When the first couple skated on-screen during NBC's coverage of the ice-dancing finals Monday wearing torn, dirty costumes, I decided to really pay attention for a change.
Because as soon as I saw Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France, I knew that this wasn't the same old ice dancing. Long the realm of the easy, the cheesy, the obvious, trite and banal, ice dancing had clearly turned a corner.
Pechalat and Bourzat's costumes meant they'd be skating to music from "Les Miz." Bold!
I savored my curiosity over what might be next. "Phantom of the Opera"? "The Lion King"? No wait! Of course: "Carmen." What's ice skating without "Carmen," I ask you? I'll tell you what it is. It's hockey.
I think I'd pay money right now to watch an ice-dancing couple pay tribute to the big Broadway musical of the past few years by doing their routine to "Springtime for Hitler."
Next come Americans Jamie Silverstein and Ryan O'Meara. These early teams are way down in the standings, with no chance to medal, so it's all about the entertainment. Silverstein and O'Meara skate to a tango. Ah! A tango. How'd I forget that one?
Figure skaters and ice dancers all kind of run together for me, but Silverstein wins a place in my heart when she sits down in the kiss and cry area after their routine and, after a brief smile for the camera, sits there with her mouth gaping open, visibly snorts back some snot and aimlessly scratches herself. My kind of woman.
Here come some more Americans, Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov. Let's see, they're dressed kind of all medieval like and ... Doh! I can't believe I didn't think of "Romeo and Juliet."
Right at the start of the routine, Gregory lies down flat on her back on the ice. Because she's Juliet, right? Doesn't Juliet die or something in that story? Or, like, lie down on some ice? I should have paid more attention in high school.
Wait, no. She's not dead. She's a luger.
Italians Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio, first after the compulsory dance Friday, are still steaming at each other over their fall in the original dance Sunday.
NBC shows tape of the two avoiding each other before their skate Monday, Fusar-Poli making with the full-on silent-treatment hating and Margaglio looking like the guy, all pissed off at her for being pissed off at him, feeling like she's in the wrong, but not wanting to say anything about it because as soon as he opens his mouth she's going to let fly and, brother, there isn't enough money in Monaco to make it worth his while to live through that.
Commentators Tom Hammond and Tracy Wilson figure she's mad at him for dropping her on the ice and ruining their routine Sunday, but looking at their costumes it's clear that's not it. She's angry because it had been his idea to go to the crepe-paper factory, and that's why they'd been there when it exploded.
The Israelis, Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhnovski, skate to "Bolero." Say, there's a new one.
As the last group warms up, there are a lot of women wearing red and black dresses with Spanish flourishes. You know what that means: "Carmen."
Ukrainians Yelena Grushina and Ruslan Goncharov aren't dressed for "Carmen." Wilson takes note of Grushina's outfit and points out the rule saying the skaters' costumes have to be athletic in nature, though they can express the character of the music.
Grushina's costume, complete with boob tassles, is indeed athletic in nature, the sport in question being Vegas showgirling. I'd tell you more but their music puts me into a trance. It's some kind of tuneless Doors B-side raga. One minute I'm watching figure skating on my couch in St. Louis, the next I'm juicing carrots on a commune in Humboldt County.
But I recover in time for the next pair, which -- uh, oh. Matador costume.
Russian Roman Kostomarov is taking his chances. He and Tatyana Navka are leading coming in and favored to win gold, but we learned watching the men what a matador costume does to your skating. Here, at last, is "Carmen."
Kostomarov survives la maldición del traje de luces and skates well enough for the couple to retake the lead.
That brings up the Bulgarians, Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviyski. Maybe I'm getting old and cynical, but matching slashed-up black and red costumes with streaming ribbons just aren't enough for me anymore. Just because they worked for Flock of Seagulls ...
Finally, the Americans, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, all dressed up for "Carmen" but having to settle for "a selection of flamenco rhythms," according to Wilson, and doesn't that sound exciting?
Not a song or anything. Just a collection of rhythms, like when you hit "demo" on that rinky-dink keyboard your Aunt Martha bought you when you were 12 and that you secretly thought was wicked cool even though you knew how dorky it was. Admit it: It taught you what a rumba sounds like.
Hey, skaters. You know what gets the crowd riled up? Familiar melodies, preferably upbeat and with some dynamics. There's a reason everyone and his partner skate to "Carmen," you know.
The matador and his partner take the gold, Belbin and Agosto -- you may not have heard this, but Belbin just got her citizenship New Year's Eve -- win the silver. The Ukrainians settle for the bronze and a five-year run at Harrah's.
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P.C. language cheats Shani Davis [PERMALINK]
NBC spent at least two days giving short shrift to speed skater Shani Davis by calling him "the first African-American to win an individual gold medal in the Winter Olympics."
