Posted: Feb 23, 1:17a ET | Updated: Feb 23, 12:09p ET

Ice dancing: Worst and best of the Games

Amid silly costumes and song, sport shows true Olympic spirit

VANCOUVER -- I have now lived long enough to have seen someone doing ice dance at the Olympics while wearing a yarmulke, the head covering worn by tradition-minded Jewish men.

Good God. It made me wonder: Why didn't my parents think of this shtick for my long-ago Bar Mitzvah party?

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Better question: I get that Israelis Roman and Alexandra Zaretsky were going for a specific motif during the second of the three segments of the ice dancing competition here at the 2010 Games. But to top it off -- at the end, shouldn't he have stepped on a glass while everyone in the stands yelled, "Mazel tov!"

Oy, Vey-couver!

And you wonder why there's so much rich material in skating that comedian Will Ferrell made a movie?

Seriously, now: It's too bad all the spectacle so often detracts what can be one of the very best events at the Games, Summer or Winter.

No. Really.

Ice dancing is grueling, and these are hard-core athletes.


Ice dancing is so demanding physically and so fast-paced mentally that sometimes you get what you got in Torino in 2006 -- a splat-fest, with five teams going down in one of the segments in flailing disarray.

Moreover, ice dancing speaks directly to the very essence of the Olympic ideal, in particular the expression of a touch of beauty -- and in a wider sense of something better -- in our world so often riven by conflict and turmoil.

In 1984, at the Sarajevo Games, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean turned in one of the transcendent performances in 20th century sport. They were ethereal. It was spellbinding.

Their performance to Ravel's "Bolero" that evening made everyone who saw them on the ice, or who has seen it since, sigh with profound pleasure -- and wish that one day someone could do something just like that.

Just once more.

Just like Torvill and Dean.

There are three parts to the ice dancing competition -- compulsory dance, at these Games a tango competition that played out Friday at Pacific Coliseum; an original dance, each team doing two minutes and 30 seconds on Sunday; and Monday's free dance, four minutes per team, which decided the gold medal.

The second of the three -- the original dance -- is where, as usual, it got silly. The original dance theme at these Games was folk/country dance. Interpreting the theme allowed for a fair amount of poetic license.

You had Germans doing Hawaiian.

Chinese doing Greek.

Russians doing aboriginal -- and being widely criticized for it, the line between being clever and something else entirely susceptible indeed to political currents of many sorts.

The leading American team, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, did Bollywood Indian.

Another American duo, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, who happen to be the 2006 Torino Games silver medalists, did Moldovian.

Belbin's dress was accented by red skates that looked like the sort a little girl in kindergarten might dream of.

Canadians Tessa Virtue (what a great name) and Scott Moir did flamenco.

And here is where the story of the 2010 ice dancing competition takes its turn, because during that original dance Virtue and Moir were utterly transfixing. She looked radiant, he handsome and watching them you could put aside all the rest of the silliness and surrender to their performance.

Torvill and Dean got perfect scores across the board of 6.0.

The judging system by which skating at the Olympic Games is scored is hardly perfect. Better since it was revamped after Salt Lake in a shift away from the 6.0 system -- but not perfect.

Heading into Monday night's free dance, Virtue and Moir stood first; Americans Davis and White second; the Russians Oksana Domnina and Maksim Shabalin, who had done the aboriginal dance, third; and Americans Belbin and Agosto fourth.

The Russians had been first after the compulsory dance. Had the judges then dropped the Russians to third amid the original dance because of the costume controversy?

Coming into these Vancouver Games, Russian teams had won seven of the nine Olympic dance competitions. Was a new ice age in order -- North Americans at the top of the podium?

A corollary question: Given the Soviet and Russian history in this event, would it be all but impossible -- barring disaster by Domnina and Shabalin -- for two American teams to make the medals podium? That is, for Belbin and Agosto to edge into third?

White and Davis, skating to "Phantom of the Opera," skated with dynamism.

Virtue and Moir's performance proved understated and soft and thoroughly elegant. If it wasn't Torvill and Dean, it was the sort that certainly will draw comparisons in some quarters to 1984.

"Canada! Canada!" came the chant from the crowd as they finished.

The Russians skated without meeting disaster.

Virtue and Moir ran away with it. White and Davis took second. The Russians got third.

Belbin and Agosto got fourth.

The scores were tallied as both the eventual gold and silver medalists were talking to broadcast crews in the basement of the building. White and Davis ran over, still on their skates, and gave Virtue and Moir extended hugs; the two teams share the same coaches.

"I'm so proud of you!" Davis said to Virtue.

They hugged some more. As they turned to get their medals, Virtue turned toward the TV cameras and said, "I'm so proud of them!"

Only in ice dancing.

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