Veteran Russian Pair Makes Final Olympic Run

Maria Petrova & Alexei Tikhonov

At 33, Alexei Tikhonov is one of skating’s most venerable and most consistent competitors. Having competed internationally since the 1980s, Tikhonov remains at the top of his game. He and his partner, Maria Petrova, have finished in the top four at both the European Championships and the World Championships every year since 1999. They have won two golds, a silver and three bronze medals at Europeans and a gold, a silver and a bronze at Worlds during that period. Petrova and Tikhonov are perennial contenders at the ISU Grand Prix Final and finished second this season after bronze medals in 2002-03 and 2003-04. But although they have finished second six times, the couple has yet to win Russian Nationals.

Tikhonov initially competed internationally for the former Soviet Union with Irina Saifutdinova, winning the bronze medal at Junior Worlds in 1989. But she married, leaving Tikhonov with no partners in sight. So he moved to Japan, competing there for two years, but it was a lonely life. ” I was alone in my apartment,” he recalled. I used to go to the Russian Embassy just to talk to people.”

Discouraged, he gave up competitive skating to do shows, spending three years with Tatiana Tarasova’s shows in Great Britain, then with Torvill and Dean, and finally at Cypress Gardens in Florida. “I didn’t have very good partners,” he remembered. “After five years, I thought that I hadn’t done very much with my life. I like competitions a lot. It’s a very different science when there are judges. Then Maria’s coach called me and asked me to skate with her, so we started.”

Petrova had formerly skated with Anton Sikharulidze, with whom she won the World Junior Championships in 1994 and 1995. When he left to skate with Elena Berezhnaya in 1996, she skated with Teimuraz Pulin, finishing second at Junior Worlds in 1997 and sixth at Russian Nationals in 1998.

Tikhonov began skating almost three decades ago, when he was just five years old. “Skating was very famous in Russia at that time,” he said, “so my parents brought me to the skating school. I was 13 or 14 before I understood that I liked it and wanted to skate all my life. Before, I was more interested in other sports like soccer and hockey. I switched to pairs when I was about 15 and a half years old. I was very tall and my triples were not so good. I only had three triple jumps.”

Petrova first tried skating when she was about four. She began by pushing a plastic carton full of bottles around a patch of ice near her apartment. Her parents took her to skating school when she was six. “I was sick as a child and the doctors told my parents to bring me to try some sports,” she said. “They wanted me to do figure skating because it’s not just a sport but also art. When I was in singles skating, I always wanted to do pairs. I liked Gordeeva and Grinkov and wanted to be like them. Pairs is much more interesting than singles.” She switched to pairs at 13.

The skaters train in St.Petersburg with Ludmila Velikova and Nikolai Velikov. They do an hour session in the morning and another in the afternoon on ice every day, but only do a complete run-through of each program twice during the week. They spend another hour or two in off ice training, doing lifts on the floor, ballet and other conditioning work. “We have some friends who run the marathon,” Tikhonov said. “So we run five kilometers with them two or three times a week. They have helped us with our physical conditioning. Now we are more physically powerful so we don’t have to think about how we can go for four minutes on the ice. That helps us show more choreography and more presentation.”

Sergei Petukhov and Alexander Stepin choreograph the couple’s programs. This year, they used a variation of a tango by Astor Piazzola for the short program and Emmerich Kalman’s “The Circus Princess” for the long. “The tango program is new for us,” Tikhonov said. “The free skate music is old but the program is new because of the new judging system. The music for both programs was suggested by our coaches. We did a tango for our exhibition program last season and it worked well for us so our coaches thought we could do a tango for the short program. Our friend, Alexei Urmanov, used ‘The Circus Princess’ in 1997. He gave us the music and helped us with the program and the steps.” Their exhibition program is to the Night Snipers “You Present Me Roses”.

“We usually try to change both programs each year,” Tikhonov said, “but sometimes it’s easier to work with the music for a second year. Maria and I choose the music together with our coaches. This season, we both looked for new music, but we could not find good music for the free program. We didn’t skate our free program well in Dortmund last year so we decided to try it again.” Leading after the short, the couple suffered a bad fall in practice before the free skate which left Petrova badly bruised. Unable to perform at full speed. The couple dropped to fourth overall. “That was our worst fall ever, even in training,” Tikhonov said. “It made me be even more careful.”

