I don’t regularly watch figure skating mostly because I have enough to regularly watch.
I do watch it when the Olympics come around. And I’m going to start with this year’s Olympics.
Kamila Valieva’s Quad
Figure skating has, like many sports, increased in difficulty dramatically over my lifespan. We understand biomechanics, we understand ice temperature and how it impacts performance so much better (did you know that the optimum ice temperature for hockey is 17 to 23 degrees F and for figure skating it’s 24 to 29 degrees F. Why? Figure skaters need slightly softer ice to land those jumps). We have better skates.
The first quad was landed by Kurt Browning in 1988, and the first woman landed one in 2002. Her name was Miki Ando.
But no woman had yet landed one at the Olympics. And Kamila Valieva is only fifteen years old. Her achievement is kind of specific, but it’s still an achievement. Quads are hard. They require strength, power, and courage.
But the interesting thing is that in the performance in which she set out to do this, her choice of music was Ravel’s Boléro.
Some of my readers are probably too young to understand this.
Why is Boléro Important?
First of all, Ravel’s Boléro has had a strong association with figure skating since 1984. Skaters pull it out with some regularity, although it’s rare to see a single skater do it.
But to a Brit of my generation, Boléro is inextricably linked to two names:
Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean. (Note, by tradition, in pairs skating and ice dance, the woman’s name is always given first).
The thing about Torvil and Dean was that they were what we had. As a small country that isn’t particularly gifted with things like high mountains or thick layers of snow, the United Kingdom has never put in a fantastic performance in the Winter Olympics.
So they were what we had. They were national sweethearts. Everyone shipped them together (note, they had no romantic relationship) before shipping was a thing.