Sunday, February 9, 2014

Olympics Relevant! 10 Things I Hated About Figure Skating

Yeah, I'm not watching the Olympics this year. I wish I could say it was in protest, but it's because I just don't have the time nor the care. To be fair, the only reason I watched the past two winter Olympics was to see what this little weirdo grew up to be like. In a former life, I was a figure skater.

Please note that I did not say I was a good figure skater. I was the little sister of a good figure skater. And since we were always at the rink, I was put on the ice as well. It took up the majority of my not-in-school time and I am still slightly bitter that I wasn't given the chance to find my own damn sport that I might've had a chance at being good at (thank you for asking).

As the Winter Olympics are upon us and, for the first time in eons, the U.S. Figure Skating team is most likely to go home empty-handed, I felt the need to talk about the things I really really DON'T miss about skating. A Bottom Ten List, if you will.

10. Getting a runny nose while practicing, meaning that you had to pull the ultimate Grandma Move of keeping tissues up your sweatshirt sleeves... which would then sometimes go flying out while you were skating. And then someone (most likely you) would trip on the tissue. Then you'd have to find more tissues, as your nose would still be running because you're in an ice rink and that happens sometimes.

9. Getting annoyed at crappy portrayals of the sport in movies and on television. Despite the terribly inaccurate use of spotlights during major competitions, the ability of a character to go from hockey player to National-level pairs skater in the blink of an eye, and the complete bypassing of any official testing of said skater before he was competing... at least the skating in The Cutting Edge looks good and you can believe that Moira Kelly could skate. Nothing drove me crazy more than seeing someone portraying a talented skater while clearly being barely able to stand in their skates when not replaced by their skating double. Ice Princess, I'm looking at you. Also, would it kill animators to one day actually animate real skating moves? I'm always sad when I watch that Peanuts special (episode?) where Peppermint Pattie skates and so much of it isn't recognizable as real moves.

8. The Harness.

Every rink had one and I HATED it. Partially because of body issues. But mostly because it was pointless. It was meant to help you get a feel for a jump that you couldn't complete all the revolutions for yet. A way to slow the jump down in mid-air. Except there were all those wires keeping you attached to the ceiling and getting in the way of you making those revolutions.

7. The terror of hitting someone during freestyle practice. Like Oksana and Tanja in 1994.

Your average skating practice is a bunch of individuals practicing individually at doing very high-speed jumps and spins while wearing two sharp blades that are constantly becoming airborne. And there's always someone that's a little bit oblivious, without a doubt. I was always terrified of a collision. Especially when you do something nuts like throw in some lefty skaters and you don't realize that someone is going to be coming from that direction to do a double toe right where you're trying to get enough speed to attempt a double lutz, which you haven't perfected and you need to concentrate to do some footwork to get properly on your outside edge and you're so damn determined to not cheat it. Ahem. If you've ever seen warm-up sessions before a competition on TV, that's nothing in comparison to freestyle practice, where there are more people and everyone is working on something different and there are more possibilities for collision. And, therefore, more possibilities for being on the verge of jumping and having to abort it just before you dig in your toe pick.

6. Scribes.

An ancient artifact used for a form of skating that no one cares about anymore- figures. You'd practice figures in a session called "patch"- due to how everyone taking part in that session would be assigned a specific patch of clean ice to stick to for the session. On your patch, you'd pull out your scribe, which was like a giant compass, and etch out two giant circles in a figure eight (meeting perfectly in the middle, not overlapping). You or your coach might then also hatch out certain spots on those circles and indication of where you should be turning/changing feet/changing edge/ect. And then you spend a very very very quiet session where almost all you would hear would be the sound of blades against ice. I loved patch, as it was very meditative and edges were more interesting to me than jumps (as I was good at edges and turns while very bad at jumps) but I hated those damn scribes. I can't remember if it was my sister's scribe or one of my coaches, but I had one take a bite out of my hand as I set up my circles one morning. Blood everywhere. There were all these adjustment points on the scribes to make them portable and functional for multiple sizes of circles and that included an adjustable handle piece that wasn't adjusted right one day. Fucking scribe.  Plus, I almost always forgot I had one in my bag until it would hit me in the leg or side while I was running and I'd get all bruised.

