"Lawrence of America" takes to local ice
At last night’s Park City Speedskating Club meeting there was a curious presence on the ice. Clad in a banana-yellow speedsuit, a red racing helmet and black-rimmed glasses a man kept circling the ice with a camera crew.
"Banana Man" was Lawrence Beldon-Smythe and the crew was filming a new series for the Travel Channel called "Lawrence of America." The show takes the English-born Beldon-Smythe all over the country to see American locales synonymous with different topics like winter sports, NASCAR and fashion.
If it sounds a bit funny, well that’s just the point. The show is trying to capture the British take on American culture, while at the same time, giving viewers a unique, hands-on experience at different locations. Executive producer Tim Schildberger of Wombat Productions said this is exactly what they hope will make the show a success.
"The difference is: Lawrence gets his hands dirty with stuff," he said.
During his Park City stop, Beldon-Smythe hung out with the U.S. Luge team, tried some gymnastics moves with U.S. Ski Team freestylist Shannon Bahrke, did a little curling, and finished the week learning the finer points of speedskating with Olympic medalist Derek Parra.
Parra started the evening on dryland showing Beldon-Smythe the signature speedskating crouch and how to maneuver on the ice.
Beldon-Smythe seemed a bit nervous in the warm-up, especially when he revealed that he had not been on skates since age eight. Luckily, when he got on the rink, things went relatively smoothly. He lost a bit of the crouch and his skates tipped a bit inward, but overall he seemed fairly comfortable, only falling once.
"Lawrence was fun today" Parra said. "He was out there having a blast. I was surprised at how well he did."
Parra was selected because they needed an Olympic gold medallist, and as one of the more personable athletes in all of winter sports, asking him to be a part of the show was a no-brainer.
"I tend to do a lot of things for the Federation [U.S. Speedskating]," Parra said. "I like to give back."
Although Parra is not sure if he can reach the star status of fellow skater Apolo Anton Ohno after his "Dancing with the Stars" stint, he said he feels comfortable in front of a camera and would like to do more television work.
"I think it’s great," he said, jokingly suggesting a "Speedskating with the Stars" show sometime in the future.
But on a more serious note, Parra was excited to bring attention and interest to his sport through the Travel Channel.
"It’s a good way to showcase the sport," Parra said.
Schildberger said that Park City was the perfect place for the bespeckled Brit to learn all about fun to be had in the cold.
"Because of the Olympics and the great facilities it was a perfect fit," Schildberger said.
The group’s overall experience has also been nearly perfect, Schildberger said.
"It’s been great," Schildberger said. "Everyone’s been tremendous."
"Lawrence of America" will air in 2008 on the Travel Channel.
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Buses, trains and gondolas doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but they make up the transit alternatives for the mountain transportation system the Central Wasatch Commission is trying to create, mostly in the Cottonwood canyons.