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Johnny Weir and pink ribbons: This is the Winter Olympics?

After the raw-boned spectacle of the Winter Olympics' other sports, figure skating is like stepping into another universe of theater and plumage.

By Staff writer / February 17, 2010

At the men's short program Tuesday, Stephane Lambiel's skating and Elizabethan-era costume were equally inspiring.

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Vancouver, British Columbia

This is the year of the male in American figure skating. With America advancing only two women to Vancouver – and with neither of them likely to medal – the men have an unusually free run of the table these Winter Olympics.

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The message, they say again and again, is that figure skating is a sport for real men – men who like to bench press furniture and chew thumb tacks.

Well, maybe not that. But take this from Johnny Weir: “I want people to know how hard I work … and that we’re not men doing a women’s sport.”

Or from Jeremy Abbott: “Yes, we wear spandex, and yes, we wear sequins, but we’re athletes.”

They are undeniably right, of course. Figure skating, done by either sex, is an incomparable display of balance, poise, and power.

And yet it is a most peculiar thing.

It is a different universe

To spend the best part of a week watching humans hurtle down craning slopes at speeds exceeding the average Fiat, watching them ride a steel-bladed rocket down a chute of ice, hearing the thunder of shoulder-padded players thudding into wood and plexiglass – and then to step into the men’s figure skating competition is to enter an entirely different universe.

It was not merely the theater of competition – it is theater.

“May I have the scores please?”

The announcer actually says this before the scores are announced.

Is it possible that the judges will deny the request? Are the judges actually sitting there, results in hand, saying to themselves, “When is the stupid announcer going to ask for my results?”

No, it is theater.

A Russian skater of no great repute steps onto the ice. In the upper reaches of the media tribune, a woman unfurls a Russian flag. When Mr. Artem Borodulin begins his routine, dreamy Leif Garrett hair waving, the woman in the media section begins the rhythmic clapping so common during figure skating routines – and the entire stadium joins her.

Theater.

And what is the diligent journalist supposed to do about the costumes? Outfits? Uniforms?

Hillary Clinton has complained that men’s sartorial choices are not as closely scrutinized as those of women. She has clearly never attended the men’s figure skating program at the Winter Olympics.

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