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Skate Canada puts a bug in audience's ear

Buttle, Manley and others to provide in-ear commentary

World champion Jeffrey Buttle will provide some of the commentary through the Skate Bug.
World champion Jeffrey Buttle will provide some of the commentary through the Skate Bug. (Getty Images)

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By Laurie Nealin, special to icenetwork.com
(10/30/2008) - Pleasure or pest.

That's what Skate Canada wants to find out this week when it launches an intriguing addition to the audience experience at the HomeSense Skate Canada International. They are calling it the Skate Bug.

For $20, spectators can purchase an electronic ear piece that will provide them with live, expert commentary about skaters' performances before and after they skate their programs.

"Our policy at this time is that we won't talk during the performance unless something radical happens," said Debbi Wilkes, former world and Olympic pairs medalist, broadcaster, and now marketing director at Skate Canada.

Wilkes, along with recently-retired world champion Jeff Buttle; 1988 Olympic silver medalist Liz Manley; Skate Canada CEO William Thompson, a former competitor and ISU judge; and former Canadian champion Mike Slipchuk, now Skate Canada's high performance director, will provide the commentary.

Using their own cell phones, audience members will also be able to text message questions to the commentators, who will answer as many as possible via the Skate Bug.

Manley, who is working the men's and women's short programs, has broadcasting experience with Westwood One radio, for whom she commentated during the 2002 Salt Lake City and 2006 Turin Olympics. She is hoping to work for Canadian television at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

In addition to offering a more complete entertainment experience for the audience, Wilkes said Skate Canada's goal is to inform and educate fans, primarily about the new judging system, which has proven very difficult for people to understand. It is a pilot project that will also be offered and evaluated at the Canadian championships in January to determine if fans consider the Skate Bug an enhancement or a distraction that they could live without.

The Skate Bug idea has been in development for the last two years. Reportedly, a similar idea was tried at the Four Continents in Colorado Springs a few years ago, but only the skating family was involved not the ticket-buying public.