It was just a month ago that ice dancer Evan Bates, co-captain of the silver-medal-winning US figure skating team that was deprived of a medal ceremony at the Beijing Olympics, spoke emotionally about leaving the Winter Games “empty-handed, “Calling the aftermath of the Russian doping scandal” extremely disheartening. “
Now, as the international figure skating community gathers again for the world championships this week in Montpellier, France, those concerns have faded, at least for the time being, Bates and his ice dance partner and fellow team co-captain Madison Chock said last week over Zoom.
While there have been no new developments on the status of the medal ceremony, they said, their focus is no longer on a sports controversy that once seemed so vitally important, but on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the horrors that Vladimir Putin has unleashed on the Ukrainian people, including two of their friends and competitors, ice dancers Alexandra (Sasha) Nazarova and Max Nikitin.
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“I have been thinking a lot about Russia and Ukraine but it has not at all pertained to our personal involvement in our situation,” Chock told journalists gathered on the call. “I think what’s happening right now is really devastating and I just think about our Ukrainian friends who just had the biggest highlight of their life (at the Olympics) and then they go home to a war-torn country. It breaks my heart. It’s hard to think about anything else. An Olympic medal seems like really not a big deal in light of all of that. “
Nazarova and Nikitin, who finished 20th at the Olympics, announced Monday that they are going to compete this week at worlds, according to a post on a Ukrainian sports resistance Instagram account.
“The main factor in making such a decision was that we have to show and tell about the crimes that are taking place in our country,” Nikitin said in a video on the Instagram account. “This is no longer politics, this is genocide, this is murder, this is the destruction of peaceful cities. … We saw it all with our own eyes. We saw rockets over our houses. We saw planes dropping bombs on Kharkiv directly with our own eyes. We also heard all this while hiding in the basements. ”
The Instagram account said they were able to leave Kharkiv and train in Poland for the past week. They are expected to arrive in France Tuesday.
“It puts things in perspective,” Bates said last week. “We trained with the Ukrainian dancers, Sasha and Max, back in Michigan (before the 2018 Olympics). We saw them in Beijing, have never seen them happier, and then we come back, and just in trading messages with them, it’s difficult to comprehend and grapple with having a very similar experience shared in Beijing, and then leaving to such a different world and life experience. That’s been hard for us to digest and be OK with. “
Chock said she was messaging Nazarova on Instagram early in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “I just can’t imagine how she must be feeling and what she must be going through,” Chock said.
Madison Hubbell, another member of the silver-medal-winning US team who also won bronze with partner Zachary Donohue in the Olympic ice dancing competition, said last week the skating community hoped the Ukrainians would somehow be able to make it to worlds.
“I really hope that we can see them and surround them with a loving community,” Hubbell said on another Zoom call last week.
Eventually, the American ice dancers and their teammates will receive their medals at a ceremony of some sort, somewhere, but first there will be a thorough investigation of the positive drug test of 15-year-old Russian skater Kamila Valieva.
One of two outcomes is expected: if Valieva is suspended, Russia would likely lose the gold medal to the United States, with Japan winning the silver medal and Canada the bronze. If Valieva is not suspended, but receives a reprimand or no punishment at all due to her age di lei, Russia would keep the gold, followed by the United States with the silver and Japan the bronze.
Hubbell said in Beijing that IOC president Thomas Bach offered “the (medal) ceremony of our dreams when the time comes.”
Not that it will be coming quickly. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine likely ensures that whatever the outcome of the Valieva investigation, a medal ceremony will not happen anytime soon, especially if Russia remains on top of the podium. The optics of rewarding Russia as it wages war on a sovereign neighbor would be terrible.
“I’m sure it will delay things,” Bates said, “but it’s not of importance to us at this point.”
When the day comes, the IOC will have a wonderful opportunity to do the right thing for the skaters who were deprived of their Olympic ceremony due to Russian cheating.
Bach should give out the medals to the athletes at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, on the shores of Lake Geneva, with the Alps rising in the distance. The IOC should fly in family members, friends and coaches of each of the skaters from the US, Japan and either Canada or Russia, however things turn out. This will give the skaters an opportunity that never existed for medal winners in Beijing: to celebrate with those who were not allowed to go to China due to COVID-19 protocols.
The IOC should make a weekend out of it. Olympic officials from each country should be in attendance. So should some of the biggest names in the sport. Invite Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Brian Boitano, Katarina Witt, Kristi Yamaguchi, Scott Hamilton, Midori Ito, Torvill and Dean, you name it – especially Olympic medalists from the three nations being honored – and include them in the ceremony.
The IOC never should have allowed Russia to continue to compete in the Olympics and flaunt the rules with its massive state-sponsored doping schemes, but it did. Now it has to try to make things right. It must put on the most elaborate Olympic medal ceremony ever held. It owes that to these athletes.