Wednesday, September 10, 2008

In fairness they never said anything about what podium Canucks are supposed to own

If you need another example of why most sportswriters would rather stick a jagged stick in their left eye than cover figure skating, consider this.

Us failed jocks just don't get the sport. We especially don't get the athletes that partake in it. The more refined of us can appreciate the athleticism, but the desire to wear a frilly shirt and subject yourself to the whims of eccentric French judges...

No. Makes no sense. Those that do, must be a bit of a different animal than the typical high school quarterback.

So, once you understand that you can't possibly understand, today's decision by Jeffrey Buttle to retire 17-months before the Vancouver Olympics makes perfect sense. The Olympics are in your home country. There is more money floating in than at any time in the history of the sport. If you win the gold you will be put on a stamp and fast tracked to an Order of Canada. Yeah, retiring makes perfect sense. In the bizzaro world that is elite figure skating anyway.

You try not to judge, but...figure skaters. WTF. No, really. W. T. F.

Seriosly, do you remember the Battle of the Brians in '88? Buttle would have been the most hyped (non puck chasing) athlete at the Games. At least now CTV might spend a couple less seconds covering the event, so that's something.


Dennis Prouse said...

I am surprised, but only because I hadn't heard any rumblings about him possibly retiring. I am not shocked, though. (My sister skated, my wife skated, and now my daughter skates. I kind of get my skating news by osmosis in my family.)

Look at Buttle's age - he is 26, which means he has been at this for about 20 years. To commit to Vancouver would mean another year and a half of intensive training, on top of the training he has already been doing his whole life. Competitive figure skaters live in this strange bubble - it consumes so much of their time and energy that they really have no meaningful life experiences away from the rink. This is proven by the fact that age 26, Buttle is still an undergraduate student at U of T.

It's also worth noting that there isn't, in fact, more money than ever before in skating. The money in pro skating peaked about 10 years ago, and has been going down pretty sharply in recent years. Kurt Browning and Elizabeth Manley, for instance, cashed in pretty nicely after their retirements, but in recent years a lot of the pro competitions and ice shows have either been scaled back or closed down completely. Sure, there is still some money to be made, but it isn't anything like it was back in the roaring 90s, when any skater with any kind of Olympic or world medal to their credit could hit the tour.

This may have been another factor for Buttle to consider - he could either take his freshly minted World Championship and parlay it into some real money this season, or risk not repeating, and being a has-been the day he finally does want to land one of the increasingly rare spots on the ice show circuit.

I'll bet you a dime that Buttle hasn't trained much at all since Worlds last March. He looked down the barrel of starting it all up again, and just said, "To hell with it - I'm done." Knowing the life they lead, I can't say I blame him.

sager said...

But what would Brian Boitano do, if he were here right now? I'm sure he'd kick an ass or two, that's what Brian Boitano'd do.

(/South Park'd)

Dennis hit that one out of the park.

Case in point: I knew who the big skaters were better when I was a kid in the late '80s/early '90s than I did as a working reporter in the 2000s.

At one of my previous newspaper jobs, the local skating club being like kids on Christmas Eve over the big name guest skater they had coming in for their carnival.

That was around 2003, 2004. I I had to admit that I had never heard of the guy? His name?

Jeffrey Buttle.

Duane Rollins said...

My more money comment was in reference to the additional funding that is being pumped into winter sports in the lead-up to Vancouver.

You make a good point about the pro money--a point I had not considered.

To be clear, I'm not judging his right to make the choice--clearly he has it--but rather I'm expressing my surprise/confusion by that choice.

As an Olympic junkie it is inconceivable to me that a Canadian athlete would give up his or her to chance to compete in Vancouver this close to the Games.

I think, however, there is a different mindset among elite figure skaters that doesn't fit into the stereotype we like to put on athletes. Theirs is an artistic sport. Victory may be found in places other than the scoreboard. And that's hard for those of us that aren't involved in the sport to understand. That's what I was driving at.

sager said...

Also, let's remember in between the medals in Turin and at the worlds, Buttle had a stress fracture in his lower back in 2006-07 and was unable to be at his peak for the Worlds.

Like Dennis says, at some point the pain gets to be too much.

Dennis Prouse said...

The burnout can apply in hockey as well. I can remember hearing Harry Neale say one time that for a lot of veteran players, it's not so much that their legs or reflexes have gone. A big part of it is just that they wake up one morning and decide they don't want it anymore. Eric Lindros was a perfect example - dude was just going through the motions during that last year in Dallas. You could tell that his heart just wasn't in it anymore.

Duane is right in that there is more funding for Olympic athletes now, but that doesn't really apply to a guy like Buttle, who would already have enough sponsors to keep him going. For him, the money is now in doing the skating show circuit for a year or two.

With his name recognition, he will also be able to teach and do seminars within the skating community forever if he wants. It has been over 45 years since Donald Jackson was a world champion, and almost 60 years since Barbara Ann Scott won, and they are both still huge icons in the Canadian skating world.