Some people go crazy over the Super Bowl or the World Series, but for me it’s Olympic Figure Skating. I’m not really sure why. Maybe it has something to do with the fusion of music, athleticism, grace … and danger. Yes, danger. There’s always a chance that something might “go wrong” or the judges will rig the scores or a skater might wilt under the enormous pressure. In my opinion, that just increases the excitement on those magical, rare occasions when everything falls into place and someone gives the performance of their life like Dorothy Hamill, Scott Hamilton or Brian Boitano. It’s a testament to the power of the human spirit, a galvanizing experience.
I’ll never forget the night of February 21, 2002 when Sarah Hughes won the gold medal. Everyone expected Michelle Kwan to win and I, for one, didn’t know anything about Sarah Hughes before that night other than the mere fact that she was on the US team. But when she skated her long program, she forced everyone to pay attention to her. See for yourself. I couldn’t find the NBC coverage online (it’s not even on the NBC Olympics site), but here is a video of Sarah Hughes’ gold medal performance from Canadian television. The crowd reaction at the end is unbelievable.
And of course, Sarah’s surprise and disbelief afterward just made the whole thing so wonderfully human. You can even hear her scream after she lands her last jump on the video. It’s interesting to read her intelligent insights on figure skating from last week’s Wall Street Journal, A Sublime Sport of Almosts. I highly recommend it.
Of course there are those who say that figure skating is not a sport, but I just think they are jealous because it gets so much attention. One of my friends is a loyal Michelle Kwan fan, and she will be mad at me for writing this. But I don’t care. People are entitled to their opinions, but in my book, nothing will ever top the technical difficulty, artistry, freedom and sheer willpower of Sarah Hughes at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
One final thought: I sure would love to know what kind of numbers she would have earned for that program in the new scoring system. Listen to the Canadian broadcasters at the end of the video when they say that the judges “had to leave room” for the top skaters and couldn’t give Sarah Hughes higher marks (5.8 out of 6.0 was her top number). Remember that big judging scandal involving pairs figure skating? It took place the week before Sarah Hughes won her gold medal. Say what you will about judging and the warped world of figure skating, nobody brought the house down eight years ago at the Salt Lake games like Sarah Hughes.