Don’t Give Up

Copyright 2006 Nickolove Lovemore

I just love watching the Olympics, witnessing the numerous feats of athleticism, skill, courage, endurance and passion. Athletes have to hone their bodies as well as their minds and, on the day, it is often the individual who has greatest control over their mind that wins. Major championships are always dramatic and what occurred during the Pairs Figure Skating Programme in the 2006 Winter Olympics at the Turino Palavela was certainly that.

The last couple to skate was Xhang and Xhang from China, one of three pairs of Chinese skaters in this particular contest. Totomania and Marinin from Russia had produced a sublime performance and were tipped for gold. For Xhang and Xhang to succeed in their quest for the major prize their skating would have to be impeccable as well as encapsulating the difficult technical elements such as the quad jump where the skater makes four revolutions mid-air. This is a situation where potential does not come into the equation – only what you do on the occasion can be marked and with the new scoring system this was never more the case.

It wasn’t that long ago that the quad jump was executed for the first time in competition and now, just like what followed when Roger Bannister broke the 4min mile barrier in 1954, any skater of merit has a quad jump in their bag of tricks. When we see skaters gliding seemingly effortlessly over the ice we forget just how technical, acrobatic and even dangerous much of what they are doing is.

In pairs skating one of the required elements is a throw jump. Imagine being tossed into the air, whipping yourself around a few times with feet and body perfectly aligned and then touching down for a flawless landing.

For a chance at the gold medal, Xhang and Xhang had to go for broke. The opening moments of their routine included a throw jump involving a quad Salchow. Xhang performed the quad but couldn’t control the landing. She ended in an awkward box split, twisting and banging her left knee in the process. If that sounds painful, imagine how it must have felt! With her legs splayed and still out of control she crashed into the barriers. Apart from feeling empathy for the pain Xhang must have felt as she crash-landed one could not help but also feel sympathy for this skater so graceful one second and then sprawled on the ice, like a fledgling learning the rudiments of flight, the next. The audience gasped and the British commentator Barry Davies said resignedly:

“…Tough on them because they are going to end with nothing and she clearly is in considerable pain…What a shame!”

Xhang was in obviously discomfort. If she didn’t continue the programme she and her partner would walk away with nothing yet if she did skate she risked permanent injury. There was a brief consultation with their coach but no medical treatment. It felt as though time stood still as Xhang continued to move gingerly around the ice watched anxiously by her concerned partner. Then to everyone’s surprise the skaters moved into position to resume their performance. The usually eloquent Barry Davies was incredulous:

“Surely not! Surely not! They would have to pick up from where they left off. Have I got that right? I don’t see how they can. I don’t see how they can.” His voice trailed off.

Fellow commentator Robin Cousins, obviously flummoxed, was slow to respond.

“I’m speechless actually because I can’t believe that does not hurt to the point where she can’t perform. This is a skater that has a career ahead of her that could risk further damage by performing on it [knee].”

But this was the Olympics and you don’t walk away from an Olympic dream. The pair did literally pick up from where they left off and as their music restarted the audience erupted with applause for this plucky skater.

The rest of the programme went without any major hitches including the second of their compulsory throw jumps. Xhang continued to hide the pain she must have been experiencing. When the pair finished skating the audience were on their feet. While Xhang and Xhang awaited their scores she finally received first-aid treatment. The knee was strapped and more of that ice that had been her downfall minutes ago was applied. Fortunately, although she was limping around the Olympic village the following day, Xhang is expected to make a full recovery.

Xhang and Xhang took silver behind the Russian pair, Totomanina and Marinin, knocking team-mates Shen and Zhao into third place and knocking team-mates Pang and Tong out of the medals altogether.

Nothing worthwhile is easy. You’ve got to aim high. You will make mistakes but when you fall (as opposed to “fail”) get up, brush yourself off and try again. The bounty is great for those with the courage and perseverance to see things through to the end. Also, don’t let your emotions get in the way. Despite her pain Xhang remained composed and focused. She kept her eye firmly on the prize and she and her partner were duly awarded the silver medal. And, what’s more remarkable about this tale is that a few weeks ago the pair hadn’t even been thinking of being at the Olympics. Persevere; you are but a moment away from greatness.