It goes without saying that the talk of the sports world today is the Olympic Pairs Figure Skating finals last night. And every bar room, coffee shop and office break room in America is talking about one couple: Germany’s Savchenko and Massot. Or to be more specific, we all can’t shut up about Aliona and what she accomplished last night. With all due respect to her partner Bruno, this was her moment. I think even he would agree the spotlight is all hers.
Aliona Savchenko did much more than capture gold; she captured hearts. She became an inspirational poster taken human form. One of those ones that say PERSEVERANCE or ENDURANCE at the bottom to give you the message than you should never give up on your dreams. To steal a line from Shakespeare’s St. Crispin’s Day battle speech, Aliona’s story is something a good man will tell his children. And her name will forever be as familiar in their mouths as household words.
Aliona is 34 years old. In skating terms, she should’ve flown to PyeongChang in a house held aloft by balloons. This was her FIFTH games. She skated for her native Ukraine at Salt Lake in 2002. After emigrating to Germany, she and her new partner Robin Szolkowy failed to medal at Turin in 2006. But sticking with it, they won Bronze in 2010 at Vancouver and again at Sochi in 2014. By that point, Szolkowy had had enough. The mental and physical toll of skating against the best in the world was more than he could pay any more. And with that, he retired.
But Savchenko was not done. The passion still burned inside her. Bronze was not good enough. And against all odds, doubt and frankly, common sense, she partnered up with Massot. Made it to South Korea. And fought their way to immortality. Their free skate to La Terre Vue du Ciel by Armand Amar was flawless. Breathtaking. With a record score of 159+ that propelled them past the competition from 4th after the short program all the way to the gold. And in doing so, Aliona joined the ranks of great athletes who don’t break through to win the championships that had always eluded them until late in careers. Greats like Ray Bourque with the Avalanche. John Elway. Sergio Garcia winning his first major at age 37. And now, Aliona Savchenko, who will undoubtedly go out on top.
And while I’d like to end this blog on that same high note, I can’t. I have to address the elephant in the room since we’re all thinking about it. And that of course is the terrible showing by the US. I take a back seat to no man when it comes to my respect for Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim. They are lovely. Their storybook romance comes through in their performance. They ARE relationship goals.
It’s impossible not to like them. But Chris can’t land a side-by-side jump to save his life. And finishing 14th is disappointing no matter how you look at it. Plus when we’ve got Duhamel and Ranford of Canada landing the first Throw Quad Salchow in Olympic history to take the silver medal and China’s Sui and Han winning bronze despite struggling through their long program because their short was just that good … well then Team USA has a lot of ground to make up. But the Knierims will never be the ones to get us there. What we need is our own Aliona Savchenko. And I’m afraid there is only one of her.