Style Points

It’s dated now, but I felt like posting it here.  Originally on Third Coast Digest…  (alternate headlines were going to be either “Rocky: On Ice”, or “Subject to Style”)

American League versus National League. Lakers versus Celtics. The Greatest Show on Turf versus the 4-3. As all sports fans will ponder at some point, “Am I a purist, or am I a spectator?” Do you live to watch practice pay off in victory, or crave the unpredictability that raw athleticism can bring to sport? While who wins and who loses is recorded forever in the box score, a sports fan lives to discuss the game well past when it’s recorded in an almanac.

In an argument that will eternally rage, I now add figure skaters Russian Evgeni Plushenko and American Evan Lysacek into this list of diametrical opposition. At first glance, they have all the great traits of classic rivals — Johnson/Bird, Bjorn/McEnroe, Balboa/Drago — but has there ever been a stranger pair of rivals than at last night’s Olympic skate-off?

This is what was so intriguing: Skating scores are weighted based not only on what is achieved, but on how it is achieved. What we saw last night is two athletes performing the same required feats, but receiving a different score — as a rule. In the weird world of professional skating, this is how it works. Plushenko, the mulleted graceless athlete versus Lysacek, a slick-coiffed ice-dramatist are on equal footing. It’s such a strange, unique situation.

Imagine footballer Chad Ochocinco’s post-TD antics yielding him a favorable .3 point edge to sneak in front of a mundane Dallas Clark hand-the-football-to-the-ref celebration. Or Curt Schilling’s edgy sock decoration eeking out a nail-biting World Series game.

The question remains: Is it a “sport” if a game is subjectively scored, or worse yet, scored only by the well-informed elite? One would argue “no” if a golfer’s exaggerated fist-pump would take a stroke off their total. Meanwhile, mogul skiiers, gymnasts, all X-sporters and perhaps even the BCS would have to emphatically disagree.

The arguments will continue to rage, but as Plushenko’s mullet whirls as he lands his patented quadruple axle, and Lysacek glides by be-feathered in a Vera Wang onesie, ask yourself: Does rewarding dramatics devalue sports, or is it just the honest admission that we watch sports for the entertainment, not just the final score?

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