Thursday, February 16, 2006

If They Only Had Better Music

I love ice skating and dancing, hockey not so much. I just wish they had more contemporary music, one with a discernible beat. That was one of the things that made Zhang and Zhang so great when they danced to Kashmir. When she landed it was exactly on beat, which made the triple even more spectacular and points should have been awarded for exquisite timing. I'm lucky if I can walk across a room while singing and bopping to the music. I don't think I could add twirls and leaps.
Figure Skating Is A Cut Above the Frills: "The blade of a figure skate is a quarter inch of steel, with sharpened edges.

There. That's a quarter inch. Now let's see LeBron James land on it.

On Thursday night, Evgeni Plushenko and Johnny Weir will skate for the gold medal in the men's long program. As you watch them, keep in mind that quarter inch. They will zip along a glaring sheet of ice at 30 mph, jump several feet in the air, spin four times and land in time for a tight turn to avoid the boards. And if they weren't wearing spangly suits made of mauve taffeta, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

The skate is the toughest competitive shoe in sports. You can't find a more precarious piece of equipment, or a more precarious playing surface. The combination is deadly, and that's what makes it fascinating, and why people watch it by the millions, including yours truly, not because we have some fascination with bad music and campy outfits.

Furthermore, skaters push athletic boundaries in their sport as hard as athletes in any Olympic endeavor. Think for a moment about how the sport has progressed, how the jumping bar has been raised just in the past decade. It seems like only yesterday that the throw triple axel in pairs ranked right up there in danger with the balance beam in gymnastics. The throw triple axel was going to give somebody brain damage. 'Oh, my God,' we'd scream. 'Here comes the throw triple axel.' Now they're going after quads.

There is another possible answer to this question, one that will drive Wilbon crazy: Maybe figure skating is part art. If the most powerful moments in skating are the blends of skill, strength and beauty in interpreting a piece of music, then at it's best, perhaps it's not sport but ballet.

The trouble with this explanation is that it doesn't take into account that quarter inch. The skate. Or the consequences of falling.

As my friend Christine Brennan says, no other sport has a more non-negotiable moment of decision. A water shot in the final round at Augusta is nothing compared with what a figure skater faces when he or she attempts a triple axel in the Olympics. There's no next tee. No third strike. No fourth down. You either land cleanly on that quarter inch, or you lose it all -- and you don't get to try again for four more years."
Sort of like politics, but prettier.

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