Thursday, February 11, 2010

For Domnina, Shabalin, Olympics is all business

By now, with 10 days remaining until the ice dancing competition in Vancouver, most figure skating aficionados are well aware of the Russian team of Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin and their controversial costumes for the original dance.

But minus costume-gate, just who are these skaters?

During an interview after a recent practice at IceWorks in suburban Philadelphia, where they have trained since the summer of 2008, the reigning world champions provided a little insight into their lives on and off the ice.

They had just returned from the European Championships, where the couple had claimed their second title, but it didn't come easily and was followed by a disastrous trip back to the United States in which they were stranded nearly 24 hours in the airport in Frankfort.

Yet they were back on the ice, following the commands of coaches Natalia Linichuk and her husband Gennadi Karponosov, the 1980 Olympic ice dancing champions. They were also skating alongside of American Olympic silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, who had just returned from a second-place finish at the U.S. Championships in Spokane, Wash. Typically, the practice session also includes the Italian team of Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali, who bested Domnina and Shabalin in the free dance at Europeans, but they were in Detroit for a pre-planned ice show.

All three teams will be competing at the upcoming Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, but Domnina and Shabalin have been considered one of the top, if not the top, contenders for the gold medal.

Domnina and Shabalin have traveled very different routes to reach this crucial spot in their careers. Domnina was six when she first started skating in her hometown of Kirov, Russia. Two years later, she was already learning ice dance. She started skating competitively with Ivan Lobanov, and the two finished eighth at Russian nationals. But when she was 15, she moved to Moscow to train with Alexei Gorshkov. Lobanov decided to stay in Kirov.

She was paired with Maxim Bolotin, and the couple made it to the Junior Grand Prix Final in 2001. They also placed seventh at World Juniors and third at Russian nationals in the junior division. But it wasn't long before they started having problems off the ice that led to their breakup.

Shabalin, meanwhile, was pushed into the sport by his parents. He grew up in Samara, a large Russian city located on the bank of the Volga River, and started skating at an age when many American kids spend their days in preschool.

"From the time I was four until I was 11, I didn't want to skate,'' Shabalin said. "It was my parents' desire. When I was 11 and moved away, I began to like skating. I did my first competition in ice dancing when I was about 11 or 12 and then I felt excited about it.''

Full article.

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