Prompted by: Aspirwriter
With prompt: Olympic Opening Ceremony
This will definitely be continued.
After almost fifteen years of practice and hard work, Luciano Grimaldi’s dream had finally come true.
He was at the Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony in Sochi. He was officially an Olympian.
As he watched the five large, glowing snowflakes begin to morph, one by one, into the Olympic rings and join together, he had to pinch himself to make sure this wasn’t all just a wonderful dream. The last snowflake seemed to get stuck and didn’t transform into the final ring, and Luciano felt bad for the technical team. He was sure they’d worked hard on that moment, and it would have been stunningly beautiful if it had gone off right.
Luciano (“Luke” to everyone but his biological father) was a dual citizen of the USA and Malta. His Maltese father Damian and American mother Lily had met and embarked on a whirlwind romance while Damian was living in the States for a year on business. By the time Damian had to return to Malta and the relationship had run its course, Lily discovered she was pregnant. Damian insisted on being part of his son’s life, and traveled to see him as often as possible. Once Luke was old enough, he began bringing him back to Malta for extended visits and introduced him to the country and its culture. Luke spent enough time there throughout the year to be granted citizenship.
When Luke was still a toddler, Lily married Holden Snyder, a farmer and father of a son, Aaron, who was a few years older than Luke. A simple and unassuming man, Holden was as different as could be from the sophisticated Damian. But Luke loved his stepfather every bit as much as his biological father, and called both men, “Dad.” Holden and Lily would eventually make Luke and Aaron the proud older brothers of Faith, Natalie, and Ethan.
It was on the frozen pond on his family’s property in Oakdale, Illinois that Luke first discovered how much he loved to skate. As a young boy, he would glide around and make up moves, feeling so free and at home on the ice. He eventually asked his parents to let him start taking Figure Skating lessons. Damian raised objections, believing such an activity to be much too unmasculine for any son of his, but to Luke’s delight, he was overruled by Holden and Lily’s enthusiastic support.
His instructor at the local ice rink thought him to be so naturally gifted that she recommended he begin more formal training in the hopes that he might eventually compete. She connected him with Henry Coleman, a respected coach in Chicago. Henry was impressed enough with Luke that he agreed to make the drive to Oakdale on the weekends for all day Saturday training sessions, with Luke putting the training into practice at the local rink for two hours every day after school. The intensive schedule had Luke skating six days out of every week. It was rigorous work for such a young boy, but any misgivings Holden and Lily had with letting him do it were alleviated by the absolute joy they saw on their son’s face whenever he was out there on the ice.
When he turned fourteen, Luke placed for the first time at the regional Championship, taking third. The next year, he took second, and the year after that, he made his way into first. That same year, he finally placed in the Midwestern Sectionals. At only sixteen years of age, Luke was headed to the National Championship.
As he took to the ice for his long program at Nationals, Luke had never felt more nervous in his entire life, and he choked under the pressure. He fell twice trying to land after double axels, and he lost focus during the last third of his program and his movements became sloppy. He smiled gratefully as he took his bow, and was somehow able to keep himself composed until after the disappointing scores came in. Then he went to the bathroom and cried.
By the time he had pulled himself together and returned, four more skaters had performed, all of them having exceeded his score. He would not be placing his first time at Nationals, and there were still four more skaters left to go.
But at least he wasn’t in last place, he tried to reassure himself. Two skaters who had gone before him had lower scores than his. If some of these last four messed up, he might finish in the middle of the pack, which wouldn’t be too bad for his first time in a National competition.
As the announcer’s voice sounded through the speakers to introduce the next skater, Luke looked up to see the most gorgeous human being he’d ever laid eyes on gliding to the center of the ice. The young man had dark hair, hauntingly beautiful deep blue eyes, and a long, lean, sculpted body that was accentuated by the fitted costume he wore.
“…Noah Mayer!” The announcer boomed.
So this was Noah Mayer. Luke had never seen a picture of him before or spent any time searching for one, but that’s only because he had no idea he looked like that.
Noah Mayer was seventeen years old, hailed from Salt Lake City, Utah, and had just taken first place in the Pacific Coast Sectionals. Skating commentators all agreed that if he could perform at the same level at Nationals as he did at Sectionals, he would be on his way to Vancouver as a strong favorite to medal for the American team.
