Ice dancing costumes a sports oddity

Updated: February 20, 2006, 9:03 PM ET
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

TORINO, Italy -- Here's a frightening picture: Imagine if they sold figure skating replica uniforms.

"Hey dude, where did you get that wicked Brian Boitano 1988 Olympics costume?

"This old thing? You should see my '92 Viktor Petrenko."

"I'm thinking of buying an '84 Scott Hamilton, but I don't think my wife will let me."

Isabelle Delobel, Olivier Schoenfelder
David Boily/WireImage.com Ice dancers say their costumes help add to the drama of the performance.

It's a strange thing. All the other athletes at the Olympics compete in uniforms that bear the emblem of their nations. But not figure skating. They wear sequins and rhinestones and ostrich feathers and silk and scarves and lace and boas.

"It's the only time you can go out and have a good time," American ice dancer Ryan O'Meara said of wearing these ridiculous costumes. "It's kind of weird because the whole world is watching and you're in sequins and you don't really care. It's part of sport."

I'm not sure George Steinbrenner would agree.

There were costumes at the ice dancing finals that Johnny Weir would consider over the top. Great Britain's Sinead Kerr wore a tartan skirt Monday. France's Albena Denkova wore some sort of bizarre Carnivale motif, which made her look a little like Bill Belichick in drag. Ukraine's Elena Grushina wore a white dress that was not only backless, it was virtually frontless, as well, with tassels strategically dangling over her chest.

Frederick's of Hollywood -- the official outfitter of figure skating.

"If you have a bad costume, it's not good," O'Meara said. "But if you have a good costume, it's almost like no one notices it. The last reaction you want is people to go, 'Oh my God, what are they wearing?'"

Vera Wang designs Michelle Kwan's costumes, but Kwan is a millionaire who can afford that. O'Meara uses a lesser known New York designer, but even then his costumes can cost several thousand dollars. American ice dancer Denis Petukhov said the costume expenses for him and partner/wife Melissa Gregory run as much as $15,000 a year.

"The stoning is very expensive," Petukhov said, pointing to the glittering stones that ran up and down his Romeo costume. "You have to sew each one on."

We've all dealt with that issue, haven't we?

The worst part of the expense is the costumes are like bridesmaids dresses. There just aren't many uses for a heavily sequined velvet jumpsuit, at least not unless Prince is filming a video. Petukhov said they sell some of their costumes to other skaters after competitions, but even then, they only get about half their original cost for them.

"I have a closet filled with stuff I've never worn," O'Meara said, "but they're there in case I ever needed them at some point."

And what, precisely, would that point be?

There is one positive to the costumes, though. You never see a swoosh. And given how awful some of the costumes are, it may be a promising trend that the women's dresses are getting skimpier and skimpier. There was so much skin showing at Sunday's original dance program that Maxim must have been an official sponsor.

The revealing costumes are fine, American dancer Melissa Gregory said, "As long as there are no wardrobe malfunctions."

NBC can only hope. A "malfunction" of a costume would cause "American Idol" ratings to sink to PBS levels.

Despite the back-breaking expense and the easy punchlines, the skaters and dancers wouldn't have it any other way.

"The costumes are what gives it the theater and attracts millions of fans to the sport," Petukhov said. "That's what makes the sport beautiful."

He obviously didn't see France's Denkova.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com