Beneath the Turin Shroud
The capital of Italian Piedmont province, famous for its delicious cherries, chose to decorate itself in 2006 with the title of the center of Twentieth Olympic Winter Games. As a dress rehearsal a year before the Olympics, in January 2005 Turin hosted European Figure Skating championships. Today, we'll discuss the latter.
Serious passions got ignited from the first to the last days, since the positioning of placements in Turin was projected onto the first in the history of figure skating world championship in Moscow.
Ever since the scientists started doubting the authenticity of Turin shroud, the city has been slowly but surely loosing its image. There came a need for a new miracle. And the Miracle happened! Though hardly godly, more like demonly.
I'd like to warn any potential reader that this essay won't talk of programs, jumps, or figure skating elements. A whole week after the championships that would be ridiculous. Besides, my countless colleagues, from Boris Khodorovsky to Igor Poroshin, have already written about it.
Perhaps, I wouldn't have played catch-up at all, but recently Russian TV pompously read the letter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, pompously congratulating Russian team in Turin for winning all four gold medals. I got sick of that sugary message enough to turn of the TV, and turn on my computer. The skating of most new champions was too far from champion quality, and they got their golden rewards purely because of the new judging system, allowing the not-too-kosher arbiters to pull up the necessary athletes through high marks for components despite the obviously low technical points.
Obviously, I too congratulate all winners, and believe that each of them showed in Turin the maximum they could in those difficult days. At the same time, I full share the opinion of my old friend and compatriot, the renown coach Edward Pliner that in Turin there were five receivers for gold medals - Tatiana Totmianina, Maxim Marinin, Tatiana Navka, Roman Kostomarov, and Irina Slutskaya; only one, Evgeny Plushenko, was the true European champion. Only his skating was worthy of the prize of such a prestigious competition. Despite being out-Jouberted in the short program and having to whine "Help! I'm tired!" at the press conference, Zhenya managed to pull himself together for the free skate to plushen out all his opponents. Had our dear federation not destroyed Alexander Abt, and had it not driven Ilya Klimkin to needing the surgery, perhaps it would have gotten even more medals. As it is, the German pocket-size Stephan Lindenmann from Erfurt got the bronze.
As I feared, Irina Slutskaya didn't have enough strength after the full Grand Prix series, and skated in Turin, as they say in one old song, "on the promise and one wing". It's possible that, not having full recovered from her grave illness, she won't gain full strength for the World Championships. She got this medal for past achievements. Susanna Pojkio is still young, and will probably become European Champion sometime after the Olympics when both Slutskaya and Liashenko will retire. As to the cutie Elena Sokolova, she, finishing out the top five, chose to prove not her coach's hopes for her, but my predictions about her unpredictability.
As all other Russians, Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin got their gold medals honestly (no athlete could give himself the first place), but had they skated like that at Four Continents, their medals would probably have a different shade of yellow. Though, to be fair, everyone else in Turin was worse. Both Julia Obertas with Sergei Slavnov and Maria Petrova with Alexei Tikhonov came down on the ice more than once. The latter, by the way, gave a real chance for the bronze to the German team Aliona Savchenko/ Robin Sholkov, but the team couldn't handle their nerves, and made several mistakes that sent them to the fourth place.
I really liked the "Tosca" music for the free skte of our Golden Dance team Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov. "ToscA" meaning "longing" in Russian, I almost added "Longing for the Olympic Gold". One of my conference readers found a Belorussian Olympic committee site, where Tanya is said to be 22 in 1994; that would make her year of birth 1972. That memorable date is three years away from Tatiana's passport. But, as they say, the longer the road, the sweater the reward. Especially since, in contrast to pairs, Russia has no adequate spare dance team of the highest caliber to step in for the veterans, so "all the king's men" will stop at nothing for victory.
According to specialists, the level and execution of the free dance of the French Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder were much higher, despite the lower marks. Clearly, it's the mark from above. Simple Muslims say in those cases "Incsh Allah", which translated by muslims-skaters sounds as following: "Be it according to the will of Alla Viktorovna!"(1) Perhaps, four top honors is one of VNP's (2) ways to, if not double VVP, then at least please him (3). He needs it badly. Since his little putsch attempt, Koloskov has been rooted out of soccer; in gymnastics, czar Leonid (4) has been overthrown. Perhaps, figure skating will follow suit unless Valentin throws some "gold" dust into the bosses' eyes.
In looking at the Ukrainian and Israeli teams, I found myself resembling a picky bride: Elena Grushina and Ruslan Goncharov certainly have better technique, but Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhnovsky appear to have a more fun program. In general, Ukranians seem to wilting beneath the weight of long unfulfilled expectations; the Israelis are spinning like little dreidels turned on by Tarasova and Platova. Had I been Ottavio Chinquanta, I'd probably order each team to get a bronze medal. Barring that, give one medal to each team so no one is left out.
I certainly feel sorry for the Bulgarian dancers. They have problems with health, and if rumors are to believed, with coach as well. At training and Original Dance, poor Albena was coughing like a smoker of many years. Thank G-d she doesn't have pneumonia as many feared; rather, it's something like bronchitis, so by Worlds she and Maxim will be back in shape to fight for the title of World Champions. I, however, recall the last line from an old joke, where a zoo worker says of his elephant, "Sure he can eat it, but who'll let him!"
I don't think it's necessary to talk about my predictions for Moscow - I've written about those already. Of course, I'd like to see Russian skaters occupy all top steps of the pedestals. However, only those who deserve the first places for technique and artistry, not because they speak the same language as Putin. I suspect the Federation President doesn't need such victory either. I mean the Russian Federation, not the Figure Skating Federation of Russia. Those are very different federations, and I hope the presidents differ as well. To Piseev, a full set of medals is his insurance policy. Valentin Nikolaevich stopped caring about the future of figure skating back in the Soviet times, whereas it matters to him that after retirement he'd be financing his own future as opposed to the RF judiciary.
As to any discussion of the weaknesses of the new judging system, I think it's important to understand that no improvements can force judges to give fair marks as long as they're fulfilling the wishes of their federations' presidents, or simply lining their own pockets. This is finally becoming clear to Ottavio Chinquanta, who said at the Turin press conference that the new system needs new judges. However, Mr. Chinquanta failed to explain where he is going to find them. As long as the National Federations choose whom to send in for judge exams and for international competitions, it's pointless to expect any independence from the judges. Even the technical and other committees of the ISU are full of people whose conscience needs a long and thorough cleaning. Let me give you one example. A couple of weeks ago, I received an e-mail that talked about big figure skating specialist "A" using his authority to make his "B" a judge.
Having joined ISU, and using her body as an instrument of pressure, the relatively young "B" immediately demanded the old ISU member to make her a controller. It's possible that "A"'s conscience was screaming bloody murder, but his lust was stronger, and the hero of this bad anecdote started pressuring the president of the "B"'s national federation to promote her. Federation of the developing country that has its honest experienced judges was forced to play reverse checkers with the powerful "A". Apparently, though, this attempt for under-the-blanket scheme did not go unnoticed, since I got the e-mail from ISU officials asking for my opinion about his affair.
Excuse me, but what fairness can anyone expect from this functionary and his "panel judge"? I think the only way to make judging fair is to make qualified judges answer directly to the ISU, where its own judging committee will decide who will judge each competition.
(1) Alla Viktorovna Shekhovtseva, wife of Russian Federation President Piseev, technical controller at Europeans.
(2) VNP - Valentin Nikolaevich Piseev
(3) Play on words: VVP is both Gross Domestic Product, and the initials of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.
(4) Leonid Arkayev, long time the head of Russian gymnastics.