SOCHI, Russia (AP) — As Adelina Sotnikova finished her gold medal-winning skate, only the Olympic ice felt nothing, because it is cold and hard. Russian hearts — passionate, patriotic and on this night bursting with warmth — melted for their new champion.
The Sochi Games so needed this, their first truly transcendental moment for the home nation in a big-ticket event. For the 4 minutes and 9 seconds when Sotnikova's pluck and majesty mesmerized fans around the world, sport — gut-wrenchingly beautiful sport — was a honeyed drop to counteract the sour taste that has been part of Russia's first Winter Olympics.
In years to come, when people think "Sochi," they will remember images of militia thugs who disgraced themselves and their country by horsewhipping the punks from Pussy Riot.
The irreverent, YouTube-savvy performance artists knew that in this Black Sea resort turned police state for the games, they were guaranteed to find the trouble they needed to illustrate their new music video, and that the footage of them being mistreated would poop on President Vladimir Putin's very expensive party.
In years to come, tender hearts will also wonder how many stray Sochi dogs escaped the exterminators. It is somewhat depressing that Olympians have shown more concern about the pooches than about Russia's "nyet" to gay rights.
But, in years to come, Russians will remember this night, how Sotnikova's dress of Black Sea grey rippled against her thighs as she sped across the ice and how they held their breaths for her jumps, almost all executed to perfection. They will recall the thunder of the crowd stamping its feet in the Iceberg Skating Palace and its Beatlemania scream as the judges' very generous score was announced.
Neutrals and fans of Yuna Kim, as graceful in defeat on this night as she always is on the ice, will remember that they felt at best bemused and robbed at worse.
Despite what their critics say, no Olympics — not even these — are unrelentingly bad. Nor, as the International Olympic Committee would have us believe, are the games all sweetness and light. Instead, they are human — flawed, with good days and bad.
For the host nation, Wednesday had been as bad as they come. In being so quick to reach for their whips and pepper spray, the Cossack militiamen who attacked Pussy Riot picked at the seams of the new image that Putin seeks to weave for Russia with his $51-billion bet on these games.