Romance and Mystery Novels

by Alina Adams

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Unlike the rare Western couple, Russian Pair and Dance teams have a reputation for not only sticking together on the ice, but for making a lifelong commitment off of it, as well.

1964 & 1968 Olympic Pair Champion Ludmila Belousova married partner Oleg Protopopov.

1976 Olympic Dance Champion Ludmila Pakhomova married partner Alexandr Gorshkov.

1980 Olympic Dance Champion Natalia Linichuk married partner Gennadi Karpanosov.

1984 Olympic Pair Champion Elena Valova married partner, Oleg Vasiliev.

1988 & 1994 Olympic Pair Champion Ekaterina Gordeeva married partner, Sergei Grinkov.

1992 Olympic Silver Medalist Elena Bechke married partner Denis Petrov.

1992 Olympic Dance Champion Marina Klimova married partner Sergei Ponomarenko.

1994 Olympic Dance Silver Medalist Maia Usova married partner Alexander Zhulin, and 1996 European Bronze Dance Medalist Irina Romanova wed partner Igor Yaroshenko.

The key tenant to a successful Pairs or Dance couple is that "two shall skate as one."

It is a feat that can only be accomplished by many, many years of togetherness, and, once achieved, it can be hard to surrender.

Because of the amount of time necessary to fuse a successful Pairs or Dance team, some couples continue to perform together -- even after getting a divorce.

Valova & Vasiliev continued to compete for a few years after their divorce. She is now re-married. In retrospect, Vasiliev supposes that spending sixteen years exclusively in each other's company caused the two to confuse friendship for love. He told "International Figure Skating," "After we broke up, nothing changed in our friendship, so that is why nothing changed in our skating."

Bechke and Petrov not only continued to compete together for several years, but also to tour together with "Stars on Ice," coach together in Virginia, and still vacation together! Petrov says, "Sometimes we skate not so good, and people say 'They skate bad because they're divorced.' It's not really true." Like Vasiliev, he thinks his relationship with Elena improved after their divorce. However, the honeymoon period of their divorce proved as brief as their marriage. Petrov is now married to 1995 World Champion Lu Chen, living and coaching in her home-country of China.

Life, however, isn't quite as rosy for Maia Usova and Alexandr Zhulin. While residing in Lake Placid and training for the 1994 Olympics, "Sasha" Zhulin had an affair with another Russian skater, Oksana (later to be Pasha, then Oksana again) Grishuk. Though Usova & Zhulin stayed together long enough to win the Silver in Lillehammer (behind, of all people, Grishuk & Evgeny Platov), they divorced soon after.

It was only then that the truth about so many of the Russian marriages began to come out.

In 1995, Zhulin admitted to "American Skating World" that "the reason we got married is not as you thought. Fifty percent of the couples married because we Russians had nothing. No money. Our couples were not married for love but survival. If we married, we could get an apartment from our federation. Apartments are scarce, so they would rather give one to a couple than two to singles."

In 1995, Maia was still insisting that their divorce was for the best. "Before, we were always together, practicing together, living together. It was very difficult. Now we skate together, but we live apart, and we're as good friends as we ever were."

Yet, less than two years later, they were living even further apart, Maia in Massachusetts, Sasha in Connecticut. But, the professional relationship remained.

Explains Sasha, "I don't know how we could skate together with anyone else. For me to change partners now and still try to work the same way would not be a good idea."

That sort of dedication to career over personal concerns is common among the ex-Soviets, but, much harder to find in the West. (It also didn't last too long for Sasha and Maia, either. Despite their public statements, in 1998, two new professional teams debuted: Grishuk and Zhulin, and Usova and Platov. The media instantly dubbed the former the bad guys, and the latter the good. Usova and Platov went on to win more competitions and stay together a bit longer than Grishuk and Zhulin but, in the end, neither pairing stuck).

A few Western teams have tried to emulate the Russian model by getting married.

Finnish 1994 World Dance Bronze Medalists Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko are married, as are 1995 World Pair Champions Radka Kovarikova and Rene Novotny.

American Pair skaters Jenni Meno and Todd Sand fell in love at the 1992 Albertville Olympics (she was there with Scott Wendland, he with Natasha Kuchiki) and decided to skate together. They became engaged at the 1994 Olympics, won the U.S. Championship in early 1995, and married that summer. Their son, Jack, was born in December 2004.

