World Champs Hope for Olympic Gold

Articles, Articles by Barry Mittan

Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin

Reigning World and European pairs champions Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin hope to continue their success through the 2006 Olympic Games in Torino, Italy. The three-time Russian National pairs champions just missed the podium in Salt Lake City in 2002, finishing fourth. But they won their first of four straight European Championships that year as well as their first silver medal at the World Championships. They were also second in 2003 before capturing the World title in 2004. “We were happy that we were able to uphold our team and show that Russian teams are still so strong,” Marinin stated. “Our job is to skate well and skate clean, then the results will come,” Totmianina added.

The couple won the ISU Grand Prix Final for the 2002-03 season and finished second in 2003-04, but missed most of the fall season after Totmianina suffered a concussion during a horrendous fall from a one-handed lift during the first Grand Prix event of the season, Skate America. “Actually, it wasn’t something unusual, but it wasn’t successful,” Totmianina said of the lift, which the couple had been executing in practice all week.

“It was a technical problem with the lift,” explained coach Oleg Vasiliev, “but we have corrected it.” Totmianina still had headaches for a few weeks after the fall, but was back skating again within two weeks. Still, the couple elected to skip the remainder of the Grand Prix season. “Their elements were there, but not their endurance,” said Vasiliev. “They were maybe 75 percent by Trophee Eric Bompard. I thought it was more important to be 100 percent for Russian Nationals.” The fall didn’t faze the pair. “I’m not afraid of lifts,” Totmianina said. “Falls are part of skating. We train for it. I wanted to go right back on the ice once we got home, but Oleg wouldn’t let me.” “I thought she needed to rest, one week doing nothing, not reading, not television, nothing,” Vasiliev said.

Both skaters have been on the ice for a long time, so it’s second nature for them to be there. Both Marinin, age 27, and Totmianina, now 23, began at the age of four. Totmianina went to the rink with her mother, who was a recreational skater, while Marinin got his start when his parents saw an advertisement for a school that was taking children for skating classes. “I didn’t have a professional coach, just a sports teacher, so I didn’t have the best training,” he said. “When I traveled to competitions, the other boys were doing triples and I was doing doubles. When I got the triples, I was still behind. Then I lost to Evgeni Plushenko in the Olympic Hope competition and I knew I had no chance.”

“Since I was tall, a coach from St. Petersburg asked me to move there and do pairs,” Marinin continued. “I skated with different girls starting in 1993, but they didn’t work out. Then I met Tatiana at the 1995 Russian Nationals.” Tatiana added, “I knew I had no chance in ladies. Maxim had no partner so we started together in 1996. It was difficult to adapt. It still is. But I was never afraid. The hardest part for me was the death spiral.”

The skaters have trained in Chicago with Oleg Vasiliev for the last four years. “The conditions for working are better than in Russia,” Marinin stated, noting that they had ice available every day all year long. “The practice itself isn’t any different from Russia.” Unusual for Russian ladies, Totmianina didn’t take ballet as a child, although her mother encouraged her to try it for a week. “I didn’t have time for both skating and ballet,” she stated.

The skaters train for about two hours on ice and an hour and a half off ice, five days a week in the winter. “Usually they take Sunday and one other day off,” Vasiliev said. “It’s better to have some rest. In the summer, they may work four to six hours on the ice in a day or even more if they are learning a new program.” “During the season, we work on the easy elements every day, but working on the harder elements varies. We try to do the short program two to three times a week and the full long program once a week,” Totmianina continued, “but it varies by the week.”

Alexander Matveev and Lori Nichol work with Vasiliev to choreograph the couple’s programs. Vasiliev cut the music and did the initial choreography for their short program, “Ave Maria”. “We had the idea for a long time,” said Totmianina,” but we weren’t ready to skate to it,” “It’s very beautiful music that’s good for pairs,” Marinin added. “Many skaters have used it.” For the long program, they are using Rimski-Korsakov’s “Sheherazade”. “It was Lori’s idea,” Marinin continued. “It’s a very long piece, but when me and Tatiana picked the pieces we liked, we both picked the same ones. When we were on tour during the summer, Oleg discussed the choreography with Lori and when we had a break, we worked to put the moves to it. Then after the tour, Lori came to Chicago to finish the choreography.”

This is the first season that Nichols has worked with the couple. “We wanted to try something new,” Totmianina said. “I actually like to skate to classical music because it suits us. We have long lines and it looks good.” Marinin added, “Lori used to skate very well and she knows the details. It’s easy to work with her as she can show us both our parts. That made the process shorter. We did most of the long program in just four days.”

Totmianina and Marinin spent a lot of time adapting their programs to the new judging system. “Now you are getting more points for more complicated elements,” Marinin said. “But you have to pay more attention to each element. You have to work more on spins and spirals to get to the higher levels.” But they both have some problems with the implementation of the system. “Our federation asked all the skaters how to improve the system and the skaters voted to apply it at the Olympics but not before,” Marinin said. “The idea of the system is very good, but it’s not working as properly as the idea.”

“It’s a very good idea, but it’s just not done yet,” Totmianina continued. Now one person can approve the level of each element and you can’t change it after the competition if they miss it. At Skate America, we did all three things to get a Level 3 on our death spiral and got a Level 1. And there’s still a problem with the jump sequences. The system is new and skaters don’t want to change now. It’s too confusing for people.” “It is positive to be able to jump from an impossible place to the podium,” Marinin conceded. But Totmianina noted, “The competition is two programs. You should have to skate two good programs, not just one.”

“It’s a boring life,” Totmianina admitted. “We have skating, sleeping and chores. We don’t have time for hobbies.” “Their hobby is figure skating,” joked Vasiliev. But Tatiana likes to cook and read romance novels to relax, while Maxim said he just walks around to unwind. They both enjoy their time in the United States, especially Totmianina, who spent several months in New York and Pennsylvania as an exchange student when she was a child. For holidays, they both enjoy traveling to someplace warm, near the sea. All they collect are the stuffed animals, which Totmianina keeps, especially the rabbits, which are her favorites. She also listens to modern pop music and Russian pop artists, while he enjoys Western pop groups like Sting, Metallica and Pink Floyd.

“For the future, we can’t see far ahead, but we want to skate after the Olympics,” Maxim noted. “The longer the better, as long as we can do it. We don’t know what we will accomplish, but we hope to skate professionally. But even when man is thinking of it, God sometimes does otherwise.” “There are lots of shows in Europe,” Totmianina added, “but right now we are only thinking of the Olympics.”

To ensure a future after skating, both skaters studied at a sports institute so he can coach. Tatiana is enrolled at the School of Olympic Sports, which provides a general education with classes adapted to her practice schedule. But they don’t plan to coach at this time. “Coaching is going to be the last thing we do,” said Marinin. “We see how hard Oleg works.”

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