I knew the Soviets were up to something when I first laid eyes on Ekaterina Gordeeva's 1988 Calgary long-program costume.
My buddies and I had spotted optical costuming since 1974. Eastern European specialty. Designed to blind the judges. Make them think they were skating better. It can be done. I've only ever seen two judges who could spot it. Who weren't influenced. One pairs and one ice dance. Test rabbits, guys?
Anyhow, you got used to the Soviet techniques and yada, yada, yada. And then...round about 1986.....they called up the Red Army labs for combat duty. Oh shit. Hide your eyes. Wear sunglasses. Something. The test costumes they threw on little Katia were an education in and of themselves. I'd say about $50,000 in R&D and such per effort. Never mind the complementary costumes on Sergei. I'll leak. One of Sergei's costumes during that period looked like it was designed for another partner. Apparently he qualified, though. Good choice. I could tell who you meant. And he never had the lines....
But they were dumping it all on Katia. Knew what they had, they did. And my God, it was fascinating. Get an industrial-quality spectrometer. Tune it to lighting conditions. And go to work on a broadcast-quality tape. You'll see what I mean. Thanks for the education, boys. Loved it. I was waiting to see who else would catch on, but I loved it.
And then they reeled out that 1988 "corsage" jobbie. Whee-hoo. Not aimed at North America, was it? Usually the Sovs just worried about on-site effect. Judges. Fans sitting in the first three rows (the famed "catch basin"). Coaches. Other skaters. But this little kittie was designed to pass through network camera lenses. Past US-affiliated broadcast studios. And into the homes (I swear they had to have calibrated it to typical Olympic-viewer set reception) of fans from Norfolk to Pearl Harbor. (Uh. Please. Nobody but norteamericanos, and that particular kind of norteamericanos, responds to that color in the striations. Knock it off.) Double-color hand-dyed sequins? Rearranged three days before the final program? Not to mention that awesome fabric work? And how many times did you recalibrate the shoulders? :-)
I hope you gave that outfit an Order of Lenin. 'Cause the damn thing worked. We're still dodging the fallout from those damn tribute sites. Poor Katia.....
Yeah, I'd've radiated poise and perfection too if I'd known the government orders. How many Ph.D's? How many hours? How much spilled vodka? Just for the design work? I'd've thought I looked pretty good too.
Wow. Damn. Back to the story.
And the story is Katia. Michelle Kwan was under pressure? Tara? Hah. How many hundreds of thousands of dollars (I'm converting: sorry, guys) in that outfit? Three Soviet officials in the audience with "off-with-their-heads" power. Three. Spaced to catch shit the cameras wouldn't see. Extra lab cameras running, aimed at crucial points. Sure, you've generally got a coach, maybe a choreographer who can do a skater's performance along with them. But scientists? From different discplines? What kind of university work went into developing that routine? Cringe. We couldn't do it over here.
Admire how Katia skates. But understand what went into her.
They had focus groups in the States the night of the finals. Who didn't know they were focus groups. I promise.
In different time zones.
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