TURIN, Italy - There’s something very bad going on in figure skating.
Not the new judging system — no one understands that enough to know if it’s good or bad. Not the abundance of techno-pop music. Not even the exit of Michelle Kwan.
No, it’s much, much worse. It’s Halloween on Ice.
Have you seen some of the frightful costumes? Oh, the horror! Enough Day-Glo to light up a small village. Tattered numbers that look like ragbag rejects. More fringe, sequins and sparkles than even a circus act would find acceptable. And colors so wild they’re not even in Crayola’s 64-pack.
“What I find pretty much unwatchable is all the (stuff) that’s on the costumes,” said Jef Billings, a longtime designer who has dressed Peggy Fleming, Michelle Kwan and Sarah Hughes, as well as Canadian Jeff Buttle, the men’s bronze medalist.
“You need to wear the costume, the costume shouldn’t wear you,” said Billings, also director and costume designer for the Smucker’s Stars on Ice show.
“If the costume is overwhelming, either visually or physically, that’s what you’re looking at. I think that’s the problem with some of the extreme costumes that are out there.”
Extreme is the politest way to describe some of the duds on the ice. For every elegant costume Kwan, Sasha Cohen or Buttle wears, there are about eight so tacky even Britney Spears wouldn’t touch them.
In the pairs free skate, Tatiana Volosozhar wore an aqua-blue dress with filmy, lighter-colored wisps coming off it while her partner, Stanislav Morozov, was dressed in brown. Maybe they were trying to portray their “Conquest of Paradise” program with him as the ship and her the sea.
Then there’s three-time American champ Johnny Weir. For the short program to Camille Saint-Saens’ “The Swan,” he was dressed, appropriately, as the bird itself. The bottom of his costume was black with cutouts that look like feathers. The silver-and-white top appeared to be covered in feathers, and a red glove on his right hand — he’s dubbed it Camille — made his arm look like a swan when he raised it.
“I thought that was a little much,” Weir said.
“I do find some of the costumes sometimes are over the top,” said Dick Button, the gold medalist in 1948 and ’52 who is doing commentary for NBC in Turin. “You almost feel you’ve been trapped in a windmill in the Metropolitan Opera House costume department.”
Even the flower girls and boys, who usually look cute no matter what they’re wearing, are a fashion “don’t.” Their yellow, red and white outfits make the girls look like little Ronald McDonalds and the boys look like they’re wearing pajamas.
It’s going to get worse before it gets better. That’s because ice dance has started.
Armenian ice dancer Anastasia Grebenkina was barely legal in a sheer white number that, it’s safe to say, her mother didn’t see before she left the house. Bulgaria’s Maxim Staviski was in a green-and-purple number that wouldn’t even have made the cut for “Men in Tights.” And there are no words to adequately describe how hideous Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio’s black, gold and neon orange costumes were.
“We all have a different idea about what our programs are or the moods we’re trying to set,” said Jamie Sale, a pairs gold medalist in 2002 who is doing TV work in Turin. “It’s your own interpretations of what you’re trying to portray.”
Figure skating, as we all know from the sport/not a sport debate, is a blend of athleticism and art. You have to have the tough jumps, spins, speed. If you don’t look good doing it, though, you can kiss those medal hopes goodbye.