Despite the relaxation of the rules, few figure skaters choose pants

She was wearing the pants. And that day, she was the only one.

In a dramatic black piece that looked like classic Audrey Hepburn – white accents and rhinestones, a high bun, smoky eyes – Swedish figure skater Josefina Taljegård stood out on Tuesday as the only athlete in a group of 30 who wore pants for the program short on the first day of the Beijing Olympics‘ Renowned women’s figure skating competition.

“I chose it because it matches the musicand also because I feel very strong and confident in this kind of clothes,” said Taljegård.

Although women in singles and pairs competitions have for years been free to wear pants in their performances, few opt for pants during the most demanding competitions such as the Olympic Games.

Here, the ballerina aesthetic of flowing skirts, pastel colors, sparkles and sequins continues to dominate alongside the classical music that is synonymous with the traditional look of women’s figure skating.

“Even a rule change doesn’t necessarily change cultural expectations if it’s a core part of scoring,” said Cheryl Cooky, author and Purdue University professor who studies sex and sports. “People here – especially the judges – know that what they find aesthetically pleasing is somehow wrapped up in a feminine image.”

Although there has been a move towards more avant-garde and offbeat music at Capital Indoor Stadium during these Olympic Gamesthe artistic choices of the women’s competition have so far proved less progressive in both music and costume.

This contrasts with women in ice dancing – one of the four figure skating disciplines in the Beijing Games – where there was a critical mass of women wearing pants after a change in performance rules. On the first day of this competition last week, six out of 23 women – more than a quarter of them – wore pants for their rhythm dances.

They all reverted to more standard outfits two days later, for the free dance that determined the medals.

Russian ice dancer Victoria Sinitsina wore an all-black outfit with a sparkly one-shoulder, midriff-baring top with skin-tight, hip-length pants that gave off a 90s New York model vibe. And it matched the performance that she performed with her partner Nikita Katsalapov on “Brick House” by the American funk and soul band The Commodores.

“It brings something different because girls usually wear dresses, skirts,” Katsalapov said. “The music for this year’s rhythm dance, it allowed us to make costumes like that, with pants for the ladies. And it looks sexy and beautiful too.

Along with comfort, practicality and a chic look, pant skaters said they see it as a way to match their male partners, as well as align with this season’s music. The International Skating Union chose “Street Dance Rhythms”, with style options such as hip hop, disco, swing, krump, popping, funk, jazz, reggae, reggaeton and blues.

Canadian ice dancer Piper Gilles wore an orange, carnivalesque, Elton John-inspired one-piece for the ice dance competition, although she previously wore a skirted version for the medley event the first week games.

“I was actually a little nervous about wearing pants this year. It’s something I’ve never done before,” Gilles said. “We were always told to wear skirts , so it’s kind of fun to be able to get out of that.”

While few numbers skaters wear pants in competition, almost all do so during training sessions.

“You don’t have the weight of the skirt, like when you roll over and all that, and it feels more like practice because in practice I only wear pants. So I find it ‘is, I think, (is) more comfortable,’ said Marjorie Lajoie, a Canadian ice dancer who wore a black jumpsuit accented by a teal-colored ruffle in the shape of a belt in a nod to Hollywood red carpet glam in her rhythm dance performance “Funkytown.” “You shouldn’t have to wear a skirt.”

Cooky said there are parallels between figure skating, golf and tennis – all sports where women are traditionally seen competing in skirts, skorts or dresses. The outfits of women’s competitions become culturally imposed gender markers because the sports themselves are practiced identically by their male counterparts.

“There is still a kind of culture anxiety around women’s athletics and women’s physique despite the tremendous progress we’ve made in this area,” Cooky said. “Sport today is sort of the last cultural site where this (gender) difference is both accepted and celebrated.”

The parameters of these sports diverge, however, when considering the subjectivity of figure skating. Half of the scoring is based on how the judges perceive their performance – the music, the costume, the flow, and the general mood.

Perhaps that is why there is no push towards uniform equality in figure skating as was the case last year for the Norwegian women’s beach handball team. These women refused to wear the required bikini bottoms during the European Beach Handball Championships in Bulgaria and instead defied the rules by – and were punished for – wearing shorts like the male players.

Returning to women’s singles competition on Tuesday night, Taljegård said she was not morally opposed to skirts and incorporates all costume styles into his other performances. A skirt that can wave in the air can provide a striking element in figure skating that pants simply cannot match.

Still, the 26-year-old Swede hasn’t worn a skirt to train since she was 12.

“It’s because it’s more comfortable. Sometimes if you want to go to the toilet it’s easier,” Taljegård said. “Where I skate in Sweden, we have a lot of cold rinks. If I skate with just a skirt and stockings or tights that you have under your skirt, it’s usually pretty thin. So for me, it’s definitely more pleasant to have pants.

And while his Olympic showcase featured lightning-fast spins and music from The Fugees, Taljegård did not advance to the free skate on Thursday night. But there’s no doubt she’s still confident like never before in the skin — and the pants — she’s in.

“I am a mature woman,” Taljegård said. “And I think I look great.”

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