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Round and Golden

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'Wow!' said Chris. 'I didn't think it would be so big.'

Victor smiled with the smugness just about allowable from one who had won a gold medal at his first Olympics, if the person he was smiling at liked him very much.

'You can touch it if you like.'

Chris reached out a tentative finger. 'It's so thick. It's amazing.' He frowned. 'The hole in the middle's a bit weird, though.'

'Maybe the Italians couldn't afford a whole one. Anyway, it's better than the Salt Lake design.'

'It's amazing. You know, we could - '

'Oh! If you like -'

'No, it's yours, you should.'

Victor pulled the ribbon over his head and looked dubiously at the medal. 'I'm not sure it'll fit.'

'It definitely will.'

There did not seem to be much dignity to be had in disputing this, especially when they could be doing something else.

'All right,' said Victor, 'then we'll both do it. And it's mine, so I'll go first.'


After more than two decades of coaching, Yakov was used to the telephone in the middle of the night. He rolled over wearily, seized the handset on the bedside table, and gave his name. He had learned to do that after someone had accidentally phoned him about a Hungarian ice dancer who had been unignorably indiscrete with some cocaine. He'd been at the police station talking to a lawyer before they realised he was the wrong person. But even as he reached out his arm, he knew it would be Vitya. He yawned. That gold medal had secured him another five year's employment, he supposed he could be merciful. Up to a point.

'Yakov! I'm really sorry, I didn't know what to do.'

That was good. If Victor hadn't tried to solve the problem himself then, just possibly, the situation was not irretrievable.

'It's all right. What is it?'

'It's - it's stuck!'

'Where?' The question of what was secondary. Over the bad wire of quickly-thrown together Olympic flats he heard a high, worried voice saying something incomprehensible to Victor. A girl? Never, in his experience, the easier option.

'Victor, who is that with you?'


'Christophe Giacometti?'

'Yes. Non, Chris! Ne le rub pas!' Victor's French was still at the early stage, though he had been working hard at it recently. Suddenly the reason had become clear.

'Victor, what exactly is going on?' Victor gave an embarrassed hum.  'You've already woken me up, it won't be better if it's for nothing.'

'Well. Chris and I, after the ceremony, we came back to my room to, you know, watch TV and stuff, and there was my medal and we thought it would be fun to try to - and Chris is stuck. It won't come off and he's really starting to worry!'

The question of where had become redundant. He ought to have known. Damn those idiot boys!

'All right, I'll come over. Are you in your room.'


'Where's Sasha?'

'He went to a party with the hockey team.'

This was not ideal, but it was also not Yakov's problem. 'I see. What have you tried?'

'We rubbed some Vaseline on, but it didn't help.'

'God help me. You've got a bath in your room, haven't you? So run it with cold water, sit him in it up to his waist, and don't do anything else until I get there.'

Yakov reflected on the properties of cold water and flesh vs. metal. Giacometti was going to be very cold by the time he arrived. It would serve him right.


The great thing about Italy, thought Yakov, was the bars. They sold him a bottle of prosecco in an ice bucket without hesitation. Why should they question? It wasn't yet closing time, and even if it had been, he'd coached a gold medallist.


The chipboard door was opened by an anxious-looking Victor, who had at least had the good sense to put on a pair of trousers.

'Where is he?'

'In the bath.' He bent towards Yakov's ear and whispered softly, 'I think he's trying not to cry. I'm not good with people who cry.'

Yakov, who had witnessed Victor's earnest attempts to comfort distraught juniors, could only agree.

Giacometti was sitting in the bath, looking extremely small and beginning to shiver. He had apparently taken Yakov's instruction not to do anything else to heart, because you'd have thought that by the time someone's lips were turning blue he'd have tried and ought to have succeeded. Fewer things are less erotic than a cold bath and the imminent arrival of your boyfriend's irate coach.

The ice was probably unnecessary, but there was no way he would be able to charge it to expenses and Victor deserved it. He removed the bottle and upended the bucket into the bathwater with a splash and rattle off Giacometti's knees. He shrieked, leapt backwards, and something clunked onto the enamel.

'There we are,' said Yakov, reaching in and taking out a gold medal, now mercifully unattached to any body part, and handing it to Victor. 'All yours.'

He leant over again, seized a clammy arm and hauled Giacometti upright.

'Show me,' he said in English.


If Yakov's English were not what it might have been, his French was non-existent. He turned to Victor. 'If he doesn't understand, you'll have to translate.'

He tried again slowly and, with some effort, kindly. 'Show me, or I will have to telephone Susanne. She'll take you to the hospital.'

This appeared to get through. He turned round and stood quietly as Yakov looked at him. There was no bruising, or at least it was only to his pride. Yakov couldn't really blame him for what Victor had accurately identified as incipient tears. No-one likes to think he might lose a part of himself to gangrene, or whatever he had been imagining, and Victor had telephoned. He would be merciful.

'You'll be all right,' he said gruffly, pulled out the plug, and reached to turn on a hot shower. 'Stay. Vitya, with me.' The bathroom door swung to behind them.


He pushed his hand through his hair, now definitely thinning, and cast his eyes towards Victor who had retreated to the window. The old days had been much easier: then he had only had to worry about defections.

'Victor, next time you are tempted to do something really stupid, I invite you to remember this moment. I particularly invite you to remember this moment and imagine how you would have asked the IOC for a new medal after the hospital had cut that one off him. And I would have made you do it, you'll need it for the photos.'

Victor, for once, looked genuinely chastened.

'I really am sorry. Do I - does he have to go now?'

He looked so young. Perhaps it was the hair, except they all looked younger, every year.

'No. Keep him here and calm him down. No, keep him here and wind him up and make sure that his bloodflow is normal. If it isn't, ring Susanne and get her to take him to the hospital. Needless to say, without you.'

He wouldn't be too harsh. They had, more or less, stuck to the rules: your own age, not in public, nothing criminal. They didn't even appear to be drunk. But there was one thing -

'I thought I told you always to take precautions?'

'I know, but - '

'I gave you some. You can buy  more. You can buy them on the internet if you're too embarrassed to do it in a shop. There's a bowl of them on the kitchen table!'

'I know, but it wasn't. We hadn't. I mean -'

He was tempted to say he didn't believe him, but he did. Charming as he was, no word had reached Yakov of any prior exploits of Victor's of any note, and Susanne kept her younger charges on a tight rein. Most of the time. Giacometti looked like he belonged on a Swiss mountain with a herd of goats and possibly also on a billboard selling detergent, which in a few years time he doubtless would if he maintained his promise. Yakov sighed.

'I don't want the details, but every time, Vitya. That's the point of it. And if you must wear that, wear it around your neck, if it'll fit over your head.'

'I'm really sorry.'

'Good.' Yakov moved towards the door. 'If he's not all right, ring me and I'll help explain to Susanne. And Vitya? I went to bed tonight looking forward to tomorrow's headlines. Please promise me that I still can.'

 'Of course.'

'Good night then.' He hesitated, hand on the door handle. 'It's your medal, I'm surprised you weren't the one - on second thoughts, I don't want to know.'

'I did the first time. It wasn't -'

Yakov laughed. 'You can't win 'em all.'


He took the prosecco back to his room. It was a bit late, but he'd paid for it, why wait until tomorrow? And perhaps he didn't have to drink it all himself. It was probably not a good idea, but everyone was allowed a mistake once in a while. Yakov reached for the telephone again.

 'Lilia! I know it's late. You won't believe what that boy has done...'