The Long Road Back
Sat. Dec. 20, 1997
from CTV's Rink
You get the impression we might be looking at the next Olympic
champions. And what a tale that would be.
Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, showing by far the most flair
of any of the five pairs in the field, easily won the Champions Series
Final today, less than two years after people were wondering if Berezhnaya
would ever speak, let alone skate, again.
The wispy native of Nevinnomissk, celebrating her 20th birthday with
their victory, was horribly injured in one of skating's worst accidents
in January 1996. She was practising a camel spin with her then-partner
Oleg Shliahkov with whom she skated for Latvia and his skate blade
penetrated her skull, leaving her immobilized and unable to speak.
She was in the hospital for over a month and when she was released,
she no longer wanted to skate with Shliakhov. Sikharulidze drove her
to St. Petersburg and they became a couple both on and off the ice.
They have since disbanded their social relationship but remain very
close, and it shows in their presentations.
"He treats her like porcelain," said their coach, the legendary Tamara
Moskvina, who also handles Oksana Kazakova and Artur Dmitriev who were
third today behind runners up and local favorites Mandy Wotzel and
"And I told him like porcelain, if you drop it will be hurt and broken
Moskvina noted that their is a huge disparity in the dispositions of
the winning pair.
"He can get angry and frustrated, he gets nervous with his jumps,"
Moskvina said. "And Elena is a stone wall, mentally.
"They have got this far quickly because of teamwork. He takes care of
her, he loves her. I teach them to take care of each other, how to do
their jumps, how to talk to the media."
Moskvina, one of the great raconteurs of the figure skating world and
an expert at political gamesmanship, is noted for her innovative pairs
spins and lifts--witness the ultra-flexibility of her other pair--but
Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze are a rarity for her: a classical pair.
"When you have a pair and in only one year you must get them near the
top with all of their jumps and throws, then you don't have time to do
innovative things," she said. "I am not a magician. Next year, I'll
give them some new things."
Which isn't good news to the rest of the world's top pairs.
Among those are Wotzel and Steuer, who entered the final in first place.
But their throw triple salchow turned into a double and they messed up
their side-by-side jumps as did Kazakova and Dmitriev.
Still, it was a sterling result for the Germans, who thought only a
week ago that theymight not compete again this year let alone this
weekend. Steuer had been hit by a car and suffered excruciating
headaches, resulting from a pinched nerve in his shoulder. The headaches
have abated but there is still periodic pain in his shoulder, which
was evident yesterday in their shortened lifts and death spirals.
As world champions, they will factor in Nagano, but right now today's
winners are squarely in the drivers' seats.
"I'd say we're in a pretty good position," said Sikharulidze.