Akiko Shrugged: The Sochi Winter Olympics
For the first time in modern Winter Olympics history, figure skating has been categorized as a “team sport” and it just doesn’t figure. Figure skating isn’t like ice hockey, where it takes the whole team to score a goal. Snowboarding isn’t a team sport. Ski jumping isn’t a team sport. Speed skating isn’t a team sport.
Each figure skater going out there used to go out onto the ice precisely to demonstrate their individuality. For after all, how can you fairly compare Yulia Lipnitskaia’s youthful athleticism with Akiko Suzuki’s amazing grace or Gracie Gold’s feminine fluidity, and then tie their successes (or failures, especially if they fall) to Evgeni Plushenko’s quadruple jump (a feat only a few women figure skaters can perform at present) or Meryl Davis’ and Charlie White’s incomparable synchronicity?
One skater’s fall diminishes another skater’s triumph. How is that fair? How does that encourage team spirit? How does that motivate individual skaters?
Akiko Suzuki, one of two of Japan’s female skaters, placed fourth in the rankings. Fourth. One little jump away from Bronze medal status if she’d been allowed to win one on her own. Ice skating is said to be extremely popular in Japan, and the Japanese, with their diminutive stature but determination for excellence, are well suited to the sport.
But because Japan was lagging so far behind the medals, far out of the range of the podium as a team, that Suzuki didn’t give the skate her all. During her lovely, lovely program, in which she didn’t fall from a single jump, she deliberately performed a double axel (a jump) where she was supposed to perform a triple axel, putting her out of contention for a medal. Or rather, one should say, her team, which had no hope of winning one.
The NBC commentator noted the omission, ruefully observing that the skater had no reason to perform the triple axel – Japan’s figure skating team wasn’t going to win – so why bother. Indeed, as Suzuki came out of the jump it seemed as if she gave a little shrug and a smile. Suzuki could have performed triple jumps for the entire program and not missed one. But there was no incentive for her to do so.
That is what the Communist application of “team spirit” to an individual sport like figure skating does to motivation: the skater shrugs. She doesn’t give her effort her all, missing what would have certainly been a Bronze medal and perhaps even more. Perhaps Suzuki was protesting the communal transformation of figure skating. Russian skater Lipnitskaia was amazing in an athletic sense – 15 year old figure skaters usually are. But she didn’t come anywhere near Suzuki’s beauty.
Still beauty is an individual thing and as the character Strelnikov notes in the 1965 film Dr. Zhivago (which was on TCM yesterday afternoon), about the Russian Revolution, “the personal life in Russia is dead.”
The opening ceremonies in Sochi were also amazing, save for one unfortunate and inevitable section of Russia’s history – the Bolshevik revolution. NBC, which produced the admittedly beautiful spectacle, gushed all over itself to express admiration for the Communist take-over of Russia, turning it into the Soviet Union. Narrated by Game of Thrones actor Peter Dinklage, written by NBC, this is how they described Russia’s Communist era:
“The towering presence, the empire that ascended to affirm a colossal footprint. The revolution that birthed one of modern history’s pivotal experiments. But if politics has long shaped our sense of who they are, it’s passion that endures. As a more reliable right to their collective heart. What they build in aspirations lifted by imagination. What they craft, through the wonder of every last detail. How magical the fusion of sound and movement can be. How much a glass of distilled perfection and an overflowing table can matter. Discover the Russian people through these indelible signatures. Discover what we share with them through the games that open here tonight.”
The Russians didn’t create “The Nutcracker Suite” or “Swan Lake”; Peter I. Tchaikovsky did that. The Russians didn’t write “War and Peace;” Leo Tolstoy wrote it. Their music, their poetry, their ballets, their figure skating are all wondrously beautiful. Even the Kremlin is beautiful, until politics turned those onion-domed churches into the seat of Communist bureaucracy. Russia is massive and beautiful; Communism is massive and ugly.
Russia’s particular beauty and creativity, carved from its stark, polar environment, were rightfully on parade at the opening ceremonies. The only thing that ruined it was the appearance of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He had a right to be there, as president of Russia. But he was a brutal, political blot on the face of an otherwise stunning creation, a Red slash across the face of a Venus de Milo.
Just as defacing was the idiotic wording of the opening ceremony’s narrative. “The revolution birthed one of modern history’s pivotal experiments;…a more reliable right to their collective hearts. Discover what we share with them.”
We share a love of beauty with them. What they don’t share with us is a love of freedom. Even their love of beauty is stained by the Olympic committee’s decision to turn a sport that joins athleticism with grace and beauty into a team sport. That is what Communism has inspired.
Thank you, Akika Suzuki, for shrugging at Communism.