The murder of Father Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin considered as the single men's Olympics Luge final
BANG! Racing …
Our coverage commences with Father Grigori striding out. Keen-eyed observers will notice the Champ holding his stomach, and also his stiff gait as he moves. Avid followers of the sport no doubt recall the so-called "false start" of 1914. The use of such nomenclature must be stamped out. It implies that there could have been a correct start, except for an error or mala fides on the part of an official. Let me be clear: there was no official involved. Madness does not disqualify one from officialdom, but consider the other factors. Firstly, she (yes) was a woman. And please, before you start calling the network, recall the time and place. Context, sports fans. (And not just any woman, but a woman with no nose. What, have I said something wrong?) Secondly, she was a peasant. Now, no matter how many uniformed female bumpkinesses may have taken up places all over the Soviet Union in the decades that followed, there is no way that at the relevant time, she could be considered an official. And thirdly - and this is important, sport's fans, pay attention - she did not use a starter's pistol. She used a knife. And buried it in the gut of the favourite. She could have ended it all right there. I'm no lawyer, but under no interpretation of the Olympic Luge rules does that even approach being a start. You know I'm right, viewers.
Father Grigori, his hour come round at last, slouches towards the starting gate. His breath clouds the air. Look into his eyes, caught in ultra-high definition. They shine with the purpose of the elite athlete. They glint with obsession. A mono-mania permitted only at this level. He is an amateur in the best sense of the term. Hear the clear crunch of ice crystals beneath his poorly constructed boots. Ah! The romance of an earlier era. The big man advances in his straight legged manner. He eschews the aerodynamic skin hugging artificial fibres of modern competitors. See his rough street clothes. Mostly though, catch the stink on that cold evening air. Here is a secret seldom mentioned, but caught by our technology: everyone and everything stinks. Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy and Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky may have revealed the beauty and darkness of the human heart at great bloody length, but they failed to convey the stench of humanity. Perhaps a fish would have as great a difficulty in describing the water in which it moves. Father Grigori has not washed. This is not a pre-race ritual. It is not a superstition. He does not have such affectations. He does not have "lucky" clothes or charms. He has no fear of weakening his legs and does not avoid sexual intercourse - with man or woman - before an event. Woo! Father Grigori grabs what he can! After all, the Luge is all about lying down. His trousers stink of arse, his coat of tobacco, his beard of his meals, his shirt of armpits, his scarf of the grime of his neck of many years. The streets are freezing, the houses are cold, horses shit in the streets, home fires burn unchecked: St Petersburg stinks. Father Grigori stinks. His nails are long and filthy, but as any Luge competitor will tell you, take any advantage you can in holding on.
Would you think that he does not know he walks into danger? The Luge is danger! He has been on this path a very long time, viewers. A lesser broadcaster might take you back to the heats at this point. Cut away, play some maudlin music. Show his earlier downhill runs. Scenes of Father Grigori soaked in the blood of the haemophiliac proto-Tsar, as he throws his medicine into the fireplace. Sepia-tinted orgies. Carefully suggestive cuts of the Tsarina. Disputes with clergy. Sheesh, why not take us back to the Verkhoturye monastery?
Why lose dramatic tension for mere sentiment? And if we are concerned with causality and beginnings, why stop there? You were not there when The Original Starter's gun fired. And if, moved by mystery or nostalgia or a nosiness that you may later regret, you asked where The Starter stood at that moment, there are enough long-beards and grey-heads who would stroke their moustaches or chew upon their pipes and remark, Look around you, or; Look within.
It discharged everywhere, all at once, they say. All of (currently expanding) space was contained in a single point, and so there is nowhere that The First Starter was not, and nowhere that His gun did not fire.
You hesitate. It may lend itself to a type of poetry, but how useful is it in considering the present age? Should you start somewhere else? And, while you are at it, should you abandon the second person narrative? It is widely derided, and rarely seen in polite company. Not unlike myself.
Pay attention, son. Don't worry about the heats. They are yesterday's news. We are here for the final.
Prince Felix Yusupov, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, Vladimir Mitrofanovich Purishkevich - this bunch of boyos, they are as official as they come, there can be no arguing the point on this one. The Prince welcomes Father Grigori. Do not be suspicious, Father Grigori, just because I beckon you down to the basement, out of sight. If I had ill intent, would I be so obvious as to try to trick you to come down below? Oh look, a tray of delightful sweetmeats - come, try these delicacies, I have chosen them myself. I am an official of royal birth, Father Grigori Yefimovich, and if it was trickery I was attempting, I would be more subtle than to offer a plate of pastries.
Father Grigori, having been the victim of the attempted hobbling in 1914, is rightfully hesitant. While it will be years before technology catches up with them and the Russian Olympic teams fall into disrepute, Rasputin is correct to be concerned about both his A and B samples. Many athletes will rue the day that they took insufficient care regarding what they allowed to enter their blood streams. Still, it is too late for that now. Father Grigori realises that he is in the starter's cage. Though his daughter will later claim he had no taste for sweets, that does not matter. The Champ stares down the Official, and cannot lose face. One after another he pops the cakes into his mouth, and washes them down with tea. Yes, they taste peculiar, but his legs are strong, they hold him to the earth.
