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Art Beats Arrogance at the Olympics

February 19, 2010

Frank Carrol is not a name you likely know. He coached Michelle Kwan to more medals than any other figure skater and tonight he watched by the blue padded boards of the Olympic arena as his latest student, USA’s Evan Lysacek skated a stunning long program.

Those of us who like spending time wearing lycra in a large fridge fondly known as a rink held our breath along with skating fans everywhere. Which man, wearing more Swarovski crystals than my niece, which athlete, who could jump a metre in the air, rotate three or four times in .7 seconds and land on a micro edge of steel, would win?

Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko, the former Olympic champion, was the last skater. I watched him and while he landed the quad in combination he was hard to love. Arrogance oozed out of him like a teenager’s zit. Please understand I admire this man and his skin. No one has won a back-to-back Olympic men’s figure skating championship since Dick Button in ’52.  Evgeni also has a special place in our family’s heart. His hilarious skate to ‘Sex Bomb’ gave us comic relief  when my father was sick. The kind of sick that doesn’t get better.  But aspiration and guffaws were not enough.

Plushenko was off, not just tilted in the air and fighting for every landing and slow on his feet off but off in spirit. Lysacek won. Oh sure he was faster, higher and all that Olympic stuff. He had a better program, more complicated choreography and tougher jumps in the second half of his program. Yet he won without a quad. Why? Lysacek didn’t demand attention with gestures of bravado he commanded our attention with brilliance.  The purity of his perfection transcended ego. Gay Olympic Champion Greg Louganis said ‘When a dive is technically perfect it is also beautiful.’ Lysacek was golden.

In the business world this is an Apple vs. Dell moment. Sure Dell does the job, I should know I used their laptops for years but Apple delivers the perfect experience because of thoughtful, constant, beautiful design. A Mac makes you want to kiss it. A Dell makes you long for a divorce. Bye, bye Micheal Dell, buy buy Steve Jobs.

Back to the rink. Elvis Stojko thinks Lysacek shouldn’t have won. So let him. I know what I saw. A flawless moment that transfixed the audience and elevated athleticism to something more. Whether we are watching pairs Olympic Champions Sale and Pelletier’s Love Story or Muhammad Ali’s defeat of George Foreman for the Heavyweight Championship, true athleticism surprises us. It speaks to something deep within which reminds me of a tiny attic in an old house in a city of cyclists. A teenage girl cut out pictures of her favourite things creating a wallpaper of passion or distraction I’ll never know which. Black and white images blur in my memory save for one: Sonja Henie skating.  The house is in Amsterdam, the girl was Anne Frank. Of all the shocking things in that house, and there were plenty, I have never forgotten that she looked to a figure skater to feel free.

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