Martiusheva and Rogonov: A Perfect Pair

Russia's Anastasia Martiusheva and Alexei Rogonov perform their long program to Tchaikovsky'sThe Nutcracker at the 2009 Russian National Championships.

Anastasia Martiusheva and Alexei Rogonov of Russia took the silver medal at the 2009 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in their first and only appearance at this event.

The team stood in 11th following the short program, but their balletic “Nutcracker” free program was performed so beautifully that the attending journalists shared knowing glances amongst each other – this was the best program they were probably going to see that evening.

And they were right.

Martiusheva and Rogonov won the free skating portion and moved up to second place overall – just behind their teammates and friends, Lubov Iliushechkina and Nodari Maisuradze, who train with them in Moscow under Natalia Pavlova and Alexei Sokolov.

“We’ve learned that you never should give up after the short program and that you have to pull yourself together to deliver in the free skating,” Martiusheva, a tiny 14-year-old blonde, summed up.

“Yes, no matter what mistakes happened, you just have to move on and do your job,” Rogonov added. “It happens that something goes wrong and the athlete falls apart. However, the judging system now makes it possible that even if you miss an element, you still can make up for it with others. That’s how you can vault from 11th in the short to first in the free skating. That’s perfectly normal now,” the 21-year-old continued.

The 2008-09 season was the first international season for the young Russian couple and they drew attention right away. After winning two medals on the ISU Junior Grand Prix circuit, they proceeded to the Final where they finished fourth. They went on to win Russian Junior Nationals, placed fifth at senior Nationals, and then took the silver medal at Junior Worlds.

Martiusheva and Rogonov joined forces in Moscow, although both of them used to skate in Perm in one group but with different partners. When asked how they came together as a team,  Rogonov shrugged. “Basically the coach decides who is skating with whom and who is looking good with whom,” he explained. “Before we teamed up, I had four other partners. I even competed with one or the other. I sort of lost three years because I had to learn all the elements. As I switched partners so often, it was difficult to start from scratch each time and to teach a beginner all the elements. However, we’ve been skating together now for more than two seasons and we’ve gelled as a team more or less.”

Martiusheva had some pair skating experience as she had skated pairs for six months prior to teaming up with Rogonov. “But it wasn’t the same. We did only two-armed lifts and double throws. As soon as we started to work with Natalia Evgenievna (Pavlova), all the elements became more difficult,” the skater recalled. “I was a little afraid when I learned the throw jumps – especially when we did the triples,” Martiusheva admitted, “but you get used to these difficult elements. I’m not afraid at all of the lifts and the twist.”

Rogonov had no easy way into the sport. He grew up in Achinsk in Siberia with its extremely long and unforgiving cold winters. His mother took him skating when he was six years old. “We had no artificial ice,” he recalled, “we were just skating outside on the streets. It was really cold, up to minus 40 degrees (Celsius)! Every 15 minutes we would go into the dressing room to get warm and to drink some hot tea, then we would go back outside. I skated like this for ten years before moving to Perm. My coach from Achinsk himself took me to Perm because of the better prospects there. I had no real future in Siberia. You have to skate outside, there are no conditions for professional training, and it is too far to travel to any competitions.” So Rogonov arrived in Perm and trained under Liudmila Kalinina as a pair skater. Two years later he moved to Moscow, upon Pavlova’s invitation.

Martiusheva was already there when he came. She began skating at five and was in singles until she was 10. One year later her group participated in a training camp in Moscow, but instead of going back home to Perm, Martiusheva stayed with her partner at that time. When Rogonov arrived in Moscow in 2006, Pavlova teamed him up with Martiusheva.

Pair skating has a rich tradition in Russia and it is no surprise that both skaters first name legendary Russian pair skaters as their idols. “I’ve always liked to watch – and still like to watch – Goreeva and Grinkov,” said Martiusheva. “I also like Berezhnaya and Sikhuarlidze.” Rogonov names Berezhnaya and Sikhuarlidze as his idols as well.

However, Martiusheva now looks up to two-time World Champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany. “They are skating with a lot of power. They have nice lines and are very expressive and musical,” she pointed out. “Their elements are of high quality.” Rogonov agreed. “I also like Volosozhar and Morozov,” he added. “They have interesting lifts and good elements. Maybe they aren’t too consistent, but they are at a high level. However, we have to bring in something of our own. We have to look at the others and at the same time to create our own style as imitation never led to anything good,” he stressed. “We have to develop our individual style.”

