Vancouver Games: Week 1 Supersized Recap

I’m battling a terrible cold and sore throat. Staying up past midnight nightly watching these Games likely hasn’t helped. Why, oh why is the left coast on such a delay? More advertising dollars for NBC? Pathetic! I’m sure a lot of potential viewers drifted away because of this poor decision.

Opening Ceremonie$

When I sat down to watch the opening, all I could think of was how unlucky Vancouver was to have to follow Beijing. Beijing spent over $300+ million, and have a culture that is already primed to partake in such a large-scale, perfect orchestration of the masses. However, I respected Canada’s aim to keep it less expensive (even if that still meant a walloping $30+ million). After all, the Olympics are important for national pride, and international athletic competition and camaraderie, but it shouldn’t replace feeding mouths and rebuilding cities.

We Are the World…again, REALLY? At least J-Hud was in the mix, making it a bit more legit. In the initial, historic portion of the ceremony, I really appreciated the strong presence of the indigenous native nations, particularly the aboriginal people, and the nod to their cultural impact.

The greeter minions (see photo, in background), decked out head to toe in snowy white, looked like rather vacuous members of an Eskimo cult, or life-sized “It’s a Small World…” mascots, courtesy of Disney. One in particular caught my eye on multiple close-ups. He was highly entertaining, and had the infectious enthusiasm and gloriously bad dance moves of one of The Wiggles. I was reminded that believing you’re really good is half the battle in convincing others that you actually are. The female greeters also called to mind the great ole winter icon Suzy Chapstick.

In the parade of athletes, it was a pleasant surprise to see so many figure skaters bearing their flags: Kevin van der Perren (Belgium), Julia Sebestyen (Hungary), Alexandra Zaretsky (Israel), Song Chol Ri (N. Korea), and medal contender Stéphane Lambiel (Switzerland)! NOONE waved their flag with more fey elegance than Stéphane. I was struck by some of the more memorable athlete names: Hubert von Hohenlohe (sounds like a drunk ‘n merry Austrian prince), and Bjoergvin Bjoergvinsson (what were his parents thinking?)!

K.D. Lang was channeling Wayne Newton. She sounded fantastic singing Leonard Cohen’s (unfortunately overdone) “Hallelujah.” Her voice is very well-preserved, after 25+ years as a recording artist. The digital video images projected on the floor were stunning, especially when a simulated school of orcas (spouting out their air holes) passed across the ocean surface. The artistic highlight of the ceremony was the aerial dance “Who Has Seen the Wind”, performed by Montreal’s Thomas Saulgrain, to Joni Mitchell’s acoustic recording of “Both Sides Now.” It was spiritually transcendent, filled with sincere wonder, and his journey reminded me a bit of Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.”

The most compelling moment was the minute of silence, for Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili (Team Georgia in photo, above right). How rare it is for a group of that enormity to share in silence, and what a reminder it was that modern society works far to hard to fill up all the still or quiet moments in life. Silent meditation is so rife with meaning…as much or more so than activity. Near the end, Measha Brueggergosman did her best Jessye Norman impersonation, complete with protruding neck veins, unhinged jaw, and mother nature/goddess delivery. I enjoy her art, and appreciated her inclusion, but this presented her as an operatic caricature.

Overall, the host country did a great job of milking their budget, as it didn’t feel cheap at all, and the silly mishaps were easily forgiven.

Delivering Olympic Moments: The Pairs

Thankfully, we were treated to two true Olympic moments, in the form of a perfect and record-breaking short program from Shen & Zhao, and long from Pang & Tong! The SP event was very impressive, with the top 5 (and 7th) pairs skating cleanly. I felt Pang & Tong were undermarked, which smacked of political toe-tapping (ie: the result of wanting only one pair per country on the podium).

However, the free skate event was as lackluster as the SP was brilliant. It was a very messy night (wet tushes galore). Sentimental and season favorites Shen & Zhao finally nabbed gold at their fourth Olympics. Unfortunately, their win was somewhat overshadowed by Pang & Tong’s spirited, and well-paced “Man of La Mancha” LP. Some felt Pang & Tong should have received the bronze in Torino. Were they yet again cheated? Shen & Zhao’s fundamental skating skills, choreography and connection are a notch above, so I would ultimately say no, despite their lift error. Perhaps this will motivate Pang & Tong to aim for Sochi? I hope so. They’re both 30, so it’s not impossible.

Shen & Zhao Throw Time Lapse

Thanks to Scott Hamilton’s mention, I discovered the fascinating and I never knew this was one of the tools skaters used to source their partners. Very akin to online dating!

