Lithuania’s reigning ice dancing champions are Clover Zatzman and Aurimas Radisauskas, who won their first title in 2003. Zatzman, 22, is originally from Rutherford, New Jersey while Radisauskas was born in Kaunas, Lithuania. The couple finished 22nd at the 2004 European Championships and 29th at Worlds.
Now they are hoping to qualify for the 2006 Olympic Games in Torino Italy. That’s a dream that Zatzman has followed since she watched the Olympics on television in 1992.
Neither of the skaters came from a skating family, although Zatzman’s grandfather was a speed skater. She began skating when she was ten. “I passed Rockefeller Center in New York City as a young child with my parents,” she explained. “I saw dozens of skaters gliding over the ice below us under the dazzling lights of the Rockefeller Christmas tree and I pleaded with my parents to let me skate too. Because of the holiday season there was a two-hour waiting line so my parents announced the disappointing news to me that I would have to wait until another time. I do, however, remember spending a lot of time roller-skating at a local rink just for the fun of it until figure skating came into my life. Another thing that was fun for me while I was very young was when I used to pretend that I was an ice skater whenever my mother would wash and mop the kitchen floor. I would slide and glide across the wet floor believing that I was ice skating.”
“Then one day the TV Guide came in the mail with a picture of Kristi Yamaguchi on the cover,” Zatzman continued. “My best friend, Melissa, was over my house at the time. She liked watching skaters on TV so she asked me if I knew who the lady on the cover was. I answered her with ‘yeah uh. Kristi Yamagooo?’ She laughed and shouted ‘No, it’s Kristi Yamaguchi!’ She told me that the Olympics were going to be on TV that week and suggested that it might be fun for us to watch it together. Every day after school for the following two weeks, back in February 1992, I went over to her house and we watched all of the figure skating events. I remember that this was when I fell in love with the sport and I had this deep feeling inside me that I really wanted to be a competitive figure skater in my life.
“I gave the news to my parents about my desire to become a figure skater right away. Shortly after the Olympics ended, they supported my wishes and got me my first pair of ice skates and skating lessons. At first they thought that it was just a quick stage that I was going through because many kids want to try out different things when they are young. Soon they realized that I was very firm on this decision and so they asked me to make a difficult choice. I was forced to choose between my equestrian riding, which I was doing at the time, and figure skating. My parents had thought of getting me my own horse, as I had been a good rider and devoted a lot of time to my love for horses and riding lessons. It was a tough decision for me because I was quite good at riding. I also had won many ribbons in local equestrian competitions. But, I did wind up choosing figure skating.”
“I have worked hard at staying with my skating through both the good and the hard times. My father suffered a very bad stroke four year ago and almost died. This happened at a time when I was looking for a new partner and training was difficult then, but luckily, my father came out okay and although he is no longer able to work, or do many of things that he used to, he is doing quite well considering what he went though. Also, in August 2003, I suffered a dislocated shoulder while Aurimas and I were practicing a new spin for our original dance from last season. I was unable to train normally for two months, as it was very difficult for me to lift my shoulder above 45 degrees. I had seven weeks of therapy, losing quite a bit of training time, but Aurimas and I worked around my injury so we did prepare for the competitions last season. I think it’s important to find a way to work through injuries because they are bound to happen in this type of sport.”
Radisauskas started skating much earlier, when he was only five. “My mother and father wanted to put me into some kind of activity besides just going to the school, so we began looking for something for me to do,” he said. “My mother asked me if I wanted to dance because I liked to dance in my kindergarten class in school. I asked her if people would be watching me dance a lot, and she told me they would. I told her that I did not want to do dancing because I would be very embarrassed to dance in front of people who would be watching me all the time.”
“Then one day my Mom saw an ad in the newspaper that a new ice-skating rink was being built in my city, Kaunas, only one block away from my school. So, she asked me if I wanted to ice skate and I said ‘Yes!’ At first I was enrolled in a class that taught us many exercises to make our legs strong before we took to the ice since the rink wasn’t finished yet, and then I began to skate. I liked it because not many people watched me when I practiced in the rink. I was able to work with my coach and then practice by myself and try things alone. My father wanted me to become a hockey player when I first started to skate, but I really liked music and I enjoyed dancing. Although hockey is an interesting sport to play, it was more fun for me to try different jumps and spins and to practice skating my routines to music. I started out as a single skater, and when I was little, I used to win many competitions for my age group. Then my coach got married and moved to Russia with her husband. When she left me, I tried to find a new coach in Lithuania who could teach me jumps as good as she did. I wasn’t able to find anyone, so I switched to ice dancing. I did not understand when I started skating that I would compete in front of a whole arena of people watching me. But I ended up enjoying it and now I really like to perform for lots of people.”
