J. Barry Mittan, the Electronic Photojournalist

Inventive Lifters -- Marina Khaltourina and Andrey Kryukov by J. Barry Mittan (1997)

When Kazakhstan's Marina Khaltourina and Andrey Kryukov skate, many viewers are reminded of Elena Bechke and Denis Petrov, who they have met and admire greatly. Andrey is tall, dark and serious, while Marina is a petite and perky blonde. "Andrey is more disciplined and hardworking than I am, but I think I'm more artistic and creative and add an element of fun to our skating," opines Marina. "We really complement each other well."

Neither skater comes from an athletic family. None of their relatives even skated. Unlike most American skaters, who begged their parents to let them skate, neither Andrey nor Marina could explain why they started. "I don't know why my parents decided that I should become a skater," Andrey explained. "They never told me and I never asked. For me it was just fun." Marina echoed "My mother loves figure skating and always watches it on television. I never thought about whether I liked it or not. It was just what I was expected to do. But I've grown to love the sport." For both skaters, it was their grandmothers who took them to the skating rink starting at age 5.

Her petite build made Marina a natural for pairs. "I prefer pairs to singles skating because it is more interesting and creative. There are more elements involved in pairs skating and I really enjoy interacting with someone on the ice. I think I might have enjoyed ice dancing, but I never had the opportunity to try it." She started pairs at 12, going through two other partners before her long-time coach, Sergei Korovin, noticed Andrey at a competition in Marina's hometown of Ekaterinburg, Russia and asked him to try out with her. Kryukov had gone the singles route, taking the Kazakhstan's men's championship in 1986 and 1987. "I was nervous because there were so many pairs skating in Moscow and St. Petersburg. It was all new to me," Andrey remembered. But the tryout went well and a partnership was formed.

He was 18 when they began; three years older than Marina, but she was the most experienced in pairs. "I learned all the pairs elements in two months and then we started to compete," Andrey says. "I enjoyed everything about pairs skating, but it's hard work. Marina wanted to train a lot and so did I. We understood each other very well, even without talking sometimes." Lately, the couple have been enjoying some good results, winning the World University Games and the Asian Games in 1995 and finishing fourth at Skate America and fifth at the NHK Trophy in 1996. Like Bechke and Petrov, the pair are known for their lifts. "I particularly like executing the lifts, "says Marina. "We've created two new lifts." echoes Andrey. Their favorite is the "tower", in which Andrey holds Marina upside down in a handstand above his head. The pair are doing side by side triple salchows, a throw triple loop and triple salchow, and a split triple twist to go with their unique lifts.

Marina notes that they plan to compete for several more years: "I really hope we perform well in the next Olympic Games. We may like to continue to skate until the 2002 Olympics." "We want to reach the top in pairs skating and want to skate as long as possible," says Andrey. "We would like to be professional skaters some day." After that, Marina is considering coaching, but Andrey is undecided. He has a degree in mining engineering from a Russia mining university, but also studied physical education at the Kazakhstan Institute of Physical Culture. Marina hopes to finish an advanced degree in physical education from the same school in 1997. She finished high school a year early and graduated with honors from the College of Olympic Sport and Reserve.

Like many other former Soviet pairs, Khalturina and Kryukov have moved to the United States to train -- first to Lake Placid and then in the fall of 1996 to Woodbridge, Virginia, where they train at the Prince William Ice Forum. Korovin remains their coach and choreographer, although the skaters have input into their programs. "I like to skate to many different types of music -- classical, popular, movie soundtracks," Marina says. "Our long program is from Batman Forever and we really enjoy skating to it."

Both skaters listen to a variety of music including classical, pop and rock. "I spend much of my time doing this," says Marina. "I love to shop in music stores. Some of my favorites are Queen, Depeche Mode, Madonna and No Doubt." Marina also loves to visit American shopping malls. "I am very interested in fashion and I read many fashion magazines, " she says. "I also am very interested in astrology." Her other interests include reading, going out to clubs and dancing, and meeting new people. While Marina's off ice sporting pursuits are limited to tennis in the summer, Andrey enjoys bowling, pool, soccer, hockey, basketball, volleyball, and tennis.

