Figure Skating is one of the most popular spectator sports in the world. Much like the subjective scoring system it uses to crown champions, the reasons behind this popularity are open to debate.
While Figure Skating does have a rabid, passionately involved fan base, a full 62% of the population doesn't give a rat's ass about a triple Salchow, and of that same indifferent group, approximately 93% spontaneously convulse at the mere mention of the words "Ice Dancing". For this group, many of the rules, nuances and appeal of competitive figure skating remain a mystery.
2006 Olympic Gold Medalist - 2010 Silver Medalist - Evgeni Plushenko
Competitive figure skating is governed by the International Skating Union (ISU). Founded in 1892, it is one of the oldest international sport federations, and oversees all sanctioned international competitions, including the Mack Daddy of competitive skating events, the Winter Olympic Games.
Olympic Figure Skating
Athletes compete for gold in four events: ladies' singles, men's singles, pairs and ice dancing. The singles and pairs events consist of two portions: the short program and the free skate. There are three phases of competition in ice dancing: the compulsory dance, the original dance and the free dance.
Skaters receive two sets of marks for each program, one based on the difficulty and execution of the technical elements and the second mark based on artistry, interpretation and presentation. While Ice Dancing does not include overhead lifts and jumps, it does require synchronized twizzles and step sequences to be performed.
Check out his Twizzle
Like most organization started two centuries ago, the ISU has arrived at the 21st century kicking, screaming and clinging to some antiquated ideas. Plagued by accusations of homophoia, favoritism, and questionable judgement, the ISU has most recently been called to task for choosing "ethnic folk" as the required theme for the 2010 original dance competition.
Having contestants choreograph and costume themselves according to cultural stereotypes may have screamed potential disaster to some, but coming from an organization that insists its female athletes be referred to as "ladies", it's not surprising the ISU missed the red flags.
Our athletes are more lady like
While most competitors smartly chose to insult their own country of origin, a few took the risky path of "honoring" traditions from foreign lands. Mixed success ensued. Russia's Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shablin took the most heat for their homage to the indigenous people of Australia.
Insult or Athletic Tribute?
US athletes, Meryl Davis and Charlie White competed to a (non Native-American) Indian theme, that could be construed as caricature or cliche, but their costumes and interpretation have been well received.
Bollywood goes nuts for Davis and White's Ode to India
Kimberly Navarro and Brent Bommentre dodged a bullet, not due to any sensitivity on their part, but for more practical reasons. According to Bommentre, "he could not grow long enough hair for dreadlocks and rejected hair extensions" for their Afro-Brazilian routine.
Bommentre and Navarro performing the traditional South American bitch slap
This isn't the only time costumes have caused a stir. Back in 1988, Katarina Witt showed up at the European championships wearing a skimpy showgirl costume trimmed with feathers, and no skirt. This lead to the "Katarina Rule", requiring ladies to wear skirts and pants "covering the hips and posterior" until 2004 when the rule was repealed.
Skirtless Katarina Witt inspires eponymous "Katarina Rule"
At the 2002 Olympics in Utah, Russian and French judges were accused of vote swapping. Russians Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze were awarded the Gold Medal over Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. The Canadians skated perfectly in their long program, but the Russians made a mistake.
It was discovered shortly after that the French Skating Federation had "made a deal" with the Russians. The "deal" was to give the French the Gold Medal in Ice Dancing and the Russians the Gold in Pair Skating. This lead to a revamp of the scoring system, in an attempt to make it more objective and less vulnerable to abuse.
During the 1994 US Olympic trials, skater Nancy Kerrigan was assaulted with a bat to the leg. Olympic hopeful Tonya Harding's husband, Jeff Gillooly was eventually convicted and sent to prison for his role in the attack. Kerrigan and Harding went on to compete at the Olympics that year, where the public was treated to Harding's broken lace meltdown and Kerrigan's sore loser-ness.
Kerrigan's "Why Me?" the "Don't Tase me, Bro" of the 1990s
After losing the gold to former orphan and future drunk driver Oksana Baiul, Kerrigan's poor sportsmanship got a chance to shine. When Baiul was late to the podium to receive her gold medal because she was getting made up for her big moment, Kerrigan graciously stated on camera, "Oh, come on. So she's going to get out here and cry again. What's the difference?".
Nicole Bobek, methamphetamine and Campbell's Soup shill
Harding was eventually banned from skating for her involvement in the attack, but avoided jail time. Other figure skaters haven't been as fortunate. In 2006, Olympic Figure Skating Gold Medalist, Wolfgang Schwarz, was sentenced to eight years in prison for attempted kidnapping. Prior to this, Schwarz had been charged with human trafficking for bringing young Lithuanian girls to Austria to work as prostitutes.
The fate of former US skating star, Nicole Bobek is still to be determined. In 2009 she was charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. If convicted, Bobek faces up to 10 years in prison.
I eat meat and wear fur!
Self described "princessy" skater, Johnny Weir's received flak over the fur adorned skating costume he wore in the 2010 US Championship competition. Weir originally countered critics by stating, "Maybe I'm wearing a cute little fox while everyone else is wearing cow, but we're all still wearing animals." -BUH. HUH. URN!
After receiving death threats from animal rights activists, Weir decided to go fur free at the 2010 Olympics . He insisted his switch to pink leather tassles not be considered a victory by anti-fur activists.
"I hope these activists can understand that my decision to change my costume is in no way a victory for them, but a draw." Weir went on to cryptically explain his odd reasoning for the perceived tie.
"I am not changing in order to appease them, but to protect my integrity and the integrity of the Olympic Games as well as my fellow competitors."
Johnny Weir Integrity Champion
Evan lysacek won the 2010 Olymic Gold medal with out landing a quad, and Russian Sex Bomb Evangi Plushenko waxed poetic on what that meant for competitive figure skating. In a bold move, Lyscek decided to immediatly take his place among D list celebrities instead of waiting the requisite four years. He will appear as a contestant in the ABC reality show "Dancing with the Stars" where he will compete against professional shrew Kate Gosselin and Shannon Daugherty of "I hate Brenda" fame.
2010's version of a Wheaties Box