In a man's mind, anything that glitters is not sport

February 10, 1994|By SUSAN REIMER

Real men don't like figure skating. Just ask the real man who controls the remote control in your life. He'll tell you it is not a sport.

It is not a sport if you wear sequins when you do it. It is not a sport if the music they play while you do it matters. It is not a sport if you do it while holding a woman in your arms. And it is not a sport if people watching decide who wins.

But the men of America will be good sports this month when women seize control of the television to watch the Winter Olympics from Lillehammer, Norway. Women love figure skating, and CBS will make sure there is plenty to watch.

Figure skating produced among the all-time highest-rated sports broadcasts during the 1992 Albertville Winter Games, and CBS will load its prime-time shows with skating during the 10 nights of competition. By some estimates, figure skating will make up 60 percent of the total Olympic package.

CBS expects a viewing audience of better than 185 million Americans, and 55 percent of them will be women --

upper-income, highly educated women. "Figure skating is what brings them in," says George Schweitzer, senior vice president for marketing. "It has all the glamour women like."

A recent survey of readers by USA Today only confirmed this. Women respondents overwhelmingly described themselves as "die-hard" Olympics fans. And 65 percent of them said their favorite sport was figure skating. Only 8 percent of the men agreed.

The men surveyed said their favorite sports were Alpine skiing and hockey. Hey, what a surprise.

Men view figure skating as an art form, like modern dance or ballet, something you attend when your wife makes you and while wearing a jacket and tie. It is only a sport if you bleed or get dirty doing it or if you can drink beer while watching it. It takes a flurry of accusations that one woman skater called in a hit on another to get the men of America interested.

In my previous life as a sportswriter, I covered figure skating -- lots of it. And it was plenty sport enough for me.

I admit, my stories read more like a combination wedding announcement-theater review ("She wore a crimson frock, beads glistening on the tight-fitting bodice. The music cast a spell broken only by thunderous ovation." That kind of thing.)

And I know it was unprofessional of me to cry when Brian Boitano skated to "The Music of the Night," but, my God, there was just so much emotion, so much lyrical sadness in his performance. . . . Sorry. I still get carried away.

Anyway, as I said to my husband, the pro football writer, I'd like to see the Washington Redskins' Darrell Green -- for years "the fastest man in the National Football League" -- move as fast as Boitano does, stop on a dime, jump and spin three times in the air and then land on one foot -- one blade, actually.

In my book, that's a sport.

My husband was forced to admit that figure skating fits his

criteria for a sport. "If you have to wear special shoes, it is a sport," he says. (Swimming qualifies, he says, because if you wore flippers, you would be better at it.)

I came to appreciate the consuming dedication and the killer instincts that lay behind the sequins and silk when the U.S. Figure Skating Championships were held in Baltimore in 1989, the year that eventual Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi burst on the scene.

After a week of competition, the championships closed with an exhibition. The winners, liberated from the stifling requirements of judges and the driving need to win, let it all hang out.

I decided to take my son, who had just started taking ice-skating lessons, to see this last festive performance. My husband was immediately suspicious. He took Joseph on his knee and said, "Son, when you get home, Daddy is going to tell you all about Gordie Howe."

So guys, be patient while your women watch, transfixed, as the )) Olympic figure skating competition unfolds. Never mind how they drift with the music and weep at the stories the skaters tell on the ice. Take a nap, get a beer, or think of my poor husband.

For months before he left to cover the Olympics, he collected expensive Arctic gear and daydreamed of covering real men in )) real sports, like Norwegian cross-country skier Vegard Ulvang, who actually crossed Greenland on skis.

All of that, only to find out that his assignment is to cover figure skating.

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