Ha ha! See the confusion on the face of the Prince. He is the husband of the Tsar's niece, yet this stinking peasant is still standing. Yes, the official has acted in bad faith. The food is poisoned. But Father Grigori disregards the cyanide. He has a performance enhancing gut, perhaps as a result of 1914, perhaps the result of darker forces. He burps and remains upright. This is the secret of the Luge. The physical laws of the universe will conspire to send any competitor flying from the track. The skill is in holding on.
The official is enraged, and cannot hold back any longer. We see it in his face. He will not be denied. He must release. Without ceremony, without an "on your mark", he produces the starter's pistol and fires into the heart of the favourite.
Rasputin is down, but that is the nature of the Luge. He falls, but he also grips. His skill is that he has learned to surrender. He falls and falls and falls, but it is controlled falling.
The officials wrap him up. They pause to gather their breath. But the Luge is a race that cannot be halted, once it has started. A runner can simply pull up on the track. A swimmer can begin to float, and slowly make their way to the side of the pool. But we are playing with the big boys now. Not even the most powerful official can wave their handkerchief and suspend the law of gravity.
Watch this now. The close-up is for a reason. The Champ is down, but is he out? Can you make out the picture? Does one of them nudge him with a toe, to test him out? Does another go to lift him? Is it a boxing match, to be decided on a ten-count? Watch, watch …
The Champ is on his feet! The recuperative power of a professional wrestler. The cunning of a fox. Surely, the greatest sporting virtues are endurance and resilience. The ability to take a knocking and keep on rocking. The man gives 120%. Ra! Ra! The Prince is fleeing - a bad look for an official - and Father Grigori follows. He runs and runs like there is no stopping him. They have to fire the starter's pistol twice more before Father Grigori falls into a snowbank, still.
The Luge is a dangerous sport. Even at the Olympian level, participants die. Even sports callers are subject to cognitive dissonance. Our thoughts are as consistent as our tone and vocabulary. Do you think there is just one of us in here? So there he is, Father Grigori, both stopped still in a snowbank, and AT THE SAME TIME flying through the air. With our technology, both can be true! He hurtled so far through the air, that it was two days before they found him, floating in the water by the Petrovsky Bridge.
Our cameras could take you there. We could walk you across that bridge, so you might think, ahh, that is what it was like, and, oh, is that the spot? You could imagine some connection with history, some bond between you and time past. Historicity is an illusion. The bridge has been destroyed and rebuilt twice. The solar system itself has moved on. If you would condemn the ancients for thinking that the sun moved around the earth, have you forgotten that in the century that has passed, the sun itself has travelled over 650 billion kilometres away from the point where all of this happened? As the earth moves, it spins off its ghosts, shedding itself of the hungry dead, those lesser participants in downhill events. It may bring peace to your heart, to know that the planet is cleansed. Or it may cut you to your core, if you can picture the train of dead babies and old folk and the in between all lost out there, the long spiralling tunnel of the disappeared. A sickle circles the earth to break their bonds and set them free.
What a gift was Rasputin to them all! In an age devoid of cinema and television, the images that his demise left to those who witnessed it. The true Olympic spirit! He refused to let go. Death's circling scythe is not going to set him free to join the trail of abortions and smothered crones and frozen drunks and horse-whipped convicts bleeding away from the planet as the earth itself hurtles on. The greatest of the Luge finalists, flying downhill, he would not release his grip.
Of course a fourth of July fireworks display orgasm that leaves your toes extended and your body tingling is a wonderful thing, but sports fans, and apologies to the ladies for the locker room talk, surely sometimes the whole point is just the release, the subsidence of muscle and skeleton, and the emptied ball sack. Yeah, I see the men nodding, they know what I'm talking about. What a relief to a devil to drop the pretence, to let its shoulders sag, to let it all hang out. Freed by the starter's bullets, liberated from the need to remain upright and fill this one body, Father Grigori flows out of his shell through the bullet's impact holes. He pumps away, great big pink popping snot bubbles shooting out. Look at that stuff flow! What a man, what a stud, what a champion, ladies and gentlemen. A fruiting body, he is all sphincter now, squeezing it out, his spores poured into the earth, floating away upon the river, and skimming with the breeze. There was no stopping his ride now, no removing his taint. He poured it out, spread it far, like his own cute little Chernobyl. He finds and is dissolved in the water table; he is breathed into the lungs of animals, where he reproduces like a cancer; he enters and is carried by swarms of insects. The water found in his lungs showed that even in the river, he was still shooting downhill, refusing to be thrown, unwilling to end his race still breathing. But don't think of a soggy corpse bobbing on the waves. A better image for his end is the shell of a cicada, emptied but clinging tight to the piling of a pier.
The future of the Luge and other downhill events in Father Grigori's homeland is well documented by sports writers such as Solzenhitsyn, and there is no need for us to consider that here. However, you may wonder at our nostalgia, given the technology available to us - why concentrate on this one event, so long ago? Two points to make. Is that race fully run, even now? And, in a world where someone does not think it extravagant to make a point with a smearing of door handle with a Novichok nerve agent, or the doping of a cup of tea with Polonium-210, this sports caller thinks that it pays to keep a little distance.
(With nods to Alfred Jarry and JG Ballard)