vancouver games

Why Figure Skating Is So Much Better Than Gymnastics

Aileen Gallagher is writing about the Winter Olympics every weekday for The Sports Section. She is smart.

Scott Hamilton was choked up at the end of Joannie Rochette’s skate in the short program last night, and so were we. The Canadian skater, whose mother died just two days before her Olympic debut, made a clean go at the short program and ended the evening in third place. The camera cut to her bereft and bewildered father prior to her skate, but he, like his daughter, held it together until the end. You didn’t need a translator to hear the anguish in her “Mama, Mama!” while awaiting her score of 71.36.

Rochette is 24 years old, one of several skaters in her 20s. Women’s figure skating and gymnastics are the most popular events in their respective games, but the differences between the two are vast. One can skate much longer than one can be a gymnast; skating does not, as a friend noted recently, “kick you out once you get your period.” Skaters are women, not girls. That’s why skaters can be sexy, why their poise and athleticism mixes with a flirtation that is enviable and attractive, but not creepy.

The two leaders after the women’s short program were Yu-Na Kim of South Korea — who earned a world-record score of 78.50 — and Mao Asada of Japan. Asada was strong and compelling and artistic and all of that. She won us over until Kim came out to a medley of James Bond music. Where Asada was technically perfect and beautiful, Kim’s equally complex program had a sense of fun and personality that was evident even to this home judge.

Two American skaters are in medal contention after the short program. The likable Rachael Flatt — you know her; she was on the prom committee, the one you didn’t hate — is fifth and Mirai Nagasu is less than a point behind her in sixth. Nagasu skated half of her short program with a bloody nose, so imagine what she can do with capillaries intact during Thursday’s free skate: the crowning event of these Winter Games.

What to Watch Tonight

Ice Hockey, U.S. vs. Switzerland
Women’s Bobsleigh
Women’s Freestyle Aerial Skiing
Women’s Giant Slalom

Why Figure Skating Is So Much Better Than Gymnastics