J. Barry Mittan, the Electronic Photojournalist

Gruschina and Goncharov by J. Barry Mittan (1998)

Since 1993, Ukrainian dancers Elena Gruschina and Ruslan Goncharov have been overshadowed by veterans Irina Romanova and Igor Yaroshenko, taking four silver and two bronze medals at the Ukrainian Nationals, but never a gold. With their compatriots now becoming professional, Gruschina and Goncharov are hoping to break through to the gold medal.

The couple took fifth in a strong field at Trophee Lalique in 1997 and hope that increased Champions Series opportunities will allow them to move onto the podium. "We hope to fulfill ourselves as skaters," Ruslan stated, "to make it to the top at Europeans and Worlds. We want to stay involved with skating, but what we do will depend on our achievements, our health, and other things. Now it is still too early even to decide about the next Olympics."

The dancers, who married in 1995, have been skating together since 1990. Both started as singles skaters, Elena at four and Ruslan at six, because their parents encouraged them. Ruslan's 10-year-old brother, Artur, is currently a singles skater, but no one else in Elena's family skates. Elena started dancing at 12 and Ruslan at 13 because they preferred dancing to jumping.

Ruslan noted that he "was really too tall to be a good singles skater", while Elena said that "it's much better to train with a partner. Since we are married, we have a great level of comfort skating together." The skaters trained in the same group in Odessa and were matched when Elena's partner went back to school and Ruslan's partner had health problems. The pair rose rapidly, reaching fourth at the World Juniors in 1992.

They won their first international gold medal at the Ukrainian Souvenir in 1995 and have fared well at the Europeans and Worlds, finishing 13th in 1998. The highlight of their 1997-98 season was the Olympics in Nagano, where they finished 15th. "We were very proud to represent our country there, Ruslan stated. "The Olympics was so different from our other trips, because there were so many other sports as well as figure skating." "All the flowers and little plush animals that people threw on the ice were great," Elena enthused. "Every little thing that people throw on the ice means a lot to us. We really appreciated it a both the Olympics and Worlds."

The dancers used a lively Ukrainian folk dance for their free program. "We picked the program because it was important to us to show our Ukrainian heritage, especially after the breakup of the Soviet Union," Ruslan explained. "Usually we like to skate to mixed music, with some slow and fast parts, with strong instrumental accents and the fastest part at the end. Hopefully, music that people will remember afterwards," he noted. Elena continued "We have enjoyed every program that we've skated. Otherwise, we wouldn't perform it. Our favorite dances are the tango and the waltz. Being a couple off ice, we feel very comfortable doing those dances," she said. "The quick step is OK, too," added Ruslan, "but we don't like the Killian. It's repetitious and a bit boring." The skaters objected to many of the new ISU proposals for changing the dances. "If they combine two compulsory dances, what kind of costumes would we wear?" Elena queried. "Should we all just skate to it in black workout costumes?" As for having two free dances, Ruslan noted that "finding a nice piece of music for the free dance presents every year a major challenge. To have that task doubled would be very hard on the skaters."

Elena said that "picking the music for a program is a very difficult task. The most important thing about the music is that it be recorded clearly so you can hear every instrument playing. We spend a lot of time in record stores listening to music and getting ideas from friends." Her favorite music for off-ice listening includes Latino-American music and romantic meoldies, while Ruslan prefers Depeche Mode and Queen. Both skaters enjoy Russian pop music and dancing in clubs.

When he isn't skating, Ruslan plays soccer and tennis, while Elena is a water sprite. "I love to swim and do anything connected with the water," she said. To relax, she also reads (mostly Russian authors and romances) and enjoys shopping. "I'm a very good housewife, too," she said. "I like to keep our house very neat and tidy." Ruslan likes to play pool with his friends, visit techno shops to check out new audio equipment, and look at new cars. He also likes to fish. The dancers also like to go to the movies, especially comedies. Ruslan also enjoys war movies, while Elena likes old Russian movies. Other than for competitions and to visit their families back home, the skaters don't travel much but hope to go to Jamaica one day. Paris was one of their favorite visits so far.

Both skaters have graduated from high school but have no college plans. They do hope to learn English since they have been training at the University of Delaware with Natalia Linichuk and Gennady Karponosov since early 1997. "It would be very helpful in our everyday life," Elena said.

Order the Art of Figure Skating Calendar

Back to the Skater Directory
Buying or Using Skater Photographs

Copyright © 1996-2001. J. Barry Mittan All rights reserved.