Charlie White, left, and Meryl Davis of Oakland County are favored for the ice dancing gold. (Steven Senne / Associated Press)
As a young boy, late Saturday afternoons would have me settling in by the TV for my weekly dose of “Wide World of Sports.”
During the winter, the skiing, ski jumping, bobsledding and luge were replacements for NASCAR, demolition derbies and cliff-diving that summers brought. And, as with many boys of a certain age, the disasters excited me; skiers and jumpers falling and sleds flying off the tracks at break-neck speeds.
But sitting on the couch with me was an older brother who knew all about toe loops, lutzes, death spirals, U.S. Olympic champion Peggy Fleming, the incomparable Russian pair of Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov and the commentary of Dick Button.
When my sports were on during the winter, I yelled out, “Oh, cool!” with each disaster, and enjoyed the great speed of the alpine and sledding events.
As the skaters jumped and twirled with the music, my brother would say stuff like, “The landing on that double-lutz was out of time with the music,” or “He was spinning way faster on his sit-spin than she was. The judges won’t like that.”
Over the years, if only by gradual absorption, I began to understand.
And by the time I was 13, there was a great attraction. Janet Lynn won the U.S. ladies title.
Man, did I ever have a wicked schoolboy-crush on Janet Lynn! It tested every shred of my Roman Catholic resolve.
In Boston this weekend, amid world domination of the event by skaters from Oakland and Washtenaw counties, the United States ice dancers who will skate at the Sochi Games will be, in effect, finalized.
Meryl Davis (West Bloomfield, University of Michigan) and Charlie White (Bloomfield Hills, University of Michigan) are favorites to win gold in Russia. Barring a miracle in the other three figure skating events, it would be the only gold for the United States.
Figure skating fans knew that the moment defending gold medalist Evan Lysacek dropped out of the Games due to injury.
Sports fans, more generally, will become aware of it only as NBC features Davis and White as American Olympic darlings, as the network’s pace of promoting the Sochi Games ramps up this month and during the 2˝ weeks beginning with the Opening Ceremony on Feb. 7. And, featuring them is precisely what NBC already has begun to do.
Many other sports fans will not give a darn and, for them, the moment will pass unnoticed.
A diffirent thrill
Should they care?
I think so. I well understand that more than nine-out-of-10 folks who continue to provide the Lions with unmerited support and those faithful observers of the other ball and stick sports around town — including many of us who, with me, were screaming their heads off at the superb basketball game Tuesday between the Buckeyes and Spartans — are unlikely to give a fig.
But the fact Metro Detroit has achieved international domination of ice dancing strikes me as so notable in a general way that perhaps it is time to assert that some sports fans should broaden their horizons a bit.
Other U.S. duos in ice dancing who will skate in Boston are Maia and Alex Shibutani, sister and brother from Massachusetts and University of Michigan students who train in Canton; and Madison Chock, of Novi, and Evan Bates, of Ann Arbor.
The defending Olympic gold medalists, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, are from Ontario but live in Metro Detroit and train in Canton.
I understand the opinions prevailing against figure skating. But, especially if one sees the sport in person, with its awesome speed not discounted by the panning movements of TV cameras and the height of the jumps and the strenuousness of the effort more evident, it is clear this is sport.
Sport of a certain type, no doubt. But sport.
Heck, it even has some disasters for the little boy lurking inside me. Have you ever fallen to the hard ice from the height and dizzying rotatons of a triple salchow, banged your butt to the point that it rattles your spine and knocks all the breath out of you, while continuing to smile for the judges and getting up to retime the music, reassert your routine and press the competition?
You do not think that is anything like getting nailed to the boards by a defenseman and continuing on with the play?
You are wrong.
And it is far more sport than a bunch of guys and gals sitting around green-felt-covered tables peering into playing cards and tossing chips into the center. And we see that stuff on the sports pages and ESPN all the time, as if it somehow merits attention alongside the Super Bowl, NCAA Tournament — or even the demolition derby, on tape delay, from West Islip, N.Y., from back in the old “Wide World of Sports” days.
Publicity in the cards
By the time NBC has its way, even long before those of us going to Sochi get there early next month, expect to see a lot of Davis and White on the air.
With Lysacek out and Lindsey Vonn not chasing the gold in skiing and providing some of the cover-of-People Magazine sort of glitz and glamor — especially with paramour Tiger Woods making par with the reputedly attractive blonde these days — and with no American princess like Fleming, Lynn, Dorothy Hamill, Kristi Yamaguchi, Tara Lipinski or Sarah Hughes in the hunt in the ladies competition, expect Meryl and Charlie to qualify easily as two of the preeminent darlings of Team USA.
In the way of figure skating, that may not get them more noticed on campus or around Metro Detroit.
But make no mistake, a significant portion of the world will be watching.
Hey, maybe if Davis and White play a little poker?
I know some editors who would be more interested!
U.S. Figure Skating Championships
When: Today-Sunday, TD Garden, Boston
3-6 p.m.: Pairs free skate and free dance
8-11 p.m.: Ladies free skate
3-5 p.m.: Men’s free skate