|Photo © Reuters
Oxana Grishuk - Evgeni Platov
There was no such incident in the ice dancing history that the same pair won the Olympics twice. Oksana Grischuk and Evgeny Platov, the Lillehammer Olympic Champions intend to do it in Nagano
January 1994. Copenhagen
One of the most memorable scandals in the ice-dancing history occurred in 1994 at the European Championship when quite a big number of professionals came back to the amateur competitions to take part in the Olympic games. Those were the champions: Bryan Boitano, Victor Petrenko, Natalia Mishkutionok-Andrei Dmitriev, Ekaterina Gordeeva - Sergey Grinkov, Katharine Witt and the legendary duet Jane Torwill - Christopher Dean. However, if the European Championship was not more than a rehearsal for the participants in three sports kinds of program, in the ice-dancing the fortune of the Olympic medal was already being decided for 99% in Copenhagen : the judges (sooner the members of ISU) had to define beforehand on whom mainly stake.
There was no example that the pair, which won the European Championship in the Olympic year, couldn't win the Olympics in the end. Many experts gave a hostile reception to Torwill-Dean's return.
«None of the ice-dancing pairs whatever genius it was has ever won the Olympics twice. And it would have been a disaster for everyone to let this happen», - Elena Chaikovskaya said in Copenhagen .
She led Ludmila Pakhomova - Alexander Gorshkov to the Olympic medals in 1976, then Natalia Linichuk - Gennady Karponosov in 1980. «There are no exact estimation criterion in this kind of program - it means that a simple «like or dislike» method gives the result. However, there is a big queue to the pedestal. To let one pair repeat the Olympic success would mean to stop the queue movement for four years!»
According to the queue, the European and World Champions of the previous year Maya Usova and Alexander Zhulin should have won in Lellehammer (means in Copenhagen too). Those were the third Olympic games for them already and as per general opinion walking around it would have been more than unfair to give the title to somebody else. They kept the plan. After Usova - Zhulin's compulsory and original dances where they were the leaders they finished the open program and following them Torwill and Dean did the same the monitors showed the final placing in favour of Russia .
But Usova and Zhulin managed to be the European Champions-94 only 5 minutes. Exactly the time which Oksana Grischuk and Evgeny Platov needed to show their free dance and which the judges needed to put them on the first place.
It's called «cut through» in figure skating terms. The point is that given a certain ratio of the judges' votes for the first two pairs estimation you give the highest mark for the free program to the pair which is the third in the overall results and can't catch the leaders anyway, the combination of the figures works in this case - the third pair becomes the second, the last mentioned becomes the first, but the first… is getting down to the third place.
After seven of nine judges put Grischuk and Platov on the first place, the bigger number of second places (by the number of which the destiny of the silver medals is being defined in the figure skating) turned out to belong to Torwill and Dean. It was enough for them to become the European Champions with the higher overall results.
Usova and Zhulin faced the same situation at the pre-Olympics World Championship- 91 in Munich. They led firmly having the best results in both compulsory and original dances but in the final when Usova and Zhulin left their main competitors, brother and sister Duchesnay, behind and started receiving congratulations, the judges gave the highest marks to Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko. The French became the champions. Usova and Zhulin got the bronze.
Maya and Alexander have lost the Olympics- 94 in Lellehammer already in Copenhagen. Just there the whole interested world saw clearly behind the judges' marks their readiness for changing the champions. Moreover, this readiness became obvious not in the beginning of the competitions: during the first three dances Grischuk and Platov were not allowed to get closer to the leaders and that's why they lost all the chances to win the gold even before their own dance which they mainly counted on. Torwill and Dean won in Copenhagen. But Grischuk and Platov achieved more than the silver medal: before everybody's eyes (which never happened in the ice-dancing at such a short time before the Olympics) the second pair of the same country substituted for the first one.
February 1994. Lillehammer
Oksana and Zhenya has never had more successful program before than the free dancing program of the Olympic season. Rock-n-roll perfectly coincided with Oksana's temperament and made a phenomenal impression. Besides, at the European Championship and at the Olympics Grischuk and Platov were lucky with the sortition: they were dancing after all main competitors and right after Torwill and Dean.
The rapid rock-n-roll of Russians looked especially winning in comparison with the strict British classics. Torwill and Dean made impossible: they changed their open dance at which they got stuck in Copenhagen completely.
However, the judges were still to understand that the dance was going to be more complicated and impressive.
Though they remembered well who won competitions month ago. Moreover ISU still didn't tend to give the British opportunity to double the Olympic medals. This meant that the result of the competition was pre-determined at least for 99%.
But in spite of these 99% the conclusive word would remain for the sportsmen. It was naive to wait for Grischuk and Platov to skate with the same inspiration as in Copenhagen : such a tension was in the air around the ice-rink that if it were electrical the ice would have been charred. But Oksana and Zhenya skated on this particular ice the way they have never skated in their life.
