The Norman Transcript


February 17, 2014

Olympics column: High drama on the ice

SOCHI, Russia — If you thought “All My Children” was good on TV, wait until you see it on ice.

It’s already headed for a Winter Games near you. The folks who run the International Olympic Committee may not know much about soap operas, but they learned long ago that anything on which you can slap a pair of figure skates is bound to be an easy sell.

Take ice dancing (please).

It’s an exhibition masquerading as a sport. It’s about as competitive as opening a can of soup. And unlike the rough-and-tumble world of pairs figure skating, there’s no jumping or lifts above the head allowed.

But because of the almost-boundless appetite around the globe for anything figure skating-related, if you put two people in cocktail-hour outfits, have them twirl, twizzle and quick-step around a rink to schmalzy show tunes for just under three minutes — voila! — somehow it seems a lot more compelling.

Even more so the better you come to know their backstories.

Few couples in ice dancing stay together for long and plenty wind up representing a country other than the one in which they were born. There are exceptions, of course: The top two pairs in Sochi, Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White, as well as Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, grew up near each other and have been partners since roughly the age of 10.

And to be sure, there are plenty of mercenaries in other sports in Sochi, too, the most notable being speedskater Victor Ahn, formerly of South Korea, now of Russia. But only in ice dancing does it seem more a requirement than a happy coincidence.

Fully one-third of the 24 couples who competed in Sunday night’s short-dance program featured at least one member whose participation required a new passport. The brother-and-sister pair skating for Japan that kicked things off, Cathy and Chris Reed, were born in Kalamazoo, Mich., still train in New Jersey, and have a sister, Allison, who used to skate for Georgia but now competes for Israel.

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