With all that said, it was rather startling to see Vladimir Putin in the stands, impassively watching the final portions of the team event. It certainly brought politics more to the forefront of my consciousness, although the skaters all seemed to be focused on their respective performances, as well they should be.
I understand that his public persona is rather stoic, but given his nonreaction when Russia's own Yulia Lipnitskaya threw down what I consider to be THE singles' skate of the night, I had to wonder if he really even understood how good it was.
Whoever picked out Lipnitskaya's free skate music was very savvy: as I've mentioned before, she has no emotional expression in her skating whatsoever (contrast with Carolina Kostner of Italy and Akiko Suzuki of Japan), but her free skate music is from Schindler's List, guaranteeing that virtually everyone watching is going to get goosebumps and/or tears in their eyes that have little, if anything, to do with her performance. [*]I experienced both goosebumps and tears--of the welling up variety, not the gushing and sobbing variety--while watching her initially, and to test my theory, I went back and listened to the program without watching it. The tears came back, but the goosebumps didn't. So the tears were evoked by the music, but the goosebumps belong to Yulia. Chapeau, young one.
I don't want to take away anything from Lipnitskaya. She's a tremendous talent and undoubtedly gave the best ladies' free skate of the night. She's only fifteen years old, so concentrating on her technique rather than her emotional expression at this point is probably a smart strategy for her. Even if I suspect that her whopping score of 141 was a bit inflated, I'm willing to give the judges the benefit of the doubt. The area in which she really shines is her spinning, where she gets into unreal, Gumby-like positions. She does a variation on the Biellmann spin where she brings her back leg straight up, perpendicular to the ice, which is amazing. She's the only one who does it, and I respect her for it. However, I think the teardrop shape of the traditional Biellmann is a far more beautiful position. Just my personal aesthetic preference.
Maybe I'm just seeing things, but it seemed to me that Putin's facial expression went from impassive to visibly displeased after Davis and White finished their free dance. I wonder if he perceived that that's one gold medal that's already all but won, and not by Russia.
Davis and White...wow. Just wow. Even as good as they were in Vancouver, they've since stepped up to a whole other level. They sweep you up in the interpretation and the emotion and the beauty, and then suddenly you notice how fast they're whizzing by compared to the stationary objects in the background and suddenly you realize anew, "Oh yeah, and they're ATHLETES too!"
Their coach also coaches Virtue/Moir of Canada, and it's hilarious and adorable the way she puts on a Canada jacket to sit with them and then quick puts on a USA jacket to sit with Davis/White. I would think a neutral outfit would be more practical, but it's sweet that she wants to make a visible show of support.
See also my brief comments on the serendipitously named Gracie Gold.
So, the team event ended up pretty much the way I predicted, with Russia gold, Canada silver, and the US bronze. I'm satisfied with the result. I have nothing to say against the Russian team; they earned it fair and square.
But as far as the rest of the world is concerned, this day of competition might as well have been called "The Plushenko Show," [*](his free skate music was a medley of his past programs collected under the title--wait for it--"The Best of Plushenko." *EYEROLL*) and I'm not down with that. Not to take away from his accomplishment, but I don't feel "privileged" to have gotten to watch it, and the way our otherwise excellent commentators were gushing and fawning over him was frankly a little embarrassing.
No one, it seems, is immune to his charisma. I--even I--had to laugh when he was asked what he had to say to his detractors, and he replied, "'Thank you.' I love them." But even more endearing was the report that he told Jason Brown, a 19-year-old making his Olympic debut, something to the effect of "I really like your skating."
Ah, Jason Brown. His otherwise excellent free skate program was marred by a fall on a jump. I bet he wishes that he could do what the Russian TV programmers did during the opening ceremony and splice in footage of him making the jump at Nationals. But to his credit, he didn't let it affect the rest of his program. A week ago I didn't even know who he was, and now I'm one of his biggest fans.
Even as embarrassing as it was to hear Scott Hamilton and Sandra Bezic get all moony over Plushenko, it was another example of how politics often get minimized to practically nothing in figure skating. They appreciate him because of his contributions to the sport, which are considerable. Let's give credit where it's due: he's been competing at the highest level for over 15 years; [*](albeit not consistently, in that he's had long breaks--sometimes several years long--in between competitions); off the top of my head, I can't think of anybody else in the sport of whom that can be said.
On the other hand, politics came back to the forefront at the end when he got personal congratulations from Putin, a reminder that they're buddies and that Plushenko served a brief stint in their parliament between 2006 and 2010. To some, it may have been a heartwarming moment, but for me it was just icky.
With that said, putting politics aside again for the moment, I do think it was it was genuinely a nice gesture [*](albeit likely with ulterior motives) for Putin to, first of all just show up to watch the competition, and secondly to come down and personally congratulate the team. Regardless of my own feelings, I can look at it from their perspective and easily imagine how much that must have meant to them.