Golden Skate

The Character of a Champion

Sergei Voronov of Russia performs his Short Program to Sergei Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2.

On practice ice, Russia’s Sergei Voronov isn’t always one who draws a lot of attention as his run-throughs often look less than convincing. However, when it counts, he can pull himself together and deliver the goods. This is the quality of a true champion and Voronov has it. He can focus when he needs to and he never gives up.

The now 20-year-old Russian took – rather unexpectedly – a silver medal at the 2006 World Junior Championships after missing most of the season due to injury, and then followed up with a bronze in 2007. However, his real breakthrough on the international scene happened this past season when he won Russian Nationals, finished a strong fourth at Europeans, and was ranked seventh at Worlds in Gothenburg.

Voronov also claimed his first medal on the (senior) Grand Prix circuit at Trophée Bompard last November. He had to withdraw from his first Grand Prix assignment at Skate Canada due to his ongoing injury.

“Obviously, my goal (at the beginning of the season) was to compete in two Grand Prix events and to skate my best there, but I had to cancel Skate Canada because of injury,” said Voronov. “First my left knee was hurting from practicing the quad (toeloop), and then I twisted my right foot on a triple Lutz during the test skate session in Novogorsk (in September). The computer tomography showed two fractures. I thought, ‘That’s it’. Honestly, I thought I would have to end my career.”

Voronov then went to a medical clinic (CITO) in Moscow where he was told by his doctor that if he didn’t jump for three weeks, his foot would heal. “So I was skating all the time, but I didn’t jump,” Voronov recalled. “Then I started slowly to jump through the pain. There was no other way. I thought I wouldn’t be able to go to any of the Grand Prixs, but my coach said we have to go with whatever is ready. We didn’t hope for a placement in the top three (at Trophée Bompard). The most important thing was just to compete. You can wait one year or two until nothing is hurting anymore, but this will never happen for an athlete.”

Foot injuries have been plaguing Voronov for years now. The skater suffered from Periosteum (a membrane that lines the outer surface of all bones except at the joints of long bones) dissection, which, according to coach Alexei Urmanov, sometimes happens to young athletes as a result of training. In 2005, Voronov withdrew from Junior Worlds after the Qualifying Round (he was 6th) and was off the ice for several months as rest is the most effective treatment for this kind of injury.

In 2007, Voronov was sent to Worlds for the first time because of his good junior results. His 19th-place finish in Tokyo doesn’t look too impressive, but in fact, it was an achievement that the skater even finished his performance despite suffering an injury during the program. He limped off the ice into the mixed zone where he sat on a chair to speak to the few Russian journalists that had come to Japan. “After the second triple Axel, suddenly my foot really hurt. [It felt] like my old injury had come back. I honestly didn’t know how I could continue the program, but once I started, I had to finish it.”

A strong will is characteristic for this young man and he proved it early. Voronov got into skating more or less by chance as a four-year-old when his mother’s friend and neighbor signed him up for lessons together with her daughter. Two years later, he broke his collar bone in a fall on the ice, and his parents wanted him to stop skating. Voronov didn’t want to stop and convinced his parents to let him continue.

When Voronov was 13, his coach Rafael Arutunian left Moscow to work in the USA, and his student had to find a new coach. “I didn’t see another solution other than moving (to St. Petersburg),” Voronov explained. “I really wanted to continue skating and to achieve something in the sport. Moving was difficult, but it was the best solution for me at that time. Probably the coaches in Moscow would have taken me, but I wasn’t a 100 percent sure about that, and for some reason I didn’t feel comfortable there.”

For two years, Voronov trained under Galina Kashina, but he felt that he wasn’t getting enough attention from her. He was recovering from an injury and Kashina was focusing on another student, Angelina Turenko, who went to Junior Worlds in 2004. “So I went to the director of our club, Tatiana Menshikova, and she suggested that I switch to Urmanov,” Voronov explained.

It turned out to be another correct decision. Urmanov, the 1994 Olympic Champion, had started coaching not long before. He is a young and ambitious coach, who went through the school of master Alexei Mishin and also served as one of the first Technical Specialists in the ISU judging system. Both student and coach are strong-willed which sometimes leads to conflicts. “I think it would need a miracle for student and coach to find a common language right away,” admitted Voronov. “We both have difficult characters and it was tough in the beginning.” The conflicts are mostly arise about skating-related issues.

“My coach is a professional in his job and I respect his opinion,” continued Voronov, “but I don’t give up my own point of view. My opinion influences our mutual decisions about 50 percent. In any case, I’m the one who makes the decision on the ice, because I’m skating and I’m jumping.”

This past season the skater kept his short program to Sergei Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and presented a characteristic free program to a selection of Tangos by Astor Piazzolla. “I really wanted to skate to Tango music,” said Voronov. “I liked Emanuel Sandhu’s Tango program. I also wanted to try it. Urmanov suggested Piazzolla, and I agreed.”

