Adult Pairs Skaters Enjoy 10th Annual Chicago Clinic

by Ellen Zurfluh, special to U.S. Figure Skating Online

Oleg Vassiliev explains technique to (from L-R) Maxim Trankov, Maria Mukhortova, Donna Farver, Rob Lichtefeld and Chris Williams.
Photo by Ellen Zurfluh

(7/17/08) - Since the first Chicago Adult Pairs Clinic in 1999, Olympic pairs champion Oleg Vassiliev has come to appreciate adult skaters.

"Adults want to be on the ice," Vassiliev said. "They're usually in a good mood with smiles on their faces. They're willing to work hard and try new maneuvers. That's not the case for most kids."

Plenty of smiles and camaraderie could be found among skaters and coaches at the 10th annual clinic July 12-13 at the Oakton Ice Arena in Park Ridge, Ill. The six adult teams, hailing from six different states, ranged in ability from beginner to masters. Vassiliev was assisted by 2008 European silver medalists Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov. The threesome had been training in Chicago for several weeks and flew home to St. Petersburg, Russia, immediately after the clinic.

During the off-ice portion each day, Vassiliev led the skaters through exercises to warm up the entire body, followed by demonstrations of specific techniques to improve lifts and death spirals. (One surreal moment occurred when the women were standing on window sills ready to jump into their partners' hands, an exercise meant to improve the catch during a split twist lift. Donna Farver (Diamond Ice FSC) quipped, "It's not often one can say, 'When I was on the second-story window sill, ready to jump...'")

Even veterans of the clinic - like Leslie and Peter Gaudreau (Indiana World Skating Academy FSC), who were attending the clinic for the eighth time, and organizers Ellen Zurfluh and Les Ascher (DuPage FSC), who have attended all 10 - found new techniques to apply to their skating. After Mukhortova and Trankov demonstrated on the floor two additional entries for a split twist aside from the traditional Lutz entry take-off, the participants followed suit.

Dave Garber and Kim Sailer (Wheeling FSC) were grateful for a suggestion Trankov made on their split twist that may help them achieve a double.

"Even with the wide range of skill and experience, it seemed that everyone received personalized attention not only from Oleg but from Max and Maria," Garber said.

Exposure to adult skating during the clinics has been an eye-opener for Vassiliev's elite skaters. Both Mukhortova and Trankhov enjoyed assisting at the clinic.

Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov demonstrate a star lift.
Photo by Ellen Zurfluh
"We actually try out maneuvers in the clinic that we don't usually perform in our training," Mukhortova said. "Since we have so few adult skaters in Russia, it's a surprise to see people of all ages try pairs skating, which is so difficult, just for pleasure."

Nataliya and Eric Schouten from Chicago's western suburbs were, indeed, troopers. Having skated for only two years with no pairs skating experience, they tried all the basic exercises that Vassiliev offered. On the second day, under the watchful eye of Mukhortova, the team achieved the beginnings of a split twist lift when Eric lifted Nataliya, in a split position, a foot off the ice. The other participants cheered the newcomers' accomplishment.

In the clinic's 10-year history, 39 different pairs teams have participated, with many returning year after year.

"Who would have thought 10 years ago that we would be where we are now, being able to offer such a benefit to the adult skating community?" organizer Ascher said.

Sara Panzer and Rob Lichtefeld (Georgia FSC) are the only adult team in their practice sessions at their home rink. Lichtefield said that getting the opportunity to watch other teams of different skill levels work on the same moves they themselves are practicing is hugely beneficial.

Everyone who took part in the weekend came away with an experience they won't soon forget.

As first-time clinic participant Chris Williams (FSC of Minneapolis) so aptly put it, "This is a very worthwhile way to spend a weekend."

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