Watching Yulia Lipnitskaya through the eyes of another prodigy … Nadia Comaneci

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SOCHI, Russia – There is plain silence, and then there is the sort of silence that smothers the Iceberg Skating Palace when a little girl named Yulia Lipnitskaya kneels near the center of the ice and waits for the music to begin. She is 15 years old but she looks 12 and a country holds its breath for her.

More than 6,000 miles away, in the American heartland, a woman holds her breath for her, too.

“I’m so excited to see her,” Nadia Comaneci said a couple of hours before the music starts. “She is so wonderful she makes you forget that she wasn’t born with these moves.”

Not so long ago – wait, can it really be 38 years? – that was what people were saying about Nadia. You could forget that she wasn’t born with these moves. She was 14 years old, she looked 12, and in a few days in Montreal at the Summer Olympics she changed the world. She took to the uneven bars as part of the Romanian gymnastics team and put on a performance so perfect, so blindingly perfect, that judges for the first time in international competition simply could not find a flaw.

The scoreboard flashed 1.00 because there was no capacity to display a perfect 10.

From that moment on, perfection in sports meant something different and little girls across the world wanted to be Nadia Comaneci, winner of three gold medals – including the all-around – in 1976. She would go on to win two more gold medals in 1980.

“People talk about nerves of someone so young,” Nadia says. “But when you are that young, you do not think about the same things as you do when you are older. I can understand how (Yulia) feels. When I think of being 14, nobody knew me. There was no buildup. There was no pressure. I was free.”

The music begins at the Iceberg Skating Palace – the song is “You Don’t Give Up on Love” by the Russian composer Mark Minkov – and Lipnitskaya begins tracing a heart on the ice. She performed this short program once already at these Games, in the team competition, and that performance made her a worldwide sensation.

“Lipnitskaya Is A Goddess” a Russian headline read.

“Russian teenager soars to gold, stardom, with more to come,” was the headline for U.S. News and World Report.

“Fifteen-Year-Old is Sensation of Sochi,” read a German newspaper.

VIDEO: Watch Lipnitskaya’s short program routine

It is striking to see someone so young perform so brilliantly under the world’s glare. I ask Nadia why it moves us so much. She suggests that maybe it makes us remember being young and feeling invincible ourselves.

“Yes, I love to see young athletes, 14 or 15 or 16 years old, do so wonderfully,” Nadia said. “I don’t know if I think about myself, but I love to see that young confidence. You can see it in her. You can see she just goes there, and she’s just doing what she loves and has trained to do. She knows she’s good.”

Lipnitskaya stops tracing, gets up, acts like she is getting out of the race. And she begins. She is so light and small, you wonder if her skates even make a sound on the ice. She builds up speed. Her first jump is a combination triple Lutz-triple toe loop. Someone says this will tell us everything about her nerves. The silence of the mostly Russian crowd has never broken. When she lands the first jump, there are halted cheers. When she lands the second, the noise seems loud enough to lift her off the ice.

“I remember what I told myself before I went out in Montreal,” Nadia had said. “I thought of my best routine in practice. And I told myself, ‘OK, just do that.’ It seemed so easy for me because of that. Just do what you did in practice. …  She knows she only has to do what she does in practice. She does not have to do any more or less. It’s when you try to do more that you can lose focus.”

The first two jumps cleared, Lipnitskaya skates beautifully. The experts all around are nodding to each other as she lands her double Axel and then runs through various artistic moves in time with the music. The crowd can begin to sense something wonderful is happening and their cheers begin to crescendo. Lipnitskaya seems to sense their confidence, and she skates a little faster.

For Nadia, once she got that first 10 in Montreal, what followed was a wonderful blur – she scored six more 10s, won three gold medals, success fed success.

“Oh, I remember when I was finished,” she says, “people were saying, ‘Who is this girl? And where is Romania by the way?’ … That was my introduction. And that was what (Yulia) looked like when she was skating at first. Like she was introducing herself. She doesn’t say anything. She’s a mystery. Except for her beautiful skating.”

Nadia Comaneci has never met Yulia Lipnitskaya nor does she live a life where she likely ever will. She and her husband, Bart Conner, live in Oklahoma. She’s just a distant fan, a mother, an inspirational speaker. But maybe she knows things about Lipnitskaya. Maybe there is a connection between athletic prodigies.

