Ice Skating Costumes Rated

People watch figure skating for the jumps, the spins, the spills and the costumes — some of which just have you scratching your head and asking, "Why?" Jere Longman of The New York Times, who has written about some of the more notorious outfits in the sport, rates the costumes from the Vancouver games.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Tonight at the Vancouver Olympics: the sequin, feather and satin extravaganza known as ice dancing. Or was that last night in the men's free skate when American Evan Lysacek took gold, dethroning the 2006 gold medalist, Russian Evgeni Plushenko? And the Russian was so indignant about that result that he said: Now it's not men's figure skating. Now it's dancing.

Here to decode this battle and to talk about some of the more outrageous costumes we've seen on the ice is sportswriter Jere Longman of The New York Times, in Vancouver for his 10th Olympics.

Jere, welcome to the program.

Mr. JERE LONGMAN (Sportswriter, The New York Times): Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: The issue here: Evan Lysacek did not have a quadruple jump. Evgeni Plushenko did, and he says that the difficulty of his program and that jump should have brought him the gold. That's now the big debate in the skating world.

Mr. LONGMAN: Plushenko looks at figure skating the way Shaun White looks at snowboarding, that for the sport to evolve you have to have bigger and more daring tricks all the time, whereas Evan Lysacek is adhering to the new points-based system that rewards completeness over the big trick.

He was better in spins and footwork and things like that, that sort of connect the jumps. So I think he deserved to win.

BLOCK: Well, Jere, let's move on to what's really important here in ice skating, that is, of course, the costumes. You've been blogging about them a lot, and I want to start with these two top medalists. Evan Lysacek skated last night all in black but with these thick silver sequin snakes wrapped around his body. What do you think?

Mr.�LONGMAN: Well, it's better than the short program. You know, these are Vera Wang costumes, but she had him dressed as a magpie in this short program. You know, he's the - Vera Wang channeling her inner Heckle and Jeckle, I think.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�LONGMAN: Thankfully, he had fewer feathers on in the long program.

BLOCK: And his rival, the Russian Plushenko, was wearing this costume, and I have to say, as soon as my producer and I saw it, we both texted each other immediately with the words Lite-Brite because it looked just like that toy with those plastic tubes that light up.

Mr.�LONGMAN: Yeah, it reminded me of something out of "Guys and Dolls." It was - but those were some of the more sedate costumes.

BLOCK: That's true.

Mr. LONGMAN: I mean, there was a guy, Adrian Schultheiss from Sweden, who actually pulled this off. His music was "Insane in the Brain," the rap song by Cypress Hill. So he dressed in a straitjacket as imagined by a waiter at an Asian fusion restaurant. But he actually carried it off.

BLOCK: We've got to talk about Johnny Weir, the ever-flamboyant Johnny Weir, who did not disappoint on Tuesday in the short program. He had this kind of patent leather bustier, shocking pink straps. He was rocking the tassel on his shoulder. Last night, I got say, he was kind of elegant and disappointingly so.

Mr.�LONGMAN: Well, at the National Championships, he had a fox fur patch on his shoulder, but he heard from, you know, protests from animal rights groups, so he removed it. So there were some wild lynx spotted on the downhill and the luge course around here the other day, and people were joking that they were running for their lives, hoping not to become part of Johnny's outfit for the free skate.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Oh, dear. What do you think about his costume last night?

Mr.�LONGMAN: That was fine. You know, I the thing about Johnny is he both sort of celebrates and makes fun of this outrageousness at the same time. He gets it, and I really appreciate him because I think he's sort of spoofing it all at the same time that he's taking part in it.

BLOCK: Jere, when you look back at, say, Scott Hamilton from 1984, when he took gold, he's wearing just a red, white and blue unitard, like a speedskater would. When did men's costumes sort of go down this crazy road?

Mr.�LONGMAN: Alexei Urmanov, the Russian 1994 champion, began wearing gloves and, you know, came from a very balletic tradition. You know, the costumes from that point got more outrageous, so now you have, you know, the plunging necklines, the off-the-shoulder collars, the sequins, the fur, you know, and then there are the women, so...

BLOCK: Jere Longman of The New York Times, thanks so much.

Mr.�LONGMAN: Thank you.

SIEGEL: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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