Minority of One blog

The right skater won Olympic gold

In any other sport, it would have been cause for celebration -- an unknown youngster pulls out all the stops to upset a legendary but aging star on the biggest stage of all. But when 17-year-old Russian Adelina Sotnikova unexpectedly captured the Olympic gold in ladies figure skating, the cries went up that the fix was in.

Why is a mystery to me. Everyone admits that her program was technically more demanding than South Korea's Yuna Kim, who had been first after the short program, and Sotnikova skated it cleanly. The surprise was that the Russian got higher marks on artistic elements than she had before, which fueled suspicions that the judges were giving her an unwarranted boost.

But sometimes competitors outdo themselves when it matter most. No one expected Sarah Hughes to win the gold in 2002: She had finished third at the U.S. nationals. "We were both so shocked, because it wasn't even on the radar screen," said her coach. But no one cried foul. Hughes was the best skater that night, even though she might not have been any other night of her life.

Kim has herself to blame. She played it safe with fewer jumps than Sotnikova, betting that her opponent would mess up -- or that her own aesthetic prowess would pull her over the top. But in a Russian arena, with judges susceptible to the enthusiasm of the local crowd, her strategy was risky. And Kim's music lacked the emotional power of Sotnikova's. In figure skating, that matters.

So some people don't understand how the Russian won? Well, I don't understand how the Seahawks whomped the Broncos in the Super Bowl. But that night, they were at good as they could be. Last night, so was Sotnikova. The judges didn't give her the gold. She took it.

 

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