“For me, lifts are the best thing,” Tikhonov continued, “but Maria doesn’t like the lifts.” “Lifts are more dangerous,” Petrova said. “Throws are easier for me. When we are learning a new throw, it is really fun.” Petrova is also a better jumper, having mastered her triple salchow and triple loop at eleven, while Tikhonov didn’t land his first triple until he was 14.

The new judging system that will be in effect this season may benefit Petrova and Tikhonov, who have always been very strong in all the technical elements. “We are doing throw triple salchow and throw triple loop and are trying the throw triple flip,” Tikhonov said. “We are doing side-by-side triple salchow and triple toe loop and are trying some new Level 3 lifts. Our ending lift should be a Level 3 with a bonus. So far only the Poles and us are doing all Level 3 lifts.”

“For the technical mark, the new system is good,” Tikhonov said. “Every element gets you some points. You can show different lifts in the new system and if the lifts are good, you can get many points. But the judges still can do anything with the second mark. I like it because you can move but they need to make some changes.” He believes that judges should be financially independent of the federations, while Petrova wants each judge’s marks to be known.

Petrova and Tikhonov plan to skate together until the Olympics in 2006, hoping to improve on their sixth place finish from 2002. “We want to go to the next Olympics, but only if we are skating well,” Tikhonov said. “After that, we are going to be coaches. We are working now with a young team in our skating group. We are learning a lot about coaching from Tamara Moskvina. She is a genius.” “I have always wanted to be a coach because I love being around children,” said Petrova. “I love it when the children come up to us at training.” The couple is also thinking of getting married and having a family of their own. Tikhonov is godfather to Urmanov’s twins and both skaters like to spend time visiting his family.

To relax, the couple likes to go out to restaurants or to the movies with friends. Petrova also enjoys live plays at the theatre, primarily dramas, and the ballet. She also likes to read. They both watch Russian movies and listen to all kinds of music. Tikhonov still plays a lot of sports including basketball, bowling, pool, and tennis. They both play soccer and hockey and ski in the winter on small slopes near St. Petersburg. She still has a lot of stuffed animals at home but they both give many to the children of their friends. Her favorites are bears and dogs, including a stuffed Bonya dog given to her by her parents years ago that she carries as a good luck charm.. She also has a pet Cocker Spaniel, but has to leave it with her mother. Both skaters are fond of photography and like to walk around new cities taking photographs.

Oda Continues Ancestor’s Fighting Spirit

Nobunari Oda

Japan’s Nobunari Oda is a direct descendant of Nobuanaga Oda, a famous Japanese warlord during the sixteenth century. He showed his fighting spirit by dominating the men’s event at the 2005 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. Oda easily won his qualifying round, then finished a close second to France’s Yannick Ponsero in the short, with many observers believing he should have won. Then Oda scored a personal best in the long, easily moving past Ponsero to take the gold medal by more than a ten-point margin. Oda said, “The new system has been good for me. I can try a lot of things other than just jumps. Now all the elements have value.”

Oda scored heavily with a solid triple axel and a triple lutz-triple toe loop-double loop combination to start his program. It was Oda’s first clean triple axel in competition. He had landed his first clean triple axel in practice at the beginning of the week, but did not land it during the qualifying round. Oda also landed a triple flip, salchow, and lutz and a triple loop-double toe loop and double axel-triple toe loop combinations. In his short program, Oda landed triple lutz-triple toe loop as well as a triple loop and double axel.

The Japanese junior champion for 2004-05 finished 11th at the World Junior Figure Skating Championships last year and was eighth at the 2003-04 ISU Junior Grand Prix Final. But he missed the 2004-05 JGP Final when he only finished fourth at Skate Long Beach and third at the Ukrainian Souvenir. For next season, Oda said, “I want to go to seniors and hope to join the Olympic team. I plan to skate for five more years until the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. I want to be in the Olympics and have people watch me and start skating.”

Oda, who has always been coached by his mother, Noriko Oda, began skating when he was seven because he wanted to be a skater like her. He didn’t even try any other athletic pursuits. He landed his first triple toe loop when he was thirteen and his first triple axel at Junior Worlds. “I was very happy when I landed the triple axel,” Oda said. “I have been trying for two years, but this was the first time I landed it clean. I really like jumping, especially the toe jumps. I prefer them more than edge jumps.” Oda has yet to try a quad.

