The U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Team is now complete. Over the weekend, Rachael Flatt earned the women’s title at the U.S. Championships and will head to Vancouver along with Mirai Nagasu. Meryl Davis and Charlie White took the ice dancing crown, defeating rivals Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, the 2006 Olympic silver medalists, for the first time. They’ll be joined by a third team, Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates. Let’s break this down.
I know we’re excited that the U.S. has two couples who could conceivably win the U.S.’s first gold medal in ice dancing — Scott Hamilton all but said, “Suck it, Europeans” at the exhibition skate that aired Sunday on NBC — but let’s not get carried away. Dick Button, who’d already amused/confused me with a “magical soufflé” metaphor he used earlier in the weekend, referred to Davis & White’s free skate to music from The Phantom of the Opera as “one of the iconic performances of all time…. I mean it ranked right up there with the great performances of Torvill and Dean in ’84 and with Salé and Pelletier in 2002.” Yeah, that lift that has White balancing Davis on the back of his raised calf is pretty memorable, but in no way does that number compare to “Bolero,” Dick. “Bolero” puts you in a trance. Its originality and unison are mind-numbing. Am I right? (Note: The Phantom below is not from Nationals. Those ice dancing performances don’t appear to have made their way on to YouTube yet.)
As readers pointed out on our PopWatch on Ice preview post Friday, the ice dancing competition at this year’s Nationals was far more interesting than the ladies’ showdown. The music selection seems to play an even more important role in that discipline. White and Davis’ Indian original dance is awesome; Belbin and Agosto’s Moldavian original dance reminds me of the lederhosen incident in The Cutting Edge. (Samuelson and Bates do American Folk to the Dixie Chicks.) Button kept insisting Belbin and Agosto’s “religious-themed” free skate wasn’t going to go over with the crowd as well as Phantom.
Moving on to the ladies… Many, including myself, enjoyed Nagasu’s free skate more than Flatt’s, but the judges had to downgrade a couple of Nagasu’s jumps because she under rotated them by a quarter turn — and that meant the championship. Do I wish that third-place Ashley Wagner, who tweeted that she had been watching Titanic on TV before heading to the arena and wasn’t going to go down without a fight either, was going to the Olympics, and that Sasha Cohen and Alissa Czisny hadn’t self-destructed? Yes. All three of those women have an elegance in their skating that Flatt lacks. But let’s look on the bright side: Flatt is a perfectionist who won’t be able to hide her excitement or anger in Vancouver, and Nagasu’s coach, Frank Carroll, said he’d let her try her unreliable triple-triple combination in Canada if she made the team — so it’ll still be good TV! (It’s a long shot that either teen will medal. We should hope for Top 5.)
Speaking of good TV: Which was your favorite of last night’s exhibition numbers? Surprisingly, only one person has uploaded Davis and White’s skate to David Cook’s cover of “Billie Jean,” and that was by filming the TV. (Davis and White’s “raw quality” — the nice way of saying their arms occasionally flail, and he kinda reminds you of Steve Zahn? — works for them here.) No one has uploaded Johnny Weir’s latest take on Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.”