Ice Network

Savchenko to continue career with France's Massot

Per ISU rules, pair would have to sit out one year before it competes
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Relations between Robin Szolkowy (left) and former partner Aliona Savchenko and the pair's longtime coach, Ingo Steuer, are quite strained at the moment. -Photo courtesy of figureskating-online.com

After winning their second Olympic bronze medal in Sochi, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy found themselves at a crossroads.

The 34-year-old Szolkowy, who teamed with the Ukrainian-born Savchenko in 2003, told reporters in Sochi he would like to finish his competitive career.

"My body does not allow these difficult jumps and some other elements anymore," he said. "Sometimes I feel like a wet sack of garbage."

The 30-year-old Savchenko told the media she wanted to compete in Saitama, and perhaps beyond, with a new partner.

When Olympic champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov withdrew from the 2014 World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Savchenko and the pair's coach, Ingo Steuer, convinced Szolkowy to travel to Japan for one final competition.

On Thursday, after winning the world title for the fifth time, Savchenko said in the press conference, "I feel young enough to continue." 

Guessing games started as to who might be Szolkowy's new partner. Frenchman Bruno Massot, who placed 15th in Saitama with Daria Popova, was one of several names mentioned.

Massot and Popova trained with Steuer in Chemnitz, Germany, in 2012-13. That season, the pair achieved its best-ever results but afterward had to return to France for financial reasons.

On Saturday, Steuer and Savchenko announced that Massot and Savchenko would try out a new partnership.

"I want to become Olympic champion in 2018, and I will be successful with Bruno Massot," Savchenko told the German publication BILD. "I am happy I won him as a partner."

The 25-year-old Massot acknowledged the new partnership on his Facebook page, posting in part, "It is my decision, and it is a chance for my career. I think it would be silly not to take this chance. Now I have to work hard to become as good as, or even better than, Robin. But believe me, I am a fighter, and it is the beginning of great adventures."   

Steuer had planned to announce Savchenko's new partnership after they returned to Germany. Szolkowy, though, had grown tired of the situation and told Savchenko and Steuer in Saitama he would skip three post-worlds shows in Japan and fly home after the world championships gala. Savchenko wanted to stay in Japan and perform in the shows.

"I do not understand the situation anymore," Savchenko told the German press agency dpa on Saturday. "We could earn $45,000 or so in three days. If Robin does not want to earn this, it is his problem."

Szolkowy, though, refused to skate with Savchenko and left.

In his dual capacity as the pair's manager, Steuer has already planned shows for Savchenko and Szolkowy, signing a three-year contract with Art on Ice for about 15 appearances annually in Europe. Last September, during a monitoring session in Berlin, he said, "This is a small financial base for them for the next three years, and I take a percentage like every manager does."

Now, with Savchenko set to attempt a new partnership with Massot, this contract would seem to be in doubt.

"Everything I would say would make the whole story even worse," Szolkowy told dpa on Sunday.

Germany or France?

Under ISU rules, pairs skaters switching countries must wait 12 months after their final competition before they can compete for their previous country.

"As either Aliona or Bruno has to change nationality, we have to sit out one season," Steuer said. "We will decide quietly for which country we will compete." 

Many considerations are in play. Steuer was born in Chemnitz and grew up in East Germany during the Communist era. He and partner Mandy Woetzel won the 1997 world pairs title and 1998 Olympic bronze medal for the unified Germany, and Steuer's young son lives in Chemnitz. Savchenko, who was born in Ukraine, became a German citizen in order to compete at the Olympics with Szolkowy.

Financially, it has been difficult for Savchenko and Szolkowy to represent Germany. Nearly three decades ago, as a young man, Steuer cooperated with East Germany's Stasi "secret police," as many in that country did. Years later, when he entered the now-unified German army as a sports soldier, he did not reveal this association.

Steuer was enlisted to "inform" on Katarina Witt, and although the two-time Olympic champion has stated many times that she forgives him and he did no real harm, the German government will not grant Steuer or his students any training funds.

Udo Dönsdorf, sports director of the German Ice Skating Union, said Sunday he would try to convince the National Ministry for Interior Matters to end Steuer's ban, as he would like the new pair to compete for Germany. These appeals have not been successful in the past.

If the ministry does not approve the release of training funds to Savchenko and Massot, the pair may decide to compete for France.

"After all these years of fighting for money, I am done with Germany, although I am a citizen of my hometown of Chemnitz," Steuer said Saturday.    

Savchenko and Massot will begin training together soon. If the practices do not go well, Savchenko and Steuer stand ready to consider other partners.

"I got several offers from other pair skaters all over the world who want to make a tryout with Aliona," Steuer said. "I have many options."

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