By Gary Boskovich
When the topic of world-class figure skating comes up, most folks think of athletes from China, Russia, Canada, and some parts of the United States. However, did you know that skaters performing on the national and international stage also train right here in Carmel?
After the downtown Indianapolis Pan Am skating facility ran into problems, Carmel became the new home for the Indiana World Skating Academy, and the club moved to the Carmel Ice Skadium in April 2013.
The Skadium is now the home training ice for skaters who have relocated to the Midwest to train with Indiana World Skating Academy Program Director Serguei Zaitsev.
“Quite a few people actually relocated to train with us,” he said. “I wish I could get more local (skaters).”
Zaitsev, who started skating when he was six years old, competed internationally with the Soviet Union national pairs team. After his competitive days ended, Serguei Zaitsev and wife Elena Zaitsev worked professionally with the “Moscow on Ice” skating show.
They settled in Indianapolis 18 years ago when Serguei Zaitsev was hired by the Indiana World Skating Academy and started his coaching career.
“We relocated to the Midwest because the psychology of the people in the Midwest is more close to us,” he said. “And for the last 18 years don’t want to go anywhere else. So I’m a true Hoosier.”
But it’s not just American skaters who train at the Ice Skadium. International competitors have also taken the ice there.
Serguei Zaitsev said that current Russian men’s champion, Maxim Kovtun, trained at the Carmel facility and will participate at the upcoming world figure skating championships in Saitama, Japan. And the reigning Belgium men’s champion, Jorik Hendrickx, trained at the Skadium and skated at the Sochi Olympics.
Closer to home, people can watch DeeDee Leng working with Serguei and Elena Zaitsev on the ice. Leng was the U.S. National Junior champion in 2009, and she moved to Carmel, along with her pairs partner Timothy LeDuc, to train with the Zaitsevs.
They skated at this year’s Olympic trials, which took place in Boston in January, and finished in third place after the short program.
While they didn’t qualify for Sochi, Serguei Zaitsev envisions a big upside for them in the future.
There are up and coming skaters, too.
The Zaitsevs’ own daughter, Christina, and her partner Ernie Stevens train there. They are the 2013 U.S. National Pairs Novice Champions. And along with Leng and LeDuc, they are all Team USA members.
Figure skating is a graceful sport but don’t be fooled. The strength and stamina these athletes have is second to none. And there are plenty of bumps and bruises along the way. The dedication, blood, sweat and tears that accompany training at this high level are not to be taken lightly.
“People work 5 or 6 hours a day every day,” Serguei Zaitsev said.
And he appreciates the support he gets from Carmel. He credits Ice Skadium owner and former professional bowler Mike Aulby and manager Floyd Johnson with assisting in this journey.
“Skaters need will, abilities and ice,” he said.
Will and ability come from the skater and the coach, so it takes teamwork, Serguei said.
“Without their support, (our program) wouldn’t be possible,” he said.
And getting more figure skaters from Carmel and the surrounding areas is clearly one of Serguei’s Zaitsev main goals.
“We want to get more locals to get engaged with us so we can develop them at a young age and raise them up,” he said.
To that end the Ice Skadium offers a “Learn to Skate” program. It is the best way to start participating and develop figure skating potential in young ones, Serguei said.