VIDEO: Nancy Kerrigan’s take on the short program

“There is one thing that is different for her,” Nadia said. “She is performing in her home country. For me, I was in Montreal, nowhere near where I was from. That was different. There was no pressure on me there. But for her to be at home, in Russia, with everyone wanting her to win, she will have to deal with a different pressure than I had to deal with.”

As Lipnitskaya makes her way around for her third and final jump of the short program, there is a lot of noise and joy and everyone senses her conviction, her self-assurance. This is the little girl they had all fallen in love with less than two weeks ago in the team competition. This is their Russian darling. Just a short while before the competition began, the Russian hockey team had lost to Finland in the quarterfinals, a bitter disappointment, and now the gaze is firmly on Lipnitskaya.

And then, on the third jump, Lipnitskaya falls.

The gasps throughout the arena are, in their own way, louder than any cheers.

She finishes her routine in an airless arena and then is met with thunderous applause. Bouquets and teddy bears rain on the ice. It is as if no one in Russia can bear to see her cry, and she does not cry. The response cannot help but make her smile a little. Her score of 65.23 places her fifth – more than nine points behind the top three. She has lost more or less any chance for gold, and at this point winning any medal would take a monumental shift during Thursday’s free skate. It almost certainly will not happen. Not this time.

In an odd twist, the Russian who is in gold medal contention is 17-year-old Adelina Sotnikova, who was once the country’s skating phenom. She won the national championship when she was just 12. She was viewed as the great hope for Sochi, but inconsistencies seemed to wreck her. Sometimes she was brilliant, other times hopeless. Wednesday, she was brilliant. Nobody knows quite what to expect on Thursday. Such is the fluctuation of youthful brilliance.

VIDEO: Sotnikova surprisingly sits in second

“That is something about the Olympics,” Nadia said before Lipnitskaya skated. “You only get one chance. That’s it. You get one time down the mountain, one time to skate, one time on the floor exercise, one time to swim. There is no second chance. Well, there is another chance at the next Olympics, but that is four years away. And four years is a long time.”

Then she laughed a little bit.

“Well,” she said, “fortunately, four years is not so long a time when you are young.”

Skate Canada preview, broadcast schedule

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 17:  Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada compete in the Figure Skating Ice Dance Free Dance on Day 10 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Iceberg Skating Palace on February 17, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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Last we saw Scott Moir in top-level international competition, he smooched the Olympic rings for a second straight Winter Games.

Turns out it wasn’t a kiss goodbye.

Moir and partner Tessa Virtue make their Grand Prix series return this weekend at Skate Canada in Mississauga, Ontario, after two full seasons away from competition.

The Canadian ice dancers won Olympic gold at Vancouver 2010 — when Moir said he “french-kissed” the Pacific Coliseum ice rings — and silver in 2014 behind American training partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White. (Davis and White also took a post-Sochi break and remain sidelined but not retired)

Virtue and Moir, who have been performing in ice shows the last two years, reportedly decided in July 2015 to come back but kept it silent until last February. Moir said they wanted one more shot at an Olympics, but he had to lose his “beer gut” first.

They officially returned at a lower-level event in Canada four weeks ago, easily winning with the highest-scoring short dance of their career (in international competition) and the highest total score in the world this season.

“There’s a little bit of rust,” Moir told media then. “Nerves, a lot of tension and a lot of pressure that comes with this quote-unquote comeback.”

The attention will only increase.

Virtue and Moir face a field this week that includes Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who earned medals at the last two world championships, and Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, the 2014 World champions.

A sixth Skate Canada title would set them up for a showdown with two-time reigning world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France in their next Grand Prix start at NHK Trophy on Thanksgiving weekend. The two couples happen to train together in Montreal.

“I think we have to earn that term to be associated as rivals to Gabriella and Guillaume, we are not quite there yet for sure, but they have taken the ice dance world to an entirely different level in the last few years,” Virtue said, according to the Canadian Olympic Committee.

Also at Skate Canada, Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and three-time world champion Patrick Chan duel for a second straight year. Chan upset Hanyu last season in Chan’s first Grand Prix since he took silver behind Hanyu at the Sochi Olympics.

Chan was not as smooth the rest of his comeback season, placing fourth at the Grand Prix Final and fifth at the world championships. Hanyu dominated after his Skate Canada defeat until being upset by Spanish training partner Javier Fernandez at a second straight world championships.

