Monday, February 18, 2002
Updated: February 19, 4:05 AM ET
It's hard to call it a sport when 'athletes' wear wings
By Tim Keown
ESPN The Magazine
SALT LAKE CITY -- Ice dancing gets a raw deal from guys like me. Since someone decided to call it a sport and put it in the Olympics, we go in thinking it's an easy chance to make fun of something we really don't understand.
But on Monday night, I got to see ice dancing in person, in all its whimsical, perky glory. About halfway through the night, I came to a shameful realization: I'll never make fun of curling -- or biathlon -- again.
Ice dancing is nothing like figure skating, which incorporates athleticism, cheesy outfits and international espionage. Ice dancing is its own unique spectacle, falling somewhere between a Harlequin romance novel and a Star Trek convention.
Something happened to these people, and it's our civic duty to get them back. A serious disconnect occurred somewhere, and the subculture of the event allowed it to not only happen but flourish. This is the Olympics, for crying out loud, and we have a right as Americans to see someone do something more daring than break-dance on ice while wearing a costume straight out of Clan of the Cave Bear.
Watching ice dancing is like going on a bad field trip, like the one to the post office.
Each program in the free skate Monday night -- the piece de resistance of the genre -- lasted roughly four minutes. And, to the dancers' credit, not one of them felt like more than an hour.
Here's how it starts: The best ice-dancers in the world take the ice wearing flowing chiffon bows or cellophane blouses or strips of material that look like gills.
And that's just the men.
The hair is something else entirely. The hair is epic. Who decided the Fabio look was in again? Evidently, ice dancers, and ice dancers only. Then again, you know how every trend in American fashion starts with ice dancers and emanates outward.
Which also means we're in for a much bigger Michael Jackson revival than any of us thought possible.
The winning couple, from France, wore outfits that managed to bridge the gap between Grizzly Adams and Land of the Lost. I think they won because at one point she grabbed him and held him on her hip like a heavy bag of groceries. He splayed his legs out in case anybody might have missed it. The gold was theirs.
The scariest thing about ice dancing comes when you consider the chronology: First someone had to conceive of these costumes, then someone -- maybe the same someone, but maybe not -- had to get the "athletes" to agree to wear them.
It's wrong on so many levels it's hard to decide where to start.
The highlight of the night came when a Canadian dance couple (why is it always the Canadians?) had to stop their routine after about a minute when one of her chiffon wings got caught in his shirt.
They stopped, skated over to the judges, explained the situation and then went over to their seamstress, who is ice dancing's version of a cut man. The seamstress made the necessary repairs and they re-took the ice.
And then something else happened -- either the music wasn't right or the mood wasn't right or some makeup got in his eyes -- because they stopped again, skated over to the judges and asked for another do-over.
And they let it happen. They simply stopped the music, re-started it where it needed to be re-started and everybody acted like no big deal.
In fact, they were such sympathetic characters by this point that the crowd decided to cheer every little two-step they tossed out there. Put it this way: It's not Philadelphia.
I'm no ice-dancing specialist (contrary to what you might be thinking as you read this; trust me, it only looks like it because I did a lot of last-minute research) but one look at their tentacled costumes would have told you entanglement was a distinct possibility. You didn't have to be a seamstress to see that. She looked like a puffer fish.
If only they could have done the routine as many times as it took to get it right, they would have been on that medals stand. There's no doubt in anyone's mind. The Canadian media, fresh off their win in pairs figure skating, will be picking up the campaign for these folks soon, too. Before long, the entire world will be wearing Roots clothing and holding a press conference every 7.2 hours.
Oh, yeah, a Russian couple got the silver, and I would like to be the first to call for an investigation. We all know the vote-swapping rumors that went along with the pairs figure skating competition, and last night the Russians were every bit as good as the French. He was just too big to be carried around the ice like a twelve-pack of beer stacked atop a wheel of Jarlsberg. Should that be held against him?
Because, other than that, the Russians had every right to claim the gold as theirs.
Take it from me, I was there.
Tim Keown writes for ESPN The Magazine.