Q: What's thick, green and skates?
A: Peggy Phlegm.
"The difference between Sasha and everyone else is everyone else skates to "Romeo and Juliet"; she is Juliet.
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.