by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

LILLEHAMMER, Norway — First of all, Michelle, I want you to know that even as I write this, I am wearing sequins. And velvet tights. I have puffed sleeves, a jeweled belt, pancake makeup and a blow-dried, hair-sprayed coif. I look like something out of “Aladdin” on skates. I am making an effort. I am trying.

And I am sorry.

I can’t get with it.

Figure skating is not a sport, and I say that with a smile — which, of course, is part of the problem. Smile? Since when do sports force you to smile? Does Lawrence Taylor smile when he’s crushing a quarterback? Does Evander Holyfield smile when he lands a right hook?

No. They have these pained expressions on their faces, like they’re about to throw up. Figure skaters only look this way when they talk about Tonya Harding. Or judges.

Which is another thing. Judges. How can you call this a sport when a judge can base his marks ON YOUR COSTUME? Are you kidding me? Under those conditions, Hector (Macho) Camacho never would have won a fight.

By the way, these tights are killing me.

Now. I do not say skaters are not athletes. They are tremendous athletes. I wish I could do even one of the things they do — on dry land! True, I prefer to do it in gym shorts, not a pirate costume.

But that’s just me.

Speaking of costumes, do you know what I saw the other night in the men’s skating finals? A guy came out — and I am not kidding here — in an orange scarf, yellow shirt, red vest, black overalls and yellow boots. Call off the search. We’ve found a drummer for the Village People.

And this guy was smiling! The only thing I can figure is that: 1) He had no mirror in his dressing room; and 2) A college buddy, playing a practical joke, said, “Here, put this on. Trust me.” And the poor guy skated out there, waved to the crowd, looked down and said, “Ohmigod! I’m a Crayola box!”

To make matters worse, he skated like a cowboy in an Old West motif. Of course, were this really the Old West, and he was wearing that outfit, he would be shot on sight and fed to hogs.

But I digress. It’s in the cards

I can live with the costumes. After all, I consider speedskating a sport, and those folks dress like the sperm people from Woody Allen’s “Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex.”

It’s not the costumes. It’s the unfair competition.

For starters, everyone knows who has a chance and who doesn’t — before they even skate! If you’re young and unheralded, you might as well go home. You could do a quadruple flip, swing from the rafters and land in a bucket of water. The judges will sniff and say, “Not bad. Compete in a few world championships and we’ll consider you.”

4.7, 4.5, 4.4, 4.5, 4.1.

And while we’re on scoring, what’s with this order-of- skating thing? The judges actually admit they hold back high marks from the first skaters so they can — and this makes a lot of sense — AWARD THEM TO THE LATER SKATERS? Hello? Is this a competition, or a cheese line?

That’s like saying the leadoff hitter gets only two strikes because you need to save three strikes for the cleanup guys.

These tights are really killing me.

Did I mention the “themes” of the programs?

Come on, now. Are we really supposed to take seriously a sport that pits a man skating to “The Godfather” against a man skating to “The Bruce Lee Story”? What are they trying to win, a medal or best supporting actor?

And then there’s the biased judging thing. The other night, I am watching the ice dancing competition. Torvill and Dean, the famous couple from Great Britain, do their routine, and the British judge gives them a perfect 6.0.

The Russian judge gives them a 5.8.

Then, out comes the Russian couple. They skate, and the Russian judge gives them a perfect 6.0. The British judge gives them a 5.8.

Nothing like impartiality.

Listen. I’m taking off these tights. First things first

Sorry, Michelle. But figure skating is a judged performance, not a sport. To me, a sport means this: If you line up 10 people, yell “go!” and one of those people — even someone young, in the first lane, from an enemy country, wearing an ugly costume — crosses the finish line ahead of the others, he wins.

That’s a sport.

Did I mention the music?

How come the best skaters always use something from Tchaikovsky or Shostakovich?

How come nobody skates to “Da Doo Run Run”? It has a great beat, and at least the audience would know when it’s over.

(Nancy Kerrigan, I’m told, will be skating to a Neil Diamond medley Friday night. I think this tells us all we need to know about Nancy.)

Meanwhile, can someone please explain to me the kiss-and- cry area? How can this be sports? The skaters sit there, blowing kisses, sucking air and collecting roses and teddy bears. Their scores come up. And they are so calm! Even when they’re being jobbed, they sit there, looking dazed. I guess this is because, deep down, they are saying to themselves, “I can’t believe the whole world just saw me in this outfit.”

Just once, when the scores come up, I’d like to see a skater pull out a pad, write down names and hand it to a big, ugly thug named Vito, who glances over at the judges and nods.

SKATER (whispering): The German, the Bulgarian and the Swede.

VITO: They sleep with the fishes.

And speaking of danger, have you noticed how, in pairs skating, the guy keeps lifting the girl and THRRRROOOOWING her across the ice? And not just once! He heaves her two, three, four times! Hey, someone could get hurt here. You know what I see when I watch pairs skating? I see a lawsuit. That’s what I see.

Of course, they could always measure how far the female gets tossed and compare it to other skaters. But that would be too much like a sport.

And how could the Russians mark down the Brits?

So, in conclusion, I want to say that I have every intention of watching the figure skating tonight, and in many Olympics to come, because it is beautiful, graceful and you never know when a bodyguard will do something stupid.

But a sport?

Not really. It’s nothing personal, Michelle. Just one man’s opinion. And as you can see, I have taken off the tights, so if you could just hand me my jeans over there. . . .

Michelle? Hey. Come back here!


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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