Fifth time's a charm! Eight Olympic memories from Aljona Savchenko
The five-time Olympian debuted at Salt Lake City 2002 and skated with three separate partners, winning two bronzes with Robin Szolkowy for Germany before a made-for-Hollywood finish at PyeongChang 2018, when she and Bruno Massot came from behind to capture the gold medal with a spellbinding skate.
Recently, Savchenko revealed that she and Massot – who have not competed since winning the world title in 2018 – would indeed, not be competing next season.
“This was an extremely difficult decision and I’m still fighting myself,” Savchenko, now 37, wrote in an Instagram post. “Every day is a new challenge, there are also new opportunities and new chances.”
While – especially with Savchenko – you never know what might happen next, the Ukrainian-turned-German has had one of the most standout careers in all of skating, capturing seven world titles to go along with the three aforementioned Olympic medals, spanning some 17 seasons at the senior level.
Earlier this year, Savchenko featured on the original series, Time Machine, to talk about her Olympic journey, joined by fellow Olympic champ and now NBC commentator Tara Lipinski, as well as figure skating expert Jackie Wong.
“I’ll never forget this moment,” Lipinski told Savchenko in the episode of her 2018 triumph, 20 years after the American had won at Nagano 1998. “It was one of the best of the Games. I couldn’t believe it happened... it was everything you had worked for that unfolded in a magical way.
"It was an Olympic moment.”
Wong agreed: “It is the greatest pairs free skate of all time.”
Here, eight memories from Savchenko on her Olympic experiences, from her debut at 18 with Stanislav Morozov in 2002 to standing atop the podium with Massot 16 years later.
2002 and 2006: Olympic debut and a new partner
On an error-filled debut with Morozov in 2002. The team finished 15th and stopped skating together shortly after:
“[In] the short program [our] first throw just was completely [off]. It was like, ‘OK, so that’s it.’ Not on the podium or even top 10. I thought, ‘It doesn’t matter now, just skate. Do your best.’
The thought [after] was, ‘OK, I go home and change everything. I want to change my life.’ I felt much more power in me, much more potential. I wanted to be not here, not in Ukraine... I needed to change completely.”
Savchenko was paired with Szolkowy and the duo made its debut for Germany on the international stage during the 2003-04 season.
On Torino 2006, where they finished sixth:
“At this point we were really ready to go for a medal. Not for gold, but maybe a bronze. We come to the Olympic Games and our energy was not in the right place in the moment. It was mistake after mistake. We tried to give our best, but the end was not what we expected.”
2010 and 2014: Medals - but bronze
Between Torino and Vancouver 2010, Savchenko and Szolkowy won three world medals, including gold in both 2008 and 2009.
On 2010, where they finished with the bronze:
“We went in as the favourites to this Olympics. But [for me] each Olympics, something happened that was bad. Before Vancouver, I was really sick. [At the end of] 2009 I was so sick that I couldn’t move. [It made us] lose the concentration on ourselves.
We skated really good in the short program but the Chinese skated better. But in the long program we did a mistake, and if you do a mistake? You’re done. [The free skate] was not really what I love to skate.”
On 2014, where – again – she and Szolkowy won the bronze, making errors in both programs:
“We did [a few things] wrong, and I just felt, ‘OK, I need to move on.’ The same way in 2002. I felt like I needed to change my life to reach my goal and reach my dream.
“When I was in competition in Sochi, I was like, ‘No, this is not my last. I don’t feel this is my last competition. I don’t want to finish.’ I had more energy to continue. Robin didn’t want to. All the potential we put out... we couldn’t get any better. I was sure that I needed something completely different. And that’s when I was looking for a new partner.”
2018: Short program 'double' and what happened next
Savchenko teamed up with Massot, the team winning bronze at worlds in 2016 and silver in 2017 ahead of the Winter Games.
On Massot doubling their planned side-by-side triple jumps in the short program, which contributed to them being in fourth place:
“When we were skating, I didn’t realise he had done a double. But during our step sequence he was completely different; normally he smiled and danced, and he was so... I was like, ‘Hmm, something is wrong here.’
I directly asked him, I wanted to be sure if something went wrong. It felt like, ‘What can I do? It’s like this.’ I was so sad. I said to him before [we skated], ‘I have experience, you want so badly [to skate well] at the Olympics... [but] the ice is so different, the rings make you scared. Just skate. And do what you do in practice every day.’ I was sad that he didn’t listen to me."
On the day between the short and long programs:
“I slept really good. I didn’t think anything. My husband was like, ‘What’s going on with you? Shouldn’t you be sad?’ I said, ‘Why should I be sad? Tomorrow is a new day.’ I believed in something... something special.
“The day before we all had breakfast together, so I decided to change everything. I told [Bruno], ‘Go by yourself. I don’t want to be with you.’ When we stepped on the practice rink in the morning, it was 7am, I remember this practice was like, ‘Oh my god, how can we skate better than this practice?’ Everything was clean and fast. It felt like he was ready to do something [big].”
2018: Winning Olympic gold - finally
On hitting element-by-element in the free skate:
“I took my whole [Olympic] experience and said, ‘I have nothing to lose. It’s now or never.’ I just wanted to enjoy it. When we did our starting pose and then the first element [triple twist], it was so good! Like, never, ever before – not even in practice. I was like, ‘OK, this is my moment.’
“[After landing throw triple Salchow] I knew that all the hard elements were done – and clean. I was like, ‘OK, now nobody can stop me.’ After this landing, we went to the lift, and I’m [looking around] thinking, ‘Oh there are Olympic rings! And I skated clean!’ I was stopping myself not to push too much. I had to concentrate on every small element. Any small element can make a big mistake.”
On finishing the program – and eventually finding out they had won gold:
“Lying down on the ice, ‘Wow!’ I didn’t believe it had happened – what I had dreamed about my whole life. When we went to the scores, I couldn’t be ‘happy happy’ because I knew that [three more teams] were still going.
“Once they skated, I see my dream... going to the ice rink every day at 4 in the morning; two hours for practice... you all see those pieces in one, like small movies. And then I was here on this planet [again].
“This was my moment. I just wanted to enjoy, but I couldn’t believe it. ... It all happened in a flash.”