«I remember nothing, - Platov said after the awards ceremony. - Except the fact that I have been afraid to miss Oksana's hands».
The audience shouts were heard even in the press-centre on TV: «The first! You are the first!». And Oksana's trembling lips said: «No…no…» And she burst into tears. Next day on her way from the rink where the winners and the finalists trained for the short performances Linichuk said to her trainee with the unconcealed triumph on her face: «Finally I proved to you and to your ex-coach who Linichuk is!»
The outstanding coaches are counted in any kind of sport. There were only two of the Olympic level in the ice dancing for a long time - Elena Chaikovskaya and Tatiana Tarasova. They determined the politics and a fashion of the ice and behind the stage. Pakhomova and Gorshkov were quite out of the competition. Close after them coached by Tarasova, Irina Moiseeva and Andrei Minenkov were competing heavily with Ludmila Pakhomova. In the end of their career Moiseeva and Minenkov left for young Natalia Dubova. Though they never became the champions Dubova entered the elite group exactly with them.
The Games-88 brought the gold medal to Tarasova for the first time. But after the champions Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin, Natalia Dubova's Marina Klimova-Sergei Ponomarenko and Usova-Zhulin waited for their turn. After Albertville Tarasova left the competitions (Chaikovskaya gave up ice-dancing even earlier). But Dubova's trainees Grischuk and Platov got closer to the leaders. Two years earlier Oksana switched to train with one of the trainers from Linichuk's group.
Nobody at that time could imagine that Grischuk and Platov would be entering the ice-rink in Lellehammer two more years later by the same Linichuk who tried to get in to the elite trainers group at any cost. However after Grischuk's leave she said: «I'll never take Oksana back. The betrayal is not to be forgiven».
They do forgive a lot in the ice dancing. Certainly if «the sheep-skin is worth manufacturing». The offences remain, as known, for the internal use. As for example Dubova still remembers how Linichuk left her, the beginner, for Chaikovskaya many, many years ago. «I have no prospects with you. But Elena Anatolievna will make a champion of me». Perhaps, it can't be different. Someone joked once: «…you may chose the coach on the ice dancing in the maternity hospital because the must be born with a mouth full of teeth».
«...I started skating in Odessa at Valentina Kasianova's supervision. Soon my mama was told that if I was going to train seriously it would be better doing it in Moscow : there are more chances to become a real figure skater.
My mother gave up her job and we came to Moscow to look for a coach. And we found Elena Alexandrova. I spent four years in a single skating then Linichuk noticed me. I teamed up with Alexander Chichkov under her supervision and I became the World Junior Champion with Alexander. But then everything went wrong. Besides, Linichuk began to spend more time with another pair, not even hiding the fact that she was going to make the next junior champions of them. Then I first thought of changing the trainer. In August 1989 I started to train with Dubova and skating with Platov who was the three-times World Junior Champion by the time - he won twice with Elena Krykanova, later on with Larisa Fedorinova.
We had to train three times a day with Dubova - we didn't want to miss the season. I nearly lived on the «Sokolniki» stadium: slept on a sofa in the cloakroom near the radiator during the breaks, went outside just to have a meal in the park. We were the third at the European Championship-92 and the fourth at the Olympics in Albertville , then the third at the World Championship. Later on Dubova decided to leave for America , the tickets were bought for Zhenya and me but we made up our mind to stay, because we understood that Usova and Zhulin will be the main pair for Dubova till Lellehammer. And we could go nowhere but to Linichuk.
The first serious conflict occurred in the beginning of the Olympic season-94. Linichuk was absolutely against our open dance to be the rock-n-roll. Moreover, she gave this music to Angelica Krylova and Vladimir Fedorov though the unwritten rules say that the first pair only chooses the music first, then all the rest pairs. But all the conflict of course was buried in Lellehammer. And when I heard these Linichuk's words about «to prove»… I was shocked to hear such words from the closest person, as I thought, in my life at that moment!
And some time later Linichuk said that Platov and I had to leave. For professional competitions».
March 1995. Birmingham
The tears fell down into the cup of Cappuccino. Oksana with the shaking shoulders and whispered: «I'll be crawling on my knees, if necessary, but I'll talk Natalia Vladimirovna into giving us the opportunity to continue training for Nagano competitions. I don't wanna leave!»
The Olympic champions didn't participate at the European Championship- 95 in Dortmund. The reason was Platov's worsen knee trauma. The best skaters' absence gave an excellent chance for the second Linichuk's pair, debutants Angelica Krylova with her new partner Oleg Ovsyannikov, to get into the number of winners. And they did it. At the press conference where the new winners came to right with the skates put on the coach announced publicly: «The bronze is only the bronze. Our target is the Olympic gold. We three will struggle for it in Nagano». The audience froze in silence: these words sounded strange in terms of the presence of the Olympic champions in Linichuk's group.
