“In his performances, Ilya Klimkin attracted the attention of fans and specialists with the complex composition of his programs, his musicality, the spontaneous jumps, and especially, the spins in both directions – to my knowledge, he was the only one at that time able to do this spin combination. His jumps were unusually high and performed from unorthodox entries. This made his programs spectacular to watch.
To receive such a talented athlete in my group, whom I could help further with my experience and knowledge about the sport, was an absolute inspiration and honor for me work-wise.” –Viktor Kudriavtsev, honoured coach of the USSR and Russia
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 rise 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 Hanyu 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 on 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 meaninglessness of elite sports on all sides, like the career of this largely forgotten skater does.
Coming from a figure skating powerhouse that had been known at the time to produce multiple technically proficient jumpers, Yukina Ota stood out. Her balletic grace and sophisticated musicality set her out as a prominent artist on ice in the mid 00s. One word that comes to my mind when observing her competitive performances, is poetry – her superb, light flow across the ice and the excellence of her carriage are so hypnotizing that you easily forget you are watching an athlete compete. The beauty of her skating and the intricacy of her choreography are so mesmerizing that she hardly even needs any jumps to draw the viewer in.
Yukina made her senior debut at Skate Canada grand prix in 2003 following a triumphant junior season in which she won every competition she entered into – from Junior Grand Prix to Junior Worlds in 2003. Following her grand prix assignments Yukina gained further momentum with a win at the Four Continents Championship. Poised to break through as a major contender at the time, Yukina experienced injury setbacks in 2004 which forced her on a year long hiatus. She was unfortunately not able to regain her shape in the following years, and decided to end her amateur career on her 22nd birthday in 2008.
In this post, I would like to talk a little bit about Yebin Mok. Yebin was a very promising Korean-American skater from the early 00s who competed against some of the absolute greats of ladies skating of all time including Michelle Kwan, Sasha Cohen and Sarah Hughes. Sadly, her career was tragically cut short by injuries and personal struggles.
An incredibly talented young woman pursuing the conventional dream of sporting success and glory, she had her life consumed and derailed by the very sport she had devoted herself entirely to. However, the rediscovered passion for the beauty and joy of figure skating following her retirement allowed her to take ownership back and be happy once again.