Tuesday, February 23, 2010


The title would be an apt description if I were to share the ice with any competitive figure skaters. Sad to admit that my spot-on hockey stop has been replaced by trying to lose speed as I smash into the boards.

But this isn’t about me. I just need to post my feelings about unsportsmanlike Olympic competitors and then move on to hoping Joannie Rochette is able to honor her mother in today’s skate.

At the outset, I’ll admit that I don’t have a clue what it’s like to be a fiercely competitive, elite athlete. (I was just relieved whenever I was the SECOND TO LAST one picked for a team.) I realize that figure skaters have trained their entire lives and practiced the same routines for hours each day, months on end, in preparation for their Olympic moment. They have visualized standing on the podium and having a gold medal around their neck. (Does anyone really visualize bronze as a motivator?) It’s about setting goals, keeping focused and, as CTV reminds us ad nauseam with its theme music, believing. Awesome. Go for it.

No doubt it can be devastating, as in Patrick Chan’s case, to fail to do what you’re capable of in the Olympic spotlight. For others, like Evgeni Plushenko, it can be bewildering to feel you’ve put in your best performances and still come up a step short on the podium. Plushenko may, in fact, feel angry. Robbed! But that’s where coaches and skating federations take over. If they want to file a protest or grumble to the media, so be it. They are paid to take up the cause for their athletes and for their nation.

Athletes, like it or not, are under a high level of public scrutiny. Right or wrong, many people view them as role models and, in the Olympics, as representatives of an entire country. Despite all that training and visualizing, hoping for gold, the reality is that on any given day someone else may outshine you—if not in your eyes, at least in the opinion of the judges (and millions of viewers). Prior to the Olympics, these skaters have participated in national and international competitions. They’ve stood on other podiums and, yes, missed a few, even if that seems years and years ago. They’ve had to congratulate others who were in the limelight and witnessed the words and actions of “the defeated” during their own shining moments.

The Olympics are more than an athletic competition. Through the years of training and the actual experience, participants have a unique opportunity to build character while creating a memory that will linger. It’s a shame when Plushenko, one of the most revered male figure skaters of all time, leaves his grace on the ice. Part of being a competitor involves perfecting The Brave Face and allowing others to enjoy their moment without distracting putdowns. Swear into your pillow in the hotel room if need be, snap your skate guards in half (out of view of others) if you must, but take the SalĂ©/Pelletier Road, not Surya Bonaly Boulevard.

Plushenko’s pre-competition comments, stating that it wasn’t men’s skating unless it included a quad amounted tactless puffery, a calculated tactic to lobby for himself while attempting to ruffle the other skaters. Standing in the arena during the men’s free skate with quad attempts all but MIA, I couldn’t help but wonder why the apparently macho Russian would even enter what he must deem to be a woman’s competition, ultimately losing to one. A milder quote from the figure skating great after the final results: “I suppose Evan needs the medal more than I do.” Further trying to sleet on Lysacek’s parade (while also slamming most of his fellow skaters), he added, “It’s not men’s figure skating. Now it’s ice dancing.”

In the heat of the moment and with microphones thrust in his face, Evgeni took the low road. Unfortunately, he hasn’t softened his stance in the days since. I just read that he is referring to his silver medal as platinum. If he can twist the meaning and construction of “silver” so too can I question the term “champion” as applied to Evgeni Plushenko.

Plushenko, at least, was oh so close to gold, 1.31 points separating him from golden boy Lysacek. It is even more baffling to read the sour grapes comments from two of the men in the ice dancing competition. Maxim Shabalin, awarded the bronze medal with his Russian partner Oksana Domnina for finishing the competition a whopping 13.93 points behind the leaders, proved his skills as a judge match his skating, asserting, “We skated the best performance and we have a bronze medal,” Shabalin said. “What can you do? We did everything we could.”

Fifth place Italian Massimo Scali, 22.4 points behind Virtue and Moir, was tactless enough to find a microphone to say, “I don’t agree with the system. They [Virtue and Moir] are not real dancers. They are very technical and don’t really ‘dance’ on the ice.”

Somewhere in Australia, Dale Begg-Smith must be smiling. I, however, can only frown. And now I need to change gears, channeling courage and positive vibes to Joannie.

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