The emotional 17-year-old usually trains in Osaka, Japan for two hours a day six days a week. He also trains at the Mariposa School of Skating in Barrie, Ontario, Canada several times a year. For the 2004-05 season, he trained in Barrie for a month in the summer, again in October, then came the first week of February to prepare for Junior Worlds. While in Barrie, he usually trains only five days a week. “I was really homesick when I first came there because I missed my family so much,” he said, “but I made many friends with the other skaters. He trains primarily with Lee Barkell in Barrie. Another of Barkell’s students, Jeffrey Buttle, is Oda’s favorite skater. “I like his presentation and style on the ice,” Oda said.

David Wilson choreographs Oda’s programs. “He chose the music for both of my programs,” Oda said. “They were both new for this season and next season I will have two new programs. I like to have new programs every year. I really like to skate to music like I used for the short program.” For the 2004-05 season, Oda used soundtracks for both his short and free programs, “Super Mario” for the short and “Zatoichi”, a Japanese film, for the long. He used “Rooster” for his exhibition program, skating in pajamas. Off ice, he likes to listen to Japanese pop. Although he doesn’t play any instruments, Oda noted that his brother is a musician.

Oda is in public high school in Japan. “I have three more years to go,” he said. “I like to study English and plan to study languages at the university. I want to be a school teacher.”

When he’s not studying or skating, Oda enjoys visiting friends and going to the movies. “I like Lord of the Rings and love stories,” he said. He also plays a lot of sports including baseball, soccer, volleyball and ping pong, but just for fun. He doesn’t collect anything but saves the gifts he receives from fans in his room. Oda likes traveling. “I’ve been to the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany but I want to see more in Europe,” he said. “I liked Canada and Los Angeles too. I liked the sun and the pool.”

Japan’s Asada Channels Ito

Mao Asada

Japan’s Mao Asada, 14, carried on the tradition of Midori Ito, her role model, when she competed during the 2004-05 season. Coached by Ito’s coach, wearing Ito’s costume, using choreography similar to Ito’s, and landing Ito’s trademark jump, the triple axel, Asada breezed through the year undefeated in international competition, capping the season by winning the 2005 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. Ito, who often watches Asada at practice and encourages her, was there for the victory. “Midori was very excited when I won Junior Worlds,” Asada said, “maybe more than I was.”

Asada captured the medal that eluded her older sister, Mai, who finished fourth at Junior Worlds last year. She skated virtually flawlessly in all three rounds of the competition, easily outdistancing her nearest rivals. Her long program included a clean triple axel, the first by a lady at the Junior Worlds. She also completed a triple loop-double loop and triple flip-double toe combination, plus a double axel, two triple lutzes and a triple flip. In the qualifying round, Asada had landed a triple flip-triple toe loop, a triple lutz-double loop, and a triple loop-double loop-double loop, but her triple axel attempt was slightly under-rotated and counted as a second double axel. Her short program combination was a triple lutz-double loop to go along with the required double axel and triple loop.

Asada also won gold medals in novice at the 2003 Helena Pajovic Cup in 2003 and the Mladost Trophy in 2004. This season, she won both her Junior Grand Prix events at Skate Long Beach and the Ukrainian Souvenir, and then took the Junior Grand Prix Final in Helsinki, Finland. Asada also won the Japanese junior ladies title in 2005. “This was the best season for me,” Asada said. “I’m quite happy about it. It’s frustrating not to be in seniors next year, but I will try to do my best in juniors and win at Junior Worlds again. I didn’t feel any pressure when I competed. I get energy from competing and it’s fun for me to be with my skating friends from all over the world.”

The talkative teenager began skating when she was only five, following her sister onto the ice. “Mai and I were taking ballet and my mother thought she needed stronger ankles so she took her to the skating rink that was only ten minutes from our house,” Asada explained. “I happened to be with her so I took lessons too. I was doing classical ballet since I was three years old until I was nine. I did some recitals but no shows.” Asada landed her first triple jump, a triple salchow, when she was eight or nine. “I’ve tried the quad salchow at practice and landed some, but I don’t like the salchow jump so much,” she noted. “I like the loop, flip and lutz more. I’m working on a triple lutz-triple loop.”

She landed her first triple axel when she was only 13 and became the first lady to land a triple axel in a major ISU junior competition when she landed the jump at the 2005 ISU Junior Grand Prix Final. “I had the triple axel since a special camp last year,” Asada said. “I could do it easily every time. But sometimes during the season, it wasn’t consistent.”

