Some things–like the bus that runs you down–you never see coming. When I was a kid, my mom used to torture me by taking me to the Ice Capades every year, year after year–until I was, I think, 13 and convinced her to let me bring my friend Kazoo. Instead of me sitting there sulky and miserable, I had a co-conspirator to cackle and sneer and chortle and guffaw. I remember they had some guy in a bumblebee outfit–a former Japanese Olympian, if memory serves–doing a routine, probably just to humiliate him, as if Nagasaki wasn’t enough.
We howled, “bzzz, bzzz, bzzz!” and garnered endless angry stares and silent rebukes from The Greatest Generation, all gathered so sternly about us. So ended an era, she must have thought. For me, it was like Moses parted the Red Sea. I was free.
I can’t say I’ve been indifferent to the sport ever since. The infamous Tanya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan thing couldn’t be ignored, especially when my job at the time allowed me to briefly (like, 90 seconds) meet Kerrigan, who was actually really nice, and Oksana Baiul, who was not nice, drank like a sailor on leave, and chain-smoked Marlboro Lights–in fairness all qualities I happened to admire, at the time; she seemed to weigh about 73 pounds, tops, though, but had a really cool white fur coat. White fox? Ermine? As usual, I digress.
I ate a bowl of spaghetti in front of the TV last night, since the kids were out and my wife was 10 pages from the end of a book, and got hooked on the free skate portion of the couples figure skating, and I’m man enough to admit it. Specifically, a pair of Russians called Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov blazed through a perfect routine–or what looked like a perfect routine to this old redneck–and just totally, completely, indubitably rocked it. When they finished, grim determination melted into exuberance, and the absolute cutest fist pump I’ve seen in ages. Yep, I was hooked. The unbridled enthusiasm charmed me utterly, especially in a sport in which the competitors are often firmly taciturn. A few minutes of commercials later, another Russian pair–favorites Maxim Trankov and Tatiana Volosozhar–hit the ice. I’d seen them tearing things up in the shorter routine (oh, the horror–what have I become?) the night before, and expected them to have that same sort of grim professionalism, but this time–with the pride of their nation seemingly in the balance–they couldn’t keep their emotion and energy contained.
They didn’t look as technically, icily perfect as the night before. Indeed, they seemed possessed by some otherworldly force. I was certain that there was no way they could fall, nor stumble, nor fail. It had been ordained by a great power (God? Putin?). These folks owned the ice–or at least leased it, long-term, from Mad Vlad, and would not be denied. I must admit I was a bit jealous that I wasn’t Russian–if that makes sense at all. It would really have been something to cheer for these four athletes with the passion and conviction of nation with me.