A wondrous, billowing array of creative talent and technical prowess on the last flight of the Sochi Olympic Ice Dance competition leaves some wondering about the substance of the gold medal.
Yes, amidst rumors that a gold medal deal was fixed in favor of the American team before they even stepped onto the ice (in exchange for gold for the Russian team event), the competition was florid with colour and flavor, glamour and tinsel, valor and drive, and managed to generate many smiles, despite the suspected plot. Whatever scandal lay within, it was twizzled away beneath a shroud of doubt, in view of the specific difficulty of deciding between the top two teams.
In this case, you might not want to be a judge, knowing the world is watching you. Judging is even more difficult in Ice Dance, because so much is left open to interpretation and personal taste. That is what makes Ice Dance such a “flighty” sport to judge and why it is particularly prone to political “influence”. Remember the deal that was made between judges in Salt Lake City to keep the Salé/Pelletier team off the top step of the podium even though they skated a perfect program. And although the rules have been changed since, you can still smell hints of corruption because, well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder… And the judges’ votes are kept secret.
But let’s enjoy the show for a moment. Because, as much as Ice Dance is about painfully subjective scoring, it is also about razor sharp blades, gravity-defying lifts, hair-splitting nuances, and glittering outfits. This year seems to be one for scarlet red lipstick and nails, and tuxedos and suspenders for men, have you noticed? The Italian team, comprised of Anna Capalleni and Luca Lanotte, was especially “pretty” in pink appliqués in the long program and a polka dotted skirt and matching jacket in the short. Pretty as they were, they were also technically viable contenders, as were the American brother and sister team, Maia and Alex Shibutani.
The German team did something special, in that their program was so theatrically inspired that they merely extended the short program into the free program, like two parts of the same story — about a nerdy book worm type who meets up with a sexy uptown girl — so they wore the same outfit to both programs because, well, it’s the rest of the story! Both were beautifully well skated, especially with a very unique lift where Nelli Zhiganshina rests, abdomen down, on Alexander Gazsirests’ knees while extending her legs in a perfectly horizontal line. And did you notice the embroidered detail on the back of her stockings? Wow. That attention to theatrical minutia made this team’s program quite memorable, although they did not place.
The team which did in fact place third is actually Russia’s second Ice Dance team, Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov. Their beautiful skate to Stravinsky’s Swan Lake portraying the black swan, was magnificent and trumped even the Russian favorites. Doesn’t hurt either that Elena is so disarmingly cute, and that her makeup was particularly attractive and theatrical for the occasion. Very nice surprise.
Another team who should not be overlooked as they are overshadowed by world and Olympic champions is the up-and-coming Canadian team Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje. They performed a flawless and true-to-life ice Tango complete with boléos and flicks. They also did a fabulous horizontal lift, lauded by the CBC commentators as part of a truly quality package (see video).
And of course we all waited with baited breath for the sport’s eternal rivals and friends, the Canadian and American teams who train and play together. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir skated to perfection in the short program to Ella Fitzgerald. But whether it was dancing to Julie Andrews’ I Could Have Danced All Night or the fact that they skated last in the last flight of the short program — or that, as the rumor goes, the deal was fixed —, Meryl Davis and Charlie White were awarded an advance of 2.5 points over the Canadians in the short program, which created the controversy and set the Americans up to win the long program — and the gold — today.
In the free skate, Tessa and Scott skated what is said to have been their last Olympic performance, with effortless ease, even regal grace, in perfect symbiotic harmony, and with an added aura that seemed to say, ‘whatever medal you decide to give us, we are as graciously and blissfully victorious as we can be today’. Their final pose was a symbol of accomplishment, a simple triumphant — almost defiant — glide to a final standing stop in front of the judges. That image of total, resolved contentment brought me to tears. Meryl and Charlie skated last, and painted a beautiful and faultless fresco as usual, with a very impressive and difficult heads down vertical lift. It was clear that both teams wanted to win.
Still, the loss may be bittersweet to some, but one wonders… If those wearing the gold medal tonight, avid competitors as they are, will one day feel the twinge of doubt that shrouded their victory — and their merit — before the world today.
All in all, this competition, and this final flight in particular, was for this writer, one of the most exciting, nail-biting, adrenaline producing, superb exhibition performances in Ice Dance history since the glory days of Canadian mavericks Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz, more than ten years ago. No injuries or nerve-related mistakes or misses. All utter perfection, splendid moves, clean lines, and top-of-the-line professionalism.
And for the audience, there is the pure pleasure of viewing the performances and witnessing what exquisite feeling of accomplishment resides behind those elated smiles, having given your best on the world stage for millions — yes, millions — of admirers to see. That, I’m guessing is pure ice nectar.
Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White