Are we the only family too nervous to watch Olympic figure skating? There must be more of our kind out there – people who peek at the TV screen through their fingers, not wanting to see what might happen next.
By the time you read this, the Sochi Games will be almost over, and the medal winners decided in the women’s skating competition. The organizers probably save that competition for last, because the drama and beauty make it a crowd favorite. I mean, what’s not to like?
“Hey, figure skating’s on now,” I yelled up the stairs to my teenage daughter. I had a fantasy that we would sit together, pick our favorites and watch the drama unfold. But that’s all just an illusion.
“No way,” she yelled back down to me. “It makes me nervous.”
Me, too. And I think it’s all about the spills. Now that the women are commonly doing triple jumps – and the men, quadruples – watching a skater is like watching a thriller movie. I know something bad is about to happen.
And if you’re a nervous watcher like I am, you know what this is about: the walls of the rink. Why do skaters always wait until they are right up against the wall to start their jumps? They have the whole, vast ice surface to themselves. Why don’t they go out in the middle and do their jumps?
Everything will be going fine, with the skater carving along through the ice, little chiffon skirt fluttering in the breeze. I start to relax and enjoy the show. So pretty. Such long and graceful arms. And then the music will crescendo; sure enough, the skater will be headed for the perimeter and I know what’s coming. The wind-up. The leap. That’s when I close my eyes and wait for it.
“Perfect landing,” Scott Hamilton will cry, and then I open my eyes and exhale. She didn’t hit the boards.
As it happens, my daughter is learning about atoms in eighth-grade science.
All the studying made me look at the Olympic ice rink as a big atom. Skaters are like electrons, moving around the outside. But that’s where the danger is. They should be more like protons and neutrons, safely in the nucleus.
Maybe the skaters never actually get that close to the edges. It’s possible that the camera angle just gives that perspective. But I’ve seen skaters fall and crash into the boards.
Maybe they should line the rinks with crib bumpers, like they have in short-track skating. Oddly, that sport doesn’t make me nervous at all, perhaps because you expect crashes, and the skaters aren’t wearing tutus. Also, they’re wearing helmets.
But put helmets on figure skaters and it changes the sport.
My nervousness extends to other kinds of shows. I never could comfortably watch “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” because I’d feel sad and embarrassed for contestants who missed easy questions. I could watch with the remote in my hand, so I could click away before the contestant answered, to spare both of us the cringe.
In psychology, this quality is called empathy. I am emphatically empathic. It matters not whether the skater is from Canada or Russia or the United States. I feel nervous for all of them. I just wish they would stay in the middle of the ice, where it is safer, for both of us.
We can’t be alone in this.
Beth Dolinar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.