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Meltdown on ice

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

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 uberhunk 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 cliche 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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