The latest on Olympic figure skating: Send in the clowns

Yuna Kim at the 2010 World Championship. Photograph by David W. Carmichael.

Yuna Kim at the 2010 World Championship. Photograph by David W. Carmichael.

Where would the Olympics be without the drama and simultaneous comic relief that is figure skating?

Thursday night was the latest chapter in the farce as Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova beat the seamless defending champ, South Korea’s Yuna Kim, for the ladies’ gold medal by five whole points. The decisive margin of victory, Kim’s clearly superior artistic (and let’s face it, overall) performance and the revelation that the judges included the wife of the head of the Russian skating federation and a Ukrainian involved in a 1998 ice dance controversy has led 1.7 million to petition for reform on

Good luck with that. The current convoluted system, which would require an Einstein to parse, was put in place to counteract the kind of abuse being alleged now. In the frozen world of figure skating, the Cold War never ends. The “anonymous” judges include at least four from the old Soviet bloc; a judge from France, a country that was involved in colluding with the Russians at Salt Lake City; and a bunch of other Westerners with their own agendas. Regardless of what the oblivious IOC says, it’s all geopolitical.

The blogosphere and Twitterati have been having a field day. In the Laugh Out Loud Department, there’s this from Vanity Fair’s Michelle Collins, who began her deconstruction by taking exception with pixie du jour Yulia Lipnitskaia’s free skate to the theme from “Schindler’s List.”

“This idea falls somewhere between Julianne Hough dressing up in blackface for Halloween, and Justin Bieber pounding his chest and pointing up to Anne Frank in heaven, on the bad taste spectrum,” Collins writes. “My ancestors would be rolling over in their mass grave if they saw this thing.

“Yulia, who was Russia’s Tiny White Hope for gold these Games, finished in fifth place overall. But given that she’s so young, she still has plenty of time to come back to South Korea in 2018. Though I am dreading the moment she debuts her long program as Celie in ‘The Color Purple.’”

Too funny and too true: Gotta be careful in appropriating a tragedy like the Holocaust, particularly when you come from a country that doesn’t exactly have a great track record with its treatment of Jews. Indeed, when I reviewed the Alexander McQueen blockbuster at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I criticized a video in the show that used the music. The video seemed too lightweight, too trivializing. Same idea here. A skating competition is not a great enough canvas for the Holocaust. Leave it to the historians – and the novelists.

Speaking of Lipnitskaia, she fell twice – once in the short program and once in the long – in finishing a very strong fifth. Hmmm.

Sotnikova didn’t fall, though she did two-foot one of her seven jumps. Apparently, however, she skated a more technically challenging program than Kim – this according to Scott Hamilton, Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski, though there were plenty of other experts who disagreed.

Look, it comes down to athletics versus art in figure skating as it always does. If like me you’re an arts lover, Sotnikova’s win was dispiriting, and not just because she skated with her music (Saint-Saëns’s “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso,” Op.28) rather than to it. Her mousy looks – Johnny Weir sports more makeup – don’t just contradict the passion she brings to her skating, which was best-served by her short program to selections from Bizet’s “Carmen.” They’re a throwback to the battleax babushka Nikita Krushchev days.

Her passion, too, was an acquired taste, spilling into the heavy-handed melodrama that unfortunately characterizes Russian skating. (See pairs’ gold medalists Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov skating to “Jesus Christ Superstar.”)

But true performance is about subtlety. And figure skating is a performance, even if it does include elements of athleticism, melodrama and absurdity.