Friday, February 24

Enigmas on Thin Ice *

Why the Sixties are better than the Noughts:

The Sixties:

Q: What's thick, green and skates?
A: Peggy Phlegm.

The Naughts:

"The difference between Sasha and everyone else is everyone else skates to "Romeo and Juliet"; she is Juliet.

--NBC analyst Sandra Bezic



Having opened the door by mouthing off about the Olympics I felt an obligation to watch as much of the women's figure skating finals as humanly possible. Damn impulsive decision to start a blog. Okay, that wasn't all there was to it; I was also partially irritated by this from Meghan O'Rourke in Slate:
Gymnastics and figure skating are the most popular sports of their respective games because they amp up—and prolong—the viewer's anxiety, while making it possible to absorb a hodge-podge of knowledge about the sport.

But that's because each of them commandeers a week's worth of prime-time coverage every four years! Okay, it's a little like the question of why barns are painted red. ** No question those sports pull in the ratings. On the other hand, tonight I watched Sasha Cohen blowing her nose for twenty seconds before she went out to skate around the ice for another twenty before taking her place to start the routine. That's longer than most feature pieces on other sports' athletes. I watched a Finnish skater drink from her water bottle, cap it, put it down, listen to her coach, pick up the bottle and drink again, cap it, put it down, hold hands with the coach (NBC zoomed in on the hands), before going out to skate around the rink, and she was in 20th place! If I spent any more time with her I could have claimed her as a tax deduction.

I'm thinking, maybe, that if any other sports federation (it's the federations that run things, not the IOC) was given that kind of pull you'd find enough amped-up anxiety and a sufficiently hodge-podged knowledge base to satisfy even the most ardent fan of retroussé noses. Meghan?
Unlike last week's boosterish halfpipe commentators—who were content to ooh and aah over landings that looked pretty wobbly—NBC's figure skating team takes an approach that's more reminiscent of Simon Cowell. In fact, my favorite thing about the women's short program might have been Scott Hamilton and Dick Button's good-cop/bad-cop routine—or, really, just Dick Button's bad-cop routine.

C'mon, that's strictly Button, NBC's wisest move, and what he's doing is called expert commentary. What the other three are doing is called "shouting inanities into a microphone at a volume which suggests they're unfamiliar with the principle of electronic transmission."
But the hero of the night may have been the top Russian: the 27-year-old dynamo Irina Slutskaya. Perhaps to stave off the inevitable jokes about her name, Slutskaya elected to be the first female figure skater in the Olympics to wear pants rather than the traditional flippy skirt

SLOOT-skaya is, like, a three-time World champion, seven-time European champ, and the silver medalist in Salt Lake City. So it's odd that someone who loves figure skating so much is still making slut jokes.
She's not the most graceful skater around—Sasha Cohen or the Japanese Shizuka Arakawa win that label—but she's really, really fast.

This is why the concept of "grace" in sports should only be applied in connection to some palpable skill, like hitting a curveball. Arakawa, yes. Graceful, elegant, controlled athleticism. Cohen? Eh. Her spins are graceful. Her best jumps are graceful. But the rest of the time she looks like a high-school theatre student. Her gracefulness has the quarter-second delay of long training. It's in throwing her hands around. Arakawa's grace comes from the solar plexus.

And Slutskaya's grace is animal, not balletic. She's a jock. She's also the only one whose smile looks real, if professional; surely not that Hollywood-starlet-on-the-red-carpet job of her competitors. And if each has the hint of the killer behind it, hers is more of the "Let's wrestle for the trophy," than the "If you beat me I'm sleeping with your boyfriend to get even" variety.

The best skater on the ice last night won the Gold. It wasn't the one I was rooting for, but fair's fair. Besides, after about ten minutes all I was really rooting for was technical difficulties with everybody's mic but Dick's.


* Lickette Naomi Ruth Eisenberg's capsule description of Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks.

** Farmers say it's because that's what color the store stocks; shopkeepers say they stock red because that's the color farmers buy. The real answer, probably, is that red paint is easy to make around a farm: curdled milk and rust.

6 comments:

D. Sidhe said...

What the other three are doing is called "shouting inanities into a microphone at a volume which suggests they're unfamiliar with the principle of electronic transmission."

Dear God, I love you.

KathyR said...

Yeah, well. I'll watch figure skating when they add ballet to the summer games. Hell, they took baseball and softball out, so there should be plenty of room.

Have I said that before? Yeah, I think I have. I'm still bitter.

eRobin said...

I heard that "she is Juliet" line and gagged as well. But did you not like Cohen's short program on Tuesday? I was blown away by it. I think it was the best any of them skated either night. And I agree about Button. I can't watch skating without him. I actually learn stuff when he talks. He's the best.

Henry Holland said...

Hell, they took baseball and softball out

Baseball wasn't using major leaguers, so that invalidates it right there; I'm glad that the Olympics have given up on the "amateur" rubbish, which in the days of the Iron Curtain was total bullshit as their were paid professionals in their countries.

Softball was mostly American pressure so that they could dominate a sport. The talent gap between the US and the rest of the world in softball was ginormous.

Ever since Chick Hearn died, the only two announcers of any sport anywhere that I can tolerate are Dick Enberg and Martin Tyler, who is an English football commentator for Sky Sports. Both could read the phone book and I'd tune in. Everyone else, blech.

the bunny said...

"Farmers say it's because that's what color the store stocks; shopkeepers say they stock red because that's the color farmers buy. The real answer, probably, is that red paint is easy to make around a farm: curdled milk and rust."

Dammit, Riley. Finally something that I can opine about with a certain authority (I was a coatings chemist before the American auto industry took a dive) and you apparently are an expert there as well.

Christopher said...

I took two thoughts away from the women's figure skating:

1. Sasha Cohen wears a LOT of lipstick.

2. Any sport where wearing pants is a controversial thing is a sport I want to stay away from