Romance and Mystery Novels

by Alina Adams

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Olympic Champion and Three Time World Champion Marina Klimova

Interview by Arkady Blumin, printed in Russian Language publication West-East on April 5, 2007


Introduction: Dark times, unsettling conditions and uselessness threw millions of former Soviet people throughout many countries. Not only family ties, but friendships were broken down. The winds of emigration mercilessly hurled even seemingly very successful people. I was lucky to meet a family of stars - Marina Klimova and Sergey Ponomarenko. Three time World Champions and Olympic Champions in Ice Dancing who are currently living for more than 5 years in the fine and comfortable town of Morgan Hill, not far from San Jose.

It was so nice to socialize with these very nice and benevolent people, who did not suffer from stardom conceit. I was very happy when beautiful Marina agreed to an interview. The fist question was benign:

AB - Please tell us about your life's path.

MK - I started skating in my native city of Sverdlovsk, where with my than partner Oleg Volkov, we reached a certain success. We steadily took relatively high places in the junior competitions, and we were members of the National Team. Unfortunately, my coach, who I loved very much, left the city and I was facing a question of what to do next. That was why we eagerly accepted the offer of Ms. Natalia Dubova to train with her. Our pair left for Moscow. Ms. Dubova arranged for me to go to a sport's boarding school, which was far from the skating rink, that I had to go to twice a day. The main attention of course was paid to skating, but by no means I could fall behind in my studies. I am very thankful to my parents for letting me, a 12 year old girl, go to this strange and distant city. Now, when I have my own kids, I can appreciate their action. I would not let them go, for sure. Sergey Ponomaremko was skating then with Tatina Durasova in the class of Natalia Dubova. By that time they were two time world junior champions. A year later, Sergey stopped skating with Tatiana and I stopped skating with Oleg, and we formed a new pair. It was a very difficult time for me, because I was far behind Sergey in experience and strength - he was 19 and I was only 13, but I had to skate an adult program. It was very difficult for me to compete with adult female skaters . In 1980, we were eighth in the country, and in 1983, for the first time, we were included in the national team. That year, at the World Championship, we took the forth place. It was quite a start for us. Next year, at the 1984 Olympics, we won a bronze medal. It became a stimulus and we started thinking about gold. For the next 4 years we were number two to the stars - Natalia Bestemjanova and Andrey Bukin, who were coached by the very powerful Tatiana Tarasova. It was very difficult to compete with them, since Natalia was a grown woman and could express her feelings much better than me, still a kid, and besides, they had such a strong protector as Ms. Tarasova. The most interesting part of being number two was that we were very interested in competing, in reaching the peak that was ahead of us. Our leadership came to us not overnight, it was rather a long and complicated trip. But when we won three world championships in a row, and than in 1992, the Olympics, we acquired a fear to fail, to loose everything and we lost all of the joy of competitions, which sometimes turned into torture. We realized that in life there were things more important than Olympic medals. We wanted to enjoy what we were doing and decided to end our sport's performances.

AB - Were there problems, intrigues and fierce competition for you and Sergey for the place in the National Team, especially from Bestimjanova and Bukin, who were supported by Tarasova?

MK - Of course there were some problems. At the time of preparation for the competitions our paths did not cross. In life off the rink we were not enemies, but also we were not friends. But nothing is that simple in life. Prior to the Olympics, in 1991, our coach, very unexpectedly for us, put her bet on another pair, and Sergey and I felt like orphans. The time was so difficult that we considered to drop out of the competitions altogether. And in this trying time for us, it was Ms. Tarasova, who took care of us and prepared us for the Olympics, for what we were very grateful to her.

AB - What was the atmosphere in Dubova's group? In one of the interviews Evgeny Platov said that the discipline was very hard. If a skated would miss a practice, that skater would not be allowed to go on the ice for some time and the pay would be docked. He said that the discipline of Ms. Dubova was outside of common sense. The skater had to become a robot. Was it really that bad?

MK - In the group of Ms. Dubova there were very high requirements of discipline, but not so barbaric as Platov said. If a skater would miss practice, she would give that skater some extra assignments.

AB - What happened next?

MK - It happened that we participated in Olympiad of 1992 at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union and we were performing without a country, under the Olympic flag. When we came back to Moscow as Olympic champions, we became absolutely useless. And when we were offered a contract in the US, we jumped at the opportunity. At that time, no one in Russia offered us any contracts for shows on ice, TV shows or any other contracts, as it happened with the current Olympic champions in ice dancing - Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov. We were invisible, but we wanted to skate very much. Amateur sports are very different from professional sports. In amateur sports there are a lot of limitations, boundaries and stresses. It is very hard to really relax and correspondingly the creative side is suffering. In professional sports everything is different, and we enjoyed our skating for 8 years in the States. We traveled from one city to another. We had up to 200 shows a year, which brought us happiness and joy. Our dream came true - we were skating for a long time, we enjoyed our skating and we felt the love of our fans. But eventually came the realization that we needed to bring some order in to our lives. In 2000, our son was 2 years old, we wanted another child and decided to stop skating. At that time, the San Jose hockey team "Sharks" was building a new ice complex and we were offered coaching jobs at the ice arena.

