Is there a better night in sports than the first Sunday of the Winter Games? Figure skating and one of the most thrilling events in all of sports – the men’s downhill. If the broadcast included curling, my rapture would be complete.
Curling combines two of my favorite things – competition and housework. Watching people sweep and cry “Ai, ai” as that fat curling stone comes down the ice in a kind of wintry shuffleboard is beyond adorable. It was David Letterman of all people who cemented my love of curling. One year to promote his “coverage” of the Games, which consisted of reports from his mother, his publicist sent us entertainment writers curling stone paperweights. I keep mine in its little plaid box in my library. (It’s in a plaid box, because curling comes from Scotland, the land of men in skirts, Sean Connery and Andy Murray. We owe Scotland so much.)
But back to skating. How wonderful was it to see 18-year-old Gracie Gold of the U.S. team skate a personal best in her Olympic debut? Doing what you have to when you have to do it – priceless. This young woman has it all – Grace Kelly beauty, athleticism, elegance and the grace of her own name as well. Her blue mesh costume with the sweetheart neckline and her choice of Tchaikovsky’s “The Sleeping Beauty” was all of a piece and very savvy, as was the smile she threw the judges. Her Russian counterpart, 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaia, was electrifying as Russia took gold in the new team competition; Canada, silver; and the U.S., bronze.
But it wouldn’t be figure skating if there weren’t controversy. The French newspaper L'Équipe has quoted an anonymous Russian coach – Is there any kind of source but an unnamed one? – as saying that the Americans and Russians were in cohoots to ensure that the American ice dancing team of Meryl Davis and Charlie White win gold in that discipline while the Russians take gold in the team and pairs competitions. Denials all around, of course. But let’s be honest. The Russians have the strongest all-around team, and the ice dancing gold is Davis and White’s to lose. (It’s interesting to see them transcend their Canadian rivals and training partners Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue, who won gold in Vancouver four years ago. But that seesaw is the quintessence of rivalry.)
Let us remember that it was a French judge who was at the heart of a Franco-Russian vote-trading scandal that had North America up in arms at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games and that resulted in a double gold medal in the pairs event. Mmm, disgraced French judge then and accusatory French newspaper now plus a good but not great French figure skating team on the medal bubble. Can you say “Le Payback"?
The latest “scandale” demonstrates that the one Olympic event everyone plays is geopolitics. In my new novel “Water Music,” a potential crime with international implications and a poor performance by some members of Team USA pressure swimmers Daniel Reiner-Kahn and Dylan Roqué to take gold in a relay event at an Olympics set in Venice.
It’s a reminder that the games men play are nothing compared to the games nations play.