Without the Internet, Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov, the bronze medalists at the 2002 U. S. Nationals, probably would never have met. Instead, they are looking at a bright future together both on and off the ice. Previously, Gregory danced with James Shuford, reaching tenth at the World Junior Championships in 1999. Meanwhile, Petukhov was competing for his native Russia with Oksana Potdykova, with results that included bronze and silver medals at the World Juniors in 1997 and 1998, and a 12th place finish at Europeans in 2000.
But both teams split up after the 2000 season and were forced to search the Internet for partners. “It’s amazing since neither one of uses the computer a lot. I never looked at the ‘partner wanted’ ads, since they can be a bit iffy. Denis posted on the ISU website that he had lost his partner and was looking for a new one,” Gregory stated. “A friend of my mother’s saw his post and told my mother about it. She contacted me and I emailed Denis. We talked via email about goals, and then decided to have a tryout in Colorado Springs. Denis couldn’t sleep after his flight from Russia, so we had the tryout early in the morning before the coaches came. When Sandy (Hess) came, we told her we were going to skate together. Once Denis came, he stayed. He still has his return airplane ticket that he never used.” “All dancers will tell you that there’s a special feeling that you get when you skate together that tells you that you found the right partner,” Petukhov added.
The skaters began dating within two weeks, fell in love and were married on February 2, 2001, a significant date for both families. “It was Denis’ grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary and my grandparents also celebrated their 50th anniversary two weeks later,” Gregory said. “We had a small ceremony just for us and later another ceremony for Denis’ family in Russia. We’ll wait for a big ceremony when everyone can come, hopefully when Denis gets his citizenship.” He expects to become a citizen within the next two years, which would make the couple eligible for the 2006 Olympics.
Gregory began skating when she was seven. “I wanted to wear a pretty costume in an ice show,” she said. Petukhov started when he was eight, and became an ice dancer “right away”. “A coach came to my school looking for students to play sports. I thought I was going to play soccer, but they chose me for skating,” he said. Gregory skated in singles up to the national level in novice ladies. “I began dancing when I was ten or eleven,” she said, “so I was lugging three pairs of skates around for figures, freestyle and dance.” She decided to concentrate on dance “There is more to dance than any other discipline,” she said. “That makes it more interesting to me. You need to be more precise than in singles.”
Gregory had trained since 1995 in Colorado Springs with Hess, who was looking for additional help teaching dance. One day when the couple went to Illinois to visit her family, they met up with Oleg Epstein, who had coached Petukhov for three years in Russia. Epstein agreed to help Hess with their training. Now they train part of the time in Colorado Springs with Hess and the remainder of the year with Epstein in Glen Ellyn, IL. They train for about three hours on ice and an hour and a half off ice every day. “We have a jazz trainer that takes care of all our body conditioning, strength training, and dance,” Gregory said.
Epstein choreographed the couple’s dances. “Music is a group effort,” Gregory said. “We all look and then come together and listen to what we all have. Our coach brings all different types of CDs to the rink, depending on his mood. For our free dance, he was playing the CD while we were warming up and we both really liked it and wanted to skate to it when we heard it.” The dancers are using “Snow” by Craig Armstrong for their free dance and a waltz and a polka by Andre Kiew for the original dance. “We really tried to find the grand ballroom style,” Gregory said, “and to make the dance very elegant.”
Gregory doesn’t have a preference for the type of dances they do, but Petukhov does. “I like romantic style dances,” he said. “The fact that we are married gives us a special connection that we could never get with someone else,” Gregory added. Off ice, they listen to many types of music. “We are very international,” she noted. “We listen to a little of every type of music.” Neither plays any instrument, although Petukhov wants to learn the guitar.
“We like to go to the movies, go out to dinner with friends, take our dog to the doggy park, go into the city and just walk around quietly together,” Gregory stated. They have a weimeraner puppy named Suede. “He’s our baby,” she said, nothing that they will be starting their own family once they finish skating. She also likes cooking, dancing and skiing, while he enjoys fishing. “I like to read People magazine and all the fashion magazines,” she said. Petukhov said he “reads Men’s Health and any car magazine I can get my hands on.” They like to watch any new movies, especially action, comedies and love stories. And they have an unusual hobby, collecting hats from wherever they travel. “We give the pins and stuffed animals to kids at the rink,” Gregory said. “They think it’s really cool.”
The dancers usually visit their families on holidays. “I always wanted to visit Russia so it was great when we went to see Denis’ family last year,” Gregory said. “We want to travel the world and one of the first places we want to see is Africa. They have a totally different lifestyle there. And we’ve heard that it’s very beautiful.” Petukhov is more of a homebody, stating that being at home in America is his favorite holiday.”
The dancers took second at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, fifth at Skate America and eighth at Skate Canada. They have proven successful in only their second season together, but the dancers aren’t looking for medals. “We want to introduce ourselves to everyone this season, since it’s our first year competing internationally,” Gregory said. “We want to have our names known so next year we can think of a placement. The whole thing is so new to us that we’re not thinking far into the future. For now, we want to be the best that we can be but we also want to entertain people and bring the love that we have for each other and skating to the people watching us.”