Falls, Tears, Screams and Middle Fingers: The Most Insane Figure Skating Competition in History Came to an Absolutely Bonkers Ending
You've got to hand it to the Russians for one thing. Over the last couple of centuries, nobody has done drama like they do. In any medium, they are the best at the dramatic stuff. In theater, you've got Anton Chekhov's "The Seagull." In novels, there's Alexandr Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipelago." When it comes to film, no movie has been as influential and imitated as Sergei Eisenstein's "The Battleship Potemkin." And Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" remains the gold standard for ballet.
But when it comes to creating pure drama, none of these masters of their craft can hold a flickering candle to the Russian women's Figure Skating program.
The Women's Olympic Free skate was one of those most compelling and downright surreal hours of sports television these eyes have ever seen. Or as a former world class skater turned coach put it:
It all began with scandal plagued front runner and heavy favorite Kamila Valieva cracked under the pressure of the moment. With the entire skating world outside of Mother Russia agreeing that if you can't stay off the trimetazidine, you have no business being on the Olympic ice, she became essentially a human Zamboni, and fell into 4th place.
And that's where Adam Rippon's "shit show" began. Coaches berating their skaters. Skaters in tears. A champion standing alone, shunned by the others. It was like a Very Special Episode of "The Bachelor," but with Russian teenagers. And with Johnny Weir using his fluent Russian to translate in real time.
Just to make matters more surreal, if Valieva had won, there wouldn't have been a podium for anyone to stand on, as that was part of the bizarre "punishment" for cheating that the IOC pulled out of their collective buttcracks.
As the 15-year-old came off the ice in tears, her coach Eteri Tutberidze, in a fur-lined coat like the femme fatale Sean Connery would take to bed in a train car in one of the Cold War 007 films, started berating her for not fighting through. “Why did you let it go?” she screamed in the girl's ear. “Why did you stop fighting? Explain it to me, why? You let it go after that axel.”
As Valieva finished fourth and a medal ceremony was now on, the NBC cameras caught 17-year-old Alexandra Trusova, who came in second, inconsolably crying as what was left of her overdone eyeliner ran down her face like Rudy Giuliani's hair dye. According to Weir's translation, she was furiously refusing to take the medal stand. “I hate this sport!” she yelled her adult handlers. “I won’t go onto the ice again.”
Meanwhile, Kaori Sakamoto of Japan, who took bronze, was on her knees in tears as well. But with a Covid mask on, it wasn't clear if those were sad tears or happy tears. They turned out to be the sort of happy tears I cry at the end of "Rudy."
And while all this was going on, the gold medal winner was completely abandoned. Anna Shcherbakova spent what should've been the best moment in her 17 years on the planet, awkwardly standing off by herself in the green room behind the Kiss & Cry area, clutching a teddy bear, with zero joy visible in her eyes. She was like the kid at the party with social cooties that no one wanted to talk to.
Then in the press conference afterward, Shcherbakova said, “I’m just overwhelmed by happiness on one hand. On the other hand, I feel this emptiness inside somehow.”
And while she did finally take to the medal stand, Trusova - maybe accidentally but conspicuously - seemed to be flipping the State Bird of Massachusetts:
So … Yay for Figure Skating? I guess? Hooray for the Olympic Movement?
This is why the Russians handpick young girls who show potential, take them away from their families, put them in the hands of manipulative, domineering, authoritarian figures like Tutberidze, pump them full of a CVS aisle worth of performance enhancers (and if the suspicions are correct, hormone blockers so they won't go through puberty and start growing those adult lady parts that make it harder to land quads), so they can achieve Olympic success? So that, when their young life's work is done, they can have crying fits, screaming matches and get left standing around all alone like an abandoned child? Absolutely, positively bizarre scene all around.
But I guess that's what you can expect in a sport and in a country where they raise these girls like veal calves to do this one thing. A thing where they peak during their high school age. The coaches, handlers and sketchy doctors will always have a new class of recruits to get ready for the next season of international competition and the next Winter Games. But for the Valievas, Trusovas and Shcherbakovas, their best days are already behind them while they're still in their mid-teens.
Say what you will about that, but you can't deny this was one of the most dramatic sporting events ever to appear on the world stage. I wouldn't expect anything less when the Russians are involved. They remain the world's best when it comes to drama. Americans are just the masters of comedy (4:15 mark):
And to think, I thought there'd be nothing to write about in this competition. I'm sorry for these young girls they had to be in the middle of this chaos, to be sure. But I'm glad I was wrong about that.