Only flag is different for gold pair Dmitriev, Mishkutienok keep Soviet dynasty alive

February 12, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

ALBERTVILLE, France -- Later, they would tell you how strange it all was, this business about the flag and the anthem.

She wanted to see the Soviet hammer and sickle and hear the familiar song that once was the theme music for an empire some called evil. And he couldn't understand why the five-ringed Olympic flag was rising in one corner of the sweltering arena, and the "Olympic Hymn" was echoing through this tuna can of a building.

"All I could think of, was, I hope to get through doping control very fast," Artur Dmitriev said. "I like the Soviet hymn better. It's nicer."

But everyone, from mapmakers to figure skaters, is now making new calculations in these months after a country held a liquidation sale.

Last night, Dmitriev and Natalia Mishkutienok of the Unified Team showed that while the Soviet Union may be dead, its pairs skating dynasty lives on. They gave one of those lyrical performances that sometimes lifts pairs beyond sports, all the way to ballet. They won the gold medal at the Winter Olympics in a competition that wasn't even close.

On a night when a three-knockdown rule could have been waived, when 10 of the final 12 groups plopped to the ice, when the team from North Korea was so awful it nearly pulled a no mas, when Americans Calla Urbanski and Rocky Marval gave one of their Honeymooners' imitations while 15-year-old Natalia Kuchiki had to drag around her 28-year-old partner, Todd Sand, it was up to Mishkutienok and Dmitriev to save the show.

They did.

Skating to a Franz Liszt waltz, "Dreams of Love," they used inverted spins and spectacular spirals in an artful, elegant display that could have played Broadway or the Bolshoi. Their 4 1/2 -minute program was perhaps the last great link in a chain of Soviet-style Olympic pairs triumphs dating to 1964.

"We work hard, and our skaters are so sophisticated," said Tamara Moskvina, the fabled Russian coach who has received more air time on CBS than Dan Rather. "We put together all of the elements."

Elena Bechke and Denis Petrov of the Unified Team won the silver. Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler of Canada survived a horrid performance -- she fell twice -- to win the bronze.

The Americans were far back. Kuchiki and Sand finished sixth. She was tough and terrific. He was frail and weak from a flu, and stumbled twice.

Urbanski and Marval, the American champions with the delightful blue-collar story to tell, finished 10th. They had a disaster of a night. She cut his left boot on an awkward landing and fell to the ice. He never got back in step. While waiting for their marks in the kiss-and-cry box, they seethed.

Urbanski, the waitress, described their performance in unprintable terms. Marval, the trucker, said: "We're humans. We're not perfect. We'll keep on fighting."

The night belonged to Mishkutienok and Dmitriev. She's 21 from Minsk in Belarus. He's 24 from Nor'ilsk in far northern Russia. She skates with a suppleness of the gymnast she once was. He uses the strength he developed while wrestling.

While their country fell apart around them in the past few months, they trained diligently for these Games. They didn't know if they would have the money to compete and travel. They didn't even know if they would have enough food. But Moskvina, a resourceful coach, baked them cakes, got them costumes and worked them to perfection.

"So many changes in our country," Mishkutienok said. "So many problems. But I don't think of my country when I skate. I skate for people."

They gave the crowd at the Olympic ice skating arena something to remember. They gave them Natasha's Spin and Tamara's Death Spiral.

"We wanted to show love," she said.

The crowd stood and roared and screamed bravo.

But now, there is so much uncertainty in their lives. They will try to get enough money to travel to next month's world championships in Oakland, Calif. And then, they want to turn pro.

"You feel a little sorry for them," Marval said. "You have pity for them. You can't help where you're born. They had some good times. But now, they're like us, working for money."

As the winners left the arena, they kept talking about the flag and the anthem. Their performance had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with sports and honor. They're part of a dynasty, now.

"Nothing has changed for us personally in the last months," Dmitriev said. "The only thing is, everyone else has started to live worse. I am sorry for my people."

Ah, but this was a night to celebrate.

"The nearest future is to have a glass of champagne," Moskvina said, "and a sandwich with caviar."

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