, but I was always athletic and I enjoyed the challenge of trying to stand upright.

BOGAEV: Now, why didn't you go the direction of the double-axle or the triple-jump or whatever they were doing when -- when you were young?

DEAN: I don't know. I think my parents had been recreational ball dancers. And they then encouraged me to sort of follow the dance side of it. And so I always did that. I mean, I never really did figures or free skating at all. I always had a partner.

BOGAEV: I'm sorry. I can't get this image of policeman-by-day, skater-by-night out of my mind. I have to ask you another question about it.

DEAN: Uh-huh.

BOGAEV: Did you ever go to mediate a domestic dispute or go to make an arrest and someone said: "hey, aren't you that -- that skater I saw in the paper?"

DEAN: Yes. The problem was I looked quite a baby-face, too, and sometimes it was a little bit difficult getting people to take me seriously. But you know, when I got the handcuffs out, they started to then realize that maybe -- "oh, he is a policeman -- he might be a skater as well, but he's a policeman right now."

BOGAEV: You and Jayne Torvill are best-known for your performance in the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, where you danced -- danced to Ravel's Bolero and earned nine perfect marks for the gold. That was the first time anyone had gotten nine perfect marks awarded in the sport at the Olympics.

When you performed it, were you acting out a story line to Bolero?

DEAN: We were, actually, yeah.

BOGAEV: Is that what made it so effective do you think?

DEAN: I think there was a lot built up around us as a couple, and it was sort of a tragic romance. It was almost a Romeo/Juliet sort of situation whereby the two people weren't, in our heads, going to be allowed to be together, so it really was -- it was a decision. And we just visualized things, but it was sort of climbing up the mountain, that the two would leap over the edge and be together in heaven.

And -- but what it was, it was the journey up there and the -- and the oneness of these two people and the determination to be together. And -- and that power of visualize it -- visualization, I mean, you wouldn't try to literally play that out, but that was where the emotion was coming from.

BOGAEV: Do you first dance the dance out on land, and then transfer it to the ice?

DEAN: It varies. A lot of the time, though, that we work with the movement of the ice because that's the medium that we're trying to discover new movement. And that it tends to take place mostly on the ice because we want it to be more organic -- that it comes out of the ice into your body the way the edges vie to move over the ice; that you can only get that by being on the ice. There may be some particular moves that you think, oh, this is a little bit dangerous, that you take off the ice to begin with.

BOGAEV: Figure skating is in such a boom right now. Do you have any regrets that you're not out there competing?

DEAN: No. I think we've -- we've done our -- our bit and we feel fulfilled by what we've done and I don't think it's -- there is anything more that we want to do. I think we -- you know, we've got to a certain pitch that we're comfortable.

And it's time -- you know, you pass things on to the next generation and -- and they move it forward. And you know, it's all -- it's all evolutionary and you know, the next group comes 'round and you pass out a bit.

And no -- there's no regrets. We -- we know where we're at and we're comfortable with that.

BOGAEV: Every time I turn on the TV to watch sports, it seems as if there's another skating world championship event on the air somewhere, and it all seems to be sponsored by different organization -- organizations. It doesn't seem to make any -- any sense to me. Is the skating industry not standardized? Is that a problem for the sport?

DEAN: No -- no. And it isn't -- and it's something that I think needs to be done. There isn't really a standard or a union in any kind of -- the ISU govern the amateur skaters, but the professional events -- and there are many out there -- and I think, you know, each network is trying to look for a different format and a different event. And yet still trying to keep it in the guise of a sport. And within that, you get so many different formats.

And I think what needs to be done now is to the -- the skaters themselves to take charge of it, because the minute you finish amateur skating, there isn't really an organization that you then go into. It's really a free-for-all and it's just whether you're invited to do certain competitions and events. And that's dependent on how successful you've been in the amateur competition.

So I think there's a lot to be done, but at the moment, with all the professional skaters that are out there, everybody's doing quite well, thank you. And that they're -- "why should we band together to be a stronger union" -- because they're -- they're doing OK.

But I think the bubble will burst. And I think at that point, that the -- the skaters will form together to -- to standardize and to be a sort of more of a collective and -- and get a standard event going so that the public are aware of what's happening and that they're in tune.

