Wednesday, 25/4/2018 | : : UTC-7
Skate Today

Annie Oakley of the Ice

Jennifer Wester & Daniil Barantsev

To look at lovely U. S. ice dancer Jennifer Wester, you wouldn’t think that she’s a dead shot with a gun. But the Texas cowgirl, who partners Daniil Barantsev in senior ice dance, has won eight U. S. national titles in target shooting. An expert with the air rifle, .22 rifle and high-powered rifle, she held 20 national shooting records at one time, setting 17 in a single day.

“I started shooting when I was eight. My Dad got me into it as a sport to spend time together,” she said. “I started silhouette shooting with a .22 rifle and then expanded to air rifle and high power rifle competitions. I set the 17 records at the Pennsylvania State Championships. I was skating in Delaware and a Pennsylvania team needed another shooter so I went up on the weekend, did the meet and came back. I just had a great day and set all kinds of records for juniors, ladies, and the team. But I didn’t get the title of state champion because I wasn’t from Pennsylvania.” Wester could eventually become the rarest of sportsmen, a dual sport Olympian who competes in the summer and winter Olympic Games. “I’m still contemplating it,” said Wester. “Ice dancers don’t reach their peak until their late 20s and 30s and shooters often don’t peak until they’re in their 40s.”

Wester actually started skating as a result of her marksmanship. After she won her first national shooting title at eleven, her father researched cross training techniques and discovered an instructional book by a noted Russian shooting champion that recommend skating as a cross training tool because it improved balance. Wester was also acting in the Children’s Theatre in Dallas at the time. While waiting for a rehearsal to start, she spied an ice rink in a hotel near the rink, so she stopped in to try it out.

“There was a class going on so I just copied what the others skaters were doing,” she said. “The next day, I started the class and the coach said, ‘OK, you can stand up by yourself so you go to the next higher class.’ I did my Alpha through Delta tests and learned to do a shoot the duck on my first day. It just immediately clicked for me and from then on, I was spending six hours a day on the ice. I made really rapid progress and had all my doubles in a year and a half, but then I suffered a bad ankle injury.”

“So I switched to dance when I was 13,” she continued. “My first partner was Nick Hart in 1998. We did Lake Placid Dance, and then split. I took 27 dance tests from juvenile freestyle to junior dance to compete with him (Hart) that year, then got my golds in dance and Moves in the Field the next summer. I couldn’t find a partner so I went to Italy for 14 months to skate with Massimo Scali. I had been training at The Igloo in Florida with the Duchesnays for two weeks out of a month while I was training for my gold tests and they recommended me to Valter Rizzo.”

“I had a fabulous time,” Wester remembered. “I was 15 years old and going to live in Italy. I learned a tremendous amount about myself and my abilities while I was there. I learned so much from Massimo in terms of expression. I learned to have freedom on the ice. Massimo always told me, ‘I don’t care if you fall, but if you don’t express, I’ll kill you.’ I still feel his presence with me while I’m on the ice. We trained in Milan and Rome and did about 40 shows while I was there. But the Italian Federation was looking towards 2002 so we had to quit skating together.”

“The whole experience was overwhelming,” she added. “I made lots of friends and I learned to speak fluent Italian. For a while, I went to Switzerland to stay with Fabian and Daniela Keller. I went to her school and learned German. Massimo’s mother is a fabulous cook and she taught me how to eat more than steak and Tex-Mex. Massimo even taught me how to make espresso. I came back from that experience a more confident and understanding person.”

When she returned to Texas, Wester teamed with Jonathon Harris and competed in junior dance at the 2003 U. S. Nationals, finishing ninth. “I had a harness on my arm from a shoulder injury, but there was no way I wasn’t going to compete in my home town,” Wester emphasized. After Nationals, they split and Wester was again partnerless.

Into her life came Daniil Barantsev, a two-time World Junior ice dancing champion. Barantsev had begun skating when he was four. His mother was a skater so she took Daniil and his younger sister, Maria, to a rink in his hometown of Sverdlovsk, or Ekaterinburg. The city is best known as the place where the Bolsheviks murdered the last tsars of Russia, including the princess Anastasia. There were few good freestyle coaches in the city, but Barantsev had a stroke of luck. Alexei Gorshkov had just moved to the city to set up his own ice dancing school and was recruiting promising students. Barantsev was one of the eight, four boys and four girls, who were selected. Natalia Romaniuta was another.

Gorshkov then paired the dancers together. But after a year, he decided to switch partners around and Barantsev ended up with Romaniuta. The couple won the Russian junior dance title three times, took a bronze and two golds at the World Junior Figure Skating Championships, and finished 16th at the 2000 World Championships. After finishing third in senior dance at the 2002 Russian Nationals, bad luck befell the couple and illness forced them out of the 2002 Europeans Championships after the original dance. They were in 11th place at the time. Afterwards, the pair decided to part ways. Barantsev then moved to Connecticut to train with Nikolai Morozov.

“Daniil was looking for a partner and Matthew Gates knew me from when I was living in Dallas,” Wester noted. “He called Judy Blumberg who called me, then I called Nikolai (Morozov). I met Nikolai and Shae Lynn (Bourne) at the Worlds in Washington, DC and we scheduled a tryout in Newington. Four days later, in March 2003, I moved up to Newington and we’ve been together ever since. Daniil’s a very talented technical skater. He’s been skating for almost 20 years so I couldn’t hope to match him technically at first, but I could match him artistically. I could not have progressed as much as I have in the past two years if not for Daniil and his patience.”

