Cordova Chronicles: Olympic moments and beyond

Wardrobe malfunctions are very unlikely out at Sheridan Glacier

Clad in knit cap, red survival suit jacket and wool bibs, wardrobe malfunctions would not be an issue for Jim Paul as he kick-sleds past an iceberg on Sheridan Lake. But he would definitely earn a 10 for style points. Dick Shellhorn/The Cordova Times

Any skater who has taken a tumble while cruising amongst ice bergs on Sheridan Lake knows that water in its solid state is a very unforgiving substance.

Watching Olympic pairs ice skating, in which athletic guys toss their lady partners high in the air with reckless abandon to twirl about before hopefully landing upright on one skinny metal blade, is downright terrifying.

TV cannot convey just how daunting this is.  Several years ago, my wife and I went to an Ice Capades show at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.  It included many former Olympians, and to hear and see what they were doing from just a few rows away was awe-plus-some.

No wonder the Olympic announcers and audiences held their breath just prior to and during every triple Salchow and quadruple Lutz, whatever those mean. Clearly, the higher you go, and the more you rotate, the bigger the score — if you land upright.

Then toss in the costumes worn by the ladies, for an added element of suspense. If you don’t think times have changed, try to remember Peggy Fleming of the U.S., one of the most graceful skaters to ever take the ice. She wore a long sleeve turtle neck sweater and modest skirt while winning Olympic gold back in 1968.

Fifty years later, there is often breathless concern over whether the costumes themselves can withstand the rigors of the acrobatics, which created titillating possibilities at South Korea’s Gangneung Ice Arena.

During the first week, a South Korea dancer had to struggle to keep her top from falling down when a clasp in the back gave way just after she and her partner started their routine.

“It was like “Oh no!” said Yura Min, who with partner Alexander Gamelin, finished 16th. “If that comes undone, the whole thing could just pop off. I was terrified the entire program.”

Well, naturally, a week later, a new Olympic record for Wardrobe Malfunctions was broken. A French ice dancer could not avoid that embarrassing fate, when according to the Washington Post, “her breast was exposed while she competed in the short program.”

According to the Post, “Gabriella Papadakis, along with her partner, Guillaume Cizeron, still managed to notch a good score despite the wardrobe malfunction and the adjustments it caused in her movements.”

Her costume pulled apart in the back by her neck, and she was still upset in the post-event interview.  “It was kind of … in our thoughts all along the program a little bit,” Papadakis said.

No kidding.

One has to wonder if the Olympic Committee, which requires preparations for every contingency, had sideline skaters ready to zip out with large fuzzy Olympic blankets should such an emergency require.

And a more intriguing question:  Would the skaters be allowed to repair their costumes, and start over?

This I do know: Triple Axels and Wardrobe Malfunctions, the latter a term first coined following Janet Jackson’s memorable performance at halftime of the 2004 Superbowl, are very unlikely out at Sheridan Glacier.

For example, take Jim Paul, who logs countless miles on its pristine ice at every opportunity. He wears a knit cap, red survival float coat and wool bibs as part of his costume. What sort of calamity would cause those to come flying off?

And forget the skates. He uses a much more stable kick-sled.

The Olympic Committee seems to keep adding more and more acrobatic events, especially in snowboarding and skiing. Why not icebound kick sleds races too, as some sort of a counterbalance to all this subjectively judged high-stakes gymnastics?

Wouldn’t it be a kick to see athletes with these types of sleds racing around the rink, with drivers in costumes not very revealing, but a bit more aerodynamic than what is seen on Sheridan Lake?

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Dick Shellhorn, author, reporter, ref and grandpa, can be reached at shorn@gci.net. Shellhorn was born and raised in Cordova, Alaska, and has lived there his entire life. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 40 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016 and third place in 2017.