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Olympics: Ice dancing, skiing, hockey, curling and more

Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 23, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post Staff Writer Amy Shipley was online Tuesday, Feb. 23 from Vancouver to discus the final ice dancing results, the U.S. hockey team's hopes, skiing, curling and all the latest news and her stories from the Winter Olympics.

Full Coverage: 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics

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Olney, Md.: First of all, forgive me, but I enjoyed the Russian pair's aborigine dance, and I thought the costumes and her Pebbles Flintstone hairdo were adorable.

Secondly, although the skating is beautiful and elegant, and definitely athletic, I feel that something is lacking from past days. The lyricism of Peggy Fleming, the Protopopovs, and John Curry has gone. Skating is less an art form and more a sport. I also miss the flamboyant and extremely original Canadian skater Toller Cranston, who had some amazing routines and perfect costumes to go with them. Although I guess those days will never return, I do miss them and the balleticism they glorified.

Although I enjoyed the American dancers very much, I do wonder what her costume had to do with Phantom of the Opera. It didn't say Christine to me.

Amy Shipley: Hello everyone, thanks for joining me today! Hope you are enjoying the Olympics as much as I am.

Thanks for the comment from Olney. It's interesting because I think most people would say they prefer the increase in athleticism, but for sure it has taken away some opportunity for skaters to truly dance and perform. They just have so much stuff they must fit in to accrue points. Having said that, I can't imagine being more moved than watching Virtue and Moir last night. If that wasn't art, I don't know what is!

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Figure skating? Please: Amy, as I went to click on the link to submit this question, I saw again the photo of the Russian (Urkainian? team in their aboriginal costumes, looking for all the world like a bad Vegas act. And I realize that I've had enough of pretending that figure skating is a sport. Fine, point out other events like curling and others that are also judged.

But divers don't need a theme for their event and gymnasts don't worry that their costumes are original enough. This thing has become a joke. Without the compulsory figures (which is why they call it figure skating) there's no reason not to add ballet to the Summer Games as a sport; it would be the same thing as what we get from figure skating now.

Are the people who run figure skating ever embarrassed by what they see on the ice? Is there even a remote chance that something will change? Or am I just stuck, every four years, forced to put up with it to make my wife happy?

Amy Shipley: The line between what is sport and what is not is certainly an arbitrary one, and largely decided by the IOC (International Olympic Committee). There are plenty of super-athletic activities not on the Olympic program--ballet is one--and thus we don't call them sports. What's interesting is how many Olympic sports are judged--snowboarding, freestyle skiing... it's not just figure skating that falls in that category. Anyway, I don't much care how it all shakes out in the longstanding argument of whether figure skating is a sport or not. It's super-entertaining. As a journalist, I love the side stories and the occasional wackiness. And while you can debate about judging all you want, and make fun of the costumes all you want (I make fun of them, too) the athleticism of the top skaters, even ice dancers, defies belief.

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Washington, D.C.: The score is 8-1. Tell me why the U.S. Women's Olympic Hockey star is still in the game to record her hat trick, making it 9-1? Doesn't that go against the general Olympic spirit of things?

Amy Shipley: I don't think so. The U.S. and Canada are so much better than other teams the second-tier players could score hat tricks. The imbalance in women's hockey is unfortunate, but at what point do you sit your stars? Some of these games are out of hand in the first period. I think their job is to compete and play hard, and they should have the full chance to do that regardless of the score.

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Annapolis, Md.: Hi,

Is there any reason why the ice dancers have to do three programs? That first one where they all dance the same thing seems like a waste of time. I think the costumes especially the aborigine thing are ridiculous! No need for that.

Amy Shipley: You are not the only person who thinks the first program, the compulsory dance, is a waste. (That's the one when everyone does the same dance to the same music, making everyone numb by night's end.) Many of the competitors hate it. There is talk that it will be eliminated by the International Skating Union for Sochi in 2014.

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Alexandria, Va.: What's with the boorish, unsportsmanlike behavior of the Russians? First, Plushenko with his wailing, and now the ice dancers join him in suffering the delusion that they skated better than the Americans and Canadians did. Does such behavior warrant a chastising from the International Figure Skating Federation? Can the official body of the sport do anything to make it clear to the losers that such behavior does not make them look any better, particularly given the numerous awkward landings and lack of content in Plushenko's program?