Langlois & Hay were the most satisfying non-contenders in the competition. Their programs and costuming were very refined and fresh. Their on-ice connection is palpable, so it’s no surprise they’re an off-ice couple. They skated a fantastic SP, and a respectable LP, especially given that they missed an entire season, due to her major surgeries. I hope they stick around, and continue to improve.

jcm’s pairs’ costuming thumbs-up: Shen & Zhao’s SP, especially hers, with its romantic filigree; Pang & Tong’s LP, which were perfectly suited to their program and très stylish. Thumbs-down: Volosozhar and Morozov’s SP, shiny blue unitards (which he should not be wearing!); Bazarova & Larionov’s LP, Russian Wonder Twins“form ofcontenders in Sochi?”.

Some Hard Knocks, eh?

I must confess, witnessing the end of the Russian pairs’ reign offered a sick sort of pleasure. NBC’s shot of Moskvina and Kavaguti after the competition was like an icon of this historic shift. Kavaguti was completely glassen in her eyes and expression, whilst a giddy western woman looked on patronizingly. It’s actually quite sad, when you consider what she gave up for this (ie: her citizenship). She looks VERY young, but is actually 28…so, unless she has a raging competitive fire, or the genes (ala Shen & Zhao), this could close the books on her Olympic dream.

Canadian skating greats, and Vancouver commentators Salé and Pelletier are rumored to be splitsville. It’s hard to believe, but the wedding ring MIA, and their overly professional, almost chilly demeanor (ie: after Mukhortova & Trankov’s “Love Story” LP) may support it. IF it’s true, it’s a real shame…a two year old son, and so much shared skating history. Prooves it can happen to the best of them.

I think it’s sad that Szolkowy considers himself “the ultimate looser.” Frankly, after his spotty season with Savchenko, they’re lucky to have an Olympic medal (bronze). But, I’d likely feel the same if I botched the easiest jump in my repertoire (a double axel), and took myself out of gold medal contention.

Oh-So-Quotable Johnny

He hit the nail on the head in his recent HBO Sports interview, when he referred to high level figure skating as “the theatre of figure skating.” That is what it should be…not purely sport. He “rocked the (pink) tassel,” and did himself, the U.S., and me VERY proud in both showings. They were his best performances since ’06, and his LP was the emotional winner of the night. He skated with great abandon and commitment. He should NOT have been lower than 5th, and some felt he was robbed of the bronze (there’s even a facebook group backing this). In the old system he would have. Ah well!

“It’s a catfight, and I’m proud to be in it,” Johnny said, referring to the men’s competition. In a close-up before his SP, I noticed that he seemed to be wearing glitter nail polish. That may have been a first for a man in Olympic competition. Perhaps readying him for the “catfight”?

I’ve been very impressed by how much time and energy Universal Sports has given to the “Figure Skating Review and Preview” show, hosted by Terry Gannon. Although the results have been mixed, the investment is worthwhile. I did find it appalling though to observe the responses from Yamaguchi, Carruthers and Boitano, when Gannon inquired about Weir’s SP, and podium potential. There was a pregnant, awkward silence, followed by some half-hearted, tepid commentary. Why are people SO scared of associating themselves with him, or offering ANY wind at his back? It makes me sick!

The media underestimated Johnny all week. After his SP, Hamilton said he did “as well as he could.” That’s a backhanded compliment, if I’ve ever heard one. He was FABULOUS!

Two Kinds of Tears: The Men

Both Jeremy Abbott and Evan Lysacek shed tears after their SPs, but tears of a very different sort. Jeremy’s were of disappointment, and Evan’s redemption. Doesn’t Frank (Caroll, Evan’s coach) have a No Tears Rule for Evan too (ala Mirai)? After all, if anyone shouldn’t cry it’s a “straight” male athlete?

One sign of the depth of the men’s field is that after Jeremy Abbott self-destructed in the SP (1 single pop, and one double pop) he fell to 15th. Comparatively, in Torino, Evan had a more fatal fall and a double pop, and was higher up, in 10th. Like with the pairs, the SP event was more impressive than the LP, with all but one of the top five skating perfectly.

Human interest stories are effective and inspirational, to a point. But, I’m going to protest if I hear again that Florent Amodio was found abandoned on the street. He is a beautiful young man, and a very promising skater. The repeated back story isn’t needed to build his fan base, garner viewers, or “sell” his skating.

