Just before Russian figure-skating pair Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov took the ice in last night’s free-skate event, NBC cut to a short package about the gold-medal favorites (and eventual gold medalists). After a few moments’ worth of practice footage and behind-the-scenes stories from the four years the pair has been skating together, NBC’s reporter asked Trankov and Volosozhar the inevitable question: Is the palpable, sensual chemistry they exude on the ice based in real-life romance?
Given the unique talent, rare achievements, and all-consuming dedication of these two world-class athletes, it’s obviously somewhat silly for a reporter to push past the discussion of their professional accomplishments and instead ask about love lives. But the modern Olympics, whether we like it or not, have become an opportunity for viewers to get to know elite athletes by proxy, to feel like they’re rooting for their friends-once-removed. It’s only natural to want to know what kind of love drives a champion to succeed at the Games—in this case, whether it’s love of sport, love of country, or love of teammate.
Listening to the reporter’s paraphrasing during the segment, you might get the impression that the Volosozhar and Trankov are simply elusive or private about the status of their relationship off the ice; they’d effectively skirted the issue for some time now, the reporter summarized. But Volosozhar and Trankov’s assessment of whether they’re a couple was both direct and quietly astonishing: They are, sort of.