You know, when you sit down and watch the football match or the hockey, you know what you're watching. Whereas within the skating, there are so many different rules depending on the event. So, I think something will happen with that eventually.

BOGAEV: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today on FRESH AIR.

DEAN: Thank you very much.

GROSS: Christopher Dean won a 1994 gold medal for ice dancing with his partner Jayne Torvill. They're about to tour the U.S. with "Stars on ice." Dean spoke with FRESH AIR's Barbara Bogaev.

Coming up, one of the founders of snowboarding.

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Barbara Bogaev; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Christopher Dean
High: Former Ice Dancing Gold Medal Winner Christopher Dean. In the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo he and his dance partner, Jayne Torvill, received nine perfect marks, and a gold medal for their flawless performance. Now, Dean works as a choreographer. He'll talk with Barbara Bogaev about the art of ice dancing, and about this year's Olympics.
Spec: Sports; Ice Dancing; Couples; Sarajevo; Christopher Dean
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Ice Dancing Champ
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: FEBRUARY 19, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 021902np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Snowboard Pioneer
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:15

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Snowboarding made its debut as an Olympic sport in Nagano. It's a hybrid of surfing, skiing, and skateboarding that has caught on in the past 10 years.

My guest Jake Burton is one of the people who popularized the sport. He's been manufacturing snowboards for 20 years, and owns the most successful snowboard manufacturing company in the world.

The new Olympic sport has already had its share of controversy. Canadian gold medalist Ross Rebagliati (ph) had his medal revoked after traces of marijuana were found in his post-race urine sample. He appealed and got the medal back. The Austrian team expelled a member after he was accused of wrecking furniture and computer equipment following a late-night party at the team hotel.

Jake Burton just returned from Nagano. I asked him he if thinks these incidents tarnished the sports reputation.

JAKE BURTON, FOUNDER, BURTON SNOWBOARDS: I think that, you know, Ross's situation was -- it was a difficult one because rules are rules and I think people in the sport when they made the commitment -- and I think including Ross -- accepted the fact that there was a policy against drugs. And I think that those of us that decided to go down this Olympic path and pursue it had to respect that.

And I think as a sport and as an industry, we certainly -- there are a lot of kids doing our sport and we don't want to encourage drugs because -- and even marijuana 'cause it just has a demotivating factor, and we all know that. But I think to put a label on it as performance-enhancing wasn't appropriate, and I think that they made the right decision to give him his medal back.

And I also think that snowboarding was somewhat singled out in this regard. I think if they're going to have that policy and test for that drug, that they should test everybody so sports like snowboarding don't end up getting singled out unfairly.

GROSS: Describe the difference between the two main snowboarding events at the Olympics.

BURTON: Well, the two events that they had were giant slalom and half-pipe. And giant slalom is somewhat similar to the -- to the skiing giant slalom, where there are gates set down the hill and you have to go around the gates. And you have two runs down two different courses, and the fastest combined times wins. And there's a men's event and there's a woman's event.

It differs a little bit from the skiing event in that in skiing, the gates, which are what you go around, are more vertical. In snowboarding, they're sort of angled sideways, and you can really lean into the turn, which snowboarders tend to do. And it makes it a little bit faster. It's just a little bit different.

The other event is the half-pipe, and that's clearly unique to snowboarding and much closer to -- to skateboarding or surfing by nature. And the half-pipe is simply that -- it is a half a pipe -- you know, cut in half and laid into the snow. It's actually made -- just carved out of the snow, but that's the easiest way to imagine it.

And so you're going literally down this pipe and you've got walls on each side that run up to -- to vertical on your right and on your left. So you're going up the left-hand wall doing a trick, coming back into the pipe, shooting across the pipe back up into the right hand wall, doing a trick, coming back in -- you're getting air off of each side of it.

On some of the hits, they're called, or jumps, you know, you're either doing a spinning-type move or sometimes a flipping-type move or sometimes just a standard trick. And most of the tricks involve grabbing the board. And this is a judged event, which makes it, you know, obviously interesting, as we've seen with all the judged events at the Olympics.

