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Pick of the day: Sally Jenkins and the tender flower

With the Olympic hoopla winding down over the weekend and the feathers, the sequins, the drama, the back-biting and the tears of figure skating disappearing for another four years, I couldn't help but remember a couple of the best columns, bar none, that I've ever read on that crazy, frilly, gorgeous and addicting sport, superb pieces by Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins.

,DanaInfo=merlin.washpost.com+X00169_7.JPGIn 2002, a scandal erupted at the Olympics when skating officials said a "fragile" French judge succumbed to pressure to award the gold medal to the pairs team from Russia, who had made several errors, rather than the Canadians, who'd skated cleanly. (The gold was later awarded to both.)

Jenkins' column on the scandal had me laughing so hard I nearly choked on my morning coffee. She had me from the opening line:

SALT LAKE CITY -- I am so fragile today. I am trapped in this French film, and it is a little bit noir and a little bit farce, and it exhausts me so. I have to recline, my handkerchief to my face. I have to take a pain reliever. I cannot answer the phone. I cannot speak above a whisper. I cannot deal with these sordid questions surrounding the Olympic figure skating. Is it raining outside? I feel as if it's pouring. It is unbearable. I fear I will break.

Surely Marie Reine La Gougne, the French judge, knows how I feel. She, too, is a tender flower, a seedling. She is unable to come to the phone, or to say why she did what she did. Perhaps it was because she cannot stare at the ice for too long, the sheer brilliance of it sends sharp pains to her eyes. It's just -- too much beauty. It undoes her.

Jenkins did it again, with another column about the same judge in 2006, when she returned to the sport after being banned for a time as a result of the scandal.

My life was so dull without Marie-Reine Le Gougne, I almost thought of ending it. Yes, it's true, at times I considered doing the worst to myself -- but then I thought, mais non , I am too precious, I cannot deprive the world of me, because after all, I am I. Without me, who would pay homage to the career of the figure skating judge and martyr, that renowned egoist Madame La Gougne? She has suffered so. Her suffering is nothing compared to mine, mais oui, but then, whose is? I am I, and she is she.

I was inconsolable while she was away. The world of skating was a desert. There was no fur-clad scandal, no perfumed deceit, or accented indignation. Imagine my desolation. It was as if the sun went behind a cloud. Just thinking about it makes me wish to lie down. Perhaps I have seen too much beauty. I must close my eyes.

I await the next installment of Jenkins' devastatingly spot-on French film noir ...

By Brigid Schulte  | March 1, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Story Picks  
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