The PSA invited several esteemed members of the skating world to give presentations. In addition to Tamara, Scott Hamilton, Richard Callahan, and ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta spoke at the conference. It was the first ever World Skating Industry Conference.
We waited in the lobby for Tamara and she recognized us right away. (We had been in the group that met with her and Oksana and Artur at Skate America the previous October.) Although Tamara has always been friendly and down to earth, I was nervous as I kept reminding myself that I was about to meet with the greatest pairs coach in history, and a fascinating woman. Several times during dinner, I wanted to pinch myself as I was having trouble believing I had the honor of spending time with someone I admire so greatly.
We presented Tamara with various questions that fan club members have submitted over the months.
Marianne: How is Artur's back?
Tamara: Sometimes it's OK, sometimes it's worse. I think his back has pain when he's nervous. It seems to me it's nerves; not real pain. As a remedy, he needs to do lifts more regularly.
M: Are Oksana and Artur friends with Shishkova and Naumov and Eltsova and Bushkov?
T: Yes, good friends.
M: When they stay at hotels, who do they room with?
T: Artur shares with Ilya Kulik and Oksana with Maria Butyrskaya or Angelika Krylova.
M: What other skaters are they friends with?
T: Artur is friendly with everyone. His closest friend is Viacheslav Zagorodniak. Oksana is newcomer on the team.
M: Do they accept her?
M: When Oksana and Artur talk to you, do they use formal or informal language?*
T: Formal. They call me Tamara Nicolaevna.
M: What about when they talk to each other?
T: Of course they use informal. He calls her the nickname Ksusha. She calls him Artur because there is no other nickname.
M: Can you describe what you thought of Oksana the first time you saw her?
T: I saw her for many years because she skated in our group. I didn't pay attention to her as potential partner for Artur. But when he tried with her, I watched them and he told me, "I want to skate with her." I agreed.
M:Do you remember the first time you saw Artur and what you thought of him?
T: No, I don't remember. His parents brought him to the rink. They were looking for my husband and asked where to find him. He was on holiday. So they started to talk to me. So Artur told that if Igor Moskvin is not here, I'll take from you.
M: Can you tell us about the theme or story of their new long program?
T: Right now, we didn't invent the story yet. Maybe it will unfold or just be inspiration. The music is Handel's "Passaqualia". Usually I first make the story and then do the program, but now I think we will not. The short program will be to "La Cucaracha."
(We react with surprise and ask that they not wear costumes similar to those of Grishuk and Platov, who skated a Latin theme last season.)
T: No, no, no. Those are awful costumes. We want them to experiment. This will be good for Oksana's style.
M: How is Elena Bereznaya's health?
T: She still has speech problems. She speaks Russian with a foreign accent. Her balance is not perfect, but she's OK. She jumps and does elements. I already made exhibition program for them on "Elegy" by Rachmaninoff. Then I did short program for them on Strauss' waltz.
M: Does Anton treat her nicely? Many of us in the fan club were very concerned, as we had reports that Elena's ex-partner Oleg did not treat her well.
T: Anton is very nice boy. He treats her with respect. He's Georgian and in Georgia they treat ladies properly. It's nice working with them. I did lovely program and music. And we invented some new moves.
M: Do they show skating on TV in Russia? Do any famous skaters do the commentary?
T: Yes, they show, but not much. Oleg Vassilev did commentary temporarily, but he was the only one.
M: Who else did Artur try out with when he was first looking for a new partner?
T: Malninina of Kazhakstan. Eltsova. One girl in Moscow; I don't remember the name. We thought of Surya Bonaly or Kristi Yamaguchi.
T: Yes, but we decided not to even suggest.
M: A lot of us wonder why Oksana and Artur have trouble with the split triple twist.
T: It's because her technique with her former partner was completely different. It's a conflict of techniques.
M: Which Grand Prix events will they be in?
T: Skate America, then France, then St. Petersburg. But I asked that Skate America not to be qualifying for the final; not to count for points.
M: Can you say exactly when you knew Oksana and Artur won at Europeans?
T: I have forgotten this already. I'm already in the new season.
M: I have something from several years ago; I hope you can remember this. Back in 1989, Natalia and Artur won the bronze at Europeans, but didn't go to Worlds that year. Why not?
T: I think that year there was something ... an agreement that some pair wouldn't go to Europeans so they send them, and the other pair went to Worlds.
M: What kind of activities do you have them do on the day of competition
T: We don't do much, skate sections of the program maybe once or twice.
M: How much English does Oksana speak?
T: If you will speak slowly, she'll understand. She can speak a little.
M: Is there any information on when your book will be published in English?
