Romance and Mystery Novels

by Alina Adams

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Thursday, February 09, 2006


I am going on a limb -- and risking major retrebution from the SkateGods -- by predicting a Russian Figure Skating sweep at the Olympics.

Irina Slutskaya for the women, Evgeny Plushenko in the men, Totmianina and Marinin in the Pairs and Navka and Kostamarov in Ice Dance.

I am also courting a controversial backlash when I assert that two of the victories (Pairs and Dance, plus aspects of the Singles) are being subsidized by Americans.

Our story begins in the annals of history...

During the days when American skaters were still called 'amateurs,' the only professionals entered in the Olympics were the Soviets. Sure, most put down generalities like 'student' or 'soldier' under 'occupation.' But, the majority never saw the inside of a classroom or an artillery range. Instead, they were fully supported by the State to do the one thing they were trained for -- skate, and earn glory for their sponsor. If that didn't constitute being a pro, then what did?

However, an end to the Soviet Union also meant an end to the special privileges -- the apartments, nutritious food, unlimited ice-time, lessons, and costumes -- accorded to elite athletes. It meant an end to the free ride.

Almost immediately, the legendary Soviet training centers began to collapse into disarray.

At the once mighty Yubilany Rink in St. Petersburg, 1994 Olympic champion Alexei Urmanov described the ice as, "Sometimes too hard, sometimes too soft, sometimes just water."

At the rink in Odessa, Ukraine, when a cooling pipe burst, the mange-ment, instead of fixing it, just put up a barrier and ordered the skaters training there, including 1996 European Champion Viacheslav Zagorodnik, to "skate around it."

In 1994, Olympic Champion Viktor Petrenko donated $15,000 U.S. dollars to upgrade his old training-base. It took three years for the money to show up (according to Zagorodnik, "In someone's pocket,") and for a few of the critical repairs to get done. Interest in skating was at such a low in the former Soviet Republic, that Zagorodnik took to handing out his publicity photos wherever he goes. "When I go to the store, when police pull me over for speeding, I just hand them a flyer..."

In 1997, Tamara Moskvina, coach of Bereznaia & Sikharulidze and Kazakova & Dmitriev was desperately looking for a new training site, when Yubilany announced it would be closing for renovations so that the rink could host the 2000 Hockey World Championship.

Rivals in the West couldn't help a brief smirk of glee at the change of fortune. Now, finally, Eastern skaters would learn what it was like to battle hockey-players for ice, to work two jobs to pay for lessons, to stretch old boots an extra half-size and make them last another season.

In 1992, Alexei Mishin complained, "I need skates for my boy (Alexei Urmanov). The boots he has now are ready to fall apart. We need money from the Russian Federation. Money they don't have."

Marina Khalturina, a Pairs skater who trained in Moscow to represent Kazakhstan, echoed the gripe. "We sent a bill for our skates to the Federation. But, we're not holding our breath waiting for reimbursement."

Yet, despite the terrible training conditions back in Russia, it quickly began to seem as if their Western rivals had smirked too soon. Just like reports of Mark Twain's death were greatly exaggerated, so too were reports of the death of the old Soviet skating system. In spite of their shortage of money and ice, Russia still managed to win every discipline at the 1997 and the 1998 European Championship. At the 1998 Olympics, they won the Gold and Silver in ice-dance, the Gold and Silver in Pairs, and Gold in Men's. At the 2002 Games, the Gold went to Men and Pairs, the Silver to Dance and Ladies.

An impressive statistic, until one peels back the veneer, and unearths the disturbing realization that the role of the ex-Soviet Union -- that of primary sponsor for Russian figure-skaters -- had been taken over by the oblivious American tax-payer.

(To Be Continued...)


  • At February 15, 2006 10:29 AM, Anonymous said…

    Obviously, your reaction to Johnny Weir's comments makes it clear that he ruffled your feathers considerably -- and THAT's what he was referring to...the people (Republican-type people) whose children tormented him every day of his life...calling him "Johnny Queer" and "Queer Weir" and "Weir as in Queer"...because they were taught that such people were to be ridiculed or worse...THOSE kinds of people. Most of us KNOW exactly what he was talking about. Sorry you, as a writer with, allegedly, some introspection, could not figure that out.

  • At February 15, 2006 2:00 PM, Anonymous said…

    What does a post about the Russian skaters in America have to do with Johnny Weir or Republicans?


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