A Russian Retreat in Ice Dancing
VANCOUVER - You want a real Miracle on Ice? Come on over to the figure skating venue, you North American winter sports fans, where something extraordinary happened in the ice dancing competition Sunday night.
The Canadians are in the lead. The Americans who train with them in suburban Detroit are second. And the Russians - the nation that almost always wins in Olympic ice dancing - are mired in third.
Canada has never won an Olympic ice dancing gold medal. Nor has the USA. But at least for one night, with the dance finals today, a skating discipline that is fraught with controversy and bad judging got it mostly right.
You could argue that 2006 Olympic silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto should be third, instead of fourth, and you'd be right, but, really now, how much could North America ask for on a watershed night in this sport?
As recently as 12 years ago, Americans were thrilled to finish seventh in ice dancing at the Olympics. And now, this?
The Russians, still reeling and whining over their loss in the men's competition last week, must be spiraling out of control now. The great Russian hope to win the nation's eighth gold medal in Olympic ice dancing (out of a possible 10) is Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, the reigning world champions who were in first place after Friday's compulsory dance. They're the controversial team that inexplicably dressed as Australian aborigines for Sunday's original dance. You have to admit you don't see that every day.
And did they ever look terrible, with flesh-colored costumes and green leaves hanging off them. But as bad as they looked, they skated even worse, with garish, halting moves, and when that happens, when your performance is worse than your costume, you know you're in trouble.
They are 4½ points behind Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and in an endeavor where there is no jumping, well, that's a long way.
It's looking as if figure skating's new judging system is on a roll at these Games, delivering the proper winners in the pairs (the Chinese) and the men (Evan Lysacek), and rewarding a crisp, vibrant Canadian team, with an energetic young American team, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, in second place.
"We really do like our chances," Moir said. "We think that Meryl (and) Charlie and us, that's the new ice dancing system. That's the way it has to be. We're very excited, but we're really just skating for the moment. That sounds like a cliché, but it's really honest."
If the order remains the same in the free dance, and the Russians don't win the dance, they almost certainly will go home without a gold medal in figure skating for the first time in 50 years because they don't have a legitimate medal hope in the women's event. With the next Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, in 2014, that would be downright embarrassing.
Only twice in the nine times dance has appeared in the Winter Olympics has a Soviet or Russian team not won it - in 1984 when the great Torvill and Dean skated to Bolero, and in 2002 when the fix was in to get the Russians the gold in the pairs in exchange for a French victory in the dance. In both cases, Russians/Soviets did the next best thing and won the silver.
Change has been slow to come to ice dance. It has always been the odd man out of the figure skating disciplines, mostly because no jumping is allowed, leading to the inevitable conversation about whether it's even a sport. For years, the joke was that an accounting firm would bring in the results before the competition began. And with all the outrageous costumes, it often looks like Halloween on Ice.
Change once occurred with glacier-like speed in ice dance. One year a team would be tied for fourth at the world championships. They next year that team would move up to fourth alone. This development was considered a breakthrough, and worthy of headlines.
But that was before Sunday night. Do you believe in miracles? In figure skating, on this evening, yes.