Thursday, January 28

The day there was a break in the Cold War, and the moral for the Oregon protestors

So, some Russian pair skater had her heart broken by her partner and lover. He'd told her he was leaving her, leaving her for another skater and everything Irina Rodnina was not and could never be -- beautiful, elegant, balletic. All Irina had going for her was physical strength, a towering will to win in competitive skating, and the ability honed through years of practice to muster an almost Zen-like focus while on the ice. Those qualities not terribly conducive to romance. 

Irina's broken heart was a big drama in Russia but there was no interest in the United States, and no sympathy when she burst into sobs as she left the ice after the last time she skated with her beloved. It was the height of the Cold War, and nowhere was the nonviolent aspect of the war more evident than international competitive amateur sports, and especially in figure skating. 

The Russians had a huge advantage over the American skaters. It's said that polo is the sport of kings but it's actually amateur competitive figure skating because it costs a king's ransom to train for it. The Russian skaters had no worries about money; the state picked up the tab for the training and everything else the skater needed. The American amateur competitors and their families, rarely well-off financially, had to scrounge for sponsors then behave like trained seals to keep the sponsors happy.

But the judges from the Soviet and pro-Soviet countries didn't care about the very unlevel playing field, in fact they enjoyed seeing the Russians stick it to the Americans. So a Russian skater could have broken a leg in competition and this American, at least, wouldn't have cared. As to the loss of a skating partner, aw poor baby. The Russian state would find another partner for their diva, then spend a fortune getting him up to snuff for the big competitions.

The state did just that. His name was Alexander Zaitsev. A sweet-faced young man who turned out to have a spine of steel, or grew one fast. He needed that much spine to hold his own with La Irina.

I can't remember whether the championship in Bratislava was the first time Rodnina and Zaitsev faced off against her former partner. I just remember that during their program I jumped to my feet without realizing it and shouted, "Stop!" at the television screen. At least one of the judges had also jumped up and shouted at them to stop skating.

Irina Rodnina wasn't going to stop even though the program music had stopped. The people in the audience at the stadium made their decision within seconds and so did I. If Rodnina and Zaitsev were going for it, we would will them to keep time with music that wasn't there; by sheer force of will we would prevent them from making a mistake.

And so we began clapping -- and clapping and clapping and clapping, pouring our wills into theirs. Later I learned that television audiences around the world had made the same decision. And so for a few incredible moments during the Cold War everyone who watched the drama was cheering on a Russian team. 

They skated almost a flawless program.

That was 1973, a lifetime ago, so I'd have to look it up to tell you whether the judges disqualified them or allowed the skate and if so whether they won. But chiefly I don't remember the outcome because it wasn't important.    

However, the drama on the ice at Bratislava was a little deceptive. The pair was surely counting mentally from the second their program started, so they didn't actually need music to tell them when to jump and spin and keep their moves in sync. That's what you do, you count, with every move choreographed to the count.

The catch: break your concentration for even a couple seconds during the count and then you can have a problem, one that gets bigger the longer you're whizzing around the ice on one blade edge, and trying to jump and spin in time to music. 

Figure skating is 20 percent strength and 80 percent technique. If a skater's coach doesn't know the mechanics of figure skating, doesn't teach it properly, that is why so many landings from skating jumps are fought out by the skater through strength. In other words they should fall when they land, but they struggle to keep themselves upright, even if the struggle isn't very obvious. But if the skater has been properly trained, then because of the physics it's impossible to fall on a landing, unless there's an obstruction on the ice itself -- a big nick in the ice or sequin lodged there, etc. -- where the skater's blade lands. 

The trick to proper training is the skaters learning to keep every part of their body in line with the physics of the blade's movement on the ice. If they lean a little too far forward or back or the shoulders aren't level during the jump takeoff, then the jump and spin in the air are out of whack and a bad landing will follow.              

So to do it right takes a lot of good training, a lot of practice, a lot of experience under the pressure of competition where the skater can't re-do. Irina Rodnina had all three when she stepped onto the ice at Bratislava.

At the second the music tape broke she knew that to stop, then wait for the tape to be fixed, then start the program again would have broken their momentum, what they'd been primed to do during those minutes. If they were to have a chance to win the championship, she gauged it was best to keep skating without music, and fight out the disqualification issue with the skating federation later, if need be.

Whether or not her decision was correct for the championship, it made a historic break in the Cold War clouds. Yet someone with less experience and craftsmanship could not have pulled off the feat and would have had to leave the ice.

And with that I arrive at Tony Cartalucci's sage advice on January 26 for the Oregon protesters:
Oregon is going to end poorly (with one dead already, you can say it already is) -- and hopefully, hopefully -- people will learn from this and realize the folly of taking peashooters into the hills and fighting a trillion-dollar corporate oligarchy without a plan, without an alternative, and without any understanding even of the enemy they are opposed to.
[If] you think taking time to build your own alternative system as a foundation upon which to build your resistance is unnecessary, then YOU ARE NOT READY TO RESIST. No successful revolution in the history of mankind has ever been spontaneous.They all were built on strong social, economic, political, and military foundations.
Even organizations we think of as "militant" like Hezbollah or the Donbass fighters have sophisticated social, political, economic, and diplomatic infrastructure -- as well as highly organized, well-funded, well-equipped (not to mention state-sponsored) military capabilities. I know that's not what Americans who want instant gratification want to hear, but it is reality.
The reality is the same whether organizing resistance or having to make a split-second decision during competitive skating. The will, the heart, can only take one so far. The rest is down to training and practice.


No comments: