Saturday, February 15, 2014

Sochi Olympic Sojourns VI: Man vs. Superman

Men’s Final in Review

On my laptop, alongside the tabs I have open for Facebook and Twitter, I currently have six articles and/or video clips waiting to be read and/or viewed. Almost all of them are about the ongoing figure skating events in Sochi. And almost all of those are about the Men’s event which concluded Friday night.

Over here: how Russian athletes are taking Plushenko to task for his late withdrawal from the event.

Over there: An article defending Jeremy Abbott’s well-publicized statement (I refuse to call it a rant; he was simply giving a long-overdue, honest answer to a reporter’s pretty specific question) following his 12th place finish.

Over here: A side-by-side video breakdown of Yuzuru Hanyu and Patrick Chan’s short programs that shows how the elements are calculated.

Over there: A detailed write-up by the always enjoyable Jackie Wong that shows the jump miscalculations by Javier Fernandez and Jason Brown which cost them a placement when all was said and done (and, in Fernandez’s case, cost him the bronze medal).

And of course, there’s the snarky one from Vanity Fair (a powerhouse of skating knowledge, to be sure!) proclaiming The End of Men’s Figure Skating, as well the curious one from Deadspin asking if skaters have maxed out the human ability to jump and spin in the air with these elusive tricks known as “quads”.

All this, all after what was largely perceived as a pretty disappointing night for the sport. Hanyu didn’t win gold as much as Chan forfeited it to him. As many as nine different guys were mathematically within reach of bronze after the SP, but save for Denis Ten, one by one they fell, they doubled instead of tripled, and they ran out of steam. And one of the cleanest skates of the entire night—by none other than Never-Give-Up’s man of the hour Jeremy Abbott—was too far back in the pack to make a difference. (Yes, I know there was no quad in it. Yes, I know he had to dumb down a couple other jumps just to muscle through it. Not the point right now. Stay with me here...)

This is what I saw the past couple of days. Maybe you saw it too:

+     I saw two men with the weight of the world that is their individual nations on their sturdy, but still very human, shoulders.

+     I saw a man from Kazakhstan who was too ill or injured to compete most of this season find a way to show the world that his “surprise” World Silver Medal from last year was no fluke.

+     I saw not one, but two men in the final flight on Friday that I really didn’t expect to see there.

+     I saw three veterans of the sport—one Japanese, one French, one Czech—do their level best close out their Olympic careers on a high note. Considering two of them were part of that fight for bronze (and the other just behind the rest of that pack), I’d like to think they think they were successful.

+     And I saw an American veteran of the sport take a prizefighter’s bruising and turn it into newfound peace.

In other words, the brighter side. Or at least an attempt at the more compassionate side. Because that other side—damn, it’s a tough one.

If you’re a regular reader of State of the Skate, then you know my appreciation for Patrick Chan’s often-sublime skating is tempered by his cockiness and foot-in-mouth disease when it comes to dealing with the press. Arguably with the most on the line in this event—NBC made a point of showing the perpetuators of the “Canadian curse” on camera before the men’s final flight began—Chan found himself joining said perpetuators by the evening’s end. The quotes I’ve seen from him in the aftermath are scattered; some apologetic, some defensive, some determined to show pride in his accomplishments, as if to publicly reassure himself of his place in skating history.

I get this, even from him.  And if I was in Sochi covering the Olympics, I’d like to think I’d let whatever he had to say just lay there, untouched for once. Skating’s favorite journalistic curmudgeon Phil Hersh thought differently, though. He took it upon himself to remind us (via Twitter) that the overwhelming Olympic pressure has been managed in the past by true champions, e.g. Kim Yu-Na, Brian Boitano, and Gordeeva/Grinkov. Superheroes. In other words... not mere, faltering mortals like Patrick Chan.

Because if you’re going to kick a skater while he’s down, you might as well do it wearing toepicks, right?

I don’t know. I don’t want to know. I’d rather try and see these outstanding athletes for what they are... human.

Except for Plushenko. He’s an ass.

But that’s another story for another time.


Anonymous said...

First of all, as I tweeted in a Twitlonger yesterday, Denis Ten had no need to prove that his silver medal at worlds last year wasn't a "fluke." There are no "flukes" in sports; there's just what happens based on who shows up to compete on a given day. That's not fluke, that's life.

Second, if Phil Hersh really is going on and on about who is a "true" figure skating champion vs. who is a "false" champion, I'm just as glad the Chicago Tribune forces me to register with the site to read his stuff, and I have refused to do so. Do we really need any more genuflection at the shrine for skaters who managed to skate well at their big Olympic moments as if they were, indeed, superhuman gods walking among us? I think not.

Inevitably, when an Olympic skating final proves disappointing, it seems there has to be journalistic chewing-out of the competitors for proving miserably inferior to whoever said journalists have crowned as their Eternal God of Skating (Curry, Boitano, Torvill & Dean, whoever). We get the lecture about how the TRUE greats ALWAYS step up to the moment when those five rings appear, yadda yadda yadda.

Only...they don't. Not always. Peggy Fleming's Grenoble freeskate was imperfect. Scott Hamilton wouldn't have won in Sarajevo without his figures. Katarina Witt was notorious for doing only the bare minimum required to win, and she wasn't flawless in Calgary. Yet somehow nobody rags on them for this. I have to side with Jeremy Abbott on this one. Journalists view skaters' performances through very biased lenses, colored by their own personal opinions. And they tend to seek simple explanations and storylines for everything that happens in competition: He is unflappable. She is a unperturbable. He is a choke. She is a head case. He wanted it too much; that's why he crumbled. He didn't want it enough; that's why he faltered. She worried too much about proving the naysayers wrong, so she lost focus. She was determined to prove the naysayers wrong, so she won by sheer will. Etc., etc., etc.

I say, Enough already! Skaters are NOT gods when they skate well and they are NOT hopeless schlubs when they lose. Grow up, media.

Lucy Pevensie said...

GREAT post!

Kelli Lawrence said...

Thank you Lucy!