Tue Feb 14th, 2006 at 01:04:50 AM EST
Of the four figure skating disciplines -- Men's and Women's Singles, Pairs, and Dance -- Pairs is generally considered the most popular and Dance the least. I feel the opposite. I can laud the virtues of the Dance all day, but the real reason for this is that Pairs skating is dangerous. They do throws and lifts and spins that can cause grave injury in a split second.
There are numerous examples, but the most famous are probably Elena Berezhnaya, who had a terrible head injury when her partner's skate hit her head during a side-by-side spin and, more recently, when current Russian champions Totmianina and Marinin stumbled during a lift, sending Totmianina crashing head-first into the ice.
Last Olympics, the Pairs skate ended without any severe injuries, although we had plenty of other drama with a judging scandal which ultimately resulted in two gold medals awarded and a complete change of the scoring system.
But that was nothing compared to today's harrowing skate. If you don't want to read spoilers, or you simply don't have the stomach for this sort of suspense, do NOT follow me once more over the jump, my friend...
It all starts out innocently enough with the Ukrainians, Sozar and Morosov. He's sort of chunky and is apparently recovering from a broken ankle. He doubles a planned triple jump. If one partner misses the jump, it doesn't count for the team. It's an okay performance.
He's so much bigger than her that it looks sort of funny during the lifts. To get into the star position, she keeps having to lift her leg all careful over his shoulder like she's stepping over a huge puddle. They get their scores and, hey! They're in first place!
The next team is Canada's champions, Marcoux and Buntin. This is not a good performance for them. They seem tired. She's doing a decent imitation of a sack of flour when he lifts her. This doesn't bode well for their decision to perform a difficult triple throw Salchow jump as the last move. They get a burst of energy on the last lift... good footwork... building up to the throw... BOOM. She falls on her butt. Ta-da! It would've been a great ending. They move into first place.
Poland's Zagorska and Siudek give a lovely, solid performance which puts them first. They don't have the degree of difficulty in the jumps, but they have the best lifts.
They'll be retiring and it's a good final performance.
Next, Canada's young team, Dube and Davison. They're a little rough around the edges and I actually hear a clonk when she drops out of the last lift, blowing their chances of being the best in the world for ten minutes. They have great potential, though, and I can't wait to see them at the next Olympics.
The third placed Russian team is up now and you just know the Russians are secretly hoping for a three medal sweep. Maybe not here, but possibly at Worlds. That's what I'd be hoping if I were them. Obertas is cute in a flippy little blue dress. Slavnov... well, his jumpsuit with sparkles forming a tuxedo outline is unfortunate.
The announcers helpfully inform us that this team has "loaded their program with the maximum difficulty of technical elements, hoping to move up in the ranks." This is a statement that sends chills up the spines of experienced figure-skating viewers. It's like in a horror movie when the girl hears a noise and goes by herself to investigate, wearing only her underwear. No good can come of it.
Sure enough, they're off to a terrible start on their side-by-jumps and she lands on her butt in the throw triple. Things go downhill from there. He lifts her and... she's actually lumbering around in the air somehow, trying to get into position. They look exhausted and I think he's actually trembling. They manage to get into unison for a moment during the spin and the audience breaks into encouraging applause.
Now, a lift... we're all holding our breath... is he actually wobbling? She's up! Ohhhh. She's okay, but she was upside down and it looked like he was going to drop her. They go into a final lift... another "most difficult" lift... they're really struggling... she gets into position! They're holding firm for a second and the crowd goes wild -- no one can believe it! They get through the performance and no one's hurt -- YAY!
And surely the cruelest line of the evening from the announcers when they refer to the team as "the heirs apparent of pairs skating in Russia." There really was no call for that.
China's Shen and Zhao are up. This is a great team, but Zhao ruptured his achilles tendon, which is a career killing injury. It's a miracle he's skating at all and this will be his last Olympics. Until this injury, they were considered favorites. They skate a really good program. He's a little weak on the jumps and singles the last one, but when they do the throws you can't believe your eyes. The crowd loves them and they get really good scores.
