Beijing, the Cup of China. The international TV stations broadcast this key event from the early season. Yesterday was the Short Programme, today the Free Skate, and all eyes are on Katsuki Yuuri, and whether he can match his magical performance...
Commentator 1: And that was a tremendous performance from Yuuri Katsuki. After a disappointing end to his season last year when his Grand Prix Final breakthrough turned into a flop, he's come roaring back this year with an outstanding programme and I think it's clear that a large part of what looks like it could be a wonderful season for Katsuki this year is owed to the man waiting for him now, his new coach Victor - Did you just see that?
Commentator 2: I just saw that. Did he trip?
Commentator 1: I don't think he tripped.
Commentator 2: They're lying on the ice. Nikiforov looks like he's going to - and he has. Well, I really don't know what to say about this. The crowd is going wild, wouldn't you say, Megan?
Commentator 1: Yes, John. The crowd is certainly fired up after that outstanding performance and that display of - support and enthusiasm from Nikiforov for his athlete's effort. And here are the judges' scores coming, a well-deserved second place! There's some room for improvement on the jumps, but that unexpected quad flip was a very exciting moment. If Katsuki can bring that off in Rostelecom he's going to be a very strong contender for the podium in the final.
Commentator 2: I certainly agree with you there, Megan. And now, a short break.
[The adverts play.]
Extensive sounds of snorting laughter
Commentator 1: Holy fuck, did you see that? I mean, they did, didn't they? I'm not high?
Commentator 2: Only if - only if I - They really did! It's the Power of Love... Oh my God, Victor! I guess he really didn't want that Russian broadcasting career.
Commentator 1: Or the ISU board seat.
Commentator 2: Come on, they can't possibly be surprised.
Commentator 1: They like their plausible deniability.
Commentator 2: Because nothing says plausible deniability like a flower crown and fucking Christophe Giacommetti.
Commentator 1: No-one counts Giacommetti, he's like the Johnny Depp exception. Besides, Victor's always been discreet whenever he's been seeing someone. He knows you've got to look available to your fans.
Commentator 2: He sure doesn't look available now, I swear he slipped him some tongue that second time. I guess that solves the mystery of Katsuki's improvement, he just needed to get laid - Shit, three seconds, where's my - Welcome back to the Cup of China, where Yuuri Katsuki has pulled off the skate of a lifetime, and it looks like he might have pulled his coach, too. The second group will skate in a moment, but first let's look at a replay of Katsuki's programme, followed by that moment when Victor Nikiforov's millions of fans saw a new side to their idol.
Barcelona. It's the Grand Prix Final, and the commentators are ready...
Commentator 1: Give my love to Gary, I'm sorry he couldn't come.
Commentator 2: He really wanted to, but you know what it's like this time of year, there's a Christmas show this weekend and he couldn't get out of it.
Commentator 1: Tell me about it. But why don't two of you come down for the weekend before the Nationals? We'll go out one night, the kids would love to see you.
Commentator 2: That would be great. We'll fix a date.
[TECHS: Counting down. 3, 2, 1, live.]
Commentator 2: Welcome to Barcelona and this year's Grand Prix Final! First up, the men's short programme and six skaters ready to face off in pursuit of that all-important gold medal. Who's your money on, Megan?
Commentator 1: Well, John, at the beginning of the season I'd have said Christophe Giacommetti for sure. He's got the pedigree, he's got the programmes, and he's certainly got the passion.
[TECHS: Mature. Masculine. Sex appeal!]
But I'm not so sure any more. Even without Victor Nikiforov competing this is a competition slate just packed with skating talent. JJ Leroy has really come on this season and looks like giving Chris a run for his money, and after that bronze at last season's World Championships I can't under-estimate Otabek Altin. For me, Phichit Chulanont is probably not looking at gold, but riding high on those groundbreaking programmes for Thailand who knows? Maybe he'll be on the podium.
[TECHS: SHALL WE SKAAAATE!!!]
Commentator 2: Speaking of the absence of Victor Nikiforov, what's your impression of the new Russian contender? As I recall you had some doubts earlier this season.
Commentator 1: That's right. I've gotta be honest and say that Yuri Plisetsky was not my favourite at the start of the season. He was a terrific junior and he's a kid with a lot of potential, but I felt he had a way to go in finding his expression. But if the Free Skate we saw at Rostelecom is anything to go by he's finding it fast. And speaking of finding expression there's Yuri Katsuki -
[TECHS: I've never heard it called that before.]
