Missteps, Falls & Wet Tushes

Lest we paint too pretty a picture of figure skating, as the paragon of grace, elegance and perfection, I am reminded to also shed light on that The Agony of Defeat part (ie: from the old Wide World of Sports intro).

As much as we likely wouldn’t want to admit it, this is just as much a part of what draws us to watching skating or most any sport (however subconsciously), as the ideals we savor there.

Cringe-worthy pairs' fall (unidentified skaters)

Cringe-worthy pairs' fall (unidentified skaters)

It is the moment when the fans gasp and skating dreams are broken. I will never forgot how my heart sank when, as I witnessed Michelle Kwan LIVE, making her second attempt at Olympic gold she hit the ice on her triple flip. The collective sigh in that arena was palpable. It was truly the fall heard around the world. And, although our other girl Sarah Hughes walked away with the big prize (surprisingly but deservedly), we all left the arena in a sort of daze, as the nation was rooting for Kwan going in, and thought it was her long awaited moment. I still hold my breath when I watch that performance. Problem was, I think she was too… landing jumps with tight legs and showing too much restraint throughout.

Oddly, in still form, these moments can appear like choreographed moves from The Matrix or a Bruce Lee flick.

Parker Pennington's fall from grace, '09 Nats

Parker Pennington's fall from grace, '09 Nats

And, of course there are the now infamous falls from the past five years that have sadly led to major injury (ie: Dubreuil’s at the ’06 Olympics, Dube’s at the ’07 Four Continents, or Totmianina’s at ’04 Skate America, and so on). In an attempt to preserve some modicum of good taste in looking at this subject, and to avoid sensationalizing it, I’m certainly not featuring those here. But, if you are not faint of heart, and are a self-proclaimed “rubber necker”, watch them at your own risk here.

As the stakes continue to be raised in this sport, and the bar on technical demands goes increasingly higher, these moments will only become more common. We haven’t necessarily hit the ceiling either, as Scott Hamilton recently shared in a Washington Post interview, “I thought, in my days of competing, that you had to be a mutant to do a quad…Is a quintuple (5 revolutions in the air) possible? Absolutely! It may take a change in skate technology.”

Interestingly, with the CoP (Code of Points) system, a skater call fall, perhaps even twice and still win the gold. Mao Asada and Yu-Nu Kim are the perfect example of this. Their program component scores are so jam packed with points that they have a much greater margin for error… well, except when competing against each other! In the old days a fall would be the death knell to a gold medal, or sometimes any medal. Now, a clean program is not necessarily premiere. Think of all the recent gold medal programs that weren’t clean.

It has always been one of my pet peeves when a commentator asks a skater after a competitive performance (for example): “What happened on your triple lutz?”. When there are so many factors that have to align for a skater to execute a jump/throw/lift properly (ie: health, training, skate fit, blade sharpening, mood and focus, audience energy, ice surface, meals in foreign settings, hotel comfort, and on and on), aren’t they allowed to just make a mistake and not have it carry the gravitas of major failure, or grievous miscalculation?

Cohen gives away Olympic gold, '06

Cohen gives away Olympic gold, '06

So, let’s stop fooling ourselves. The ever looming risk of butts on ice give the well executed tricks their thrill, keep keep us watching, and on the edge of our seats. And, sometimes the results are downright hysterical. Go ahead, laugh!

Slutskaya in unexpected reverie, '06 Olympics

Slutskaya in unexpected reverie, '06 Olympics

Is that Faiella giving Scali the reverse Heimlich?

Is that Faiella giving Scali the reverse Heimlich?

Queen of mishaps on and off the ice, '92 Olympics

Queen of mishaps on and off the ice, '92 Olympics

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