Quantifying artistry

What I don’t now about winter sports could fill a container ship, but I do know this: there was something amazing about the ice dancing of Meryl Davis and Charlie White last Monday, something that differentiated them from all the other couples. If I knew all the terms, I’d include them, but as I said, I don’t. I would venture to say that most people who watch the skating events are a lot like me—we can appreciate the beauty and the grace, but we don’t always know why. Because of that our praise is generally reduced to comments like “They were really really good,” while we wait for the results and hope they corroborate our opinions.

On Thursday, in something called the long program—I have some idea how it received that name—Russian figure skater Adelina Sotnikova outpointed the favorite, Yuna Kim of South Korean. The Russian went first, her program breathtaking in its energy, athleticism, and risk. The crowd of course was raucous, rooting for one of its own, and after the performance littered the ice with bouquets purchased for just that use. (Emerson would have wept, but that’s a complaint for another time.) When the Russian skater’s results were announced. and even more so with the announcement of Yuna Kim’s, the place erupted. (In other circumstances I’d say exploded, but with all the worries about security, that may not be the best choice of words) As for my reaction, just remember the container ship.

Immediately there was controversy: Had Yuna Kim fallen victim to home-judging? Had Adelina Sotnikova been the recipient of audience-motivated largesse? On Friday the experts spoke, the consensus being that Sotnikova had accessorized her program with so many leaps and spins that her point total became insurmountable, this despite any lack of artistry. (This failing the experts ascribed to her youth.) Not a fix then, just numbers.

Earlier this month when Seattle beat Denver in the Super Bowl, Seattle had many more points. That’s how they won. Maybe a more apt analogy would be Olympic hockey where the teams from Canada seem able to score more goals. I’m fine with both those situations: in competitive team sports  winners and losers must be defined by totals. But in figure skating, I come down on the side of artistry. Yuna Kim was elegant, graceful, and evocative—every gesture told us something. Adelina Sotnikova was athletic. Yuna Kim was the NBA player weaving through defenders and driving the baseline for a reverse layup, then quietly racing downcourt without contact; Adelina Sotnikova was the winner in the slam dunk contest, rattling the backboard and amassing the oohs and aahs. Yuna Kim belongs in the same conversation (and on the same podium) as Meryl Davis and Charlie White; Adelina Sotnikova doesn’t—not yet.

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Chuck Radda

I'm a former high school English teacher, currently a literacy volunteer and novelist. I invite your responses right here or to chuckradda@gmail.com. You can also follow me on Facebook and on Twitter—where I tweet annually at @chuckrad45.

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