Welcome to the much-awaited men's figure skating short program, which Bob Costas says may be "the strongest Olympic field ever." Returning Russian Olympic gold medalist Yevgeny Plushenko is the favorite, and he's looking particularly intimidating tonight, pacing somberly in the hallway.
We begin with Florent Amodio, current French champion, born in Brazil and abandoned in the streets there. He has a knee disease that causes extreme pain. Why does it seem like so many figure skaters have painful afflictions even before they start leaping around on the ice? Remember U.S. champion figure skater Elaine Zayak, who lost part of her foot when she was 2 years old, thanks to a "Mad Men"-style encounter with a lawnmower?
Florent is wearing an embroidered and bedazzled Robin Hood blouse, black gloves, and embroidered matador pants. He looks like a magician. I like his hand flourishes, with the gloves. This kid has flair -- or in French, florent!
Next, Viktor Pfeifer, from Austria. Viktor is wearing a sheer black blouse, black gloves, black pants and black skates. "Every one of these moves collects points," says Scott Hamilton. The commentators have often mentioned at this Olympics that the new scoring system ignores artistry in favor of difficult stunts. This guy really looks like your average gawky high school cross country runner who happened into the wrong dressing room and emerged dressed like Krystal Carrington in dinner party attire.
Plushenko is now wearing a bedazzled black Elvis outfit. (Eeevil Russian Elvis?) Since everyone suspects that he'll win, it's time for his extended profile.
We cut to Plushenko driving around in Russia. "Many people don't like me. Many. My enemies, they worry about me because I'm back, and they afraid a little bit. It's great feelings, you know?" Mmm, he is evil Russian Elvis!
"You need all the time fighting, fighting with your enemy, with your rivals." All he's really trying to say here is that competition drives you to be your best, but with the Darth Vader music playing in the background, it's hard not to experience this guy as a little menacing.
Enough of that for now. Canadian Vaughn Chipeur, who is wearing a bedazzled short-sleeved black jumpsuit, is skating a "rock 'n' roll" themed routine to what sounds like a Dire Straits jam. He looks tense going into his first triple -- and he falls! Goodbye, Vaughn.
Plushenko is ready, and doesn't look afraid, not even a little bit. He lands a quadruple toe loop, which makes Scott Hamilton's voice break. Hmm, but he skates like a kid on the playground. His choreography is not graceful -- it doesn't really look like choreography at all. Good lord, his score is 90.85! It's great feelings, you know?
Thank God, here's skating legend Dick Button to blow this duck out of the water. Sure enough, Dick says Plushenko's jumps were solid, but "look, the arms are flying all over the place" and "the skating skills aren't there."
"I don't find this beautiful to watch, it isn't gorgeous skating," he tells Costas, whose face says, "Keep me out of this, buddy." (And Costas really is sidestepping the endless monologues and the kicking up of controversy this time, isn't he? He usually grates on my nerves with his musings, so I admire his restraint.) Perhaps sensing that he sounds a little too negative, Dick tries to put a positive spin on things: "That's his persona, I think he likes looking like an evil character." Love that Dick Button.
We flip over to women's luge. The announcers are talking about messy starts and great form and so on, but all I can see are human bodies hurling downhill at 80 miles an hour. Maybe if they bedazzled their luge suits and played Queen medleys instead of rattling cow bells, this would be a little more entertaining. Tatjana Huefner of Germany wins the gold. Onward!
Time to switch over to women's snowboard cross. Love this event: four snowboarders at a time, racing down a crazy steep course littered with huge jumps, trying to pass each other. They're showing the quarterfinals now. We're told that Canadian Maelle Ricker, who suffered a concussion in Torino, is American Lindsey Jacobellis' biggest rival here. As you know from the trillion times it's been mentioned so far, Jacobellis was way ahead at the 2006 Olympic snowboard cross final in Torino, she did a celebratory trick, and fell on her ass. She took home the silver medal, but she's been answering questions about her great big mistake for four years running. Yes, we're reminded constantly, this is Lindsey's one last chance to redeem herself in the eyes of the Lord!