Machiko Yamada, who also coached Japanese world champion Midori Ito, trains Asada in Nagoya, Japan. Asada skates for three hours a day every day on ice and participates in about an hour and a half of off ice training every day, including ballet, conditioning and weights. She has trained with her sister for the past two years. “I have fun training with my sister,” Asada said, “but we are rivals when it comes to the competitions.”

Lea Ann Miller choreographed Asada’s competitive programs, both of which were new this season. Miller, together with Yamada and Mihoko Higuchi, Asada’s choreographer in Japan, select the music for the programs. She skated to “The Wizard of Oz Fantasy for Orchestra” by John Williams for the short program and “La Boutique Fantastique” by Jerome Kern for the free skate. “I like music with a story,” Asada said. “Lea Ann Miller brought us the music for the short program and I liked it. I saw Disney on Ice using it. The long program doesn’t have a story and I wasn’t keen on that. It was my coach’s idea to have choreography similar to Midori Ito’s and to wear her costume. Next year, I will have two new programs.” Asada is using “Pick Yourself Up” by Jerome Kern and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for her exhibition programs, which were choreographed by Yamada and Higuchi.

Asada is a student in her second year of junior high school. “My school is very cooperative about my skating and my studies are not too demanding yet,” she said. “I’m only in school about four hours a day.” Although her best subjects are gymnastics and sports, her favorite subject is home economics. “I like to cook,” she added. Eventually, she hopes to go to university to study, but wants to be a professional skater first.

Off ice, Asada said, “I’m not so quiet, but not so active.” She enjoys playing with LEGO blocks and assembling jigsaw puzzles. She keeps all the gifts she receives in her room and especially likes Sponge Bob Square Pants. As a reward for winning Junior Worlds, her mother is getting her a chocolate brown poodle puppy, which she is thinking of naming Chocolate. Her favorite vacation was a trip to Hawaii. “I can’t swim but I liked the shopping and the game rooms,” she said. “I want to go to Paris and Great Britain because I’ve never been there.”

World Champs Hope for Olympic Gold

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.”

Britain’s Hamer Off to Fast Start

John Hamer

Great Britain’s John Hamer exceeded all expectations when he finished 19th at the 2004 European Championships in Torino, Italy. It was even more surprising because before Europeans, Hamer had only competed internationally in three junior events with his best placement a fourth at the Mladost Trophy in Zagreb in 2002. “It beat all the goals the association had for me,” Hamer said. “Of course, you always want to be placed higher, but maybe that wasn’t meant to be on my first go. It was definitely a crazy experience, beyond my wildest dreams.”

“Now I’m looking forward to going to Moscow for Worlds,” Hamer continued. “It will be nice to test myself against the whole world and give myself a bench mark for the future events. I looked on the ISU website and I’m currently ranked 117th in the world, so other than skating well at Worlds my goal is to break the top 100 to start with. And have a top 50 score using the C.O.P system.”

The 20-year-old was a late starter in the sport. “I only started skating when I was about eleven,” he recalled. “My parents were in a car accident and my mother had a broken pelvis. To help her get back on her feet again, the doctors suggested that she try some sport. There was an ice rink two minutes from where we live so I went with her to the rink to learn skating. I fell every time but I loved it so I started taking lessons the next year.”

“I hadn’t really been involved in sports before except running,” Hamer continued. “I played some soccer but wasn’t very good. I never really excelled at anything and was never on a team.” But skating proved to be where Hamel’s talents lay. He landed a double axel by 15 and his first triple jump, a salchow, the next year. “It’s actually one of the more difficult jumps for me now,” he said. “I’d much rather do a triple axel now. But I’m happy my hardest jump is an easy jump. I’ve been landing the triple axel and quadruple toe loop on and off but it’s hard to find to train the jumps when you’re preparing for competitions.”

Hamer rose rapidly through the ranks in Great Britain from first in juniors in 2003 to ninth in seniors in 2004 and first in seniors in 2005. “I’ve had no down time since Nationals,” Hamer added. “We never planned to be able to compete at the Europeans. It’s really been an out of this world experience. Now that I’ve been there, I’ll be able to plan better and be able to do an international season. I’ve learned a lot about the Code of Points. We didn’t have it at the British Nationals. We won’t have it until next year. My programs were designed for the 6.0 system and I had to change them quickly to suit the new system.”

“The Code of Points really rocks,” he continued. “You can jump up in the standings if you do good. Before you had no chance, but now you can catch the leaders. It takes the boredom factor out of it for the crowd. Afterwards you can look and see that this was good, this was bad, this was better than the guys ahead.”

“Now I can do the Nationals with more confidence,” he continued. “The other skaters can do small competitions but not internationals. This is another league, skating in the same group with Joubert and Plushenko. I really enjoyed it. They’re legendary so skating with them was like wow. Brian was relaxing me and asking me if I was OK. It made me feel really good. I was grinning like a Cheshire cat at practice. It was crazy our there. You can be a tortoise and put your head down or you can show off your stuff. I decided I wanted to show off more.”

“This year was a real turning point for me,” Hamer said. “Four years ago, I was a fan in Nice getting Yagudin’s autograph. Now I’m skating with some of the same guys. It’s a massive fight going against guys with 18 or more years of experience but I know they’re only one or two jumps ahead of me when I see the protocols. I actually scored higher than Joubert and Plushenko on the change foot spin.”

Gary Jones has coached Hamer since his first lesson. “Gary’s like a second dad to me,” Hamer said. “He has an unorthodox style of coaching. It may not suit others but it’s good for me. I’m overexcited and he’s calm. If I had an excited coach, I’d be in trouble. Hamer trains in Gillingham, Kent. He practices five days a week for two or three hours a day, except for Tuesday, when he spends almost the entire day on the ice.

Hamer is the first British skater to use the new Freedom blades designed by Chris Howarth, at John Watts Blades in Sheffield. The blades are curved on the back rather than straight. That allows Hamer to do some moves on the back of the blades that were not possible previously. “I met Chris at an open competition and started talking to him about his new blade company,” Hamer said. “I was cheeky enough to ask to try out his blades and for some reason he allowed me to have a pair of “evolution” blades to test.”

“The friendship has developed over a good few years and I now try out Chris’s blades and give him feedback,” Hamer added. “For example if I thought that the sole plate was too thin he would go back to the drawing board and re-design them with a better sole plate and so on. The John Watts team is again very close to me and I consider them all very good friends of mine. I feel very privileged to be able to work with them in developing both my skating and their blades.”

Jones and Hamer jointly choreograph his programs, both of which he usually changes each year. “I pick all my own music,” Hamer stated. “I put anything I like on a CD and take it to practice. I play the music during the practice sessions and if it blends into the background, then I won’t use it. If it stands out, then we have to decide what we would do with it. If it gives us the most ideas, we use it. I actually tried using ‘Lord of the Rings’ a few years ago. It took me over six hours to cut the music and then we took it to the rink and played it. Gary and I both thought it was pretty music, but what could you do with it.”

“I like to find music that the crowd can get behind,” Hamer noted. “If they enjoy it, you get the crowd behind you and then you can do more because you want to fight to the end for them. This season he is using “Chronologie II” by Jean Michel Jarre for the short program and “Victory” by Ronan Hardiman for the long.

Hamer does a few hours teaching under Hamer to earn some spending money, but said, “I don’t have any future career plans. Maybe I’ll go into teaching. We want to have more people come and train with us. I’ve finished high school but don’t plan to go to university.”

“I don’t have any sponsors,” he added, “except for John Watts blades. It’s basically the bank of mum and dad. The mums deserve the medals more than the skaters. And there are lots of other people who help you win the medals – the coaches, the people who make the costumes. I just deserve the clip the medal came on. They deserve the rest. I’ve also got a big group of friends who come along as supporters. They’re more like a family than a team.”

For fun, Hamer enjoys going out to movies with his girlfriend, an actress-model. “I like action and comedies and she loves musicals. I can’t stand musicals. But I have to go to them so she’ll go to the action films. I’ve got a huge DVD collection and when I looked through it, they were all cars, chicks, and guns.” He also used to collect Star Wars memorabilia. But his prime hobby is cars. “I’m a big fan of my car,” he said. ” It’s a Peugeot 206. I’m a bit of a boy racer.”

Hamer hasn’t traveled much, but said, “I have trained a bit in Canada which was a wonderful place. I stayed with my good friend Vaughn Chipeur, who is also a skater for Canada. We met at our Junior Grand Prix in Poland in 2003. I have plans to either go back and see him or to get him to come over and see Great Britain. I would love to travel to Tokyo for the World Championships in 2007.”

The new British champion realizes he’s got a hard road ahead to the 2006 Olympics. “There’s a lot to live up to being British,” he said. “There were so many fantastic skaters in the past – John Curry, Robin Cousins, Steven Cousins. You have to be a wonder skater to measure up to them. I just hope people will remember me as John Hamer.”

