GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Each Olympics brings at least one moment of unspeakable horror for many of those with the courage to browse the biographies of the athletes. The horror comes upon seeing a certain birth date, doing some quick arithmetic and realizing that the person born on the date in question is old enough to thrive in the Olympics without toppling or even teething. In that vein, the events of Wednesday at Gangneung Ice Arena forced a glimpse to check the birth date of brilliant Russian figure skater Alina Zagitova.
Discretion is advised.
Certain blocks of the readership may wish to avert eyes.
Here: May 18, 2002.
Some people walking around these Olympics wear clothing older than that.
Yet the arithmetic shows that somebody born in May 2002 not only might be able to skate upon ice but provide an Olympic audience with a show of an almost celestial elegance, élan and expertise. Zagitova set a world record with her score of 82.92, then she said some things that sounded funny just because of that birth date.
Asked about the time she had both a broken arm and a broken leg, she said, through an interpreter, “It happened a long time ago.” While you could make a case that nothing in her life could have happened a long time ago, she followed it up by saying, “It was like two to three years ago,” two to three years being a sizable chunk of her life thus far.
Continuing: “And at that time I was in one competition, and even though at the time my arm was broken, I broke my leg once again at that place, as well, in that competition.”
She’s tough. That’s clear.
In the television interview just after her skate and the posting of her astronomical score, she said something else that might have gone a mite misunderstood in the translation, but it wound up emerging like this: “I think it’s very obvious that I have the most difficult program in the world. And the program was made by my trainers who work for me.”
She did not seem the authoritarian type, to run around urging tiptop effort from trainers who work for her, but if she were, they probably should go ahead and obey.
In forging her record at age 15 years 279 days, Zagitova called to mind Tara Lipinski — not that Lipinski really needs to be called to mind around here — winning the gold medal at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, at age 15 years 255 days. Zagitova also gave her countrywoman, co-favorite Evgenia Medvedeva, that rare chance to talk about a sort of a next generation.
Medvedeva had skated before Zagitova and had registered an 81.61, a world record that lasted about as long as a mayfly, maybe less. “Honestly, I think this is normal,” Medvedeva said, even though, of course, nothing about their level of brilliance is normal.
Continuing: “I think this is normal and makes us stronger. And I remember myself and my first [major competition], and I remember my feelings. Everything is new for me, and I really was so, so, so, so happy, and I hope Alina is feeling the same as my feelings.”
She spoke from her vast experience, having been born on Nov. 19, 1999 — or last century.
“I can’t say I was surprised, because every day Alina is, how hard she works,” Medvedeva said.
Zagitova, who last month edged Medvedeva to become the 2018 European champion, hails from Izhevsk, roughly the 20th-largest city in Russia, along the Izh River in the Ural Mountains. Her parents named her for 2004 rhythmic gymnastics gold medalist Alina Kabaeva, who later became a member of the Russian Parliament. She began the sport at 5, which also is not necessarily a long time ago.
“I feel glad because I was not that much nervous today, [not as much] as I expected,” she said through an interpreter, and that called to mind the possibility that in February 2018, it can be an advantage to have been born as recently as May 18, 2002. As she left the so-called “mixed zone,” the place where athletes meet reporters, she walked off on her skates, then ran off down a hallway on those same skates, skinny legs kind of flying around.
At that moment, if not in her extraordinary program, she did look 15.