Figure Skating: From the Boards

News, news and more news! October 16, 2010

Oh boy, so much news to discuss, people to thank, and interesting issues to chatter about! Where do I begin? We’ve got Junior Grand Prix standings set for the final, NHK Trophy less than a week away, a new Dancing with the Stars spin off show, loads of new season programs to discuss, and one interesting bit of news that’s less about skating and more about something I tend to give “soapbox” speeches about – women and sports. I can’t possibly get it all in one post. *sigh*

I suppose, to get it off my chest, I’ll start by stepping up on my soapbox and sharing, so bear with me. Growing up with a sports fanatic father and a basketball-star mother, it would have been nearly impossible to somehow end up NOT being a sports fan. Some of my earliest baby pictures show me in a far-too-large baseball cap bearing the logo of the best team in baseball – the St. Louis Cardinals! (Okay, okay, I may be a little biased. But every good sports fan is!) Thanksgiving has always been more of an excuse to watch loads of football than even to eat tons of food, and “playoffs” have always meant non-stop ESPN, along with the endless conversations about who would step up, or who I liked even if my team didn’t make it.

I say all of that to say, I’m as much of a sports fan as the next guy. Yes, the next guy. Why am I jumping on this age-old battle again? And why here? Well, here because I can. Here, I can say what I mean and be taken at face value for what I say. The anonymity of the internet gives me the opportunity to be taken for my knowledge, my intelligence, my capabilities, rather than my appearance, my interests, or the simple fact that, yes, I am a female, and yes, I am a crazed sports fan. And why now? Because the “world-wide leader in sports” decided that they had a brilliant idea for all of us female sports nuts – an ESPN “sub-station” that’s just for women! Sounds great, right? Like ESPN is finally recognizing that there are multitudes of woman’s sports that aren’t being covered (or at least that’s their claim) and that woman watch sports differently enough that they need their own version – both online and potentially on air.

There’s the back story. Now for the soapbox. …ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?! How is this not supposed to feel like a slap in the face to those of us who have worked our entire lives to “keep up” with the boys in the business? How are we supposed to feel when ESPN – the “it” network in sports media – decides that, instead of working to achieve more equality at the parent network, let’s make it easier on ourselves by separating women all together? And if that’s not enough, let’s make it REALLY obvious (not to mention lame) and call it “espnW,” because that’s original, and certainly not limiting. Nothing like slapping a bandaid on the problem instead of actually fixing it, eh?

Well, ESPN, here’s a newsflash for you – not all of us girls want our sports to be girlie-fied. We kind of like them rough and tough, or fast and sharp, or competitive and edgy, just the way they are.

In a recent post by a fellow female sports blogger (@ALeagueofHerOwn on twitter), Julie DiCaro explains perfectly why I think this is a terrible idea:

“The idea that sports need to somehow be feminized to attract women is completely off-base. Like the Jennie Finches, Julie Foudys, and Lindsay Vonns of the world, women today are the daughters of Title IX. We grew up playing sports, just like the guys, and we still love sports, just like the guys. We don’t need pink jerseys to buy sports merchandise and we don’t need espnW to cajole us into watching sports programming.”

I  may write a blog about figure skating which tends to fall in line with the “women-sanctioned sports” idea, but don’t let the music and the sparkles fool you – I can spend a Saturday watching college football with the best of ’em. I love skating for the competitiveness and the athleticism as much as the artistry and performance. I have sports apps on my phone. I talk football with the guys more easily than I talk fashion with the girls. I would choose a basketball game over a day at the spa.  And I most certainly don’t need a special network to “girl down” my October baseball. I like it just the way it is, thank you very much. It’s about time the “powers that be” recognized it.

*Deep breath*

Okay. Moving on. Let’s get back to skating, shall we?

Let’s begin with the recent announcement of a new skating show, produced by the same crew that’s made Dancing with the Stars the #1 show in America. “Skating with the Stars” will follow the course of the popular ballroom dancing show, only with, well, skaters. Skating professionals will be paired with a celebrity and the team will compete live in front of judges and the television viewer. Judging will work the same way as well – the judges give a score, and the viewers cast their own vote. Each week, a couple will be voted off, until ultimately, we have a winner!

If you’re thinking this sounds frighteningly familiar, you’re not losing your mind. FOX tried to do something similar a while back and…well, yeah. “Tried” is probably the best thing that can be said about that show. However, this kind of thing is becoming extremely popular in other countries, so it can be done.

At first, I reacted like many did – Oh boy. Here comes another reason for people to see skating as less than it really is. However, I remembered something I said in a blog a few weeks ago about US skating becoming popular prior to the Civil War dance craze, thanks to Jackson Haines (Father of Modern Figure Skating, anyone? Check the quiz from a few posts back for more!). Haines was inspired by the dance trend and incorporated what he saw into skating. At the same time, skating grew in popularity along with dance. I noted that perhaps the current dance craze would lead to another increase in skating popularity in American, and the next thing I know, SWTS is announced! Not only that, but it’s being produced by ABC and some of the executive producers and directors from DWTS, which, to me, is the best thing about this announcement. This team took ballroom dancing – something NOT popular in the US – and turned it into the biggest show on television. They know how to make it work. While I think it’s harder to get celebrities to look good on ice, I think the production value will at least be something to look forward to.

The line ups will be announced during the November 2 DWTS results show. Needless to say, I’ll be checking in on that for sure!

Since this post is getting long, I’ll keep my JGP comments brief for now. But never fear, I’ll be back soon with the extended version!

In short, congratulations to the 10 US competitors who will compete at the Final in Bejing!

The four men who made the top eight are Joshua Farris, Keegan Messing, Richard Dornbush, and Max Aaron. Four ladies will be joining them: Christina Gao, Yasmin Siraj, Kristiene Gong, and Kiri Baga. One pairs team – Ashley Cain and Josh Reagan – and one dance team – Charlotte Lichtman and Dean Copely – will make the trip as well.

Great work by the US juniors this season. I would, however, like to say one thing about pairs and dance: one team?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that Cain/Reagan and Lichtman/Copely will be representing the US in China, but only one other dance team in the top 8 is NOT Russian. North American ice dance has been on the rise in recent years, but from the looks of this, that dominance is about to end. I’m not sure what it is, exactly, about European dancers and Japanese and Chinese pairs (well, maybe I do know what it is about Chinese pairs, but that’s a post in and of itself!), but the American teams better watch their backs or we’ll really be in trouble in those disciplines. Maybe it’s time for the USFS to invest a little bit into their athletes and their futures.

Lastly, I want to say a huge THANK YOU to the Korean skating fans who made my blog a popular visit in the past week or so. They love their skating, and they love their girl, Yu-Na Kim! You all are fabulous, and thank you for including me in your many posts and reposts of reports from All That Skate LA. You’re the best!

Next time, I’ll take a look at some of the skaters who are heading to Japan for the NHK Trophy, and break down some of the early season program debuts that have made their way to YouTube.

Skating season is upon us, friends!

P.S. – heard this week that the wonderful Terry Gannon will be joining the NBC team for TV coverage of the Grand Prix series! I always loved his insight into the sport, not to mention his quality and class as a sports broadcaster. He never intended to be a figure skating announcer, but once he was there, he took full advantage of it, and made the viewers at home – as well as the skaters themselves – know that he was the real deal. He’s actually one of my own sportscasting inspirations, so I am thrilled to welcome him back to the skating world! Welcome back, Terry – we’ve missed you!

Until then…

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