The Olympics did not become Yuzuru Hanyu's triumph. They became Patrick Chan's drama - the drama Chan may very well experience as tragedy. Everyone is disappointed. Tarasova says: "No one deserves to medal. These are my Olympics #13, and I can't remember a gold medalist who fell that much. Not one but two!"
Tarasova's amazement, overflowing with candor as always, is quite clear. Tarasova is a statesmanlike figure. Clearly, she has less time for skating now - listening to her, it's easy to assume she hasn't watched skating for exactly four years - since the Vancouver Olympics. During that quad, something happened in skating, and particularly in mens skating, that turned around the trajectory of the sport, especially when it comes to evaluating singles skating. In this case, I would be honored to inform everyone - including this very prominent person in skating - what exactly has happened.
But first, a question about Tarasova's Olympics #12. Do we think that Vancouver's gold medalist Evan Lysacek, with his little bagful of triple jumps, is better than Sochi's Hanyu with his two falls? According to Tarasova, clearly, yes. Although in 2010, she explained the judges' choice as "hooliganism."
If Olympic champions shine by not falling, then this is a very sad message for all of us indeed. Even I am sure I can hobble around on skaters to any old pop soundtrack without falling even once. Therefore, all of us have missed our Olympic chance.
Of course, we'd have to make sure we don't come to the rink empty-handed. Caviar, awards, diplomas, medals earned in our other life. Otherwise, how would judges determine who skated cleaner? Which one of Those Who Did Not Fall deserve the gold medal more?
The outcome of Vancouver Olympics was the end of figure skating as we knew it. When they picked the winner of this possibly most prestigious winter award (let's be honest that the hockey drama is accessible to perhaps 8 to 10 countries in the world only), the judges were choosing between Plushenko's skate - deafeningly empty but with a quad jump, and Lysacek, who had no quad but skated a somewhat fuller artistic program.
What happened after Vancouver has turned around the way skating develops.
Let's not argue with what we believe. Evan Lysacek is truly the most modestly gifted Olympic champion in history. Lysacek is a result, not a cause. He's not big enough to drive men's skating into emptiness. That could have been done by a powerful, truly global force. That force was Evgeni Plushenko.
I've spend the years of Yagudin vs. Plushenko media war on Plushenko's side. I thought the future's truth and the sport's truth were with him. How truly fabulous were these post-event press conferences where their respective patrons Tarasova and Mishin appeared to the public. In Vancouver, Lozanne, Moscow, they all looked the same. Standing 10 meters apart, these figure skating legends told reporters what they think of each other. Being men of art, they used allegories - subtle and overflowing with poison. Professor Mishin, one must admit, is incredibly witty. Although when he sits down to eat, his wit becomes somewhat overbearing.
During these exhibitions, Mishin knocked out Tarasova. In brief, he described her method as fraud and imitation, where the basics of skating give way to cheap flirtations with the audience. The basics of skating - Mishin's face became sober - is of course, gliding and jumping. The jump should be logically connected to gliding, it should become its culmination, it's climax - not something that just sticks out like a golden tooth. Complicated? That's not the point. The point is the amazing twists in the life of words.
The SLC battle was lost by Mishin, not by Plushenko. When he saw the rival who rose from the dead ready to fight, he got nervous, he got jittery and changed the long program two months before the games, thus admitting to the world, and to his charge, that he doesn't believe Plushenko is as invulnerable as he believed him to be.
After the Salt Lake City, Plushenko, predictably, ascended to the throne. For the next two years, he rolled along with the momentum of the majestic push of his last quad. Everything that followed became a deliberate, conscious shrinkage of his programs' technical elements. Let's not even go into the artistic merit part. That's been done already.
For the soccer fans, imagine a team (say, Barcelona with Messy, Neimar and Javi-Ignesta, I probably bungled those) that scores a goal (read: a quad) in the first minute of the match, and spends the rest of the time on defense. That was Plushenko during the last ten years.
Sometimes I think that among those who call Plushenko genius, Mishin is the one who believes it the least. Everything Mishin used to mock about Yagudin so deliciously has come to characterize Plushenko's path in the sport. He became a bad copy, a caricature of someone who never wanted to mock the original. All of this could appeal only to those who watch skating once every four years using corporate invitations. Between two other event, as it were, vuvuzelas in tow.
I understand perfectly well that I'm being a selfish spectator. When Mishin stripped away Plushenko's genius bit by bit, he was being pragmatic. With no strong rivals, the strategy to deliver the maximum became the strategy to deliver the necessary minimum. Only the audiences expect sports to deliver breakthroughs. In truth, sports are just an excellent way to make a living. For the last ten years, I've had the impression that Plushenko is a family business - a well-oiled, stable, not particularly exciting business. Exactly the way it looked in St. Petersburg in October, when Plushenko told me the breath-taking story of learning to walk and jump again at one table at the restaurant (I read it word by word) while someone at the next table drew the plan of his March tour of Russia.