He's actually the first black person to win individual gold, a larger achievement than being the first African-American. NBC made the same mistake about two-man bobsledder Vonetta Flowers four years ago, when she became the first black to win a gold medal of any kind at the Winter Olympics, and the network kept talking about how she was the first African-American to win one.
Calling Davis the first African-American to win individual gold is like saying Jackie Robinson was the first black man from Pasadena to play in the major leagues, or Roger Bannister was the first medical student to break the four-minute mile. Those statements are true, but they don't tell the story.
On Saturday, the day of Davis' win in the 1,000 meters, I figured the "first African-American" label was a reflexive mistake, the result of either a habit or a policy of calling American blacks African-Americans on the air. But when NBC commentators, including host Bob Costas, a smart guy, were still calling Davis the "first African-American" Sunday night, I figured it must have been a conscious decision.
What I can't figure out is why. Messages left by phone and e-mail at NBC were not answered, and Costas' assistant politely said he'd asked her not to pass along any media inquiries to him in Italy.
NBC isn't alone in calling Davis the first African-American Winter gold medalist. In his hometown, both the Chicago Tribune and the Sun-Times used that wording, as did USA Today, the Dallas Morning News -- which called him "the first African-American black male" -- and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, at least.
Many publications, and the U.S. Olympic Committee, referred to Davis as the first black athlete to win individual gold in the Winter Olympics.
The Sunday Times of London mentioned that Davis won gold, then described him as "the first African-American speed skater to represent the U.S. at the Winter Games and certainly the first to emerge from the South Side of Chicago."
And Neil Armstrong was the first Ohioan to walk on the moon, and certainly the first to emerge from Wapakoneta.
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Catching up with Lindsey Jacobellis [PERMALINK]
So I think Lindsey Jacobellis is my kid. I'm going to get one of those DNA tests.
I think the American snowboard cross silver medalist is my own spawn because she created the most talked-about moment of the 2006 Olympics mere hours after I'd published my column Friday morning, with my next one not due until Tuesday. Thanks a lot, kiddo.
This is exactly what my kids do. I mean my other kids. They have a knack for falling ill at 5:01 p.m. on the Friday of holiday weekends. And the longer the holiday, the weirder the illness and the more necessary a doctor.
On Labor Day or Memorial Day weekend, they'll just get an ear infection, maybe a little stomach flu. But give them a four- or five-day weekend and they really go to work. Green spots, Linda Blair cranial 360s, spontaneous combustion.
Jacobellis -- Mother and I call her "Linds" now -- only had a three-day weekend, so she didn't really go for it, as the boarders say. She didn't declare for the NFL draft or move to Washington and change her name to the Lindsey Nationals.
But her last-minute showboat that cost her a gold medal -- if you don't know what I'm talking about at this point, I'd like to borrow your copy of the current Cave and Garden Monthly -- was immediately the talk of the Olympics, except in this column, and will go down as one of Turin's signature moments.
On the same day, Sweden beat the United States in the greatest upset in the history of women's hockey, and it took a back seat to Jacobellis blowing a gold medal in a sport that most people had never heard of a week earlier.
As we've seen in the chatter that's gone on over the last four days, Jacobellis' fall will be a cautionary tale for some, an illustration of what happens when you count your chickens, when you try to show up beaten foes, when you self-aggrandize.
For others, it will be an inspiring example of youthful exuberance trumping ambition and competitiveness, of living life to the fullest, consequences be damned, of eating dessert before dinner, painting your nails with white-out for the prom.
Lindsey Jacobellis grabbing her snowboard and falling has become one of those Rorschach tests. What you think of it says a lot about who you are. What I think of it is she must be my kid.
As I sat around over the three-day weekend, not writing columns, listening to my children sniffle and cough, I was amused watching the commentariat and the bloggers try and fail to come up with parallels from sports history for Jacobellis' screwup.
Leon Lett's premature touchdown celebration in the 1992-season Super Bowl was cited most often, but everyone seemed to agree there'd never been anything quite like what Jacobellis did, costing herself victory by showboating.
Everybody forgot about Billy Conn.
Conn, the light heavyweight champion, gave up his belt and challenged Joe Louis for the heavyweight title in 1941. Conn outboxed the bigger champ for the first 12 rounds of the 15-round bout and had a big lead. All he had to do was keep doing what he'd been doing for three more rounds and he'd win the heavyweight championship.
But he went for the knockout in the 13th. Not enough to win, he had to do it with flair. Get some style points. Sound familiar? Louis put him to sleep before the next bell.
I'm sure that story's been used to warn many a youngster not to get cocky, but I'll always remember Conn being asked on the fight's 50th anniversary what he'd do in that 13th round if he had it to do all over again. I'm paraphrasing from memory: "If I had it to do again, I'd probably do the same thing," he said. "What the hell's the difference?"
I love that attitude. Why not go for it? The good thing about being Lindsey Jacobellis' dad -- I think -- is that I won't have to teach her to think that way.
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