The Russian pairs team of Elena Bereznaia (20) and Anton Sikharulidze (21) is one of the best, if not the best, of the younger generation. They are among the favorites for the podium in Nagano. The couple, in only their second year together, have already beaten the defending World champions to win Trophee Lalique, finished second at Nations Cup, and are first in the pairs standings for the Champions Series final in Munich. But Sikharulidze said that they are not in a hurry: "All sportsmen want to win at the Olympics and Worlds and we will try hard, but now we are trying to skate better and better. We have just started and we hope to compete for ten years or more."
Anton started skating at four. His parents didn't skate but Anton saw some figure skating books in a friend's home and asked his father to buy him a book. After his father got him the book, Anton went to try the steps on a frozen street. Then they took him to the ice rink, where a coach suggested that he go to a skating school. He skated singles until his coach died, then didn't skate much for almost a year, during which time he had a growth spurt. Then at 15, another coach asked him to skate pairs. Anton skated in international competitions with Maria Petrova, winning the Junior Worlds in 1994 and 1995 and finishing eighth and sixth at Worlds, but said he had problems with his coach: "I was thinking of changing coaches, but not partners," he said.
Elena began to skate when she was five when she went with her mother and brother to a rink. Both took lessons, but her brother quit after just a few because he was too old. She skated singles in a small rink for several years before being asked to do pairs when she was 13. "I always liked pairs. I liked to watch pairs most because it was the most dangerous," she said. Elena skated with Oleg Sliakhov for Latvia in international competitions, finishing eighth at the 1994 Olympic Games and seventh at the 1994 and 1995 Worlds. The couple was on track to compete at the first Champions Series final in 1995 when Elena was severely injured during a freak accident. The skaters were practicing side by side camel spins in Riga, Latvia without their coach, when they got too close together and out of sync and Sliakhov's skate struck Elena's head, sending her to the hospital for brain surgery.
The Latvian physicians doubted that Elena would skate again. But her coach, Tamara Moskvina, organized a rescue mission to transport Elena back to St. Petersburg, where conditions were better. Anton, who had met Elena at competitions, came along to help because she was important to him. During her recovery, Anton was one of her most frequent visitors, talking and reading to her, as she learned to talk and write again in intensive therapy sessions. Although the Russian doctors recommended that Elena not skate for six months, they decided to skate together. "It was fate," said Anton.
Elena returned to skating three months after the surgery because she believed that the exercise would help her regain her other lost abilities. "The first time after the accident, it was very hard to skate," said Elena, "but now it's easy." Soon Elena was doing even more difficult moves than before, safe in the knowledge that Anton would protect her, unlike Sliakhov whom she had grown to fear. In their first year together, the couple finished ninth at Worlds, third at Europeans, third at Trophee Lalique, and second at Russian Nationals. "We look good together and we have a very good understanding. With Tamara, we make a very good team," Anton said. But he was still nervous in competitions, perhaps unconsciously afraid that Elena could be hurt.
For this season, the duo is using Swan Lake for the technical, a program they perfected through appearances on the Canon Elvis Tour this summer. Moskvina lobbied for their inclusion on the tour, hoping to get them more experience in front of large crowds and reduce their nervousness. The strategy worked and the pair became huge audience favorites. "It was great," Anton said, " and we learned a lot from the other skaters." They are using "Dark Eyes" for the free skate, the same music as last season's program, but with different choreography. "We like to make new elements," said Anton. Both skaters include gymnastics and ballet in their training and Anton noted that "we get some of our moves from ballet, some from other places." "I like the throws the best," he stated. Elena said she likes both lifts and throws. The pair has one of the highest split double twists in skating.
The skaters work with coach Tamara Moskvina and choreographer Alexandre Matveev to select their music. "We haven't found our best music yet, maybe later," noted Anton, who often thinks up their costume designs. Most of their programs use classical music, and Anton likes to listen to a lot of classical music. But his favorite performer is Luciano Pavarotti. "I also like rave and energy music, computer music, futuristic music," he said. "Music is a big part of my life. I love disco and dancing. I want to play the guitar but have no time for lessons." Elena said she likes "many kinds of music. I like discotheque music, but not as much as Anton." She took piano lessons for a while for fun.
If he's not disco dancing in his off-ice hours, Anton likes to play soccer, basketball, and pool with his friends. "I like tennis, but I would like it more if I could play better," he said. He also likes to work on his car and read books about cars. Anton enjoys likes detective stories and action movies. "He likes Die Hard," Elena added. She likes to go out with friends to nightclubs, listen to MTV music, and play pool, but she often stays home to do needlepoint or homework. Both skaters like to travel with Paris their favorite trip so far. "But we still want to go up the Eiffel Tower," Elena added. Anton also enjoyed visiting Canada and the United States.
Both skaters are studying at a sports university in St. Petersburg so they can coach later. Sometimes they help teach younger skaters at their club. But they plan to skate professionally after their eligible careers so that may be a long time in the future.
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