The greatest Russian figure skater that never was (Part I)

In the wild spectacle of elite sports, stars ascend quickly, shine brightly and fall down in an instance if they are not able to win big during the narrow window when their physical abilities are at their peak. Media and fans, hungry for thrill and eternally seeking new favorites to replace yesterday’s heroes, usually do not put much thought into this endless cycle. It is either a story of continuous undefeated success that sticks in the minds of the viewers, or a tale of defeating impossible odds to raise to the top. It is no wonder why these stories of overcoming adversity receive high coverage during the Olympics, with the emergence of the concept of athletes making miraculous comebacks to fulfill their “Olympic dream”.

And figure skating, like all sports, is a straightforward, simple and extremely cruel game: the most capable rise to the top, the less talented or misfortunate ones are easily replaceable both by their federations and in the eyes of the audience. Unfortunately, little attention do we pay to the fact that for every Yuna Kim, Yuzuru Hanuy or Evgeni Plushenko who garner and inspire countless dedicated fans with their astonishing abilities and competitive drive to beat all odds, there are thousands of equally amazing figure skaters who come painfully short of achieving their immense potential. A few of them live in the collective memory of the community as a cautionary tale for the dangers of the sport; the overwhelming majority end up a mere sporting statistic.

Ilia Klimkin is arguably one of the most talented figure skaters to ever come out of Russia – and probably one of the biggest wasted talents from there, and that says a lot for a country that prides itself as being one of the leading powers in the sport. He was almost up there with Evgeni Plushenko and Alexei Yagudin in terms of raw talent and artistry, but unlike the other two, he lives in the minds of figure skating aficionados today as a collection of a few faint fragmented memories. Yet, I am still to find a story which more beautifully illustrates the hypocrisy, unfairness and ultimate meaningless of elite sports on all sides, like the career of this largely forgotten skater does .

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Gone from the sport too soon: Jamie Silverstein

Jamie Silverstein and Justin Pekarek skating at the 1998 Junior Worlds. Photo credit: J. Barry Mittan

Competing in a discipline so dependent on visually pleasing aesthetics where graceful skaters effortlessly flow and fly together across the ice under enchanting rhythms, Jamie Silverstein and Justin Pekarek looked like they were poised to break through. Hailed as potential future world champions by Paul Duchesnay, among others, the young ice dance team swept audiences off their seats during their incredibly short career.

Back in 1999 – 2000, they were on the track of sporting success – equipped with superb skating skills, versatility, musicality and passion in their skating uncharacteristic for their tender age, Jamie and Justin made their senior debut following a very successful junior season. Fans and commentators alike were excited about the bright future prospects of the exceptionally talented and promising team. Little did they know, however, about the inner turmoil faced by Jamie at the time, and that the debut season would also be their last together…

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