Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dancin' Fools

 Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir became the first Canadian couple as well as the first couple from a North American country to win the Olympic gold medal in ice dancing last night in Vancouver. Their American friends, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, took the silver medal, the second consecutive Olympic silver medal - the second consecutive medal of any color, in fact, and only the third medal in history - for the United States in this event. History was indeed made.

Even more history could have been made had the Russians - who have had at least one couple on the medal podium for ice dancing since it was first added to the Winter Olympics in 1976 - been shut out entirely. But the bronze medal went to Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, edging out the American darlings of Torino, Tanith Belbin (who's still hot) and Ben Agosto. Domnina and Shabalin managed to skate well enough to keep Belbin and Agosto in fourth place, where they started going into the free, despite Shabalin's earlier injuries. But as far as I'm concerned, they shouldn't have won the bronze.

Okay, maybe they were techincally better than Belbin and Agosto, and there was no controversy about whether they deserved third place - not like at Sarajevo in 1984 (the year of Great Britain's Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean), when another pair of Russian ice dancers, Soviets Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko managed to edge out Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert of the United States despite the evidence that the two Americans deserved the bronze. (I discussed this on my blog four years ago, so go here for that.) Unlike Blumberg and Seibert, Belbin and Agosto were happy with their finish, and rightfully so, believing the results were fair. So why don't I think Domnina and Shabalin should have won the bronze medal?

Because they're the most vulgar ice dancing couple I've ever seen.

This is the same Russian pair that caused a stir for their Australian aboriginal dance routine, particularly with their aboriginal costumes, which had leaves, brown body stockings and loincloths, and that's not to mention the white face markings. It was Domnina and Shabalin's idea of a "folk dance," which was apparently a required theme in the Olympic ice dancing program this year. Their poorly conceived routine was enough to drop them from first to third place in the end, but as far as I'm concerned, they didn't drop far enough. Not only did Australian aborigines take offense, but even Native Canadians expressed concern. Domnina and Shabalin toned down their costumes and skated in the final program looking more tasteful but still somewhat vulgar. Oksana Domnina looked a bottle-blonde disco queen, and Maxim Shabalin was a disheveled mess.
For more on the native costumes controversy, read this excellent column from Tracee Hamilton of the Washington Post.

Anyway, the continued Russian presence among ice dancing medalists leads me to wonder if some wags are right in suggesting that ice dancing should be dropped from the Winter Olympics. Some say it should be eliminated due to its redundancy (to the layman, at least) to pairs figure skating, but I propose it be dropped because the Russians keep winning at least one medal in it every four years. After all, baseball and softball are no longer Olympic sports because the same countries kept winning all the medals. Maybe Russia doesn't win as many ice dancing Olympic medals as it once did, but when you remember that non-Russian couples like Torvill and Dean (ever notice how women in figure skating pairs always get first billing?) have traditionally been an exception when it comes to the gold medal, you have to take that into serious consideration.

Oh yeah, the Kerr siblings from Great Britain were also-rans, disappointing Brits who were hoping for Torvill and Dean Mark Two.

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