Boy, this sport is nerve-wracking. At least one snowboarder wipes out during every heat. Jacobellis wins her quarterfinal heat. In the semifinal, she's right next to her rival Ricker. Can she make it through? She's right out in front with Ricker, oh my god, almost bumps her, and then ... loses control and goes off the course! She's out!
Jesus, that is agonizing. Four years of waiting, and one little bump and it's over. Shots of Jacobellis' sad parents in the crowd. Costas looks like he might cry. Someone save us from this misery!
Enter macho weatherman Jim Cantore, who tells us that the overnight temperatures in Vancouver will be lower soon, so more snow can be made. This is great news, he says. This means there'll be good conditions for downhill skier Lindsey Vonn, the other big American story that they're hyping this week, just so we're sure to feel all the worse when she face-plants and her parents weep in the stands.
Back to men's figure skating. Japan's Daisuke Takahashi tore his ACL last year, so he's endured a world of pain to make it here tonight. He's dressed as a cross between Liberace and Elvis, also black, also embroidered and bedazzled. He's skating to kooky Tim Burton music and he has lots of presence and panache. He's very fluid and looks a little like Prince. He even nails his jumps! Now the music is half old-school accordion tango with crazy percussion accompaniment. Unusual! The crowd loves it! "Wow, that was done with such personality!" says Hamilton. "That was hot!" says Sandra Bezic.
There was no quadruple jump, which Plushenko had, but everything else was outstanding. Whoa, Takahashi gets a 90.25! Evil Russian Elvis looks disgusted in the stands.
Here's Shaun White, telling us about how his mom dropped his gold medal off at the dry cleaner. Apparently he has his own private half pipe in Colorado, where he's been perfecting stunts that no one has ever seen before. I guess all those sponsorships fund a nice life, don't they? But you can't begrudge this kid much, with that wild red hair and that humble smile. Chris Collins compares him to Michael Jordan. "He really doesn't want to just win, he wants to dominate, he wants to embarrass the competition." In other words, if he were Russian, we would simply call him "evil." Because he's American, and friends with Tony Hawk, we call him cool.
And also? He is pretty cool.
Johnny Weir is in the building, in a fur-trimmed coat. Is it fake fur? Here's Swiss skater Stephane Lambiel, wearing what looks like a costume from "Les Miserables," replete with a Frenchy bouffant sur his tête! Lambiel is "battling a groin injury" (in addition to battling the French monarchy). He's going to attempt a quad. "His costume looks overpowering," notes Bezic, but she says his artistry is noteworthy. He stumbles on his quad. Conquered! Still scores 84, pas mal.
Next up, Japanese skater Nobunari Oda, disguised as a superhero, clad in skintight black and silver. We'll call him The Cloud! Unfortunately, he went to the Plushenko school of flailing gracelessness.
Time for the women's snowboard cross final, without Jacobellis. Canadian Maelle Ricker is heavily favored, stays ahead the whole time and wins. The crowd goes wild! Four years after being airlifted out of Torino with a concussion, she redeems herself! All of these stories are so biblical: Start with pain and agony, end with redemption. Of course, when the stories end with pain and agony, everyone gets really quiet and then you lose your sponsorships and people start mispronouncing your name again.
Back to figure skating. Here's France's Brian Joubert, wearing black pants with a belt and a bedazzled black shirt with a horrendous collar, skating to dance club music. He messes up his first jump, then falls on another jump. The announcers are very quiet. He was a favorite, too. Sixty-eight points, bottom of the heap. Poor Jewelboor!
Here's Japanese skater Takahiko Kozuka wearing a red shirt and black jeans, no glitter or sequins, skating to Jimi Hendrix. Yes, finally, something new! His routine is strange and interesting, features some great spins and choreography, and actually goes with the music, which doesn't suck one bit. Refreshing! I'm a fan. Score? 79.59. He was robbed! I guess that's what happens when you don't wear a black bedazzled jumpsuit and skate to Muzak.