The couple had to sit out the 2003-04 season as Barantsev’s citizenship issues were resolved, but hoped to compete in 2004-05. But bad luck struck. While choreographing a move with Morozov, Wester tore the labrum in her right shoulder. The injury was a result of a previous tear that had not been successfully repaired with arthroscopic surgery in 2003. A second operation was required and Wester remained immobilized for six weeks in May and June of 2004. She returned to the ice in mid-August but couldn’t train with Barantsev until November for fear that the injury could re-occur a third time. To compound the problem, Barantsev was rear-ended in the couple’s car, totaling the vehicle and injuring his back in early June. So their chances to compete for the season were finished.

The dancers train with Morozov, Bourne and Valter Rizzo in Newington, CT. They practice on ice for four to six hours a day, five days a week, then do a couple of hours of off ice training. Morozov choreographs all of the couple’s programs. This season, they are using samba-rhumba-samba for their original dance and “Kalinka”, traditional Russian folk music, for their free dance. The rhumba is to “Historia d’Amore”, while the samba is to “Samba de Bazil.”

“Daniil and I picked the samba music,” Wester said. “We fell in love with the piece the moment we heard it. We wanted a samba, because samba is one of the most difficult rhythms to catch. We worked with Tony Meredith and Melanie LaPatin, who are many times world champion ballroom dancers in New York City in May and June. They gave us pieces on the floor, but we took forever getting something that flowed together on the ice. We spent three hours just getting the first five steps of our straight line sequence right.”

“The free dance was something that Nikolai found and wanted us to do two years ago,” she continued. “We had the program completed but then I was injured, so we had to completely redo it to put in all the new elements required for the judging system this season. I think it will be great with both Nikolai and Daniil being Russian to give it the right flavor. I got a taste of Russian culture when we went to Moscow and to visit Daniil’s family in Ekaterinburg for a month each of the last two summers. We saw a lot of ballets and museums, monasteries and churches. The culture was just amazing.”

One of the reasons that the couple has been visiting Russia is that they have become a couple in real life as well as in the skating world. Although engaged to be married on May 6 of next year, they are not using the marriage route to hasten Barantsev’s application for citizenship. “We’re getting married because we love one another, not for his citizenship,” Wester explained. “We can do everything but the Olympics and we’ll still be together in 2010.”

Barantsev popped the marriage question on her birthday, February 27. “He had just brought back a Central Asian Shepherd dog for my parents and a ring that was a gift from his mother so I thought that was about enough for him to get through customs,” Wester said. “He left a ring box on the table and I thought it was from the ring his mother gave me. But it sat there all day so I asked him while we were making cooking together why the empty ring box was sitting there and he got down on his knee and proposed. He had the ring in his pocket all the time.”

Both skaters like to listen to music in their spare time. Barantsev likes techno and trance music, while Wester said, “I love all kinds of music. I’m constantly listening to music and singing along. I used to play the piano and I tried to play the guitar but I wouldn’t say I was ever good at it.” She likes to dance so much that the she has a Dance Revolution game in her apartment. “Daniil says I’ll wear myself out dancing on it so much, but it helps me relax,” Wester said.

She also enjoys crafts such as wood burning, sewing, scrap booking, and crocheting and taking lots of digital photos. Barantsev is a computer junkie, constantly on the Internet. When he first came to the United States, he didn’t know much about computers but enjoyed the connection to Russia culture available to him on the web and thus learned quickly how to navigate the machine. In addition to chatting and emailing, one of his favorite activities is reading Russian jokes. He also enjoys reading, especially about history. He also loves cars. A Scion tC was the couple’s first major purchase together to replace the car wrecked last year.

Wester is also involved in a lot of charity work. “I did a lot of charity runs and even a marathon while we waiting for the opportunity to compete in figure skating,” she said. Among the charities for which she ran the Avon Breast Cancer Foundation. More details on these charities are available at the team’s website, www.ice-dance.com/wester-barantsev/.

Wester is currently studying at Texas Tech University, taking courses through the Internet. “I’d like to eventually get degrees in linguistics and sports management,” she said. “I speak, Italian, German, and of course English. I’m learning Russian now and I’ve studied French and Spanish but I’m not proficient.” Barantsev is interested in real estate and has been studying the field. Due to his interest in history, he has also considered getting a university degree in history.

Both of the skaters currently coach at Newington. Barantsev works a couple hours daily, while Wester is just starting out with a few students and an hour or so a day of coaching. “We’ve looked for careers on the ice,” Wester said. “We’ve talked about team coaching, but it’s hard to make a living unless you’re one of the top few coaches. Everyone in my family is an entrepreneur and Daniil’s got a good head on his shoulders so we’re looking to find something missing from the marketplace and go for an off-ice business as well.”

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Skate Today was created in November 2004 to showcase the people of the skating world, skaters and coaches and others, who make figure skating and ice dancing a pleasure to watch for fans from around the world. The goal was to create a site that would give viewers an insight into the personalities of the people involved in this sport and to give you a more personal connection when watching them live at an event or on the television. Our staff knows how much time and dedication is put into this sport and that's why Skate Today was created.

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