Seventh on Ice

Jockbeat would like to thank ABC sports for broadcasting the European figure skating championships last weekend, a mere five weeks after they actually took place. Thanks also to commentator Terry Gannon for revealing the outcome of said championships a week before they aired (during the February 24 coverage of the International Grand Prix).

Despite the lack of suspense, Jockbeat’s keen fashion sense told us the showdown between top Russian bladers Evgeny Plushenko and Alexei Yagudin would be well worth watching. With his shag haircut and clingy jumpsuits, Plushenko has been honing a glam look all season (think David Cassidy as Louis XIV), culminating here in a black velvet number with puffy gold epaulets and—yes—gold gloves. The sashaying Plushenko let his inner Tommy Tune out to win the gold medal with a program that featured chest cleavage, excellent ass-wiggling technique, and Fosse hands galore (plus some quads and triples). As for silver medalist Yagudin, we attribute his loss of balance on two jumps to his lopsided costume, particularly the clump of rubber spikes on his shoulder (seems spikes aren’t very aerodynamic).

Taking the bronze was Frenchman Stanick Jeannette, whose bizarre modern-dance contortions had us agog—ditto his gauze bolero, complete with ruffles down the front, tails behind, and shirred sleeves resembling sausage links. Moves for which no names in figure-skating terminology exist (Jockbeat suggests the “yikes! cockroaches!” foot slap, “dandruff, begone” brush-off, and “crotch sniff” side spin) were complemented by pants so high-waisted they reached to his nipples. When the bolero rode up during Jeannette’s final position (the “hunchback driving a bus”), we caught a cheeky glimpse of bare skin. What would Dick Button say?

The Garden of Good and Evil

“Some nights I feel like I’m 50,” the 35-year-old Mario Lemieux told Jockbeat about his inflexible hips, which he’s learned cause the back problems now plaguing his remarkable comeback, much as they did in the prime of his career. And on some nights doesn’t he feel like he’s 15? “Yeah,” the big center admitted with a big smile after scoring twice while leading his Penguins (and they really are his Penguins) to an 8-4 dismantling of the Rangers last Friday. It was the “young” Lemieux that New York saw on his first trip back to Madison Square Garden, where he has scored more goals (now 29) than anywhere else on the road. He has 56 goals in 63 career games against the Blueshirts, not bad for a cancer survivor with chronic back problems.

The arc of Lemieux’s resilient performance since his late December return stands in strange counterpoint to that of the Rangers’ Theo Fleury, who had 24 goals in the first half of the season but scored only six in the next 20 games—one in his last 11—before entering a substance abuse rehab program last week. No one is saying anything official about the source of Fleury’s problems, aside from an acknowledgment that his wife and children miss Calgary and he misses the older son he fathered before marrying.

But the whispers around hockey claim that the Rangers’ top scorer this season, who has a history of overindulgence, was drinking heavily and using drugs and has deep emotional scars stretching back to childhood. Not only was his father an alcoholic and his mother dependent on painkillers, but Fleury was—the whispers say—in denial over his relationship with his junior coach Graham James, the convicted sexual predator who abused his players and was exposed by ex-NHLer Sheldon Kennedy a few years ago. Fleury has always refused to comment on James, but the whispers are that he, too, was one of James’s victims, and the pressures of playing in New York have exposed Fleury’s vulnerabilities.

Fat Man and Big Boy

What do David Wells and Roger Clemens have in common, aside from having been traded for each other in 1999? They seem to inspire a very distinct type of approach among the writers profiling them.

Let’s start by examining the beginning of Pat Jordan‘s cover story on Clemens in last week’s New York Times Magazine: “Roger Clemens is big: 6-4, 240 pounds. He comes from a big state, Texas. He drives a big car, a Chevy Suburban, known as the Texas Cadillac. He lives in a big house, a 16,000-square-foot red-brick minicastle that is a child’s fantasy. There are two or three big-screen TV sets in almost every room.”

Now here’s the start of Jeff Pearlman‘s cover story on Wells from the July 10, 2000, issue of Sports Illustrated: “David Wells is fat. Not phat. Fat. . . . Everything about Wells is fat. The three likenesses of family members tattooed on his upper body are fat. The dark-brown goatee that could comfortably house a family of six robins is fat. His fingers and toes, his ears and nose, his forehead and his chin(s) are fat. Even his voice sounds fat, with words spewing forth in a husky tone, with a fleshiness to them.”

Hmmm. It’s hard to imagine that Jordan didn’t read Pearlman’s (then-hyped-with-controversy) story, so one is just plain obliged to wonder whether the Timesman ripped off the young SI scribe. But one also has to wonder: Do we really need to be reminded—again—about the outsized physical dimensions of these two surly hurlers?

High Standards

Everyone’s familiar with the classic baseball dis “He can’t even hit his weight!” Mets infielder David Howard, however, has a different biological benchmark to pursue: his cholesterol count. Howard, one of several players competing for a reserve spot on the Amazins roster this spring, clocks in at a whopping 432 on the cholesterol scale—more than twice the recommended level. The condition runs in Howard’s family and hasn’t responded to changes in diet or exercise, leaving him with a simple goal to shoot for: If he can just hit his cholesterol count, he’ll be the first ballplayer to break the .400 mark since Ted Williams—and just in time for the 60th anniversary of the Splendid Splinter’s feat! Of course, the real question for the Mets is whether Rey Ordoñez can hit his cholesterol count, which for a healthy male is about 180.

Contributors: J. Yeh, Stu Hackel, Paul Lukas Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman