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Yuka Kavaguti skated singles in Japan when she fell in love with pairs’ skating while watching the 1998 Nagano Olympic games.

“I wanted to skate like Elena Berezhnaya,” remembers Kavaguti.

She contacted Tamara Moskvina, the famous Russian pairs’ coach, and soon moved to New Jersey, USA to participate in her training camps.

In 1999, Kavaguti partnered with Russian Alexander Markuntsov and represented Japan. When they won silver at the 2001 Junior Worlds, they were the first Japanese pair team to medal at an ISU championship event.

The possibility of Markuntsov attaining Japanese citizenship for their participation in the 2002 Olympics was virtually impossible, so they split up.

In 2003, Moskvina moved back to Russia, and Kavaguti followed her legendary coach. There she had a brief partnerships with one American before joining up with Devin Patrick, also from the USA.

Kavaguti and Patrick competed at the 2006 US Nationals where they finished 15th but ended their partnership shortly thereafter.

Kavaguti recalled. “Devin wanted to live in the U.S., but I didn’t want to leave Tamara (Moskvina). I just couldn’t give up my studies, leave my coach, and go to America.”

“Devin taught me the quad throw (Salchow),” Kawaguti explained. “He did really good throws.

In the summer of 2006, Moskvina suggested Kavaguti try-out with Alexander Smirnov. Both skaters were initially skeptical of the partnership, and didn’t foresee the Russian National, Grand Prix, European and World medals they would eventually win together.

Kavaguti became the first foreigner to represent Russia in figure skating at a World Championship when she and Smirnov competed in 2007 at Tokyo, Japan. The team finished ninth.

“I wanted to compete at Worlds so much and travel home to Japan!” Kawaguchi recalled. “Worlds were in Tokyo, close to my home, and I wanted to be there, no matter what.”

Kavaguti became a Russian citizen in December 2008 to qualify for a spot on the Russian Olympic team.  Japan doesn’t allow dual citizenship.  She also changed the spelling of her name from the Japanese Kawaguchi to the Russian Kavaguti.

“It was a very hard choice for me to make. But since I was a little girl I wanted to compete in the Olympics so in the end I had to make that choice in order for me to fulfill my childhood dream,” Kavaguti told the press at the time.

During their partnership, the team has been injury prone and suffered numerous physical mishaps.

Kavaguti dislocated her shoulder several times as she mastered the throw quad Salchow. She finally had surgery in 2010. While she recuperated, Smirnov suffered a groin injury and sprained ankle. The couple was off the ice for three months.

In early 2012, Smirnov had an emergency appendectomy and knee surgery.

The team missed the entire 2013-2014 season when Smirnov ruptured a patellar knee tendon in a fall while competing in Saint Petersburg. He spent six months off ice in Germany rehabilitating.

During Smirnov’s recovery period, Kavaguti said she continued to train, “because I always hoped he would be better and we would go to the Olympics. I kept myself ready. That didn’t happen, but that’s okay.”

The team returned to competition in late September 2014 at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, where they beat their closest competitor by over 16 points.

Yuka Kavaguti+ Alexander Smirnov won the gold medal at the 2014 Skate America with two spectacular performances. Ice dancer, Peter Tchernyshev had choreographed the free program, Manfred Symphony, by Tchaikovsky for them to skate at the Sochi Olympics.

“Last season we had a program that we really loved, so to finish the season without showing it made us very sad. That’s why we continued this season,” said Kavaguti at the Skate America press conference.

The couple was all smiles after the competition. Kavaguti giggled, “We are so, so happy to be back here in competition, so we are very excited today.”  Smirnov added, “We’re just very happy to skate.”

A journalist asked Kavaguti about her longevity as a pairs’ skater.

“My motivation is that I love skating. I think I haven’t completed what I want. Not yet. That’s why I keep skating.  My partner has had injury more than one time, so we missed a lot of competitions. Maybe that’s why,” she responded in English.

Kavaguti is fluent in Japanese, Russian and English. In 2007, she earned a degree in International Relations from St. Petersburg State University.

In the Kiss and Cry after the short program, Smirnov was seen drawing hearts and moving his arms in a rocking motion.  He was sending love messages back to his wife and week-old son in Russia.

“The family is observing a Russian custom of not revealing the infant’s name until he is a month old,” shared the proud papa.

When asked if he would be putting the baby in skates, the figure skating gold medalist smiled, “Hockey skates, yes!”

Kavaguti+Smirnov compete at the NHK Trophy November 28-30.

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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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