GROSS: The weather was pretty bad during the snowboarding events. There was rain and I think snow and some terrible fog during the giant slalom. Now -- how -- I mean, how does that affect people's performances? Even the rain and snow, I can imagine that that would be bad for the balance of the board itself, but it would throw the people off balance when -- if their clothes got really wet. I mean, I'm sure you have your balance down to a science when you do this stuff, and you're twisting and turning in the air.

BURTON: Well, that was, you know, one of the problems that I think we had to deal with with the Olympics, and stems back to the fact that ultimately the sport was put under the direction of a skiing federation from day one when it was put into the Olympics, which struck those of us involved in the sport as somewhat awkward.

And the decisions that were made all along the way were -- were made essentially not by the people that had been involved, even on an association level. There was this -- there is a healthy snowboarding association that had been overseeing competition for years, but they weren't involved in the Olympic process.

And as a result, even having the events in certain weather conditions were more or less out of the hands of the athletes and the people that they're accustomed to working with. And consequently, I think some events were held in conditions that they probably shouldn't have been held in.

GROSS: I know one of your concerns is -- is this: you think snowboarding is a very individualistic kind of sport, and yet it's being treated now as a team sport. Where do you think that there is -- are certain kind of individualistic expressions that can't be expressed now because of the emphasis on -- on the team as opposed to the individual?

BURTON: Well, I think the simplest area is that of uniforms and coaching and this sort of team mentality that the ski federation tends to apply to their sports. And athletes being forced to wear a uniform -- not only at the Olympics, but at every event throughout the year, simply based on their country. And it's very difficult to simply look and tell the difference between two different American athletes, which might have completely different personalities and appeal to different fans, if you will.

And then it -- to take it a step further, it goes into coaching. And the skiing model is that, well, you have a coach and there's this team coach -- the U.S. team coach -- and you've got to get along with that coach. And if you don't, you know, you might not be on the team, or who knows what might happen to you. It's more or less out of your control.

GROSS: So you'd like to see personal style be a part of snowboarding in the way it is -- in the way that it is in figure skating and ice dancing?

BURTON: You know, in snowboarding, if you watch people ride, there's an -- and especially in the freestyle events -- there's a tremendous amount of style and individual style that goes into them. The idea of trying to make a team out of freestyle snowboarding is -- just runs against the nature of the sport.

Tricks alone -- riders spend a lot of time, much like a figure skater will, working on their individual tricks. And they don't really want to share them with anybody 'cause somebody else might see that trick and pick it up and boost it, and the next thing you know, they're doing it at the next event, and they might be doing it better than you.

And it's just a very individualistic sport and it's also very private, I think, the training for the sport.

GROSS: Jake Burton owns the world's largest snowboard manufacturing company. We'll talk more in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with Jake Burton. He's been designing snowboards for 20 years, and now runs the largest snowboard manufacturing company in the world, which is based in Vermont. He just returned home from Nagano, where snowboarding made its Olympic debut.

Let's talk about your role in popularizing snowboarding. What was your first encounter with -- with an early version of the snowboard?

BURTON: Well, when I was about 14 years old, this is back in the late '60s, I got a Christmas present, and it was something called the "snerfer" (ph), which was a product that retailed for about $12 or $13. And it was a sled-like version of a snowboard. You did stand up on it, but it didn't have any bindings or any edges or p-tex (ph) base. It was very crude and simplistic.

But really the minute I got on it, I felt that there was an opportunity for it to become a sport. And the people that made that, they sort of let it run its course. And by the time I graduated from college in the late '70s -- '77 -- nothing had happened. And I still felt that the opportunity existed, so I started the company.

GROSS: And what was your ambition? What did you think snowboarding could be? I don't mean in terms of its popularity, but in terms of what the sport could look like?

BURTON: Well I had no idea, to be honest, that snowboarding would ever even be done on ski areas. I'm often given credit for having this great vision, and it's very undeserving. I simply saw it as an activity that was fun and I'd done it on sort of sledding hills. It wasn't -- the snerfer wasn't something that you could ride on ski areas.

So I saw it getting beyond sledding hills, but being more of a back country thing -- an alternative to skiing and something that you didn't have to buy a lift ticket and you could just go do on local hills.

GROSS: Now why -- why did you prefer it to skiing? Or did you prefer it to skiing?

