At Winter Olympics, figure skating coach wears three different team uniforms

At the Vancouver Olympics, figure skating coach Ingo Steuer of Germany sat with teams from three different countries – Switzerland, Ukraine, and Germany – after their performances tonight.

The performance by China's top two teams in the 2010 Olympics figure skating pairs competition Saturday night was dazzling, rightly sending the crowd into thunderous applause. Silver medalists Qing Pang and Jian Tong thrilled the crowd by being virtually the first pair all night not to fall, while gold medalists Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao held onto their No. 1 rank from the short program to take gold with a solid performance.

But sitting on the edge of the rink for the duration of the competition, I felt compelled to appreciate the grace and skill of all the athletes – no matter whether they were from my home country or not.

For me, that's a pleasure. For coach Ingo Steuer, it's his job. Which makes it both easy and hard.

Tonight the German was cheering on three different teams, all of whom made it here under his careful eye: Ukraine’s Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov, the Swiss pair of Anais Morand and Antoine Dorsaz, and bronze medalists Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany.

That last example, at least, would seem normal – except Savchenko is originally Ukrainian. So when people say that in 2008 she and her partner became the first Germans to win World Championships since their coach, Steuer, did it in 1997 – it doesn’t mean exactly what you think.

Olympics go multinational

Call it the hybrid Olympics, a product of the same forces of globalization that have swept business, education, and culture. These days, the manufacturing of Olympic athletes increasingly a multinational effort. The Olympic ideal of cooperation and harmony between countries is now expressed in more integrated into the fabric of the Games.

It’s not just in figure skating. Here at the 2010 Olympic Games, German coaches are grooming Germany’s rivals in both women’s biathlon and women’s luge. While some wonder who he’ll be cheering for, his athletes have no doubt he’s gunning for them.

“Wolfgang [Pichler] really, really wants us to beat the Germans,” says Swede Helena Jonsson, the top-ranked biathlete in the world.

And another Wolfgang – Wolfgang Staudinger – has been honing the skills of Canada’s luge team.

Brothers under two flags

Out at the Nordic combined venues, meanwhile, two brothers competed for different countries in Sunday’s historic competition that gave the US its first Olympic medal in the sport.

Jan and Thomas Schmid were born to Swiss parents who live in Norway, so they split the difference. Jan competed for Norway, finished 23rd , while Thomas wore the Swiss suit, finishing 40th .

"[Our parents] think this is very cool,” said Jan. “This is what we all were hoping for at the beginning of the season."

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