Vancouver Olympics

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Vancouver Olympians: Ice Dancers Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin

February 20, 2010
by Sarah Amandolare
Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia have stirred controversy and drawn international attention in recent weeks. Winners of the 2009 World Ice Dance Championships, the duo is poised for Olympic glory, but face stiff competition from an American team.

Reigning Champs

In addition to their recent world championship win, Domnina and Shabalin racked up European Ice Dance Championships in 2008 and 2010, as well as the 2007 Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final championship, and the Russian ice dance championship in 2005, 2007 and 2010. According to Jo Ann Schneider Farris in the Guide to Figure Skating, Domnina and Shabalin have been training with coaches Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponossov in Aston, Pa., since 2008.

The coaches also train the American ice dance team of Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, the 2009 world championship silver medalists who are predicted to be “prime challengers” to Domnina and Shabalin in Vancouver, NBC reports.

Although the Russians have lofty goals—they are hoping for gold—Shabalin is also looking forward to marching in the Olympic Games Parade of Nations, which he was not able to attend during the Torino Olympics Opening Ceremonies in 2006.

The Controversial Routine

In late January at the European Figure Skating Championships in Estonia, Domnina and Shabalin skated a routine that has elicited bewilderment and, in some cases, anger. Their routine, an “original dance to Australian aboriginal music,” was enhanced with costumes and makeup.

Shabalin said the program and accompanying costumes were inspired by information the team found online, according to the Los Angeles Times Oympics Blog. “Neither of the dancers has been to Australia” and did not seem “too fazed” by the controversy, nor were judges, who gave the program high scores, the Olmpics Blog reported.

According to Universal Sports, Domnina and Shabalin plan to skate the routine at the Vancouver Olympics, which “has worried Canada's indigenous leaders.”

In a column for The Sydney Morning Herald, Bev Manton suggests that Domnina and Shabalin “should rethink their routine” due to the questionable depiction of Australian Aboriginal people. “[I]nterest must be expressed in a way that is respectful," Manton writes. "The ripping off of our art and songs is not, and nor is this depiction of my culture.”

The Road to the Olympics

NBC Olympics reports that Domnina has been skating since age six at a humble “outdoor rink in Kirov, a city about 500 miles northeast of Moscow.” After skating as a single for two years, she made the switch to ice dancing, moving to a different city near Moscow, Odintsovo, when she was only 15 years old. She teamed with Shabalin in 2002, and the duo quickly rose to the top of the junior circuit. After succeeding at the senior level in 2007, the skaters were each awarded an apartment by their city.

Shabalin hails from Samara, a Russian city located 600 miles from Moscow, according to NBC Olympics. Like Domnina, he began skating early, at age four, and switched to ice dancing when he was 10. He was also 15 when he moved to Odintsovo and began training with Domnina.

A Closer Look at Ice Dancing

According to the Vancouver Now, the ice dancing competition in the Olympic Games consists of three dances per team: a compulsory dance, an original routine and a free dance. Judges watch for "blade-to-blade skating, edge control, footwork, holds and positioning," and a new scoring system has led to increasingly daring and difficult footwork. As for training, according to Vancouver Now, "workouts involve as much grit as they do grace," and ice dancers must "spend a lot of time in a ballroom, in a jazz class, in a floor class, in a pilates class." Off-ice strenth training is also essential.

Watch how ice dancing progressed from the 1920s through the 1960s in this YouTube video, which captures early ballroom dance-style ice dancing.

Current world standings, judging information and upcoming ice dancing and figure skating events are posted on the International Skating Union Web site.

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