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WOSTER: 'Knock off the quads and let them skate'

We were sitting around the other evening, reading and watching the Olympics, when Nancy said something about knocking off the quads.

Last Christmas, our daughter gave me the new Robert Kennedy biography. I'm at the part where he starts running for president, and I guess I was focused more on that than the Olympics. When Nancy spoke, I looked up to see a young guy gliding across the glistening surface of the ice rink, doing a few spins and, you know, bends and leans. "Bends and leans'' are the only technical terms I know from figure skating.

After a few more of those, the skater leaped into the air and twirled around and around before landing awkwardly on his tailbone. Technically, he twirled "around and around and around and around,'' because the commentators went wild about a quad.

"That was the third quad he's tried already this routine,'' the female announcer said.

"Unbelievable,'' the male announcer responded.

"Knock off the quads and let them skate,'' Nancy said.

I realized the comments about quads referred to a thing called a quadruple. Wikipedia tells me a quadruple is a "figure skating jump with at least four but fewer than five revolutions. Most quadruple jumps have exactly four revolutions; the quadruple Axel has four and one-half revolutions, although no figure skater to date has completed this jump in competition.''

I'm far from expert at the world of figure skating. I watch casually during the Olympics. I prefer ice skaters when they slap a puck around and slam each other into the boards. But these figure skaters the other evening were incredibly talented. I can only imagine the time and practice it takes to prepare a routine. I respect them. I just don't really understand what all goes in to making a good routine. And I have to tell you, with my eyesight the shape it's in after 74 years, I couldn't tell whether that last skater did three revolutions or four. Maybe he did two and one-half, for all I could tell. I had to trust the announcers and the instant replay, which was still too fast for me to keep up.

Nancy has nothing against quadruple jumps, in theory. She was just tired of watching a string of top-notch skaters failing to execute a quadruple before landing with a thump on the South Korean ice. And she was tired of hearing the announcers go on and on about the quad. "It's as if nothing else they do matters,'' she said.

She just wanted to watch a few skaters glide gracefully over the ice, spinning and twirling through four minutes or so of routine without a fall and no commentary but the applause of the crowd. As I put down my book and watched the competition, I had to agree with her that the quads were the culprit when several skaters, who had been putting on a real show, fell at the end of a big jump and had to scramble clumsily to their feet to finish the routine.

I recalled one of the last times I skated and found myself, except for talent and work, in the position of those fallen Olympic athletes. I was on roller skates, not ice skates. On a visit to Chamberlain, we joined other family members at the rink. The lights were dim, the music was loud and a twirling ballroom glitter ball sent pinpoints of light spinning across the floor, the walls and the ceiling. It disoriented me, and I hit the floor. That's my excuse, anyway.

When I fell, the spinning lights created the impression that I was still moving, and I panicked. Unlike the Olympic skaters who quickly scrambled to their feet, I stayed where I was, unsure if I could stand up. Eventually, I crawled to the edge of the rink and pulled myself to a standing position. I found a chair, took off the skates and called it a career.

I respect the talent and dedication of those skaters the other evening. Peggy Fleming remains my favorite skater ever, and she never did a quad in her life.