Zatzman was an energetic child. From age five until 12 she was learning equestrian riding. Between ages 7 and 14, she earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. “At age three, I started ballet, which I still continue to this day because it is part of our ice dance training,” she said. “I also had classes in tap dance, jazz, and musical comedy at Broadway Bound Dance Studio for seven years.” Radisauskas played basketball, soccer, and enjoyed carting racing for many of his early years.
As a singles skater, Radisauskas won the men’s title in Lithuania, but began concentrating on ice dancing when he was thirteen. “I like it because you have a beautiful girl on the ice with you and you get to do lifts, spins, and lots of different positions together,” Aurimas chuckled. Zatzman competed in singles up though novice, but switched to ice dancing full-time when she was fourteen. “I have always enjoyed acting and performing, but I also like sports,” she said. “I feel that ice dancing is a wonderful combination between dance, sport, and theatrics. I believe it is much more expressive than singles or pair skating, and I think the costumes are much more colorful. We can now skate to vocal music where as the single and pair skaters are not permitted. Also, I really like performing with a partner rather than being all alone out there on the ice.”
The skaters began ice dancing together in November of 2001. “I was Alexander Zhulin’s student at the time and I was searching for a partner,” Zatzman related. “Zhulin’s former coach, Natalia Dubova, had a student who was looking for an ice dancing partner and he requested a video of my skating. I made one and sent it to him, but by the time he got it, he had already selected a partner, so he gave my video to Dubova to look at instead. Natalia and her husband Simeon liked my skating and knew of four young men who might be possible matches for me. My first tryout was with Aurimas from Lithuania, and we liked skating together right away and the coaches liked us also. Finally, we became a team.”
“The Lithuanian Federation requested that Aurimas and I represent his country,” she continued. “I thought about it and decided to agree. We stayed with Natalia for six months, but then it was decided by our Federation that we change coaches. They selected Alexander Zhulin for us, who happened to be my original coach.” The couple had trained with Zhulin for two years in North Jersey, but in August 2004 they made a change and are now training with Maya Usova. “We are very excited about training with Maya. She is very creative and very interested in working with us and developing our skating both technically and artistically. She is trying to bring out our unique personalities and talents and accentuate them in our programs.”
Usova also choreographed the couple’s programs for this season. This season, they are using Beautiful Things by Bobby Darin and Mr. Pinstripe Suit from the Ballroom Classic Collection for the original dance and Caruso for the free dance. “We have a discussion about what we’re interested in and what our coach sees us performing to at the current time,” Zatzman said. “Then our coach chooses several pieces of music and we decide together which one would be the best selection to skate to. We like to skate to a variety of themes. It’s very good to show that you are versatile and can handle performing to lots of different styles of music.”
Both of the skaters are musically inclined. “My favorite pastimes are playing the piano and singing which I had lessons in from age 6 to 14,” Zatzman said. “I’ve performed at local holiday functions. I played the clarinet from fourth grade until ninth in the band and I sang in the school choir all through high school.” Radisauskas added “I played the piano for a while and I sang in the school chorus. We both have pretty much the same taste in music. We like to listen to Euro dance music, Russian pop music, and American pop music.”
Radisauskas’ hobbies include cars and video games, while Zatzman’s include writing songs and gardening, an appropriate hobby when your name is Clover. “I collect skating articles and paraphernalia,” she added. “I have a huge collection of skating videos I recorded since I was little.” Radisauskas not only enjoys driving cars in games and on the road, but he also likes repairing them. “My father was teaching me a lot about cars since I was a very young boy, and he taught me how to fix them too,” he said. “Whenever my friends have any kind of problem with their vehicles, they all come to me for help, and I like to find out what the problem is and repair it.” They are also animal lovers. Radisauskas has a black poodle in Lithuania named Deris, while Zatzman has two cats, Reba, a tabby, and Francis, a Norwegian forest cat. “We both adopted a homeless cat we found in Lithuania near our apartment last summer,” Zatzman continued. “We named him Dumas which means Smokey in Lithuanian. He is a Bengal cat and he is very hyper and a lot of fun. We also have two beta fish.”
Radisauskas speaks Lithuanian, Russian, and English fluently. “I speak English and Russian, and I also speak a good amount of Lithuanian,” Zatzman replied. “I taught myself Russian, as I knew a few words when I was little because two of my grandparents came from Ukraine and one was from Russia, and now I have been teaching myself Lithuanian as well. I still understand much more than I can speak but it keeps getting better day by day.”
For the present, Zatzman and Radisauskas said their goal is “to improve our skating techniques and show better and more confident performances in each competition. We like to entertain and hope that people will recognize our athletic abilities and reward us. We would like to medal in Worlds and Europeans some day and compete in the Olympics.” Eventually, they hope to be able to skate professionally and coach. “I would like to teach young skaters and be a television commentator for the sport,” Zatzman expressed. “I would also like to continue my singing and some song writing as well.” “I would like to do some kind of business, maybe with cars, and also teach skating as a coach someday,” said Radisauskas.