Thursday, January 28, 2010

In an Insensitive Media World... Turn 'em Down, Flatt

Here’s the little moment that’s sticking with me from this past Saturday night; and yes, it’s as subject to interpretation as any free skate:

They were doing the post-ladies FS press conference (streaming it live on Ice Network), and as is often the case, the majority of the questions were being posed to Our New Champion (Rachael Flatt). But the tone of some of the questions concerned me, and Flatt’s attempts to answer them left me downright troubled on at least one occasion. I cannot remember the exact exchange—if requested, I’ll try to find it in the archives and transcribe it—but the vibe I got came down to this: why don’t you think people like your skating the best?

I’m not Rachael, and I won’t presume to know exactly what she must’ve been thinking. But as she answered, I thought I saw at least a glimmer of someone who at the heart of it all is a 17 year old girl who may have heard “the vibe” in even harsher tones: Why don’t people like YOU as much as they should?

Suddenly she sounded like someone on the defense as she gamely tried to explain that she, too, was disappointed that she hadn’t really put herself out there the way she wanted to just yet.

Disappointed?! On the defense??! She just WON! And it was miles from the who-can-fall-the-least mess we’ve so often seen of late. It was seven clean triple jumps, two in combination, with NO downgrades or two-foot landings. It was level 3’s and level 4’s on all the spins, spirals and footwork. It was someone who delivered the goods, and delivered them marvelously, over 11 points above all others.

Yet I got the distinct impression she felt a need to apologize for the way she is, and that upsets me. Explaining yourself when you’ve made technical errors is one thing… explaining why you didn’t bring down the house with your top-ranked performance is something else entirely.

For what it’s worth, I’ve studied the protocols for the top four ladies’ free skates (yes, checked out Cohen’s too before I realized even her PCS numbers were well below the other three)… and here’s how it breaks out by the numbers:
Jumps: Best 2axel- Nagasu (4.99)
Best 3Lutz- Flatt (6.71)
Best jump combos (total)- 27.52 (Flatt)
Top 3 triple jumps: 6.64 (Flatt’s Loop), 6.36 (Nagasu’s Flip), 5.81 (Flatt’s Salchow)…
Best spins- Nagasu: 3.43, 3.63, 4.57
Best spirals—Nagasu 4.97
Best footwork—Both Flatt and Wagner got 4.09

By the components: Best Skating Skills: Nagasu 7.86
Best Transitions: Flatt 7.50
Performance/Execution: Flatt 7.96
Best Choreography: Nagasu 7.82
Best Interpretation: Flatt 7.79

So what we’ve got, on paper at least, is a case of two skaters being pretty closely matched except for some bonus points in Rachael’s column for the triple/triple, and some debits in Mirai’s column for three different downgrades.

But since this is a sport that relies so much on the beauty/art/emotion buttons it presses in each of us… which often leads to drama…which often reaches stratospheric heights by the time of the final free skate, particularly in an Olympic year… we bask in the grace, and sometimes overlook the flaws. Even NBC’s Scott and Sandra did it this time (Hamilton admitting to the press that “he blew it”, no less).

That’s okay; but what if the draw between Flatt and Nagasu was reversed… and both ladies still skated as they did? Isn’t it a strong possibility that Flatt would have, indeed, brought down the proverbial house?

I’m not saying Nagasu simply benefited from good skating and a great draw… she earned her spot, and earned it extremely well. But in a sport where one’s performance is often directly correlated to their personality, methinks Flatt has also earned something, beyond the National title: the right for people to stop using her last name as a negative metaphor for her skating.

For the
Clip of the Day I found Rachael’s 2005 Nationals Exhibition as Novice Champion, complete with Button/Fleming/Gannon commentary. She was all of age 12 in this performance. Wonder if she was already dreaming of where she might be in five years?


Not An Expert said...

I feel so sorry for Rachael Flatt and I was really hoping that if she could win the title and make the team, people might start appreciating her more, but apparently not. I can't even imagine what it must be like for her to have to defend herself like that, and I really hope she can stick it to 'em in Vancouver!

Anonymous said...

Yet not too many people felt sorry for Slutskaya every time she won...

Jocelyn Jane said...

I agree with you! Too many are too insensitive. It has always bothered me how the media has fixated on the Gold medals and podiums. What about all the other stories? Now, it seems that even Gold isn't enough.

Flatt has what too few have: consistency. For now, she pretty much seems to have nerves of steel and we can realistically count on her to stay on her feet in Vancouver. Let's not forget that, while skating is artistic and also entertaining, it is a Sport.

Laura said...

I don't think skate order had anything to do with it. I have had so many people come up to me in recent weeks who don't normally watch skating and not one of them prefers Flatt to Nagasu. You can't force people to appreciate or like someone's skating, despite their proficiency. Just like I won't like Evgeny Plushenko, no matter how consistent and technically brilliant he is.

I think that's part of the deal with watching a sport that has an artistic side.

Flatt has the best weapon to shut down her critics, which is the chance to medal in Vancouver. And while she may not become our next Michelle Kwan, she has been the face of the Olympics for us all year, so it doesn't appear that any of this has truly hurt her. Hopefully she can just use the criticism to her advantage the way other competitors do.

Laura said...

I should add that, while I can't fault people for their personal preferences, having the media ask a 17-year-old to explain why people don't like her the best sounds downright cruel to me. I hope her media team prepares her to (politely) throw such a question back in people's faces from now on, rather than being apologetic.