Why skaters aren’t friends
This past spring Johnny Weir stated in an interview that he and Evan Lysacek decided to “bury the hatchet” and have formed “alliance.” (Are we playing Survivor?) The pair, who are direct competitors and haven’t always had the nicest of things to say about one another, have now proclaimed that they’re going to work together in order to knock down skaters from other rinks.
Sounds a little weird, right?
Skaters who directly compete against one another will never be in an alliance and they will never be close friends. When there are two equally strong competitors who are working towards the same prize, an alliance is the farthest thing from their minds.
Whether it’s Johnny and Evan, Sasha and Michelle, or Michelle and Irina, their relationships are all the same. They are friendly, but they are not friends. They don’t go out to dinner together the night before the long program and they don’t call each other up on weekends to discuss various training methods.
The dynamic of these relationships, and much of a skater’s mindset, comes from the extreme individualistic nature of the sport, particularly evident in singles skating. If a skater is having a bad day, there isn’t a team backing them up who can rally, push them through, or salvage their performance. Instead, it is just the skater, alone on the ice, having to compete and perform on their own. In a way, this can be a good thing. All the control is in the skater’s hands. They don’t have to worry about their teammate missing a clutch free throw or making a bad pass. But unlike team sports, where each player gets a ring after winning a championship, there is only one gold medal awarded at the end of a figure skating competition (unless we’re talking about the 2002 Olympic pairs event).
When it comes time to compete, the classic line skaters tell the media is, “I just want to skate well for myself.” This is a lie. Of course skaters want to skate well, but they are leaving out the small fact that just skating well isn’t enough–they want to win. This means making the most money, getting the most acclaim, and being the one who stands on the top of the podium at the end of the night, no matter what it takes. This me-first attitude makes it very difficult for a skater to form a friendship with a close competitor.
At an international competition, skaters competing in the same discipline are rarely assigned as roommates by the USFS. They generally don’t sit next to one another on the bus to the arena nor do they eat breakfast together in the dining hall. There a perpetual, invisible fence around each skater, and competitors tend to avoid their rivals at all costs.
There is no place where this separation and tension between competitors is more evident than the ladies’ locker room right before the final warmup. Walking into this small space is like walking into solitary confinement. There are no greetings exchanged between skaters–this includes skaters who may train, or have spent all summer touring together. Instead, a skater is treated to dagger-like stares when they enter the room, and their competitors look them up and down, as they silently critique their competition’s hair and makeup. This form of psychological gamesmanship can at times be more difficult than the competition taking place on the ice.
The unwritten code of the locker room directs skaters and coaches not to speak above a whisper, and the tension is smothering. Coaches sit huddled next to their skaters, whispering last minute advice to their pupils who keep blank, stoic faces. When a skater knows the person lacing up their skates next to them in the locker room is someone who can come between them and a gold medal, it’s extremely difficult an athlete to become friends or even strike up a conversation with that person.
If skaters were to spend time with their competitors, pushing competitive feelings aside, they would probably find that they actually have a lot in common. As much as they like to tell the media that they‘re complete opposites, underneath their exteriors Johnny and Evan are more alike than different. They both are hard workers, very funny, and share an intense love for fashion. That being said, this idea of them forming some sort of an alliance is laughable, and I can promise you that these two are not currently scheming up some master plan on how they’re going to take over men’s skating.
Instead, Evan and Johnny are training alone, on opposite ends of the country, each with the goal of becoming national and hopefully Olympic champion. This “alliance” is the last thing on their minds. Perhaps one day they will acknowledge their commonalities, because competition aside, I can see the two becoming really good friends. That being said, I don’t see a friendship blooming this year when they both know there is only one gold medal and three Olympic spots up for grabs.