As soon as the music started and Noah’s program began, Luke forgot all about his disappointing performance and became absolutely captivated. Noah moved along the ice as gracefully as a swan, every motion nuanced and precise and seemingly effortless. He lifted up off the ice in powerful jumps, spinning through the air, and landing back on his skates without faltering. He used his body like an author used her words or an artist used his brush-telling a story, painting a picture about himself, about his soul. By the time Noah’s program came to an end, Luke was crying, tears streaming from his eyes. He jumped to his feet along with hundreds of other spectators in a standing ovation, not even caring that he was in a competition with this other boy. He had just witnessed something rare and moving and unforgettable. He also felt a stirring in his groin and adjusted the fabric of his costume to hide the erection that had spontaneously sprung.
Noah smiled shyly as he took his bow, and then skated to the side to await his scores.
Noah ended up becoming the Men’s National Champion by a huge point margin, while Luke finished in eight place. A few days later, as expected, Noah was announced as part of the US Figure Skating Team. He would be on his way to Vancouver the next month, and Luke would be rooting him on from home.
Was it possible to fall in love with someone just from watching them skate, Luke wondered. Because he couldn’t get Noah’s long program out of his mind, the emotions he had experienced as he watched the other young man express himself out on the ice.
Luke had known he was gay for about a year by then. He hadn’t worked up the nerve to tell his parents yet, although he suspected they already knew. After all, everyone already seemed to believe that every male figure skater was gay. That wasn’t necessarily the reality, but it was certainly the stereotypical assumption.
He wondered if Noah was gay. He found himself hoping so, although he knew he never had a chance with someone as astonishingly good looking and talented.
He and his family sat in their living room in Oakdale a month later and watched Noah manage to exceed his performance at Nationals with triumphant Olympic Programs that left Luke in tears once again. As he took his final bow, Luke could see some tears glistening in Noah’s eyes, too.
Noah took the Silver medal in men’s singles, narrowly losing the Gold to a Russian skater. Every commentator was convinced he would be headed to Sochi in four years to try for the Gold once again.
After his disappointing performance at Nationals, Luke recommitted himself to his practice, determined to return to Nationals the next year and move up from eighth place. His packed schedule of school, practice, and a part time job at Al’s, a local diner, left him little time to even think about dating or relationships, and provided him an easy excuse not to deal with his sexuality.
He made it back to Nationals the following year, where he was able to finish in sixth place. Noah took second place, although Luke thought the judges were nitpicky and full of shit in the point deductions they gave him. In his opinion, Noah was clearly better than Will Munson, the guy who ended up ahead of him. Will left Luke cold, but Noah made him feel when he skated.
Just as he had done the year before, he walked over at the end of the competition to congratulate Noah, who was surrounded by a horde of people. Noah accepted Luke’s handshake and smiled while thanking him, before being quickly ushered away by his father to go and give some interviews.
Luke recognized Noah’s father from the numerous profiles that were done about their family during the Vancouver Olympics. Noah’s father was also his coach. Winston Mayer and his wife Charlene had fallen in love as competitive pair skaters in their younger days, although they never made it to the Olympics. The Mayers were a close-knit Mormon family living in the shadows of the snow-capped Wasatch Mountains in Salt Lake City. Noah was the third of seven brothers and sisters, and the only one to follow in his parents’ footsteps and go into skating.
As much as Luke loved his parents, he was grateful none of them were his coach. He got along great with Henry and their respect for each other only deepened as Luke grew older. Henry encouraged Luke and challenged him to work to his fullest potential, but Luke was glad that the boundaries in their relationship were clear. He couldn’t imagine how that could be possible for a son being coached by his father.
Luke returned to Nationals the next year. He had turned eighteen a few months earlier, and at that milestone, he decided it was finally time to tell his parents that he was gay. Or most of his parents, at least. He told Holden and Lily, both of whom assured him of their love and support, and indicated that the news did not surprise them. But he held back on telling Damian just yet, and asked them not to say anything to him until Luke did. Damian had very old world views and, though he had come to accept and even admire Luke’s love for skating once he saw how talented he was, Luke had a strong feeling he would be bitterly disappointed in the fact that his only child was gay.
Letting go of the weight of bearing that secret might have improved his overall performance as a skater because Luke managed to move up in ranking for the third year in a row, finishing in fifth place. Noah reclaimed the title of National Champion, somehow managing to outdo himself yet again. And Luke cried watching him skate. Yet again.
Luke jumped up one more spot the following year, finishing in fourth place. The year after that was an Olympic year, and if he could move up just one more and break his way into the top three, he stood a good chance of being selected for the Olympic team.
The big surprise that year was Noah’s performance. It was still beautiful and poetic and well timed, as always, but he seemed to lose his focus at several points and missed some of his landings, barely keeping himself from falling. He finished in third, the lowest he had ever come in the National Championship. It was hard for Luke to believe that he only finished one spot behind Noah, and it made him feel enormously proud of how much he had improved in just three years.
