J. Barry Mittan, the Electronic Photojournalist

Polish Pair Cracks World Top Five by J. Barry Mittan (1997)

Although figure skating is not well known in Poland, the country has had a lot of recent success at Worlds, reaching the top ten in dance, ladies, and pairs. Pairs skaters Dorota Zagorska (22) and Mariusz Siudek (26) have improved rapidly in the last three years, moving from 16th at the 1995 Worlds to fourth in 1997. They barely missed a bronze medal this year, even though Dorota sprained a wrist and bruised her jaw in a bad fall during the warm-up for the free skate.

The couple has also won gold medals at Golden Spin of Zagreb in 1996 and St. Gervais in 1995 and finished in the top ten at Europeans each year. This year the four-time Polish national champions just missed competing in the Champions Series Final, taking fourth at Skate Canada and the Cup of Russia, and finished tenth at the Olympics. No matter where they place, both skaters expect to continue competing through the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. After that, they plan to teach skating. Both are students at Katowice-Spoab, a school which offers individual programs of study in physical education between competitions.

Both Dorota and Mariusz began skating because they had relatives who skated. For Mariusz, it was his sister, who skated in junior ladies, who brought him to the rink at age seven. For Dorota, it was a cousin who introduced her to the sport at six. Both skaters liked pairs as soon as they tried it, but never tried dance. After first skating singles, Dorota then tried pairs with Janusz Komendera, while Mariusz skated with Beata Zielinska in 1992 and 1993, then with Marta Gluchowska in 1994. They actually competed against one another at the 1994 Europeans, where Mariusz and Gluchowska finished 12th and Dorota and Komendera 18th. A friend and judge told Mariusz that he could be a good pairs skater, but needed a better partner. Then Dorota moved from Krakow to the Oswiecim club where Mariusz skated in 1994, due to a lack of ice at her club and the match was made. "We are two people who understand each other on the ice," said Mariusz.

The skaters cited two Russian pairs as the couples they most admired: Oksana Kazakova and Artur Dmitriev and Ekaterina Gordeeva and the late Sergei Grinkov. "We like the technical quality of their skating and their flow on the ice," Mariusz noted. To improve their technique, the Poles have started regular ballet training this year with a coach from Belarus. Before that, it was only "time to time, not regular training", Mariusz said. They usually work four hours on ice and four hours off ice each day. Their off ice training includes not only ballet, but also conditioning and weight training. In the summer, there is no ice from April to July so the skaters travel to Russia or the Czech republic to train.

Tiny blonde Dorota's favorite elements are the throws. The couple is working on throw triple Salchows and gets tremendous height on all their throw jumps. For tall, dark-haired Mariusz, the lifts are the best. "Hand to hand lifts are simple," he said, " so we borrowed from Shishkova and Naumov and others to do lifts with different entrances and changes of position in the air." Coached by Iwona Mydlarz-Chruscinska, the duo ususlly skate to classical music. This year's programs, choreographed by Frantisek Blatak, are "Swan Lake" for the technical and "Doctor Zhivago" for the free skate.

Classical music is Dorota's favorite off ice as well, but Mariusz listens to everything but hard rock. In their limited free time, they like to go to the mall or stay home and read. Her favorites are mysteries and romances, while he prefers detective stories. Mariusz is also interested in cars, electronics, and computers. Neither skater has time for other sports, although Mariusz used to play volleyball and Dorota likes mountain climbing. Both skaters love to travel. Japan has been their favorite destination so far " because it's so much different from Europe and America, such different traditions," Mariusz said.

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