AB - Do you like your job?

MK - Of course, I would be happier if I worked with (dance teams). All my life I have devoted to dances on ice, I know them very well, but I have to work with everyone. Initially I was afraid to work with children, but now, when I have my own kids, and have more experience, I am more confident in my work with the little ones. If I would see a talented youngster I would work with him, but I prefer to work with 10-12 year old kids since they are old enough to coordinate their movements. Figure skating depends a lot on the ability of a skater to coordinate the movements and to control their body to the highest level.

AB - I know that Sergey and sometimes you are invited to judge different competitions. Do you have to have special preparation as a judge, or could you rely on your experience and credibility as three times World Champions and Olympic Champions? The rules have changed substantially.

MK - It is true that the rules have changed substantially, it became more difficult to skate and the skater is expected to control the skates more fully. When Sergey is invited to work at the competitions, he is working not as a judge, but rather as a technical consultant. It is easy to understand why he is invited to this work, because due to his vast experience he knows the smallest nuances of skating.

AB - Are you in contact with your former friends - competitors and colleagues from the team?

MK - With some of them we meet at different competitions, with others, for example with Alex Fadeev, we meet in everyday life. Some became successful coaches, careers of others were less successful; some left the sport altogether, others opened businesses related to skating - e.g. making suits for the skaters, etc. Rodnina became a public figure. The life in sports is really short. All the time new names appear and the old ones disappear. Many live in America or Canada. Our life spread us over many countries and continents. Although, the time now came for return of many coaches to Russia. Probably the government allocated some money to sports and people were actively attracted back.

AB - If I understand it correctly, the children initially learn to skate solo, and later they find their calling. How did it happen with you?

MK - As a rule, everything really starts with single skating. Some skaters after reaching a level, say of double jumps, stop progressing. If it is really a talented skater, the coach would suggest that he/she would go into ice dancing. There are other factors - for example the girl grows too big and the partner can not lift her any more in pairs. In my case - from the first steps on ice I was interested in ice dancing.

AB - What is the technology of creating a dance, who selects the music?

MK - Up until some level of the skaters, the music and the dance steps are completely decided by the coach, or the coach and choreographer. But with experience, widening of the horizon and appearance of own opinions, the skater's wish plays a more important role. At some point, the opinion of the skater becomes decisive. Otherwise the skaters will perform the dance very clean technically, but will not put their emotions into it, which are very important. It is important that the music would pass through the heart of the skaters and that is why their opinion may be decisive.

AB - What is your relationship with America, your personal estimate?

MK - We worked very hard for 8 years and were practically chained to it. It took years for us to adopt to the society, to master the language and to figure out everything. At the same time the situation in Russia changed a lot as well. We do not understand many things that happen there and I could not even think about going back there. I do not understand Russia now, we are separated from her and now our home is really here.

AB - What is your citizenship?

MK - I have dual citizenship - Russian and American.

AB - Many professional sports people at the end of their career have a lot of health problems, they gain weight, especially the ones that took doping.

MK- I want to assure you that in figure skating no one uses doping. Figure skating is a complex coordination sport and in it doping in principal can not be used. Compared to other sports, figure skating is a forgiving sport. It can be compared with running for a medium distance. It is as hard to execute a program as it is to run a medium length distance. Of course there is trauma. Single skaters often fall, pull the muscles or tendons. In my case I was lucky, thank god. A skater has to feel his body. The traumas happen when you lose self control and when you feel discomfort. I always felt when I had to stop practice. Most of my traumas I got on the gym floor when we were practicing some new elements or lifts. I fell twice in the gym and broke my wrist, but I did not have traumas on ice. If one approaches skating with a cool head, the traumas could be avoided. First of all, one has to listen to the coach. I remember when Ilia Kulik had a problem with one of the jumps, he kept jumping and jumping. His coach told him to stop and warned him of a potential danger, but Ilya continued to torture himself and it ended up sadly with a leg trauma.

AB - What was the fate of Ekaterina Gordeeva, Alex Fadeev? What do you know of legendary Ludmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov?