Amy Shipley: What made me shake my head was that IOC President Jacques Rogge dismissed Plushenko's lack of grace--which was apparent to everyone who covered that event--as just disappointment in the heat of the moment (this according to Phil Hersh of the Chicago Tribune). This is the same Jacques Rogge who ripped Usain Bolt for celebrating too vigorously after setting his 100 world record. Of course, there are split opinions on whether the Russians are being unsportsmanlike or are indeed getting jobbed and therefore justified in their complaints. The Russian press and officials obviously feel the latter is the case. Even so, that doesn't to me justify Plushenko all but taking shots at U.S. gold medalist Evan Lysacek during the post-event press conference. Lysacek, to his credit, was the picture of class and dignity.

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Re: Figure skating? Please:: A correction from a curling fan to the poster who said that curling was also a completely judged sport. It is, in fact, probably the least judged sport in the game, as the two teams are trusted to call fouls on themselves and score each end by consensus. Only when they cannot eyeball whether one rock is closer than another do they involve any official, and that's just to operate the measuring device.

On ice dancing, why does it need three nights when all the rest of figure skating can get it done in two?

Amy Shipley: Good point!

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Interviews ...: Did someone forget to train the skiers and snowboarders how to do post competition interviews? I don't expect vast eloquence, but I do think they should at least pay lip service to being honored and/or excited to be there, etc. Just a little. The skaters all have it down pat (your dream is to come to the Olympics to represent your country and to do your best whatever the result), but the rest do not.

Ms. Vonn and her comment about getting her gold medal and not caring about anything else, sort of got to me. I understand she was probably in a lot of pain at the time, but still - didn't care? About winning any more medals for her team? About anything else at all? You don't say that.

Also, what are the athletes told about national anthem protocol? Are they supposed to sing? Hand on heart? Weird green flowers in the heart hand or not? It seems that some of them don't know the words and that is embarrassing. The Canadian ice dancers were joyfully singing along last night (as was a large chunk of the audience). It was nice.

Amy Shipley: Just a couple of thoughts: I'm fascinated that the snowboarders have embraced the Olympics, given their initial reluctance to jump from X Games territory to the staid world of the Olympic Games when the sport made its entry a few Games ago. I don't know how eloquent they've been, but their enthusiams for competing has been apparent and I think that's great (Shaun White tops that list). As for the skiers and Vonn, some of them, and particularly Vonn, are facing extraordinary pressure here. Vonn was pretty much projected to be the Michael Phelps of these Games long before they happened, a pretty ridiculous expectation given the mishaps that can befall skiers (Phelps, in other words, knows he will not drown before reaching the end of the pool!). Given her injury amid all of tha expectation, I was not surprised at her clear relief at getting that gold. I was more surprised that she was actually able to do it!

And the U.S. athletes are not instructed on what they should do on the medal stand, and I think that's fine. But I agree, it would be nice to see a few sing. We do seem to get tongue-tied up there.

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Canadian pathos: Hi Amy!

You've been covering these shindigs for awhile now, so I was wondering: Have you ever seen a team under more pressure than the current Canadian hockey team? And given the results against the U.S. on Sunday, if the fightin' Maple Leafs come up short of a gold, what will the national atmosphere be like in Canada? Can you feel a difference up there after the Sunday loss compared to the general joie de vivre going into the game?

Certainly seems like it would be palpable, given everything I'd read and heard about how much people were banking on that team ...

Amy Shipley: Hi!

I was surprised that there wasn't a greater pall over the city after the loss. I can't tell you how many random people -- most wearing Canada hockey shirts, by the way -- seemed to take the loss in stride, focusing on the positive that it was not an elimination game. Which fits with the Canadian attitude I've seen since I have been here: almost relentlessly positive. Regardless of the low point, mishap or malfunction, the approach has been: Well, this is a grand opportunity to make things better. So I'm sure everyone figures the Canadians will pound everyone from here on in in the tournament. (We'll see.)

