At the Vancouver Olympics, Evgeni Plushenko was not given the gold. Plushenko, whose feelings were hurt, told his wife, Yana Rudkovskaya, that he thought the figure skating world was "stopped."
Ms. Rudkovskaya--a famous business woman, popular television producer and winner of the Diamond Hairpin Prize for the country's best blonde--was even more defiant, demanding that the Russian government, "a potent and mighty power," ought to "defend our athletes."
Naturally, it's immaterial that the same standards used on Plushenko's Vancouver performance were used to judge the skate that won him gold at Turin. What's important is that there's been an insult not only to an athlete, but to his wife: a Russian television personality, a highly visible producer and a judge appearing on many an American Idol type show.
Evgeni Plushenko is a very good skater, no one's denying that. But his friends weren't doing him any favors when they convinced him it was simply impossible for him to lose. His posse sees his loss as evidence of a worldwide conspiracy, and he concludes that it represents nothing less than the sport's demise.
This reminds me of a famous joke. A poet writes a love poem and sends it to his publisher with a note attached: "With this poem, I've finally got the topic covered."
Plushenko seems unaware that in Russia he is just the powerful's pawn. True, he's been made into a glamorous national hero and symbol of infallibility. National heroes are absolutely necessary to the Russian government, so they made one out of him. His producer wife's motives were no doubt a little more mixed: she made him what he is out of love as well as professional instinct.
Together, wife and country taught Mr. Plushenko never ever to ask himself a very simple question: "what will happen, if I lose?"
All the same, he might have recalled that at the last winter Olympics at Turin, someone came in second, while he himself won the gold. It was the judges' decision.
And this time, they decided differently.
He ought to have known that, while his quadruple jump is certainly a very wonderful thing, it's not the be all and end all of figure skating, or, if it is, the judges In Vancouver might not have known that to be the case. And he might have known that outside his own country, the demand that gold be given on the merit of jumps alone might sound a little crazy. It might sound something a bit like the USSR demanding the world recognize its superpower status because it made big atom bombs, despite its inability to produce a working juicer or a drivable car.
Attitudes like this haven't abated with time. And turning any and every competition into a patriotic show remains the Kremlin propagandist's treasured pastime. A skater skates poorly, and some defender of the people is there by the ice, waving his Russian flag with such undying loyalty, it's just heartrending. A singer is up on the stage, singing; they're sure to poke some Russian flags in front of the camera.
It wasn't Plushenko who did a quadruple, it was great Russia herself, generously allowing the world a share in the enjoyment of her athletic prowess. And so the silver insult is not one shown to Plushenko, but to Russia herself. And this is something that needs "sorting out." And, how did the authorities "sort it out?" With a telegram from Prime Minister Putin, expressing the consoling sentiment that Plushenko's "silver was no worse than a gold."
Try. Can you imagine anything stupider?
One of the members of the judging panel said that he thought Plushenko's skating style was "straight out of the 80s." I can't agree with that. Evgeni Plushenko is a fantastic athlete - both technical and artistic components make him the unique talent he is. What is truly "straight out of the 80s" is the reaction to the loss.
However, I don't really think that Mr. Plushenko is reacting this way on his own; in the past, he has more than once demonstrated his ability to get through all sorts of defeats and difficulties.
His glamorous clique, made up of both personal and political connections, is what's urging him on.
And then there's the government itself, which habitually injects a healthy dose of patriotic propaganda into sports coverage. Sport becomes the last resort for patriotism in times of economic and political misfortune; an athlete's victory becomes the victory of his entire home country, and his loss, into his people's.
Since, when it comes down to it, it was just Plushenko who lost the gold (and maybe a little of his cache along with it), to send Russian troops into Vancouver won't be necessary at this time.
To the rest of Russia, this loss - believe it or not - is actually totally irrelevant.
Translated from the Russian by Yael Levine.