Figure Skating As Art

Figure Skating As Art

Figure Skating As Art
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Feb. 13 2002 12:40 PM

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I watched that mogul skier, too—the one who exploded his knee on a landing. He seemed at peace with the world. Eager to see his wife and child. Happy to have had a chance to compete.

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson
Randall Patterson's work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Sports Illustrated, and The Best American Sports Writing 1999. He lives in Asheville, N.C. Seth Stevenson raced for his high school's cross-country ski team ... but he sucked, and mostly just did it on a dare. He now writes for Slate.
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Remember when Nancy Kerrigan had her knee bashed in by Tonya Harding's goons and she shrieked, over and over, "Why me? Why me?" It was a different kind of knee injury, and that whole tawdry incident now seems the epitome of figure skating as a concept.

Like you, with each passing day I have grown more transfixed by the sport and its current scandal, and I am filled with contempt for everything I see. If the judges really did fix the contest, that's just awful. (Of course, before we get all outraged at the shady morals of foreigners, let's not forget that the contest for where these Games would be held was fixed, too—with good old American bribes.) And I maintain that Jamie Salé, even if (especially if) she got jobbed, could have put up a more stoic front. Footage shows her still crying like eight hours after the event. Enough already.

But above all, I just think the whole sport is messed up. Olympic figure skating is what the world would look like were it designed by a pack of 11-year-old girls. Frilly costumes with sequins and ruffles and bows—even on the men (who are all effeminate and unthreatening like a Tiger Beat cover boy). Absurd dramatics that overshadow the actual events. Air kissing and showy crying and false compliments and back-stabbing and secret, group agreements to hurt people's feelings. (If 11-year-old boys designed the world, it might look more like biathlon—except instead of skis they'd ride dirt bikes, and instead of targets they'd shoot at each other.)

Figure skating takes athletic skill, sure, but maybe it shouldn't be a competitive sport. Would we pit the Alvin Ailey dance squad versus the Martha Graham dance squad and judge their shows by deducting tenths of a point for each tiny miscue? No, we just appreciate the artistry and athleticism they display. I hesitate to call anything Tonya Harding does "art"—but skating might be better off as art than as competition.

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Meanwhile, the United States-Japan women's curling match was a treat. Down 6-1 halfway through the match (a huge deficit by curling standards), the U.S. team came back to win with a series of astounding shots. They snuck their stone through tiny openings between the Japanese rocks, curved it around into place, deftly bumped the Japanese stones out of the way, and so on until the game was won by a final score of 8-7. Said ESPN.com: "This is as dramatic as curling gets." And nobody cried, and nobody wore sequins, and nobody made a secret agreement to hurt someone else's feelings.