She steps up to the high bar. She can do only one chin-up. She laughs, to protect herself, then tries a swing on the high bar. Not one. Then a bench press. Not one.
"Why are you laughing?" Viktor asks. "You need to explode."
She laughs again. "Explode?"
"It's a feeling that comes from inside," he explains. "You have to learn how to explode."
Ahh, poor boy. If only he knew....
She gathers her courage and attempts her first vault, forgets to release the pole, flies out of control and lands, thankfully, on the foam. At a minor local competition a few weeks later, she clears 9'10"—half as high as the best men, 4½ feet shy of the best women, but not bad for a beginner with little strength using only a six-step run-up. She stares at the sky she just climbed, feeling as if she has discovered another Tatiana, one she has never met: a young woman who can fly.
Still, she sees the patronizing twinkle in Viktor's eyes, and she can smell Parnov's contempt. Sorry, the coach tells her, 21 is too old to begin learning the most difficult event in track and field. Too late to learn how to accelerate to a world-class sprint down a 35-meter runway while carrying a pole more than 2½ times longer than you, then slam its tip, on the dead run, inside a sloping steel box nearly eight inches deep. Making sure that your takeoff foot hits a spot the size of a dollar bill and leaves the earth, optimally, .0005 of a second after the planting of the pole, then synchronizing a double pendulum, one a pivot between the bottom of the pole and the box, the other between your hands and the top of the pole, so that you end up vertical and upside down, pushing off on the pole and soaring with an acrobat's control over a bar set at roughly the height of the roof of a two-story house, then tumbling down, down, and landing...well, good god, Tatiana, landing anywhere, even on asphalt, is better than landing in bed beside a spouse who's consumed by the same near-impossible quest. So, sorry, Tatiana, Parnov says. I won't train you.
Tatiana cries. Viktor, Dmitri and Parnov depart for the summer track circuit. She awakens at dawn, alone, walks past the room where Valentina sleeps near her little boy, and goes out the door. There's Tatiana, on an empty field, clamping her lips so tightly that her mouth vanishes, counting in numbers she has just learned in English class, hunched in a position that would horrify her modeling teacher. Grunting out frog jumps alone.
By Autumn, when the men return, she can do a dozen chin-ups, vault a few feet higher, talk with an Aussie accent and stroll a runway as if she owned it. Parnov? He can't not train her; she gives him no choice. The drills she can't do, she throws herself into over and over, walks off to cry hot tears, then dries her eyes, returns with those clamped lips and says, "One more time." For three hours.