the ups and downs of a figure skating fan
When I was six years old, I fell in love with figure skating while watching Kristi Yamaguchi skate for the gold at the Albertville Olympics. I decided I wanted to be just like her. Unfortunately, the nearest skating rink was four hours away, so I channeled my newfound passion into becoming an avid fan. I checked the newspaper for the TV schedule every week so I wouldn't miss the Grand Prix circuit, Nationals, or Worlds. When I knew we wouldn't be home, I set the VCR (yes, the VCR) to record everything.
Two years later, I cheered on Nancy Kerrigan as she battled back from "the whack heard round the world," and was devastated when she finished second to Oksana Baiul. At that moment, I should have realized that under its elegant lines, exhilarating jumps, and breathtaking spirals, figure skating is a cruel mistress.
At the same nationals Nancy Kerrigan could not compete in due to her injuries, I noticed an Asian figure skater who was only a couple years older than me. Within a year, I was one of Michelle Kwan's biggest fans. I followed as faithfully as television schedules allowed, rejoicing in her record breaking national and world championships, and mourning as her dream of Olympic gold eluded her.
But my departure for college coincided with the sunset of Michelle Kwan's career. My busy new schedule left little time to devote to watching the competitions, and no one else I knew seemed interested. Slowly, figure skating faded into the background.
But it all came back this January, when I discovered Nationals were in Boston, and Ian thought we should go (even though he's never been a fan). Ticket prices for the ladies short program and free skate were steep, and I wasn't very familiar with anyone currently competing. Instead, we decided to attend the Smucker's Skating Spectacular, showcasing all of the medalists, including the entire Olympic team, with their exhibition skates.
We watched the competition on TV all weekend, and I did my best to educate Ian on the finer points of figure skating. Sunday night, we bundled up and headed to the TD Garden. It was my first figure skating event ever, and I was giddy.
The program started with the younger competitors, working up to the the senior level athletes. The younger skaters were fun to watch, and I'm curious to see where their careers take them next. Mirai Nagasu, who was passed over for the Olympic team despite a third place finish, had a beautiful and heartbreaking performance.
Before the Olympic team took the ice, the loudspeakers announced intermission would be followed by a program "you don't want to miss." Once the lights dimmed again, the announcer declared they were honoring the American Olympic gold medalists, and out walked America's first Olympic champion figure skater, Dick Button, the commentator I had listened to for years. By the time Brian Boitano and Kristi Yamaguchi walked on the ice, I couldn't contain myself. If Michelle Kwan had made an appearance, I would have burst into tears (I couldn't help but think "it should have been Michelle" when the final two ladies walked out).
After a standing ovation, the program continued with the Olympic team. Even Ian was impressed with the grace and athleticism. Realistically, we knew they were not all medal contenders, but we were optimistic they would represent the United States well.
Once the Olympics started, I watched every moment I could. I was reminded of what a roller coaster this sport can be. I cheered Jeremy Abbott during his short program as he picked himself up after a hard fall and kept skating. My heart broke as I saw Canada's Patrick Chan fall short of his dreams for Olympic gold (and had flashbacks to Michelle Kwan). I nervously watched Meryl Davis and Charlie White compete, afraid that once again I would see my favorite skaters experience bitter disappointment. But for the first time in two decades, the skaters I wanted to win gold actually landed at the top of the Olympic podium. My joy was short-lived. I was shocked and disappointed when Russia's Adelina Sotnikova upset Korea's Yuna Kim. Artistry is what made me fall in love with the sport, and I was indignant to see it take a back seat to athleticism.
Despite my renewed frustration, seeing figure skating in person has renewed my respect and passion for the sport. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for the promising young American (and international) figure skaters. I know more disappointments are inevitable, but so are captivating performances. And this time, I don't need a VCR to see it all!