In lower-level events earlier this fall, Chan took second to 17-year-old American Nathan Chen, while Hanyu became the first skater to land a quadruple loop in competition en route to a victory.

The last two women’s world champions face off at Skate Canada in Russians Yevgenia Medvedeva and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva.

Medvedeva, 16, hasn’t lost in nearly one year, winning her early-season event, the free-skate-only Japan Open, over the rest of the top five from last season’s worlds.

Tuktamysheva won the 2015 World title in the most dominating performance outside of Yuna Kim‘s heyday. She landed a triple Axel en route to that gold and talked of adding a quadruple jump for 2015-16.

But she struggled last season, failing to qualify for the Grand Prix Final and placing eighth at the Russian Championships. This fall, she placed second and fourth in lower-level events, keeping her firmly behind Medvedeva in the Russian pecking order.

In pairs, world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford go for their third straight Skate Canada title. Americans Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier can all but clinch a Grand Prix Final berth if they match their runner-up finish from Skate America last week.

Skate Canada broadcast schedule (all times Eastern):

Friday Women’s short program 2:57 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Pairs short program 4:48 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Short dance 7:30 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Men’s short program 9:08 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Women’s, men’s short programs midnight-2 a.m. UniHD
Saturday Women’s free skate 2:27 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Pairs free skate 4:34 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Men’s free skate 6:57 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Free dance 9:15 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Sunday Free skates midnight-3 a.m. UniHD
Sunday Women’s free skate 5-6 p.m. NBC
Monday Women’s free skate (re-air) 8-9 p.m. UniHD

MORE: Full figure skating season broadcast schedule

Six more Olympic medalists stripped in Beijing 2008 retests

BEIJING - AUGUST 08:  The Olympic flame is lit by Li Ning, former Olympic gymnast for China, during the Opening Ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics at the National Stadium on August 8, 2008 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Nine more athletes, including six medal winners, were retroactively disqualified from the 2008 Beijing Olympics on Wednesday after failing retests of their doping samples.

The International Olympic Committee announced the decisions in the latest sanctions imposed on athletes whose stored samples came back positive after being retested with improved methods.

Four athletes were stripped of silver medals and two of bronze medals in weightlifting, wrestling and women’s steeplechase. All six athletes come from former Soviet countries — Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan — and all tested positive for steroids.

The IOC stores doping samples for 10 years to allow them to be reanalyzed when enhanced techniques become available. The IOC recorded a total of 98 positive cases in recent resting of samples from Beijing and the 2012 London Olympics.

Stripped of silver medals Wednesday were freestyle wrestlers Soslan Tigiev of Uzbekistan (66-74 kilogram division) and Taimuraz Tigiyev of Kazakhstan (84-96 kg) and weightlifters Olha Korobka of Ukraine (75 kg) and Andrei Rybakov of Belarus (85 kg).

It’s the second time Tigiev has been stripped of an Olympic medal for doping. He lost his bronze medal from the 74 kg event at the London Games after failing a drug test.

The IOC stripped Beijing bronze medals on Wednesday from Russian steeplechaser Ekaterina Volkova and Belarusian weightlifter Anastasia Novikova (53 kg).

The IOC asked the international weightlifting, wrestling and track and field federations to modify the Olympic results and consider any further sanctions against the athletes. Decisions on reallocating the medals have not been finalized.

The IOC said all six medalists tested positive for the steroid turinabol. Rybakov and Novikova also tested positive for stanozolol. Both substances are traditional steroids with a history dating back decades. The new IOC tests used a technique that could detect the use of those drugs going back weeks and months, rather than just days.

Also disqualified Wednesday were Cuba’s Wilfredo Martinez, who finished fifth in the men’s long jump; Nigerian-born Spaniard Josephine Onyia, who was eliminated in the semifinals of the women’s 100-meter hurdles; and weightlifter Sardar Hasanov of Azerbaijan, who competed but did not finish in the men’s 62-kg division.

The IOC said Hasanov tested positive for turinabol, Martinez for the diuretic and masking agent acetazolamide, and Onyia for the stimulant methylhexanamine.

Last week, the IOC announced that Russian weightlifter Apti Aukhadov had been stripped of his silver medal from the London Olympics on Tuesday after testing positive for turinabol and drostanolone.

VIDEO: Yao Ming reflects on Beijing Olympics