The music is pretentious. The costumes -- princess, ice princess, cocktail waitress/princess -- are frilly. The commentary can try the soul. He two-footed the quad! Still, there's one endearing, enduring quality that lifts Olympic figure skating beyond "Blades of Glory" ridiculousness and into the realm of must-watch athletic spectacle.
The inevitable waterworks.
Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.
Blubbery joy. Weeping despair. Dignified, corner-of-the-eye misting. Figure skating runs the salty-wet gamut, leaving a trail of competitor tears that runs from the rink to the aptly-named kiss-and-cry box to tissue-maker Kleenex, which served as both an official sponsor and an equipment supplier during the Salt Lake City Games. Think Jaime Sale, crying on the medal stand; Tonya Harding, wailing to the judges during a botched routine; former Ukrainian skater Dimitri Dmitrenko, wiping his eyes while clutching a stuffed post-skate white rabbit. In every case, the sob stories are par for the waterlogged course -- and while some may find the whole warm, runny spectacle downright silly, I find it strangely compelling.
After all, isn't raw emotion what fans really want?
Not caring. Not trying. The ultimate sports sins. The very things for which we once crucified Bode Miller. Fans want athletes to be as passionate -- read: hopelessly demented -- as we are. We need them to bleed. And if we can't get actual plasma ... well, aren't tears the next best thing? When Oksana Baiul sobbed upon winning a gold medal, you knew she wanted it; when Michele Kwan sobbed after capturing a world championship, you knew she needed it. No guesswork required.
So mock weepy skaters all you want. Mock Adam Morrison and Kordell Stewart and Dick Vermeil, too. But keep in mind: entire Olympic careers come down to a single routine, a lone slip, one perfect pressure-packed jump, a few endless minutes under the klieg lights. Unless you're Vulcan, stoicism is not an option.
"We've put families on hold, personal life on hold, dedicated our lives to this," 1984 silver medalist Rosalynn Sumners once told me. "You hold all of that in, and when you come down to the big one, it's like holding back water with a dam. It all just builds up, and at some point, the dam is going to break."
When it does, I'll be there to enjoy. Never mind the silly sequins.