Life in the Pedestrian Lane: Teamwork on ice

  • By Virginia Walters
  • Saturday, November 12, 2016 10:59am
  • LifeCommunity

After a barn-burner of a week the World Series is over and the Super Bowl is a future torment, so I can turn on TV on the weekend and find figure skating! No chance that on any given night, I’ll find it on several channels, like other sports, but we take what we can get.

The Grand Prix has started, and we (the U.S) are doing pretty well this early in the season. Of course, like all sports, that can change with a sprained ankle, twisted back, or even a hangover. They have skated in the U.S., Canada and Russia and the skaters are in France as you read this, which leaves the China and Japan venues before the finals when they go back to France in December. The top six finalists in each category will be eligible to compete in the finals so competition is great, but the ambition for a personal best is always foremost with the skaters.

I became a fan many years ago. Not quite the Dick Button era, although watching him skate in exhibitions was a real pleasure. Dick Button was the first of many great men’s U.S. skaters. He held the world championship for five years (1948-52) and the Olympic Gold in 1948 and 1952. He was the first skater to land a triple anything in competition and he invented the camel spin. After the 1952 Olympics he retired from skating to go to law school. He stayed active in the figure skating community in special events and a few movies, and also as a commentator, most recently in the 2010 Winter Olympics. He is nearly 90, now.

It has been interesting to watch the athletes develop and bring the sport along. As younger skaters mature, they may bring in a move that the older ones have to learn. As Dick Button was the first with a triple jump in the 1950s, now the men skaters are doing a quadruple jump. The young skaters accept that as what they need to master to compete but the older competitors struggle to master the form.

Scott Hamilton and Germany’s Katrina Witt were the stars I began with. In their day, the United States was fighting for position and it was a contest every time the skaters took the ice. The U.S. felt vindicated with each medal, no matter the color. Russia dominated in the dance category, and you couldn’t help but admire and cheer on their dancers. I enjoy watching someone try to better his or her last performance, and maybe in the meantime, top the other guy. In figure skating it is easy to get lost in the sport and root for whomever is doing his best no matter what country he or she is representing.

I am more inclined toward individual sports. That may be because I didn’t ever participate in team sports, being from the era of no organized sports for women, unless you count cheerleading (which they didn’t then) and if you know me, you realize I was never a cheerleader! The closest I ever came to teams was during recess when we chose sides for Red Rover, or later in middle school playing kick ball. I don’t think work-up in softball counts. I was lucky enough to get to start as pitcher, usually, because I could deliver the ball over the plate with some speed and accuracy, but that was before the glasses, puberty (which threw off my center of gravity precipitously) and the discovery that boys don’t like girls who do “stuff” well (read better than them). I did participate in a drill team in high school, but that is about as close to teamwork as I ever got.

The last team I watched that was truly a team was Granddaughter No. 6’s junior hockey team. They played as one, each knowing what was expected of themselves and of the other players, too. I often thought of a flock of sparrows in flight when I watched those little kids go down the ice. They’d glide and turn, almost like a dance routine, working the puck to where someone could score. They had a great coach who taught them well what a team was supposed to be like. Professional teams these days don’t act as a unit, but play to the “star” whoever that may be, sometimes to the detriment of the team as a whole.

So, I spend a few hours each Sunday glued to the TV, hoping our U.S. skaters deliver the gold, but cheering on the very young South Korean skater who is in her first year as a senior skater or waiting for the men to skate to see if the Canadians are going to be on top again. It’s not quite as dramatic as waiting 108 years for a World Series win, but almost as suspenseful to see if Jason Brown will land his quadruple this time. It’s all in one’s perspective, and thank heaven it is NOT politics.

Virginia Walters lives in Kenai. Email her at vewalters@gci.net.

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