German Pair Nears the Top

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy

For the first time since the retirement of 1997 World pairs champions Mandy Wotzel and Ingo Steuer from competitive skating, Germany has a top pairs team which can compete for the medals at the European Championships. Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy reached fourth place at the 2004 European Championships in Torino, Italy in January. This was their first ISU championship competition together since Savchenko just became eligible to compete for Germany this season after moving from the Ukraine to Germany in 2003.

But Savchenko is no stranger to the podium at international competitions. With her former partner, Stanislav Morozov, she won the 2000 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in pairs. The duo also finished as high as sixth at Europeans in 2001, ninth at Worlds in 2001, and 15th at the Olympics in 2002. Szolkowy was not quite as successful on the international scene with his previous partners. He finished ninth at World Juniors with Claudia Rauschenbach in 2001, but never competed at Europeans or Worlds before teaming with Savchenko.

After her partner retired in 2002, Savchenko wanted to continue skating and sought another partner. “I always wanted to skate in Germany,” Savchenko said. “So I told a German journalist that I was looking for a new partner. He asked some German coaches and told me about Robin. I knew him already from the Junior Worlds where I came first and he came tenth. So I told my mother there was a dark boy in Germany that wanted to skate with me and I knew him and thought it might be a good match” Szolkowy had thought his pairs career was over after his partner left and was actually skating synchro when he got the offer to try out with Savchenko.

Savchenko began skating when she was five. “I saw skating on television and was fascinated by it,” she recalled. “I didn’t do any other sports but I wanted to try figure skating. I started pairs when I was 13 years old. I saw the other skaters doing it and I wanted to do it myself. I liked all the acrobatic things like lifts and twists and throws.” The skaters have completed a quad twist and use a throw triple flip and throw triple loop in their free skate

Szolkowy started when he was four. “It was by coincidence,” he said. “We were at an airport that had an ice rink. I dropped in to try it and liked it. I changed to pairs when I was 16 because I couldn’t see a future in singles. I had difficulty with the harder triple jumps.” The couple includes only side-by-side triple toe loops in their programs.

Ingo Steuer coaches the talented couple, who train at Chemnitz in Germany. They work on ice for about three hours a day, five days a week in the summer, and then increase their training to over five hours a day during the season. Steuer also choreographs the couple’s programs. This season, they are using “Isolde” by Maurice Luttikkus for the short program, music from the “Casablanca” soundtrack for the long, and “Belle” from the “Notre Dame de Paris” soundtrack performed by Smash for their exhibition program. Steuer chooses all the couples music. “I know what look is right for them,” Steuer stated. Off ice, she likes to listen to all different kinds of music, while he prefers pop.

Other than listening to music, Savchenko said she had no time for other hobbies, although she likes to read. Szolkowy enjoys working on and riding his motorcycle and playing other sports.

Savchenko spends much of her off ice time studying German, with classes three times a week. Szolkowy is part of the sports division of the German Army, where he has worked for the last year and a half. Although Savchenko hays no future plans after skating, Szolkowy hopes to own an independent business. “What kind depends on the opportunities,” he said.

Zivanovic Makes History for Serbia

Trifun Zivanovic

Trifun Zivanovic, who will turn 30 in April, has written himself into the history of skating in many ways. Born in California, Zivanovic skated for the United States until 2001, winning silver and bronze medals at the U.S. Nationals in 1999 and 2000. He also competed at the Four Continents Championships those years, finishing seventh and ninth respectively, and at the 1999 Worlds in Helsinki, finishing 16th.

But after the civil war ended in Yugoslavia, Zivanovic decided to skate for that country, his father’s homeland. Now renamed Serbia and Montenegro, Zivanovic became the country’s first men’s champion, a title he has held for three years. He has also represented the country at the European Championships and Worlds, finishing 21st and 29th respectively in 2004, and moving up to 17th at Europeans in 2005. “I wanted to skate for Serbia since it’s my father’s country,” he said, “and it gives me a clearer path to compete on the international stage of skating. I’m starting something new now for Serbia and hope to go to Torino to springboard more interest in skating in the country. And it’s a thrill for my family to see me on television on Eurosport.”

Although many skaters have competed for more than one country during their careers, Zivanovic is the first skater to compete in both the Europeans and Four Continents Championships. If he reaches his goal of competing at the Olympics in 2006, he will become the only skater ever to compete in every senior-level ISU figure skating championship.

