Ilia Klimkin, The greatest Russian skater that never was (Part II)

I. Klimkin at the 2004 World Figure Skating Championship. Photo credit: Susanne Kempf.

“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 

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Portraits of Russian Ladies: Tatiana Rachkova

Photo Credit: Tatiana Rachkova.

Competitive highlights: 1992 Olympic Games (16th), 1992 Worlds (13th), 1992 European Championship (14th), 1992 Vienna Cup Winner, Russian National Championships (1992 – 2nd place, 1993 – 3rd place)

Tatiana Rachkova hailed from the same generation of Russian ladies singles skaters as 1999 World champion Mariya Butyrskaya but is not as widely known to figure skating fans today. She made a quick, very promising splash in 1992 by participating at every major event (including the Olympics) but sadly disappeared from the world scene quickly after. Her style merged athleticism, powerful jumps and strong technique with unconventional eye-catching choreography, turning her into a predecessor of a new generation of talented, original Russian skaters like Olga Markova (covered in my previous post) and Butyrskaya herself.

She first emerged in the early 90s in a diluted competitive field, at the background of the disbanding Soviet Union, amidst growing uncertainty in the political and sports arena alike. Women singles’ skating at the time had taken a step back in the USSR due to the higher popularity of pairs and ice dance, combined with decreased political support on the side of the federation and lack of attention on the coaches’ side.

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Portraits on Russian Ladies: Olga Markova

Olga Markova in 1995.

Before Sochi 2014 and the ensuing dominance of Russian girls in the latter half of the current decade, the country experienced another golden age in ladies singles skating that younger fans might not be so familiar with. In the late 90s Maria Butyrskaya (1999 World Champion) was the face of a rising force of strong Russian female skaters. The young Irina Slutskaya (2x World Champion, 2002 and 2006 Olympic medalist) followed in her footsteps and established herself as a top contender in the early 00s. With Their rivalry taking center stage on the domestic scene, more young ladies rose to the occasion and enjoyed international success, albeit not as grand as the former two, including Julia Soldatova (1999 World bronze medalist), Viktoria Volchkova (4x European bronze medalist) and Elena Sokolova (2003 World silver medalist).

This is a series of short portraits illustrating the careers of ladies who skated shortly before or during this hegemony but are hardly remembered by fans today. With totally different artistic styles and varying technical skills, they all had strong points in their skating, and could have risen to the occasion at one point. Today we take a look at Olga Markova.

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Ilia Klimkin, 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 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 lucky 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.

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Yuri Ovchinnikov – A genius born in the wrong era

On paper, Yuri Ovchinnikov’s career doesn’t look too bad but he is barely remembered today. Being one of the emerging talents from the Soviet Union in singles skating during the late 60s and 70s, he won a bronze medal at the European championship in 1975, and made the top 10 of the world four times, often getting overshadowed results-wise by other soviet skaters including Sergei Chetverukhin (1972 Olympic silver medalist), Sergei Volkov (1975 world champion) and Vladimir Kovalev (1976 Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion).

What sports records omit from the picture was that Yuri was far ahead of his time, being born in an era when his talents were just not rewarded the same way they would have been at a later time – with his infinite passion and energy on the ice, innovative choreography, musicality and lyrical expressiveness, and huge jumps which left spectators gasping in awe, he was considered a “king of the free skate”.

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