The Plushenko vs. Lysacek media frenzy post LP has been laughable. But first, did you see the look on Plushenko’s wife’s face after Takahashi’s SP scores were posted? She could cut a bitch! After the LP, Sasha Cohen, Elvis Stojko and all of Mother Russia (Putin, Mishin, etc.) stated that Plushy should have won. Sasha and Elvis thought Evan should have gotten the bronze, behind Dice-K, because he was without the Quad, his jumps weren’t as high, and he skated slower. Dick Button, Kristy Yamaguchi, and Peter Carruthers felt the result was fair, but they are paid NBC commentators, after all. As Philip Hersh wrote, the “Skating federation president says Plushenko wants to be a one-note pianist.” (brilliant
metaphor). Evan did not skate with the abandon he did at LA Worlds, but he did skate cleanly, and with impressive ride-out and confidence on his jumps.

jcm’s men’s costuming thumbs-up: Lambiel’s “La Traviata” LP, perfection (tassel sighting #2); Takahashi’s “La Strada” LP, risky, but I liked its artistic Euro-foppishness; Patrick Chan’s “Phantom…” LP, very handsome. Thumbs-down: Van der Perren’s “…Bald Mountain” SP, Dem BONES reminded me of the game of “Operation”; Oda’s SP, garish and devilish.

My blog has recently entered the ranking system. I was amused to see that, unlike Johnny, I ended out on top of Patrick Chan. How amusing! You can’t win ’em all Patrick. 😉

Tango Romantica, anyone? (How ’bout 23 times?)

My commentary focuses on the top four medal contenders:

Domnina & Shabalin had GREAT character and carriage throughout their compulsory dance. Her head snaps were the most true tango characteristic I saw all night. She looked like a Hitchcock leading lady (ala Hedren, Novak, Marie Saint, etc.). They also offered a good balance of power and romance.

Davis & White were very smooth. But, I felt they missed a little bit of the temperamental bite and bitch needed for this dance.

Belbin & Agosto’s approach focused on intensity, but was perhaps a bit too icy. Agosto’s first facial expression felt very muggy and fake. Overall, it was a strong enough performance, especially considering they hadn’t yet competed with it.

Virtue & Moir were indeed “almost poetic,” as Marie-France Dubreuil stated. Tracy Wilson and most had placed them in first, but they came up after the Russians. Their approach was easily the most romantic of the night. They were positively dreamy, and skated the most truly “as one”.

jcm’s ice dance compulsory costuming thumbs-up: Virtue & Moir, their hair and makeup framed the perfect picture; Pechalat & Bourzat’s retro stylings, especially her print dress were stand-outs. They are a hawt couple! Thumbs-down: Tanith Belbin was oddly playing a dominatrix (tassel sighting #3).

Notable Asides

“The short program can’t win it, but it can certainly lose it.” is THE most overused quote of the figure skating coverage. Come up with a new schtick! Even Evan’s dad rehashed it, in an on-air interview.

American speed skater J.R. Celski, still hidden a bit by Apolo Ohno’s shadow is a complete doll (at left). I can already smell the endorsements!

I found it fascinating to discover that a cross-country skier needs 6,000/day calories during training. These are best delivered in carbs (ie: rice, bread, pasta), as well as avocado and as many vegetables as one can stuff in one’s mouth! A figure skater (ie: Amanda Evora, a 99lb. woman) needs 3,000/day.

In an on-air interview, Sasha Cohen said she “isn’t done yet.” She has realized that skating is her life, and wishes to continue to evolve her skills and artistry while she still can. Does this mean we could see her at 2011 Nationals? I hope so. She’s gotta go out with two clean programs!


3 comments so far

  1. Ice Charades on

    Thank you JCM! That’s the best recap I’ve seen! I live in Mexico and get very limited coverage of the games and the commentary is all in Spanish. So I’m grateful to read your take on all of this.

    I’m especially glad to read your take on Johnny Weir. I thought he was wonderful in the long (didn’t get to see him in the short) and wished he had placed in 3rd. I thought his LP was the best of the night in pure performance,but realize Evan’s program was harder and done well. Anyway, I love Johnny’s willingness to channel his inner-Toller and speak his mind. Skating needs that otherwise it’s so boring if the skaters just spouts the IOC’s talking points.

    Thanks again – Ice Charades

  2. jumping clapping man on

    Great to hear from you Ice Charades, and thanks for the link on your site!

    It’s funny you mention Cranston. I just got “If Hell Freezes Over, Should I Bring My Skates”! Can’t wait to dive in. I’ve always enjoyed his candor and saucy take on the world of skating.

    I’m glad to be your source for an english-language perspective. Come back for the Week 2 Recap!

  3. Ice Charades on

    I assume you have read his first book? I finished Zero Tollerance about four months ago and loved it. I need to dig into “If Hell Freezes Over” soon.

    Can’t wait to read your take on the judging for the Women. I imagine it will be as controversial as the others.

    Thanks again – Jenny

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