The war and the absent Russians spoil the World Figure Skating Championships

The World Championships could never have been a peaceful event under these circumstances. Among those who showed their nationalism with their medals at Putin’s chiller during a rally at Luzhniki Stadium were Olympic pair skaters Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov and ice dancers Nikita Katsalapov and Victoria Sinitsina. Putin’s authoritarian regime has always used sport to “export a currency” of power and prestige, as NBC commentator Johnny Weir puts it. And there’s no extracting individual Russian skaters from that, no matter how blameless some of them may be or how coerced or censored they are.

There really is no ‘sports truce’ and figure skating, more than any other sport on the globe at present, represents a frontline or small proxy skirmish, both on and off the ice. , given its complex Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian ties. Legendary Russian men’s champion Evgeni Plushenko, who became an influential coach in Moscow, made a campaign video for Putin’s rewriting of the constitution and was at the pro-war rally, singing. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov is married to former ice dancer Tatiana Navka, an influential figure who runs the state-sponsored Channel One ice shows that skaters rely on for post-Olympic work.

If you still believe in the truce myth, consider Viktor Petrenko’s situation. Petrenko, the 1992 men’s Olympic champion, was born in Odessa, grew up in the Soviet system and became the first Olympic flag bearer for an independent Ukraine at the Lillehammer Games. Last winter he accepted an invitation to skate in one of Navka’s ice productions. After its conclusion in January, Petrenko decided to return to Ukraine for a visit – where he found himself trapped in kyiv at the start of the invasion. Weir, who was once coached by Petrenko, believes he has since reached safety based on an exchange of text messages. But, Weir says, “I didn’t ask where he was in case things were being tracked or people were being watched in any way.” Petrenko’s wife, Nina, who Weir said works for Ukrainian aid in New York, did not respond to emails.

These are the tensions in figure skating at the moment, and there is no reason to think they will be relieved any time soon. “There are fallouts,” observes Weir. In fact, things can get worse. In 2014, when Putin annexed Crimea right after the Sochi Games, emotions ran so high during a post-Olympic ice tour that a fight broke out when a Russian skater mocked Ukrainian skaters. “It was a fight,” Weir recalled. “It was Russians and Ukrainians, and it was really not nice.”

Skating is such a small and closed world, so heavily populated at the top by Russians and Ukrainians, with so many relationships, rivalries and affections, that the deadly Kremlin invasion exploded on an intensely personal level. Some of the entanglements date back to the 1990s, when a number of Russian coaches and athletes moved to the United States to train after its economy collapsed. Among them was one of Weir’s trainers, Galina Zmievskaya, who works at the Ice House in Hackensack, NJ — as does his daughter Nina, who married Petrenko. For a time Navka, wife of Peskov, also lived and trained at skating centers in Connecticut and New Jersey.

“For the most part, we try to see ourselves as people,” Weir says. “… Russians performed in Ukraine, and Ukrainians performed in Russia, and everyone knows each other. So when you hear insensitive remarks or unacceptable things, it’s shocking. And you don’t know how everyone will react.

Not all Russian athletes are pro-Putin, of course, and it’s possible to admire Russian skating without admiring its underlying politics. There are, despite everything, so many things to admire in the rigorous Russian tradition. The ballet is in their bones, which gives an inimitable quality to their great champions. “Dancing is part of their life and their upbringing; it’s not like here, where it’s a separate add-on,” says former gold medalist turned commentator Brian Boitano, who raised $150,000 for Ukrainian aid. Boitano cites the feathery but impactful greatness of Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov, four-time world pairs champions, as “a masterclass of everything skating should be.”

There is no doubt that the Russian influence has embellished and elevated the sport. Weir became famous for being fluent in Russian and sought out Zmievskaya in his attempt to compete with Plushenko, whom he once idolized. On the eve of the world championships, American ice dancer Evan Bates was clearly conflicted that their quality would be absent in Montpellier, France, given the blanket ban.

“It’s really tough when we convict people based on where they come from and some factors that are beyond their control,” Bates said, according to The Associated Press. “With the predicament the world is in, you know, the kind of mixing of politics and sports, it’s very difficult to sort out everything that’s happened.”

But there is also near-universal resentment of the grief caused to Ukrainian peers. “I can’t generalize and say everyone in skating is a cultured person who knows better, but I can say the skating world is with Ukraine and I certainly do,” says Weir, who adapted his latest ice show routines to Ukrainian music and runs a subversive campaign on social media, trying to break censorship with war information.

Perhaps no one is more representative of the complex emotions of war in skating right now than Ukrainian ice dancers Alexandra Nazarova and Max Nikitin. Both men spent time training in Moscow, and during the Beijing Games they bonded with their Russian peers, who competed without a flag or anthem and were embroiled in an IDF-sponsored doping controversy. State – only to then return home to Kharkiv, have a devastating experience of heavy shelling and see Russian skaters on Putin’s stage wearing the Z. On Instagram, Nazarova expressed her outrage, writing: “There is no such thing as for a long time we supported them in this difficult Olympic season, now they support the war against us and our country.

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