It was their’s for the taking.
China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong had a commanding lead thanks to their short program in the pair figure skating competition at the Gangneung Ice Arena. As 2017 World Champions, they were primed for gold.
And yet, as the final four pairs came out for the last four performances of the competition, the petite Sui Wenjing took a spill during the practice. Perhaps it was the nerves of her first Olympics, perhaps it was nothing. But as it turned out, Wenjing and Cong had to be near perfect. And they were not, Wenjing took a slight spill after a triple salchow.
In the end, this was the story not of the rising Chinese stars, but of Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot. This was Savchenko’s fifth Olympics. After two bronze medals in pairs figure skating, at the age of 34, this may have been Savchenko’s last chance at a gold medal.
Massot was in his first Olympics, and the nerves may have shown in the short program. During a side-by-side triple salchow, Massot executed only a double salchow. It was a costly error, and placed the German pair in fourth place after the short program.
In the pre-long program interview with NBC, Savchenko, with little enthusiasm, acknowledged they had a challenge and would have to do their best. Massot, looking as if he was bearing the weight of the mistake like an albatross around his neck, wiped sweat from his brow and said nothing.
And yet, when Savchenko and Massot came out for the 4 to 5-minutes that would determine their fates, they were ready.
“We were two fighters,” said the French-born Massot. “We were on the ice for a medal, and for a gold medal, and we didn’t give up after what happened yesterday. We were ready for this.”
While most of the 12 pairs competing for medals this day had falls and mistakes, Savchenko and Massot, who came together to represent Germany, were bold and error-free. At the end of their long program, aware they had executed a nearly perfect routine, Savchenko collapsed to the ice, not in pain, but in relief. Massot fell down beside her, likely overwhelmed by feelings of redemption.
In the end, despite a record high score in pairs figure skating, Savchenko and Massot edged out Sui and Cong for gold by only 0.43 points. After the competition, the Chinese pair, seemingly locked in an endless hug of mixed emotions – joy, frustration, relief – took home the silver with a promise of snatching back the gold at their 2022 Beijing Olympics.
Now, finally, Savchenko had one.
All pictures taken by the author.