On Figure Skating

I have long been a fan of figure skating. I remember being young — I couldn’t tell you how young — and watching Kurt Browning and Scott Hamilton skate, and just loving their personality and their footwork routines and how much fun they seemed to have doing their thing.

And then I started going through puberty and found additional enjoyment in men’s figure skating.

I love how skating combines pure athletic skill with artistry and style. It’s that combination that really draws me in, I think — and moreso with men’s figure skating than women’s, with the bigger jumps, or with ice dancing, without the throws and jumps. (I’ve come to really appreciate pairs skating with some of the lifts and throws they do, as well, though.)

I was at the Olympic Men’s Short Program skate last night, watching Olympic skaters for four hours. There were some really big names that I’ve followed over the last couple of Olympics and World Championships — Brian Joubert, Stephane Lambiel, Evgeni Plushenko, Daisuke Takahashi, Nobunari Oda, Johnny Weir, Evan Lysacek. Patrick Chan, Canada’s new hope (since Jeffrey Buttle retired (sigh)). Also some names I hadn’t heard of (though clearly, if they’re skating this well at the Olympics, they’re probably not nobodies) — Michal Brezina, who skated an amazing program, got wild applause, and got marked relatively poorly by the judges (the crowd booed the judges for that one, as well as for Johnny Weir’s lower marks); and Florent Amodio, who I’d never heard of, skated really early on, and impressed the heck out of me (now sitting in 11th).

Plushenko sits in 1st place going into the free skate. I have to say, I’ve never really liked him. Yes, he completed two quad jumps, and no other competitor successfully completed any. Yes, he skated a technically flawless program.

But the guy has no personality. And that’s what I like in my figure skating.

Kurt Browning had it (and still does). Jeffrey Buttle certainly had it — especially with that huge grin of his. Yesterday, Johnny Weir certainly had it — a skater I’d always seen as a bit of a diva, but who radically changed my view of him yesterday when he broke out in smiles after his performance, and danced along to Poker Face while waiting for his marks. Lambiel even had it in his routine, which I hadn’t remembered from previous events.

But the impression I get from Plushenko when he skates is that he’s doing, technically, exactly what needs to be done in order to score very highly. It’s robotic. He executes the quads, he skates flawlessly. Then he finishes. He bows like he’s supposed to. He skates off the ice. He gets his marks. He nods. He leaves. I almost got the feeling he was thinking, “Yes, I suppose I can come out of retirement to win one more Olympic gold medal. I suppose that isn’t too far beneath me.”

He’s disappointed when others don’t do a quad jump, like it’s the be-all-and-end-all of figure skating, like if you can’t do it you shouldn’t be skating. According to the official Olympic website, he said, “Without a quad it’s not men’s figure skating.” Yes, a quad is impressive. Yes it’s hard, and you should be rewarded if you get it. But otherwise extremely exceptional skaters, especially those who have some personality, who can have some fun on the ice and draw in the crowd and be artistic, should not be punished if they don’t have that strength. There are other important components to a good skate.

I just have no sympathy for the guy, because he’s not interesting. I’d love for Canada to beat him on the podium, but if Canada can’t, then I’m just as happy to see Lysacek, or Weir, or Takahashi take it. I just don’t really want Plushenko to win gold again.

Skating is partially about the artistry. It’s always what’s drawn me in, back with Kurt Browning and Scott Hamilton. It’s why Jeffrey Buttle is still my favourite skater (well, that and he’s cute). If you can’t show emotion — or for that matter, evoke emotion from your audience — then it doesn’t matter how technically perfect you can skate. It’s just not interesting. It’s not fun.

Luckily, the current scoring system rewards artistry, and is what allowed Lysacek and Takahashi to almost match Plushenko’s score without the quad. Here’s hoping it pays off in the free skate tomorrow.

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