BURTON: Well, I think the minute you get on a snowboard, you understand why it is growing so rapidly, and often at the expense of skiing. The equipment that you're using is far more comfortable. You've got soft boots that you can run around in or drive in.

You don't have poles that are, you know, literally spears in your hand. You don't have these metal bindings holding you on. And you don't have two skis that can go in different directions and put your body in all sorts of awkward positions.

It's a very -- you're on a snowboard, you've got these comfortable boots. And it's a board sport, and you're literally surfing down hill. And that sensation, coupled with that comfort, is just -- makes for a great activity. It is just so much fun. And that is why it's grown so much. And that's why --- one reason I love doing it and I've devoted my life to it.

GROSS: You saw snowboarding initially as being an alternative to skiing and an alternative to sledding. But now, it's a kind of companion to skateboarding, with some of the twists and jumps and moves being quite similar to what kids do in concrete parks.

When did those jumps and twists and turns start entering into snowboarding?

BURTON: Well, snowboarding, first of all, does have its roots as a board sport, and all board sports trace back to surfing. And board sports, I think, as we, you know, enter the next millennium, are -- are definitely what's happening on a participation level, and simply 'cause they are so much fun, and the sensation is so pure.

Skateboarding had an influence very early on because skateboarders simply were able to pick up snowboarding more quickly than anybody else. And skateboarders were younger and it was interesting that I completely mis-read the market. I thought the market would be people like myself who were in their mid-20s or early 20s; had gotten out of school; had -- maybe had a snerfer.

And it turned out that that wasn't the market. The market was much younger kids that, just like myself when I got my first snerfer. And they were skateboarders or skaters. And all of a sudden, they started applying some of their thought to the sport, and a guy named Terry Kidwell (ph) was the first guy to develop a freestyle snowboard with a round tail that you could ride both forwards and backwards.

And from there, things really started to take off.

GROSS: Are -- are there certain stereotypes, some of which perhaps are true, about the difference between people who gravitate toward snowboarding and those who gravitate toward skiing?

BURTON: Yeah, there is a difference, and that's youth.

LAUGHTER

And...

GROSS: Right. There you go.

BURTON: Yeah, it really is. I -- when I started Burton and snowboarding was in its infancy, if you'd go to a ski area, what they were doing to attract kids is they were building video arcades in the basement of the base lodge. And now, to take it 20 years ahead, ski areas are building half-pipes. They're building parks. They're building all sorts of amenities to attract snowboarders.

And what's happened is a whole segment or a whole demographic that was never on the mountain -- or had more or less abandoned the mountain -- was back on it. And once you get, you know, a bunch of teenagers on the hill, things are going to change. And I think ski area operators are -- can handle that and realize that what's going on, and they never took offense to it.

You know, when I was a kid, skiing growing up, I mean skiing had a lot of energy at the time. And when we were punks just like, you know, snowboarders are punks now, and we'd spit off the chairlift. But now if a snowboarder spits off a chairlift, well nobody should spit off a chairlift, but it's not the fault of the sport. And I think that people are getting over that and they're realizing what's going on.

GROSS: Why is it, do you think, that many teenagers now are more interested in snowboarding than skiing?

BURTON: What happened to skiing was I think skiing got caught up in this elitist direction, and it wasn't about how great your performance was or how much fun you were having, but it was how new your equipment was and how fancy the car was that you had your skis on top of. And snowboarding never got caught up in that. It was always very soulful and we kept track of what's gotten the sport to where it is.

And we haven't lost that. And I think that appeals to kids. And I think that, you know, kids do look for something different. And this is clearly something that was fresh for them, and consequently they gave it a shot. And once people try snowboarding, they tend to get hooked on it very quickly.

GROSS: Well what would you like to see changed the next time there's snowboarding in the Olympics?

BURTON: Well, I think that to get -- well, first of all, not to radically change the sport and turn it upside down, which essentially is what happened in these Olympics. The lifestyles of the riders were altered. All of a sudden, they were forced to compete on this fist which is the Ski Federation tour, to gather points to -- you know, to qualify their country's for the Olympics and earning quota spots.