If you watched men's free and you feel disappointed, you don't have to find the above cynical. Only if you think that it is cynical to take care of your family and your family business. Cynical was the decision to send Plushenko to the Olympics. Supercynical was the judging of men's event in the team skate. What does Zhenya have to do with it all? Imagine Plushenko as your close relative - son, husband, brother, father. It's great to have a breadwinner like this - reliable, careful, reasonable and attentive to reasonable advice. Someone devoted to earthly cares, not pontificating about a higher calling. Genius, schmenius...stop already, the cameras are off.
The real genius of Plushenko and his entourage is making all of us an unwilling audience of this reality show where a blond dude with a big nose comes to the Olympics every four years to renew his certificate of top quality for the long touring future.
It's all very instructive. Sometimes one has to do dubious things to keep one's family afloat. But who hasn't sinned in the name of friends and family? Just think of Breaking Bad's Walter White.
The problem was that Plushenko's private interests became completely contradictory to the figure skating goals. The paranoid in Russia used to say that the new judging system was put in place to undermine our superiority in figure skating (just ask Maxim Trankov). It was put in place primarily to fight the corrupt judging that has undeniably Russian or more exactly, Soviet roots. What exactly the world came up with to fight this corruption, no one really knows.
It is absolutely true that there came a time when the new judging system turned against Plushenko. It is true that during ISU seminars people were shown bits of his programs - his later programs, not earlier ones. His ritualistic, rink-long approaches to jumps. His so-called choreography - complete stops to rock his hips and catch his breath. His jumps, though, were still held as a model of how to do jumps.
No one knew who could breathe a new life into the fossilized model of Plushenko's skating. Until everyone saw a boy who lived and trained in Toronto.
Since Chan won his first world medal in 2009 at age 18, a part of the figure skating community started to advance an argument that he is a project of someone behind the scene. And all his medals, present and future, are shameful, corrupt, disgraceful.
After the Vancouver Olympics, I called Patrick Chan's 5th place finish the most shameful judging decision of these games. It is true that Chan was for a time a beneficiary of very generous "advance payment" in scores. However, it turned out that this largess was for the greater good and not for the benefit of any one person, be it Patrick Chan, the U.S. President or the IMF Chairman. Someone had to light up this darkness.
And we should admit that Chan has paid off everything he received early, this instant confidence, like no one else in skating, and there were many. In Vancouver, he didn't have a quad. And then he didn't just learn it. In this Olympic cycle, Chan performed his quad no less often than Plushenko during his peak times of 1998 - 2002.
Chan became the symbol of the figure skating's new path as expressed by the new judging system. Everything is a number. Everything in skating - every move, every new turn of the blade - brings a number. I regret that IOC is so conservative. This season, during Grand Prix events the audience could see a ticker showing the accumulation of technical scores. That could have addressed many questions about the final score. For the first time, the scores became comprehensible.
From now on, everything about a skater had to be beautiful - his quads, his approaches to quads, his spins, his step sequences, his costumes, and of course, his music. And the greatest skater is the one who does not stand still in his perfection, and continues to set higher goals every season. On ice, Patrick Chan represents only his genius gift. If his only goal was to support his family or please his world lobby, he would have stopped after learning a quad, and would calmly and steadily come to collect his gold in Sochi. But Chain and his team always picked the most dangerous path. That's why, my darlings, Patrick Chan falls so much.
And of course, Chan took away his own medals. Chan brought forth Hanyu, who used to watch his performances on tape along with Orser. Nobody else's. The men's skating suddenly sprang new blooms. It became healthy and vibrant as never before. It turned to the happy life Mishin used to promise would come with Plushenko - "jumping as a climax of gliding." Quads as the highest form of life in figure skating. During the "girly" Vancouver (as Plushenko's fans used to say), we saw a total of 10 quads. In Sochi, we saw 25 of them. Figure skating has never seen technical breakthroughs like these before.
We no longer have to divide skaters into the technically proficient and the beloved, eternally medal-less artists. No one complains about scoring. The judging in the men's event in Sochi was exemplary. Can't even see that in soccer. No more of these stupid discussions about imperial rivalry expressed in figure skating. What does Kazakshtan's tanking economy has to do with Denis Ten's jump to the podium from the 11th place in the short?
Everything is clear. It's also clear who brought forth this clarity and this new life.
It's amazing how long one has to live with filtering one's thoughts, how long one has to dive into partisan hatred for Plushenko's camp, how accustomed one has to be to think one thing and say something else, to say what Tarasova has said about the men's event. Tarasova, who understands what skating has gone through during the last four years a thousand times better than anyone, should have said something else.
Yes, it's very sad that both guys fell down. But that's not at all the point. The point is that what these two guys do on the ice is beyond precedent, beyond comprehension. The point is that these boys are the warriors, the poets, the tightrope walkers of their art. They fall because they work without a safety net. The point is that the road yields to the ones who risk and fall, not the ones who crawl along to collect the next paycheck for their family. That only these bladerunners move our civilization forward. That Patrick Chan, even without a gold medal, became the Prometheus of figure skating. Undoubtedly, Tatyana Tarasova knows who Prometheus was.