He started skating at the age of seven as a hockey player, a sport he continued to play competitively for more than 10 years. When he was nine, he took a power skating course to improve his hockey skills and added another dimension to his time on the ice. “I played center and was always the fastest player on my hockey team,” he said. “But the coaches told me I was a better skater without the stick and the puck. My mom bribed me with candy and toys to take figure skating lessons and I started to really enjoy it after my first win. I kept doing both until I was 18, and then decided to concentrate on figure skating. You can express yourself better as an individual.”

Zivanovic has worked with some of the best coaches in the United States, including John Nicks, Gary Visconti, and Scott Williams. He is currently working with Hans Mueller and Oksana Grishuk in California. “I’ve been working with Hans as my main coach for over a year now,” he said, “but he’s always worked with me on my jumps.” Zivanovic used to have a quad toe loop in his program, but deleted the jump in recent years. “I just started landing it again this fall after a long layoff, but I’m hoping to have it in my program for Worlds,” he added. “I’m trying to perfect my triple-triple combinations, axel-toe and flip-toe, and I’m trying to do everything for the new Code of Points.”

“I think it’s a good system,” he noted. “Everyone’s got a lot of work to do to get used to it, but it will be good for the sport. The good thing is that the protocol gives you the information to adjust your program based on your scores and enhance the program. I’m working a lot with Oksana to improve my skating skills and step sequences. I’m trying to become a more complete skater. With the new system, there are endless possibilities to learn and do more, to push the envelope of each component of skating.”

Grishuk and Williams choreograph Zivanovic’s programs, which are both new for the 2004-05 season. He is using Bizet’s “March of the Toreadors” for the short, “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” for the long, and Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” for an exhibition program. “I picked the music for all the programs,” he said. “The short strikes a traditional chord with the crowd and the judges. It’s intense but I think I can pull it off. I skated to Phantom in the past and it worked well for me before so I decided to try it again. I can relate to it inside and tell a story for all to enjoy. That works best for me, to have a theme.” Grishuk did the short program and Williams the free skate. “Scott’s a great guy,” Zivanovic stated. “We have a great relationship and since he lives in town, it’s very convenient. We can get together any time to work on moves.”

He also spends part of the year training in Serbia-Montenegro, where he also conducts seminars for young Serbian skaters. “I’m a pioneer in that part of the world,” he stated. “They had never even seen a triple axel or a quad before.” Zivanovic usually trains for thee to five hours a day, five days a week and spends another 12 hours a week coaching other skaters, from children to adults. “I’m teaching more now than I ever have,” he noted. “I have a junior lady, a lot of kids but mostly adults. It’s good to teach different levels of skating. It teaches you to focus more.” He plans to continue a career in coaching after he finishes competing. He also hopes to do more professional shows.

Off ice, Trifun likes to listen to music and work on his collections. “I like all kinds of music,” he said. “It can be anything from oldies to hard core punk. I like the Beach Boys a lot. It reminds me of summer days. I have a huge CD collection and I even dabble in guitar. I love to go to concerts and I’ve seen a lot of bands at club shows.”

With old friends now playing in professional hokey and baseball, Zivanovic has a huge interest in sports collectibles. “My main interests are baseball and hockey,” he said. “I even speculate in it. I have a huge collection of NHL hockey jerseys, both new and vintage. I’ve been collecting sports cards since 1986 and have tens of thousands of them, including a Wayne Gretzky rookie card.” He also collects Star Wars items.

Zivanovic hopes to qualify for the 2006 Olympics at this year’s Worlds, but stated, “I just want to put out the performance I know I can do. I want to enjoy every minute of my skating. Winning an Olympic qualifying spot is an achievable goal if I skate well.”

The Flower of Luxembourg

Fleur Maxwell

Luxembourg’s Fleur Maxwell, 16, made her senior debut at the 2005 European Championships in Torino, Italy in January. Maxwell, who had previously won the novice and junior ladies championships in Luxembourg, won the senior ladies title for the first time in early January to qualify for the Europeans and Worlds in hopes of qualifying for the 2006 Olympic Games. “I did two Junior Grand Prixs this season and have been twice to Junior Worlds,” he said, “but I wanted to go to a bigger playground. I want to compete in the Olympics in 2006 and 2010 and maybe after. I love skating. When I’m on the ice, I feel so happy, and it’s a way for me to express myself.”