Who has taken what has always been a wonderfully expressive skating style with beautiful steps and spins and added a whole new confidence to his performance. His technical side is still a little shaky at times, but if he can just nail that
[TECHS: Like he nailed Victor!]
I think he could be a real contender for gold.
Commentator 2: I agree. Katsuki's always suffered from nerves, and you know I really respect him for being more open about that this season. Professional sport is a tough world mentally as well as physically, and it's not easy to confess to that kind of weakness. His coach, Celestino, has a history of delivering some quality skaters, he had Katsuki in the final last year and there's Chulanont now, but I think it's telling that it's been when working with another professional skater as his coach, someone who really knows those challenges, that Katsuki's been able to open up and gain a new confidence in himself and in his performance. However he does this weekend, I really hope this season isn't his last.
Commentator 1: And what do you make of these rumours that it's all the power of love?
Commentator 2: It's hardly just rumour! Katsuki himself has talked about love as the theme for his season and his wish to show that to the world. Tonight may just be the night that he does.
Commentator 1: Let's hope so. And now, over to some messages.
[The adverts play.]
Commentator 1: So has Gary heard anything? I mean, they're doing it, right?
Commentator 2: That's what's everyone's saying, but I don't think anyone really knows. You said it, the Chris Giacommetti thing aside, Nikiforov's kind of discreet.
Commentator 1: He kissed his skate.
Commentator 2: I know! But no-one's got any real info. If you ask me for my personal opinion -
Commentator 1: And I do.
Commentator 2: Either they're fucking or Nikiforov has a serious case of blue balls going on.
Commentator 1: Katsuki has got that innocence thing going, though. One moment he's all Eros and my theme is love, and the next you can imagine Victor tucking him up in bed with a stuffed poodle. He even hugged Feltsman.
Commentator 2: I'll have you know, Feltsman was quite the guy back in the day.
[TECHS: Thank you for that mental image. Three seconds.]
Commentator 1: Welcome back, the skaters are just coming onto the rink for practice now. There's Canada's JJ Leroy -
Commentator 2: You know, Megan, what I'm about to say is not going to be popular with some people, but I'm in two minds about JJ. Technically he's really got it: four quads, and they are all solid. He's so confident, he's charismatic, he really connects with the crowd and you can see how he's loving his time on the ice. But I'd like to see a greater artistic range. Can he project more than confidence? Listen to the lyrics of King JJ, there's not a lot of depth in there! All his routines for the last few years have had this very in your face, very masculine sensibility about them, and that's fine as far as it goes, he performs them great. But figure skating is more than that, there's an artistic, expressionistic side that I find lacking in his routines. I'd love to see him develop that.
Commentator 1: Would you say he's technically the best skater at this competition?
Commentator 2: Technically, sure. But jumps are only half of the programme. Even if Leroy is perfect there, if Katsuki lands that quad flip, if Giacommetti's error-free, either one of them could outscore Leroy on the programme components to claim the gold. It's such an exciting competition.
Commentator 1: It certainly is. That was a beautiful triple axel from Plisetsky, great height. Altin looks confident, I really love his costume. Let's have a look at Katsuki, he's skating first today.
Commentator 2: Limiting the jumps at warm up, probably a good idea for him. This is about warming up, getting used to the arena, not a last-minute rehearsal of the hardest parts of your programme. Some nice steps there and HOLY SHIT IS THAT A WEDDING RING?
Still in Barcelona...
[TECHS: It's OK, we caught it on the delay. Bringing sound back in ready and - go!]
Commentator 1: Welcome back. I apologise to viewers that we lost sound for a moment there because of a small technical problem. That's been resolved and we're back to bring you the all of the Grand Prix Final from Barcelona where the skaters are finishing their warm-up for the men's Short Programme. John, can you see Yuuri Katsuki medal in the competition this year?
Commentator 2: I think he could. Look at those spins we've been watching, Eros is a terrific programme that really plays to his strengths. I just hope that the increase in technical difficulty he's introduced doesn't distract him from those core abilities in steps and spins, and that wonderful presentation.
Commentator 1: And speaking of presentation, you saw something a little different about his costume today.
Commentator 2: That's right, Megan. Both Katsuki and Nikiforov appear to be wearing gold rings. I certainly haven't seen those before.
Commentator 1: Souvenirs of Barcelona? There's some great shopping in the city.
[TECHS: It's a fucking wedding ring. It's round, it's golden, it's not a gold medal! It's a wedding ring.]
