In Defense of Sequins and Spirals

I’m going to say this once: Figure Skating IS a sport and it deserves to be in the Olympics. I write this rant on the morning of the first skating event at these Vancouver 2010 Olympics (the Pairs Short Program), in honor of all the people that I have debated with over the years, and especially the guy in New York three weeks ago who happened to ask me at a cocktail party ‘you don’t happen to be a figure skater do you?’ before launching into a tirade on the topic. Why yes, I do happen to be a figure skater, an ex-competitive ice dancer to be exact. I stepped on the ice at age three and lived there until I was almost 16 when a knee injury ended my career, a career that had taken me to the national championships twice, once medalling, with my partner Victor Kraatz…Victor continuing on to become ten time Canadian National Champion and World Champion with Shae Lynn Borne. So yes, after my childhood was spent waking up at 5am, training all day while juggling schoolwork, living away from home and dealing with the pressures of adult competition, I take offense to someone who doesn’t see it as a sport worthy of Olympic competition. But I know he’s not the only one so let’s get to it.

OK, I KNOW WHAT YOU ARE THINKING: “But the outfits, the music, the dramatic arms movements and the gay guys for heaven’s sake!” and “How can 4 minutes of someone dancing around to ‘Carmen’ be considered an Olympic sport?!” and “Not saying it looks easy but still…”. Yes, I’ve heard it all before. I think of it sometimes when I punch the heavy bag (yup, just pointing out that I’m a badass). Some people just don’t like the showy aspects of skating and that’s their prerogative. But just because the competition element of it includes some stage makeup doesn’t mean that that the other 95% of what goes into the sport should be negated…it’s like saying that the iceberg hidden below the water doesn’t exist.

So here’s what I’m going to offer you, the disbeliever, A Question: when a snowboarder pulls a bunch of Backside 720s on a half pipe during a 2 minute run, THAT’S a sport right? The boarder traverses back and forth on the half pipe, sets up and pulls a trick at each pass…and then gets judged for the level of difficulty and execution. Well that’s funny, because that’s what skaters do. They perform two different programs, with at least 20 elements in it (jumps, spins, footwork) and then get judged on it based on the difficulty (technical merit) and execution (artistic merit). So that sounds a lot like snowboarding, except as opposed to snowsuits, skaters wear spandex and put everything to music. Oh and they ‘perform’ the program to the audience, weaving a suspension of disbelief that their every thought isn’t about the next upcoming element that could make or break their career, but instead about the story that they are telling on the ice. Maybe, if skaters were more like snowboarders, (or gymnasts for that matter), and took out the artistic expression, making it very apparent with both the set up and determined facial expression, that a triple axle or an intricate footwork sequence was about to be performed, more people would take it seriously as a sport.

Grunt, focused look, skate skate skate, jump, skate skate skate, brow furrow, grunt, spin…skate skate jump…is this a more Olympic worthy picture?

If so, that’s pretty sad. Because art and athleticism can go hand in hand and one shouldn’t let a little flamboyant behavior and poor choice of Broadway music mask the truly spectacular nature of this sport. Sure there is corrupt judging but whenever you have humans judging an event and not a time clock, you will have flaws. I’ll be writing more skating commentary over the next two weeks but I just wanted to get my rant over and done with. I’ll gladly take on anyone who wants to argue Skating’s legitimate place at the Olympics, either here on the site…or in the boxing ring. Cheers!

Oh and by the way…a 720 for an Olympic skater is friggin’ easy. Those boarders should try a 1440 (aka The Quad) and then land it on a steel blade an 1/8 of an inch thick. Just saying.