SOCHI, Russia -- You might have suspected you were at the Olympics when you came across talent lavish enough to cause disbelief. A man and woman began skating together expertly, but that didn't begin to cover it. The music was beautiful enough to stir a wait-what-is-that, but that didn't cover it either.
No, the male skater was named Eric Radford, the music was named "Tribute," and the composer was named Eric Radford, and isn't it odd that the skater and the composer had the same name? It's rarer than that; the skater and composer are the same person, Radford's music swept to life by a 16-piece orchestra in Montreal and dedicated to Radford's late coach and "third parent" Paul Wirtz, who died of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2006.
You might have sat there thinking you could sooner land a 767 at JFK than skate like that, and you sooner could land a 767 at the tricky old Hong Kong airport than skate like that and write music like that. So this might just be the Olympics.
You might have suspected you were really at the Olympics when a veteran German pair appeared and started getting around the rink with a polish that suggested an ease that, of course, doesn't exist.
They're apt representatives of the cosmo 21st-century Germany, a female immigrant from Ukraine and the son of an East German woman and Tanzanian man, and to augment the vividness, Aliona Savchenko wore a bodysuit of a pink so pink it could make indoor sunglasses seem practical.
To "Pink Panther," she and Robin Szolkowy got around the rink as if they'd won four world championships, four European championships and an Olympic bronze in Vancouver, which was because they'd won four world championships, four European championships and an Olympic bronze in Vancouver. They might not be Russian, but the Russian crowd knew rarefied skill when it saw it, so the Iceberg Skating Palace just about swooned.
Yet then, you might have known for sure you were at the Olympics when you were in Russia watching a Russian figure-skating pair, which in this world is akin to seeing opera in Italy, hockey in Canada, soccer in Brazil, the tango in Argentina.
Through 12 -- twelve! -- Olympiads from Innsbruck 1964 through Turin 2006, the Russian mastery coursed through Ludmila Belousova, Oleg Protopopov, Irina Rodnina, Alexei Ulanov, Alexander Zaitsev, Elena Valova, Oleg Vasiliev, Ekaterina Gordeeva, Sergei Grinkov, Natalia Mishkutenok, Artur Dmitriev, Oksana Kazakova, Elena Berezhnaya, Anton Sikharulidze, Tatiana Totmianina, Maxim Marinin -- all that runaway talent, all those 12 straight gold medals, all that difficult typing.
Now, after the long, long streak broke at Vancouver in 2010 (when China's Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo won and Russia did not get a medal), here came gold medal favorites Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, Russians skating in Russia at Russia's Olympics. Many events happen at the Olympics; some events are the Olympics.
So even if you brought an untrained eye for figure skating, even if you note pretty much that sometimes he throws her and catches her and sometimes he throws her and doesn't catch her but she lands just fine, you knew you were in the presence of something brilliant.
They skated to Aram Khachaturian's "Masquerade Waltz," written for the play that debuted in Moscow in 1941, before a Russian crowd with all its understanding, especially that of Belousova and Protopopov, who watched from the seats at ages 78 and 81 after having started the whole long bedazzlement with golds in 1964 and 1968. When Volosozhar and Trankov finished their seamless trip, you knew you had seen something you ought to have seen. They had looked like some vision.
Bouquets of flowers rained out onto the ice. Flags danced all around the arena. The noise built, then built again once the pair sat and the judges finished and the crowd learned the reigning world champions would carry a whopping short-program score of 84.17 into the long program of Wednesday night. To all the demands of the moment and the setting and the sport, they had presented merely their best performance. So in the building at that moment, after all that pressure and meaning and outrageous skill, these just had to be the Olympics.
Yeah, these were the Olympics.