19 February 2010

The triumph of mediocrity: Lysacek's gold

During the Cold War, sports was one of the ways to demonstrate ideological superiority on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Growing up in Moscow at the tail end of the Soviet era, I remember that Olympic-level coaches visited elementary schools around the country and hand-picked kids they deemed suitable for international competitions.

They often chose me: at that time, my athletic body type was complemented by being extremely thin. The selection process was thorough: once the coaches determined that I were likely to grow beyond 5 feet tall, for example, based on my parents' genetics, they rejected me for disciplines like gymnastics and diving. But, as a result of Soviet athletic zeal -- combined with my mother's emphasis on education and fitness -- I got to participate in a variety of sports: swimming, tennis, badminton, cross country skiing, table tennis (!), and, of course, figure skating, among others. And, while neither my family, nor I had an interest in sports beyond health benefits, I still have fond memories of this part of my childhood.

The latter is one of the reasons why I have a bit of an interest in contemporary Russian figure skating. So much so, that I've already once defended this discipline in a (heavily edited) letter to Time magazine.

Needless to say, I was furious at the results of 2010 Olympic men's figure skating finals -- Evgeniy Plyuschenko's silver and Evan Lysacek's undeserved gold.

Soviet vanitas. Photo by me.

First, Russians are not the only ones perplexed by the dumbed-down state of this sport. In The Night They Killed Figure Skating, Canadian legend Elvis Stojko wrote:

"Sorry, Evan Lysacek.

You’re a great skater and all.

But that wasn’t Olympic champion material.

In Thursday night’s men’s free skate, Lysacek skated slow and his jumps weren’t close to the technical ability of defending Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko.


...the judges’ scoring was ridiculous.

Because of it, the sport took a step backward. Brian Boitano did the same thing, technically, in 1988. There are junior skaters who can skate that same program."

Second, my opinion is not a result of rabid Russian patriotism. For example, I am fan of shooting and skiing at the same time! Unfortunately, and -- admittedly -- the Russian biathlon team has been, well, seriously sucking this year, and other, no doubt, worthy athletes won. I can only hope that Russians perform better on the home turf @ Sochi-2014.

More important, the winter Olympic Games are a competition, which, by and large, exhibits European prowess (with due credit given to East Asians). As such, it is one of the last venues, in which European culture isn't continuously clobbered over the head with anti-Western modern-day "liberal" agenda. In fact, the very title of my blog refers to Theodore Roosevelt, because that Great Man and I both believe(d) in cooperation and friendly competition between the Great Powers.

I even feel a bit of pan-Slavism toward my Slavic Brothers. Slovakia's win against the celebrated Team Russia (which, by the way, still has the highest number of competition victories, historically), even if in a shoot-out, demonstrates one of the best Slavic cultural qualities -- endurance and perseverance.

No, Plyushchenko's silver was not a result of a massive anti-Russian conspiracy, though much of the Western media has been noticeably gloating since. Rather, last night's figure skating judging was a systemtic affirmation of mediocrity. Lysacek's well performed routine without truly difficult acrobatics was a solid average, no more.

Elvis Stojko argued that:

"The naysayers believe the quadruple does not need to be included to succeed at these Olympics [...] However, this is a sport where the element of risk is needed. Boring is the program without the challenge."

But, should I really be surprised? In an environment, where the Hollywood Assembly Line churns out expensive, boring remakes and sequels, why shouldn't a polished, uninteresting 20-year old figure skating remake of a routine be praised?

Contemporary North American culture not only caters to, but also -- promotes the lowest common denominator through that winning combination of bread and circuses.

As some of us know.

Women, who get famous through deliberately leaked home-made porn, are designated "fashion icons". Barely literate rappers are called great "artists". Hell, why pick on rappers, when college graduates everywhere seriously lack grammar, syntax, and, gasp!, spelling? I'm used to student emails greeting me with "yo". Basic historic facts that were taken for granted just a few decades ago -- like, when the Mona Lisa was painted -- are no longer common knowledge.

Even when it comes to the Olympic competition itself, Russian-Armenian journalist Zarbabian emphasized the gradual dumbing down of the official musical themes chosen over the years.

And, speaking of Hollywood, I don't think I've ever seen a dating show, where the potential couple discussed a book they liked. One book? A best-selling author? No? Really?

So, perhaps, I need to amend my initial assertion: that gold was very much deserved.