If you were hoping against hope that you'd be able to enjoy the Sochi Winter Olympics this February, despite all the Russian anti-gay fuckery, because cuddling up with your couch blanket and mug of spiked apple cider for days and days of prime-time coverage of figure skating is your idea of a little slice of glitter spandex heaven, I've got bad news for you: American figure skaters, for the first time in decades, are no bueno. And NBC doesn't exactly have the best record of broadcasting heated competition between non-English-speaking athletes with last names that consist entirely of consonants.
Gone are the glory days of 90's figure skating, the apex of which was arguably reached twenty years ago today, when Nancy Kerrigan was attacked by a crowbar-wielding goon allegedly associated with rival Tonya Harding's ex husband just weeks before the Olympics. Kerrigan went on to win the silver medal in Lillehammer that year (to Oksana Baiul, who would later go on to be the Miley Cyrus of figure skating. Or maybe Miley is the Oksana of pop. Hm), and Harding, who went on to appear on Celebrity Boxing 8 years later. After that, there was Michelle Kwan's failed quest for gold. Little girls with little names like Tara and Sasha and Sarah. And then? Nothing.
American women have "fallen behind" the figure skaters from Russia and East Asia, according to a glum story in the Boston Globe. US women haven't even medaled at a major world skating event since midway through George W. Bush's second term, and the men aren't doing much better. The Globe piece seems to implicate a complicated new scoring system that amounts to "bean counting" and doesn't take into account "package skating." But also: figure skaters from other countries are just better at doing stuff.
If the American pile is comparatively smaller it may be because their technical chops are less evolved than those of their rivals. Their men don't land quadruple jumps as well, nor do the women hit the triple-triple combinations as reliably. "Yu Na Kim, Mao Asada, Carolina Kostner — all these girls can do triple-triples in their sleep and they have the skating skills and the spins and the rest of the technical jumps," says Ashley Wagner, who has won back-to-back domestic crowns but not yet a world medal. "So I have to have that as well if I want to be able to call myself competitive against them. And when I say competitive, I mean I want to win."
And just as market research has shown that little boys don't want to buy games advertised with commercials that feature a little girl beating a little boy at the end (every board game commercial I remember form my childhood ended with a little white boy yelling "I WIN!" while his family looked on, smiling), Americans like it when America wins at stuff. And I have a sinking feeling that NBC will respond to its belief that American TV viewers' abject inability to enjoy a sport that doesn't end with them getting a trophy while a pretty 20-year-old cries during the Star Spangled Banner, I fear that what unabashed Olympic Figure Skating fanbots like me are going to get in lieu of decent coverage of non-American medal contenders is a million fuzzy human interest pieces about ice dancing, a sport no one understands but a sport in which Americans are expected to medal.
Remember the network's ghastly Olympic coverage during 2012? It was so bad that I ended up almost melting my computer from the inside trying to find a way to illegally stream the BBC's coverage. When I finally did, just in time for the women's gymnastics team competition, I was amazed to learn that non-NBC Olympic commentary consisted of actual competition featuring very little inane or tsky chatting from two polite commentators who only offered encouragement and didn't sound like they were becoming sexually aroused while pointing out mistakes the athletes made during their program. One female competitor, whose name I've forgotten, finished a flawless-but-not-difficult-enough routine and the commentators said something like "Well, that was brilliant. Brilliant work. She's not going to win a medal for that, but she should be very proud!" It was adorable and didn't make me want to get on the F train to Rockefeller Center and burn a peacock in effigy in front of Dick Ebersol's office.