Kim Yu-Na's performance was the climax of the Olympiad.

Scenes from the Olympics.
Feb. 26 2010 3:08 PM

The Queen Is Crowned

Kim Yu-Na's performance was the climax of the Olympiad.

Yesterday afternoon, I mused on the pressing matter—the J. Press-ing matter—of the fancy-lad Ivy League look Bob Costas has affected in Vancouver. Then, last night, he switched up his game, going for a more authoritative image. In his pinstriped suit and starched blue shirt, he was anchorly and bankerly. The sartorial shift was only appropriate for a man helming network coverage of the ladies' figure-skating finals, which—sorry, puck bunnies—was the climax of this Olympiad.

What a doozy. Joannie Rochette won bronze and hearts, and in her post-skate interview, she carried herself with a composure that existed in inverse proportion to that of announcer Scott Hamilton, who was burbling along with the rest of us before the night was through. The silver went to Mao Asada, who unsettled me just a little, which is a qualified compliment. In her delicate red outfit and its murderous black gloves, she was something of a black widow, quick and striking.

"It was the first time that I cried after my performance," Kim Yu-Na gently said into the microphone of Andrea Joyce, almost apologetic. "I don't know why I was crying." May I suggest, Ms. Kim, that you were overwhelmed by your own excellence? "That shyness is part of her charm, isn't it?" ventured announcer Tom Hammond. It is! Though Kim's routine was an all-time-great display of physical grace—ranking with this and that and very few other things—its most moving part was its first fraction of an instant: When the first low strange note of the music hit, a wallflower became an Oz-bold bloom in one rousing pop. To my untutored eye, there was only one move Kim made with less than perfect ease, her wobbling step up to the podium.

Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, please allow me one more snark on NBC, which, in its excesses, had a way of making viewers resent some of the very athletes they were rooting for at the start. It is rather satisfying that the network's Olympics coverage has been a money pit despite all the many commercial breaks—breaks glutted with promos in which Jay Leno polluted the air with his smirking convertible. (But viva Jimmy Fallon! Jimmy turned up in Vancouver on Thursday to do his impersonation of Neil Young covering Will Smith, which is actually pretty moving.) Here was last night's low moment: As indicated by a clip titled "Vonn crashed, Mancuso furious," the network is making an 11th-hour attempt to stoke a catfight on the slopes. In an interview, tacky Mancuso kinda-sorta played along, trying to defuse rumors of hostility and instead seeking to spin it as a Betty vs. Veronica thing.

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So as I sit here waiting to see whether the United States and Canada will meet in the men's hockey final—a contest Gretzky thinks would be "ootstanding"—I will leave you with a thought on NBC's wise old Dick Button. Sitting with Costas last night, he analyzed the fourth-place figure-skating performance of American sweetheart Mirai Nagasu. Button saw greatness in the 16-year-old's future. Contrasting Nagasu's flexibility with that of Kim (whom he thought otherwise superb), he said, "She"—Nagasu—"doesn't have to pull her leg as if she's pulling the turkey leg off the turkey." Button was insulting Kim with love for her and for the sport, offering the cruel tutelage of a grandmaster relentlessly pushing his pupils to go faster, higher, stronger, again.

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Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

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