Will the Erstwhile Queen of the Winter Olympics Survive in a Post Pandemic World?
The sport may be too difficult, too costly, too unrewarding and too inaccessible for our new reality. Never plentiful, ice rinks grew in a cheap energy, at-your-own-risk world; now that we are saving the planet and protecting everybody they are few and often exist on subsidies. The ice shows and show business roles that once offered skaters a future are largely gone. And the sport itself, invented by a ballet dancer, has repudiated those roots at the cost of much of its audience. Why should any parent with at least half a brain aspire to make a child into a figure skater today?
The sport’s managers and coaches have contributed: the social ballroom dancing on skates that once provided a demographic of older teens and younger adults was lost to societal changes and Olympic aspirations and today the sport’s bureaucrats intend to “improve” judging of theatrical skating events by imposing “objective”, categorized, point-based judging upon it. These events are intended to reward entertainment skills, not skating ability; it is not obvious how itemized skill and points will accomplish that better than the current “critic’s choice” approach. It seems rather like handing an artist boxing gloves to wear while he paints. The theatrical events retain significant numbers of participants after they have given up in the face of triples and quads; it seems a shame to complicate something already working well for no obvious gain.
Impacting all this is what seems shaping up to be a lost season, victim if the current pandemic. Competitive skating careers are short, staying in shape is a major effort only increased by the absence of events. The numbers of both skaters and rinks that will remain after the pandemic has passed will have to be seen; it may not reach the original level of activity. The numbers of parents able to finance skaters seems likely to have shrunk as well. A few showpiece skaters will continue to be produced by governments for propaganda but that is hardly a sport.
But the feelings that arise from flying over the ice carried by music are as addictive as they are exhilarating and competence in the sport is a distinction. There will continue to be figure skaters, though perhaps fewer than there have been. We can only hope that they will rediscover their roots and regain an audience.