Archive for the ‘Figure Skating’ Category

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Subjective. Unfair. Fixed. Robbery.

The escalation of accusations was almost as quick as the footwork of the figure skaters participating in Monday’s free dance. Ice dancing, it turns out, is beautiful, but those following the sport on a temporary basis during the Olympics were quick to reveal their ugly side.

It began a little more than a week ago when a report was published in L’EQUIPE suggesting that an agreement between American and Russian figure skating judges had been reached to ensure that Russia won the team event, America won the ice dance, and Canada won neither.

A week later, the results: Russia won the team event, Canada was second. The United States won the ice dance, Canada was second.

Sacrebleu!

There are two things Canadians would do well to understand: 1) A rumor of a fix doesn’t guarantee there is a fix; and 2) Learning about a potential fix doesn’t make you a better judge of figure skating.

If you can watch the respective performances of Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, and “know” with anything approaching certainty which pair skated better, I have the utmost confidence that you’re deluding yourself.

It’s maddening from the perspective of the team coming in second, but suggesting that ice dance judging is flawed doesn’t make the pair you wanted to win any more justified as winners than the pair that actually did. In this sense, viewers almost have to resign themselves to trusting the actual judges – no matter how flawed, or possibly corrupt – almost as part of an agreement if they’re going to watch the event with any rooting interest at all.

Sometimes – like today – that’s tough.

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It started in 1984. Brian Orser’s silver medal in Sarajevo was hardly surprising. American Scott Hamilton had dominated men’s figure skating, winning three straight World Championships heading into the Winter Olympics. Orser’s second place finish was an accomplishment, his best result in a major international competition.

It was closer in 1988. With Hamilton turning professional, there was no dominant figure atop the men’s heap. Having not lost a competition since losing to his rival Brian Boitano at the 1986 world championships, Orser was skating on home ice. He was the flag-bearer for Canada during the opening ceremonies. After winning the  short program, he placed second in the free skate, and ended up losing to Boitano by .10 of a point.

It was heart breaking, and it was the closest Canada would ever get to a gold medal in men’s figure skating.

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Lipnitskaya of Russia finishes team ladies' free skating at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics

There are very few Tara Lipinskis in this world.

The American figure skater captured gold at the Nagano Olympics at the age of 15. For most Olympians, success at such a young age is a death knell.

How do you parlay an early moment of fame into a career? Lipinski did it, touring professionally for several years while making appearances on some of the biggest television shows of the late 90s, including Touched by an Angel, Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Malcolm in the Middle.

There was a period of downtime, when Lipinski devoted her efforts to philanthropic endeavours, but she’s back now, leading NBC’s fantastic figure skating coverage alongside Johnny Weir.

Lipinski is an outlier of sorts. For every teenager star that has ‘made it,’ there are others who never found a way to deal with comes after. What happens when the phenomenons of today slide into the abyss that is weekend supermarket appearances for $50 a shot.

The long-term isn’t an issue for most of us currently. Yulia Lipnitskaya and Ayumu Hirano have been the breakout stars of these Olympics because they’re almost too young. No 15-year-old should be able to laugh in the face of reality. Hirano shouldn’t be able to beat Shaun White on the biggest stage. Lipnitskaya shouldn’t be a bigger star at this moment than Evgeni Plushenko.

But they are. They are because the younger these athletes are, the more we are intrigued. The reasons why, however, aren’t always consistent.

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Eight hours before competing in the women’s short program as part of the figure skating team event, Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond was asked by officials to pee in a bottle.

While supposedly random, doping tests for Canadian figure skaters have been anything but uncommon during the first two days of competition.

Mike Slipchuk, a director with Skate Canada, told reporters that seven Canadian skaters have been selected for testing since the team arrived in Sochi. In addition to Osmond’s test - mere hours before scheduled to compete - two unidentified skaters were called to the doping lab around midnight.

The news is especially suspicious when coupled with reports that surfaced over the weekend of a surreptitious pact between Russian and American judges that would ensure favorable scores for Russia in the team event - where the United States wasn’t considered a contender for gold - in exchange for higher marks for Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White in the pairs ice dance next week.

The Russians ended up handily beating Canada in the team event, to win their first gold medal of the Sochi Olympics.

Watching sports is a vicarious experience. As fans, we watch sporting events, and make the accomplishments of others our own, while also suffering through the failings of athletes and teams as if it were us that didn’t reach the goal.

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