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11 November 2006 @ 05:20 pm
Commet Savchenko by Werner  

Article on Savchnko (translated)

Original - http://www.mysport.com.ua/jurnal.asp...ype=36&Id=3650.

An article about the whole Savchenko/ Szolkowy/ Steuer mess. This article is by the Russian German journalist Artur Werner. As many of you know, he tends to be extremely opinionated. Also, fair warning - there is one place that will strike many readers as chauvinistic, and one as racist. However, I still translated the article since in both those case Werner just uses existing cultural stereotypes for the sake of nice turn of phrase.

Comet Savchenko

Alyona Savchenko was truly fated to skate - she was born January 19, 1984, while figure skating European championships were taking place in Budapest. The only daughter in a large family, she had her parents take her skating early on, even though the road from he native Obukhovo to the Kiev rink "Ldinka" took 1.5 to 2 hours each end. The skater showed talent early on, and was eventually transferred to pair skating, the most difficult of disciplines. At first, Alyona skated with coach Galina Grzhibovskaya-Kukhar partnered with Dmitri Boenko, and then with Stanislav Morozov. In 2000, Savchenko and Morozov became World Junior champions in Oberstdorf, soon afterward competed at Europeans in Vienna, and became Ukrainian leaders in pair skating after Julia Obertas moved to Russia.

However, the Savchenko/ Morozov duo did not go beyond 2002. After losing the short program in Salt Lake City Olympics to their main Ukrainian rivals Tatiana Chuvaeva and Dmitri Palamarchuk, Alyona decided she wouldn’t get to the top with her present partner. Her goal was to become the champion of Europe, Worlds, and Olympics. Therefore, the partnership ended and the end of the season at Alyona's request.

Even though the girl accused Morozov of not working hard enough, Galina Kukhar chose to retain him, and not her. Rumors say that the coach always took Stas's side in all questionable issues, even though the relationship between Morozov and Savchenko could often be characterized by two verbs - drink and hit. The ambitious pair skater could not find either a partner or a coach in any other club in Ukraine. National figure skating association didn't mind sending her on her merry way. Perhaps, it had to do with Savchenko's temper. Perhaps the rumors were true that she loved parties were everything tended to come off.

Alyona measured the ice in proud solitude while looking for a partner in any country, though she was especially attracted to Germany. Ultimately, those who believed in Savchenko's talent and work ethic found her a place in Fall 2002 in either Berlin or Hemnitz (former Karl-Marx-Stadt). While taking care of invitation, visa, and the money for the trip, Alyona spent the winter practicing and taking classes in German.

In Spring 2003, the skater had several successful test pairings with skaters in Hemnitz (Berlin coach Knut Shubert declined to work with her), and a few months later she returned there with a work visa. Alyona's new coach was a former pair World champion Ingo Steuer, and her partner - a dark skinned German Robin Szolkowy. She wanted a white one, Norman Jeschke, but he was already skating with Danish Mikkeline Kierkgaard. By winter 2004, Savchenko and Szolkowy became German pair skating champions. They defended that title in 2005 and 2006 (though they didn't have much competition). During 2004/05 seasons, the pair took third place at the Grand Prix Final, fourth at the Europeans, and sixth at Worlds. Olympic season was looming, and Germany was hoping the new team would bring in the medals. To that end, Savchenko was even given German citizenship thanks to a loophole in the law.

Lyon credit didn't hold of bankruptcy

Indeed, the pair came second at Europeans in 2006 in Lyon, and Alyona gave herself her first silver medal for her 22nd birthday. The goal of making it into the top three pair skaters in Turin, and then in Calgary seemed no farther than an outstretched hand, but...

The rumors that Alyona Savchenko had an "off-the-record" relationship with her coach started in the summer of 2004, but even the pair's biggest rivals didn't confirm it officially, so the scandalous news didn't spread far. Especially since the former world champion has a wife and even a small child. In Lyon, though, either the Ukrainian skater lost her regular cool, or she wanted to show the world that she was the one to make Ingo Steuer happy. In any case, my TV viewers noted the young woman's behavior in the "kiss and cry". Perhaps the viewers were imagining things, but several people who knew Alyona well wrote to me from Russian and Ukraine with surprise and disappointment. One woman, a psychologist who has known Savchenko from a child, wrote that Alyona's behavior was very "in your face". She even suggested that the skater was now thinking with something other than her head. There was also much surprise among German journalists who came to the Lyon hotel at exactly the midnight of January 19th to tell "Happy Birthday" to the new German citizen and European vice-champion. A colleague of mine, a sport editor of one of the largest German papers, was overflowing with excitement telling me that Alyona was not only late by about ten minutes, but came out together with Steuer from his room.

