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Liz Manley back in the spotlight in 2010

Calgary's Olympic darling also mentoring Rochette

Silver medalist Elizabeth Manley of the Canada (left), gold medalist Katarina Witt of East Germany (center) and bronze medalist Debi Thomas of the U.S. (right) at the 1988 World Figure Skating Championships.
Silver medalist Elizabeth Manley of the Canada (left), gold medalist Katarina Witt of East Germany (center) and bronze medalist Debi Thomas of the U.S. (right) at the 1988 World Figure Skating Championships. (Getty Images)

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By Laurie Nealin, special to icenetwork.com
(01/29/2009) - Canadians who fell in love with Elizabeth Manley in 1988 will get to know her all over again in 2010.

Manley, who won silver 21 years ago at the Calgary Olympics with what she calls "the skate of her life," will make her debut as a television broadcaster at the Vancouver Games. Hired by CTV to provide commentary for the women's and ice dance events, the ever-bubbly, ever-talkative Manley couldn't be more excited about the prospect.

At the previous two Winter Games in Turin and Salt Lake City, Manley provided commentary for all four disciplines for NBC's Westwood One radio. She worked with Christopher Bowman in 2002 but was on her own in 2006.

"I still think I was hired for radio because I don't know how to shut up. I'm a good talker," she said, laughing uproariously.

"I've been wanting to get into TV for 20 years, but it's very hard to break that barrier, for them to change [on-air] people. CTV has brought on pretty much a whole new crew -- myself, [six-time Canadian champion] Jennifer Robinson, and [2002 Olympic champions Jamie] Salé and [David] Pelletier," said Manley, 43, a coach in her hometown of Ottawa.

"I went in for an audition. I did a one-on-one [interview] with a professional commentator and commentated an event. They wanted to see how I was on camera. I said to them afterwards that it was hard because I was not in the actual atmosphere. Your energy is so much different when you're live and in-person at an event. They said they take that into consideration," Manley recalled.

"They said I was everything they knew I would be -- upbeat, alive, someone who has been through the experience. That's what's great. I can talk about what it's like to be out there at a home-country Olympics. I think that's what they were really looking forward to having me bring to the table.

"I don't know who else they auditioned, but I got the call in October," added Manley, who finished second to East German ice queen Katarina Witt and ahead of American Debi Thomas in the Olympic arena.

Although Manley has experience doing television specials and countless on-camera interviews, she will rehearse for her new assignment this summer with CTV production people. Next month, she will be in Los Angeles for the world championships to get to know the global competitors both on and off the ice. Manley figures she'll be studying most of this year to prepare for her Olympic job, particularly to get up to speed on ice dancing.

Television commentator is not the only role the high-energy woman has taken on in conjunction with the 2010 Games.

Manley is also the spokesperson for a promotion launched by long-time Olympic sponsor Petro-Canada at their national-wide chain of gas stations. Like in 1988, glassware imprinted with the Olympic logo is being sold at the outlets with about half of the proceeds going towards the training costs of Canada's Olympians and Paralympians.

"With the economy today, the athletes are struggling. They need financial help. We're one year away from the Olympics, and any kind of help is tremendous for the athletes," Manley said.

"Back in '88, as skaters, we got help from Petro-Canada, so I jumped on board because this is a great cause."

Manley noted that Petro-Canada also provides scholarships to emerging athletes. Canadian champion Patrick Chan benefited from that program in the past, she said.

In conjunction with Skate Canada, Manley has also assumed a mentoring role for five-time national champion Joannie Rochette, whose goal is to land on the podium in Vancouver. That is something no other Canadian woman has been able to accomplish since Manley did it in 1988.

"Joannie has been able to feed off me a little bit, off what I have experienced. I've tried to open my arms to her to try to help her achieve what I was able to achieve. We've had a really good connection. I think that's what we've lacked in women's skating in Canada is the connection with a female who has had the experience," Manley suggested.

"Coming into Vancouver is very similar to how I was feeling in Calgary. Prepping for an Olympics in your home country will be totally different for Joannie than being in Turin. She's going to have media, she's going to have home fans, she's going to have the country. It's her play ground everybody is coming to compete on.

"There's a lot of things to learn, and that's what I've been talking with Joannie a lot about. She's going to have to take this competition in a way that she's going to have to be selfish. She's going to be pulled in every direction, and sometimes you lose focus on the job that is to be done. If she stays on her game plan, she will succeed and will be in even more demand."

Just like in 1988, when Manley donned that white Stetson and became the toast of the town.