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Another pulls his leg up behind his head while he's spinning, arching his back into a Biellmann position.They swing their arms and exaggerate their facial expressions, gaping at one another's double axels or pressing their lips flat in concentration.They're doing moves that are often reserved for women, layback spins and spirals, curving their arms and cocking their wrists.One boy spots his upright spin, whipping his head to face the same wall with each rotation, a move classic to ballet but atypical in skating.It's day four of the eight-day championship, and the juvenile boys — the lowest competitive level, most of them between ages 10 and 13 — are training at the Skating Club of Boston's frigid and charmless rink.Even in their leggings and training jackets, the boys seem distinctly feminine, perhaps because they're younger and more flexible than the top male skaters.They're young enough that they still glance around when they fall, checking who saw.Their mothers watch from the sides of the rink, clenching their mittens without looking at each other. They're probably at work, one tells me, earning money; he estimates that he's already spent two to three college educations paying for his 13-year-old's training.
Boitano's enough of an established legend to be on the safe side, but it seems that in general, gay skaters are just a tad too implicating of the male skaters around them to be seriously endorsed. One pump-up video montage at nationals showed clip after clip of top male skaters performing one enormous jump after another, but depicted Rudy Galindo crossing himself and Johnny Weir bursting into tears.For male skaters, athletic means manly, muscular, stoic; artistic means elegant, graceful, showing emotion. Never mind that some of the best skaters are both athletic and artistic, by standard definitions: In men's skating, as in any high school locker room, a drop of femininity will negate any quantity of testosterone.Athletic means tight T-shirts, fists, and military beats; artistic, flowy shirts and delicate fingers. That's why some skaters are considered artistic even if their technical abilities are higher than their competitors’ — and why others are considered athletic, even if theirs are not.I skated for 10 years growing up and have spent a lot of time in ice rinks, but I’m still surprised, somehow, by how fast these guys are — I can hear the wind as they pass, and their blades leave inch-deep slices in the ice.There are skaters with straight arms and puffed chests, the skating version of men's men, jumping with their jaws clenched.So what exactly is male figure skating — which has the potential to be a gay haven in the world of sports — so afraid of?