Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Men's Event

Skating results shouldn’t shock me, but they never fail to. One is naïve if they believe an extra double loop or double toe loop by Weir would’ve made a difference. Results are still controlled by the judges, who discuss placements during practice sessions and nightly cocktail parties. Lysacek’s victory had little to do with his skating. He surely wasn’t awarded personal bests for his scratchy landings on 5-6 jumping passes. This narrow victory is a result of Lysacek being the USFSA’s “yes” man. When one listens to Evan Lysacek in interviews or reads his quotes, they should be able to discern a disingenuous quality. When the national champion mentions how “masculine” skating is or how skating “is like the X Games”, he is playing up to the USFSA and how they prefer to market the sport. While fans, judges, skaters and coaches have accepted the fact that the majority of male skaters are gay, the powers that be are uncomfortable with letting it be known that nationals are a bigger gay dating convention than all state choir.

From reading competitors’ Q+A’s, journals and seeing their numerous photo ops on television, Evan Lysacek and Tanith Belbin’s romance appears as believable as Rock Hudson and Doris Day. While I am not labeling either skater one way or the other, several skaters have been known to chuckle at their relationship, with the most common response being, “Tanith is a smart girl. She knows what she’s doing.” During the opening of NBC’s broadcast of the men’s program, it takes a few moments to realize when the image shifts from Weir to Lysacek due to their wardrobe similarities. Perhaps we should put them on “The Newlywed Game” and see exactly how much they know about one another.
When it comes to judging the actual skating, why aren’t the judges supporting a skater who has gotten in the best shape of career, is skating to brilliant, original music with innovative choreography? Weir actually went for a Quad Toe, which was cleaner than Lysacek’s attempt, and most of Weir's jumping passes were completed with long flowing edges, while Lysacek landed extremely forward on both Triple Axels and hung on to his Triple Salchow and Triple Toe. The international judges love Weir and awarded him two Grand Prix victories, while Lysacek couldn’t even win Skate America (Figure Skating’s version of the American Cup a.k.a. SCAM Cup) Remember the days when Frank Carroll and Lori Nichol wouldn’t allow Michelle Kwan to skate to music that had been previously used by anyone? Why have they insisted on playing the “paint by numbers” approach to Lysacek’s music and choreography? We’ve see him skate to Zorro, Tosca, Carmen and Malaguena, with each overused piece of music being expressed by extraneous overwrought arm movements from his previous year’s program. This is not innovate “artistry.” Perhaps is Lysacek spent less time creating an image preferable to the USFSA, we might see his true personality come out and feel more of a connection. When I watch Lysacek’s free program, I often wonder if I’d prefer watching Irina Slutskaya grab her head with fake angst. Luckily, the rest of the USFSA senior men have given up the country’s tradition of portraying soldiers or something equally farfetched and “masculine.”

The international judges have proven that they are not necessarily looking to see who the most “masculine” skater is. John Curry was not punished for being himself when he won the gold medal in 1976; neither was Urmanov in 1994. Weir is beloved around the world for being true to himself on and off the ice. Now training under Galina Zmeivskaya, Weir has the skating and the political force to challenge for the World Title. When it comes time for Vancouver, I’d rather be Johnny than Evan. Galina Zmievskaya has pulled off two difficult victories, while Frank Carroll has been on the losing end twice. It will be inconsequential whether the USFSA backs Johnny or Evan, because Weir’s alliances with Galina Zmeivskaya, Tatiana Tarasova, Marina Anissina, Viktor Petrenko, Oksana Baiul, Evgeny Platov, Irina Slutskaya, and countless others should give him the support of the former Soviet Bloc. The Russians do not have a top contender this year, which means it is likely the Russians will put their vote behind a skater whom recently was an award titled “For Love of Russia.” Weir may prove to be the USA’s best chance for gold at Worlds (Belbin and Agosto are ready, but they face a Russian dance team who possess Russia’s only serious chance at winning a world title this season).

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