And all of a sudden, we had an official mascot for the U.S. snowboarding team, which was a Muppet character called "Animal," which just -- the whole, everybody involved, and the riders in particular, I think took real offense to the -- I mean, we've talked about sort of stereotypes of snowboarders, and here -- you know, here they're only sort of encouraging that on their part, and we're trying to bust out of that mold.

I think keeping the sport as open and as free as it's been, and keeping the emphasis on individualism. I mean, that's clearly why snowboarding has grown, and in many situations grown at the expense of skiing. Obviously, in the Olympics, that's a very nationalistic event and it has to be handled that way. But what's going on right now is the Ski Federation is using the Olympics to leverage themselves into taking full control of the sport.

And what I think a lot of the political topic comes down to is in the long term, do we want to build this -- have this U.S. team and this huge bureaucracy overseeing it? Or, do we want to develop individual athletes in this country? And I think that what's important is the athletes, and that we develop them through a free enterprise system that they pursue their athletic careers by choice, and not through a system and sort of being overly coached.

I think that if we develop heroes and riders aspire -- younger riders aspire to get to that status, and they chase those heroes, that that's what's going to make the sport and the best athletes in the long run. And I think that what's going on with the Ski Federation and in the U.S. in particular, is the objective is to build a bureaucracy, and then take athletes, and then just channel them into the Olympics and win medals.

And I think that that's an antiquated approach to competition, and I don't think it's going to work. I think that this country's got a great heritage in free enterprise system and letting the cream rise to the top voluntarily. And I think that's how we should let it happen.

GROSS: Well Jake Burton, thank you very much for talking with us.

BURTON: OK, great.

GROSS: Jake Burton owns the largest snowboard manufacturing company in the world.

Coming up, the author of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," which just became the longest-running bestseller ever on the New York Times hardcover list.

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Jake Burton
High: The sport of snowboarding was admitted into the Olympics for the first time this year. Jake Burton is one of founders of the sport. He began making snowboards 20 years ago in his Vermont garage, experimenting with design and materials until he got the kind of board he envisioned. His company is Burton Snowboards.
Spec: Sports; Olympics; Snowboarding; Burton Snowboards
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Snowboard Pioneer
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: FEBRUARY 19, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 021903np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: John Berendt
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:40

TERRY GROSS, HOST: On Sunday, John Berendt broke a record. His book "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" became the longest-running bestseller ever on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list.

The books begins as a portrait of the eccentrics he met in Savannah, Georgia, and turns into a true-life murder mystery. Last year, Clint Eastwood made a film adaptation.

This is Midnight's 187th week on the Times bestseller list. The previous nonfiction recordholder at 186 weeks was Norman Vincent Peale's "Power of Positive Thinking," published in 1952. The fiction recordholder at 178 weeks was Lloyd Douglas' (ph) "The Robe," published in 1942.

I asked John Berendt if he's ever read those books.

JOHN BERENDT, AUTHOR, "MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL": I remember when I was a teenager in high school, I worked at the Economy Bookstore in Syracuse, New York. I'd go there after school. And that was in the '50s and that was when The Power of Positive Thinking was a bestseller. And I remember scanning it.

And you know, the funny thing is, it's -- it's because Norman Vincent Peale is -- or was -- a minister. It was very much tied to the Bible and Jesus Christ. But it was the same sort of book you see at the very top of the paperback bestseller list now, "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff...

GROSS: Right.

BERENDT: ... -- And It's All Small Stuff."

GROSS: So -- so what impression did that give you of what it meant to be a bestseller?

BERENDT: I thought bestsellers really were -- were -- appealed to people's lives directly or to their beliefs. I mean, The Robe, again, is a semi-religious story. So -- and that's what I thought of bestsellers then.

GROSS: Have you ever broken a record before?

BERENDT: No, I haven't.

LAUGHTER

I hadn't thought about it, either. No, I haven't.

GROSS: But did you do anything to celebrate?

BERENDT: I did not, but my friends are giving me a party in New York on May 3rd, so I'm looking forward to that.

GROSS: Now, what if you're off the bestseller list on May 3 -- how would you feel?

LAUGHTER

BERENDT: Oh, I don't think it would -- well, yeah, funny. It'll be -- I'm sure I'll get a lot of ribbing. March 3rd -- I'm sorry -- March 3.