«How can't you understand? - Chaikovskaya said to me. - Natasha is a coach, moreover, she works in the USA where the service record matters as much as nowhere else. Grischuk and Platov could be the twenty-times Champions but it's just one pair, made, by the way, mostly by another trainer, Dubova. Krylova and Ovsyannikov is a different case. If Grischuk and Platov leave, Angelica and Oleg will achieve the leadership very soon. And this will be indeed a pair made by Linichuk. Can you see the difference?»
At the World Championship- 95 in Birmingham the difference ended up with the fact that Grischuk and Platov took the first place but Krylova and Ovsyannikov took the fifth one. The guys announced there that they were leaving. Next day I had a talk with Oksana in a cafe.
«Please, don't write about it, - Oksana pleadingly looked at the dictaphone. - If you do, we'll have nowhere to go», and she burst into crying quietly.
Looking at her now I remembered how I saw the tears of the figure skaters. Maya Usova cried in hysterics in Lellehammer when lost in Grischuk's favour. Then she cried in Albertville too, but her offenders were Klimova and Ponomarenko. I saw Klimova's tears in 1991. She cried because of Usova. Because of the fact that their coach, Dubova, who spent more time with Maya and Sasha, having let know to all the rest that she has chosen the new favorites. This was the reason for their switch to Tarasova as a matter of fact. Tarasova was the only person who wasn't afraid of taking the sportsmen in disgrace, knowing that she had no right to loose. As if Grischuk heard my thoughts she said: «Tarasova will never agree. She has a theatre…»
I couldn't publish this interview for a long time as Grischuk and Platov remained in the amateur sport and still trained with Linichuk. There were simply no other trainers. Except the Olympic champions Linichuk brought on ice Krylova and Ovsyannikov, Irina Lobacheva and Ilia Averbukh, the Ukrainians Irina Romanova and Igor Yaroshenko, also she advised some foreign pairs. The advantage of this advisory was the provision of the other countries judges support to the Russian pairs. Linichuk was unlikely to see the danger from Tarasova's return to the amateur sport (Tatiana agreed to advise Kulik). But Grischuk and Platov did switch to Tarasova in late 1996.
January 1997. Paris
January 24, 1997 they became the European Champions for the second time. Before the start of the competitions everybody understood that the failure of Grischuk and Platov would have meant the end of the career. Moscow did everything for Platov and Grischuk not to participate in this competition. Their names were not mentioned in the preliminary application - the Federation motivated that Platov and Grischuk didn't take part in the elimination Championship of Russia.
The true reason was that the Federation has never held Tarasova in respect where Linichuk mostly dictated the terms by the time. Moreover, the Federation was at the safe end because anyway the Russian pair still was to win the European Championship in the absence of the Olympic champions. If Linichuk was more farsighted and sent Krylova and Ovsyannikov to the Championship of Russia she wouldn't have problems in getting rid of her ex-trainees on the way to the Olympic gold. But Angelica and Oleg ignored the elimination too. However, Grischuk and Platov turned out to overtop everybody at the European Championship in Paris .
They staged the dance accompanied by the eastern music themselves. They turned to the professional Arabian producer just once. The consultation lasted one hour only. All in this life seems to happen for the better. Grischuk and Platov had to turn themselves inside out having been left alone. Not long ago during quite serious competitions Chaikovskaya said sadly: «I think the ice dancing are deadlocked».
At Grischuk and Platov's training in Paris she said: «I have never seen such a level of skills».
In fact, if the Olympic rock-n-roll was made to hide all technical falls behind the rapid tempo of music and fast moving (and it was performed brilliantly), on the contrary; the new dance brilliantly emphasized all the technical skills of this pair. The main point was their having a skates feeling of Dubova's school. At the same time Betty Callaway, Torwill-Dean's coach said: «you can do the stunning things on the ice with such a technique. But I just can't imagine how genius the producer should be so that to make a better dance then this one in a year. Otherwise, Grischuk and Platov will have problems at the Olympics».
February 1998. Nagano
The ice-dancing championships in France are already being held for a long time separately from the other kinds of figure skating. The French seemed to be one of the first to realize that the sport dancing is more a theatre than sport. It's a theatre indeed with all the consequences: eye-catching, magical costumes, passion and backstage dirt.
Therefore, the definition «work with judges» has a special sense and meaning in these particular programs.
What is going to happen in Nagano? Nothing new, in fact. There will be three duets, which equally deserve the highest awards. Grischuk-Platov, Krylova-Ovsyannikov and the Canadians Shae-Lynn Bourne-Victor Kraatz. Dubova has already trained the last mentioned pair for a long time.
By the way, first time having seen the Canadians in Lillehammer (Bourne and Kraatz took the tenth position), Tarasova said at once: “« give 1 to 100 that these are the future Olympic Champions skating».
But Tarasova couldn't even imagine that she would be one of the most interested in Nagano medals persons. And trying to win the Olympics again in Japan wouldn't be easy at all for her pair, just because the others don't have anything to loose.