“O” is for “Olympics”

342px-Olympic_rings_without_rims.svgAlso “Obsession.”

My name is Pamela, and I’m a figure skating junkie.  Or used to be.

Babilonia And Gardner in 1979, photo by Tony Duffy
Babilonia & Gardner in 1979, photo by Tony Duffy

I first started taking notice of the sport at the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, when pairs skaters and reigning world champions Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner were forced to withdraw from competition because of his groin injury. Disappointing as that was to see (and devastating for B&G themselves), I ended up sticking around for the other disciplines. My most vivid memory after their withdrawal was watching lean, elegant Robin Cousins–one of the tallest men in the sport–win the men’s gold for Great Britain, and two young American up-and-comers David Santee and Scott Hamilton place fourth and fifth. And just like that, I was hooked.

The Brians on the Olympic podium, photo by Calgary Sun
The Brians on the Olympic podium, photo by Calgary Sun

I followed the sport faithfully after that, watching Hamilton fulfill his early promise with four world championships and a gold medal in Sarajevo, 1984. After that, I watched two amazingly talented, closely matched male skaters–one American, one Canadian, both named Brian–vie for dominance in the sport over the next four years, a competition finally resolved by a narrow victory for the American Brian [Boitano] over the Canadian Brian [Orser] at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary. (By the way, “Battle of the Brians” = “Best Skating Rivalry Ever”). And I was thrilled when perennial long shot Paul Wylie won a silver medal at the Albertville Games in 1992, skating beautifully to a program set to Patrick Doyle’s “Henry V,” one of my all-time favorite soundtracks.

The women’s competition provided its share of memorable moments and unforgettable skaters over several Olympiads too. Elaine Zayak finished off the podium but not before upping the technical level for the sport by performing multiple triple jumps. Katarina Witt became the first woman since Sonja Henie to win back-to-back gold medals in 1984 and 1988. Debi Thomas became the first black woman to win a world championship and earned an Olympic bronze in 1988. And Canadian Liz Manley stole both Witt and Thomas’s thunder by winning the long program (and a silver medal) at the Calgary Games–skating to music that was not from “Carmen.”

Michelle Kwan, in Lyrica Angelica
Michelle Kwan, in Lyrica Angelica

The 1992 Games swept Kristi Yamaguchi (gold) and Nancy Kerrigan (bronze) to fame, then two years later, all hell broke loose with an attack on Kerrigan (front-runner for the gold at Lillehammer) orchestrated by the ex-husband of her U.S. rival Tonya Harding. The fallout from that ugly incident lasted for years, but fortunately, a fresh crop of skaters, led by the phenomenal Michelle Kwan, took away some of the lingering bad taste. Ultimately, Olympic gold was not in the stars for Kwan, and I winced every time it slipped away from her. But nine national titles, five world titles, and Olympic silver and bronze medals still represent one hell of a legacy, and she’s rightly considered one of the all-time greats.

Pairs and ice-dancing weren’t on my radar to the same degree as the singles events. But I watched slack-jawed with the rest of the world when Torvill and Dean essentially revolutionized ice-dancing with “Bolero” in 1984. And scratched my head over some of the routines that emerged in the post-T&D era. More than the other disciplines, ice dancing seems prone to frequent reinvention–the pendulum is constantly swinging, though you can’t always predict in which direction!

Torvill and Dean in Bolero, 1984
Torvill & Dean in Bolero, 1984, photo by Getty Images

Over the last decade or so, my interest in figure skating has waned, mostly due to decreased coverage of the sport, an increasingly incomprehensible scoring/judging system, and the relative lack of strong skaters to emerge from the ranks, once the “veterans” retire or turn pro. But in spite of all that, once that Olympic torch is lit and the ice rink properly Zambonied, I’m there again–ready to marvel at the skaters’ ability and tenacity, laugh at the sillier costumes and programs, question the judges’ sanity, and applaud or criticize the results.

And the Sochi Games of 2014 provided plenty of the above. From the introduction of the new team competition, to the resurgence of the Russian  pairs skaters, to the cringe-inducing splat-fest that was the men’s free skate, to the well-deserved Olympic coronation of ice dancing favorites Davis and White, to the highly controversial outcome of the women’s competition, figure skating once again provided two weeks of fascinating, on-the-edge-of-your-seat drama.