Martiusheva, who turned 14 in March, is still going to school. She attends classes two to three hours a day and studies at home. Her favorite subject is algebra. Her partner is studying in his third year at the Pedagogical Institute in Moscow. “I can’t attend all the classes every day, but I still have to pass all the exams,” he explained. “I have to show up and get my homework. This is difficult for me as an athlete, but the school understands that we have two practices a day and don’t have time to attend class every day.”

In their limited spare time, both skaters like to go to the cinema. “I also enjoy shopping and skiing,” Martiusheva said. “I like movies, but not these Hollywood movies,” Rogonov noted. “I like realistic and interesting movies that touch your heart.” He also enjoys reading classical and modern literature, horse back riding and playing the guitar.

The athletes feel their relationship is like little sister and big brother, which is understandable as they live in the same dormitory. “We live like in a big family together and we have a good relationship,” Rogonov said. Martiusheva was very young when she left home, and admitted that it was difficult at first. Her mother comes twice a month to see her, however, the teenager is now beginning to feel comfortable with her new surroundings  in Moscow. She and her partner rarely quarrel. “If there are disagreements, we solve them together with our coach,” Rogonov pointed out. “We are dealing with that in a very civilized manner.”

At least sometimes. When asked to describe each other in three words, Rogonov said: “She’s smart, bubbly, and blonde.” Martiusheva elbowed him with a furious look. Rogonov laughed and said, “Why are you upset?” She responded: “To be called a blonde is almost an insult!”

The atmosphere in the practice group in general is competitive, but friendly. “We have a very good relationship with Luba (Iliushechkina) and Nodari (Maisuradze),” said Rogonov. “We are now reaching the same level (as they) and there is a little competition going on between us, but this is just on the ice. In normal life we are getting along very well.”

“There is no envy,” he continued, referring to Iliushechkina and Nodari Maisuradze. “When we won the free skating at Junior Worlds, they congratulated us. We are supporting each other.” He feels that they are all working towards the same goal and want to give their best for Russia. “It doesn’t matter to our coach Natalia Pavlova which of her couples comes out on top. She isn’t disappointed when they lose against us or we lose against them. The most important thing for her is that we do our best. There is only one first place.”

The upcoming Olympic season will be a year “in between” for the couple as Rogonov, who turned 21 in June, has aged out of Juniors. Martiusheva is too young to compete in ISU senior level Championships or the Olympic Games. However, they are eligible for international competitions such as the Grand Prix, and are currently slated to compete at the Cup of Russia. “We just want to present ourselves well on the senior Grand Prix,” Martiusheva said. “We don’t want to outdo ourselves, but we want to show clean performances and we want people to notice us.”

The team has  put together two new programs over the spring and summer. “Natalia Evgenievna (Pavlova) this year again chose a classical piece for the free program for us, ‘The Sleeping Beauty’,” revealed Rogonov. “The short program will be a Spanish Flamenco which is a new and different style for us.” The skaters prepared in Moscow but also went to training camps in Spain and in the mountains.

“Right now we are in Moscow and we are working on new elements,” continued Rogonov, “especially the triple jumps for Nastia (Martiusheva) and the throw triple flip. We are also polishing our old elements.” Last season, the couple did not have a side-by-side triple jump in their programs, however, they are now training on both the toeloop and Salchow. Whichever is more consistent will be included into the programs.

The harmonious and stylish look of this team is their strong point. “We are a good match,” Rogonov agreed. “Some others have to do a lot of ballet training to get there, but I think we have a good base. We can build on that and improve our level. We can polish our cross-overs, our arm movements, our choreography to collect points in the components. You can achieve something (in pairs) without triples now, but we still will learn them.” He didn’t want to talk about their weaknesses, though. “We won’t do that because our opponents will use them,” Rogonov explained with a grin.

The skaters rely on everything from their coach Pavlova, who has an excellent eye for teaming up the right partners. For example, it was she who put Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin together. “She always has the last word,” pointed out Rogonov. “She is a strict coach. Everything will be as she decides. This is not too hard. We’re used to it now and we know what she wants. She’ll never give us bad advice. Everything is goal-oriented.” When Pavlova decided that they should skate together they agreed immediately. “We had no choice,” said Rogonov.

“No choice” thus far has turned out to be an excellent choice.

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