Figure skating now sadly lacking both Witt and imagination
TIPPING POINT:This space rarely needs an excuse to perv but this morning there’s a reason: happy birthday, Katarina Witt, the beautiful face of socialism, as Time once described her, and at a time when it wasn’t reduced to putting inconsequential freckly west of Ireland men on the cover.
Nowadays Katarina is best known for judging Dancing on Ice, a profile vehicle for gormless celebrity on the make.
That is now. But there was a then, a time when the stereotypical East German female athlete could only sell magazines door-to-door and was notable only for making her male colleagues look feminine.
But the young Katarina was beautiful, a genuine shout-out-loud cracker. She skated to Olympic glory in 1984 and 1988 on a wave of global testosterone that combined awe at her talent with some rather more primal instincts.
In the process she achieved crossover status into public consciousness with all the apparent ease with which she once moved across ice. There was even a Playboy spread, disgustingly exploitative, of course, tut-tut, and offensive to all right-thinking people, but only the famous debut Marilyn Monroe edition sold more.
Anyway, Katarina is 47 today. It hardly seems possible. But that’s time for you. And she still looks great.
Anyway you can hardly get more mainstream than passing verdict on slebs clinging on to their skate mentors only marginally less tightly than they clasp onto their self-regard.
In contrast to the real thing, skating as actual athletic achievement, rather than ratings grabber, is much further down the dial, on “Trevor+1, excuse-us-while-we-shake-the-dish-back-to-life, HD-lite”.
Skating’s ISU Grand Prix Final for 2012 is being held this week in Sochi. That’s the city on the Black Sea that will host the 2014 Winter Olympics. No, I’d never heard of it either. The Caucasus are nearby for the skiers to fall down in just over a year’s time, but this week’s Grand Prix will be an important test run of the Olympic skating set-up.
Even 30 years ago this would have been only of marginal interest in this part of the world; certainly not mainstream in a country where a couple of inches of snow grinds everything to a halt. But not completely ignored either.
The Brits had a long tradition of producing top-flight performers on the ice and believed in covering them. Curry, Cousins, and Torvill and Dean were names as recognisable here as they were there.
But that was then. The Brits haven’t had a popular and successful skater in a long time. And platoons of mostly anonymous Russian, Korean and Lithuanian medallists don’t cut it ratings-wise.