Germany’s Aliona Savchenko has crafted an inspiring parable of persistence.
By the time she stepped on the ice with partner Bruno Massot for the pairs final, her hopes for an Olympic gold medal should have been dashed. The couple’s short program was so wobbly that they were in fourth place, a worse position than Savchenko had been in her past two Olympics. Both times, she lost.
But then came the enchantment. She and Massot flowed over the ice with speed and power, utilizing the choreography of legendary ice dancer Christopher Dean to soften Massot’s brutish presence. There was Savchenko, soaring high in the air in a triple twist that judges deemed as literally perfect. There was Massot, lifting her above his head using only one hand, a feat of gasp-inducing strength. They defied physics, challenged our logic and by the time they settled into their final pose, they had performed the greatest pairs program the world has ever seen.
It had taken three partners and five tries for Savchenko to achieve this Olympic moment. More than five points behind the Chinese, the Germans had rallied to first place. And Savchenko, so acquainted with heartbreak at these Games, finally received her Olympic gold medal.
Now, the heartbreak associated with Savchenko becomes the burden of China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong. They are typically better in the first phase of the competition than in the longer free skate, but came into the final so comfortably ahead that most believed they could hold off the Germans’ charm offensive.
But the Chinese pair skated nervously. Han barely caught his partner after he lifted her and Sui twisted four times in the air. He performed only a single toe loop when he had intended to a double; she stumbled on their most troublesome move, the triple Salchow. None of those mistakes was major, but the cushion with which they started wore thin. They ended up with the silver medal, losing to the Germans by a mere half-point.
This competition was defined by the Salchow, in which a skater jumps off by skating backward and using vaulting off the side of the blade facing inside the body. To the casual viewer, it looks like the skater is swinging one leg in front of the other to generate the momentum to jump.
Germany’s Massot doubled their triple Salchow in the short program and the China’s Han singled it in the long. But Canada’s Meagan Duhamel and Eric Redford of Canada executed the first clean throw quadruple Salchow and ending up securing to the bronze medal. Duhamel beamed through the rest of the program and onto the podium, regaining a swagger that the former two-time world champions had lost.
On the opposite of the podium were Sui and Han. Her eyes were red and puffy. The Chinese’s maturity on the ice and long career makes it easy to forget they are just 22 and 25, and they will likely continue to the next Olympics in Beijing. It took Savchenko five Olympics to get her gold medal. It took their coach, Hongbo Zhao, four. Given their considerable talent, Sui and Han could do it in two.
Americans Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim skated forgettably, and ended up in 15th place. Ouch. At least they love each other.
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