Julia travelled to the arena with the Beta Deltan team in a bus. Alice, her friend and rival on the floor travelled in a limousine belonging to the Adano Ambradan Embassy and was invited to sit in the box reserved for the Embassy’s VIPs. She sat next to the Crown Prince himself, who she had known all along as Julia’s fiancée and one of the Beta Deltan chaperones. She took his secret identity quite well, all considered. Perhaps not having any planet to call home made the trappings of royalty seem unimportant.

“It is kind of you to think of me, sir,” she said to Chrístõ as they settled into their seats. “I wasn’t able to get a ticket for this evening. I would have had to watch it on the videocast at the boarding house.”

“Yes, Julia told me. That’s why I thought you might appreciate the offer. Besides, you can do me a favour and explain what’s going on. I have been watching Julia perform for nearly ten years, now, but I’m still bewildered by these competitions.”

Alice laughed.

“Yes, she told me about that. It’s quite simple, really. The four members of the eight qualifying teams rotate around the arena, performing on each of the four apparatus of women’s artistic gymnastics – the vault, floor, asymmetric bars and balance beam. As you can see the arena is set up with two of everything except the floor because that takes up so much space. That means seven teams can be competing at once with one resting for a rotation. The top three results from each team at each apparatus are counted towards the team result. The gymnast’s own results count towards their place on the individual all-round medal table.”

Chrístõ thought he followed it so far. He looked around the arena. Yesterday only one apparatus at a time was used for the individual competitions – the floor event in which Julia was entered being the last to take place.

Today there were two each of the other apparatus set up around the floor. When the gymnasts began their routines it would be incredibly busy with lithe bodies in colourful leotards twisting and throwing their bodies around in the air and on the floor.

First the teams paraded around the edge of the arena, the girls and their coaches, all wearing tracksuits in their team colours and led by a banner-carrier bearing the name of their planetary system. Alpha Proxima was first in alphabetical order, then Beta Delta, Gamma Epsilon, Earth, Hydra, Orion Delta and Xian Tang, a remote colony system that had been almost exclusively occupied by people of Chinese and oriental origin. Xian Xien, the planet where Chrístõ had rescued his father and Li from the dungeons of the Mandarin was part of that system, and had put forward members of the Olympic team for the first time in a century, a sign that it was becoming less insular and aloof from the rest of the Earth Federation systems.

In this first rotation, Beta Delta was competing on the vault. This was, Chrístõ freely admitted, the apparatus he knew least about. He hadn’t seen Julia perform it very often. It was her least favourite and she spent more time on the beam, bars and floor that she liked. Even so, he expected as much of her as the team itself did. He tried not to be distracted by the other events and focussed his eyes on the girls in silvery-blue spangled leotards who prepared to take their turns. The names of the competitors were displayed on big screens around the arena and huge holographic images appeared on the ceiling for those sitting too far away to see clearly. Chrístõ didn’t bother with that. He let his Gallifreyan eyes close in on what he wanted to see almost as if he was using binoculars.

In simple terms, what the girls had to do was run up to a springboard, bounce off it, hit the vault with their hands and launch themselves into the air before landing on a crash mat on the other side. Points were awarded for how difficult they made that operation by twisting and somersaulting in the mere seconds that they were in the air between vault and mat. Just how difficult they COULD make it he discovered watching the first three girls who vaulted before Julia.

“They get to do the vault twice,” Alice explained. “Their best score of the two is counted.”

That meant that Julia’s teammate, Hanna, who performed a triple somersault and twist but landed badly and almost stumbled off the crash mat had a second chance. This time she made it only a double somersault and landed perfectly. Alice said that would score better than the more complicated vault because there would be no penalty points taken off for the landing.

Julia was going for a high difficulty element in her score, too. Chrístõ watched with bated breath as she signalled her readiness and began to run up. He saw her leap from the springboard onto the vault and hurl herself almost vertically above the apparatus before tucking her arms and legs and head and rolling in the air like a ball. She came out of that into what he now knew to be called a pike and turned twice before she ran out of empty air below her and landed with just a very slight back step to steady herself.

