Tired of politics in sport? This should warm your cold, dead heart
It’s been twenty-two years since Oksana Baiul stunned the judges at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway to become the first Olympic champion of the independent Ukraine. Since then, the list of Ukrainian medalists has, sadly, fallen far shorter than Russia’s illustrious sporting record.
But a new crop of young Ukrainian skaters are joining the senior ranks on the ISU Grand Prix circuit. Among them are an ice dance team which has moved up from the junior ranks to seniors only this season, but were able to earn a spot at this year's World Championships. For those not familiar with the Grand Prix series, it works like this: Each skater or team is assigned to compete in certain Grand Prix events. Based on their scores and rankings in those events, skaters will either qualify for one of their respective countries' earned places in the World Championships, or they will be left out in the proverbial cold.
Representing Ukraine in the ice dance at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships, held last week in Boston, were Aleksandra Nazarova and Maksim Nikitin. They are the winners of the bronze medal in the 2015 World Junior Figure Skating Championship. The pair debuted as partners in 2010.
Nazarova was born in 1996 in Kharkiv, Ukraine, and began skating in 2001. She belongs to Kolos Kharkiv skating club. Nikitin is 21 and also hails from Kharkiv. He began skating at the age of 4. Both are correspondence students at the Kharkiv State Academy of Physical Culture.
The pair lives and trains in Moscow, and their current coach is the great Russian ice dancer Aleksandr Zhulin. Zhulin, along with partner Maya Usova, won the silver medal at the Lillehammer games; bronze in 1992 at Albertville, France; and numerous medals at World and European Championships.
Zhulin has played a significant role in launching the careers of medaling Russian ice dancers. The 2013 World bronze medalists Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev study with Zhulin, as did the 2006 Olympic champions Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov. Elena Illinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, Sochi bronze medalists, were Zhulin's pupils as juniors.
Nazarova and Nikitin are a promising young ice dance couple with a bright future ahead of them. Rising up from the juniors to rank high enough at Grand Prix events to qualify for a spot at Worlds, while sharing the ice with more experienced couples, is no small feat. Under the guidance of an expert coach like Zhulin, it will be interesting to watch this team grow into mature skaters who will do a wonderful job of representing their home country of Ukraine.
As a side note, Russia itself continues to excel in figure skating arena, with Evgenia Medvedeeva capturing the gold and Anna Pogorilaya winning bronze in the ladies' division at this year's championships.
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