Golden Skate

Sinitsina and Zhiganshin look to Sochi and beyond

Victoria Sinitsina and Ruslan Zhiganshin

Russia’s Victoria Sinitsina and Ruslan Zhiganshin perform to music from “Phantom of the Opera” at the 2011-12 ISU Junior Grand Prix Final of Figure Skating.

Russia’s Victoria Sinitsina and Ruslan Zhiganshin dominated the Junior Grand Prix (JGP) circuit in ice dance this fall, winning all three events including the JGP Final of Figure Skating.

The young team led the Russian ice dance podium sweep in the Junior Final and shows a lot of promise. This is the generation that is aiming for the Olympic Winter Games 2018, however, they are already leaving a strong impression.

They realize, however, that they need to be better than good in order to make it to the top in Russia before conquering the World and Olympic podiums.

Both skaters come from Moscow, the heart of the Russian ice dance school and tradition. Sinitsina (16) and Zhiganshin (19) met in the ice dance group of World Champions Irina Lobacheva and Ilia Averbukh who had started coaching following their retirement in 2003.

While Sinitsina, whose father and aunt were gymnasts, started skating to improve her health like many children in Russia, Zhiganshin followed the footsteps of his older sister Nelli into the sport. His mother was also a skater in her youth.

“As my mom just couldn’t leave me alone at the house when I was three years old, she took me along to Nelli’s practices,” said Zhiganshin. “Then I also was inspired to start skating.”

Both went into dance quite early, with Sinitsina beginning at 10 and Zhiganshin at nine.

“I switched to dance because I was a bad jumper,” Sinitsina recalled. “I was told, ‘you have to do dance, you have very long legs and you can’t jump.’ So I switched.”

“I went into dance because I was invited by a dance coach,” Zhiganshin said.

Both had only one partner before skating with each other. Their memories of starting out together are obviously a little blurry.

“I only remember that I liked skating with him, but I never imagined that we would be skating together for so long and go through so many things,” Sinitsina noted.

“I remember that it felt strange (skating with her) as I had skated alone for one year,” added Zhiganshin. “I don’t remember what I was thinking at that time, but I was just very happy that finally I had partner.”

They had just teamed up before joining the training group of Elena Kustarova and her mother Svetlana Alexeeva.

“They came to us when they were very young, but they were together already,” said Kustarova said. “At that time, Nelli (Zhiganshina) and Alex (Gazsi) were training with us. I don’t know what happened, but they came to us. They just had teamed up and they didn’t have any programs or anything, so we did the first program together. They came to us probably because his sister was skating with us. Nelli originally skated with another coach but later came to us and so did he.”

Under the tutelage of the experienced coaching team, the new couple progressed fast. Their first international competition was the Junior Grand Prix in Meran, Italy in 2008 where they finished sixth. The following season they placed fifth in their two Junior Grand Prix events, but the real breakthrough came in 2010-11 when they won the silver in two events and qualified for their first Junior Final where they claimed another silver medal. Still, they didn’t make it to Junior Worlds as the competition inside Russia is so tough.

This season Sinitsina and Zhiganshin were the top junior team on the circuit (alongside teammates Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin) and struck gold in the Final.

“It (winning)] is a very nice feeling,” Sinitsina commented. “Last year we didn’t expect anything when we came to the Final and we were second.” Sinitsina commented.

“This (victory) means a lot to us,” Zhiganshin said. “It is a motivation for us to go on and not to stop where we are now. This season we still have two important competitions to come – the Russian (Junior) Nationals and Junior Worlds. We want to do well there.”

In Quebec, the Muscovites made no mistakes and showed off not only their excellent technique, but also how much they have developed artistically, in both the short and free dance.

“I think they make progress in every aspect during the season,” Kustarova noted. “They become more expressive, especially Vika (Sinitsina). Ruslan is already naturally expressive, while Vika is improving. She is growing up and now she develops emotions, which is nice. We have very high expectations and great hopes for them.”

The short dance is set to the Cha Cha and Samba, while the free dance is to music from Phantom of the Opera. The music was selected by the coaches.

