' ' Cinema Romantico: Suddenly Savchenko/Szolkowy (Olympics, Adieu)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Suddenly Savchenko/Szolkowy (Olympics, Adieu)

The en vogue term this winter has been Polar Vortex, conspirator to wreak North America with cold of only slightly toned down "Day After Tomorrow" proportions, and the Polar Vortex is a phenomenon born of something called a Sudden Stratospheric Warming. The semantics have to do with westerly winds doing funky things and causing an uptick in the northern hemisphere's frigidity. So basically, winter is being a bit wintry, as it will, and then suddenly! you wake up one morning and there is a raging blizzard or the temperature has plummeted to a minus 48 wind chill.

Everything in the Olympics, Winter and Summer, is sudden, but it seems that much more overt in their version served via frosted mug. Bode Miller this, Bode Miller that, he owned the downhill course in training, the Gold Medal is a lock, so on, so forth, and then he pushes out of the gate and rockets down the mountain and he finishes eighth and it’s all over before it even feels as if it began. A cross-country skier named Sophie Caldwell is on the verge of becoming only the second person from America and the first in thirty-eight years to win a medal and she makes the finals of the Individual Sprint and she’s in contention and then she comes around a bend and her skis tangle with an competitor’s skis and she falls and in an instant it’s over.

“I’m not exactly sure what happened,” said Sophie after the race, and that sounds about right. Bode Miller didn’t look like he knew exactly what happened after the downhill. The quartet of female U.S. curlers definitely didn’t seem to know what happened after Great Britain's beguiling Scot Eve Muirhead laid down the seven end smack, turning a crude 2-1 match into a 9-1 curb-stomping. The Americans stood around like four people who have just tripped over a crack in the sidewalk and are doing that thing you do when you act perplexed by the crack’s seemingly mystical all-of-a-sudden emergence.

You train for four years. You practice during your lunch break. Your crowd source for funds to afford to go. Then, poof, it’s over. You stand there or lay in the snow or look up at the videoboard displaying everyone's times, dumbfounded. The gallant red-headed American Skeleton rider Katie Uhlaender lost out on a Bronze by four measly hundredths of one stupid cotton picking second. What's the difference? A bump? A nudge? A momentary misplacement of a single philange? "I put my heart out there," she said. "The reason I'm crying is because it broke a bit."

There is no crying in baseball but there is a lot of crying in the Olympics. Probably because baseball seasons last 17 months of the year and Olympians get a day, maybe two, and even then only a few minutes. But what makes this suddeness so devastating is the endlessness that goes in between. Every night in every country you can likely hear a variation of this refrain: They waited four years for this moment. Take Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, the pairs figure skating team from Germany. They won Silver four years ago in Vancouver and in the immediate aftermath declared they would return to Sochi to win Gold. They were in second place as the final night of competition began and their routine kicked off and they skated for rougly 22 seconds and they did their first jumps and Szolkowy fell and that was it. Vaya con dios, Gold Medal. Instead, they earned Bronze, one step further down podium than four years prior. Figure skating is a poetically cruel mistress.

Except this overt focus on Gold, Silver and Bronze completely discounts Hot Pink. That happened to be the color of the bodysuit Savchenko wore for their short program routine the previous night when they surged into penultimate position. I admit, her bodysuit caught my attention. How could it not? All you see in figure skating are sequins and sparkles and here was Savchenko - at 30, less spritely than so many of her competitors, a one-time girl who had long since become a woman - in a hot pink bodysuit.

Their routine commenced and, by extension, their music. It was the theme from “The Pink Panther.” Well, of course it was. But this wasn’t Peter Sellers as Inspector Closeau. This was David Niven, debonair, and Capucine, elegant, but telepathically fused together with the guile of Claudia Cardinale. This was a performance born of “The Pink Panther’s” European heist film affectations, not its buffoonery. Szolkowy hurled Savchenko up into the air where she almost appeared to achieve a more fragrant version of sub orbit, and when she landed, Lord have mercy……the landing was the lightning strike, the crowd was the thunder. She grinned. She grinned through the whole performance. The NBC color commentators, Scott Hamilton and Sandra Bezic, meanwhile, spent the whole performance blathering about how they changed to this routine five weeks before competition and how such a decision was folly and wreaked of panic, because apparently when in the presence of figure skating efflugency they can't bring themselves to just shut the hell up.

Figure skating is so often compared to ballet, and the Russians do, in fact, train in conjunction with the Bolshoi, but this didn’t feel balletic. This felt like Rogers & Astaire when they were really revved up, in unison even when they were apart, and reveling not in grace under pressure but in joy of performance, feeding off the excitement of what they knew they were in the midst of doing. Their reaction at the end was less relief or validation than a (forgive me) Katy Perry-stylized battle cry of That’s How We Do. Of course, immediately after it ended, Bezic, from high upon her perch, reduced the entire ecstatic routine to one word: "beatable".

Oh, the Olympics, their petty whining and asburd nationalism, their sob stories and conspiracy theories. The spectacuarly named Tessa Virtue, however, the Canadian who won Silver (a mite controversily) in Ice Dancing almost a week later, was asked about the way in which her sport was judged, its indecipherable numbers, the fine line between "winning" and "losing". She replied: "We have to be true to what we are doing." That, I dare say, is a level of reflection beyond NBC's "McDonald's™ Medal Count."

Maybe Savchenko & Szolkowy’s routine was beatable - well, in fact, we know it was beatable, because the Russians (and the other Russians) beat it - but it won my idiot American heart. In the finals, after Szolkowy had already fallen, they reached the ultimate moment wherein he would literally throw her into a dare devilish Triple Axel, a bout of extreme risk-tasking, and a risk that would metrically appear pointless having already lost Gold four minutes ago. Why take the plunge when you can't "win"?

He threw her into the Triple Axel anyway. She fell. They remained true to what they were doing.

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