|A smackdown in sequins|
By Chris McKendry
Page 2 columnist
Skeleton, luge, snowboarding ... according to the promotions, the Salt Lake City Olympic Games are for the 18- to 35-year-old male.
Fellas, you are in the midst of two weeks of prime-time figure skating. Yes, by the time the Games end, there will have been 375 hours of coverage on the Peacock family of networks. But the mothership, NBC, will air every single skating event. The women in your house will have a GI Joe Kung Fu grip on the remote. By the time Michelle Kwan wins the gold medal on Feb. 21, you will have established a kiss-and-cry area in the corner of your own personal hell, a place that used to be your living room.
The men I work with don't understand my interest in skating. They wonder how I can care about a "sport" in which the winners are determined by judges, most of whom seem to be blind or crooks, or both.
The man I live with hates it. One Sunday, while I was watching a skating exhibition, my husband peered over his newspaper long enough to mumble, "Jon-Benets on skates!" Then he picked up a DVD and headed for the basement. He cannot understand why teenagers wear barely-there dresses made of faux see-through material cut to their navels, covered only by sequins. I don't understand it, either. But that's the difference. I don't try to understand it. I simply accept it.
I love figure skating. But then, I'm a girl. A girl, who 25 years ago, was completely convinced that she was put on this Earth to be Dorothy Hamill Junior.
As I explained in a previous column, working with men has given me a unique perspective on the difference between the sexes. I add this to my list ... figure skating is wrestling for females. It's a soap opera with music, costumes, jumps and spins. The athleticism is to be admired, the storylines are to be gobbled up like a guilty pleasure.
Men, if you take the same approach to watching skating as you do toward WWF Smackdown or Raw, you will survive these Olympics. Remember, win or lose, the fun is watching how they play the games and live their lives. So long as you don't take your enjoyment to your local bar and ask the bartender to turn on the skating, you can remain a closeted skating fan.
In a language men understand, here's what they need to know about the ladies competition:
First, the personalities
Sasha Cohen. The tiny teen from Southern California is a mixture of The Undertaker and Triple H (Hunter Hearst Helmsley). She has perfect technique, guts and would crush someone with a folding chair, if that's what it took to win. Like Triple H, Cohen missed last season with a major injury -- a stress fracture in her back. She is intent on proving that she belongs back among the elite. As wrestlers should around The Undertaker, other skaters are wise to watch their backs during warmups with Cohen. She stole the show at the U.S. Nationals in January and finished second to Kwan.
Maria Butyrskaya. She's the old Russian who posed for Playboy. I'm tempted to say her WWF counterpart is Jerry Lawler. But that's just mean. Think Diamond Dallas Page. Enough already. Almost 30 years old now, she's had an interesting career. Cut loose by her coach at 15, she proved everyone wrong in 1999 by becoming the first Russian woman to win the world championship. That same year her car was blown up by a bomb. (No, Tonya Harding was not in Moscow at the time.) Butyrskaya has white blonde hair and rarely smiles. Like Cohen, Butyrskaya is known to engage in backstage and warmup gamesmanship.
Irina Slutskaya. She's the young Russian with rosy red cheeks. If Kwan is The Rock, Slutskaya is Chris Jericho. She is Kwan's main competition. At the Grand Prix Final in December, their last meeting before these Games, Slutskaya beat Kwan, but then she lost the European Championship to Butyrskaya. Like Jericho, Slutskaya talks and talks and talks. She enjoys the stage, but has a long way to go to break out of Kwan's shadow.
Other names you might hear are: Viktoria Volchkova, Elena Liashenko, Vaness Gusmeroli, Fumie Suguri. Consider these ladies the Rob Van Dams or the Dudleys of the figure skating world. Thanks for participating. Come to think of it, like the Dudleys, it would be more fun if all these skaters took the ice at the same time.
Dick Button is not involved ... as far as we can see ... in these Olympic Games. But he is Mr. Figure Skating. In a sport where reputation counts when scoring, Button's opinion makes or breaks careers. He is the Vince McMahon of figure skating. It's a shame we will not have his commentary. Button has compared skaters' legs to links of sausage. I swear. I heard it.
(A completely unrelated observation: As I watched the past few WWF events ... the New World Order storyline has me convinced wrestling is in serious ratings trouble. Threatening an NWO infusion would be like figure skating staging a Tonya Harding vs. Nancy Kerrigan showdown. Very sad. And a very bad sign.)
Second, know the lingo
The bottom line is this: the more rotations on the jumps the better. The tighter and faster the spins the better. Falling down is very bad. If your favorite skater falls and the others don't, consider her pinned.
Kwan is superior artistically. Her jumps, spins and footwork keep pace with her music, and they flow. She doesn't telegraph her moves. In this category, Kwan is most like Jericho ... very smooth. The Undertaker would receive very low artistic scores. He's big and awkward, and his moves are slow.
Fourth, everyone has some sort of title
But there are many others. Like Christian, wrestling's European champion, or William Regal, the Intercontinental champion, skating has a few champions. Michelle Kwan is the current U.S. national champion and world champion. Maria Butraskaya is the European champion. Gusmeroli is France's reigning champion. The Olympic gold medalist is the undisputed WWF/WCW champion ... à la Jericho.
Before you snicker at this, answer these questions: Why does the old wrestler always beat the young guy? Why do the wrestling gods seem to favor those who come up through the lower circuits rather than "tough enough" competition winners?
If you're hooked, you're in luck. Like the WWF, skaters travel around the country performing. Several touring companies take to the road post-Olympics. They'll come to an arena near you. Your mate will think you're a prince for getting tickets. (However, keep this in mind: At skating events, poster waving is considered bad form.)
Following skating is simple, as most guilty pleasures are. The reason women return to skating and men to wrestling time and time again is the same. Just when you think it's fixed ... a Tara Lipinski wins the gold in Nagano. Or Jericho beats The Rock. Like all good soap operas, success lies in the plot twists.
Now put the DVD remote down and enjoy your Olympic Games!
SportsCenter anchor Chris McKendry is a regular columnist for Page 2.