“I really wanted this kind of role for Ruslan,” Kustarova said of the free dance. “He should be the lead character, so we used Phantom (of the opera) in the interpretation of  the phantom – meaning he is not in love, but he is the phantom, this ghost.”

Other teams tend to use the role of ‘lovers’ and their relationship when using this piece, however, that is not the case with Sinitsina and Zhiganshin.

“We used the phantom and I think it really suits him,” Kustarova explained. “He feels it and performs it very well. As always, we suggested the music to them and I tell them how I see it and the kids liked it.”

Sinitsina and Zhiganshin agree.

“I am very happy with our programs, especially with the free dance,” confirmed Sinitsina. “Our coaches choose the music in general, but sometimes we suggest some alternatives.”

The skaters get along very well.

“We have a friendly relationship,” offered Sinitsina. “We see each other only during practices, which is basically the whole day.”

“Sometimes we meet outside the ice rink together with common friends,” Zhiganshin added.

Sinitsina describes Zhiganshin as a strong and reliable partner. “And most importantly, I trust him.”

“She is the most beautiful, most talented, and most goal-oriented girl,” Zhiganshin said of his partner.

Sinitsina is currently in her last year of school, while Zhiganshin is studying at the pedagogical university for a coaching degree. Both skaters admit that they don’t have much time for studying as their training comes first. Figure skating is their life right now, and they are enjoying what they are doing.

“I don’t even know (what I like most about skating),” said Sinitsina. “I just love it! When you go out to compete, you feel such an adrenalin rush that it sends shivers down your back. Plus you can travel all over the world.”

For Zhiganshin, the thrill is “to enjoy performing the dance and to be able to express yourself in it.”

Sinitsina and Zhiganshin usually don’t quarrel and the atmosphere in the training group in general is very positive, according to Kustarova.

“In our group in general nobody is quarreling so far, thank God,” said Kustarova. “All our teams – Bobrova/Soloviev, Sinitsina/Zhiganshin, and Yanovskaya/Mozgov, none of them are quarreling. I know it happens, but we don’t have this problem in our group.”

“I might scold someone for something, but they know it is for a reason,” the coach continued with a smile.

Kustarova only has high praise for her top junior team.

“Ruslan is explosive,” the coach offered. “Vika is calmer. As a sage woman, she is cooling him down because he obviously is explosive, artistic, flamboyant, and very charismatic.”

“As skaters, they have only few weaknesses, but basically I don’t see that they have a weakness,” Kustarova stressed. “This is the strongest point you can have. They are very technical. God gives the gift of skating skills to some people and they have this ability. They can do miracles. I think they will be one of the technically strongest couples in the world, in the history of figure skating, because they have this gift.”

There are several ice dance teams that the young skaters look up to.

“From the old generation I liked Bestemianova/Bukin, Pakhomova/Gorshkov, and Grishuk/Platov,” Sinitsina listed. “From the new generation I like Virtue/Moir and Davis/White. They are all so different and that’s what appeals to me.”

Zhiganshin’s all-time favorites are Bulgaria’s Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski. “When you remember their free dance from the World Championships 2007, I think I don’t even have to explain, why I liked them.”

The Russians strive to have the same success that their idols had.

“For this season we would like to win Junior Worlds, but I don’t want to jinx us,” Sinitsina offered.

“Our main goal in the sport is of course the Olympic gold medal,” Zhiganshin pointed out. “For this season, the goal is to skate clean in all our remaining competitions and to have the best possible result.”

After winning the Final nearly 11 points ahead of their training mates Yanovskaya/Mozgov, the are favored for gold at the 2012 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in February. However, they first have to prove themselves again at Russian Junior Nationals.

Nevertheless, coach Kustarova is already looking beyond the current season. She would like her students to move up to the senior level next year, although they’d technically have two more years left in the junior division.

“I see the very best prospects for them,” said Kustarova. “The first goal will be Sochi, of course. I hope that if everything goes well – the most important thing being that they are healthy and that there are no injuries – they can progress and be there. We are working for that.”

Zhiganshin is looking forward to meeting his sister, who represents Germany, in competition soon.

“Of course we’ll compete against each other in the future,” he acknowledged. “I think it will be interesting for both of us.”