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Russian Solyanka: Massot's ailing back acting up

Hair-raising situation in short dance; Russians remain mum on OIympics
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A source told icenetwork that Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot withdrew from the European championships partly because the team did not want to risk exacerbating Massot's ongoing back problems. -Getty Images

There was much speculation in Moscow about the absence of Grand Prix Final champions Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany.

"[They] have withdrawn from the event on Friday, stating that they want to focus on their preparation for the Olympic Winter Games," the ISU wrote in the official preview of the event earlier in the week. That's when the rumors started to swirl around the stands and in the corridors of the Megasport Arena.

During the press conference following the pairs free skate, one journalist added some fuel to the fire when she asked the top teams if they felt it was better to "focus on their preparation for the Games or come to the Europeans." Savchenko and Massot are much loved on the circuit, and their colleagues kindly avoided giving an answer that could have been seen as disparaging to the Germans. Fedor Klimov provided a smart answer, as he said, while laughing, "How could we miss Europeans in Moscow? It doesn't happen too often!" (Europeans were held once in Moscow before this year, and that was in 1965!)

"Aliona and Bruno are indeed focusing on their preparation for the Games," a close friend of the German team told icenetwork after some investigation. "But believe me, there is a real medical reason for their absence here in Moscow that could seriously jeopardize their chance to succeed in PyeongChang. They could have skated here, but it could have been detrimental to Bruno's healing."

"In fact," he continued, "Bruno has always experienced some very painful back problems. There is a longtime misformation in his back, which, from time to time, provokes a painful crisis that requires specific treatment. There is nothing new here, and it's not the first time it happened. If you remember, he experienced a smaller crisis at Skate Canada earlier in the season.

"This season is quite long. The team had to take a plane several times this season from one continent to the next, and that surely didn't help. The team is trying to preserve Bruno's back and make sure he doesn't risk more. At the moment, the treatment he is receiving seems to do him good. Aliona and Bruno wanted to come and really hesitated. The team made the decision at the last minute."

Why, then, not disclose it? Was it to prevent other competitors from taking advantage of it?

"Not at all. There is no reason to hide the truth, even though this is an Olympic season. The same was done last year, when Aliona injured her ankle," he concluded.

Savchenko and Massot's fans can rest easy: The German team doesn't betray anyone by not coming here. They certainly would have loved competing in Moscow!

City and rink ponytails…

2014 Olympic gold medalist Maxim Trankov is commentating for Russian television in Moscow. He is still wearing his small ponytail at the top of the back of his head. He may have started a fashion trend, as Klimov has grown a short ponytail as well.

"Yes, but Fedor is far fancier," Trankov said, his bright blue eyes wide open. "I'm so lazy, look, I'm unshaved and I don't even go to the hairdresser to have mine taken care of!"

Both men are on stage, though -- one on television and one on the ice. Lesson No. 1: There is a way to be fancy in the city and another way to be fancy in a sports arena.

…should not be confused with salsa ponytails

For this year's Latin short dance, the ice dancers are playing a lot with their hair, making it a prop in and of itself. It's amazing how much effort this requires. Marie-Jade Lauriault, who dances with Romain Le Gac, took the time to show how her ponytail was made up. A string of her long hair serves as the tape to secure her ponytail, and about 20 bobby pins are hidden inside it holding the whole thing together.

"It's not easy to (make it) stand," she explained, "and I'm quite relieved when I can take it off. But hair and make-up and costume are such a great way for us to get into the role and mood we need to dance to!"

In a few hours, she will move her ponytail all around to emphasize the beats of the team's salsa-rumba-salsa short dance!

Those words that shouldn't be pronounced

One of the hottest topics here in Moscow is, of course, the McLaren report and its consequences for the participation of the Russian skaters in the Olympic Games. The Russian federation has, indeed, presented a list of skaters to the International Olympic Committee, but no one yet knows who will be permitted to skate.

"There is so much pressure on athletes' shoulders at the moment," a Russian journalist acknowledged.

One journalist dared ask the question during the press conference following the pairs short program.

"Knowing if we participate or not doesn't change anything," Russia's Ksenia Stolbova quickly answered.

"No comment," her partner, Klimov, added.

One thing is for sure: The atmosphere is far from ideal for a skater trying to prepare for the biggest sporting event on the planet.

Truth comes from the mouth of the younger ones

"Yes, Russia is going to the Games!" an enthusiastic Evgenia Medvedeva answered a Japanese journalist asking whether the team would go to PyeongChang in three weeks. "We will have to skate under the white flag of the Olympic movement, of course, but we do have an Olympic team and we're all Russian athletes!"

Medvedeva is right, in a way: "Russia" is punished by the IOC, but those who skate are not "Russia" -- they are "Russians!"