Next morning at the press center of Lyon championships there was much murmuring, and it took me a huge effort to prevent the publication of this hot news in the tabloids.

Then again, we can't judge too harshly this girl, who doesn't have an excess of either intelligence or education; a woman's body demands more than verbal communication with her partner, coach, and a few acquaintances, especially if her body is used to that kind of gymnastics. Robin has a girlfriend who is so jealous she forbid him from kissing his partner even on the ice, Ingo has a wife and a much loved child, and Alyona felt rather lonely, as the Hemnitz skaters did not include their new Ukrainians competitor into their circle, and did not talk to her off the ice.

A cowardly informer hid behind skaters

A barrage of bad surprises came upon Savchenko and Szolkowy following the European championships. Actually, it came upon their coach, but Ingo Steuer, instead of protecting his students from all negativity with his wide chest (as coaching ethic dictates), hid behind his student's small one.

Following German Unification, all members of the Olympic team who come from GDR - functionaries, coaches, doctors, etc. (except for athletes) go through mandatory checks on membership in party or policing organs of German Democratic Republic. Skater Steuer did not go through those checks on previous Olympics, but coach Ingo Steuer was put through a political X-ray. This showed that the former World champion was an informer of the Ministry of National Security of GDR (better known as "Stasi" from Staatssicherheit) until the last days of this "inner organ". He wasn't just a regular stool pigeon, but a very active one with an operational alias of IM Thorsten. For many years, our young snitch wrote up East German skaters, paying especially close attention to Katarina Witt. I guess he was too shy to mention all this in the many questionnaires he had to fill in the unified Germany. In other words, he lied to the German Figure Skating association, and German Olympic committee, and, what's more important, to Bundeswehr (the army of yesterday's enemy), where he was a sports staff sergeant, and from which he received a monthly allowance enough to support himself, his wife, and his child. Following the findings, German Olympic committee refused to give Steuer Olympic accreditation (he wasn't the only one, another coach had the same fate). Steuer immediately went to court, along the way convincing his students to announce they won't go to Turin without him. When the first appeals court in Berlin didn't look too deeply and decided for the agent of the German KGB, the Olympic committee didn't have time to appeal further. The trio went to Turin and then to Worlds in Calgary, but the run around the courts instead of around the ice didn't give the team of Savchenko and Szolkowy the chance to get above sixth place in either Italy or Canada. Germany's hopes for figure skating medals tanked.

By the end of the season, the athletes found out that their coach has been fired from the army, and that the German interior minister Wolfgang Schäuble was categorically opposed to financing a scandal maker and an active GDR informer (high achievement sport gets its funding from the Ministry of the Interior), and that the country's Olympic committee hasn't yet said its last word. Once again, Steuer had Alyona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy speak on his behalf. They were now signing their coach's every step. Those steps most often took him to court. As a rat that has been driven into a corner, Steuer started biting everyone he thought responsible for depriving him of his bacon and his fame. Currently, he is suing Bundeswehr, Figure Skating association, and, I believe, German government. Ingo's brother who has a law firm in Berlin supports him in all this. There are rumors that he's also getting financial support from a secret organization of former ministry of national security agents, but that's impossible to verify. Presenting unverified information as fact is a crime under Germany's laws.

With a coach like this, who needs brains.

Several times Savchenko would ask for advice, telling those who care about her that figure skating is far more important to her than he coach's reputation. However, just a few days later she'd use the received recommendations against herself, in support of the exposed stool pigeon. As a German proverb says, a night cuckoo will always out-coo the day one, and Alyona is ready to bury her own future for the sake of a coach and a friend, who, she naively hopes, is ready to leave his family and meet her at the altar any day.

This summer, Ingo Steuer choreographed a new program for the team. At the time, he did not receive any official salary. Bundeswehr staff sergeant Robin Szolkowy was categorically forbidden from showing up on the ice with the coach who has been discharged form the army for consciously lying on the questionnaire. However, I guess the son of a Silesian German woman and a Tanzanian student had the blood of his never-seen father rush to his head, since his did go to the Hemnitz ice against his orders. An Army inspector visited the practice, and Robin was threatened with discharge. Then, Steuer went to Canada to make some money, and the team practiced on its own.