Commentator 2: Or a good luck charm, perhaps. The skaters are leaving the ice with just Katsuki remaining for a last word with his coach, Victor Nikiforov who - who has just kissed the ring on his skater's hand. The crowd roars in appreciation as Katsuki skates to the centre of the ring and kisses his own ring, and Nikiforov - OK, I don't think there's anything I can add to what we're seeing here. So let's watch as Yuuri Katsuki skates his GPF performance of On Love: Eros, choreographed by his coach and, let's face it, definitely his boyfriend, Victor Nikiforov.
Commentator 1: I think the hearts of a million hopeful fans just broke.
[The Men's Short Programme]
Commentator 1: And that's another shock on a day that's seemed full of them with a career low for Jean-Jacques Leroy! Are you surprised at that score, John? Only eleven points lower than Katsuki and nine below Chulanont. I'm sure some viewers will be thinking there's been some leniency shown towards the favourite here.
[TECHS: Blatant favouritism!]
Commentator 2: I can understand that view. To be honest, I think Katsuki's mark was fair. It's a little on the low side, I agree, but it's not unreasonable. It looked to me that he was too focussed on the technical aspects, and when his performance slipped on those he didn't fully express the rest of the programme, but it's still a great programme and I'm looking forward to seeing it develop over the rest of the season. He's only five points below Giacommetti so a podium is still within reach with a clean free skate. Chulanont could reasonably feel a little hard done by; that was a solid execution of a delightful programme. We know that earlier skaters are often a little underscored, and I think that the judges' might have considered that when they scored Leroy's SP. I think that had he skated first, he might have been scored lower.
[TECHS: That was BULLSHIT SCORING!]
As for Yuri Plisetsky, I can't take a point away from him. That was a stupendous performance, I'm sure we're going to be hearing a lot over the next few days about a new era in Russian figure skating.
Commentator 1: We're certainly witnessing the arrival of a fabulous skater. But before we get carried away with the Tsar is dead, long live the Tsar, let's wait a moment. On Love: Agape was choreographed by Victor Nikiforov to music he had commissioned, and it was initially coached by Nikiforov. If this is a new era it's one built on the foundations of what Victor Nikiforov has given to his sport and his country.
Commentator 2: Do you think it feels strange for him, watching the competition going on without him after all these years?
Commentator 1: If he really has decided to retire, it's got to. When I retired I spent the first six months being relieved I didn't have early morning training, but when the season came round again it was more difficult. Every time I watch the big competitions there's still a part of me that wants to be out there on the ice. I'd be surprised if there wasn't a part of Victor that wanted that. But you know, that's only a part. The rest of him looks like he doesn't want to be anywhere in the world other than right next to Yuuri Katsuki.
[TECHS: Or under him! Or on top! Sideways! In the Kiss and Cry! Please, on camera!]
[The adverts play.]
The crowd in the stadium only had to scream their enthusiasm, the poor commentators in the TV studio had to try and make sense of what they were seeing... Finally it's the Grand Prix Final Free Skate!
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
It's the Barcelona GPF, a few minutes before the broadcast for the Free Skate goes live...
Commentator 1: So do you think Victor and Katsuki are engaged, or what?
Commentator 2: God knows. Though, if they were, don't you think Victor would have put it on Instagram?
[TECHS: Chris says it's an understanding, whatever the fuck that means. He said that last part, too.]
Commentator 2: How do you know?
[TECHS: The Swiss Eurosport guys overheard him talking to Stéphane.]
Commentator 1: Didn't Stéphane and Victor have a thing once?
Commentator 2: Gary says not. Apparently when Victor said in that post-Europeans interview that Stéphane was helping him with his French he really did mean the language.
Commentator 1: That's why you shouldn't skip media training. Anyway, what's this thing about Plisetky and Altin being seen socialising? It's kind of strange, the silent guy and the poison dwarf.
Commentator 2: Maybe they bonded over a mutual loathing of JJ. You ready?
[TECHS: Counting down. 3, 2, 1, live.]
Commentator 1: Welcome back to Barcelona and the Grand Prix Final! Next up, the men's Free Skate. After a real gamut of performances in the Short Programme, from Plisetsky's glittering world record, beating that set by Victor Nikiforov two years ago, to JJ Leroy's lowest score in his senior career, I think we can look forward to a very special competition tonight.
Commentator 2: I quite agree, Megan. But before we start tonight's competition, let's take another look at Yuri Plisetsky skating his Short Programme, On Love: Agape.
[The video plays.]
