Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Op-Ed: Rebirth of the Pro

What an exciting year of figure skating we have before us! As we approach the ever closer Vancouver Winter Olympics, there is such a deep field of talented skaters vying for a shot at Olympic glory. Many have been working hard the last four years to achieve this, some are coming back for another chance at Olympic fame, all of them amazing contenders.

As I look at the landscape of figure skaters I see this season, something hit me. "Wow, a lot of these skaters are going to retire from eligible skating this season...a LOT of them." Sure I can't say conclusively which ones, no one at this point can; but I think if you give it some thought you'll come to the same conclusion as me...Olympic Glory or not, some of these skaters will more than likely call it quits (that is until the Sochi run-up when some will undoubtedly attempt a comeback! Plushenko, 2014?).

My mind wandered to past Olympic seasons and it hasn't been since 1998 since we had a good sweep of the eligibles turn pro. In 2002, many of them kind of so so retired but many ended up in Torino. And after Torino, there were hardly any retirements. I mean, Michelle Kwan just retired two weeks ago!

But after Vancouver, I am foreseeing a huge swath of eligible skaters go 'pro' if the term still exists. The 'pro' ranks have been rather thin over the past few years. We held on to the big pros from the late 80s and the 90s for as long as we could and the precious few that retired this decade have seen little attention. Even tours such as Stars on Ice have had to augment their casts with Olympic eligibles. I saw Stars on Ice last season and the cast included Evan Lysacek, Belbin and Agosto, and Sasha Cohen.

The demise of the pro skater contributed to (along with the most confusing judging system known to man) skating's rather dismal ratings here in North America over the past few years. Remember all those pro competitions that were on what seemed daily? When the Kristi's, and the Brian's, and the Kurts, and the Katarina's of the skating world decided to have lives (or reality show appearances...or cooking shows) away from the ice, there was this void of professional talent left.

But with the conclusion of the Vancouver Olympics comes the prospect of rebirth. A professional skating renaissance if you will! All signs point to the fact that people are beginning to watch skating again. While the ratings numbers for World's weren't stellar, they did beat expectations. Also, both Canada and the U.S. have major contenders for Olympic Gold in Vancouver in all four disciplines. In Asia, audiences have gone skating berserk with the likes of Asada, Kim, Takahashi, and others. If a large number of these skaters that I feel people will no doubt tune in to see in Vancouver turn pro, I think viewers will follow them, and a whole new generation of professional skaters, competitions, and shows will be born.

Maybe Michelle Kwan had this planned all along! She wanted a place in professional skating but why turn pro when the sport was dry. Looks like things are starting to get a bit more wet and all of a sudden she's performing in Korea with, presumably, many of those skaters that will form this new generation of pro skaters. Coincidence? Probably, I just like to create skating theories!

I think professional skating has a chance at getting it's 'second wind' after Vancouver. There is so many different faces, personalities, and styles that have the opportunity to contribute to this professional renaissance...let's see if it actually happens.

Don't forget I'm compiling a list of the Greatest 1000 Moments on Ice. Be sure to let me know what should go on that list!

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