I HAVE A THEORY about all that figure skating you see on TV these days. The ice skating people are experiencing a Groundhog Day-type experience and need our help.
Look at the evidence: Every time you turn on TV, they're skating. I'm guessing that the alarm clock goes off each morning, and, presto, they're back at it - little stick-figure girls in lingerie and guys in matching bellhop ensembles, whirling and twirling and doing quadruple bypasses and double klutzes and dogchows.Then they do exactly the same thing all over again the next day and the next day and the next . . .
It's all the same competition, and I dare you to show me the difference. The current ice-skating competition began, I believe, in 1989. It's been nonstop since then. All they do is change costumes and cummerbunds and slap a new name on it - Rock 'n' Roll Skating Championships, Ice Wars, Skates of Gold, World Team Championships, Challenge of the Champions, Stars on Ice . . .
They're always skating, skating, skating. The TV people tune in the skaters when they need to fill a hole between commercial breaks, which is frequently. In 1990, 18 hours of figure skating were shown on TV. By 1995 it was topping the 100-hour mark.
TV goes over the top to hype each exhibition or competition, making it sound as if World War III is about to break out. Some guy with a voice that sounds like he just ate rocks for breakfast and wants to kill somebody, growls, "Scott Hamilton goes head to head and toe to toe with Brian Boitano on the ice Saturday on NBC!" Men all over the country find themselves tuning in to see if Hamilton and Boitano show up with pistols and switchblades.
Ice skating, the TV people tell us, is the second-most popular sport in the country - behind luge. Or is it the NFL? You'll be semi-happy to know that 10 of the 17 days of televised Olympic competition will feature figure skating.
Evidently, figure skating is popular. It is the perfect sport of the '90s, the official sport of John Gray. A sport that men from Mars and women from Venus can enjoy together. A sport that men and women watch side by side on the couch. He watches the figures, she watches the skating. (Mars guys are Neanderthals - and proud of it.)
And that brings up a delicate subject. Figure skating has always been an uneasy mix of - hmm, how to say this? - legs and sport. It's sort of like "Baywatch" for guys, only subtler. At least skating has a discernible plot (the competition, you ninny!). When is the last time you heard a man say, from deep in the burrow of his couch, "Nice triple toe loop."
Sonja Henie, the Olympic champ in 1928, '32 and '36, was the first "darling of the Olympics," which in the old days meant she was a major babe. Even Hitler The Schmuck was schmitten. He showed up at the arena to watch her performances (undoubtedly to check out her toe loop) and even took her to dinner. So, he says, vant to help me beat the crap out of the world, or vut? She made a movie instead.
After that, a long line of ice princesses followed - Dorothy Hamill, Peggy Fleming, Dick Button, Katarina Witt (say it Vitt! as in spit!).
Figure skating is the one sport that is ruled by the girls (and sometimes women). The other is gymnastics (and maybe tennis isn't far behind). How many male Olympic skating champs can you name?
A lot of men like to watch the sport, even if they won't admit it. The only trouble guys have with figure skating is that they are extremely wary of men who wear chiffon, satin, capes, sashes, leotards, ruffles, all of the above. Pirate costumes, maitre d' getups and Romeo outfits don't even come up. Men see that stuff and they're nudging their buddies. This is a sports event, right?
Figure skating took a huge leap in popularity when it became a contact sport in 1994. Tonya Harding's buddies whacked Nancy Kerrigan on the kneecap, and suddenly the guys really sat up and noticed. The hockey and pro wres-tling crowds came out of the woodwork. Skating mayhem - now that was more like it. They were very disappointed when they discovered that none of it actually occurred on the ice. Nancy and Tonya had to settle their differences without ever touching each other, and what fun was that?
But nobody said the sport was perfect. There are still a few things that could be done to improve figure skating.
- Fans need to loosen up a bit. Maybe throw in some cheerleaders (pyramids on skates, wow - and ow). A little Y-M-C-A action. A little booing. The worse thing the figure-skating crowd does is not throw roses on the ice. To wit (or Vitt?): Tonya Harding was the worst villain in the history of the Games and the worst she got was polite applause. In hockey, she gets buried in fish.
- The sport is too predictable. The favorites always medal. There are no upsets. To win a medal you only have to do two things: Bring a name and stay vertical. A few years ago, Witt The Favorite showed up and did a ho-hum routine that wouldn't get her noticed on a municipal rink; meanwhile, her rivals skated like whirling dervishes. They did high-wire, she worked the crowd. Witt stayed vertical. Witt won.
- It needs a man's touch. Maybe a little spitting would help (see baseball). Maybe a little trash-talking. How about a little sweat? The sport is wanting for guy clothes -shoulder pads or baggy shorts, or something. Lose the tuxedos and ruffled shirts.
Do all that, and maybe figure skating has something for guys. Besides figures, I mean.