My earliest skating memories, even though I ended up being a competitive ice dancer, were of the pairs event. The heated battles in the 80's between the Canadians - Underhill and Martini - and the Russians- Valova and Vasiliev - are singed in my mind. The Canadians would always perform moving and magical performances. The Russians and their Eastern European teammates always delivered flawless, though sometimes soulless programs. Monday night was a departure from historical example-- the Russians' program was riddled with flaws and the magic was mostly missing for the Canadians.
I made it just in time to catch the American team Denny and Barrett start their program. I enjoyed Denny and Barrett's short program more than their long, and they made the cardinal sin of using a piece of music that should have been banned years ago (Scheherazade) due to blatant overuse. However, they were gutsy and athletic and have a bright future ahead of them, as do fellow Americans Evora and Ladwig.
The two Canadian teams, sadly, did not shine so brightly. Both Langlois and Hay and Dube and Davidson had lyrical, moving programs that could have soared if they had nailed their big elements but instead both programs ended on a sorrowful, 'what if' note. When it comes to the Olympics, you can't say 'there's always next year'.
The young French team James and Bonnheur (she a Brit who emigrated to France to skate with him) were a crowd favorite tonight, but I honestly can't get over how poorly he treats her on and off the ice! I am hyper aware of the dynamic between partners and how tough it can be, but during competition you have to be each other's best friend and biggest supporter. I watched Yannick Bonnheur ignore his partner whenever they weren't practicing a move. I don't think I saw him speak one word to her. When they aced their program tonight, he celebrated by pumping his fist in the air, seemingly oblivious that Vanessa was still in the final inverted pose that he needed to help her out of. I even saw them sitting in different rows from one another after they skated (you always sit with your partner even if you are not a couple). She was stuck up in the back row and he was front and center. As you can probably tell, it just left a really bad taste in my mouth. I can't support a team that is not a team.
Despite the fact that Shen and Zhao made a rare error in one of their overhead lifts, they still won gold. It was well deserved and has been a long time coming (they already have two bronze medals). Shen and Zhao's program was skated with incredible speed, their throws were massive and the evolution of their artistic expression over the past 6 years is simply remarkable. They used to be jumping robots, now they are jumping artists. The other skaters in the top five fell apart: the Russians, the Germans, even the other Chinese team all had multiple errors in the Free programs and just did not possess the star quality performance the audience was craving.