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updated: 1/6/2014 9:54 AM

Area figure skater has new role at 2014 Olympics

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  • Former Olympic figure skater David Santee talks with Sarah Johnson of Park Ridge during his skating camp at the Oakton Ice Arena in Park Ridge.

       Former Olympic figure skater David Santee talks with Sarah Johnson of Park Ridge during his skating camp at the Oakton Ice Arena in Park Ridge.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Former Olympic figure skater David Santee talks with Maggie Carey, left, of Park Ridge at his skating camp at the Oakton Ice Arena.

       Former Olympic figure skater David Santee talks with Maggie Carey, left, of Park Ridge at his skating camp at the Oakton Ice Arena.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Former Olympic figure skater David Santee signals for the next skater to come onto the ice.

       Former Olympic figure skater David Santee signals for the next skater to come onto the ice.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

 

Two-time Olympian David Santee returns to the Winter Games next month in Sochi, but not as a performer, or even a coach.

This time Santee will take his seat on the judges' technical panel for figure skating events, holding a little known but vital role for the group: as a data entry and video replay operator.

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"I'm so excited," Santee said last week at the Oakton Ice Arena in Park Ridge, where he coaches private students and serves as its skating director. "I'll be in the middle of all the action."

His main role, as video replay operator for the international panel of judges, plays out pretty much as it sounds.

Working beside technical specialists who call out each of the elements during a skater's routine, Santee tags each one during the video and moves it to a box where judges can replay it if needed.

"It's not just for the judges," Santee says. "The replays are used for the television audience, so millions of people around the world are watching them. And it's all done in real time, as it's happening on the ice."

If that sounds pressure-packed, it is, Santee says, but he's been building up to this moment for years.

As a figure skater, he competed in the 1976 and 1980 Winter Olympics, and qualified seven straight years for the world championships, finishing second in 1981 behind Scott Hamilton.

In the 30 years since then, Santee has quietly built a strong reputation as a figure skating coach, specializing in power and jumps. His most recent protégée, Des Plaines native Agnes Zawadzki, will be looking to earn a spot on the Olympic team this week at the U.S. Championships in Boston, but Santee no longer works with her.

Six years ago, Santee earned his certification as a technical specialist, first for the U.S. Figure Skating Association and later for the International Skating Union.

Currently, he is one of only six U.S. technical specialists certified for international events and the only American certified as a data entry and video replay operator. The ability to fulfill both roles, has kept him pretty busy.

This week, Santee heads to Boston himself, this time working as a technical specialist on the judges' panel. He'll be keeping his eyes on the ice -- instead of a computer monitor -- identifying all of the elements in skaters' routines.

For instance, Santee will be differentiating between a double and triple axel for the judges, and substantiating that a skater in fact landed a quadruple jump.

Each element or jump has a specific value, consequently, each skater knows going on the ice of the potential score he can earn if he lands all the jumps and performs the routines cleanly.

Judges can upgrade certain elements by assigning higher quality marks. But that's up to them, Santee says. He just calls them as he sees them.

"It's all part of the new scoring system, that has given more credibility and responsibility to the skater," Santee says, "and is supposed to result in less gray areas."

He leaves for Sochi on Feb. 3 and will spend most of the month there, working the computer and video replay systems for every figure skating event at the Olympics.

"This will be my fifth Olympics, and I've pretty much done everything else," Santee says. Besides being there as an athlete, in 1988 he was a broadcaster and in 1996, a torch runner.

"If you love seeing top quality figure skating," he adds, "then this is where it's at. Pretty exciting."

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