Adult Pairs Skaters Learn in Collegial Atmosphere

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

Oleg Vassiliev, Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov pose with the clinic attendees.
Photo by Tom Zurfluh

(7/20/09) - The obvious gap between elite skaters and adult skaters seemed to disappear during the 11th annual Chicago Adult Pairs Clinic, held July 11-12, 2009, at the Oakton Ice Arena in Park Ridge, Ill.

The clinic was dominated by a collegial atmosphere, as Olympic champion Oleg Vassiliev taught the intricacies of pairs skating to four enthusiastic adult teams. Vassiliev was assisted by Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov, the 2009 European bronze medalists, who demonstrated maneuvers and offered their own tips. Vassiliev and his team, who live and train in St. Petersburg, Russia, are training this summer in the Chicago area.

"Oleg continues to demonstrate great pleasure and commitment to teaching adults. His respect for our efforts makes me feel like a colleague as well as a student," said Larry Scibilia (DuPage FSC) of Chicago, who competes in the silver pairs category with Lauren Yahiro of Zion, Ill.

Breakthroughs for Scibilia during the clinic included improving his lift footwork and death spiral pivot, while Yahiro was "shocked" at how easily she went up into a press lift on the floor once she made minor adjustments.

Clinic attendance was down this year due to the poor economy and scheduling conflicts, but that meant the participants had more room on the ice and received more personal attention. It also meant there was no place to hide if one wanted to take a break.

As this was the third appearance at the clinic for Mukhortova and Trankov, they were no longer surprised at what adult pairs skaters can do and what they want to learn. Trankov, who was pleased to see the returning skaters, said, "It's nice to be part of this small community - it's like a family."

Rob Lichtefeld (Georgia FSC) of Atlanta didn't want to miss this year's clinic because his partner couldn't attend, so he teamed up for the weekend with Donna Farver (Diamond Ice FSC) of St. Louis.

"This clinic is special because you're on the ice with other adult pairs, who are a friendly, supportive subset of adult skating," Lichtefeld said.

Another bonus for Lichtefeld, whose regular pairs coach is female, is "having two instructors on the ice who really know the guy's part."

Nearly all participants were experienced pairs skaters ranging from silver to masters level, which allowed Vassiliev to concentrate on more advanced maneuvers, such as having the men achieve the correct low position on their death spiral pivots and how to score well under the international judging system (IJS). For example, he critiqued each team's spiral sequence, offering suggestions on how to increase its scoring potential.

Vassiliev is well qualified to explain the IJS since he serves on the ISU Technical Committee that recommends changes to the scoring system. He once cajoled this writer and her partner, Les Ascher, both of the DuPage FSC, who were working on a pairs sit spin, saying, "I help write the rules, but you have to bend your knee."

Subsequent spins were, indeed, lower.

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