Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sports I Love: Figure Skating

Seeing as this blog is, in theory, not solely about books and libraries (shocking, I know), I decided I would write a little bit from the perspective of my evil twin, the unabashed sports fan. I collect sports teams the way that other people collect . . . books. I will watch a sport obsessively until I figure out all of its rules. I will buy team-related merchandise that I absolutely have no use for. And, as the Winter Olympics are currently underway in Vancouver, I thought I would begin with a sport that I have loved for a very long time: figure skating.1 Thankfully, I am lucky enough to have married someone who shares my love of skating and also indulges my need to watch a variety of sports.

For as far back as I can remember, my mother and I had a standing date to watch Olympics coverage. It was a special time when the usual limits on TV watching were lifted (not that they were all that strict to begin with) and I had full license to be glued to the sporting action. For us, figure skating was the marquee event of the Winter Olympics (gymnastics being the equivalent for the summer). The first figure skating I actually really paid attention to was during the 1988 Olympics. I remember watching the Battle of the Brians, developing what was probably one of my first crushes on Katarina Witt, and cursing those darn Russians Gordeeva and Grinkov.2 I am pretty sure I still have some of these routines preserved on VHS at home. It is hard to believe that over twenty years have gone by since then.

There have been many Olympic skaters in my life in the intervening years. Some particularly dear to me: Kristi Yamaguchi, Michelle Kwan, Torvill & Dean. Some Eastern European: Irina Slutskaya, Oksana Baiul. Some just plain odd (and French): Surya Bonaly, Philippe Candeloro. Some Canadian: Kurt Browning, Elvis Stojko. Don't even get me started on Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. They are all part of my internal continuum of figure skating to which I can refer at any moment in time, especially when attempting to identify the participants of Smucker's Stars on Ice.

Things I love most about competitive figure skating:

1. The degree of difficulty. I can't help but be in awe of people who have the ability to move at great speeds and jump around in a coordinated way on a sheet of ice with sharp things attached to their feet, most of the time without looking where they're going. And some of them have to do it synchronized with another person. Trying to combine the athletic part of figure skating with the artistic part (i.e., making it look extra pretty and matching it to music) is one of the great challenges that skaters face, so I am even more in awe of those skaters that can create a seamless performance that delivers in both areas.

2. The drama. There's dramatic music, tense waiting for scores with your coach at hand (less tense with the new scoring system, since the scores won't be intelligible to the general public anyway), and critical remarks from skaters and commentators alike.

3. The costumes. Blades of Glory was really not far off when it put John Heder in that ridiculous bird outfit. Look at some of the things Johnny Weir has been wearing. Much like gown-watching during the Miss America Pageant, costume-watching during an ice skating event is one of the primary reasons to tune in.3

I would have loved to make it home for the Salt Lake Olympics to actually see live Olympic skating with my mother (or at least watch it with her and know that we were within spitting distance of the venues), but unfortunately that didn't happen. When 2006 rolled around, none of us knew in February that it would be the last year of her life, but I guess I had better things to do than watch the world compete, because all I have are vague memories of Sasha Cohen. This year I have rediscovered the magic of the Winter Olympics in general and figure skating in particular, and I am watching and remembering and wishing I had the opportunity to dissect the routines with her. I am appreciating the artistry, the pageantry, and the sheer fun of figure skating.

1 Please don't bother taking the time to argue with me about whether figure skating is a sport. It is because I say it is. Also, figure skating was the first winter sport to be contested at any Olympic competition (London 1908). Interesting side note: The 1908 Olympics were supposed to be held in Rome, but Italy indicated it wouldn't be ready to host, perhaps because of the 1906 eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.

2 Poor Grinkov.

3 And watching the figure skating events with people on Twitter is even more fun. It's like being in a room with all of your most witty friends at the same time, each of whom is as interested in the outcome as you are.

1 comment:

Amanda! said...

I was so insanely obsessed with Kristi Yamaguchi when she was in the Olympics. I think I was around 7 or so? Really little anyway. I thought she the most beautiful, talented, sweet woman I'd ever seen. I think I burnt out my Olympics energy as a kid though. I haven't watched even 5 minutes of this year's!