Pairs skating has never been popular in Japan, but Yuko Kawaguchi and her partner, Alexander Markhuntsov, plan to change that. The skaters have already made history as the first pairs team from Japan to win a medal at an international event when they won the silver medal at the 2001 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria. In the future, they hope to compete at the Olympics and be on the podium at Worlds.
Markhuntsov began skating when he was five. “I was a sickly child. My mother wanted me to do something and skating was popular, so she took me to the rink,” he said. “I skated in men’s until I was 15 and then moved to pairs.” He competed with Valentina Raskazova, finishing as high as fourth at the Grand Prix de St. Gervais in 1999, but she decided to quit skating and finish school. “I couldn’t find a Russian girl for a partner, so I began looking elsewhere,” he said.
Kawaguchi also began skating when she was five. “My mother loved ice dancing so she wanted me to learn to skate,” Kawaguchi said. She competed in ladies through the 1998-99 season with her best finish a gold medal at the 1998 Mexico Cup. But after seeing two-time World pair champions Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, she asked their coach, Tamara Moskvina, if she could be a pairs skater. She auditioned for Moskvina and her husband, Igor Moskvin, but the famed coach already had three pairs, the most she will agree to coach at one time, and there were no Japanese boys to partner Kawaguchi. Once Oksana Kazakova and Artur Dmitriev decided to become professionals, Moskvina agreed to take her on as a student and paired her with Markhuntsov.
Since teaming up in 1999, Kawaguchi and Markhuntsov won the gold medal at the 2000 Mexico Cup and bronze at the Junior Grand Prix in Harbin, China. They finished third at the 2001 Junior Grand Prix Final in Ayr, Scotland, eighth at the 2001 Four Continents Championships and 15th at the 2001 World Championships. The Japanese pair champions also finished fourth at the 2001 Japan Open pro-am event. Last season, they finished ninth at Four Continents and 13th at Worlds, and then split up for a while before deciding to continue. The skaters finished fifth at both the NHK trophy in Japan and Skate America this fall and seventh at the 2003 Four Continents.
The skaters have already included a number of unusual lifts and other moves in their programs to show off Kawaguchi’s flexibility. They included side-by-side triple toe loops, a triple toe/double toe combination, a throw triple loop and throw triple salchow in their programs, but expect to increase their difficulty next season. “We want to try the throw quadruple lutz,” Markhuntsov stated.
The skaters train with Moskvina and Moskvin in Hackensack, New Jersey. During the season, they work on ice about two hours a day. In the summer, they spend about 3-4 hours a day on ice plus athletic conditioning, strength training, and ballet off ice. “I’ve been doing ballet longer than I’ve been skating,” Kawaguchi noted. “I even did some recitals. I just started skating for fun, but it has more jumps and more speed. It’s more sporting.”
Moskvina usually chooses the music for the couple’s programs, which are choreographed by Tatiana Druchinina, Igor Bobrin and Moskvina. This season they are using music from “Spring Water” by Sergei Rachmaninov for the short program and “Those Are The Nights”, a modern version of Russian folk music for the free skate. But the couple’s unique moves are Moskvina’s creations. “She has the talent to create something interesting,” Markhuntsov noted.
Markhuntsov said the pair plans to skate until the 2006 Olympics but noted, “when I’m no longer skating with power I will quit. I’ll probably be a coach. I’ve finished my studies at the coaching school.” He also may study computers, since he enjoys spending time on the Internet and playing computer games. Kawaguchi has finished high school and is studying Russian. She plans to attend the university after she finishes skating.
To relax, Kawaguchi likes to use the computer, shop, and read, mainly fantasies and non-fiction. She has also learned to play the piano and listens to all kinds of music. Kawaguchi collects puzzles. “I love all kinds of puzzles,” she said. Markhuntsov likes to play all kinds of sports (e.g. tennis, soccer, skiing, swimming, and car racing) but Kawaguchi only swims. “I’m not good at other sports,” she said. He also likes to go out with friends to shoot pool, go bowling, or play other games. He enjoys comedy and action films and used to collect postage stamps. On vacation, Kawaguchi usually returns home to Japan to visit her family, friends and other relatives. Markhuntsov also returns home to St. Petersburg to visit his family during vacations, but would like to go to the seashore.