GROSS: Oh, then you'll be fine. You're safe.

BERENDT: I should be all right because we're all right now until the 22nd of February, and it looks pretty good, and the book is number five, so.

But if I were to fall off, it would be -- I would be the butt of a lot of ribbing, I'm sure.

GROSS: Now, do you chart the -- where you are every week -- like: "uh, oh, this week I'm number five and not number four. It's falling."

BERENDT: Of course I do.

LAUGHTER

I'll tell you. It would be very hard to take this -- to be blase about being on the bestseller list, at least for your first book. I mean, it is actually my first book and it's of course, the first time I was on the list.

I'm hoping to do a second book and a third, and if those get on the list, I probably won't feel the same. But I didn't expect the book to be a bestseller to begin with. I was hoping to get critical approval and even possibly critical acclaim. But it never occurred to me that this book would be a bestseller.

In fact, friends would ask me as I was writing it: "are you writing a bestseller?" And I'd say: "are you kidding? You've read chapters. How could it be?"

GROSS: Now, when you signed the contract for this book, you weren't expecting it to be a bestseller. It was your first book. If you knew that it was going to sell as well as it did, would you have changed things in your contract?

BERENDT: Not at all.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

BERENDT: The contract is a traditional one. I think it's more or less boilerplate. There's nothing about that -- I'll tell you what I would have done. We wouldn't have sold the movie quite so quickly. We sold the movie the week before it became a bestseller. Now, if somebody had told us "wait, hold on a little bit," we might have waited a little longer.

It wouldn't have made some difference, but when the movie finally did come out, directed by Clint Eastwood, it made a huge difference in sales. And so what we might not have picked up when we sold the rights, we gained when the movie came out.

GROSS: Did many publishers turn down Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil when you were first sending it around?

BERENDT: No, but something worse happened.

GROSS: What?

BERENDT: I had an agent when I started in 1985. I took seven years to write it. This was a major New York agent. And when I was finished, I sent her the completed manuscript. We did not -- before then we did not look for a contract. I didn't get an advance. I did it all on my own. And the agent read it, and sent me -- sent it back to me and said it was fun to read, but it's too local. I can't handle it and I don't think a publisher would be interested in taking a chance on a book like this in this market.

It's an agent I have known for a long time. She's one of the best agents in New York; best known. And I wasn't devastated as I might have been if I'd been new to the business of publishing. I'd been in magazines for 25 years and knew the book was publishable. That's all I knew. I knew it was good, well-written, fun to read, compelling, rich -- all those things.

But I did not know it would be a commercial success. I thought it would be at least modestly successful. So, I -- I was angry. I knew it was a publishable book. So I simply took it to another agent, who didn't know anything about my previous history with this other agent. And I said I've got a book that's all finished.

And this agent read it and loved it, and showed it to four publishers, all of whom bid on it -- and Random House outbid the others. So no publisher turned it down, but an -- and this is the rare thing -- agents don't generally turn a book down.

GROSS: John, what did you like best and least about the film adaptation of your book?

LAUGHTER

Putting you on the spot a little bit.

BERENDT: What I liked best was that it sold a million copies of my book, I guess I can say that. Now that doesn't sound sincere. Oh, let's see. What I liked least, I guess, were the unnecessary changes. In the book, I'm a narrator who's a passive narrator.

I see things. I'm not part of the story. That -- and the people in Hollywood told me: "that works for the book. It won't work for the a movie. The people in the audience want to root for the narrator. And since the narrator will be the main character, we've got make him more active."

At first, they wanted me to be not a journalist, not an Esquire writer, but a lawyer who comes down from New York for some reason and then takes over the murder case of Jim Williams, which I thought was an absolutely awful idea. And they didn't use that. Clint Eastwood vetoed that after they actually did a script based on that.

What they did do was create love interest for the narrator, which was not well realized in the movie. It didn't work at all; was unnecessary. They -- they changed the story to go from four trials to one.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

BERENDT: And this was -- everybody in Hollywood thought that was just the way to go; perfect. And there wasn't any debate about it, either. And early on, I'd been asked to write the script and when I heard these particular things coming down, I decided it wasn't for me.

