Sunday, February 26, 2006

Figure Skating (Because I Can't Resist)

Being a figure skating nut, I was glued to the TV watching the women's Olympic long program in Torino this past week, hoping for a victory for American Sasha Cohen, who seems to have matured both in terms of manners and skating confidence since the last time I saw her skate. (Which was before we spent the last three skating seasons in Korea, where the skating shows were impossible to find on television AND, when I did get lucky, broadcast in Korean. I've always loved Dick Button's skating commentary, but I didn't realize how very much I missed him until I tried to make sense of Korean skating broadcasts with my tragically bad Korean comprehension skills). But after hearing about Russia's effervescent Irina Slutskaya, who'd overcome some weird and awful disease I'd never heard of--vasculitis--and the tragedy of her mother's serious kidney failure to skate in one more Olympics, I couldn't help but also want the gold to be hers. Either way would be fine, and I was just looking forward to a close competition.

Both, as everyone now knows, fell, allowing Japan's exquisite Shizuka Arikawa to skate away with the gold. (Not to mention the loveliest complexion I've ever seen. Life can be so unfair sometimes.)

So I was reading a recap of the women's skate by USA Today's Christine Brennan, and now I'm annoyed. According to Brennan and most of the US media, Cohen lost the gold; she didn't win the silver.

Writes Brennan: "[Cohen] knew that even though she was given the silver, she will be remembered for another squandered chance, for that terrible start much more than that fine finish. It's a shame, really. All that talent, all that grace — and it ends up as just another missed opportunity on Cohen's résumé."

Lovely. You're a world-class skater, an Olympian. That one in a million person who has enough talent (and probably money) to get to that much-hyped and much-celebrated two weeks of competition. You win the silver--you're the second best in the world that night at what you do. And it isn't enough. You aren't second best. You blew your chance to be the best, and for that, America spits on you. Or, at least, Christine Brennan does. I don't get it.

Sasha Cohen is one of the most graceful and complete skaters I've ever seen--her Achilles heel is that she's known for being overcome by nerves at crucial moments. And with one fall and one major stumble, it's obvious that Cohen's nerves got the best of her for the first minute of her program. But then she rallied, and the rest of her program was stunningly gorgeous. And yes, some reporters are mentioning the mental fortitude it took for her not to give up. But many are simply stressing what she lost, not what she won.

What kinds of lessons are we teaching our kids with that all-or-nothing mentality? Freaking second best in the world isn't good enough? This is why people maime each other over Little League games, and big-haired Texas moms try to poison head cheerleaders to get their daughters a coveted spot on the school squad. We're creating a bunch of Tanya Hardings, and we have only ourselves (and maybe Christine Brennan) to blame.

If one of my girls just MADE the Olympic team, I'd be ... well, I'd probably be the brag monster from hell. Even if they did an entire ice skating routine sliding on their bottoms, if they missed all their targets in the biathlon, if they navigated the snowboard cross backwards and in slow motion, I'd be so proud. You're an Olympian! Dude! And if they brought home a silver or bronze, I'd most likely lose all of my friends, because I probably wouldn't be able to talk about anything else for the next decade. I so totally wouldn't be talking about how they "lost the gold." Even if they pulled a Lindsey Jacobellis and hot-dogged their way into a snowbank and truly did lose a gold medal, I'd still be proud. (I'd also be laughing at their goofball antics, hoping that eventually, they would laugh too and see that silver for what it was--a terrific accomplishment and a lesson learned.)

That said, if my girls inherit my spectacular spasticness at just about every team sport known to humankind, that's fine, too. They'll have other talents, and I'll be there to cheer them on when the junior high basketball coach forces them to granny shot a free throw in front of the cutest boy in the school (Don't ask. I'm still bitter.) or when they get put into right field playing softball because EVERYBODY hits into left (And yes, the left fielders did shift right whenever a left-handed hitter approached the plate. Don't ask about that either. Still bitter.) Whatever they want to do, I'm making a promise to myself right now that their best will ALWAYS be not only good enough for their father and me, but worth celebrating. Loudly.

I will remember Sasha Cohen for her incredible spirals, for that crazy spin where her knee touches her forehead (Ow.), for her strong comeback after disaster, for her perfect short program, and for her graceful refusal to make any excuses for "slamming" the two jumps at the beginning of her long program.

Likewise, I will remember my favorite skater, Michelle Kwan, for her beautiful artistry, and her grace and class on and off the ice. I'll remember her unprecedented eight World Championships and her dozens of other medals, including an Olympic silver and bronze.

Better Cohen and Kwan's Olympic results than they act like the ghoulish gold medal skating pair from Russia, Totmiyanina and Marinin, who told an Olympic Ice reporter that they were glad China's Zhang and Zhang had a bad fall during the long program because they had hogged the ice during the warm-up (an accusation that NBC announcers and Salt Lake pairs gold medalists Jamie Sale and David Peltier said was baseless). I won't remember their gold medal at all--I'm just going to remember that they're a pair of jerks whose karma is way better than they deserve.

So stuff it, Christine Brennan. If you can't say something nice about our silver medalists, go hang out with the creepy Russians.

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Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

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