The German pair, Savchenko and Szolkowy are beautiful, but off their game. They're among my favorite skaters, but they've been shaken by troubles with their coach. It was revealed that he worked for the East German secret service and he was yanked from the Olympic contingent and then had to go to court. I don't know all the ins and outs, but it seemed unnerving.
Americans Inoue and Baldwin attempt to replicate the history-making triple throw axel they landed in the short program and she falls. The short was the best I've seen them. This program is more what I expected. Not good.
Now the final four! In third place after the short is Russian pair Petrova and Tikhonov. Great speed at the start, but the oomph just isn't there and the music completely overwhelms them towards the end. Somehow his belt comes undone and flops around through the last third of the skate. A very disappointing program. The audience is more kind than the judges and they boo the scores.
Pang and Tong of China skate to music from Phantom of the Opera and the music really works for them. They have a good skate with moments of brilliance and the audience loves them, but their scores aren't good enough and guarantee at least the bronze medal for Shen and Zhao.
Now Totmianina and Maranin are on the ice and they are flawless. They're not quite as mesmerizing as they were in the short program, but they're beautiful and graceful and they land all the elements. Towards the end they really start connecting with the audience and end with a gorgeous death spiral. The audience explodes -- surely this is the performance of the evening! They get huge scores -- a personal best! -- virtually guaranteeing them the gold medal.
The last skaters are Zhang and Zhang. It feels almost anti-climatic, like the competition should be over and everyone should be going home. I mean, obviously, the Russians delivered the grand finale. The announcers are trying to drum up some excitement by mentioning that the Zhangs are planning a quadruple throw as their first element, which will be cool.
They look good on the ice and she's adorable with spikey hair and a white and pink dress. They're picking up speed on the ice, gearing up for the quad. He throws her, she has good height and speed... three and a half rotations... NO! She opens up in the jump! Her legs are coming apart and she's so high up and spinning so fast there's no way she can land it!
She comes down on the ice HARD, her legs splaying into the splits, flying across the ice and slamming into the boards. The audience gasps. Oh, this is bad. How can legs even split that far? I've never seen a worse fall in competition. It's horrific. I don't think she's going to be okay.
He's skating over to her... she's struggling to get up... they're huddled... he's helping her but she can't straighten up. She's clutching her abdomen and is holding her left leg off the ice.
Whoever's running the music stops it. Only 38 seconds in and it's over. There's silence in the stadium and everyone watches as the pair slowly make their way to the boards where their coach and paramedics are waiting. Technically, they can go back to their program and start from the point of the fall, they have 2 minutes to decide, but there's no way she can skate after this, especially with all of the other elements ahead of them -- almost a full four minutes.
But wait! She leaves the paramedics and ventures a little onto the ice! No... she's back at the boards. He leaves and glides over to the referees. There's some discussion. Surely they're withdrawing. But, no! She's trying again! She's starting to look... well, adamant. It's settled! They're going back on! It's sheer madness!! There's no way after a fall like that that she'll be able to do the jumps. She can't even straighten her leg!
They restart the music and the pair glide, warming up. She's testing her weight on the leg. She's doing it! She's on the leg! The audience is cheering! They're actually starting into the program now. They're both skating and gaining speed and the first jump is here AND SHE LANDS IT!
It's incredible! They're hitting every element and skating with passion and grace. There's no other word for it but courageous.
The audience is rapt. I'm practically in tears. They end the program and the audience EXPLODES into a huge standing ovation. The team takes the applause for a second and then heads off the ice where she bursts into tears and paramedics rush to her.
No one's ever seen anything like it. We see them sitting in the kiss and cry area and she's got a great big ice pack bandaged to her knee and someone's bandaging her thigh. She's dabbing at her eyes with a kleenex, but seems remarkably calm. It must be shock. Nothing else explains that skate. It takes forever to get the score... the numbers are being announced... the audience goes wild again -- they win the silver! Amazing!