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Friday, February 19, 2010

The USFSA is thrilled beyond measure today
Posted by Jill | 5:13 AM
The USFSA, of course, is the United States Figure Skating Association. The reason they are thrilled is that after years of fretting that the uncategorizable Johnny Weir was becoming the face of U.S. men's figure skating, and decades of fretting about skating's reputation as a "gay sport", the USFSA's dream has finally come true -- they finally have a straight male who is Olympic figure skating champion.

Unfortunately, because of NBC's putting its video behind the Silverlight wall so that you have to go along with Microsoft dipping into your computer any time they want to in order to update it, I can't post video of the performances last night. But while you have to be pleased with the way Evan Lysacek got it together at this competition after falling apart in Torino four years ago, there was something magical about what Johnny Weir presented last night.

It can't be easy being Johnny Weir. Of course it takes guts to take your sport's greatest fear and turn it on its ear with every move you make, and it takes a hell of a lot of guts to do the training required to be an elite-level skater, no matter how much fur and high heels you like to wear. I think Weir had long since gotten over any idea that he would win a medal at these Olympics. But after finishing the short program in sixth place, with eventual bronze medalist Daisuki Takahashi fall on his face in his opening jump, and watching the other long-shots like Stephane Lambiel stumble badly in their programs, the door was certainly open for Johnny Weir.

Lysacek and Plushenko both did what was expected of them. Lysacek came out like the warrior he's been painted as in the media, and while I'm not fond of the flailing stiff arms that hetero skaters like Canada's Elvis Stojko regard as "masculine", he looked like a guy who would put a blade two inches into your skull if you got into his way. If you wanted butch from an American skater, you got it last night. You also have to keep in mind that this guy is over six feet tall, and it's impossible to fathom how hard it must be for something who creates that much wind resistance to get enough lift and rotation to do a triple axel.

Plushenko strutted out there like the defending champion he is, and frankly, I thought he did better here than he did in the short program, even if his program seemed in places as if a conscious decision had been made to put some Weirisms into the program. When Plushenko was done, he clearly thought he had nailed it, and in fact the decision could have gone either way. But while I have no beef with Plushenko as a skater, his smug certainty had me fervently rooting for Lysacek to prevail in the scores, if only to wipe that smug smirk off his face, something that occurred not long afterwards, at the medals ceremony, where I almost felt badly for him. Plushenko is the last elite men's event skater of the old Soviet system that cranked out champions out of its sports factory, and going out in a blaze of silver wasn't exactly what he had in mind. He wasn't exactly a gracious second-place finisher, either:



For Plushenko, though, the performance was not a complete disappointment. He had landed the quadruple jump, which requires four full rotations and is the hardest jump in the sport. He had added a third Olympic medal to his booty.

“I said I would be happy with second, third or even fifth place after not skating for three and a half years before this,” he said. “So this is not bad, not bad at all.”

Still, he and his coach, Aleksei Mishin, continued to say that male skaters who did not try the quad were basically wimps. Their theory is that no-quad performances are setting the sport back at least a decade. Mishin said “a real champion should execute quadruple jumps.” Plushenko hinted that Lysacek’s performance was subpar.

“If the Olympic champion doesn’t know how to jump a quad, I don’t know,” Plushenko said. “Now it’s not men’s figure skating. It’s dancing. Maybe figure skating needs a new name.”

Ever heard the Aesop's fable about the fox and the grapes, there, dude?

But while Plushenko and Lysacek skated like warriors, giving the judges what they wanted, and even showing some personality, Johnny Weir, whom the judges only moved up one place into a fifth place finish, ripped his heart out of his own chest and his soul out of his body and put it out there for the entire world to see. Why one very small bobble on a spin wasn't offset by beautiful jumps at the end of the program (in the "bonus zone", as described by Scott Hamilton), I have no idea, except that it's clear that figure skating judges didn't want to give a medal to a guy with his own reality documentary series who's been filmed in a bathtub wearing a blonde wig and glasses, looking (and sounding) alarmingly like Orly Taitz, calling himself a pussy on the ice in a mock interview with his "best friend" about himself.

While the scoring system has changed for the better, so that a skater who makes a mistake early in the program is allowed to compensate for it later on, it's clear that the people who do the scoring haven't changed one iota. For while Johnny Weir may love all things Russian, and may skate like the Balanchine balletic Russian skaters of the old Soviet system, that system has collapsed. And you can skate a program that moves people to tears now, and the scoring system can still be rigged in the free program so that you can still lose the bronze to even marginally more "macho" skaters who fall on their faces.

And so the USFSA finally has the straight male as champion that they can put forth to a nation in which there are any number of sports with various degrees of macho that young boys can choose. And as good as he was, I don't think Evan Lysacek is going to be able to hold a candle to the awesome and adorable Shaun White in terms of über cool. But whatever. Frank Carroll, looking hardly different over two decades after Chris Bowman drove him to distraction and watching his skaters win silver (Linda Fratianne and Michelle Kwan) and bronze (Tim Goebel), finally has his champion.

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