Maxwell made the jump to seniors partly because the new Code of Points benefits her style of skating. “It’s a very good thing,” she said. “The new system encourages skaters, not just jumpers. You’re judged on what you do, not just compared to the others. I hope to gain a lot of points from my spins and my style. And you get more feedback from the judges so you can adjust your programs to gain higher levels. When we did my program this summer, we focused on transitions, interpretation, choreography, and spins to get easy points. I hope to have all Level 3 spins for maximum points, but that’s not always easy because one really has to be precise on everything. The system is good not just for me, but for the sport.”

The petite brunette began skating only seven years ago, when she was nine. “I went to a friend’s birthday party at the ice rink and didn’t want to ever get off the ice,” she remembered. “I had done ballet and loads of other sports before that, like swimming and horseback riding, but I just loved skating.” She landed her first triple jump, a salchow, at twelve. Although she has landed all the triples up to the axel, she only consistently lands the salchow, toe loop, and loop. “I have done the others, but I don’t want to put them in my program until they’re close to 100 percent,” she said. “I’d rather skate a clean program.”

Andrei Berezintsev and Nicolas Osseland coach Maxwell, who can only skate in Luxembourg during the winter because the ice rink closes from May to September. In the summer, she must travel to Auxerre or Courchevel in France to train. “I’ve changed coaches quite a lot since coaches don’t stay very long in Luxembourg,” she stated. “I just started working with Andrei this summer and I hope he’ll stay. He’s a great coach and we work well together.”

“It’s hard to find time for practice,” she said. “I have school from 8:30 to 4:30 and it’s a really hard school, not home school. Before January, I had only seven hours a week on the ice, now I have 13 hours. I skate just with Anna Bernauer twice a week from 6:30 to 8:00 in the morning but the rest of the time I skate with the club where there are lots of people on the ice. In May and June when the rink is closed and I still have school, I have to travel an hour and a half to the other rink in France to train”.

This season, Maxwell is skating to music from two movie soundtracks, “In the Mood for Love” for the short and “Cinema Paradiso” for the long. “My mum had seen both movies and had very much liked the soundtrack and thought it would be good for me. Then once I had heard them I just knew that was what I wanted to skate. The music made me want to skate and that’s very important because I have to skate to it nearly everyday. The long program is something new, something fresh. I tell a story showing the evolution from child to grownup. I think the pictures tell the story very well.”

“I like to skate to classical music or movie soundtracks,” she continued. “I like something soft and lyrical. For shows, I like faster stuff. I did a show in France with some big skaters and used Nora Jones’ ‘I Don’t Know Why.’ I’m very open when it comes to listening to music. I listen to mainly pop and classical, not so much techno or rap.”

Maxwell has quite a musical background herself. “I played the piano and the cello,” she said. “My mother started me on the cello when I was four. I didn’t even know what it was at first but I became very good on the cello. I think I got my musicality from my mum, and learning to play instruments has definitely helped develop it.” She is also very flexible. “I’m very lucky, because I have natural flexibility, and I don’t really have to work on it as much as others,” she said. Maxwell took ballet classes herself, but only for three years, starting when she was four.

She is a junior in high school, where her favorite subjects are history and languages. She speaks fluent English, French and German. “I didn’t like chemistry and science, so I switched to philosophy,” she said. “I absolutely plan to go to university. Both of my sisters have done amazing studies and I have to keep up with them. I want to know things and education is important to get anywhere. I hope to go to Paris and study law. I find it quite interesting.”

“I don’t have much time for hobbies after skating and school,” Maxwell said. “I like to go to shopping or to the cinema with my friends or sometimes just rest at home with the television. I like any kind of film, but not so much science fiction or horror films, more comedies and tragedies. I don’t collect anything, not even skating pins. We don’t have any pins from Luxembourg to trade. I love clothes and shoes and bags, but all girls love clothes and shoes so that’s not really a collection.” If she receives a lot of toys from fans, Maxwell said she would donate them to the children’s hospital. “I think the kids would really appreciate them and might put a smile on their face, it might make their stay in hospital a little easier,” she noted.

Her main hobby is travel. “I love traveling,” she said. “Thanks to skating, I have traveled to so many places that I’d never think to go to like Slovenia and Croatia. I like Sydney (Australia) a lot because the colors are so vivid and because I’m half Australian. When I was smaller we would always spend our summer holidays in Greece so of course I have great memories from there as well. But I can’t pick a favorite place. I like so many!”