Skating has allowed the pair to travel to 14 countries including Canada, China, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Japan and Spain. One of their more exciting trips was to Israel, where they visited Jerusalem and many ancient religious sites. Both skaters speak English as well as Russian, while Marina is learning Italian. They are looking forward to visiting Switzerland this winter for Worlds.

Khalturina and Artyukhov by J. Barry Mittan (2000)

Marina Khalturina and Valeriy Artyukhov have been skating since they were each five years old, but they only began skating together in 1999. Khalturina previously skated with Andrey Kryukov, finishing as high as 11th at Worlds and 14th at the Olympics in 1998. Artyukhov had competed with Yulia Borissova, winning the junior championship of the Soviet Union, but had been working primarily as a show season before they met. "I was looking all over for a new partner," Marina said, "and it was just luck that we found each other." They had a tryout in April and began skating together in June, leaving only a few months before their debut at Trophee Lalique in Paris.

"It was very hard to find ice, so we trained wherever we could find it," Marina stated. The skaters lived in Pennsylvania, with help from the Warwick Figure Skating Club, but often had to travel to New Jersey to skate. They tried to schedule at least three hours on ice every day but spent a lot of time in off ice training, especially during the summer. This included an hour and a half of practice on lifts every day, plus running and stretching exercises and weekends in the gym working with weights.

"It was hard to get organized," Valeriy noted. "We had to make adjustments to get unison. We had done the elements, but not together before." Marina added that "it's harder to keep up with Valeriy. He skates faster than my previous partner." Even so, the skaters have some difficult moves, including side by side triple salchows and double axel/triple salchow combinations and the "tower lift", in which Valeriy holds Marina upside down in a handstand above his head

Their goals for the season are modest. "We want to do our job just like in practice," Valeriy stated. "We just want to compete and see how it works out this season," Marina added. "We'd like to win the national championship in Kazakhstan so we could got to the Four Continents Championships and the Worlds and we hope to go to the 2002 Olympics." In the future, the skaters hope to become professionals, but Valeriy noted that "we need something distinctive to be pros."

Marina started skating because her mother "loved figure skating and always watched it on television. I never thought about whether I liked it or not. It was just what I was expected to do. But I've grown to love the sport." Valeriy accompanied a sickly friend to the rink when doctors recommended skating as therapy. Hid friend only went once, but Valeriy liked the sport and stayed. He skated singles until he was 5, when he was invited to join a pairs group. "I was not a strong singles skater, so I switched to pairs," he stated. Marina began pairs at 12. "I prefer pairs to singles skating because it is more interesting and creative. There are more elements involved in pairs skating and I really enjoy interacting with someone on the ice. I think I might have enjoyed ice dancing, but I never had the opportunity to try it."

Vladimir Bogolyubov and his wife, Elena, who also do the choreography for both programs, coach the pair. The skaters are using "Time Forward" by Siviridov in their short program and music from "The Rock" soundtrack for the free skate. "Vladimir picked the music for the programs. He knew what we needed," Marina stated. When he is not skating, Valerij listens to "old rock music like Pink Floyd and Deep Purple and new wave music like Scooter and Brooklyn Bounds." Marina prefers hard rock. Some of her favorites are Queen, Depeche Mode, Madonna and No Doubt.

Marina likes to stay at home when she is not skating. Last summer, she said she "went crazy about gardening, growing plants at my apartment." She reads fashion magazines and wants to do some interior decorating. She also keeps all the stuffed animals which have been given to her. "They're very special to me," she said. Valerij plays soccer, reads detective stories, and watches movies, especially dramas with Nicholas Cage and Sean Connery. On holiday, he likes to go fishing with friends, while Marina visits her boyfriend, Jason Tebo, a former U. S. ice dancer. On her last vacation, she took Tebo home to Russia to visit her family and friends.

Marina finished high school a year early and graduated with honors from the College of Olympic Sport and Reserve. Valerij also has finished his education at a physical culture institute and both of the skaters now teach skating. "i enjoy helping the kids," Marina stated. "It's very interesting because there are so many tests they must do." Marina also wants to go to a college in the United States, although she admitted that "it will be a challenge language-wise."

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