for AmSpec. (Which Nationals? you ask. Men’s figure skating obviously. There is only one sport.)
In early January, I attend my very first professional sports competition. The U.S. National Figure Skating Championships have already been going on for four days; the event sprawls over four disciplines and five age categories. I’m at Boston’s TD Garden to watch the senior men, including the two men we’ll be sending to the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Sport, like art, uses the limited body to hint at a world without limits. The ball soaring over the stands, the runners churning in their furious personal rhythms, make audiences’ hearts pound because they suggest the transformation of flesh into purpose. Skating is ecstatic—the athletes jump like they’re trying to escape their skins, soar and stretch their limbs impossibly, contort into elbowy whirligigs, all with knives on their feet. The exaggeration of art plus the physical danger of sport.
Every overintellectual fan struggles to describe the beauty of his favorite sport. But that beauty usually emerges as a byproduct—or even a waste product, unacknowledged and not especially wanted—of physical exertion. Skating is different in that beauty is part of the explicit purpose for which these athletes’ bodies are shaped. Beauty is scored, down to the decimal point.