2/23: Figure Skating: Pushing the Envelope?

I’d like to say I am unique.  But when it comes to the Olympics, I’m not alone in my love for figure skating.  (32% of American residents, according to the latest Marist Poll, say skating is their favorite Olympic sport.)

azzoli-caricature-445My interest in the sport peaked in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  Brian Boitano, Kristi Yamaguchi, Nancy Kerrigan, Tonya Harding, Kurt Browning … these were all household names to me growing up.  Not only was I riveted to the TV screen when the Olympics rolled around, but I would tune into other competitions and exhibitions year in and year out.  I had my favorites and held my breath with every important jump, spin, and tricky footwork sequence.

But, here is my question today, has the sport become too technical?  Has the push to advance the sport come at the enjoyment of the average spectator?

Not unlike many other Americans, my interest in figure skating has waned.  (When Marist asked about Americans’ favorite Winter Olympic sport in 2006, 50% chose skating.)  But, once again, I caught Olympic fever and checked out a few of the pairs’ and men’s performances last week.  What struck me was the number of falls on the Vancouver ice.  Although skaters have had their fair share of spills in the past, I don’t recall there being that many.  Couple that with the controversy surrounding American Evan Lysacek’s gold medal win over Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko, and I couldn’t help but thinking, “This isn’t fun anymore.”

Don’t get me wrong, I applaud the athletes’ determination, their skill, and their drive to be the best, but at what cost?  Forget about my selfish desire to be entertained.  What about the athletes’ safety?  Is it just a matter of time before one of these world class skaters suffers a life-threatening injury?

Perhaps, the Olympic judges made the right call by awarding Lysacek the gold medal over Plushenko.  (Does anybody outside the sport even understand the scoring system anyway?)  Sure. Lysacek lacked a quadruple jump, but his program was clean, athletic, artistic, and had a great deal of difficulty at the end. From a spectator’s standpoint, it was the perfect balance of agility and athleticism for figure skating enthusiasts who like to be wowed but mostly caught up in the performance.