Put a sock in it, Elvis
Cam Cole, Canwest Olympic Team
Published: Sunday, February 21, 2010
VANCOUVER - Put a sock in it, Elvis.
You were a terrific jumper, and you made more out of a hobbit's body than anyone in history not named Elijah Wood. Three world figure skating titles, the first true mastery of the quad jump and quad-triple combination, a pair of Olympic silver medals . . . you, Elvis Stojko, jumped the judges into submission, refusing to be put into their mould, forcing them to respect you and reward you.
You were The King. All hail you.
But assuming all that hot Mexican sun you've been basking in since retiring hasn't baked your brain or ruined your eyesight, you must be joking in that ranting, raving blog you filed to Yahoo! the other day - either that or you really, really need a job.
It's all right to have an opinion on whether the right guy got the gold medal Thursday and that Canada's Patrick Chan was overmarked for his (heaven forbid) skating skills. You say potayto, I say potahto, you say Plushenko, I say Lysacek. But to write that Lysacek winning when he didn't even land a quad was an affront to the sport, and makes you sick . . . that's self-promotion on a whole new level.
We understand that everyone is nostalgic for the prime years of his life, and thinks nothing before or since could ever be as good.
But let's be honest: your time - post-Kurt Browning and pre-Alexei Yagudin - was not exactly the golden age of men's figure skating. It was just the golden age of quadruple jumps. Men's skating had become so fixated on the quad during the three Olympic quadrennials encompassing Lillehammer, Nagano and Salt Lake City, each night became a simple arithmetical calculation.
How many jumps, how many rotations? Did they land? Any snow on the pants? All right, then.
You lasted, because you had footwork and spins and the heart of a lion. Alexei Urmanov's quad eventually destroyed his groin. Ilia Kulik took his quad-powered Olympic gold medal from Nagano and got out while the getting was good. Yagudin lasted until the pounding of landing quads ruined his hips. Timothy Goebel did three quads in one program once, and landed 76 of them during his career, and never made it past a home-country Olympic bronze medal in 2002.
Your assorted complaints about the sissy-show modern skating has become since the advent of the new scoring system - awarding tons of points for footwork, transitions, spins, overall skating skills - sound like, forgive me for saying it, the crotchety bitching of an old guy who had to walk five miles to school and back through a foot of snow when he was a kid, uphill both ways.
You know what, Elvis? We loved you because you were ours, but if our feet had been held to the fire, we'd have had to admit that the best thing about you was your competitive fire, and ability to rise to the occasion. You skated your heart out, to the best of your ability, and who could ask for more?
Fun to watch, though? Uh, not so much.
People, figure skating fans, really do want to be entertained, and though it is surely in the context of an athletic competition, figure skating is never just going to be about how high, and how many. Plushenko and his coach, Alexei Mishin, will argue that it ought to be, but if Mishin's next student can't advance past the triple Axel, he'll argue the opposite just as eloquently.
The quad, as a co-designer of the new code of points system notes, lasts 7-10ths of a second, and it takes another five or six seconds of stroking and gliding to set up. In a four-minute, 40-second program, filling the remaining 4:30-plus is problematic, if it's only about the quad.
You say that if they held a jumping contest over here, and a footwork, spinning, transitions contest over there, all the fans would flock to the jumping contest. You're not only wrong about that, Elvis, you're wrong by 10 miles. Most figure skating fans would rather watch Stephane Lambiel or Patrick Chan or Daisuke Takahashi create a moment out there, make them feel something, be swept up in an amazing interpretation of a piece of music, than see - sorry to use him as an example from the past - China's Chengjiang Li, who had quads till Hell wouldn't have them, but couldn't skate a lick. Or Brian Joubert.
That's why Kurt Browning performing Casablanca in Lillehammer, though he never won a medal, or Phillippe Candeloro swordfighting 200 feet down the ice to The Three Musketeers in Nagano, or Lambiel doing William Tell the other night, will stay in the memory long after whatever variation on a kung-fu movie you chose for your theme, between jumps.
Sorry about that Elvis, but we never really liked the Bruce Lee stuff.
Plushenko was good Thursday, and if he had tried the double loop that was supposed to be on the end of his opening quad-triple combination, the 1.5 technical points would have been enough to carry him past Lysacek despite his shortcomings. But he didn't. He stayed upright, but his jumps were shaky and Lysacek's weren't. Grade of execution, baby. That counts now. The judges failed to notice, but Lysacek's footwork and spins were better, too.
These may all be irrelevant details in your world, Elvis, but that world is history.
The future may not belong to the Patrick Chans, either. The ISU may, and probably should, award more points for a successful quad, if only to keep the sport from hitting a technical plateau and stalling there.
Chan is going to have to fight for those extra rotations, and as a Canadian, he should recognize that those who came before him have always done that - from Don Jackson to Brian Orser, from Kurt Browning to you, Elvis.
You raised the bar, and back in the day, that was what it was all about.