February 24, 2006

from the Couldn't Help Noticing Dept.

In each of the two Olympic finals last night (that I saw, anyway), Asian elegance and execution prevailed over American style and passion. Sasha Cohen's skating was characteristically gorgeous, but her two falls set her back. Shizuka Arakawa of Japan, who won gold, was one of the only skaters in medal contention going into the night who pulled off her routine without a fall (the other was Japanese too). Her routine was clean but, I thought, bloodless compared to Cohen's, and she nixed her triple-triples in favor of safer jumps.

In the men's aerials, Xiaopeng Han of China executed two moderate-difficulty jumps cleanly for gold, while Jeret Peterson pulled off his signature quintuple-twist "Hurricane". No one else has ever gone quintuple, but because his hand went down on the landing, he fell short of the medals.

The question isn't, "is it fair?" Clean execution under pressure is extremely hard, in a different way than innovation, style and fearless abandon. And in the women's competition not only Cohen, but most of the field, fell short. After all, the expectations of the judges are laid out for all the competitors to try to meet, and both Arakawa and Hans' victories were well-deserved - and dramatic, in that both were the first medalists ever in their events for their country. But, watching the medal ceremonies, I couldn't help feeling that getting the highest score in a sport and showing the flashes of brilliance that make that sport so enthralling to spectators are two different things.


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