By Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber
GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) – Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot wrapped themselves in German flags and skated around the ice after wining the Olympic gold medal on Thursday.
Born in Ukraine and France respectively, the skaters’ road to the Games has been as much about navigating the intricate administrative web of nationality change regulations as perfecting their technique.
“For us, the main thing is what you do,” Savchenko, a five-times Olympian who used to represent Ukraine, told a news conference.
“And we are happy we can do this for Germany, the country who take us and help us, who support us. This is the main thing.”
The 34-year-old competed for Ukraine at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics where she and partner Stanislav Morozov finished 15th.
A year later she teamed up with German skater Robin Szolkowy and relocated to his country to train before taking German citizenship so they could compete internationally.
Savchenko and Szolkowy won five world championship titles and bronze at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and 2014 Sochi Games. But when Szolkowy retired in 2014, Savchenko found herself looking for a new partner.
Massot had been competing with Russian-born Daria Popova since 2011 and although the pair was set on competing for France in Sochi, Popova did not receive a French passport.
“It was very sad because it was the dream of my life to go to the Olympic Games and for stupid papers, it was not possible,” Massot, 29, told a news conference.
“But today I’m here. Everything happened for a reason. If today I get the gold medal, maybe it’s also because of this.”
After the 2014 season, Savchenko and Massot decided to form a pair but nationality remained an issue.
They had to wait for more than a year for the French Federation of Ice Sports to release Massot, but when it did in October, 2015, Massot was still a long way from receiving a German passport.
With Pyeongchang looming, Massot took citizenship tests because the International Olympic Committee (IOC) requires athletes to be nationals of the country they represent and in late November the German Ice Skating Union announced that Massot had been naturalized.
“I guess it has made me stronger and ready to fight in these Olympic Games,” Massot said.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber,; Editing by Ed Osmond)