Next up, Italian Samuel Contesti, who is dressed as Lil' Abner despite the apparent risks of not wearing black, and skating to a minimal blues song, just bass and harmonica. A real risk taker! What follows might best be described as a Country Bear Jamboree meets street mime. He's making weird European imitations of good ol' boy facial expressions, but I'm too distracted by the big patch on his ass to notice. In short, it's not good.
Now Canadian Patrick Chan, safely clad in bedazzled black, steps out onto the ice. His triple axel lands badly. His footwork is beautiful. He stumbles a little, and looks disappointed when he's through. Not that great, fifth place, 81.12.
Finally, Johnny Weir is here! He is wearing a costume that conjures a late-night vampire raid on Frederick's of Hollywood. His neckline ends somewhere around his bellybutton. He has a slit in one arm, and a pink tassel on one shoulder. His hair is elaborately styled. His torso is corset-like, with bubble-gum pink threads criss-crossing. Ahh, Johnny. The outfit is frankly awful, but how do you not root for the man who ignores the conventions of his hopelessly conventional sport, and claims to be a role model for freaks?
Weir nails his first jump combination. Yes! Nails his triple axel! Yes! Nails his last jump! Hurray! Now it's time for the pouty faces and the jazz hands and the come-hither looks, all of which he masters. Great spins, great choreography, and ends with a kiss blown to the judges. "He rocked the tassel!" blurts Hamilton.
Weir's coach, Galina Zmievskaya, looks uncharacteristically thrilled. His score? 82.10. Talk about robbed! Galina's face turns sour. He's in fifth place at this point. How do you skate that well and land in fifth? Was Frederick's of Hollywood to blame? Apparently, there was a deduction on one of his jumps. Still, those dusty old judges need to get with the times; fabulousness should not be an automatic 5-point deduction.
Belgian Kevin Van Der Perren is dressed as a bedazzled skeleton. Not a good routine. Oh dear, here's Czech Thomas Verner wearing a little sailor boy outfit. He doubles his quad, then falls on his triple.
Finally we come to Evan Lysacek, Weir's robotically macho rival, wearing a not-very-macho jumper with a feathery neck and sleeves. His hair is slicked back like a villain, appropriately enough. He's skating to Stravinsky's "Firebird," which explains why he's dressed as a bird. I don't know much about Lysacek, but my love for Weir has created a Vader soundtrack in my head every time I see his face. But it's not just me, his feathery sleeves chafe, don't they?
But he skates beautifully, I have to admit, beautifully enough that he weeps into his birdy hands when he's done. As he waits for his score, he's trying not to cry. Aw, now I like the little black bird in spite of myself. Damn you, blood flowing through my veins! You need all the time fighting, fighting with your enemy, with your rivals! Not all the time crying, crying over birdy-handed weepy men! Score? 90.3. Second only to evil Russian Elvis!
Next, we have American Jeremy Abbott, skating to the Beatles in street clothes. Early in his program he singles a triple axel, and that's all she wrote. Hopes dashed, dreams dead, the end. Scott Hamilton sounds crushed over it.
Our final skater is Czech Michal Brezina. He's wearing glittery black with a white vest, skating to "Puttin' on the Ritz." His jumps are solid, but boy, does this one feel endless. His score? 78.80. Ninth place.
The night has taken its toll: Jeremy Abbott's face is red, like he's been crying for the past five minutes since he left the ice, and Scott Hamilton sounds emotionally exhausted. "We knew that this was gonna be a spectacular event. It's just that ... Ugh! The great performances and the devastating performances, it was just both sides, peaks and valleys."
To summarize: Somewhere over the rainbow, the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true. But somewhere just beyond that, the dreams that you dare to dream get dashed against the rocky shoals and splinter to bits. Also, hope dies, unmet wishes harden into a tight little knot in your throat, and former Olympic hopefuls turn to the bottle for solace.
At least Weir is in the top six! Even if he can't possibly win, thanks to these stodgy judges, at least there'll be more pouty faces and jazz hands to enjoy. Will Plushenko's enemies still be afraid a little bit? Will anyone wear a color other than black? Will Galina smile again? See you back here in a few days with more Olympian madness!