Over the next year, Luke poured his entire heart and soul into his practice. He eventually quit his job at Al’s to devote the last few months before Nationals to practicing full time, six days a week. He was GOING to finish in the top three, he told himself, not even entertaining the possibility of anything else. He was GOING to Sochi as part of the American team in 2014.
And then he was out on the ice at Nationals, fully present in the Program, his movements powerful and controlled but also relaxed and free. He used his body to tell a story, to paint a picture about himself, about his soul. He knew he had nailed it before he even finished and he bit back a sob of joy as he bowed to the thunderous applause of the crowd. As he had done four years earlier, he kept himself composed until after the scores came in, then he went to the bathroom and cried. This time, though, they were tears of joy.
He returned in time to watch Noah’s Program. He bounced back gloriously from his performance the previous year, and received such tremendous scores that he handily reclaimed the National Championship, making him a lock to have a second attempt at the Gold in Sochi.
Luke finished in third place, and he felt like he was walking on a cloud. In just a month, he could be competing in the Olympics, living out a lifelong dream.
But almost immediately, his hopes began to unravel.
Luke finished ahead of Will Munson, who ended up in fourth place after a few major missteps during his Program. It was the first Nationals in which Luke had outranked Will and the first time Will had ever finished outside the top three. Will had been part of the US team in Vancouver and, although he didn’t medal, he was considered a highly consistent and dependable skater. As a previous Olympian, one-time National Champion and multiple time runner up, many commentators and skating fans began arguing that Will’s credentials throughout the previous years should guarantee him a slot on the team over Luke, despite Luke besting Will’s performance at Nationals.
As he awaited the decision, Luke tried to shut the negativity out and convince himself that this WAS going to happen for him. Will had his turn in Vancouver four years earlier, but Luke had worked his ass off and earned this spot, and he had to believe the selection committee would award his continued improvement over the past four years.
But it was not to be.
The morning of the announcement, he received a call from a member of the selection committee, informing him that, after careful and objective analysis, the skating federation was giving Will the third slot on the American team.
Through blurry eyes, Luke watched the live announcement two hours later as Noah, Jeremy Abbott, and Will were presented as the men’s singles competitors who would be on their way to Sochi the next month.
Then he took to his bed, where he stayed for the next two days.
It was a long distance phone call from Malta that brought him out of the haze of depression.
“Luciano, I have an idea,” his father informed him excitedly.
Luke rubbed his eyes, puffy from all the crying he had been doing. “What’s that?” he asked, barely caring what the answer would be.
“Get to a computer and type in ‘Maltese Alpine skier,’” he told him.
Luke’s mouth dropped open as he read about Elise Pellegrin, a twenty-two-year old French-born alpine skier who was using her Maltese citizenship to represent Malta in the 2014 Winter Olympics. In doing so, she was becoming the first Winter Olympian to represent the country.
“You could do this, Luciano,” Damian said emphatically. “You’re a Maltese citizen.”
“But, Dad,” Luke argued, “The country would have needed to qualify at the World Championships last year to have someone represent them in the sport. And the games are only a month from now. How would I prepare in time?”
“You’d have been prepared if the US had chosen to allow you to represent them, as they should have,” Damian assured him. “And the qualification issue is something that can be worked around. The Olympic Committee has wanted Malta to take part in the games for decades. A few well placed phone calls should take care of all of that.”
Luke didn’t actually remember agreeing to his father’s plan, but within two days he was on an international flight to begin preparing to become the first Olympic Figure skater to represent Malta.
As he put in preparations, he consciously avoided reading or listening to any commentaries on his decision to swap countries to get to the Olympics. He wasn’t sure what effect this move would have on his skating future in the US, and he was sure the American press had plenty of snide things to say about what a sore loser he was over not being picked for the team, but they could all shove it up their collective asses, as far as he was concerned. He had worked for this, and, at twenty years old, he was an Olympian. No one could ever take that away from him.
Still, it was a poignant moment as he walked alongside Elise in the Parade of Nations, while she proudly waved the Maltese flag. This wasn’t how he had always pictured being there, and he felt bad that he was putting all his American family and friends in the position of having to root against members of the home team.
After he had taken his seat again, he found a lump forming in his throat as he watched the US team parade past. Noah had been chosen as the flag bearer, and he wore a radiant smile as he lifted the red, white, and blue high above his head. After years of competing with him, Luke had hoped to get to know him as a teammate in Sochi, but now they would be competing on the world stage rather than a national one.
As the opening ceremony continued with dancing and singing and spectacular light displays, four words kept running through Luke’s mind.
Let the games begin.