Tomorrow, it’s time for the Olympic ice dance competition (a.k.a. showmance and gymnastics on ice!). Every-four-years bloggers might try to convince you that the only teams worth caring about in ice dance are Virtue/Moir (for Canada) and Davis/White (for the USA).
But I’m here to tell you that you should be rooting for the French team, Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat. They won’t win Gold, but they’re prepared to fight for a Bronze against a whole bunch of other talented skaters, a Russian federation that really (really, really) wants a medal in ice dance and, uh, their own tendency to fuck up at inopportune times.
Nathalie and Fabian are fun, whimsical skaters who combine innovative lifts with detailed, avant-garde programs. I love them and you should too.
Figure skating is a sport that’s as impenetrable as it is beautiful. It’s one of the marquee events of the Winter Olympics, full of sparkles and also astonishing athleticism, but since it’s so subjective (and prone to scoring weirdness), it can be a difficult sport to follow as a casual viewer.
This guide is intended to give a primer on the sport: understand how it’s judged, find out which skaters to root for, and get answers those inevitable “WHAT?!?” questions. (Yes, your men’s event medallists will probably fall on the ice. I’ll get that out the way right now. It’s just the context of their falls that matters!)
Why watch men’s figure skating?
- It’s athletic. The men’s event is where the most difficult jumps and most demanding programs are being competed. To paraphrase retired figure skater Johnny Weir, “I challenge any football player to do what I do for one day and not cry.”
- It’s exciting. The margin for error is so minute in men’s skating that a 9th place finish is just as likely as a 3rd place finish – which should make for an exciting competition.
- It’s beautiful. Since male skaters tend to be older and therefore more mature than their female counterparts, there tends to be greater depth of emotion in their performances.
A figure skater has just under eight minutes on Olympic ice to prove his worth. (Plus, uh, a whole career to build up a reputation that might inflate his scores. More on that later.) On different days, he performs a short program (2:50), which contains some required elements, and a long program (4:30) or “free skate”, which involves much greater scope for storytelling and emotion.