Chicago Pairs Clinic Invigorates Adult Skaters

by Ellen Zurfluh, Special to U.S. Figure skating Online
Oleg Vasiliev shows Kim Sailer and David Garber (Wheeling FSC) the reverse Kilian position as he encourages the pairs skaters to try variations of positions in their stroking.

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Video - Andrea Cooper (SC of Wilmington) and Lee Jones (Chesapeake FSC) perform a Lutz lift.

(8/1/05) - "You can do this" was the overriding theme of the 2005 Chicago Adult Pair Clinic, July 16-17 at Centennial Ice Rinks in Wilmette, Ill. Hosted by DuPage FSC members Ellen Zurfluh and Les Ascher, the seventh annual clinic drew 19 skaters from all over the country and one from Tallinn, Estonia.

During six hours of instruction (two off ice and four on ice), 1984 Olympic pairs champion Oleg Vasiliev taught the 10 teams the basics of many pairs elements including stroking, lifts, pairs spins, death spirals and twist lifts.

"These elements are not difficult and can be done by skaters of any age," said Vasiliev, who was assisted by World pairs champions Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin of Russia. The current World champs have been training with Vasiliev in the Chicago area for the past four years.

The clinic's international flavor was further enhanced with ballet master and choreographer Sasha Matveev of St. Petersburg, Russia, teaching the opening off-ice warm-up on Saturday. Matveev formerly danced with the Kirov Ballet, and in association with renowned pairs coach Tamara Moskvina taught many Russian pairs teams including Vasiliev and his former partner Elena Valova. Matveev led the participants through a series of exercises that warmed up their bodies from head to toe.

The 10 teams ranged from one that met for the first time that weekend to those with many years of competitive experience. When his regular partner couldn't attend the clinic, Karl Jacobs (Midland FSC) was matched with Phyllis Friello (Ice Club of Baltimore) in what she calls "a blind skate." Bill Papineau (Ann Arbor FSC) wasn't sure until the last minute that his sometimes pairs partner Piret Valamaa of Estonia, could obtain a visa, so he planned in advance for a stand-in just in case.

Three teams at the clinic were skilled enough to compete at the master pairs level while the remainder were bronze, silver, and gold competitors. Despite the wide range of ability, Vasiliev made sure that each team gained something from every segment. For example, in the off-ice lift portion, those who had never done an overhead lift started out with the man lying on his back. From a relatively safe position just two feet off the ground, the lady could then learn her part of the platter, press, and star lifts before trying them over the man's head.

Once on the ice, all teams performed a basic lift exercise dubbed "the garbage can lift." As both members of the team skate backward, the man lifts the lady by her hands in front of her body. As she assumes a split or stag position, he can concentrate on improving his footwork across the ice. The participants were thrilled with Vasiliev's expert instruction and positive attitude.

"The best part is Oleg's belief that adults can skate pairs and make great accomplishments within the sport," said Andrea Cooper (SC of Wilmington), who has attended three of the Chicago clinics with partner Lee Jones (Chesapeake FSC). "Also, nothing is better than being on the ice with nine other adult pair teams. We enjoy seeing all our friends from previous years and making new ones."

Maxim Marinin shows Kimm and Rich Walin (Duluth FSC) the correct hand hold to begin a hand-to-hand seat lift.
Cooper and Jones had the added benefit of achieving their first off-ice star lift at this year's clinic.

Not only did the teams learn from an expert, approachable faculty, they also received encouragement and advice from their fellow skaters. Following the clinic, Kimm Walin (Duluth FSC) wrote, "Thank you to all the teams for giving support and helping each other. I really feel as if we're a team of pair skaters, and we all want everyone to succeed and achieve their loftiest dreams."

The 2005 clinic was especially memorable for Kimm and husband Richard (Duluth FSC) as they were able to regain their split twist, a maneuver they had not performed for three years.

Vasiliev also explained the new judging system and covered the finer details such as what qualifies as a completed element, how many points one can earn from an element, and how variations can boost scores. When Zurfluh and Ascher proudly performed on the floor a one-handed, seat lift they had been working on for some time, Vasiliev said, "That [adagio] lift would earn zero points in competition. However, it does demonstrate ability and could be used in an exhibition program."

National judge Rosemary Santee has been a regular at the Chicago clinic for several years. She enjoys watching and learning the technical aspects of pairs elements as well as getting to know the adult skaters away from the ice. This year national judge Marge Solon also took advantage of Vasiliev's invitation to judges to observe the clinic.

The clinic invigorated the more experienced teams and gave the beginners a sense that they could accomplish much more. Jan Seybold (Milwaukee FSC) and partner Paul Winker (Wisconsin FSC) have been skating pairs only a few months.

"The clinic opened our eyes to what is possible if we work hard," Seybold said. "It was inspiring to work with such elite skaters as Oleg, Tatiana, and Max. And they were so down to earth."

Both Totmianina and Marinin enjoyed teaching at the clinic and expressed their admiration for adult pairs skaters.

"I am impressed that adults would try pair skating," Marinin said. "It's the hardest discipline."

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