J. Barry Mittan, the Electronic Photojournalist

Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhnovsky by J. Barry Mittan (1996 with 1998 update)

There's more to Israel's figure skating team than just Michael Shmerkin. Ice dancers Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhnovsky just became the first Israeli ice dancers to compete at the Olympics, where they finished 14th. Chait, an Israeli native who was born in Kwasaba, was the first Israeli ice dancer to compete at the World Championships in 1994. As the daughter of an import/export business owner who has offices in Israel, Russia, and the United States, Galit has dual Israeli/U. S. citizenship.

Galit started skating when she was eight when her parents took her to Rockefeller Center in New York for fun. She took to the sport immediately and began training at Sky Rink in freestyle. About five years ago, Chait accompanied her father to Russia where he had organized a sports camp to bring Americans to Russia. When noted Russian coach Natalia Dubova invited Chait to try ice dancing, Galit found that "having a partner was much more interesting" and began taking lessons from Dubova, first in Russia and later at Lake Placid. She was first paired with another Russian, Maxim Sevostianov, and competed in the U. S. Nationals in 1994, finishing 6th. The couple then competed for Israel at the 1994 Worlds, finishing 28th. Chait switched to Sakhnovsky, a native of Moscow, in 1995 because "Max was older and I wanted to skate longer. He did not really want to continue skating. I did it for the future."

Sergei had begun skating at four when his parents took him for training. Although he also began in freestyle, he switched to dance at eight because "it is not only a sport, but an art." He had several partners, winning the World Junior Championships in 1993 and finishing second in 1994 with Ekaterina Svirina, competing for Russia. Chait and Sakhnovsky first trained in Russia with Ludmilla Buytskova and Elena Maslenikova, then moved to Monsey, New York.

Chait and Sakhnovsky finished 23rd in their first Worlds together in 1996 and improved to 18th in 1997 and 14th 1998. The dancers won Skate Israel, took the bronze at the Karl Schafer Memorial, finished seventh at the NHK Trophy, and 12th at Europeans in 1997. During the coming season, they hope to compete in at least two Champions Series events and finish 2-3 places higher at Worlds. Since they are each only 22, they plan to continue competing through the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Both skaters want to continue to do ice shows and coach after that, but Galit has a bigger goal: "My dream is to open a rink and have my own skating center." To prepare, she has been taking classes in psychology and business at the University of Delaware although she has limited her classes this year to prepare for the Olympics. Sergei is a graduate of the Central Moscow Institute of Physical Education.

Chait and Sakhnovsky know they have a lot of work to do to move up. They train over 30 hours a week at the University of Delaware with Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov. Immediately after Worlds, the couple were working several hours a day on ice to improve their conditioning, stroking, and basic technical capabilities. They also take weight training and conditioning classes and ballet every day. Both dancers have practiced ballet for many years, with Sergei starting at the age of four and Galit at nine.

Frequent ballroom dancing lessons aid the couple in interpreting their dances on ice, especially the compulsories. Neither skater has a particular favorite in the compulsory dances. "When you learn how to skate the dances, every one becomes interesting," says Galit. "Every one has something has something different that tests your technical ability." Although they had never skated to jive as required for this year's original dance, Chait hasdskated rock and roll dances with her previous partner. Sakhnovsky admits that the jive was something completely new for him since he had never skated a rock and roll program. Natalia Linichuk choreographs the couple's dances, but the skaters have input into the music to be used. "Our coach gives us a direction, and together we start looking for music that suits us, and the rules," Galit explains. This year they used "Hey Boy, Hey Girl" for their jive original dance and "Jewish Melodies" for a free dance which showed traditional Jewish dancing.

The couple are known for their vibrant costumes, designed by Natasha Bolshokova. Once the music is selected, Bolshokova visits practice to observe the choreography, then sketches out an idea for costumes. The skaters and coaches work with Natasha to decide the finishing touches, which can be quite innovative. Chait's 1996-97 tango outfit included a pair of hands strategically placed over her bosom while her iridescent free dance costume portrayed her as a butterfly. "The butterfly dress was designed to show the lightness of dance and the freedom of movement," Galit noted. The free dance was based on My Gentle and Kind Beast, a popular Russian movie. Adapted from a novel by Anton Chekov, the love story includes the girl dying at the end, but the dance did not. "We didn't want to have dying on the ice," she said.

Although Sergei responded "Sleep" when asked what he did off ice, he is actually quite adept at model building. He constructs model Porsches, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and "would like to have a few real ones in his garage." Sergei likes to listen to popular music and rock. His favorite artists include Elton John and Michael Jackson. Galit likes French and Russian music plus hard rock like Sting and Metallica. They also like going out to dance but don't have much time for it. Sergei also reads detective novels, about the only thing Galit won't read. Both Galit and Sergei have learned to use her computer, although they don't have time for much Web surfing. They would like to have their own Web site. Both skaters play tennis and Sergei occasionally gets in a game of soccer.

Galit has just started to learn how to cross stitch, something to while away the time on the long trips to competitions. "My favorite travel spots are in Europe and Asia. I fell in love with Vienna and Paris. The architecture is beautiful and the atmosphere uplifting. In Japan, I could eat sushi all day. I would love to visit Spain and Italy but only as a tourist. During the competition, I can't take in all the beauty of a country while thinking about skating." Sergei likes Russia, France, Italy and Switzerland.

Other interests are on hold until after the Olympics. Galit claims she has "no energy for shopping any more" and Sergei no longer has time to draw. "We have tunnel vision to keep our minds on skating," says Galit. "That's what's most important."

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