On behalf of the people of Washington, D.C., let me welcome the world's best figure skaters to the world championships here in the capital of the United States of America. Is there anything I can get you? Some sequins for your costumes? Some mascara? Some feathers?
And is there anything I can get for you women skaters?
Ah, big-time figure skating, where you never know who's going to win -- unless you're part of the Russian Mafia or one of the judges who's in on the fix. Don't worry, you won't need a program to identify who the judges are. They'll be the ones with their palms out, holding signs that say: "Will Cheat For Cash." I feel terrible that the Fragile French Judge, who was all the rage in Salt Lake City, isn't here; anyone who knows exactly who's going to win so far in advance of the actual event could have helped me with my NCAA pool. Alas, she has been banned from ice skating for a while. In the meantime, I believe she's signed on as a celebrity judge on "American Idol" the night the contestants do "French songs." I like Reuben now, but I'd like him a whole lot more if she winks at him during the Edith Piaf medley.
So welcome, willkommen, bienvenue. But honesty compels me to tell you Washington isn't the most forgiving skating locale. If you had to watch the choking dog Capitals all these years you'd understand. Artistry on ice isn't the kind of skating we're used to in late March. We're used to the Capitals beginning their annual swoon that invariably leads either to them not making the playoffs, or being eliminated in the first round. (Don't look now, but 1-2 on the current West Coast trip isn't exactly a momentum builder.) A lot of hostility builds up in a Washington hockey crowd. So when these pixies skate onto the ice the natural tendency at MCI Center is to hope Brendan Witt will come flying out of the corner and blindside them into the boards like chicken fingers. Actually, one of the ways they could liven this competition up would be to run the Zamboni during it! How'd you like to be going into a triple axle-double toe loop with that bad boy bearing down at you?
The truth is, for all the glitter and gliding you'll bring, most everyone in town would cheerfully trade the lot of you (and throw in all those dopey tulips fans shower you with) for the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft, so the Redskins could pick up another speedy wideout and bookend him with Laveranues Coles.
Of course, I'm thrilled the skaters are here. Figure skating is my life. Well, figure skating and long walks on the beach. I can't wait for the Ice Channel to get up and running. That's the dream of former skater Michael Rosenberg, a 24-hour cable channel devoted to figure skating. What could be better than getting to relive all of Todd Eldredge's great performances? Well, okay, a colonoscopy. But I mean, besides that.
I go way back with figure skating. I watched Dorothy Hamill before she was taking Vioxx. I covered Scotty Hamilton when he had hair. How's this for credentials: I've been inside Christine Brennan's condo! I love figure skating. (God, I wish I knew Ottavio Cinquanta's tailor.) I particularly liked the "Nudes on Ice" show I saw in Las Vegas some years back. Real classy entertainment; but then again, what would you expect when the sign at the box office informed the patrons there was a "two-beer minimum."
Let's make it clear that this event is no shlocky ice show. This isn't the usual fare, like Smurfs on Ice. Or Brian Boitano on Ice. Or The Lillith Fair Skating Divas Katarina Witt, Oksana Baiul and Nancy "Why Meeeee?" Kerrigan on Ice. Or Dick Button Presents Peggy Fleming's Grandchildren on Ice. All these skaters are "Olympic-eligible." You won't find any forty-somethings who remove all the triples from their programs because they're sows who can't get off the ground anymore. This is the goods. This is why ticket prices go up to $125 a pop. Although I'm told there's a $375 "Deluxe Deal," where you not only get a seat right next to the ice, but you get to drive in with Michael Weiss from McLean. (Hey, this is what they moved out the Caps and Wizards for. And I say not a moment too soon. This way when the Wizards lose and Michael Jordan decides to rip his teammates again for not having any passion, nobody in town has to hear it. I don't want to suggest this lack of passion thing is predictable, but I'm starting to think the only thing that can save the Wizards' playoff hopes is Viagra.)
We've got more than 190 entrants from 41 countries (the Coalition of the Frozen).We've got all the great ice dancers, and all the great pairs skaters, with the exception of the Canadians, Sale and Pelletier, who've spent the last 13 months tracking down the Fragile French Judge the way Lt. Gerard hunted Richard Kimble. The reigning world champion pair, Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo of China, are here. Unfortunately, in practice, while attempting a "quadruple throw salchow," Zhao "overthrew" Shen, and sent Shen crashing to the ice. (Overthrowing can be a terrible problem, as we in Washington found out last year with Patrick Ramsey.) We've got all the great singles performers. On the men's side there's Weiss, fellow American Timothy Goebel and former world champion Evgeny Plushenko of Russia. On the women's side there's the American Big Three: Olympic gold medalist Sarah Hughes, Sasha Cohen and Michelle Kwan, who has been out there so long she's the Jesse Orosco of figure skating. (Sadly, Tonya Harding's on the speed bag and won't be skating this year.)
A lot of people believe figure skating is the most beautiful sport of all. And it's certainly in my top two, along with Nicole Kidman stretching. (Oh, come on, it's a joke.) The truth is figure skaters are wonderful, superb athletes. The notion that hitting a pitched baseball could be even remotely as hard as landing a quad is laughable. I could quibble and say that skating is more a performance than a sport. But the last thing I want is the skating police overthrowing me. So welcome -- you'll be here all week; try the veal -- good luck, and I guess I probably shouldn't say: Break a leg.