|Photo © Alex Wilf
Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov
The free dance was awaited with impatiences bordering with terrifying fear. The shock of original dance was too strong. Whole day, Italian TV was showing Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio fall, accompanied by the mourning music. There were no comments, just a close-up of the look that Barbara gave.
Any director in the World can just dream of the actress who would be able to play this scene. Barbara looked at her partners, and everything was in her eyes – the hatred, the compassion, the pain, the desperation, and feeling sorry for things – for Maurizio falling several years ago and ruining the dream of her life; for sacrifices brought for nothing; for years of hard work making no sense; for encountering Maurizio sometime ago for whatever reason.
To be sinsere, Fusar-Poli/Margaglio should’ve not won in Torino. During the years of the break, Maurizio, who was never the strong dancer to begin with, gave out and the team was not good enough for the gold. It was noticeable in practice, but still, they were placed first after the compulsories.
Most likely, this provoked the drama in the original dance. If Navka/Kostomarov, Belbin/Agosto, and Grushina/Goncharov were the top three in any order, the rest would be calm about it. But the Italians? Any dancer in about ten teams had the right to think he doesn’t skate any worse. So, everyone rushed into jumping about their heads. We know how it ended.
Navka and Kostomarov were first after the original dance. Belbin/Agosto were second, and that was spelling the danger, first of all because of the small gap in points. 1.38 is not the advantage before the free dance. With that, Americans original dance was more difficult and their point for the elements were higher. Navka and Kostomarov were ahead because of the second mark for the components. It was easy to assume that Belbin/Agosto would have the advantage in the free program, where they were skating after the two-time World champions.
It’s not that hard to explain. When it’s your last chance to win the Olympics, and the skaters hhave to defend their titles, they have to skate carefully and only think about not missing any elements. This creates a tense performance, lacking the usual expression. If the leader has a huge advantage, the judges are able to overlook the lack of artistry or choreography – what’s the point to punish the skater if he’ll obviously be the first. If the competition is equaly, the judges can really hold down the marks a little and give their votes to somebody else.
Belbin/Agosto had nothing to lose, unlike the Russia. So, it was safe to assume they’ll skate with more freedom. They are 22 and 24 – not the age to be afraid to lose. These were the first Games for the Americans, and the fourth for Navka.
Exactly 12 years ago, I was sitting on the floor in the hallway of arena in Hamar, Norway. I was by the locker room door, waiting for Maia Usova and Alexander Zhulin to come out. The clock was showing 1:30 in the morning, reporters and skaters left long time ago after the ice dance press conference was over, and the silver medallists still didn't show up.
These were my first winter Olympics as a reporter. I was desperately rooting for «our own». My soul was torn between two Russian teams and each of them equally deserved the gold. I sincerely didn't understand how could I leave without looking into the ice and saying some supporting words to those who lost.
I didn't know what to say to the people who lives were shattered in tiny pieces right in front of my ice. I didn't have to say anything, but that night that we had to live through being at the different sides of a thin wooden divider somehow connected our fates for life.
Many years passed by and I had to go through different victories and defeats. I somehow managed to get into the locker room in Nagano and I saw doctors were helping Evgeni Platov who was exhausted from the pressure he experienced after his second Olympic medal. At the same time, I was consoling hysterical Oksana Grishuk («Do something, he is not well!»
My heroes were maturing, separating, starting new families, and I knew they were not just the skaters I wrote about, they were very close and really beloved people.
I was so afraid to see the first Olympic defeat of Zhulin the coach!
Did he realized how close was Tania Navka, a girl who entered his life after those Olympics he lost and the mother of his child, from following his own and very bitter for a great skater Olympic path? I think he did. Just like many others, he couldn't help the feeling that in most judges' minds, silver is almost ready for Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov, silver as the best-case scenario.
Tatiana Tarasova told me on Monday morning, «When the gold medal contenders are of equal strength, it doesn't take any work to remove any contender from the podium». She added, «And it's much either to put them down than raise them up»
Olympics are the fight of the nerves first of all. During the four years that took Navka and Kostomarov to come to the Torino gold, I was a little condescending to this team. I sincerely respected them for inhuman work at practices. I enjoyed talking to them outside of competitions, but every time Navka/Kostomarov won, I couldn't help but think that they lacked something important in comparison with the great champions of the past. It's not that hard to be confident when a country like Russia quietly supports your interest. What would've happen if it wasn't for this support?
Last years victory at the Moscow Worlds became the first real champion-like performance for Navka/Kostomarov. Still, there were doubts - it was in Moscow, home arena, home fans, «home» judges. None of it could be in Torino, just like the support couldn't be there as well, if Russia will be able to win its two «planned» gold medals by the time the ice dance event starts.
A month ago, I started to believe that Zhulin's students wouldn't give up without a fight. That was in Lyon, when the final sounds of Bizet music were playing, the blood was dripping from Tatiana's cut hand, and she was pulling the skate to her head even stronger, smiling like a queen. It was like she didn't even notice a steel blade cutting into the palm of her hand.
The World saw her tears yesterday, on the Olympic podium.
It was a real victory. Maybe some would say again that contenders were out of luck, that Belbin/Agosto simply stumbled, and the rest fell, and that champions' level of skating is almost comparable to those who lost.
You can agree and you can argue, but why? Their victory just proved the old truth once again. Of course, the athlete's level is very important in the fight for the Olympic gold, but the characters is much more important.