February 21, 2002
The Icemen Cometh
I'm not picky. I don't care if my spiritual teachers wear gauche colors, glitter in their shellacked ponytails and man mullets the likes of which you'd only find at a Greyhound station in Lodi.
I'm speaking of Olympic figure skaters; people who put blades on their shoes and fling themselves around on ice.
Rarely can one see the human struggle as simply and clearly manifest as it is in Olympic figure skating. I live according to its teachings.
Both nights of men's skating had me huddled at home, alternately tearing up with awe and screaming, "You've got to land this quad, man!" Russian skater Evgeni Plushenko didn't hear me, falling on his first jump combination, prompting his coach to tell the press, "The Olympics is over."
Plushenko wasn't so sure. Two days later, he took the ice for the long program as though he had never crashed and burned, skating the way only the Russians can -- the pain, the struggle, the passion -- all that Soviet pathos poured into four minutes of fire on ice. I held my breath. He walked away with a silver medal. He was in the moment, forgetting about the klutz lutz (or whatever it was, nothing rhymes with "axel"), listening to the music, getting the crowd on his side, not skating for the judges, but for himself.
Are these not life lessons?
Now take American Todd Eldredge, beautiful to watch and a world famous choke-artist. When he took the ice for his second program, after horribly botching the first, he was wearing defeat like Spandex tights. What a sad sack. He seemed to be skating around lugging the heavy baggage of his previous mistakes.
I don't know from ice skating, but I've medaled in choking under pressure, amplifying that little voice that screams in your head, "This is it! It all comes down to this moment! Now, don't suck."
My stomach in knots, my hands deep in a bowl of popcorn, I vowed, as though praying, "I must not be Eldredge. I must be Plushenko."
Of course, I have yet to mention Alexei Yagudin, the gold medalist. Yes, he was flawless, technically and artistically, but he didn't offer me Plushenko's resurrection, which is what I'll remember. Like some Nike slogan hatching in my mind, I thought, "You are more than your score."
As I'm writing this, the women have yet to skate. I'll be watching, especially hometown skater Sasha Cohen -- brash, brilliant and a bit of a loose cannon. Will she do for skating what Keri Strug did for gymnastics? Land those jumps, lady. I need to believe.
Teresa Strasser is now on the Web at www.teresastrasser.com . She will be appearing in "The Teresa Monologues," April 28 at the University of Judaism. For tickets and information, call (310) 440-1246.