Breakthrough season for Makarova

Russia's Ksenia Makarova performs to music from The 13th Warrior soundtrack at the 2010 Russian National Figure Skating Championships.

Talk about excellent timing. Ksenia Makarova has had a breakthrough this season when she made the Olympic team after being crowned the new Russian Ladies’ Champion. The 17-year-old, who placed 5th last year at Russian Junior Nationals, has also been named to the Russian team for the European Championships in Tallinn, Estonia next week. Her plans are to do well again at this first international senior-level competition of her career.

“I’ve had a great season so far,”  summed up Makarova. She medalled in both her Junior Grand Prix events, and qualified for the Final  where she finished fourth.

The tall skater’s win at her senior Russian Nationals debut  took her by surprise. “It was very unexpected, actually,” said Makarova. “I came here just to skate two clean programs, and I won! I actually couldn’t believe it. I still can’t believe that I got first. It will take some time. I wanted a medal because every time I got a medal, we post it up in our house. We have a whole like mantel of medals.”

Some of those medals belong to her parents Larisa Selezneva and Oleg Makarov, as well. They were a prominent pairs team who competed in the 1980s for the Soviet Union, and have an Olympic bronze medal (from 1984) and two European golds (1987 and 1989). They married and moved to the United States eight years ago to start a skating school.

Makarova was six years old when she took her first steps on the ice in St. Petersburg. “I stepped on the ice and I fell,” the teenager recalled. “It was really cold and my butt started to hurt, so I told my parents that I don’t like it.”

Two years later, Makarova moved to the U.S. and tried skating again at the school her parents started. “I looked at all the girls and I tried what they were doing and I started liking it,” she said, laughing. “It was kind of unexpected. I like when I can pretty and can express myself on the ice… kind of like in dancing. I like the wind when you are skating.”

Makarova  progressed quickly. She finished 7th at U.S. Novice Nationals in 2007, and international competitions were within reach. However, two years ago, she and her family had to make an important decision – which country should she represent in competition? Russia (her country of birth) or the U.S. (her new home country)?

“I was on a (U.S.) junior team,” Makarova explained. “We were supposed to go to Canada for a big competition for juniors. I broke my ankle and we didn’t get to go. Then my parents and I sat down and talked. I really wanted to do the Russian team because I was born in Russia and I’m Russian. So we went for the Russian team. It was a family decision.”

Makarova debuted on the ISU Junior Grand Prix circuit in the 2008-09 season, representing Russia. She also began to rediscover her roots after going to Russia more often.

“Right now we are coming a lot because there are a lot of competitions close to here,” said Makarova of Russia. “During the summer a couple of times, and now during the winter. We used to come once a year, so it’s really nice coming a lot.”

Makarova was  also well received by the other Russian skaters.  “First when I came, I was really scared! Sometimes I can be shy, but they are really nice. They talk to me and they make me really feel comfortable here.”

Makarova’s family, which also includes a younger brother who took up swimming, speaks only Russian at home to keep the language alive. “Although that’s like the only time we speak Russian, I’m kind of a little bit forgetting it, but I try not to,” she confessed. “I’m Russian! I can’t (forget it)!”

Makarova goes to a public American school, tries to watch movies in Russian, and does some reading, but there is no time for extra studies with her busy schedule. She speaks Russian fluently, but with an accent.

The skater  is mostly coached by her parents who are also  her role models in the sport. “I really want to continue (the tradition),” said Makarova. “I want to follow in their footsteps and maybe even do better, which probably is very hard. I really hope to do as well as them because that would be an honor.”

Pair skating, however, never was an option for Makarova. “I’m too tall (5′ 5 1/2″), and I don’t think I can take it being all the way up there like in the lifts,” she said smiling.

Being coached by your own parents has its advantages and disadvantages. “Of course they are my parents, [so] it’s hard, but they understand me a lot. I’m always with them. They know what I can do and they know my limits. They know if they should push me or not,” Makarova pointed out, adding that they don’t take skating home.

Since this season, the athlete is also coached by Galina Zmievskaya, the renowned Ukrainian coach of Olympic Champions Viktor Petrenko and Oksana Baiul. Makarova feels that this move has helped her to progress as much as she did this season.

“Right now I skate with Johnny Weir. He is amazing and he really inspires me. He helps me a lot,” Makarova said. Another skater she looks up to is Russia’s two-time World Champion Irina Slutskaya. “I liked how she really was powerful and she did great, huge jumps, and her spins were really fast. Nobody else really does that, and I want to do it like her.”

Makarova’s favorite elements are the Salchow and the flying sit spin “because of my tap over – nobody really does that”. Her least favorite element is the loop, which she wrinkled her nose when mentioning the jump. “I never liked the loop, and it’s like the basics of all the jumps. So if you can’t do that, it’s kind of hard to do all the other jumps. I’m not a fan of it.”

Currently, Makarova’s  strongest weapon in competition is her consistent triple   toe-triple toe combo that she includes in both her short and long programs. She   does all the triples up to and including the flip, but not yet the Lutz. “I’m   practicing the Lutz and I want to do a triple Lutz-triple toe combination, but   it is not yet consistent enough to put it out in competition,” she    explained.

Makarova describes her character as “flexible”: “I can be shy at times. I show my character in my programs because I play a part whatever the music is. I guess my character is very flexible. I can change it!” she laughed.

The skater is also  an open-minded teenager with an investigative mind. Her favorite subject at school is forensic science. “I really like that! How the body was found, how it was murdered… I don’t know, it just intrigues me,” Makarova offered. She doesn’t rule out a future career in this direction.

Right now, however, skating is what Makarova focuses on. “Hopefully in five years I’ll be skating. Hopefully I’ll get almost as good as my parents and I’ll be up there somewhere so everybody knows my name,” she answered, when asked about where she sees herself in five years.

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