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Kwan says no thanks to chef's role -- and other skating food for thought

MKThanks to Sasha Cohen’s comeback and the continual nonsense perpetrated (and perpetuated) by the sport’s international leaders, even in May there is figure skating news deserving of comment.
So: Three things I know, and you should.

1.  Michelle Kwan could have had a guaranteed spot with the U.S. Olympic delegation at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.

As assistant chef de mission, an essentially honorary position.

The U.S. Olympic Committee asked the three-time Olympic figure skating team member if she would be interested in filling the role, but Kwan declined out of uncertainty over her future plans.

One thing seems certain -- there’s an oxymoron, seeming certainty -- about those plans:
Unlike Sasha Cohen, who confirmed last week she would try to make a third Olympic team, Kwan has not replied affirmatively to U.S. Figure Skating’s invitation for a place at the Skate America Grand Prix event this November.

Kwan has until May 30 to tell USFS whether she would like to skate on the 2009 Grand Prix circuit.  Her agent, Shep Goldberg, said the skater had yet to rule anything out.

Also, unlike Cohen, who has a spot in the 2010 U.S. Championships field as a medalist in the most recent Olympics, Kwan would have to qualify for nationals.  That could involve competing in a regional qualifier (but not necessarily sectionals) and a Grand Prix event. No matter: I think a Kwan comeback is unlikely.

By the way, 1980 Olympic speedskater Mike Plant, an Atlanta Braves executive, will be the U.S. chef de mission in Vancouver.  The chef has a major role in coordinating plans for the U.S. team and dealing with any problems that occur during the Games.

2. No surprise here: The International Skating Union got it all wrong in the recent decision to save money by altering the dimensions of fields at events like the world and European championships.

Rather than get to the essence of the problem, the ridiculous number of singles skaters allowed to compete, the ISU geniuses decided to cut a few competitors from the free skate.

At worlds, the only changes will be in pairs and dance (four fewer couples in the free skate of each).
There still will be a few dozen barely competent competitors in singles, as ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta assures his support by allowing the small skating countries places they don’t deserve at worlds.
For example: There were 53 singles skaters in the women’s short program at the 2009 worlds.  None of the final 14 were able to do a basic jump for senior competitors, the double axel, with a positive grade of execution.

Among the 50 men, just six of the 26 who did not qualify for the free skate were credited with attempting the litmus test jump for senior elites, the triple axel, in the short program. Only one of those six had a positive GOE; the other five were an utter mess.

Rather than limiting the overall fields by demanding basic proficiency, the ISU has, in the right-on analysis of former international skating official Sonia Bianchetti, "cut four or more skaters among those who, in principle, are at least of an acceptable standard."

3. But I am not inclined to join Sonia in criticizing the ISU decision to split the finals fields so that the lowest standing five or six skaters after the short program wind up out of "prime time," skating in an afternoon session before what probably will be an empty arena.

Beginning at the 2008 nationals, USFS has done the same thing, moving the lower half of the women’s free skate to the morning.  The idea was to create, eventually, an evening program with the top eight or 10 in two disciplines that would fit into a three-hour TV window, making it more attractive to a broadcaster.

That entire plan has yet to be executed, but skating fans upset about diminished TV coverage, both over-the-air and cable, should support anything that brings them more.

And skating arenas are going to be empty in North America morning, noon and night unless the sport’s leaders try everything possible to make competitions more attractive.

 -- Philip Hersh

Photo:  Michelle Kwan in full glam at the 2009 Grammys.  Kwan could have taken another dress-up position with the 2010 Olympic team.  Credit: Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

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Comments (3)

Skating has lost me as a fan. I used to go to nationals and worlds (depending on the venue) for many years. However, between the still jingoistic judging, the scheduling of events to accomadate TV and the latest wriinkle of splitting the championship between two different weekends has all made me rethink my support of the sport. While I still love to watch I find that it is an exercise in frustration. I no longer attend in person (because of the aforementioned reasons) and the TV coverage is terrible. Endlessly yaking commentators who only show us the top skaters. I'm done.

I only watch figure skating if Michelle Kwan is present. When figure skating lost MK, they lost me. However, if in the future they could produce someone like MK, then I might be back as an avid fan again.

One thing I think people are forgetting about the 2009-2010 season: yes, Michelle Kwan would have to qualify for Nationals, but once she did, she'd have a chance at winning her tenth title and breaking the record. That may be as tempting as the chance to compete at a third Olympics, especially as none of the current US skaters, Cohen included, have ever beaten Kwan at Nationals.


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