Despite winning bronze at the 2014 Sochi Games and facing fierce opposition from the Russian Figure Skating Federation, ice dancing pair Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov are no more.
Less than two months after their triumph before their home country, the Russians announced their split in an interview with R-Sport on Monday.
Ruslan Zhiganshin, a 21-year-old junior champion, plans on officially becoming Ilinykh's partner later in the day. While there has been no confirmation from Katsalapov's camp, R-Sport claims he will soon partner with Victoria Sinitsina—executing a strange pseudo swap between the Russian pairs.
Ilinykh and Katsalapov were coming off a successful first Olympic Games together, winning gold in the new team competition and bronze in the individual ice dancing final. They were bested only by the United States' Meryl Davis and Charlie White and Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir—the two monolithic powers of the sport.
There is still no word on what caused the split. According to Ilinykh's side of the story, she was informed over the last couple of days that Katsalapov wished to move on.
"Nikita came up to me April 4 at our scheduled medical exam and thanked me for my contribution and said that he won't compete with me any more," Ilinykh told R-Sport. "The initiative to split up our pair came from him, I'd like to underline that."
Partners since early in their respective skating careers, Ilinykh and Katsalapov had split once prior. In an interview with Tatjana Flade of Goldenskate.com in 2010, Ilinykh cited a communication breakdown between the two young skaters causing a rift that ended the partnership.
They eventually reconciled after a more than two-year period without skating together, a move that would eventually make them perhaps the most promising young staple in ice dancing circles.
Together they won a gold medal at the 2010 World Junior Championships before turning pro. They have since captured three consecutive silvers at the Russian Championships and two straight second-place finishes at the European Championships.
At the time of the World Championships, rumors began that the two were planning to split up, though they were yet to be confirmed until Monday.
Understandably, support for these major switches has been tough to find. Valentin Piseev, the general director of the Russian Figure Skating Federation, seemed particularly displeased. Piseev told R-Sport he found the partnership switch not only disconcerting for the ceilings of the individual pairs but also for ice dancing's future in Russia.
"I'm absolutely not a supporter of this and I don't think that anyone will support this idea," Piseev said. "How is that possible, to break up two pairs of the top three in the country and to try to destroy dance in Russia?"
Piseev's trepidations are likely shared by many, but it seems he lacks the power to stop it. Whether this will ultimately be the disaster the Federation believes it is or if this reinvigorates both of their careers remains to be seen.
Ilinykh won't turn 20 until April 25. There is still plenty of time for her and Zhiganshin to find common ground before the 2018 Games and even before the World Championships next year. Katsalapov is a little bit older at 22 (23 in July), but Sinitsina, 18, is still a young, up-and-coming dancer who may create a happier partnership.
For now, though, there is understandable worry. Two of the most promising Russian ice dancing pairs have splintered in a matter of days, in a sport where chemistry and long-term partnerships are needed.
No matter what problems were going on behind the scenes, Ilinykh and Katsalapov proved in Sochi they can compete together at the highest level. Now we'll get to see if they can do so apart.
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