Opinion: Olympians gracefully gliding to gold – CT Post

Olympic figure skaters are gracing the ice with their blades in Beijing; the rest of us should look to this elegant art form to humanize our experience of sport in a post-pandemic world.

We live in a culture of data and deliverables where the bottom line often prevails over the goal of striving for excellence. Competitive skating is not immune, with its ever-increasing focus on higher numbers and more revolutions. Yet there is so much more to this sport than the quadruple axel and an Olympic podium. The truest joy is in the journey.

Ice skating is true nourishment for mind, body, heart and soul. As phenoms like America’s Nathan Chen break boundaries and push limits of physicality, the sport is also a spiritual exercise of sorts. There is something spectacular, almost miraculous, about flying through the air and testing the laws of physics with more and more rotations on a jump. Beyond these gravity-defying moves, though, is the spectacular storytelling that takes place when a skater steps on to the ice. Whether through Yulia Lipnitskaya’s profound performance of “Schindler’s List,” or Jason Brown’s riveting reenactment of “Riverdance,” figure skaters can craft their own narrative.

The ice is a space for revision and retelling of old stories. Our nation’s very own Starr Andrews is reshaping the sport by skating to her own vocals and selecting sounds that appeal to a younger generation. Americans Timothy LeDuc and Ashley Cain Gribble recraft the traditional gender roles assigned to the plot of pair skating.

As an English professor, I have a passion for storytelling and feel drawn to the ice as both sport and art. Organizations like the Ice Theatre of New York are deeply committed to preserving beauty on ice while increasing the accessibility of this art form to those who may not otherwise find their way to a rink. Ice Theatre’s Mission to deepen the “flow and flight” of this craft can go a long way to sustain this spectacular sport.

Although recreational skating seems to have hit an all-time high (outdoor rinks are booming), the competitive side of the sport has declined in popularity among American participants and spectators. Many have proposed reasons for this decline, from the international judging system to the sport’s elitism. Whatever the case, one can spend a lifetime on the ice; just look at Richard Dwyer, a “debonair” skater in his 80s who still completes axels.

As a lifelong skater who has made the ice my home for the past 40 years, I grew up in a family that emphasized excellence and joy over gold medals and championships. While competitors far better than me hung up their skates and developed scorn for the sport, my passion for skating prevailed. In addition to my family, I credit the most positive lifelong coaches and mentors like Denise Beaumont from New York City’s Chelsea Piers. My coach since the age of 11 (I am now 43), Denise enriches my soul both on and off the ice.

The rink can be a refuge. As a native New Yorker, I found safety in its space on 9/11. The ice also healed while I fell ill as a child, and when some of my dearest loved ones passed away. When you tune in to the games, try to focus on the profound human stories behind and beyond the quads.

Cara Erdheim Kilgallen is a English professor at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield.