Friday, February 26, 2010

Figure Skating at the Olympics: When the Skater Transcends the Skate

Why does Michelle Kwan come to mind? I recall a few years ago, 99% sure, watching her at a U.S. or Worlds, and marveling at how her skating seemed willed by her spirit alone, rather than by physical technique. As if she had in the moment dreamed her body into exactly what she wanted it to do and where she wanted it to go. I detected not one trace of compartmentalized effort. I saw triumphant poetry over the ice.

This is what we look for -- the journey away from physicality into spiritual transcendence. I think competitively unlucky Paul Wylie also had it.

Watching the electrifying Evgeni Plushenko through his short program (I missed the long, nor did I see his rival skate at all), yet in honest recall, compared to Michelle, Evgeni is more passionately ice-bound, his repertoire loaded with dazzling tricks and torrid choreography.

These mortals who seem to reach a supernatural realm are far and few between. They begin, or did begin once, on the school circles mastering edges, learn to spin and jump, advance to complex interlocking maneuvers and, finally, to the crafting of a program. Just as, with the actor, we wish to see not the actor at all but the character, so with the figure skater, we wish to witness not the technical effort at all but the exhilarating imagery of a dancer perfectly and freely in flight.

Which is a principal reason why the "quad" must never be exalted at the expense of the "routine." If jumps and spins alone were the only imperative components, then why music? Then why the intricate footwork linking them into a whole?

Michelle Kwan, that magical time I saw her, skated her way into the purity of a powerfully controlled dream.

[photo by Jonathan Ferry/Getty Images]

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