Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Douchebag Alert

Salon's King Kaufman opines that Michelle Kwan won't be remembered as one of the greats:

What's really sad is that for all the comforting talk that Kwan will be remembered as one of the greatest skaters of all time despite never having won Olympic gold, she won't be remembered as one of the greatest skaters of all time because she never won Olympic gold.

Jimmy Roberts, the Sultan of Syrup, intoned over images of Ted Williams and Dan Marino, "The history books are filled with Hall of Famers who never won their sport's biggest prize. Now Kwan sits shoulder to shoulder at their elite level."

But she doesn't.

The sad fact is that, except for insiders and hardcore fans, figure skating is a sport that really only matters at the Olympics. And in sports that really only matter at the Olympics, you're judged by how you do at the Olympics.

Oh, I see. That's why Sarah Hughes is such a superstar after her gold in 2002. Hrm, maybe not. How about Tara Lipinski in 1998? Less than two years later, being able to remember her name as a contestant on Win Ben Stein's Money earned me some applause, a couple hundred dollars, and a Lewinsky joke from Jimmy Kimmel . I haven't heard from her since.

Kaufman may have had a point before 1998, but the facts prove him 100% wrong since then. I'm sure Lipinski and Hughes are wonderful young ladies who have never hired thugs to beat their competitors, but anybody who has watched Kwan skate knows that she has the magic touch. Other skaters may have it in them to pull off some good, even great performances, but the ease and grace with which Michelle Kwan skates immediately conveys her innate greatness, and a couple of unfortunate slips on the ice don't change that.

Figure-skating people will put her in their Hall of Fame and forever think of her as a member of the pantheon. But for the rest of us, she had two chances to prove her greatness and she didn't answer the bell.
Kaufman's argument rests on the notion that Kwan's popularity is somehow merely a media creation and that the average viewer is the same kind of traditional sports fan like him who actually still pays attention to college basketball during the Winter Games. He's underestimating the audience. "Figure skating people" aren't just some bevy of frumpy-looking Russians who actually understand the scoring system, they're the millions of people (many of them women, which probably explains why he doesn't understand them) who tune in to watch the U.S. and World Championships on TV who know that the #1 person they want to watch is Michelle Kwan. What they care about is beautiful performances, not statistics. And they know who's given more beautiful performances over the past decade than anyone else. It's not Sarah Hughes.
[U]nfortunately for Kwan, there are no all-time great figure skaters who never won the Olympics.

There weren't. Now things have changed. Now there is Michelle Kwan.


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