In a secreted lab, far away from cameras and animal rights activists, there may be researchers behind locked doors watching stop-action images, busily calculating the bone fracture tolerances of figure skaters. I imagine primates rolling over spent limbs toward steel food dishes, the result of a controlled study that roughly translates in English to ‘Chimps on Ice’.
When I was a kid, a single spin above the rink was considered the ultimate in figure skating. I was glued to a our first color TV to see Great Falls, Montana’s own John Misha Petkevich skate at the 1968 Olympic Games: the crowd swelled into polite applause at a single Lutz back in those days. In the 1960’s, Olympic skaters were young adults in their twenties. Now that science has confirmed that our bones begin their brittle decline at puberty, talented skaters live far from their families and fall asleep clutching stuffed animals on their way to five a.m. practice. Time’s a wastin’…you got one, maybe two Olympics, right?
We are seeking the limits of humane endurance, boldly about to go where no groin pull has gone before. First it was a single, then a double, a triple, and now, the elusive quad. At each increased rotation, rapt fans wonder if the skater’s body will spin apart on camera, appendages detaching, Quentin Tarantino style, across the rink. It’ll take more than the Zamboni machine to clean up that one—but can you imagine the ratings?
Is there a limit? The Last Lutz, a banner headline may someday read, atop a photo of a perplexed seventeen-year-old kid cradling what used to be his left leg, designer skate still attached. There will be an “I Told You So” sidebar written by 94-year-old Dick Button, and interviews of boy Soprano hopefuls who’ll glance at their coaches before nervously assuring reporters that this tragedy will not deter them from their dreams. The last resort may be selective breeding. It’s probably a shameful drinking game among sports agents, a whispered fantasy league. Look at sports controversies today and tell me it’ll never happen…well, maybe not with figure skating.
Gender scandals are on the rise, though on ice they have involved orientation more often than chromosomes. Still, could some version of reality be far behind a Will Farrell movie? How can we give our skaters the edge? Beyond the sextuple Lutz, ankles may shatter, trainers may shrug, and sports medicine experts may be forced to frantically search for controversial protocols: is it worth sacrificing the youths of the few, so every four years the many can spend a few hours of pride and nationalistic frenzy, witnessing the ignominy of an icy ass on NBC that does not belong to Jay Leno?