Last night while out to dinner of $5.00 burgers and an extra platter of onion rings with my sister (a rare occurrence, I know, and yes, it was totally delicious. Gotta love the week before Aunt Flow comes for a visit!), we stumbled upon a topic I would have marked in my mind as forgotten except for my sister’s reminder of how much we used obsess over this topic. The topic in question is in regards to a particular athletic endeavor. Which one you might ask?
Let me tell you in two words…
I know the exact reason why the sport has fallen off my radar as of recently. There’s no longevity in any of the skaters anymore.
Sure, one wins a major competition, she moves on to the next, maybe comes in second place, and then she’s done. You never hear from her again. Take the case of Sarah Hughes. She placed 2nd or 3rd in a lot of competitions leading up to the Olympics in Salt Lake City. But, then, on a total fluke (this is my opinion and my opinion only, mind you), she wins the gold medal. Next thing you know, she’s declaring herself retired from the sport at 19 years old and she is no longer competitively skating.
What the hell was all those years of early morning training sessions, hardly a social life, a limited diet, and more training sessions for if you are retiring at 19. Hello! Get back out there, skate your ass off, qualify for the next Olympics, and defend your title! The gold medal is the highest honor one can receive in any sport. Yeah, a fluke of a day where the top contenders both have an off day on the ice may be the reason why you won, but still. It’s a freaking gold medal that no one can ever take away from you or the history books.
There is one figure skater who always captured my heart, and she still does to this very day: Michelle Kwan.
Salt Lake City was meant to be her year. After winning the silver at Nagano, she was primed and ready to sweep the ice with her style and grace, only to be caught off-guard by whatever it was on that day. She ended up walking away with the bronze medal. Still without a gold to her name.
Kwan is a lot like me in my current trend of life. Let me explain…she prepared her whole life for one moment, a moment that I’m sure she dreamed about all during her years of skating competitions, training sessions, and sleepless nights in her room. Throughout the triumphs and tears of her skating career, she had an ultimate goal. Something every athlete hopes to achieve, and that is the Olympic gold medal and to be the best of the best. For a few moments, anyways. Winning the gold medal may not have been her prime focus, but at one point or another, it was a goal of hers in which to achieve.
Instead, at both Olympics, she won the silver and the bronze. In 2006, when the Olympics were in Italy, she had the go-ahead to be on the American team after undergoing several physical evaluations and petitioning her rightful spot on the team due to a few untimely injuries. But, it wasn’t meant to be. Right before the Olympics were to start, Kwan withdrew due to the very injury she worked so hard to heal. Shortly after that, she retired herself from the sport of competitive figure skating.
I read the announcement on Yahoo! News of all places, and I just sat there. After screaming at the computer screen, of course.
“People ask me how it feels to lose the gold. I tell them, I didn’t lose the gold; I won the silver.”
Inspiring words I need to remember more often than not, spoken by the Olympic figure skater herself. Michelle Kwan: You brought such grace and beauty and spunk to a sport. She literally oozed passion each and every time she took the ice. I literally held my breath whenever she took the ice, and that’s saying something.
The last time I held my breath for a sporting event? Probably when Melanie Oudin took out Maria Sharapova in the 2009 U.S. Open.
With the summer Olympics taking place in London in the not-so-distant future, it’s hard not to recount all the times you fell in love with an athlete or athletic performance. I’m not going to lie. The winter Olympics tend to get my blood flowing a little faster than the summer events, but they are still thrilling regardless.
While sprinting, high jumping skateboarding, long distance running, and the high bar are all athletic endeavors in their own personal rights, there is only one sport that comes to mind which combines the mastery of gracefulness along with the technical difficulties of jumps, spins, turns, and sometimes (but usually in the men’s division) full-front body flips. That, my friends, is figure skating.
While lightsaber dueling and tennis also bear a trace of mastering technical skills. Not just anyone can pull out a slice serve on the first try, and if they do, they don’t understand what it is they are actually doing. The moment they stop to think about the mechanics of their natural motions, they lose whatever power they had. One doesn’t simply pick up a lightsaber and know how to use the different forms of lightsaber combat, be it the basic form of Shii-Cho or the very advanced and hard to master Form 7 Juyo. The moment you stop to dissect the motions of your lightsaber, you lost the power within, too.
Mental tricks. Killers, I tell you.
The sad realization I’ve come to? I’ve lost interest in figure skating a lot compared to what I used to dedicate in terms of time to the watching of this particular sport. When I was a teenager and my sister and I still lived at home (back on the farm!), entire Saturday afternoons were spent watching both the men’s and women’s programs. Short programs, long programs, free skates, exhibition skates…we watched all of it. We commented on everything. The outfits, the songs, the movements, the jumps, the competition, the scores skater’s received, and the commentary of the commentators themselves.
By the way, one of thee most annoying things of watching figure skating, or any sport for the matter, is when the commentators feel the need to say something about everything little thing. Can we watch the program in silence and appreciate what is happening before us? Even if you’re watching it live, it’s annoying to hear what they have to say duringthe performance. Just shut up already! I don’t care what she had to say three competitions ago about this particular move! Not at the moment she’s executing it, anyways!
I wonder if Scott Hamilton is still commentating these days…It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a full-length figure skating competition on TV. I don’t recognize anybody’s names anymore. My own fault, yes, since I’ve stopped keeping tabs on the sport and its competitors, but at the same time, no one has captured the magic evenly remotely close like Michelle Kwan did. She’s a legend in her own right.
I suppose I could aim to be like her, even if I’m always coming in second place. I can only imagine how she wrestled with herself for weeks, months, years (I’m sure!) following the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Kwan should have taken the gold that year. Hands down. While little Miss Tara Lipinski had a spring to her jumps, she did not hold an artistic candle to Kwan’s performance that night. I will never forget watching Kwan break into tears the moment her music stopped and she struck her final pose of her long program.
I didn’t understand it at the time. I was a youngster myself, and as I watched her burst into tears, I remember asking my sister why Kwan was so sad. She hadn’t fallen once during her program. So, why was she crying? My sister answered me, but what she said, I don’t remember. But, now I know.
It was simply a beautiful performance. One for a lifetime, and she knew just how good she was.
I get chills just thinking about it.
Michelle Kwan has the heart of a champion. She will always be a champion in my heart.
In case you’ve forgotten just how damn good an ice skater she was, I’m leaving you with her Nagano performance. Enjoy, and be reminded of those who find beauty in the world and dedicate their passion to that beauty.
And because I like her so much and can’t resist, here’s her performance from the 2005 National competition.