Commentator 1: That was a magical performance. There are moments in sport when you see a competitor break through to the next level and there's no doubt that was one of them. In Skate Canada and in Moscow, Plisetsky was a fantastic junior looking like he'd had a great launch to his senior career, but this was something else. He was technically perfect, and more than that he was artistic. He was emotional, ethereal, he was absolutely entrancing. That's the kind of performance you see from the skater of his generation. He's in first place, and for me he's got to be the leading contender for gold today.
Commentator 2: I agree with everything you said. I'm completely won over by him, that was a wonderful skate. But I have got one reservation, and that's that Yuri Plisetsky is only 15, and when you're on the ice that Free Skate programme is long. We saw the day before yesterday how he skated out of his skin, but he looked exhausted afterwards. The Allegro Appassionato is a little less technically challenging than Agape in some respects, that's good choreography reflecting the stamina of so young a skater, and he's performed it beautifully in the series so far, but if Plisetsky does slip up, I think that length may be what challenges him.
Commentator 1: If you want stamina in one of this year's skaters you've got to go for Yuuri Katsuki. I'm really liking seeing programmes that play to that strength of his. I think we were all a little disappointed in his <i>Eros</i> performance this time around, it just seemed to lack some of the precision and intensity we've been seeing this season, but I can't wait for his Free Skate.
Commentator 2: What do you make of these rumours that he may be retiring after the series?
Commentator 1: If I had a Swiss Franc for every time I'd heard a rumour a skater was retiring, I wouldn't be here with you today. As soon as a skater gets to twenty it seems we start to hear rumours of retirement - I got asked about it all the time, and you know often the question came up with Victor. Some people will say that skating's a young man's game, but right now Katsuki's skating like a man reborn, so even if he were thinking of a change I can't see him going until the end of the season unless he's concealing a serious injury.
Commentator 2: I certainly hope that you're right.
[The Free Skate]
[TECHS: Does that introduction sound like Twin Peaks to anyone else?]
[TECHS: Did you hear there's going to be a The King and the Skater III?]
[TECHS: Wow, Yuuri looks like shit. Maybe Victor dumped him to go back to skating.]
[TECHS: Victor is the least professional coach ever.]
Commentator 2: 221.58 points! Yuuri Katsuki scores a world record in his Free Skate! What a performance! And what must Victor Nikiforov be thinking now? Two programmes he's choreographed, two skaters he's supported, and two world records. He looks delighted with Yuuri's performance, but surely some part of him wishes that he was strapping on his skates to challenge those two young men.
Commentator 1: How could he not be? When you see someone skate like that all those aches and pains, the surgeries, the interval training, the fervent desire to thump your coach, it all melts away and you just want to be out there. I want to be out there myself, and I'm not even sure I could pull off a double Salchow these days. That was a beautiful, beautiful -
[TECHS: Are you actually crying?]
Excuse my getting emotional here, this is such a wonderful thing to see from a skater who always had it in him, and is finally showing us his true potential. He's in first place for the moment, but with three powerful competitors still to go.
[The Free Skate]
[TECHS: Chris, for God's sake! Wank before you go on the ice!]
[TECHS: Sorry, Altin, if you pulled the stick out of your arse they might score you higher than JJ.]
Commentator 2: No! He fell on the toe-loop! There'll be a significant deduction there. But a good recovery into the spiral. I think - I think it might just be gold for Plisetsky! It is! It is!
[TECHS: Thank fuck! I put a bet on him last summer.]
Commentator 1: As Yuri Plisetsky receives his first Senior gold medal, all I can say is that I'm glad the Russian national anthem has a rousing tune, because we've heard a lot of it over the past few years and it doesn't look like that's going to change. That's all from Barcelona and from this season's Grand Prix Final! What a magnificent competition we've been treated to this year. Yuri Plisetsky and Yuuri Katsuki won't meet again until the World Championships, but I can hardly wait. What a competition, what champions, what a season this is shaping up to be. Thank you for watching, and good night.
Commentator 2: Good night!
[The adverts play]
Commentator 1: Are they still hugging?
Commentator 2: They're still hugging.
Commentator 1: Get a room!
Commentator 2: They can't. If Victor moves, everyone will see his erection.
[TECHS: Hey! Someone overheard Victor talking to Feltsman. He's coming back for Russian Nationals!]
Commentator 1: ...
Commentator 2: ...
Til next season!
With thanks to ChiaraBarbieri for their comment on the first chapter that IRL there would be staff on the control panel commenting as well :-) What a monster it spawned...