Monday, January 29, 2007


Politics just didn’t matter to me this weekend because there was figure skating to watch. And what a figure skating lineup it was!

There was the unbelievable pleasure of watching a miracle pulled off by Belbin and Agosto. The miracle was not that they won, although they were challenged more fully than in the past by some stunning performances from other teams. However, their original Free Dance was criticized by international judges during the early part of the competitive season. Most skaters would have soldiered on improving what already existed, and perhaps might even have been defiant about it. Not these two brilliant competitors. They listened to the critiques of judges and other skaters, and went back to work creating (in only 4 weeks which seems improbably short a time) an entirely new program that features entirely new technical elements, most of which were invented by them and had never been used before by anyone. In the process, they increased the technical difficulty of their program by at least double. This is a feat nearly impossible to do and, if you can do it, impossible to skate with any style or finesse. Unless of course your names are Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto. These two ARE capable of creating a miracle and having it look like something they’ve been polishing for 6 months! Which miracle was so good it brought tears to my eyes. And as good as it is right now, by March 2007 at Worlds it will be just that much better! Ah, they are spectacular. And their colleagues on the podium are almost equally talented. Neither Melissa Gregory & Denis Petukhov nor Meryl Davis & Charlie White will in any way embarrass U.S. Ice Dancing.

In Pair Skating, a new force has arisen – the incredible, come-out-of-nowhere pair of Brooke Castile & Ben Okolski who defeated Rena Inoue & John Baldwin for the 2007 U.S. Pairs title. They didn’t just win the Pairs title, they won it convincingly. Yes, Inoue & Baldwin did not skate anywhere near their normal levels (no doubt in part due to the mugging of John Baldwin which is alleged to have happened in Russia before Christmas). The fact remains that Castile & Okolski’s performance stands on its own as a championship performance, pure and simple.

Saturday afternoon we were treated to the ladies’ competition. World Champion Kimmie Meissner was in first place going into the final, followed closely by Bebe Liang, and Emily Hughes. The final 6 began their performances and the first to skate was Alissa Czisny who proceeded to dazzle and enthrall both cranky old me AND the throngs of people in the arena in Spokane with an extraordinarily graceful and technically sound performance wherein she truly did channel the exquisite Audrey Helpburn. In point of fact, she won the free skate. Kimmie Meissner skated a good program, although not at the level of grace exhibited by Ms. Czisny. Emily Hughes, as is her wont, fell on her not inconsiderable fundament. Yes, I realize that was an unkind comment. I harbor mostly unkind thoughts about Ms. Hughes because I do not consider her to be anything other than an entitlement brat whose skating is informed by a lack of grace and charm. So sue me. The results were Kimmie Meissner (reigning World Champion) won the U.S. Championship (Ms. Czisny was way behind coming into the final skate), Emily Hughes placed 2nd and Alissa Czisny ended up 3rd. It bears noting that Ms. Czisny is from Bowling Green, Ohio, the home town of another fairly good skater – the legendary and beloved Scott Hamilton.

The men’s competition was as thrilling as anything I have seen in a very long time. Evan Lysacek skated so brilliantly with enormous technical skill and exceptional style and musicality. He signaled that he had come to Spokane to win from the moment he set foot on the ice, opening his program with a solid quad toe/triple toe combo. His spins were 1,000% better than in the short program. Ryan Bradley, who delighted in the short program, was about as exuberant and irresistible as any skater I have seen in many years. He flew around the ice as though his entire body was on fire, and while his jumps were somewhat terrifying to watch (loosey goosey is an understatement), he landed the things. And when his scores were posted, showing that he had placed 2nd, he was so excited he flew back out onto the ice and treated the audience to a back flip! This is the same young man who had a multicolored suit made for wearing in his short program, so the drummer he hears is one of a kind! Johnny Weir seemed ill trained, low in stamina and more than a little intimidated by the performance of Evan Lysacek which had immediately preceded Weir’s own skate. As I have said before, Johnny Weir needs to start concentrating on SKATING at a competitive level and less on whatever existential crap is floating around in his rather ill groomed head. Winning third place was better than his skate on Saturday night really deserved.

I've always liked Evan Lysacek's skating and he has always fared better internationally than here at home. My estimation of him took another shot upward when it was remarked during the broadcast that his girlfriend is none other than the extraordinarily beautiful Tanith Belbin. Not only can the young man SKATE, he's got great taste in women! You go Evan!

All in all, this was a more satisfying U.S. Championship than I’ve enjoyed in a very long time. My congratulations to the competitors, all of them. And my gratitude to those whose performances and brilliance made my heart ache with joy. If nothing else, I continued to ponder (lots of commercials gave me the time and impetus to do so) how different these young people truly are from so many that we see on a daily basis. These skaters have self-discipline, focus and character in abundance. We need many more like them.

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