Davis & White in free dance, photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images
Davis & White in free dance, photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Tonight, after “16 Days of Glory,” the Olympic torch goes out.  See you in four years!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 St. Valentine Baptizing St. Lucilia, by Jacopo Bassano (1510-1592)St. Valentine Baptizing St. Lucilia, by Jacopo Bassano (1510-1592)



HAIL Bishop Valentine, whose day this is ;
         All the air is thy diocese,
         And all the chirping choristers
And other birds are thy parishioners ;
         Thou marriest every year
The lyric lark, and the grave whispering dove,
The sparrow that neglects his life for love,
The household bird with the red stomacher ;
         Thou makest the blackbird speed as soon,
As doth the goldfinch, or the halcyon ;
The husband cock looks out, and straight is sped,
And meets his wife, which brings her feather-bed.
This day more cheerfully than ever shine ;
This day, which might enflame thyself, old Valentine.


Till now, thou warmd’st with multiplying loves
         Two larks, two sparrows, or two doves ;
         All that is nothing unto this ;
For thou this day couplest two phoenixes ;
         Thou makst a taper see
What the sun never saw, and what the ark
—Which was of fowls and beasts the cage and park—
Did not contain, one bed contains, through thee ;
         Two phoenixes, whose joined breasts
Are unto one another mutual nests,
Where motion kindles such fires as shall give
Young phoenixes, and yet the old shall live ;
Whose love and courage never shall decline,
But make the whole year through, thy day, O Valentine.


Up then, fair phoenix bride, frustrate the sun ;
         Thyself from thine affection
         Takest warmth enough, and from thine eye
All lesser birds will take their jollity.
            Up, up, fair bride, and call
Thy stars from out their several boxes, take
Thy rubies, pearls, and diamonds forth, and make
Thyself a constellation of them all ;
         And by their blazing signify
That a great princess falls, but doth not die.
Be thou a new star, that to us portends
Ends of much wonder ; and be thou those ends.
Since thou dost this day in new glory shine,
May all men date records from this day, Valentine.


Come forth, come forth, and as one glorious flame
         Meeting another grows the same,
         So meet thy Frederick, and so
To an inseparable union go,
         Since separation
Falls not on such things as are infinite,
Nor things, which are but one, can disunite.
You’re twice inseparable, great, and one ;
         Go then to where the bishop stays,
To make you one, his way, which divers ways
Must be effected ; and when all is past,
And that you’re one, by hearts and hands made fast,
You two have one way left, yourselves to entwine,
Besides this bishop’s knot, of Bishop Valentine.


But O, what ails the sun, that here he stays,
         Longer to-day than other days ?
         Stays he new light from these to get ?
And finding here such stars, is loth to set ?
         And why do you two walk,
So slowly paced in this procession ?
Is all your care but to be look’d upon,
And be to others spectacle, and talk ?
         The feast with gluttonous delays
Is eaten, and too long their meat they praise ;
The masquers come late, and I think, will stay,
Like fairies, till the cock crow them away.
Alas ! did not antiquity assign
A night as well as day, to thee, old Valentine ?


They did, and night is come ; and yet we see
         Formalities retarding thee.
         What mean these ladies, which—as though
They were to take a clock in pieces—go
         So nicely about the bride ?
A bride, before a “ Good-night” could be said,
Should vanish from her clothes into her bed,
As souls from bodies steal, and are not spied.
         But now she’s laid ; what though she be ?
Yet there are more delays, for where is he ?
He comes and passeth through sphere after sphere ;
First her sheets, then her arms, then anywhere.
Let not this day, then, but this night be thine ;
Thy day was but the eve to this, O Valentine.


Here lies a she sun, and a he moon there ;
         She gives the best light to his sphere ;
         Or each is both, and all, and so
They unto one another nothing owe ;
         And yet they do, but are
So just and rich in that coin which they pay,
That neither would, nor needs forbear, nor stay ;
Neither desires to be spared nor to spare.
         They quickly pay their debt, and then
Take no acquittances, but pay again ;
They pay, they give, they lend, and so let fall
No such occasion to be liberal.
More truth, more courage in these two do shine,
Than all thy turtles have and sparrows, Valentine.


And by this act these two phoenixes
         Nature again restorèd is ;
         For since these two are two no more,
There’s but one phoenix still, as was before.
         Rest now at last, and we—
As satyrs watch the sun’s uprise—will stay
Waiting when your eyes opened let out day,
Only desired because your face we see.
         Others near you shall whispering speak,
And wagers lay, at which side day will break,
And win by observing, then, whose hand it is
That opens first a curtain, hers or his :
This will be tried to-morrow after nine,
Till which hour, we thy day enlarge, O Valentine.

–John Donne (1572-1631)