5. Having to go places in my skating gear. Especially in the summer, my mother (or my sister) would suddenly realize that there were errands that needed to be ran after practice and not have the forethought to tell me to bring a change of clothes (or just not give me time to change). Meaning I'd be schlepping around town in 90F degree heat while wearing two pairs of thermal tights and my butt visible under a short lycra skirt. Then there was always the weirdness of, when I finally could change into real clothes, my thighs would still be ridiculously cool to the touch from the tights holding in the cold for hours.

4. The smell of hockey players.

I remember Marc Maron talking a lot about having a pair of jeans that he was told to put in the freezer to kill odor bacteria, as they weren't meant to be washed. Anyone that has ever encountered a hockey locker room can prove that cold does not kill odor (hell, my boots this winter can prove that as well). The sweat somehow seeps into every atom of every piece of equipment they wear and the smell is profound and terrible. At my home rink, the wall between the girls' locker room and one of the hockey locker rooms had about a foot gap at the top and the smell that came from it was horrifying. I have been at competitions where the smell from the locker room has caused asthma attacks. Hockey Family Advisor went into more details about the distinct terrible smell of hockey, if you wish to read it.

3. Changing in the backseat of my mother's minivan. Because hockey got the sensible timeslots at every rink I ever skated at, all figure skating sessions were so early in the afternoon that my mother would have to race from her work to pick me up from school and then I'd have to change into my skating gear on the ride to the rink. This includes removing underwear, putting on at least two pairs of tights, pulling on a lycra skating dress, and finishing with a sweatshirt. I got very good at never being completely naked and using my super-baggy sweatshirt as a cover while I shimmied the tights and the dress up my body- but it was still crazy and unpleasant.

2. Power Stroking. Yes, it sounds dirty. "Stroking" is skating laps around the rink... properly. Arms extended and still, back arched, legs extending and held with each stroke, and building power with each stroke. On the curves of the rink, you do cross-overs and re-adjust your arms (stroking requires arms out to the sides, as it's a forward motion while cross-overs are curved and therefore the arm on the outside of the curve is extended in front of you and the arm on the inside of the curve is in back of you). Power stroking is an endurance class. Think football training and aerobics combined and put on ice. You (and 15 others) start off just warming up with standard stroking laps, being corrected if you're not doing something properly (flappy arms were a biggie). Then the laps might be changed to a figure eight pattern across the rink. Then you're forced to stand on the blue lines with your feet in a T position while perfectly extending your arms. For what felt like forever but was probably, like, two minutes tops. Then the drills start- which are the same as what you see football players doing, but depending on what coach was running the class, sometimes you were required that rather than just doing a hockey stop and building up momentum, you had to do a T-stop at every line. Which is fucking tedious. And then you'd go back to standing on a line and holding up your arms. And then you'd do a bunch of other things for 15 minutes and then, because you're 8-years-old, you'd feel like you were dying. But you couldn't die, because you most likely were immediately following the power class with a 30 minute coaching session where your coach would give you grief about being so sluggish.

1. Skating Moms. Think "Dance Moms" and "Pageant Moms" but with more money, more bleacher space, and more acoustic surroundings to work with for their obnoxious cheering and shouting. I remember my mother tutting about a mother or two that were clearly forcing their daughters to skate because they had wanted to skate when they were younger and how miserable the daughter looked. There was a synchronized skating team in the Chicagoland area that was infamous for their obnoxious mothers- who would wear matching spirit wear, take up a large section of the bleachers, and bring pompoms in the team's colors that they'd shake when they cheered (and they were practiced routine cheers, of course). They would also be very vocal and un-sportsman-like to any teams competing against their daughters- which was ridiculous, as they usually creamed the rest of us and they had no reason to be so harsh on the other teams.

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