2010 re-defined Olympic figure skating

By RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

VANCOUVER — There has never been an Olympic figure skating event like this one.

None that tugged on so many heartstrings when Joannie Rochette skated.

None that cranked up the usual concern over incompetent judging before exploding into a full-out war over the importance of the quad jump.

None that infuriated the Russians so much, since the 2014 hosts finished without a gold medal for the first time in 50 years, and that’s after winning three in Turin.

But for a sport still wearing the millstone of the Salt Lake City judging scandal, there has never been an Olympics event that offered so much change and opened up possibility and hope for so many skaters and nations.

Korea won its first Olympic figure skating medal. Steely-nerved Yu-Na Kim, the teen sensation coached by Brian Orser in Toronto, sealed her gold dream with one of the greatest long programs in history and, fittingly, a world record score. Her huge margin of victory was the equivalent of Canada or the United States winning a women’s hockey game here 18-0.

Kim’s dominance wasn’t the only historic moment on Pacific Coliseum ice.

Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir gave North America its first ice-dance gold in 34 years of Olympic competition by knocking off rivals and training mates Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

Chinese husband-and-wife pair Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao, who’s a relatively ancient 36 years old, proved age is no longer a factor and came out of retirement to cap their careers on top. They delivered China’s first figure-skating gold and stopped a 12-Games streak of Russian and Soviet dominance.

Evgeni Plushenko emerged from a three-year retirement, too, seeking to become the first man to repeat as golden boy since Dick Button did it in Oslo in 1952.

Criticized in many circles for being nothing more than a jumper, Plushenko showed he could adapt and score high under the new system. But he was still toppled by Evan Lysacek, an American with nifty footwork but no quad.

The results created the sport’s great divide, even right in Canada.

Elvis Stojko bashed the system and agreed with Plushenko, who said skaters in fear of the risky quad are holding figure skating back and aren’t worthy of being Olympic champions.

Plushenko said they might as well make the sport unisex. Stojko said he’d rather watch hockey if there wasn’t a reward for pushing the envelope.

Canadian champ, the quad-less Patrick Chan, with Skate Canada at his back, fired back at Stojko and his supporters, calling the emphasis on jumping part of the “old” guard. The future, he believes, is focusing on every intricate spin and stride.

And after all the fire and brimstone, there was Rochette.

She competed two days after her mother Therese died suddenly in Vancouver and captured Canada’s heart with her courage and strength in a terrible time of grief.

It was a bronze for the ages and capped a rewarding Games for Skate Canada.

“You prepare for almost every situation possible but there’s no way you can be ready for something like that,” Skate Canada CEO William Thompson said. “These were exceptional circumstances and to see Joannie come through the way she did was remarkable.

“We figured on a medal in dance and we thought before everything happened that Joannie would be in contention for the podium, but after her mom died, we had no expectations. We weren’t even sure she’d skate. That she performed as well as she did is a testament to her character and her family and team that surrounded her.”

Rochette’s short program last Tuesday turned out to be the most inspiring moment of these Games.

“She has become a role model for all young girls,” said American Mirai Nagasu, who finished one spot behind in fourth.

Own the Podium had nothing on that.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

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