I don't think I'd have done it anyway because I know that translating a book as dense as mine into a movie would be an operation which changed the whole thing. And the book worked well and I had no assurances that a script that I'd wrote -- that I wrote for the movies would at all be successful. So, I stayed out of it. Those, I think, were the things.

What I liked best about it were some of the portrayals. I thought that Kevin Spacey as Jim Williams was excellent.

GROSS: Oh, he's always great.

LAUGHTER

BERENDT: Yes. He did a very good job. He even put -- you know, I described Jim Williams' eyes in the very first sentence of the book because they were remarkable. They were all -- they were all black. There was no colored iris. It was all black and whites.

GROSS: I think you describe his eyes as -- as -- they take everything in but they give nothing out -- something along those lines.

BERENDT: Yes, it's like the tinted windows of a sleek limousine. He could see -- you could -- he could see out, but you couldn't see in.

GROSS: Yeah.

BERENDT: And that was the kind of thing -- opaqueness to his eyes. And what Kevin Spacey did, was he went out and got contact lenses that made his eyes look black.

GROSS: Hmm.

BERENDT: The pupils -- looked like he had pupils and whites and nothing else.

GROSS: Right.

BERENDT: So that was good. And I like John Cusack. He was criticized I think unfairly, but the role was difficult. It wasn't structured in a way that would, you know, that was easy to do. And I thought he did a good job.

I liked Clint Eastwood personally very much. When I was -- I went down there for the first couple of days of shooting, and of course Savannah was on the moon because Clint Eastwood was there. And they were very sweet about it and you know, they were thrilled and excited. And they were -- huge crowds would form and they'd stand respectfully a few, you know, yards away, behind the police barricades.

What else did I like most? Certain scenic shots about the movie I liked a lot. I loved the portrayal of Sonny Side (ph) -- of a lawyer, by Jack Thompson, who's an Australian in fact. Did a beautiful job.

The Lady Chablis -- the black drag queen in my book -- played herself, I thought, very well. They -- they increased -- they've expanded her role, I thought, too much. But she handled it very well.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

BERENDT: In certain things, for me, really looked just right vis-a-vis that I know what these things should look like -- you know, the places, the, you know, the events. And so that's what I liked about the movie.

GROSS: My guest is John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

John Berendt is my guest, and his book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil just broke the record for the book longest on the bestseller list of the New York Times -- 187 weeks.

I want you to read from the very beginning of The Night in the Garden of Good and Evil -- this is from, like, the bottom of page one...

LAUGHTER

... into page two. And it's a -- it's a nice description of Jim Williams, the guy who either murdered his lover or killed him in self-defense. And this is just talking about his -- his furnishings and his money and how he uses it.

BERENDT: "Williams was smoking a King Edward cigarillo. 'What I enjoy most,' he said, 'is living like an aristocrat without the burden of having to be one. Blue-bloods are so inbred and weak. All those generations of importance and grandeur to live up to. No wonder they lack ambition. I don't envy them. It's only the trappings of aristocracy that I find worthwhile -- the fine furniture, the paintings, the silver -- the very things they have to sell when the money runs out, and it always does. And all they're left with is their lovely manners.'"

"He spoke in a drawl as soft as velvet. The walls of his house were hung with portraits of European and American aristocrats by Gainsborough, Hudson, Reynolds, Whistler. The provenance of his possessions traced back to dukes and duchesses, kings, queens, tsars, emperors, and dictators. 'Anyhow,' he said, 'royalty is better.'

"Williams tapped his cigar ash into a silver ashtray. A dark gray tiger cat climbed up and settled in his lap. He stroked it gently. 'I know I'm apt to give the wrong impression, living the way I do, but I'm not trying to fool anyone. Years ago, I was showing a group of visitors through the house and I noticed one man giving his wife the high sign. I saw him mouth the words 'old money.'"

The man was David Howard, the world's leading expert on armorial Chinese porcelain. I took him aside afterwards and said: 'Mr. Howard, I was born in Gordon, Georgia. That's a little town near Macon. The biggest thing in Gordon is the chalk mine. My father was a barber and my mother worked as a secretary for the mine. My money, what there is of it, it's about 11 years old.'"

