When the International Skating Union (ISU) first decided to combine its television and online broadcasts, the problem of finding a commentator with an in-depth knowledge of the sport, who could call competitions in a fair and reasonable manner without any bias, proved to be a challenge.
None of the people initially hired by the ISU met with positive reviews by the skating fraternity, but in March 2021, when Mark Hanretty made his debut as the commentator for the World Championships in Stockholm, he became an instant hit with fans.
Born in the small town of Erskine, Scotland, Hanretty began skating in 1995 as a 10-year-old after watching Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean compete at the 1994 Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway.
“I pestered my parents endlessly to enroll me in figure skating classes,” he recalled. “Before I had even stepped on the ice, I knew that I was going to become an ice skater. That said, I remember being deeply disappointed I wasn’t Olympic standard after the first public session I skated on.”
In 2004 he switched to ice dance and the following year teamed up with Christina Chitwood, an American skater from South Dakota. The duo placed seventh in their debut at the 2007 British Championships. Following a bronze medal finish at nationals in 2008, Hanretty and Chitwood debuted on the international stage later that year, finishing 10th at Nebelhorn Trophy.
“Ice dance wasn’t done much in Scotland and certainly not in the area I lived, so I competed in singles from when I started skating until I was 19,” Hanretty explained.
“I remember being short listed for some junior Grand Prix assignments, but I struggled so much with tendonitis. Around the same time, I saw Evgeni Plushenko competing at Worlds with quad toe combinations. I had not even mastered a triple Axel, so I realized my chances of competing internationally were dependent on a change of discipline.”
His ice dance partnership ended in 2010 when Hanretty decided to retire. “As so many skaters know, the sport is incredibly expensive. It’s also highly political. Both these factors made me realize I was unlikely to ever make a World podium,” he said.
“And, although I am sad I didn’t compete longer on the World stage, I am glad I was able to enjoy so many other fabulous aspects of the sport without feeling too bitter about my own competitive days.”
Having worked as a coach during his amateur career to help cover his own training costs, he then turned to coaching and choreography full time and accepted a job at a rink in Sheffield, England.
In 2012 he won the Young Artist Showcase, a competition founded in 2010 by Audrey Weiseger, the former coach of Michael Weiss, that is open to aspiring figure skating choreographers worldwide. Aside from his own solo performance set to Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango,” Hanretty choreographed a second number to Seal’s “If I Could” that was performed by Madison Hubbell, Zachary Donohue and Ryan Bradley. (Link to video below)
His success at that competition secured him a future in the field of choreography, which is still his main focus today.
Hanretty has also been a longtime professional performer on Torvill and Dean’s hit show “Dancing on Ice,” having recently completed his ninth season. “The sense of camaraderie on the show is wonderful. So many of the other pros are now like family to me,” he said.
“The absurdity of trying to get someone who’s never skated before to be performance ready within a few weeks in front of millions of viewers is insane, but it really bonds and unites those going through the experience.
“Plus, Torvill and Dean were truly the reason I started in the sport, so it seems fitting to now be working with them,” he added with a laugh.
Hanretty made his debut as a television commentator as part of the Eurosport team at the 2016 World Championships. “The lead sports commentator for Eurosport worked with ‘Dancing on Ice’ and I told him that I’d been listening to their coverage for eons,” he recalled. “Indeed, I used to watch some recordings of World Championships from Eurosport on repeat endlessly till the cassettes wore out!”
That conversation led to the job as a “color commentator” at 2016 Worlds, where Hanretty’s role was to provide skating insights during the slow-motion playbacks. “I didn’t have to lead anything or know the ins and outs of the actual commentary process with regard to direction and production,” the 37-year-old said.
“Eurosport has various outlets and during that event the producer explained that the feed we were working on was going out to different places at different times, so I would have to enter a separate booth and do the entire thing on my own for one of the feeds.
“Having someone talking in your ear and knowing when to speak and when not to speak for a large audience with no prep was terrifying, but it was perhaps a baptism of fire.”
In 2021, Hanretty said he got a call “completely out of the blue” asking him to provide commentary for the 2021 World Championships. “I think there was a double booking or clash of availability for the regulars, and I was asked to help out.
“I never expected to get the feedback I received post commentary. The world of social media can be a very terrifying place and particularly through being on TV with ‘Dancing on Ice,’ I know how cut-throat some keyboard warriors can be. To have had such kind reviews about my commentary was humbling and so appreciated.”
Even though he has a background in the sport and continues to follow it, Hanretty said he “preps endlessly for hours” before an event. “I know the amount of sacrifice the skaters give to compete at this highest of levels, and I think it’s only fair and right that I respect and honor their graft by doing due diligence on my prep.”
During his career, Hanretty trained alongside some of the ice dancers who are still competing today and said it is the discipline that he knows the most about, which makes it the most comforting.Though many doors are open to him, he has his fingers crossed that he will be calling figure skating competitions this season. “I’m lucky to have lots of work opportunities coming up, but if schedules allow and I’m still wanted then I’d be delighted to commentate on the upcoming ISU events,” he said.
With all his work commitments, which often take him away from home for weeks on end, Hanretty knows he is blessed to have a family that supports his endeavors. He and his wife, Kathy, who he met at the figure skating rink where he once trained, married in 2011. The couple has two children, Lukasz, 9, and Liola, 5.
Hanretty said that as much as he and his wife love the sport they are “a little reluctant” for their children to take up skating. “It has consumed our lives so it would be nice to see them follow a different path. That said, if they want to follow a skating path then we would support it.”