U.S. Figure Skating Looking To Reclaim Buzz, Success Around Ladies Program
Ladies' figure skating was once the premier Winter Olympic event "for an American audience," but that "seems in danger of withering away," according to Ann Killion of the S.F. CHRONICLE. The ladies' short program took place last night as part of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at SAP Center in San Jose, but there was "little fervor" and "almost no buzz" around the event. There were "thousands of empty seats" last night, and that was "even with the top of the arena curtained off." Sasha Cohen claiming a Silver Medal at the '06 Turin Games is the last time an American woman was on the podium at the Olympics, and it has been 16 years "since an American won gold: Sarah Hughes in Salt Lake City." The U.S. women this year are "considered long shots to reach any level of the podium" at the Pyeongchang Games. Success by U.S. female figure skaters has been a "long tradition" after Peggy Fleming became the "first American superstar" with her Gold Medal-win at the '68 Grenoble Games. She was followed by Dorothy Hamill (Gold, '76 Innsbruck), Debi Thomas (Bronze, '88 Calgary) and Kristi Yamaguchi (Gold, '92 Albertville). Following the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding drama around the '94 Lillehammer Games, Tara Lipinksi and Michelle Kwan "dueled in Nagano" in '98 before Hughes "stole the show in Salt Lake." The skaters' "ice battles, fashions, haircuts and demeanor were always the central story of the Winter Olympics," but American competitors "have been globally eclipsed" in the past 16 years (S.F. CHRONICLE, 1/4).
REASONS FOR THE DOWNTURN: In N.Y., Jere Longman noted as figure skating has "grown more technically demanding," U.S. female skaters have "largely become sideline performers in a sport they once dominated." Lipinksi, now a commentator for NBC, noted one reason is a "failure by American officials to teach young skaters to maximize points in the current scoring system." U.S. skater Ashley Wagner, who this week is attempting to secure her second trip to the Olympics, "sees a cultural hesitancy in the United States, compared with Russia, to train young girls to achieve great early success at the risk of injury and burnout in their teenage years" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/31).