The only Olympic figure skaters that really matter (to me): Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat

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.

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Slacker’s Guide to Olympic Figure Skating: Men’s Event

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.

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2014 Olympic ice dance: can showmance win the day?

Ahh, you know the Olympic season has begun when the fluff begins to roll out. For the uninitiated, fluff is training footage, interviews and cute behind-the-scenes moments, all packaged up to tell a story about your favourite athletes. Perhaps nowhere is fluff more important than in figure skating, where so much rests on people’s perception of you. How the public (and, of course, the judges) see you can make or break your career.

This Olympic season, the reigning Olympic champions in ice dance, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, are coming out of the gate strong – in terms of fluff, at least. In their first competition of the season, they scored below rivals Davis/White, but they’re winning the perception game. Virtue and Moir (or rather their “people”) are building on the romance narrative that began four years ago: their fluff footage is all loving close-ups, almost-kissing shots. It’s The Cutting Edge in real life and Tessa and Scott are selling it.

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Reasons to watch ice dance

It’s where sport meets art. This is true of a lot of figure skating, but in ice dance, the artistic demands are highest. And, while ice dance is open to a lot of criticism for not being ‘sporty’ enough, I say that if you’re balancing your partner on your thigh while she does a back-bend on one leg, while you’re skating at speed across the ice, IT’S A SPORT.

It’s a story in four minutes. I love that a brief ice dance program can conjure up a wealth of emotions and experiences. The best programs are like bitesize novels to me.

It’s FUN. Just this season in ice dance, we have a Rolling Stones medley, an (ill-advised) recreation of a bad 90s movie, and a reimagining of Carmen starring Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele!

It’s accessible. I love figure skating, but I’ll grudgingly admit it’s a little hard to get into. With ice dance, however, it’s much easier to understand why the top teams are the top teams. You might not be able to tell when a triple axel’s underrotated, but you’ll be able to tell immediately when an ice dance team’s twizzles (rotations on the ice) are out of sync.

It’s rapidly evolving. The judging system for ice dance changed a few years ago, which has led teams to incorporate harder lifts and spins into their programs. Unlike Pairs, where all the lifts and throws are basically the same, ice dance teams are pushing to do new and daring things every year.

It has pop music. Ice dance allows skating to music with lyrics, so that means there’s a lot of pop music. All right, some people would argue that Jennifer Lopez songs don’t enhance sport, but you know what? The Spanish version of ‘On the Floor’ is CATCHY.

It has showmance. Figure skating must be the only sport where creating the illusion that you’re fucking earns you MORE POINTS. No, Scott and Tessa are not a couple. Yes, they will keep pretending they MIGHT be until the next Olympics.

Photo credit: Elina Paasonen