Elena Vaitsekhovskaya: Don’t rush to scold Patrick Chan

Usually I don’t translate articles, only interview, but I couldn’t pass by this written by Elena Vaitsekhovskaya. Why? Because I think, being an athlete, an Olympic Champion she actually knows what she’s talking about. Yes, sometimes she’s quite biased, but it’s still interesting to read her.

So here’s her recent article about the results of men’s short program at the Olympic team event.

Don’t rush to scold Patrick Chan.

You ask, what Patrick Chan has to do with it? Only though in the strongest warm-up he was the first. The first who failed to do what he should, and whose performance reminded: it’s Olympic Games. The most terrifying and unpredictable of all existing competitions.

For someone, he becomes the happiest, but this is certainly not the case of a three-time world champion. The Canadian won two silver medals in Sochi, but to put it mildly, here from the skating point of view he was unconvincing. If you add Vancouver to these memories, everything fits perfectly into the standard formulation for most athletes: “Nerves don’t withstand”.

This characteristic of a particular athlete could be taken seriously, if Chan was the only underdog who could not deal with the pressure of the competition. But his performance was just the beginning…..

“Why do you like to compare the Olympic Games with the war? After all  war is quite different thing,” I was asked once by some acquaintance. I didn’t enter into a debate on correspondence – it would have taken too long to explain that the difference between these two hypostases is actually very small. At the Olympics many side-by-side aspects  regarding the inhuman stress, the ability to endure pain and deprivation, after all the ability to sacrifice themselves are such that it is simply impossible to imagine such things in ordinary life, but easy to imagine at war. Perhaps that is why the champions of the Olympics are often either those who have seen everything, mature fighters, or very young athletes – children, without feelings of fear and self-preservation.

In 1994, after 16 year-old Oksana Baiul won the gold medal in Lillehammer, skating with a leg cut, one of her two coaches Valentin Nikolayev told me:

“All the difference between the Olympic Games and any other major competitions consists only in the absence of advertising on the boards. The judges are the same, the participants are the same, the programs are the same, but the competitions are completely different. The tension at this competitions is incomparable. When the strongest warm-up begins, the athletes even try not to stay long in the locker room, because there – the purple air of hatred. Between people who in everyday life are friends. But this is not human hatred, but hatred of an opponent. I have a photo taken in Lillehammer a few minutes before Oksana Baiul’s free program, when I was smoking alone in the shower. One of the guys came in, clicked the camera – I did not even have time to figure out what it was. If I find it, I’ll show you. You will see for yourself. A man dressed well, in a decent suit, with a bow tie, and this face. Which at any cost should be hidden away from your athlete. So it does not even occur to him, what horror sits inside you. Because this state is transmitted 1000%. Instantly. Do you know how cold it was when after the Lillehammer Games, Galia Zmievskaya left to America, and I stayed near the board alone? We 12 years stood there together. As soon as our athlete started to skate, she wasn’t just leaning back, but driving on me like a bulldozer. And I was pressing myself to her. Because we both was so nervous that it was simply impossible to stand without support … ”

Since then, nothing has changed in the essence of the Olympic Games. Games exhaust you, burn you from inside, they are able to crush any person who got into this pot with the thought: “It’s not a big deal, the same competitions as any other”.

Don’t believe me? Then just look in the men’s protocol. And try to explain to yourself what happened, for example, with Nathan Chen, who has never popped a jump in his life at all? But in Pyeongchang he popped the second quadruple jump. Prior to that, he jumped double toe loop instead of triple – in combination. Then Chen fell on the triple Axel, and before him Chan fell twice. And even earlier – Chinese Han Yan, finished the short program also with two falls.

Mikhail Kolyada – that’s another story. He and his coach Valentina Chebotareva got at their first war like tourists in light jackets got to Korean reaching bones frost. And they made one of the most common mistakes for newcomers: competed the day before it was needed – at the official practice, showing everything they can.

They were capable of much. But yesterday. And on the day of competitions – perhaps the most important day in the sporting life, everything turned off: legs, nerves, head. And Kolyada, who was intended to have the role of most reliable part of the team, became the director of a horror movie for the whole country.

On the eve of the performance, the president of FFKKR and Olympic champion Alexander Gorshkov told reporters that in the team event they made a bet on experienced athletes, who has state of credibility in judges’ eyes. Tatiana Tarasova, who has seven Olympics won in her track list, asked only one question about this: “How could you trust the execution of the short program to a skater who has never skated it clean this season”?

You say it’s too harsh? I do not agree. Because Tarasova knows more than anyone else: Games are war. Where the coaches have their own, no less difficult task: to do everything possible so your athlete return from the battlefield, if not with a victory, then at least alive. Not trampled, not torn to shreds.

Remember the famous phrase of Richard Krenn from the “First Blood”? The one that was addressed to the local police sheriff: “I don’t think you understand. I didn’t come to rescue my boy from you. I came here to rescue you from him.” Who is now able to say something similar about their athletes? Eteri Tutberidze? On the one hand, yes. On the other hand, we still do not know how the Olympic heat will turn out for Alina Zagitova and Zhenya Medvedeva. Both do not know what Games are, but it can also be for the better: sometimes it’s really better not to know.

So – of course not a war. They don’t shoot here…..

by Elena Vaitsekhovskaya for rsport.ria.ru

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