Germany's gold medal in the figure skating pairs was an unlikely triumph in more ways than one. That only made their record-setting performance all the sweeter for Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot.
They seem like an unlikely couple to be winning gold for Germany at the Winter Olympics.
When you listen to Bruno Massot speaking German, it quickly becomes clear that he is not a native of the country that he happens to be competing for – his accent unmistakably betrays his origins in the French city of Caen.
In fact, Massot, who only turned to his adopted country so that he could team up with Aljona Savchenko, the grand dame of pairs skating, was only granted his German citizenship last November.
Savchenko, who at 34 is five years Massot's senior, also speaks German with a foreign accent – she was born in the Kiev region of Ukraine, the country she represented in her first Olympic Games, in Salt Lake City in 2002.
After 2002, Savchenko switched flags, teaming up with Robin Szolkowy to represent Germany at the past three Winter Games, winning bronze medals in Vancouver in 2010 and in Sochi four years ago. However when Szolkowy decided to hang up the skates after the Worlds in 2014, Savchenko wasn't ready to do the same and turned to the younger Massot, in whom she saw a lot of potential.
Months spent in limbo
For the Frenchman, the opportunity to skate with Savchenko was too good to turn down, but when he requested his release from the French federation (FFSG), he was left in figure-skating limbo for a year and a half, a period during which he was ineligible for competition. The FFSG had reportedly initially demanded that Massot pay a release fee of €70,000 ($87,000), but later agreed to a payment of less than half that. Massot, still a French citizen, was cleared to skate with Savchenko for Germany in October, 2016.
And if it seems strange to an outsider to watch somebody competing at the Olympics for a country he has only been a citizen of for such a short time, it appears to be just as strange for the athlete in question.
"I'm French and I love skating for France," Massot told the AFP news agency more than a year before being granted German citizenship. "Yes, I skate for Germany because I'm thinking of my career above anything else."
Savchenko's connection to the country she now competes for is clearly deeper, having moved to Germany to train with Szolkowy in 2003. However, she too seems to see her citizenship largely in practical terms.
"The blood in you doesn't know what nationality you are," Savchenko said after she and Massot pulled off their record-setting performance on Thursday. "We are happy we can do this for Germany, the country that took us in and supported us, this is the main thing."
Near fatal error
Not only do the pair seems an unlikely duo to be competing for Germany, but 24 hours earlier, a mistake by Massot, when he managed just a double rather than the planned triple salchow in the short program, left them in some distress – in fourth and seemingly out of contention.
The gold medal was particularly sweet for the determined Savchenko, who finally reached the top of the podium – at her fifth Winter Games.
For Massot, it was his first gold in his very first appearance at the Olympics. It should have been his second, but his hopes of competing in Sochi were dashed when his then-partner, Russian-born Daria Popava, was denied French citizenship.