For Ukrainian ice dancers Elena Grushina and Ruslan Goncharov, the 2002-2003 season is already their best ever. They won Skate America, Skate Canada and Trophee Lalique, the most dominant performance of this year’s Grand Prix season, to easily qualify for the final in Moscow. Before this year, the dancers had competed in every Grand Prix event at least once since 1995, but had never reached the final. Their best previous showings were a silver at Skate Canada in 1999 and a bronze at the Cup of Russia last season. Now they have the difficult task of preparing for their first final, since two free dances are required. Goncharov said, “finding a nice piece of music for the free dance presents every year a major challenge. To have that task doubled is very hard on the skaters.”
The dancers, who married in 1995, have been skating together since 1990, finishing in the top ten at both the European Championships and the World Championships since 1999. Their sixth place in Nagano in 2002 provided an impetus for the pair to continue since a number of teams ranked above them retired from eligible skating. The Ukrainians have skated in two Olympics, finishing 15th in 1998 and ninth in 2002. “We were very proud to represent our country,” Ruslan stated. “The Olympics are so different from our other trips, because there are so many other sports as well as figure skating.”
But they thought the 2002 Olympics could be their last. They had not made a major move up the rankings and had already begun coaching younger skaters to make ends meet. “We had almost decided to quit,” Goncharov said, “but then we decided to change coaches. Now we are very happy with our skating and want to continue. We are taking it year by year, but what we do will depend on our achievements, our health, and other things.”
The dancers had lived in Newark, Delaware, for several years, training with Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Kasparov at the University of Delaware, but decided during the summer to move to Newington, Connecticut to train with Tatiana Tarasova and Nikolai Morosov. They spend over 40 hours a week on the ice in the off-season and about ten hours less during the competitive season.
Both started as singles skaters, Grushina at four and Goncharov at six, because their parents encouraged them. Goncharov’s younger brother, Artur, is a singles skater, but no one else in Grushina’s family skates. She started dancing at 12 while Ruslan began at 13 because they preferred dancing to jumping. Goncharov noted that he “was really too tall to be a good singles skater,” while Grushina said, “it’s much better to train with a partner. Since we are married, we have a great level of comfort skating together.” The skaters trained in the same group in Odessa and were matched when Elena’s partner went back to school and Ruslan’s partner had health problems. The pair rose rapidly, reaching fourth at the World Juniors in 1992.
For this season, Grushina and Goncharov are using Strauss’ “Blue Danube” and one of his polkas for their Grand Ball original dance and Bond’s “Quixote” for their free dance. “Usually we like to skate to mixed music, with some slow and fast parts, with strong instrumental accents and the fastest part at the end. Hopefully, music that people will remember afterwards,” Goncharov noted. Grushina added, “We have enjoyed every program that we’ve skated. Otherwise, we wouldn’t perform it. Our favorite dances are the tango and the waltz. Being a couple off ice, we feel very comfortable doing those dances,” she said. “The quickstep is OK, too,” added Goncharov, “but we don’t like the Killian. It’s repetitious and a bit boring.”
Grushina said, “Picking the music for a program is a very difficult task. The most important thing about the music is that it be recorded clearly so you can hear every instrument playing. We spend a lot of time in record stores listening to music and getting ideas from friends.” Her favorite music for off-ice listening includes Latino-American music and romantic melodies, while Goncharov prefers Depeche Mode and Queen. Both skaters enjoy Russian pop music and dancing in clubs.
When he isn’t skating, Goncharov plays soccer and tennis, while Grushina is a water sprite. “I love to swim and do anything connected with the water,” she said. To relax, she also reads (mostly Russian authors and romances) and enjoys shopping. “I’m a very good housewife, too,” she said. “I like to keep our house very neat and tidy.” Goncharov likes to play pool with his friends, visit techno shops to check out new audio equipment, and look at new cars. He also likes to fish. The dancers also like to go to the movies, especially comedies. Goncharov also enjoys war movies, while Grushina likes old Russian movies. Other than for competitions and to visit their families back home, the skaters don’t travel much but hope to go to Jamaica one day. Paris was one of their favorite trips.
Having toiled in the mid-ranks for years, the skaters are thankful for their success and grateful for the support they get from skating fans. “All the flowers and little plush animals that people threw on the ice are great,” Grushina enthused. “Every little thing that people throw on the ice means a lot to us. We really appreciate it.”