T: There is a lady interested in publishing it. First she'll have to get the rights from Platoro Press. Right now, I don't know more.
Before we were served our main courses, a waiter brought fried potato skins. Tamara joked that she will return to Russia and tell people that Americans have nothing to eat except the skins of potatoes.
At the dinner, Tamara was asked several questions for her biography which we will continue to run in installments in the newsletter.
I have been learning Russian for several months and used some of it on Tamara. Although my pronunciation and grammar were less than perfect (to say the least), Tamara told me I spoke it well. I glowed for weeks afterwards.
It was a wonderful meeting and many times Tamara told us how proud and happy she was that her skaters have a fan club. Of course we would continue the club even if they didn't know we existed. But the fact that Tamara, Oksana, and Artur appreciate that we're here makes doing this incredibly rewarding.
(*Russian, like many languages, has both a formal and informal way of addressing people.)
Part II: The Start of Tamara's Skating Success
Tamara says that making the transition from training under Ivan to training under Igor was not difficult. "It was not hard at all," she remembers. "I loved my former coach; he was very good because he gave me the love for sport and he cared about me. When I started to take from Igor, he just came from the sport .... I learned from him a lot."
Igor Moskvin had been coached by Soviet pairs champions Alexander and Raisa Gandelsman when he was younger. Igor himself was a Soviet pairs champion in the mid-1950's with his first wife, Maya Belenkaya. He started coaching at the end of that decade, at first working with single skaters, Aleksei Mishin among them.
Under Igor's guidance, Tamara became the USSR ladies champion for five straight years: 1961-1965. Despite this success, Tamara says she was always nervous during competition. "I always fell not less that twice during my free skate," she says. :I was like in a fog. My hands shook." Tamaratook the initiative herself to read books about psychology and mental preparation. She developed a method to deal with nerves and she uses many similar techniques now with the skaters she trains. Tamara competed at Europeans and placed everywhere from 14th through 22nd, but never made it to Worlds as a singles skater.
She was to make her mark in pairs.
On May 1, 1964 Tamara and Igor were married. Tamara was 23 and she had lived with her parents her entire life. She and Igor were able to obtain their own apartment and move into it. The couple has now been married for 32 years. "We should be awarded a gold medal," Tamara says, "because being a coach, it's very difficult to keep the marriage."
The year after their marriage, Igor suggested to Tamara that she start pairs skating. They agreed that she had reached her peak in singles and since Tamara has always enjoyed a challenge, she welcomed this opportunity to learn something new. Her first partner was Alexander Gavrilov. (Gavrilov had previously skated with Tatiana Zhuk. Zhuk then paired with Alexander Gorelik.) The pair finished 4th at Soviet nationals in 1966, a very respectable finish, but it did not allow them to advance to Europeans or Worlds. Gavrilov had a family to take care of and decided to look elsewhere for a means to support them. He stopped skating competitvely after that season.
by Yok Lan Teh
I was lucky enough to be there witnessing their competitive debut at Skate America. Granted, it was not the triumphant return the fans had anticipated for Artur Dmitriev when he finished 5th at this competition with his brand new partner Oksana Kazakova. It was nonetheless a thrill to see that this pair had the elements that made them a world-class team. Their speed, their spins, their spiral sequence and unique movements were very exciting. All they needed were consistent jumps and better timing which would develop as they skated together longer.
Comparison between Oksana and Natalia Mishkutenok is inevitable. Kazakova and Dmitriev used many similar moves that were the trademarks of Mishkutenok and Dmitriev: the Natalia's spin, the backpress lift, and other movements that utilize the flexibility of the ladies. Some skating fans complained that this new team did not have a new styl at all. All they did was substitute Natalia with Oksana, and Oksana wasn't nearly as flexible as her predecessor, so some moves seemed forced on her. I have to agree somewhat with this assessment. However, considering how little time that had trained together before the season began, it was understandable that they didn't have enough time to choreograph two programs that would showcase the natural talents of Oksana.
Overall, their first season together has to be considered a success. They finished in the top 5 in all 5 competitions they entered (not counting the Centennial on Ice where they were forced to withdraw). Not bad for a new team. The high of the season, of course, was the European title they won in Bulgaria. It was most surprising even to their most faithful of fans. Their performance at the European Championship convinced many people that they would be one of the favorites to win the World Championship, or at least to get a medal there. Unfortunately, it didn't happen that way. Mistakes in both the short and long programs kept them at fifth place overall.
Although their season ended on a low note, I am sure Oksana and Artur will be most eager to work hard and come back next season to thrill their fans once more with their artistry and passion on ice. I, for one, cannot wait to see what is in store for us this fall.
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