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Mar 10, 2012

Paradigm Shifts

You know that moment.

It is, after all, a well-trod trope that occurs all too frequently in fiction. You know, that electrifying moment of clarity when you finally look up after so many years and realize that your longtime friend/nerd in the classroom/person whose existence you've previously disregarded is in fact that most beautiful girl/guy in the world and thus a worthy object of your fevered romantic delusions. There may or may not be alcohol and/or other mind-altering substances involved in that particular moment of epiphany, but your perception of said individual is nonetheless permanently re-calibrated thereafter: it's love.

An analogous scenario can be said to exist vis-a-vis figure skating: when one watches a single performance so awe-inspiringly, spine-chillingly right such that all extant pre-existing (negative) notions about the skater are completely and utterly dashed for the better. Such moments, however, tend to crop up with rather less frequency in reality than in fiction. After all, these moments involve not only the smashing of firmly entrenched paradigms, but also the precipitous task of falling in love instaneously. Whatever Marlowe may say about love ("who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?"), I've always felt Shakespeare made much more sense instead: the course of true love never did run smooth. In other words: it's not that easy--you want my love, you better earn it with consistently great programs paired with great performances. Not even Stephane Lambiel was able to completely capture my heart with a single performance (though Spanish Caravan in 2005 came close, but then again, I definitely had a favorable impression of Mr. Lambiel prior to watching that program for the first time).

I'm trying to remember when such electrifying moments of paradigm-smashing clarity ever happened for me. There was, of course, that sublime moment of Michelle Kwan at the 1996 World Championships, but that was years ago (not exactly 1996 as I was a wee child who probably didn't even know what a skate was back then, but it was still quite awhile ago). Inexplicably, there was Mukhortova/Trankov at 2008 Skate America (but the magic lasted for merely one season, and only during the SP: Euros version here), and then, Davis/White's Samson and Delilah at the 2009 World Championships (the fact that they wuzrobbed certainly helped). Then nothing, until Yuzuru Hanyu skated a truncated version of his current Romeo and Juliet long program at The Ice last summer.

I still remember the moment clearly. Someone had posted a link with a description like "wow, Hanyu sure can jump!!" As the video started, I naturally approached it with the proper amount of brow-furrowing that befits a discerning critic: firstly, it was Yuzuru Hanyu, whose lack of power and tension (i.e. rather loose and floppy gumbiness) hindered most favorable impressions of his skating, as did his thin choreography the previous season. Secondly, it was clear Mr. Hanyu was skating to the music of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet--that is, the neophyte version (my inner music snob resolutely prefers Prokofiev above all others). Two minutes later, after the Kissing You section ended, I peeled my jaw off the ground and re-watched the video again. And again. And again. And again.

I tried to delay writing a post about this moment of paradigm-smashing until I could begin to understand why, but all attempts at post-facto dissection proved none too illuminating. Eventually, I managed to come up with: choreography, flow, body awareness, feel for music, presence improved, previous weaknesses I'd picked at (hunched posture, rushing through elements, lack of tension at key points, etc) still stubbornly there. But those two minutes had somehow managed to push such flaws into a background position of lesser importance, perhaps still evident but mere shadows in light of all the qualities that suddenly appeared as bright and beautiful. How and why those two minutes were able to produce such a paradigm shift, I'm still not quite sure. But such is the fate of all the things we love: le coeur a ses raisons, que la raison ne conna├«t point.


  1. It's Yuzuru. He steals hearts and replaces them with some kind of weird machine that could love only him. I had the exact same syndrome you described above. I first saw him at the 2011 GPF and I was actually rooting for Patrick Chan. I had never seen this wimpy 17 year old kid before a I was so ready to hate on him. By the time he finished skating though, he was all I could think about. He transformed me into a real figure skating fan, of which I was not before. And he's a real sweetheart too. It's not just his skating skills, but his personality as well, that makes him so interesting. He may not be perfect and still a little immature, but he's definitely got amazing talent.

    1. "It's Yuzuru. He steals hearts and replaces them with some kind of weird machine that could love only him." Hahaha! Great description. I'm just so surprised how much I enjoy his skating now. Before Romeo and Juliet, I found him tolerable, but wasn't really that impressed with him at all. I'm not sure what happened to me.