Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

3:33 Sports Short #37 // Оксана by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Pink sequins & mall bangs, teenage tears & hand-me-down skates. An upset, an underdog, a doe. Oh, we’re sick of that American melodrama, but here’s a fresh breath of Eastern air! A lost national anthem, “the” Ukraine, how do we even spell your last name? There are too many ways to translate Cyrillic, but boy you Soviet girls sure know how to skate.

Black swan, white swan, toepick, toeshoe. Don’t worry so much about the technicals, Oksana. Let the other girls spend their whole programs up in the air. You are Odette! You are Odile! Sixteen years old, a hollow-boned bird, are those arms flitting & flapping or are they wings? Forget the trailer trash and the broken-kneed ice queens, everyone come & see the orphan from Odesa turn this frozen rink to lake.

That landing, slightly two-footed, is the only fault they can find in you, Oksana. “Perfection!” they cry, not in Russian, but in English! Listen to all that they call you: a frail fighter, a skinny survivor. It pays to be small--the coach-mother who now holds you upright in mamabear arms took you in & took you on only because she knew how little a waif like you would eat.

The gold medal will hang heavy round your twig neck on the long trip home, but don’t think of that. Don’t think of the dreary city that waits for you, the Black Sea the color of slate, your coach-mother crawling across the hometown rink, smoothing the ice by hand before you skate. Take instead this chance to live forever as you are now: weeping, limp-limbed, unspoiled & sweet. Oksana, this is bigger than you! This is the biggest you will ever be!