Elena Berezhnaya: This is how I am. That’s how I am by nature. That’s how mom and dad made me.
Oleg Shliakhov (0:15): I don’t like to remember that time. I did lose the battle completely.
Host: (0:25): I January of 96, skaters Elena Berezhnaya and Oleg Shliakhov were preparing for World championships. Their coach Tamara Moskvina was hoping for gold. Berezhnaya and Shliakhov were special. They had great speed, good line, and daring elements. They were seen as the champions of the future. This, however, was not meant to be.
Oleg Shliakhov’s skating career ended more than 10 years ago. Today, he’s hard to recognize. An entrepreneur doesn’t need to stay in shape.
Shliakhov (1:08): I’ve never given interviews. This is my first interview in more than a decade. I did, of course, hear about things written about me. Incredible stories were invented. I want to deny it all. There was no cruelty in our relationship. First of all, about three months prior to the injury Elena and Anton lived together – they were renting an apartment. Not only could I not raise my voice, I was afraid to look at her the wrong way. She could just go to Tamara Nikolayevna then and say she no longer wanted to skate with me.
Host: (2:00): Shliakhov – Berezhnaya – Sikharulidze. In that triangle, Anton Sikharulidze was last, and, in Shliakhov’s view, the stranger. Sikharulidze didn’t get along with his skating partner. Shliakhov feared that his rival would steal Elena Berezhnaya from him. In pair skating, that would mean starting again from scratch. However, the end of athletic career wasn’t what Shliakhov most feared.
Tamara Moskvina (2:27): During a competition in
Host: (3:13): Oleg Shliakhov was then nineteen; he was considered an experienced skater. Elena Berezhnaya was a novice, not to mention much younger than her partner.
Moskvina (3:25): I later found out he used to lock
Host: (3:42): Tamara Moskvina never interfered in her students’ lives. Nor that she had time. She trained several teams at the same time. She couldn’t, though, just let this one go. She called Berezhnaya in and asked her, “Do you understand you’re living in slavery?”
Berezhnaya (4:10): It was like this – there was no one around to help me solve my child-like problems, so I solved everything on my own. I just learned to ignore things. I thought that’s how things were supposed to be.
Host: (4:25): It happened at a practice. The skaters rehearsed a lift that was giving them problems. Oleg Shliakhov was becoming ever angrier with each attempt. He yelled at his partner, “Get yourself together! You’ve gotten fat as a cow! You’re too heavy to lift!” Elena Berezhnaya recalls that at that time she felt so lost, her feet became soft-like, and she lost balance as if she’s never stood on skates before in her life. The partner helped her up, and they started skating in a circle gaining speed. Oleg Shliakhov lifted his partner, but this time he brought his hands back as if he were going to throw her. Elena Berezhnaya didn’t even have time to regroup before she fell. Only after the practice did the skater sneak into the medical center.
Berezhnaya (5:10): It was patience. I believed in something, not sure what it was. There was something there. I believed it would all work out in the end. All work out in the end. Be patient like an idiot, and keeping going back to the ice.
Moskvina (5:37): She never complained. Never. We just saw Oleg have those attacks of anger. The kids would sometimes see him kick her in the stomach when he thought no one was looking.
Anton Sikharulidze (5:55): He could use his fists in his “conversations” with
Shliakhov (6:17): Well, I don’t really have anything against Anton personally, because we were certainly rivals at that time over who would become Elena’s partner. No tactic was spared. I think… mmm… basically, the winner got everything in this situation. But… I think… his actions were… Could we pause the tape please?
Host: (7:07): Oleg Shliakhov understood he was defeated, and that angered him ever more. Once, it also came to a fist fight with Anton Sikharulidze. Coach Tamara Moskvina ended up sending Shliakhov to a psychologist. He’d calm down for a bit, but then things would resume as before. After practices, Elena would run to the medical center to get something for her bruises, Oleg apologized, they went back to the ice where Shliakhov again punished his partner. Berezhnaya would be back at the medical center.
Moskvina (7:37): I talked to him a lot about it. He said himself, “I don’t understand how I can do that. I really love her. She’s a great partner and a good person.”
Shliakhov (7:447): Back then, Elena was truly in love with Anton, so all my attempts to… mmm… to keep our team together had no effect.
Host: (8:07): Elena Berezhnaya would have put up with it even longer if it weren’t for the tragedy at another practice. A week before the Worlds, Tamara Moskvina got a phone call – Elena Berezhnaya is in the hospital, recovering from brain surgery.
Moskvina (8:22): That was a nightmare. On a high bed, on a white sheet laid the seemingly dead and breathless body, completely pallid, thin beyond belief, unable to even move.
Host: (8:45): Doctors warned of a risk of complications. At best, she’d just become epileptic and become an invalid as the speech center was affected.
Sikharulidze (8:55): I got teary, especially at first when I saw
Host: (9:12): During that last practice, Oleg Shliakhov and Elena Berezhnaya practiced a parallel spin, their signature move. They performed it really breathtakingly. No one else skated quite so close together. They rehearsed this element hundreds of times. That day, though, Oleg Shliakhov’s skate sliced right through Elena Berezhnaya’s temple.
Shliakhov (9:37): My skate hit Elena’s head. I don’t know why it happened. May be both of use weren’t really concentrating – Elena might have been thinking she’d see her lover in six days, I might have been wondering if I’d make it to Worlds. That’s it.
Sikharulidze (10:05): I didn’t witness it. However, when skaters are the level Elena and her partner were at that point, a partner always feels what’s going on, and he can prevent injuries like that. However, for whatever reason, her partner didn’t stop; instead, he continued with the element and didn’t prevent that terrible situation.
Host: (10:30): Waking up on the hospital bed, Elena Berezhnaya thought, “I’ll never get gold”. Everything that made the skater endure so much over the years seemed to go down the drain. At that moment, Berezhnaya decided – enough. Oleg Shliakhov was still hoping to get her back. He brought flowers to the hospital, literally stood on his knees next to the bed, but Elena Berezhnaya has by then made up her mind. She was caught in a trap of “tyrant/ victim”. However, she had the strength to break it off and rebuild her life.
Elena Berezhnaya did, after all, become an Olympic champion despite her injury and the need to start with a new partner from scratch. In 2002, she won her gold Olympic medal in
Berezhnaya (11:44): Everyone is different. I guess I should have been more confident…
Host: (11:50): After his team with Berezhnaya fell apart, Oleg Shliakhov had to leave the sport and went into business instead.
Shliakhov (11:57): After the breakup with Elena Berezhnaya, I tried doing something. For two or three years, I tried to remain in the sport, but that would require starting from scratch. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do it. I therefore decided to leave the place where I couldn’t achieve anything.