On April 29, at the capital’s sports center “Mechta” (Dream), 2009 European champions and World bronze medalists in ice dancing Yana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski were awarded the “Distinguished Master of Sport” titles. That same day, the athletes told their coaches they’d no longer be skating together – Novitski is wrapping up his elite career due to health issues, whereas Khokhlova will try herself with a new partner.
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The next day, the “SE” correspondent met with the skaters at the house of their coaches Alexander Svinin and Irina Zhuk.
Novitski arrived before his partner, and it was apparent that end of his career, which we’ve discussed even back in late March at Turin world championships, is still a sore subject for the skater.
“I just don’t know what to do now”, he said. Yana and I got such a warm reception when we were coming out to receive out “distinguished master of sport” pins… I thought then that his attitude of the fans is worth a lot. That alone makes me want to go on skating.
On the other hand, I understand very well that I just can’t guarantee being able to continue training the way elite skating requires. My problems began back in 2006, when Yana and I got into a serious car accident two weeks before the Calgary World championships. I even needed to have my knee operated after returning from Canada. Obviously, age makes all practices harder anyway. The injury is especially acute during competitions, when emotional stress is added to the physical.
Theoretically, I’d like to remain in figure skating, perhaps as an organizer as opposed to a coach. For now, I’m just not ready to make any decisions regarding the rest of my life. I keep going to the rink and training a bit, just to stay in shape.”
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“Yana and Sergei let Irina and me know that the Turin World championships will be their last competition together back in early March”, recounted Svinin. “We agreed it was a sensible decision, as Sergei indeed couldn’t train “all out” through the last season.
Irina and I tried to safeguard him, all the while fully realizing that was not how one prepares for the Olympics. Correspondingly, we couldn’t hope for a high result.
In the end, Yana and Sergei couldn’t even complete the world championships, as Novitski’s injury got worse following the Original Dance.
Upon returning to Moscow, Sergei did heal up a bit and rested up; he even told Irina and me he wouldn’t mind skating for another seasons. However, this wouldn’t satisfy anyone – not Yana, not us, and not the skating federation. If we’re talking about continuing to skate together, we have to plan for four years, toward the Sochi Olympics.
Continuing to skate just to make it into top ten in the world is, in my opinion, unacceptable for a team of Khokhlova/ Novitski’s caliber. They have already achieved things that I, for example, never managed as an athlete. Few do. To continue progressing, though, one needs to ramp up, continually increasing the load. Moreover, the competition continues to move forward fast. No one can tell what that would do to his health. As coaches, we cannot accept such a responsibility
As for Khokhlova, it’s too early to talk about her leaving us for other coaches, as there is no clear picture just yet. There are only intentions. One can only be sure that if Yana does continue to skate, she’ll go on representing Russia.
Honestly, we didn’t do anything to find another partner for Yana, since she didn’t inform us of her intention to go on skating. Also, there aren’t many male dancers available. Choosing someone almost always breaks up another team. Russian doesn’t even have many strong teams now. It was easier back when we skater ourselves – there was always five or six replacements for anyone even at the elite level.
Obviously, any coach hopping is always painful, now just as then, often resulting in complete breaks in any relations between athletes and their former coaches. Irina and I never planned to say, “Better you belong to nobody!” but frankly we were a little hurt that Yana never even consulted s about going to America to try out in Shpilband & Zueva’s group.
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On April 11, Khokhlova flew out to Detroit to see Igor Shpilband and Marina Zueva, the world’s best coaching duo based on their Olympic results. The skater was in luck – Zueva and Shpilband’s two strongest teams, Tessa Virtue/ Scott Moir and Meryl Davis/ Charlie White, the top medalists at both the Olympics and Worlds, were skating in shows; therefore, the ocahces weren’t too busy in Detroit.
Khokhlova decided to go there largely out of desperation – she had no hope of finding a suitable partner in Moscow, whereas Shpilband and Zueva worked with a Lithuanian skater Deividas Stagniunas. Together with the American Katherine Copely, he represented Lithuania at various international competitions since 2006; at 2009 Europeans, the duo closed out the top ten, being eighth in both Original and Free dances.
Last seasons, Lithuanian government refused to grand Copely citizenship (depriving the team of going to the Vancouver Olympics); later, Katherine sustained an injury and decided to end her career.
I called Zueva in Detroit before Khokhlova’s trip to the US. Marina confirmed that Shpilband and she agreed to look at Yana with a new partner, and then added,
“There is another possibility here – my son Fedor. Even in Vancouver, I’ve been approached by fairly influential people back from the Russian federation to see if I’d be interested in having my son represent Russian in ice dancing. The talk, though, was mainly about a partner for Oksana Domnina. Fedor is a bit tall for Khokhlova.”
Zueva’s son Fedor Andreev used to be Canadian junior champion, training with Dick Callaghan, one of America’s best specialists. In 2005, the skater sustained a back injury while attempting to learn the quad; he then decided to quit skating and switched to auto-sport for two years. In 2007, though, he came back to ice.
From that time one, Andreev continued to skate in some national events as a single skater. In his free time, he worked quite a lot training ice dancer.
The week Khokhlova spent in Detroit was quite busy. The skater would spend two or three hours a day skating with Stagniunas, and then the same amount of time skating with Andreev.
At the end of the week, it turned out Yana couldn’t return to Russia as planned given that all trans-Atlantic flights were canceled due to the Icelandic volcano. Correspondingly, another week emerged for experimenting on the ice.
By then, both Shpilband and Zueva realized that Khokhlova and Andreev not only look very natural together, but, despite Fedor’s advanced age of 28, have quite a lot of potential
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Khokhlova returned to Moscow to late April, bringing along a DVD with the recordings of her “American” practices with both partners as well we partially ready dances with Andreev – Fedor learned the compulsory “Golden Waltz” in addition to the program fragments that Shpilband has put together to different music.
Next, the recordings were shown to the specialists from the Russian figure skating federation, including Olympic champion and the ISU technical committee president Alexander Gorshkov, team consultant Tatiana Tarasova and the two-time ice dance world champion Oleg Ovsiannikov. They all came to a unanimous decision – a possible project of the ice dancing duo Khokhlova/ Andree is worth the effort.
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I managed to talk on the phone to Igor Shpilband, who went on a week-long vacation to Florida immediately after Khokhlova left Detroit.
“Now it’s up to them”, said Shpilband on the phone. “I think Fedor will need some time to come to a final decision. It’s not up to Marina and me – Fedor is an adult, and we are talking about four years of his life here. As a coach, I look forward to working with this team. No question, I’d love to do it, not least because ice dancing has never seen anything like it before.”
Elena VAITSEKHOVKSYA http://winter.sport-express.ru/figureska