It's officially Winter Olympics time again. Tomorrow the torch makes its way to Vancouver and the Opening Ceremony will showcase incredible athletes from around the world in a glorious celebration of cross-cultural unity. Well, mostly.
Russian ice dancers (yes, you know what's coming) epitomize eccentricity. In no other sport can you get away with the kinds of things they wear and do in Ice Dance. And when you add onto that what many in Western cultures would consider the Russian over-the-top sense of style, well, you end up with somebody getting offended. In this case, it was the Australians. When the World Champion Ice Dance team, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin skated to the European title wearing faux leaves, body paint and tribal headgear, things really got ugly.
Taking bets on this year's Olympic scandal? My money's on the Ice Dance event. I know what you're thinking "but we have this great new judging system" (that nobody understands) and "those judges who made back room deals in Ice Dance were banned!" Doesn't matter. Somebody always finds a way to blow a gasket just before - or during - the Olympics. Do I really need to invoke memories of what happened to Nancy Kerrigan or Jamie Sale and David Pelletier?
How did it get this bad in the costume and program offense department? Ice dancers have always been encouraged to go to extremes as a subculture. Look at "Dancing With the Stars" - those costumes are tame in comparison. In any case, this Al Jazeera video pretty much summed it up describing their program as "ethnic mishmash" and Australians have been attacking the Russian team for "cultural insensitivity." What would an Olympic year be without some kind of controversy in the department of figure skating?
Costume problems are not new, sadly. In the late 80's, Katarina Witt's costumes contained skirts so short they could hardly go by that name, and as a result, ISU costume standards changed to specify longer skirts. Witt also accidentally flashed the audience in one competition when a newly finished costume exposed... well... too much. And then there was Debi Thomas's unitard, thought way too risque for the time. And the all too prevalent belly button problem in the 90's. Now skaters cover themselves with a lot of nude fabric, cover themselves with color in random places and call it a costume. Hence the Aboriginal "art."
"Of course, if propriety and taste were required in ice dancing, it would have been tossed from the Olympics years ago," Jere Longman of The New York Times wrote last week. Yep. The Russian team has just in the past few days decided to alter their costumes in hopes of lessening their offense, but it's too late for them to change their program, so I expect we'll still see some feathers ruffled. Speaking of which, Evan Lysacek removed his from his Vera Wang costume, and Johnny Weir removed his faux fur to appease critics. What would Brian Boitano do?
The real controversy I foresee in Ice Dance, however, will come down to Europeans vs. North Americans. This year we have an incredible Canadian team and two dynamic American teams who are top contenders for gold in Ice Dance, up against an amazing French team and the Russian World Champions. History dictates that European teams always win. Never has an American or Canadian team won gold in Ice Dance. So with all of these talented teams in competition for the top spot, we'll really find out whether this new judging system works in that discipline or whether bias and corruption still reigns.
And oh by the way, this just in: rumors are flying that the music selection in the Compulsory Ice Dance event could have been rigged to favor the Russians. Who needs "South Park" when we have the Olympics?
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