I may not be a sports fanatic, but every 2 years I cannot wait for the Olympics. The Winter Olympics always has a special place in my heart. That’s because of the beauty of figure skating; what the human body can accomplish on the ice is athleticism at its top. It’s also because of my love for ice and snow. My first memory of Canada consists of snow up to my knees and ice hockey. It was through my fondness for hockey that I developed an interest in ice skating. Every kid in my school who grew up in Canada played hockey (street hockey in the summer and ice hockey in the winter). Needless to say, this was in Edmonton, Alberta – home of the Stanley Cup in the 1980’s. Home of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Esa Tikkanen and Jarri Kurri. The Finns were a dominant force way before Selanne and Koivu. To this day, my father brags that Mark Messier ate the sandwich he proudly made for him.
Back to skating and the Olympics. Ice skating is a favorite winter sport in Canada, but not everyone can skate at the Olympic level. Ice skating is an art more than a sport. Mastering the sport only gives you the mechanics, but the rest is art – an interpretation of the music accompanying the skating program. Does anyone remember Oksana Baiul’s interpretation of the Swan Lake in 1994 Lillehammer or Jamie Sale and David Pelletier’s translation of the Love Story into a gorgeous program in 2002 Salt Lake City? What about Yulia Lipnitskaya’s Schindler’s List? Ultimately, the combination of the technical and artistic elements makes ice skating the most challenging program at the Olympics, and also a grey area subject to different interpretations by the judges. Remember the French judge who felt pressured to vote in a certain way that nearly denied Sale and Pelletier the gold medal? I remember that day sitting in a cold library with my attention fixed on the Canadian pair’s results. Just like reading a novel, judging an artistic sport runs an entire gamut of biases – some people love it and some absolutely hate it. But despite the doping scandal and questionable judging, nothing can take away figure skating’s beauty and grace. To be able to make it to the Olympics represents the highest achievement. As we enter another two weeks of Olympics, memories of the past are flooding back. From Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding’s feud in 1994 to Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s incredible 2010 Vancouver performance. I am reminded that every figure skater is to be celebrated for mastering the art and technicalities of a sport to which they have devoted their entire lives. Perhaps, we should put the focus back on figure skating for what it is – human achievement at its very best, not the human frailties that have cast a shadow on the sport.
The Russians had dominated figure skating for most of my life through the 80s and 90s, but there have been many Canadians since Kurt Browning who went on to achieve great career heights in figure skating. I don’t like to make bets, but something tells me figure skating will once again be a memorable event. Are Canadians going to own the podium? All I know is that Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are a dominant force.