Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The First Annual State of the Skate Address

Note: In honor of this blog’s 1st anniversary (which occured, well, today), please kindly tolerate my attempt at a leader-esque “speech” intended for those who adore skating as much as I do.

And by the way, thank you ever so much for reading. Whether you are a regular or not, I deeply appreciate you taking time out of your day to visit! --KL

My fellow Figure Skating Fans…

I sit before my computer screen today, wondering what I might say to lift people’s sprits regarding the direction in which our beloved sport is headed, and astonished to great extent that spirits are even in need of lifting.

If you’re reading this from certain parts of the world, your spirits might be raised to the hilt already: South Korea, Japan, China, Canada, certain parts of Europe… yep, I’m talking to you. And I’m grateful for your unbridled enthusiasm much more than you know. It’s worth its weight in gold—and yes, perhaps Olympic Gold as well—right about now.

For the problem, at least from my particular perspective, lies here in the USA—land of the free, home of the disenchanted.

(Assume, for the purposes of this discussion, that the massive problem that is ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta is a given. I don’t care for what he’s doing/has done to figure skating, and I don’t know of anyone who DOES care for it. But to rant about him specifically, at this particular point in time, seems like a waste of my own blog space. Maybe I’ll save that for another address.)

By that, I do not mean to imply that the US holds all the cards when it comes to skating’s success. The wave of popularity its currently enjoying in those aforementioned “certain parts of the world” is proof of that. But we are a nation of over 300 million people that, in the past 33 years, has produced 19 figure skaters that have won Olympic medals… 43 who have won World medals… and as many as 45 million of us sat in front of our TVs at the same time, in Prime Time, and watched at least a couple of them do it.

But things change. National champions have to settle for 11th place at the biggest event of the season. Fans can’t find NBC’s scant two hours of traditional TV coverage of Worlds with a freaking magnifying glass, and the ratings show it. Die-hard fans are left praying they can find streaming video online from somewhere—anywhere(!), and in time to see someone they recognize.

How did we get here? You can count the ways any way you like: Miserable management (or should we say mis-management?). 2002 scandal. New scoring system. No fresh, consistent, memorable breakout stars. Kwan is all but retired. Young demographics would rather watch snowboarding. The list could stretch on into the summer and through to next season, but it hardly answers the next question: What do we do about it?

I don’t profess to have the answer listed in hidden code anywhere on this blog. Yes, change can feel most effective when it comes from the top— one look at our new presidential administration will tell you that. But we don’t get an election in our little frozen world.

So, we can bemoan the paint-by-number routines, the suspicious judging, the “cost-cutting” reduction of judges, a seeming conspiracy to keep skating from even being seen at times… and even talk, openly and often, about how we don’t even watch when we DO have the opportunity… that IS something we can “elect” to do.

But it feels an awful lot to me like we’re giving up if that is all we do.

I love figure skating. From the moment I saw Dorothy Hamill in Innsbruck in 1976, it was love at first sight. And for me, at least, it’s not something from which I can divorce myself. It’s a blood relative, you might say. I competed for a while, won some stuff, and would like to think I could still at least turn in a decent forward scratch spin if I laced up my skates right now.

But televised skating is what has kept me connected through the years. It’s what hooked me, it’s what kept me in touch (just barely) as I got busy with other things in my high school and college years, and it’s what allowed me to know the sport inside-out, particularly in the 1990s. I may not love what’s being done to it at any given time, but I simply can’t abandon it. There has to be a better way.

So while the State of the Skate is anything but ideal, and we consequently head into this upcoming Winter Olympic season with a sense of anxiety more than we do a sense of eager anticipation, wondering who we can complain to, where we can best make our feelings known, and why a particular boneheaded decision is made in the first place.. the only definitive thing I can say is this: Keep watching, by any means necessary.

Because to watch is to care, to care is to get involved, and even if “getting involved” requires a god-awful amount of banging one’s fists against the wall, sooner or later, you’ve got to believe that the wall will crumble. And I, for one, would still love to see what’s on the other side of it.


Aaron said...

What a outstanding treatise on the state of skating as it currently is.

You are absolutely correct in that the best thing we can do is keep watching no matter what. Those that control viewership must know that watchers still exist.

Also, Happy Anniversary!

Sharon said...

I will always watch...I love skating, have been an uber fan for close to 30 years now. I so miss the heyday of the 90s when I could watch skating almost anytime I wanted! Even during the summer. Thank god for the internet now or I would be severely deprived. I so hope figure skating will rise once again, I feel that for the US fans, though, that will mean a star lady. Shame, since we have many other amazing skaters.

Laura said...

A call to action! I will keep watching. But it was sooo much better when I got to watch Worlds on Oxygen than when I had to fight with Icenetwork.com to stream crappy video. I wonder how the ratings were for that?

Kelli Lawrence said...

I have to say, I like Aaron's latest call to action better than my own (with all the e-mail addresses of people to write/speak your mind about the Olympic judging reduction). Sometimes I just don't know what to tell people!

Kelli Lawrence said...

P.S. Almost forgot-- thank you for the kind words Aaron!