Gala Exhibition provides lighthearted closure to figure skating in Sochi

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After three weeks of intense battles for the podium in each of the figure skating categories, the Gala Exhibition was, fittingly, an emotionally charged event as well. Fortunately all of the emotions felt by both skaters and fans at the Iceberg Ice Palace on Saturday night were strictly positive ones.

With the pressure of competition behind them, the big winners of figure skating’s most coveted medals (along with some who came close to the podium), came out for the Olympic tradition of showcasing the lighter side of what is usually a pretty tense sport. Fifth-place finisher Tatsuki Machida dropped to his knees and played air guitar for a good 30 seconds of his skate to Queen’s “Don’t Stop me Now,” while Javier Fernandez provided the night’s most hilarious performance. If his competitive programs this season were criticized for being boring, his gala number to a medley of classic workout and aerobics class tunes, complete with props, costume changes and a bucket of water being dumped on the him, was anything but.

The only three American skaters to participate were Gracie Gold and ice dancing gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

Gold let her hair down, both literally and figuratively speaking. Sporting a low ponytail under a fedora hat rather than her usual tight bun, Gold showed off her hometown pride, skating to “All that Jazz” from the musical Chicago.

“I’m glad I was able to show the world what kind of skater I am on a big venue like the Olympics and I can’t wait to show them again in four years,” she said of her fourth-place finish in Sochi. But right now, Gold is focused more on the immediate challenge of the World Championships at the end of next month. “I was the fourth-best woman in this competition, but at the World Championships, I hope to move up in the placement and I’d love to get the gold,” said the current U.S. national champion right after her clean gala performance.

Unlike their teammate, Davis and White have yet to give any serious thought to what lays ahead for their careers -- they haven’t even decided whether or not they’ll go to worlds in March. “We’re trying not to jump into the future,” said Davis. At the gala, the world’s new No. 1 ice dancing duo skated to “Adagio” from “Piano Concerto No. 2” by Rachmaninoff. “Our program was about the joy that we now feel as skaters,” White explained. “We’ve come such a long way and the joy that we have as Olympic champions -- it’s our message of loving figure skating.”

Even more love and feel-good vibes came during the gala’s finale, when the participants checked any rivalries or bitterness at the boards and performed a number all together, which they all appeared to genuinely enjoy -- even the usually surly Yulia Lipnitskaya cracked a smile while waltzing with men’s gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu. Just when it looked like the group number couldn’t possibly tug at the heartstrings any harder, the rink suddenly went dark; a single spotlight hit the ice and then Kim Yu-na, who is officially retiring from amateur competition, got to enjoy one final moment of basking in it at the Olympics. Her colleagues, meanwhile all stepped to the side, giving the 2014 silver medalist a spirited round of applause as she waved goodbye.

The gala’s good-natured camaraderie, showmanship and celebration of the sport provided a much-needed sense of closure following the volatile affair that Olympic figure skating proved to be at the Sochi Winter Games.