"Well, the man was completely taken aback. 'You know what made me think you were from an old family?' he said, 'apart from the portraits and the antiques? Those chairs over there. The needlework on the covers is unraveling. New money would mend it right away. Old money would leave it just as it is.' 'I know that,' I told him. 'Some of my best customers are old money.'"

GROSS: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is in a way a book about a gallery of eccentrics. Do you usually gravitate to eccentrics?

BERENDT: Love eccentrics. And I don't know why. They're more dramatic as -- you know, and I'm not defensive about it at all. Somebody -- one critic, not meaning to criticize but just observing, meant -- said that I had cherrypicked my characters, which is a sweet way of putting it. I am drawn to eccentric people.

These are the creative people. These are the people who create their own lives. They're works of art, you know, the -- living works of art. And that's the way -- that's an important difference between Northerners and Southerners. In the North, we tend to shy away from somebody who's a little bit different. In the South, they love people who are different. They encourage people to be different and eccentric. They talk about them. They love to talk about them.

And so you've -- I have a feeling, and that's my theory -- why Southerners per square person, why there are more eccentrics in the South than anywhere else is that they love them. They talk about them, and people who are eccentric know they're appreciated, if only because they're giving people something to talk about, and that encourages them to be even more outrageous in their eccentricity.

GROSS: Does every eccentric now want you to immortalize them in a book?

LAUGHTER

BERENDT: I don't know about that, but I'll say that when I was in Savannah and people knew I was writing a book, people wanted desperately to be in the book and they would -- they would audition for me. They would sort of trot across my field of vision, behaving in odd ways. But what -- they had to come -- the problem for them was that I was actually living in Savannah. I wasn't just there for a weekend or for two weeks at a time to get information.

So if the act was really an act, it would subside eventually and the real person would emerge. And often enough, that person was good enough to make it into the book.

GROSS: 'Cause everybody knew you were there to write.

BERENDT: They knew I was there to write. And I -- I was the guy who was there in town writing a book about Savannah. And everyone thought that was the silliest idea they'd ever heard of. "Who would ever want to read a book about us?," they said. And I'd say: "well, everything has to happen somewhere. And in fact, do you think I should write about Eatonton, Georgia?," I said. And people would say: "well, that would be even stupider." And I'd say: "well, that's where 'The Color Purple' happened."

Everything has to happen somewhere. "Oh, well, I see your point," they'd say.

GROSS: Do you have a next book yet? Or are you still shopping for an idea?

BERENDT: Well, I've been shopping since this book came out. I have found a wonderful story in Venice, in Italy, that is not -- I don't think it's a book-length story, but it's a wonderful one I'm going to do. I've spent a lot of time researching it, several months over in Venice. But I have a feeling it's too short. It's not complex enough to be a book. And I'm not going to make it any longer than it should be. So, it'll be like a novella in length.

But I do want to write another book. There have been a lot of distractions since this one came out.

GROSS: Do you have a lot of publishers pitching you ideas for a next book that they think will be just perfect for you?

BERENDT: No, I don't.

GROSS: Really?

BERENDT: No.

GROSS: I'm shocked.

LAUGHTER

BERENDT: I don't. I don't know why -- I would -- in fact they don't. They probably feel that I'll stumble on something or something will find me, and they may not feel they can think of the right thing. I don't know. But I have not had a lot of people...

I do get letters and telephone calls from strangers, suggesting ideas. And I welcome them because you never know where the real idea is going to come from.

GROSS: "I just murdered my boyfriend. Come do a book about it."

LAUGHTER

BERENDT: Well, let me know more about it.

GROSS: No, I mean, I'm not saying I did. I mean...

BERENDT: I know. That's what I would say. Tell me more.

GROSS: Right. Right. Well, congratulations on your success and on breaking the record on the New York Times bestseller list. And thank you for talking with us.

BERENDT: Thank you.

GROSS: John Berendt is the author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which this week became the longest-running bestseller ever on the New York Times hardcover list.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: John Berendt
High: John Berendt is the author of the book "Midnight in the Garden of Good And Evil." Last Sunday, it broke the long-standing record for a hardcover work of fiction or nonfiction being on the New York Times bestseller list. It's been on the list for 187 weeks.
Spec: Books; Authors; Cities; Savannah, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil; Movie Industry; Records
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: John Berendt
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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