MK - Ekaterina lives now with Ilia Kulik. They have their own child in addition to a daughter of Segey Grinkov. They live on the East Coast and continue to perform in professional ice shows. Alex Fadeev is our dear friend. Performing as professionals, we traveled all over the US and Canada. Now he lives in Chicago and works as a coach. Last year, for the first time in 100 years, the World Championship took place in Moscow. The opening was beautiful, the competitions were magnificent and in addition to it, all former Olympic champions of all times were invited. President Putin gave a reception in their honor and there I, for the first time, saw the legendary Ludmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov. It is incredible, but regardless of their age, they continue to skate today, practice every day, working on the elements of their program - they without a doubt are absolutely wonderful people. Their devotion to figure skating is amazing. Every year they travel to Lake Placid , where many years ago they reached their peak.

AB - When you skated in shows, did you feel lack of adrenaline rushes due to the absence of competitive feelings?

MK - I can say that certainly we did not lack any adrenaline rushes. On the contrary, when we skated to our own delight, we were creative without feeling constant pressure.

AB - What are your most significant achievements as coaches?

MK - We have a pair of students who were in the second place as juniors in America. Now they moved up to adult level and currently they are taking 6-8 places. Working with pairs we use our huge experience and we act as choreographers. In the former Soviet Union there was a fabulous system: starting figure skating I was obliged to take ballet classes twice a week and during summer I was going to summer sports camp for general physical improvement. Unfortunately is does not happen in America. Also, here there is a peculiar phenomenon. In California, the ice daces are not in favor. The children here, especially boys, are interested more in single skating, and I think that if I want to reach high results as a coach, I may have to go somewhere up North.

AB - How did you feel when you were presenting your pupils at the competitions, standing on the other side of the rink's wall?

MK - Terrible. Standing at the other side of the rink I was getting very tired. It was much easier to perform by myself, than standing outside and worrying and be powerless to help your pupils. In this sense, the skater is in a winning position. He finishes the program and moves on to get ready for the next performance, while the coach continues to worry and to think about the performance again and again. It was very characteristic for Ms. Tarsova. Sometimes the camera would turn to her as she stands at the side of the rink and it would show her hand movements and constantly changing facial expressions. It was said that I behave almost the same.

AB - What from your point of view is the role of the partner?

MK - The role of the partner is exceptionally great. If you can rely on your male partner, you can dedicate your performance to the emotional part of the program. The role of the male partner is somewhat different: to support the female partner and always to be there where it is necessary to keep the female partner comfortable. I could have skated with my eyes closed without any hesitations, because I was absolutely sure that Sergey would be exactly there where it was necessary. Nowadays the role of the partners has increased, they both have to be plastic and to control the skates very well.

AB - Do you teach your children figure skating?

MK - I can see if a child could reach good results or not. I can see such abilities in my younger son and he is practicing figure skating. My older son doers not have a sports character. Young children can not be goal oriented, but they have to be stubborn, otherwise they can not become sportspersons.

AB - What is the situation with preparation of figure skaters in America?

MK - The situation here is much more complicated due to financial problems. Figure skating is a very expensive sport and there are talented skaters who, to a great pity, can not continue their practice due to this reason. For example, I had a girl who was coming from Buffalo because I was coaching a boy with whom she could skate. She was from a family with five children and their abilities were very limited, so I was giving her discounts as much as I could, because she was very talented.

AB - If one would compare the figure skating of today with, say figure skating of twenty years ago from the technical, emotional and aesthetic points of view, would one conclude that the level now is higher?

MK - Without a doubt. Everything moves forward and the sport moves forward as well without a doubt. Today the three and a half turn jumps are not considered as super difficult. Moreover, many skaters are now jumping quads. Dances on ice in the past did not have such a speed, such density and such plasticity. The skating even in my years was much simpler.

AB - What children do you work with? Where is your rink and how can one get in touch with you?

MK - I am trying to work with children who are somewhat prepared, who have a base that we can improve on. I would like to work with couples, since I know ice dance skating to the smallest details, but I have to work with singles as well. Our rink is located at the intersection of Ten and Alma streets in San Jose. Our phone numbers are 4087-781-0048 or 408-476-0082. Bring in your children and grandchildren and we would be happy to work with them.


  • At April 17, 2007 10:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Alina, I am absolutely loving these interviews with Russian skaters. The English interpretation is always a kick. Thanks for all this new information. Keep going!

  • At May 13, 2007 10:23 AM, Blogger Edelweiss said…

    One of the all-time great ice dance couples, IMO. Marina is a class act on and off the ice. Dignified and articulate. So many could take a cue from her.

  • At March 16, 2009 4:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This is a lovely interview with my favorite ice dancer. Thank you! I had been wondering what Marina and Sergei are doing these days. Do you know if they are performing at all currently? In the interview, she mentioned that they stopped skating in 2002...


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