2009 world champions, 2010 Olympic bronze medalists
Original Dance: Aboriginal dance
Free Dance: "Passion" by Zbigniew Preisner and "Requiem for a Dream" by Clint Mansell
Much was made of Oksana Domnina and Maksim Shabalin's Aboriginal-themed original dance prior to and during the Olympic Games. After much speculation and secrecy, the team revealed tone-down costumes, but the judges were not as impressed and after leading the compulsory dance, they dropped to the bronze medal.
The duo's original dance is set to Aboriginal music and was the vision of Natalya Linichuk, one of the team's coaches. At Europeans, the dance elicited outrage from Australia and in Canada, where the The Four Host First Nations have requested a meeting with Domnina and Shabalin. The Australians are offended because, they said, Domnina and Shabalin's costumes are not authentic. Linichuk responded in the New York Times, saying, "Aboriginal, it translates from Latin language, it's from the beginning. We try to represent a picture of this time when aboriginal people start being in the world. It's no customs, no country, nothing."
Looking back: 2009
Until 2009, Domnina and Shabalin never had stood on a (senior) world podium, their best finish coming in 2007 when they finished fifth. The team withdrew from the 2009 Europeans after Shabalin fell during the Compulsory Dance.
Even prior to Torino, where they finished ninth, Domnina and Shabalin were the couple slated to inherit the Russian throne after Tatyana Navka and Roman Kostomarov left competitive skating. (As expected, Navka and Kostomarov won gold in 2006.) Prior to the 2002 Salt Lake Games, where France's Marina Anissina and Gwnedal Peizerat won the gold medal, a Russian, Soviet or Unified Team tandem had won all but one Olympic ice dance gold medal since the event debuted at the 1976 Innsbruck Games -- only the British duo of Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean had interrupted the Russian/Soviet reign. Teams from Russia or the former Soviet Union have won seven of nine gold medals and six of nine silver medals awarded in Olympic ice dance competition. And though she represented France, it's worth nothing that Anissina is a Moscow native.
Pain in the knees
Shabalin underwent surgery in May 2007 for a torn meniscus in his right knee and had two surgeries on his left knee -- the most recent being in March 2008. Three weeks later, the team competed at the 2008 Europeans, which they won, but Shabalin was limping on and off the ice during the competition. They sat out the fall season in 2009, again due to Shabalin's knees.
Coming to America
The choice to relocate to the U.S. was prompted by a need to change something, Shabalin says, "It was not a big change, since these are the best coaches." Domnina and Shabalin both miss Russia. "We'd prefer to live there," Shabalin says. "It fees safer here on the streets. In Moscow, everyone is out doing something." In the U.S., they eat a lot of Italian food and sushi in addition to Russian and Ukrainian dishes.
Since 2008, Domnina and Shabalin have trained alongside Americans Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, who were the silver medalists at the 2009 Worlds and figure to be among the Russians' prime challengers in Vancouver. The teams share coaches in 1980 Olympic Champions Natalya Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov, who represented the Soviet Union. Both teams claim the atmosphere in Aston, Pa. is friendly yet competitive. "It's okay," Shabalin says. "I think we can be friends. It's motivation. We watch them every day. We see them every day."
Shabalin says that he doesn't have a cell phone but keeps in touch with friends and family on the internet. He closely follows his competitors on YouTube in addition to watching his favorite ice dancers, Torvill & Dean and Oksana Grishuk & Yevgeny Platov. The latter couple won Olympic gold under the same coaches who work with Domnina and Shabalin. Shabalin is an avid reader, citing classics by Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Hemingway as his favorites. "Sometimes I read modern books, but not by choice," Maksim says. He also plays chess in his free time, though he says that compared to his friends he's "not very good."
How it all began
Domnina began skating at age six on an outdoor rink in Kirov, a city about 500 miles northeast of Moscow. She skated in singles for two years before switching to dance. Domnina moved Odintsovo, a city outside Moscow, as a 15-year-old and lived on her own. Shabalin is from Samara, a city about 600 miles from Moscow. He started skating at age four but isn't sure why: he says it's a "mystery to him." He switched to ice dance at age 10. In 2002, Domnina and Shabalin teamed up and quickly experienced success on the junior circuit. In 2007, the city awarded Domnina and Shabalin apartments.
As the pilot for the USA-1 bobsled, I broke a 62-year gold medal drought when my sled, the 'Night Train" won the Olympic title at the 2010 Vancouver Games. A degenerative eye condition nearly caused me to quit my sport in 2008, but corrective surgery restored my vision to 20-20.