To those who have declared figure skating either unhip or on a slow, inexorable death spiral toward irrelevancy, we present our counter-argument in two words: Winter Olympics.
The Games have always been the lifeblood of the sport, the every-four-years chest compressions that do what all the Grand Prixes and world championships and Smucker's Stars on Ices cannot: It draws all the world’s eyes to the grandest stage of them all.
Yes, TV ratings can be frightful between Olympics. At U.S. events, attendance at skating competitions has been ailing.
But how do we know skating is not on respiratory support?
Because at the U.S. Championships in this, an Olympic year, TV ratings were up 40 percent from last year in the 18-49 age group. Because South Korea’s Kim Yuna is the biggest of superstars in Asia. Because every Olympics, the sport creating the most enduring buzz (see: Evgeni Plushenko) is figure skating.
In an attempt to freshen up a sport some feel has gone stale, those in charge of such things added a new event, team skating, that begins a day before the opening ceremony. Skating fans will debate—they love to debate—whether it dilutes or adds to the competition.
At the least, for fans, it’ll be an extra look at who’s skating well. For the competitors, it’s another chance for a medal—and possibly the only chance for teams like the U.S., rare underdogs for a podium spot at these Games.
For figure skating in general, the eyes of younger viewers, the ones the International Olympic Committee covet most, roll at the overdone drama of it all. The sequins. The over-the-top music. The kiss-and-cry. The tights and feathers. The athletes—yes, even the men—in mascara.
But people, even casual fans, watch Olympic figure skating. It’s not slopestyle snowboarding and not (usually) death-defying. They watch because it’s compelling in a way nothing else at the Games is.
Olympic figure skating can be a soap opera set to music: See Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan, Lillehammer, 1994.
It can be a showcase of drop-to-your-knees astonishment: Sarah Hughes, Salt Lake City, 2002.
It can be fist-pumping affirmation for both skater and coach: See Evan Lysacek and Frank Carroll, 2010.
It can be a display of uncommon grit and aching grace: See Joannie Rochette, Vancouver, 2010.
What it is not is dying. Not at the Olympics. So cue the mascara pencil, and let the games begin.