When Canadian skaters take the ice in Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics, they won’t be adorned in feathers and frills.
Elaborate costumes only distract from a strong performance, according to Skate Canada CEO William Thompson.
“What we’re saying [to the skaters] is, don’t detract from the athletic performance,” said Thompson. “Our team is put out very nicely, but relatively simply. Not too much flying off them. The judges appreciate simple.
“Look at Patrick [Chan, the world championship silver medallist]. No one does more complicated steps and everything, but it doesn’t get obscured by anything else.”
Skate Canada’s message has become a little lost in translation recently, however.
ABC News reported that Canadian skating officials want to give the sport a “macho makeover,” in a bid to draw in “the hockey crowd” and boost ratings.
Skate Canada said all it did was speak to its athletes about trying to keep the focus on the athleticism of the sport.
The national governing body posted a statement on its website last week to dispel rumours that sparked outrage among some gay rights groups and figure skating fans.
“There is and never has been any ‘tough campaign,’ ” Thompson said in the statement. “At the beginning of the season, we did feel that we wanted to message where possible the difficulty of the sport.
“This was in no way to diminish the artistry, rather simply to remind viewers of the level of fitness, mental training and commitment required to be an elite skater.”
That message, Thompson said, got distorted along the way.
The controversy began, he said, when Debbi Wilkes, Skate Canada’s director of marketing and communication, used the word “tough” in an interview which led to reports of a “controversial” marketing campaign that was to be unveiled at the world championships this past March.
Thompson said in his statement the image they wanted to portray wasn’t even intended for the men’s event, but that “the athleticism of the women was being overlooked.”
Former Canadian men’s star Elvis Stojko weighed in, telling The Globe and Mail “skating is about power and strength. It’s so much more than dressing up as a frou-frou.
“I was telling [Skate Canada] this is where they had to go 10 years ago, or you’re going to lose the masses and you’re going to lose the entry [into the sport] of the kids. All that’s happening now. They’re finally doing something about it.”
Gay rights advocates and figure skating bloggers alike were vocal in their displeasure.
Skate Canada officials have insisted repeatedly there never was a campaign in the works.
“What we’re trying to relay is the physical demands and the physical attributes that come with skating,” said Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada’s high performance director. “When you’re in the crowd or watching it on TV, it looks simple, but the strength the skaters have to have to be able to do the stuff they do… it’s hard.
“That’s the message we want to get across—that this is a demanding sport, both artistically and technically.”