Meanwhile, elections of the leadership of German Figure Skating association took place. New functionaries announced that the federation has no money, and that the Interior Ministry froze figure skating funds until the exposed whisperer disappears from the ice. At first, the federation turned a blind eye to Ingo Steuer's continuing work with the pair, as it wasn't paying for it. However, there was a press release on September 20 that said that the federation will have nothing to do with Ingo Steuer, and that he absolutely cannot represent German figure skating by working with its skaters. On September 21st, Steuer appealed this, and the court in the Eastern part of Berlin validated his claim. Robin Szolkowy was fired from Bundeswehr as military personnel not following his orders. The federation struck the team Savchenko/ Szolkowy from the roster of the Nebelhorn Trophy, but Steuer's lawyer was able to overturn this. Yet the trio did not have the guts to show up in Oberstdorf and dace the questions of rather war-like loud journalists. On September 30th, the new federation leadership held a press conference there. The president said that the lawyers intend to continue the court war until the victorious end. Or until the end of Alyona's and Robin's careers.

In theory, if Savchenko and Szolkowy get to the level and attitude of their Lyon performance, barring any surprises they could easily win the Warsaw Europeans of 2007, as their strongest competitors already left the eligible ice. However, as things stand, they'll really have to fear everyone, including Maria Petrova with Alexei Tikhonov, Yuka Kawaguchi with Alexander Smirnov, Julia Obertas with Sergei Slavnov, the Poles, and, of course, the Ukrainians Tatiana Volosozhar with Stanislav Morozov. And also of course the judges and functionaries of ISU, who seriously don't like scandal makers.

Future is uncertain, or throw into nothingness

Alyona Savchenko is turning 23 on January 19, 2007. That day, The Ukrainian skater with a German passport has to be already at the Europeans in Warsaw. Will she take the ice, and if so than with what attitude? If Steuer will get permission to be there only through courts, what marks can Savchenko and Szolkowy expect? Nine years ago, the federation was cruelly disappointed by the best German team ice dancer Samuel Gezalyan who was in the world's top five. The Odessa Armenian seduced Ksenia Smetanenko who was skating with another partner, and left with her to skate for Armenia. At the Europeans in 1998, the pair Smetanenko/ Gezalyan ended up in 20th place - one would assume not without the help of Germany judges and functionaries. The same fate plagued the great German skater Norbert Shramm, who didn't want to play the Federation's games.

The exposed informer Ingo Steuer would consider it a personal victory to be by the boards in China, Moscow, Warsaw, and Tokyo against the decision of the federation and the wishes of the government. With that, Steuer cares about his team's placement less than he does about last year's snow in Turin - having no future on his homeland, he'll have to go abroad to make money anyway. Alyona and Robin, on the other hand, will have a tough time. If it is possible at all, especially for the ambitious Alyona. Ingo Steuer, who adores his three-year-old son, will never leave his family for the already tiring mistress.

After the 1998 season, Samuel Gezalyan and Ksenia Smetanenko left the eligible ice, having come 27th at the Worlds in Minneapolis. The team didn't even skate in the free. Was it worth it for Alyona Savchenko to leave her homeland for such shame?

Savchenko's behavior strikes out the 18 years of her childhood and youth, as well as her dream to be the best skater on the planet. I pity all sports federations of Germany that will likely never again be able to petition the government for awarding outstanding athletes German citizenship ahead of time. I guess I should also pity the naive pridiocess who believes in the success of the hunt on a coach. Most likely, though, she will be experiencing her favorite element, a throw. Even Alyona's e-mail address starts with the word "throw". Unfortunately, this time it will be a throw into nothingness.
 
 
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous) on April 24th, 2010 04:50 pm (UTC)
I hope this has not circulated widely.
I do not know this particular journalist (and certainly do not wish to after reading this), but I can not belive what I just read. He is arrogant and his style despicable. Thanks for warning the reader in advance about him being opinionated and making racist/sexist allegations in the text - however, I would go much further. He is abhorringly sexist and derogative manner towards Savchenko who he tends to single out, along with Ingo Steuer, as his object of condescendance. I am smiling with irony that time and the enduring success of the team has turned many of his spiteful speculations on its head. His viperishly anticipated 'throw into nothingness' ended up being a throw into the world's top, with an outlook to enduring success. Looks as if Savchenko/Szolkowy proved that they have many more qualities than he gives them credit for. On the side: although I don't condone spying as it was done for the Stasi, what many people don't know is that quite a number of the functionaries who judged Steuer in the past do not have a clean record themselves. But it is so easy, and shudderingly 'enjoyable', to have concepts of an enemy, as this article is good proof for.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )