This week's theme: Welcome to the Wonderful World of Ice Dance!
The first video of the week is from a truly original and intriguing French team: Maria Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat. (Though it should be noted that the fiery red-head, Marina Anissina is Russian, but obtained French citizenship to skate with Gwendal.)
Brief back story:
Marina was formerly partners with fellow Russian, Ilia Averbukh, with whom she won the 1990 and 1992 World Junior Championships. Ilia left Marina to because he had fallen in love with another Russian skater, Irina Lobacheva, who became his new ice dance partner, and eventually his wife. (See below)
Without a partner, Marina wrote letters (this was before the days of e-mail!) to several ice dancers around the world, even if they already had partners, and asked if they'd like to have a tryout with her. One of the letters was sent to Victor Kraatz, a talented Canadian skater, who went on to have a very successful career with Shae Lynn Bourne. (See below). He did not respond to Marina's letter, probably because of the partnership with Shae Lynn--even though the letter would have reached him before he and Shae Lynn had had any international success.
The person that did respond to one of Marina's letters was the dashing Frenchman, Gwendal Peizerat. Even if you don't find him attractive, which I'm not sure is possible, his flowing, blonde locks have got to win you over!
Together, Marina and Gwendal had instant charisma and impact. They bring so much passion and commitment to each performance. They quickly shot up the ranks in their amateur career, finishing 3rd at the 1998 Winter Olympics, 2nd at the 1998 World Championships, 2nd at the 1999 World Championships (the clip below), 1st at the 2000 World Championships. They won the ultimate prize of Olympic gold in 2002.
Two points of interest: first, to bring the story full circle, in winning that Olympic gold medal, Marina and Gwendal narrowly defeated Marina's former partner Ilia Averbukh and his wife Irina, and also Victor Kraatz and Shae-Lynn Bourne, who finished a disappointing 4th. Lastly,as it turns out, Marina and Gwendal were also (innocent?) pawns in the most controversial judging scandal in Olympic history. Remember the Russians controversially winning gold over the Canadians in the 2002 Olympic pairs competition? Remember the double gold medals awarded? What does the pairs results have to do with ice dancing, you ask??? Stay tuned for a later post when I will explain Marina and Gwendal's unfortunate association (and maybe involvement) in that huge scandal.
Back to the clip below: In 1999, at the World Championships in Helsinki, Finland, Marina and Gwendal delivered a powerful performance to the Man in the Iron Mask soundtrack. It's one of their signature pieces.
I remember watching this back in high school and being outraged that a passionate and dynamic performance like this did not win the gold medal! (They finished second to some strange jungle music routine by the reigning world champions from Russia.) It still boggles my mind today that they did not win, but to continue the theme of my previous posts, medals don't matter in the big picture. For this performance, it is more about the journey, the emotion and the impact, not the result. No matter how you look at it, this is definitely a winning performance!
Sit back, relax, and enjoy the show!