Russia Wins Silver In Team Figure Skating

Russia Wins Silver In Team Figure Skating

Though Russia may have been officially banned from competition at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games, that wasn’t apparent in the outcome of the team figure skating event – or of the reception given to the officially non-aligned athletes.

For one thing, the Russian cheering section, packed with fans waving their country’s flag and wearing loudly patriotic shirts or hockey jerseys of the ever-popular (and usually dominant) Russian team, had a lot to cheer about. Though Canada claimed the gold medal in the heavily publicized team figure skating competition, it was the Russian contingent – or rather the contingent of the “Olympic Athletes from Russia” (OAR) – won second place, edging out the US with a combined score of 66 points to 62. Leading the way were 15-year-old Alina Zagitova, who scored 158.08 in the women’s free skate event behind the faultless performance of Team USA’s Mirai Nagasu, Evgenia Medvedeva, who won the short program, and free dance entrants Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev, who finished third with 110.43 points.

Equally impressive, and much to the credit of fans from countries that think Russia is little more than a den of election-meddlers, there was nary a jeer (and actually quite a lot of good-sported clapping) from the stands as the OAR team took silver over front-runners like the US and Japan. Chalk it up to the more individualistic nature of figure skating events, in which athletes don’t wear the colors of their country, but rather are judged based on the merits of their own performances, that the fans watching this particular competition didn’t boo the Russian participants. That certainly wasn’t the case when women’s hockey favorite Canada blanked the OAR team 5-0 in the first round, but such – it seems - is the nature of putative measures taken against Russia in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

Essentially, the 169 Russian athletes that didn’t engage in blood-doping or take banned substances at the Sochi 2014 games (of which there were 45 athletes and coaches that were disallowed from attending this year’s edition) have been given the privilege of competing in nondescript gray uniforms like middle-schoolers sent to the principal’s office for inappropriate attire. Meanwhile, Russian athletes not guilty of any wrongdoing have been given the distinct honor of sometimes enduring boos of the fans from countries that nominally pride themselves on individualism simply for daring to even show up – even when they lose. In fact, Russian athletes can even be punished for “publicity, activity and communication associated with the [Russian] flag, anthem, emblem and symbols at any Olympic site or via media” – but so much for individual liberties like free speech so highly esteemed in the West.

Just ask the OAR’s first PyeongChang medalist Semen Elistratov, who won bronze on Feb. 11 in the speed skating event. He may be in for some discipline from the Olympic Committee for dedicating his third-place finish to “all guys that have been excluded from these games in such a hard and unfair way.”

Even so, most of the Russians’ figure skating opponents were supportive of their inclusion in the 2018 Games, however it happened, and some went as far as to publicly sympathize with their rivals’ predicament. Georgian Rafael Arutyunyan, a former coach for the Russian national team who now serves in that role for the American team’s Adam Rippon and Nathan Chen, even said he felt sad for the Russian athletes “because they cannot compete for the country they represent, and basically it’s not their fault.” Swiss coach Stephane Lambiel said Russian figure skaters were respected by their peers, calling them hard-working athletes the absence of which would have lessened the outcome of any figure skating event, a sentiment echoed by American coach Denise Myers, who said real competitors want to go up against the best in the world.

The respect paid to Russian athletes is well-deserved, as the Russian Federation – and the Soviet Union before it – has collectively won more Olympic medals in figure skating, and only ice hockey come close to figure skating in terms of national significance. Indeed, the former USSR won seven gold medals in nine consecutive Winter Olympics from 1956 and 1991 and won silver or bronze at the other two editions of the winter games. The men’s OAR team in their drab grey is the favorite to win this year too, with current moneyline odds of +120 at sportsbook site Bovada.lv.

Media representatives from the largely complicit US news industry, in true current-year fashion, have all but claimed Russia’s leading chances to take the gold this year come down to the NHL’s decision not to allow active players (35 of which are Russian nationals) to compete at the Olympics this year. That move caught many fans, if not the most cynical (that would be those who understand the Olympics is the single most-politicized sporting event going), by surprise, as pros on American hockey teams have been eligible to compete for the past five Winter Olympics. But with a political climate like it is today - and look no further than the incipient proxy war brewing in the Middle East between the USA, Russia and their regional allies - USA online sportsbooks thinks Team USA can’t really politcally afford to lose to the so-called OAR on the ice this year.