Meltdown on ice

An out former skating judge is let down by the performances in the men's figure skating long program at Torino—but gives high marks to the costumes and the men themselves

BY Jon Jackson

February 17 2006 1:00 AM ET

As a former
Olympic-level skating judge with 20 years experience judging
every little nuance in this popular winter sport, I look
forward to the men’s figure skating long
program as my favorite night of the Olympics. But
Thursday night’s event at the Torino Olympic Winter
Games could not have been a bigger disappointment.
With more downs than ups, the ice in the Torino
Palavela was a complete meltdown.

Figure skating is
all about physical prowess, technical superiority, and
mental discipline. It’s the taking of a physically
demanding athletic skill and the adding of the
difficult elements of performance and presentation.
The best skaters leave an audience with a piece of their
personality and the emotion of the moment. Yet the only
emotions I felt during this event were depression and
gloom. So, after tossing back some self-prescribed
medical elixirs, I thought it might be more entertaining
to write about the hunk factor of these skaters than the
pitiable and confusing skating itself.

But first, a few
inside Olympic figure skating gay statistics. (I know.
Redundant.) At least seven of the 14 male Olympic figure
skating medalists from the past 20 years are known in
certain circles to be interested in other men. In
fact, in at least five countries the entire
men’s singles figure skating team is made up of gay
men (albeit some “teams” are exactly one
man). Yet so far not one of these athletes is publicly
out regarding his sexuality. Which champion will come out
and help take the sport to a new level?

That’s a
question for another day. Meanwhile, back to Torino, where
on Thursday night I followed the moves of some very
attractive skaters.

Clean-cut
American Evan Lysacek was the first out of the gate of the
front-runners, skating in a black blouse, a pair of
understated matching black pants, and a cleverly tied
little red sash representing a bloody wound to his
hand—Johnny Weir’s Camille-red bird beak in
the short program was a far more interesting choice.
This time Evan’s skate had passion and heart,
unlike in his flu-fueled, IV-bagged short program. He
really got the crowd going.

Next up was the
soft-spoken and often soft-pedaled Matt Savoie. Matt is
planning to go to law school in a few months, but Thursday
he brought some order to the court with a spellbinding
performance to the soundtrack from The Mission.
Outfitted in a dusty tan blouse with a plunging
bric-a-brac adorned neckline, Savoie provided a top-rate,
convincing performance. His intricate transitions and
his expression of the character and emotion of the
music really shone.

Canadian Emanuel
Sandhu donned a pair of grape-colored formfitting pants
and a whimsical black blouse trimmed with a white collar and
fanciful turquoise stripes. Sadly, he spent more time
on the ice than he did gliding over it. Not that one
would notice, with his strong cheekbones and
flawlessly sculpted body, but it was the most disappointing
performance of the night. My heart went out to him.

The Russian
favorite, Evgeny Plushenko, was first to skate of the final
six men. All but given the gold after the short program, he
showed up Thursday merely to collect his medal. Evgeny
has repeatedly proved to be one of the sexiest stars
of the figure skating show, but this night he left his
appeal back in St. Petersburg. It was quite simply the most
boring program I have ever seen this Russian
‘artiste’ perform.

Switzerland’s Stephane Lambiel, the defending World
Champion, won the award for the most going on in any
one costume—orange, blue, black, and white;
alternating orange/black tiger and white/black zebra
stripes; and snowflakes adorning the baggy pant legs.
Lambiel wowed the crowd with his spectacular spins and
masterful footwork. His clever, wry, and devious smile
pulled the audience into his program. The judges too.
Despite the Tony the Tiger outfit, this young hunk
gets more handsome with age. I can hardly wait four
more years to see him again.

America’s
media darling of this Winter Games, Johnny Weir, came next
in his stunning self-designed costume. Weir’s
refreshing honesty and openness won over many a
detractor, making for strange bedfellows among his
newfound fans. Figure skating aficionados and detractors
alike are all too accustomed to the phoniness of this
sometimes superficial sport. Weir’s honesty
caught even the most cynical by surprise. The old-guard
judges were not so impressed; they dumped him into fifth. As
far as this judge is concerned, though,
Johnny’s ability to find strength in the
feminine earns him the highest of marks.

Canada’s
Jeffrey Buttle skated out with a dazzling smile in a simple
rose-red blouse with black trim and matching black pants.
His boyish good looks, sense of music, and dance
ability won over the crowd. The energy of his
performance was consistent throughout. The only thing
brighter than the lights in the building was
Buttle’s huge smile. This young man is sure to
become a superhot Canadian sex symbol.

Finally, out onto
the ice came France’s Brian Joubert, once trained by
überhunk and gold medalist Alexei Yagudin. It’s
rumored that Joubert’s red, silver, and black
costume was stolen from a skydiving Elvis
impersonator. “Hollywood good looks” is the
most often used cliché to describe
Joubert’s appeal. Yet there is no artistry or appeal
beyond his strong jawline. His skating was the least
fluid and appealing of the favorites on this night. No
doubt he was born with French couture genes, but they
let him down in Torino.

The costumes were
fabulous and outrageous. The skating was subpar. But
the men delivered on charm, charisma, and good looks. The
only thing predictable about this event was the
judging, as predetermined as ever. The end results?
Exactly the same order as last year’s World
Championships, with Plushenko thrown in at the top. The
final placement was eerily the same: Lambiel, Buttle,
Lysacek, and Weir, in exactly the same order. Hmmm.
Maybe the judges mailed their marks from Moscow last
March. Either that or the computer accidentally spit out
last year’s result.

Highlight of the
evening: Evan Lysacek. Lowlight of the evening: the
missing artistry of the masterful Evgeny Plushenko.
Highlight of the Olympic Games: Johnny
Weir—hands down. How sad that the lowlight gets the
gold while the highlights go home empty-handed.

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