The discussion in the “Alternative Nationalities” thread has started me wondering how different figure skating would be if certain skaters had taken up the option of representing an alternative country.
So, let’s travel to a parallel universe…
Imagine how different things would have been if Kwan Wing-Shan (i.e. Michelle) and Chan Wai-Kuan (i.e. Patrick) had skated for their ancestral homeland of Hong Kong rather than their countries of birth.
If Michelle Kwan had been skating for Hong Kong when she was being so successful in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s, would the US have had so many slots in the international Ladies competitions for so long?
Looking back at the World Championship results for the late 1990’s, you have to ask: where are the other American Ladies? The answer is that although they are in the top-10, they are not troubling the medalists. It is only around the turn of the Millennium that the other American girls start to edge closer to the podium.
But, if Kwan had been competing for HK, then the US would not have been getting as many slots. Sure, Tara Lipinski winning the Worlds in 1997 would have earned an extra slot or 2, but that might just have turned out to be a temporary thing, especially with Tara retiring in 1998.
So, would the likes of Sarah Hughes and Sasha Cohen have got the chance to compete at Worlds? In my opinion, yes. But the difference is that they would probably have been fighting over a single slot for many years, rather than both getting through on the back of Kwan’s success.
But for the other American girls that were being sent to Worlds in that period, the chances of getting selected without Kwan would have been zilch. This in turn could have led to those with alternative options jumping ship, such as Nicole Bobek switching to the Czech Republic (via a Czech Mum), or Angela Nikodinov switching to Bulgaria (via Bulgarian parents).
Even going into the post-Kwan era, she is still having an influence on the number of slots the US has. It may be a bit round-about, but consider this:
If Kwan had been skating for Hong Kong when she was being so successful in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s, would figure skating have become as popular in America as it did?
Many of the promising American skaters coming through at the moment, such as Gracie Gold or Agnes Zawadzki, are of the age that they would have been introduced to figure skating when Kwan was at her peak. So, if Kwan had not been competing for America, would so many American children have been enticed to take up figure skating?
Without an “all-American”(!) hero like Kwan as inspiration for American children, I would expect that we would be seeing less American skaters coming through now.
Of course, there will always be some children taking up sports whether the country/person they support is being successful in that sport or not. But it is a fact of life that when a particular country is being successful at a particular sport, then more children in that country take up that sport.
Looking at it from the other angle, if Kwan had been competing for HK back then, would we now be seeing lots of skaters from Hong Kong coming through?
I suspect we would. And, the Hong Kong government would be throwing a lot of money into their Federation to try to keep HK at the forefront of figure skating after Kwan’s retirement. Hence, the standard of skating would be an awful lot higher than what we are currently seeing (in the real world) from HK skaters.
So, when you take everything I have discussed into consideration, it is probably not an exaggeration to say that we are still feeling the “Kwan-affect”.
It’s the same with Patrick Chan. If he had competed for HK instead of his country of birth, it is highly unlikely that Canada would currently have 3 slots in the Men’s category. They would probably only have one slot, which would have made it even more competitive to get into the team.
Over the years, Kevin Reynolds has been very inconsistent. Given that Kevin won 4 Continents this year, persevering with him seems like a good decision, as it has earned Canada an extra slot for next year. But, if Canada had only one slot, would they have persevered with Kevin until now, or given up on him years ago? I suspect the latter, but I may be wrong.
Would Rogozine have stayed with Canada, where he would have been fighting over 1 slot, or headed back to Russia, where he would be fighting over 1 of 3 slots? I suppose it all depends on how competitive the Russian team is.
If Guinea had the infrastructure and funding in place, Baldé would have undoubtedly opted to compete with them, as the place in the team would have been guaranteed. But, if not, I think he would have stuck with Canada rather than headed to Russia.
So, basically, the fight over international slots would still have been between Firus and some (or all) out of Reynolds, Rogozine and Baldé. The difference is that there would have been less slots for them to fight over.
Of course, with Patrick still competing, it is too soon to tell the long-term consequences of his success on Canadian skating.
If Chan continues to be as successful as he has been in recent years (regardless of whether or not it is due to help from the judges…), then we may develop a “Chan-affect” in Canada similar to the “Kwan-affect” we had in America.
But, good though Patrick is, I have doubts over whether he can stay at the forefront of skating for as long as Michelle did.
At the start of this season, there were many of us (myself included) that thought we were seeing the beginning of the end of Chan’s spell at the top. It looked like the change in coach had backfired. Luckily for Chan, he came back to form very quickly. But the controversy of the results at this year’s World’s will hang over Chan for a long time to come, and I have a feeling that the burden of this weight will start him off on the slippery slope down the order.
I really fear Patrick may not be at the top of the sport for long enough to leave a long-term impression on skating in Canada. I hope I am wrong, though.
But let’s not end this part of the discussion on a negative. Patrick is a great skater who has been a great ambassador for Canadian skating. Plus, on top of this, he seems like a really nice guy!
In conclusion, if Michelle had skated for Hong Kong instead of America, it is realistic to imagine that Hong Kong would have become a major force in figure skating. And, if the "Kwan-affect" had started to wane, the arrival of Patrick Chan would probably have refreshed interest.
I think the American Ladies team and the Canadian Men’s team should be very grateful that Michelle and Patrick did not opt to compete for Hong Kong!!!
So, that is our first excursion into the figure-skating parallel universe. What are your thoughts on my theory?
Does anybody else want to take us on a trip to explore a different part of the parallel universe? Please feel free to do so!