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Serious FSer: First apologies for all the hate delivered to you on behalf of my fellow serious figure skaters. But when you see all the freaking attention given to football, it's a little hard to accept that when we're even in the sports pages (every four years) there's so many unedited inaccuracies (Paul Wylie's silver medal, wrong Olympics, Ashley Wagner's dad: try Lt. Col., to name just a few) it grates us, and there are so many local sources (any of the D.C. area rinks).

washingtonpost.com: Lysacek is first American man to win figure skating gold since 1988 (Washington Post, Feb. 19)

Amy Shipley: Hate mail! Wow. Sorry you are so disappointed in us. I trust we have made even more errors than the ones you cited... sorry about that. It is difficult to be perfect from writer to editor to copy editor when we go to the Olympics and cover things in which not all, or not any, of us are experts. I hate to think of what could happen when I write a luge story on deadline. Having said that, I've covered figure skating for more than 10 years and try hard to be accurate. But whether it's because of haste -- I can't express to you how awful the deadlines are out here -- or mental blackouts, mistakes do happen, egregious and less so. I regret every one. I always appreciate a heads up, and try to correct errors at least for the online stories.

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Washington, D.C.: Hiya Amy

Picking John Shuster in my Olympic Curling fantasy draft is not working out. Should I trade for Andreas Kempf of Germany or should I go with youth and try to land Jialiang Zang? What do you think?

Amy Shipley: I am publishing this because it made me laugh. I think those are both good ideas :-)

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Elmhurst, Ill.: I actually really like the compulsory ice dance program. The video "ghost" overlay of two pairs was terrific. They could vary the music to break the monotony, just keep the same tempo. Let the viewer see what makes one pair superior to the other.

In fact I'd like the figure skaters have to do a compulsory routine, too, instead of the short program. That way we'd be competing execution of identical elements (including rotation quantity.) Long original program would still showcase the skater's personal strenthgs.

Except for the unforgettably perfect Canadian winners, the ice dance costumes and folk dance coreographies have been downright cringeworthy. Belbin/Agosto's, as well as the Domnina/Shabalin's, what horrors! Who could see their legwork and body lines, from the distracting clown costumes and overemoting? Bleccch.

Amy Shipley: Thanks for this comment!

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Alexandria, Va.: Let's lighten up on the singing requirements please. The gold medalists have earned the right to sing or not sing.

And let's not compare US Gold not singing the "Star Spangled Banner" to the singing of "Oh, Canada". Gold for the host country always results in singing, mainly by the crowd -- the medalist go along with it.

I only saw it on TV, but I still remember the crowd in Salt Lake City in 2002 singing the anthem. The Italians did it as well in 2006 in Torino, but they had few opportunitites.

Let the Canadians sing "O, Canada" when they have their opportunity. Sit back, watch, and enjoy.

Amy Shipley: Fair point. Easier to sing along when everyone else is, too. Still think it would be nice to see more singing!

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Cleveland Park: Did Plushenko attend the Nancy Kerrigan School of Charm?

And are there any 'real' sports journalists from Russia there or are they all basically cheerleaders? Curious how they'll cover hockey after the Plushenko drama.

Amy Shipley: I don't know about "real" journalists but we certainly see different approaches at the Olympic Games. There is a solid rule in U.S. sports -- no cheering in press boxes. It is NEVER done. All of us would be horrified if that occurred, say, at a Nats game, and the offending party would be glared at into humiliation. But there is unabashed cheering in the press areas here from various countries. It is so odd.

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Columbia: Compulsories - I like them! Yes, everyone does the same pattern but that helps me see the differences in ability and expression much more clearly. It's more interesting to watch than school figures are, but I certainly learned to look at skating differently from the discussion of school figure results. Now, I can tell when a skater has a tight, steady spin rather than a tight, wandering one. Etc.

I also know from other disciplines (including theatre) that sometimes the piece itself gains the applause rather than the presenter. So it's really nice to see the compulsories to be able to look more closely at something one rarely sees. (At least, I rarely get to watch world class skaters.)

So, please, keep the compulsory dances!

Amy Shipley: You like them because you've never had to cover them :-)

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Washington, DC: "The imbalance in women's hockey is unfortunate, but at what point do you sit your stars? " For me as a coach, it would be a five goal lead and a game that is obviously over, like yesterday's blowout. At that point I would put in the players who don't get as much ice time, including the backup goalies. There are plenty of women on the US team that no one has seen, and they have hometowns too.

