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The readily apparent differences between them were minute: Anett wore orange and Linda wore red; Linda skated to opera, Anett to Broadway show tunes—further demonstrating to viewers how difficult it is to seem like a heartless Soviet automaton while accompanied by .
Both women were very, very good skaters; neither of them were great.
Figure skating is such a wonderful sport—to watch, to follow, to analyze, and finally to love—because each competition is impossible to predict.
Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, this Games’ champion in the men’s competition, has been untouchable for an entire season, and seeing him falter in his Olympic free skate last week was perhaps the biggest shock of the event.
Their haircuts, builds, and even their costumes were all but indistinguishable in the free skate telecast; they landed the same jumps, skated with the same degree of flexibility and artistry, and had the same effect with the crowd, seeming less interested in the audience than in a focused and methodical approach to their performances.If viewers remember a performance from that night, they probably think not of Anett or Linda, who took gold and silver, respectively, or even of West Germany’s Dagmar Lurz, who won bronze, but of the woman who finished just out of the medals: Denise Biellmann of Switzerland.Biellmann easily won the free skate with a performance that displayed more artistry, flexibility, and athletic stamina than audience members had seen all night, and perhaps in their lives.Female figure skaters must deliver feats of incredible athletic prowess without appearing muscular or strong; must be ruthless competitors who speak only of love for their teammates and the vaguest of expectations for themselves (“I just wanted to go out here and skate my best”); and must dedicate their lives, time, and sense of identity to a sport whose culminating event broadcasts their faces into millions of homes—and then keep from appearing too broken up as they learn that they just missed a chance at the medal they have pursued for a lifetime.It is hardly surprising, then, that some of the most fascinating and deeply revealing moments in ladies’ figure skating have taken place when women have pushed back against these limitations.