“That won’t be a full penalty point,” Alice whispered. “But it could mean a slight downgrade of her execution score.”

“I hardly saw what was happening before it was over,” Chrístõ pointed out. “I’ll have to take your word for it.”

When Julia went to take her second vault, he slowed time around himself. He tried to make the slow-time bubble small enough to encompass only himself, but Alice’s eyes opened in wonder as she saw everything in the arena at a crawl pace.

“I’ll explain later,” he told her before he watched Julia’s run up to the spring board, her push off the vault and a double somersault and single pike with twist on her way down all in slow motion. He could see the detail of the vault perfectly. He could see just how high she had propelled herself into the air and how she used the descent to fit those three tumbles in. He saw her land much more smoothly than last time, bending slightly at the knees to cushion her body before standing straight with her legs together and her hands in the air while a smile of triumph spread across her face.

“Beautiful,” Chrístõ commented as he let the slow time bubble collapse.

“Yes, it was very good,” Alice answered. “But… what did you do?”

He explained. Alice was surprised.

“You can do that just with the power of your mind?”

“Yes,” he answered. “I’m a Time Lord. I can make it obey me.”

“Wow. But… does that mean… you could… help Julia to win?”

“No, not really. Even if I put the time bubble around her, the judges would see things in normal time. It’s good for watching things in detail, that’s all. Besides, Julia would never LET me help her to win. She’d ban me from the arena if she thought I could.”

“Quite right, too,” Alice agreed. “Look, her marks are up. Yes, the first one is down a bit because of the landing. But the second should be good enough for a silver medal place. Of course, that depends on the marks for her other apparatus.”

“What about the team medal?” Chrístõ asked.

“That’s not looking so good at the moment,” Alice admitted. “Beta Delta are in fifth place, outside the medals. But there’s room for hope. Especially with somebody as good as Julia on the team.”

Chrístõ hoped very fervently for Julia. He knew she wanted the medals so very much. He wondered how she felt about having to depend on other people’s results for the chance of that team medal. Of course, he had played team sports at the Academy. His tenure as captain of the Lacrosse team was a famous time for the Prydonians, and yes, it took the whole team to win a game, but if one man under-performed it wasn’t so hard for the rest to make up for him as it was for a gymnastics team who needed everyone to make a good show of themselves.

The floor was next for the Beta Deltans. Chrístõ was surprised to see that Julia had a new routine today with different music from yesterday’s individual performance. When he expressed that surprise, Alice told him it was perfectly normal for gymnasts to have two or more routines for the same apparatus. It not only gave them variety in the endless practice, but it showed the judges that they were versatile.

He watched her one and a half minute routine, accompanied by the theme tune from Love Story, in slow motion. As he stretched the time he considered just how little he knew about the sport Julia was passionate about. He felt quite ashamed of himself. He’d had plenty of opportunity to watch her in practice and in competitions and had never really paid enough attention.

Was it because his mind was always on the future when she would give up gymnastics and be his wife – in his sub-consciousness this was a temporary thing that would be over soon enough, so not worth his attention.

Or was it because he had a slight streak of Oldblood snobbery about something that ladies of his social class would never do on Gallifrey?

He berated himself for it either way and made up his mind to pay the very closest attention for the rest of this day. It was too late to make up for his indifference all these years, but at least he would be fully supportive when it mattered the most.

“She was good,” Alice confirmed when the performance was over and he let the time bubble collapse. “But the rest of the team have been poor on that apparatus. They’re still fifth, and I think two members of the Earth team will put in better individual scores. Julia will have to work hard on the last two disciplines to keep her silver medal position and the whole team need to work harder generally.”

That was another thing. He had always watched her just because he adored her and loved to see her perform with grace and beauty. He had never looked at her critically. He really had no idea how good she was compared to other gymnasts.

While the Beta Deltan team rested he took time to watch some of the others. The Russian girl from Earth was as impressive as she had been yesterday. The girls from Xian Tang were all very good. They had a precision about them that even he could recognise. They reminded him of the Shaolin monks of pre-Communist China who honed their minds and bodies to perfection.