Amy Shipley: This is a very good point. Of course, there is ONE game the U.S. women have to worry about, the one against Canada. And that is no small worry. The other issue as far as resting stars at this point in the tournament is the U.S. has to make sure its top players are ready to play Canada. They want them getting time on the ice ...

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Kiss 'n Cry: Any thoughts about monitoring the microphones in that area? We've heard a lot about less than gracious public comments being made by some skaters, but I noticed in the men's skating that Stefane Lambiel and coach were inaudible while awaiting his scores but that the mic was on for Brian Joubert. The camera told us all we needed to know, no one needed to hear him, too. I'm sure he regrets being on tape at that point.

I didn't get to watch all of the ice dancing, but the dancers didn't seem to be miked the same way.

Thoughts?

Amy Shipley: I love the microphones, and we actually haven't had those feeds in the press area. I love it when we do. I think the more microphones the better. I appreciate a pure, unfiltered reaction. We hear enough athletes saying what they think they SHOULD say later!

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National anthem protocol: In one of the early medal ceremonies -- possibly moguls, ski-cross or some such X-sport -- the American males who won medals kept their knit hats on during the playing of "The Star Spangled Banner." Now I realize so-called extreme sports have a certain defiant culture, but fear of hat-hair is no excuse for failure to doff one's hat when our anthem is played. Can't the USOC order American medalists to take off their hats then? Please?

Amy Shipley: I don't recall this but agree with you!

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Chicago: Wow, cut Lindsey Vonn some slack. She said, in essence, that a lifetime of work had culminated in the most important honor she can win in her sport -- an Olympic gold medal -- and that her Olympics would therefore be a success no matter what else happened. There's nothing wrong with a little realism. More power to her.

Amy Shipley: Thanks for the comment.

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Fairfax, Va.: I wish someone on the scene who interviewed Plushenko would have called him on a couple of his statements. First of all, he talked about the old 6.0 and how he would have won under that ... well, he won his gold medal in 2006 under THIS judging system. Second, if the quad is the end-all and be-all, why didn't he volunteer to give his silver medal to Lambiel, who did two quads in his long program? Or going back further, his 2002 silver to Tim Goebel, who did three?

Amy Shipley: I would also note that it was widely known that the 6.0 system was easily and frequently manipulated. But more to Plushenko's point, the problem with that logic, even if it were true, is that we are not skating in the old 6.0 system. He might want to try to learn how to be successful with this one.

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Colorado Springs, Colo.: Your first poster complained that "Skating is less an art form and more a sport." This is why so many people are turned off by ice skating. It's SUPPOSED to be a sport, that's why it's being performed at the Olympics and not in Carnegie Hall. I like watching hockey, skiing, luge, bobsled, speed skating, etc., because the officials are there to enforce the rules, not to determine the outcome.

Amy Shipley: The officials "determine the outcome" in a lot of sports that don't take as much abuse as figure skating, like snowboarding, diving, gymnastics, even boxing. Just sayin'...

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Washington, D.C.: RE: Ice dancing and Judging: There are a lot of other sports that may be judged, but a lot of that judging has to do with the technical elements. Did the aerialist spin twice during his flip? Were his legs straight through the motion? Those things can be reviewed on tape to make sure the judges knew what they saw.

Also, in moguls, form is scored (partly) because the athletes can really hurt themselves if they don't keep a tight/efficient motion.

But in the little bit of ice dancing I forced myself to watch, the announcers went on and on about how the judges are looking for "creativity in the arms" and if somebody was embracing the "passion" of the music. How can that be scored even somewhat objectively? How can an ice dancer even challenge that kind of ruling? How can the audience really know how well somebody did until a judge tells them (and even the experts providing commentary feel that the scores are handed out arbitrarily)?

Amy Shipley: I am sorry I cannot get to all of the comments, but I am out of time! Thank you for joining me ... I will leave this last comment up without a response since the debate can go on forever. Finally, I encourage all of you to come back to chat when Barry Svrluga, one of my colleagues out here, is on and pepper him with many comments and questions about ice dancing. He will love that.

Thanks again!

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