Among the myriad unforeseen effects of the Soviet Union’s break-up in 1991 was the loss of a generation of figure-skaters. Funding to cultivate promising youngsters dried up, and esteemed coaches left for higher salaries and broader opportunity elsewhere. And after four decades of dominating international figure-skating, Russia didn’t win a single gold in the sport’s four disciplines at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
The resurgence of Russian figure-skating that has been on display at the Sochi Games, where the host nation is all but assured of winning gold in the new Olympic sport of team figure-skating Sunday night, suggests that dark period has come to an end.
Russia holds a commanding lead, with 47 points (to Canada’s 41 and the United States’ 34), thanks largely to one defiant 31-year-old competing in his fourth Olympics and one preternaturally gifted 15-year-old.
Evgeni Plushenko won his first of three Olympic medals in 2002 (silver), when Julia Lipnitskaia was just 3.
But here at the 2014 Sochi Games, they are teammates of inestimable value.
Plushenko finished second in Thursday’s short program, an impressive feat for a 31-year-old figure skater who has undergone 12 surgeries, including back surgery just last year.
Lipnitskaia didn’t just finish first among the women; she laid waste to the field with her impossibly light triple lutz-triple toe loop combination and her whirlwind, contortionist spins.
And both will perform double-duty in Russia’s pursuit of team gold, returning to the ice to contest their free skates in Sunday’s medal round, where chants of “Roosh-ee-ya!” are sure to fill the air.