They would be difficult to beat, he thought.

But the asymmetric bar was next for the Beta Delta team, and Julia was wonderful on that. He knew she was. He had watched her so often twisting and turning her body in ways he would never have thought possible.

“It will be hard to beat the Earth team on this apparatus,” Alice said. “Nicola Turgenev has already scored 9.8, 9.8, 9.7 on it, and her trademark triple pike dismount was named after her at the LAST Olympiad.”

“Oh,” Chrístõ responded, feeling a little disappointed. Perhaps he really did think TOO highly of Julia’s abilities because of his feelings for her. He had never considered what anyone else might achieve above her.

It was a difficult apparatus - that was certain. Two of the Beta Deltan team incurred penalties for elements performed badly. When Julia’s turn came it all rested on her getting a score to equal that beautiful and flawless Russian gymnast.

And it seemed as if she was going to do so. Alice gasped in admiration of what the commentators described as a complex double hand-over somersault with twist performed first on the low bar and then on the high one with something called a tkachev inbetween. Alice explained that meant taking both hands off the bar, performing an element and then catching it again, and was named after another Russian from the twentieth century.

“It’s just possible that they will name that sequence of moves after Julia,” she added. “That was quite original. It all depends on her dismount, now.”

Chrístõ was confident about that, but to his dismay, and that of the entire audience who gave a collective gasp, she landed badly and actually fell forward onto her knees. He didn’t need Alice to tell him that would be a full penalty point on what had, until then, been a gold medal level performance.

“What made her falter?” Chrístõ asked. “Was something wrong?”

“Not at all,” Alice assured him. “It happens, sometimes, even with the best of gymnasts. It is a pity, for her and for the team. It will affect all the marks.”

And so it seemed when the results came in. He could see Julia’s face enlarged on the ceiling. Her lips were pressed together and her eyes betrayed her anxiety as the minutes stretched and finally the judges awarded her 9.4, 9.4 8.5. The stumble had cost her dearly on the mark for execution.

It all hung on the last apparatus, the balance beam. That was Julia’s second best after the asymmetric bars. Chrístõ watched with both hearts pounding in empathy for his sweetheart as it came to her performance. It was the last of the afternoon. All of the other apparatus went silent and still. All attention was on her around the arena.

Julia did her very best. She was balletic and graceful and athletic at the same time as she performed the required number of tumbles and high somersaults, twists and turns, all choreographed to the piece of classical music she had chosen to accompany her on the beam – a one and a half minute section of Djorak’s Rusalka which she dedicated to their friends Jennica and Cinnamal.

It was beautifully done. The audience sounded their appreciation at the end, and so did the judges when they gave her 9.4.5 across the board, just a fraction of a point less than the veteran Russian who had elements of her beam performance named after her too.

Chrístõ could have worked out the final results in his head if he was calmer. Multiple equations were easy to somebody who had studied pure and applied mathematics for a hundred and fifty years. But the sound of the applause, the background music, the chatter of the commentators, the lights playing across the now empty arena all filled his mind and he gave up trying. He waited until the computers did the sums instead and the final medal places were displayed for all to see.

Another silver for Julia in the individual award, beaten only by Nicola Turgenev. But the Beta Deltan team only managed to slip into the bronze by a few fractions of points. Overall, the Xien Tang team were top and the Earth team second.

Julia had missed out on the gold. Chrístõ felt so disappointed for her that the presentation ceremony was tainted by it.

“Don’t be silly,” Alice told him. “She has three medals overall, which is brilliant for one individual performer. And just you wait until tomorrow when we do the rhythmic gymnastics. I’ve seen her practicing. Nobody touches her. She will have a gold to add to that tally then. Don’t you worry.”

“You’re performing in that, too?” Chrístõ asked. “And you’re not jealous of her being so certain to win?”

“Not at all,” Alice answered. “Don’t you know anything about the Olympic ethos? It isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about being the best you, yourself, can possibly be. And you just watch tomorrow. Julia’s best will be better than anyone else’s.”