Teammates Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow became dance partners in March of 1989. Elizabeth had a crush on Jerod from the first time she met him, but she wasn't sure about his feelings for her, and so said nothing. At a competition in Lake Placid, a window-shopping Liz saw a ruby antique ring which she absolutely fell in love with, but her mother decreed it too expensive. A month later, Liz saw the ring on Jerod's pinky finger. Her mother had bought and sent it to him. But, it wasn't until 1992 that the true significance of the ring became clear. Over dinner, Jerod handed Liz a card. "The time has come. We're right for each other. Be my wife." The ruby antique became an engagement ring. (They married in 1993 and son Gavin was born ten years later).

An even smaller number of Western teams have managed to keep a partnership together after the personal relationship soured.

1997 World Pair Champions from Germany, Mandy Wotzel and Ingo Steuer were still a couple off the ice when, at the 1994 Olympics, Mandy fell, chin first, onto the ice and had the wind knocked out of her. The world watched as Ingo tenderly cradled her in his arms and carried her off. Since then, the couple has broken up, though they continued to share a house, with two apartments, in Chemnitz, while training for the 1998 Olympics.

For Mandy and Ingo, skating was actually a way for the pair to reconnect as friends, after the romantic estrangement. Having to see each other every day, put their arms around each other, look in to each other's eyes was the catalyst they needed to stop growling, and reestablish a rapport.

But, such happy ending-complete-with-World-Championship tales are an exception to the rule in the West, where both Pair and Dance teams break up at the drop of a hat.

"You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince," is Calla Urbanski's most quoted quip, and Calla knows the truth of it well. Taking up Pair skating at the ripe age of twenty-three, she went through four partners before teaming up with Rocky Marvel in 1986. After three months together, the pair called it quits. The first time.

Calla went on to skate with Mark Naylor and finish 4th at the 1990 U.S. Championship. Rocky paired up with Maria Lako and they finished 7th at the same event. That spring, Calla and Rocky tried skating together again. A surprise silver medal at the 1991 Nationals earned them a trip to Worlds, and a top ten international ranking.

In 1992, while on tour following their winning a National title, they split up for the second time.

Personality problems.

Calla is intense. Rocky more laid-back. Practice sessions had a nasty tendency to disintegrate into clenched teeth snarls, shrill discussions, and stony silences. Hoping to catapult a fresh start, Calla tried out with Scott Kurtilla while still on tour with Rocky. He, in turn, tried out with Natasha Kuchiki, also partnerless after Todd Sand left her for Jenni Meno. Neither pairing worked out.

By fall of 1992, "The Waitress and Truck-Driver" were back on again. "Third time's the charm," both swore.

In 1993, Calla was skating with Joe Mero, Rocky with Natasha Kuchiki. Neither one managed to qualify for the 1994 Olympic team, though Rocky came closer with a 4th place photo-finish.

Immediately after the Nationals, Calla announced her retirement from amateur skating. She would become a professional skater. With Rocky Marvel.

After all, fourth time's the charm.... (It didn't last; For an update on Rocky, click here).

Or is it the third?

Suzanne Semanick won the 1983 U.S. Junior Dance title with Alexander Miller, the 1987 & 1988 U.S. Senior Dance title with Scott Gregory, and two U.S. Bronze medals with Ron Kravette. Ron won the 1986 US Junior Dance title with Colette Huber, and two more U.S. Bronze medals with Amy Webster. Jason Dungjen won the 1983 U.S. Junior Pair title with sister Susan, and skated a season with Karen Courtland before pairing up with Kyoko Ina to win the 1997 and 1998 U.S. Championships.

Or is it the second time that's the charm?

Renee Roca won the 1986 U.S. Dance title with Donald Adair, and the 1993 & 1995 titles with Gorsha Sur. Susan Wynne won the 1989 and 1990 U.S. Dance titles with Joe Druar, then came back from the professional ranks to earn the 1993 and 1994 U.S. Silver with Russ Witherby.

In any case, the partner merry-go-round once prompted Tamara Moskvina to observe that it was ultimately pointless, "There is no improvement because always changing, changing, changing. It's back where you started."


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