For the upcoming 2008-09 season, Voronov will be skating his short program to music by a French composer (at press time, he wasn’t sure about the name). “As for the free skating, personally I really want to change it, and I would like to do something completely different from the Tango style,” he explained. The final decision, however, hasn’t been made yet.

Voronov’s tango program especially showcased the huge step forward that he made this season. His skating was suddenly much more mature and emotional than before. “I probably grew up,” he explained with a smile. “When you move up to the senior level, you realize that junior competitions are one thing and senior competitions are something completely different. We’ve worked a lot together with my coach in spite of the injuries and in spite of some disagreements. The progress I made is the result of our work.”

Urmanov agreed when asked the same question about his student’s development. “First of all I can say that Sergei has grown up a lot. He became more aware of what he is doing. I would put this in first place in our work together. He is talented. As a coach, I want to give a 100 percent and Seriozha has started to follow up and so we got a result. His chronic injury forces us all the time to think about something, and probably, when it flared up the last time again, something clicked in his head. He has to take this direction or that direction, and he chose figure skating.”

“He just adores figure skating,” continued Urmanov. “He loves it, and he is ready to do everything for skating. That is very important. I support him fully.” Urmanov added that another strong point of his student, was creativity. “Creativity that is not studied, but that comes naturally from himself, from his soul. There is only one weakness, and that’s experience, or rather the lack of it. We’ll get more experience now.”

Voronov left a strong impression at Europeans and Worlds and is currently Russia’s hope number one in Men’s singles. At Europeans, he even beat Brian Joubert of France in the free skating and earned the small ISU bronze medal for this portion of the event. At Worlds, he gave an excellent performance in the free skating, rising from 15th after the short (where he had doubled the loop) to 7th overall.

The Russian Champion not only lands the triple Axel consistently, but also delivers beautiful quadruple toeloops. The skater himself remains rather relaxed about his ascent. “I wanted first of all to prove myself that I can do something and I wanted to please the audience and the judges. They shouldn’t forget that among the Russians there is someone who doesn’t skate too badly,” he said with a smile.

“It doesn’t mean anything special to me,” he answered when asked about beating Joubert in the free at Europeans. “Of course, I like to win, but that’s not the goal of my life – to beat someone, to beat the reigning World or Olympic Champion. I go out on the ice and I skate because I enjoy it. If I don’t enjoy skating anymore, I’ll just stop.”

When Voronov makes errors in his programs, he analyzes them coolly, proving the maturity and mental strength that he has developed this past year. “Obviously I regret if not everything in a program works out, especially when I pop a jump,” he explained, referring to the double loop at Worlds. “You pop a jump and it’s like wasting energy. Ok, if I had fallen, everybody is falling sometimes and so do I. You fall, you get up, you move on. But popping a jump is annoying. You loose a lot of points.”

Although Voronov now is focused on his athletic career he doesn’t necessarily see his future connected with the sport. “I don’t really want to work as a coach,” confessed the 20-year-old. “I think figure skating isn’t something for my whole life. It’s an episode in my life, but nothing more. There is only one life, and you want to live it in an interesting way and not only on the ice.” Should Voronov have children one day (“one or two or I don’t know how many”), he probably wouldn’t put them into figure skating as he feels that children don’t really need to repeat the career of their parents. So it’s not a surprise that there aren’t any other skaters or even high level athletes in his family. “My grandmother was a skier in the Soviet Union,” said Voronov, “but my parents have nothing to do with sports.”

Athletes that Voronov looks up to include cyclist Lance Armstrong and gymnast Alexei Nemov. “Armstrong is a strong person and athlete. Nemov is an outstanding athlete as well. He won four Olympic gold medals and this is something I know I’ll never achieve. He is a human being made of flesh, but he was able to achieve it. That’s just cool,” the Russian Champion acknowledged.

Voronov moved to St. Petersburg seven years ago, but still misses his native Moscow. “To be honest, I like Moscow much more. First of all, it’s still my home. Secondly I feel closer to the rhythm of life and the atmosphere of Moscow than of St. Petersburg,” he admitted. So he happily visits Moscow from time to time. In St. Petersburg, he lives with his mother who came with him when he moved there as a teenager.

Voronov is now preparing for the next season, but is enjoying some rest as well. Together with coach Urmanov, he spent one week in the Czech Republic at the end of May for a training camp, then he went to Nice, France for a Russian TV project with celebrities and athletes until June 8. Right after that, he left for a vacation on the island of Cyprus and will return around June 19. “Then I’m going back to Piter (Petersburg) to start the season. On July 15 we’re going to Sweden for a training camp,” the skater explained. “My foot is doing quite well now. We’ll see what happens and how it will behave itself.”

He is still working on getting the triple Lutz back that he couldn’t do all season due to injury. If he is healthy, Voronov would like to compete in the Finlandia Trophy in the fall before entering the Grand Prix circuit. He is currently scheduled to compete at Skate Canada and Cup of Russia. And again, he would like to prove that you shouldn’t count out the Russian men.

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