Why I started liking figure skating is a protracted and probably not very interesting story. Suffice to say that my heightened interest was due mainly to an enthusiastic online fan forum that had grown during the last days of the Olympics, the members of which liked to focus on everything absurd about the world skaters and skating, in addition to being pretty amusing people in their own right. One day someone posted about their favorite programs and invited others to do the same. Some of the programs I had seen already, some of them maybe I couldn’t appreciate yet, and some of them I just didn’t think were very cool.
Then someone posted a video of the 2006 World Championship gala where Stéphane Lambiel, a cute boy from Switzerland who was bouncing around on the ice because he had just won the gold in Men’s Singles for the second consecutive year. He looked like he was having a blast. A whole bunch of other people in the forum concurred that it was one of their favorite programs, too, and set off a flurry of other related media that people had mined from YouTube. I watched many, many programs, interviews, and fluff pieces that evening, and the community supplied more over the next several months.
I can appreciate the level of his jumps and spins; he’s been to three Olympics, naturally they will be amazing. Although his competitors obviously also excelled in the same elements, certain other things about Stéphane’s style are unmatched. Even among his other world class competitors, his spins are tough to match and impossible to beat. Spins aren’t my favorite element, but they are when Stéphane does them. His skating style is more smooth and expressive, and I feel like he is really able to inhabit the heart of the character he portrays in his programs, even if it’s a really silly one. He is able to let skating make him vulnerable. I always have the sense that he goes to another place while he is skating.
Last year, somewhat unexpectedly, I met him. I was going to be accompanying a bunch of friends I had made from the skating to an ice show that he was going to be skating at in Los Angeles. One of us had managed to get in contact with someone close to Stéphane and requested a fan meeting and he obliged. We only got to talk for about a half an hour, but it was one of the moments that capped the most awesome three days I’ve had in recent memory. We wound up running into Stéphane several times that weekend, and every time he was attentive and gracious and appreciative of our support.
A few months later, in January of this year, my friend Santana and I were lying around the bedroom I shared with another friends of ours, trying to avoid succumbing to hypothermia. Having confessed to my boundless obsession with figure skating to my other, non-skating fan friends some months earlier, they had since become inured to my regular rambling about it. For the most part, they would listen politely or at least pretend to, unless it was about one of the few skaters who had actually piqued their own interest (in Santana's case, Johnny Weir). Exactly what we were discussing at the time eludes my memory, but something prompted Santana to ask “Why is Stéphane your favorite skater?” I usually think hard before opening my mouth, so I paused before responding. I felt like I had a great reason, one that was completely clear to me, and yet nothing concrete came to mind. “I’ve never really thought about the reason why. He gets really into the music, I guess, and his spins are really good, and… I don’t know.” I was disappointed in my own lame response, but I figured all I needed to do was think about it for a few days, then I would have an epiphany.
Except one never came. Several months later, Santana asked again. “You asked me that before,” I told her. “Well, I forgot your answer,” she said. “I didn’t have one then. Still don’t.” By now I’ve stopped trying to find the words to describe my feelings, it isn’t my strong point anyway. I tried to avoid conflating my admiration of his skating ability with personal feelings, but I don’t think I succeeded. Maybe I just associate the memories of that weekend with so many of my new friends with him and I was so happy then I can’t describe it. I haven’t been that happy since then, but when I think back to it, I always smile. Perhaps another experience will come along someday, another skater, another sport, another hobby, but for now, even if it seems strange, this is the best reason I can give.