Columns 2006

Special Olympics just that…special

It’s one of those silly discussions that periodically convulse the world of competitive figure skating. At the last Olympics, it was all about the judging and the numbers and the fact that kings and queens were crowned long before the competition actually took place.

So the ice skating world heaved it hoar encrusted body enough to create a new set of rules for judging competitions.  And then promptly figured out a way to use them to still crown a preconceived winner before a blade has hit Olympic ice.  Was there anyone who tuned into the Olympics for even a minute who wasn’t aware that Evgeny Plushenko was going to win the men’s competition?

The NBC announcers for the event used every euphemism they could to praise what was basically a flat program in which the designated crown prince pretended to actually compete when, as a sports columnist put it so wonderfully last week, he would have literally had to fall through the ice and disappear in order to lose.

For this year’s Olympics, the “controversy” in the skating world seems to be swirling around the costumes.  Apparently there are those who feel the purity of the sport has been sullied by costumes that would make Cher jealous.  In fact, some of those outfits look like they were created by the same person who created Cher’s outfits, only now he or she is a bit senile and can’t seem to stop sewing sequins once started. I will be the first to admit that the costumes have gotten more and more outlandish over the years, perhaps on some level even bizarre. 

So at this Olympics, as in so many in the recent past, ice skaters pout and posture, wear sequins and feathers and do impossibly athletic jumps and spins while balancing on the thin blade of a skate on ice.  It’s a rarified world in danger of losing its appeal to the rest of us because of just how insular it’s become.

I got hooked on ice skating because many of my friends have or had children taking ice skating lessons here in Anchorage.  And you can’t take lessons without a show and you can’t have a show without spectators. So I have spent my allotted time at the Dimond Center Ice Rink cheering the kids on.

Last Saturday, the citywide Special Olympics Ice Skating competition occurred there.  It was amazing.  Here were kids skating for the pure joy of the competition, the fun of being with other people, and the sheer pleasure of knowing they could get up on skates on ice and make it around the rink. 

As I watched the skating, a mom came and stood by my side watching her daughter carefully inch her way around the ice.  She told me the doctors originally didn’t think her daughter would live long enough to leave the hospital after birth. Now, here she was at 14 skating in the Special Olympics.  When she finished her routine, the applause was loud and enthusiastic.

It really doesn’t get much better than that, does it?  You listen to all those human interest stories thrown at us every year by the Olympic announcers as fill between events and then you hear a simple story like this.  You instinctively know which is the real drama.

The people who work with special Olympians, and the special Olympians themselves, are dedicated to the idea that everybody deserves a chance even if they will never be Michelle Kwan.  They don’t get a lot of publicity, NBC doesn’t pay gabillion dollars to air the competition across the world and sponsors don’t line up to sign the latest skating sensation.  Yet these athletes seem to be having the time of their life anyway.

I guess no one told them they have to be prima donnas; no one told them they had to pout and posture; no one said that to justify their years of sacrifice for their sport they have to make a splash.  These competitors apparently think that just getting out on the ice and competing is enough.  They seem to think that the pure fun and joy of being able to spin on a thin blade on sharp ice, however slowly, while surrounded by friends and family is enough.

The statewide Special Olympics competition will be held March 11 from about 1 PM to 4 PM at the Dimond Center.  Mark the date down and then go treat yourself to some of the best Olympics around.