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The Inside Edge: Krasnozhon avoids major injury

17-year-old on track for next season; Benoit transitions from ice to stage
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The ankle injury that forced Alex Krasnozhon to withdraw from the 2018 World Junior Championships turned out to be not as serious as originally believed. -Getty Images

Alex Krasnozhon arrived at the 2018 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, held earlier this month in Sofia, Bulgaria, as the gold medal favorite. The winner of the Junior Grand Prix Final in December, Krasnozhon knew he had the technical content and consistency to take the top prize.

"Everybody knew that I could win, and that usually pumps me up," Krasnozhon said last week. "I enjoyed it: every official practice, the warm-up, my short -- I was there for the show."

Leading by four points after the short program, the 17-year-old opened his free skate with a quad salchow and fell hard, twisting his ankle. He picked himself up and attempted to continue the program, but he knew right away that the injury was serious.

"When I fell, I thought it wasn't that bad," he said. "But then I pushed off and I thought, 'Uh-oh, I don't think I can walk it off.' I wanted to continue, but my ankle was swelling and I could feel the tightness in my boot. I couldn't step on it."

For almost a minute, Krasnozhon tried to tough it out and keep on skating, but he couldn't put any weight on his right foot at all. He finally went over to the referee, and, after conferring with officials and his coaches, withdrew.

"He said his first thought was that he broke it," his coach, Darlene Cain, said. "He thought he heard something snap."

Krasnozhon made his way off the ice and into the medical room. There, he removed his boot, revealing a severely swollen ankle. Krasnozhon was worried he had broken it, but X-rays showed that, despite the pain and swelling, the injury was not as bad as he believed.

"It was the biggest relief that they didn't see any fractures," Krasnozhon said. "I knew I was disappointed, but I was thinking about next season. My biggest concern was, 'What can I do to make my ankle better?' I was a little bit scared because I didn't know exactly what was wrong with it."

Getting home was a challenge: While on crutches, Krasnozhon had to change planes and terminals in Paris.

"I was getting pretty cranky," the skater admitted. "I'm an athlete; I'm strong. What about other people on crutches? Disabilities are treated much better in the U.S. I just wanted to get home. But it made me feel for people with disabilities like never before."

Once back in Texas, Krasnozhon learned he had suffered a Grade 2 sprain of all three major ligaments. He wore a boot for a week or so, then switched to a brace.

The good news is that both Krasnozhon and his coaches don't expect next season to be impacted by the injury.

"It was a long season for him; his body was tired," Cain said. "After this event, we were going to give him some time off to relax. He had wanted to go to the beach and have fun. He's shut down for the same amount of time -- he just won't be able to go to the beach. We were going to start his season later this year, start programs later, so we're still on that same time frame."

If all goes well, Krasnozhon will be working on three quads (salchow, loop, toe) for next season, when he hopes to get some senior international assignments. In addition, after he turns 18 next month, he'll apply for U.S. citizenship. (Krasnozhon grew up in Russia and moved to the U.S. in 2014 to train with the Cains and compete for the U.S.)

Cain said they expect him to be a U.S. citizen in time for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games.

"I always say, you have to be happy with what you get," Krasnozhon said thoughtfully. "I was lucky to just have a sprained ankle, not a broken ankle. It could have happened sooner. I've been undefeated in junior all season. Sometimes, you can't have it all. I hadn't had an injury in four years. It makes me more hungry for next year. Maybe it's the turning point."

The play's the thing

Alex Benoit has been serving two masters for his entire skating career, balancing his love of ice dance with a passion for acting. He is studying theater at Oakland University in Michigan, where he has appeared in several stage productions and short films. At the same time, he and partner Elliana Pogrebinsky were seen as an exciting young dance team, winning the pewter medal at the 2017 U.S. Championships and finishing seventh at the event this past January. 

Now that the latest four-year Olympic cycle has come and gone, Benoit has decided to pursue performance full time, and he announced on Facebook that he was retiring from ice dance competition.

"I was in love with skating and I was in love with acting, and the two kind of helped feed each other," Benoit said by phone. "I kept my focus singular when I was doing each thing. At the end of the Olympic season, you have a moment where you can step back and evaluate what to do next. Now I can evaluate what my dreams and goals are."

Benoit said there wasn't any one specific moment when he decided to devote himself entirely to acting.

"With the opportunities at the end of this season, it became clear to me that while I love skating, when I dream and think with my heart, the place where I feel I need to be is in the theater, either on stage or in front of a camera," Benoit said. "I have these two loves, and both needed more commitment to get to the next level, the next step. It wouldn't be fair to Elliana to stay on the ice if my heart was elsewhere."

Despite stepping away from competitive skating, Benoit plans to stay involved in the sport. He is already certified as a judge and has started training as a technical specialist.

"I 100 percent see myself having a connection to the sport for my whole life," he said.

For now, Benoit has a bevy of productions in the works. He will be singing and acting in the two-person musical Daddy Long Legs, which runs April 6 to May 20 at The Dio dinner theater in Pinckney, Michigan. He plays Jervis Pendleton, a wealthy and mysterious benefactor to a young orphan girl.

After Daddy Long Legs, which is his first professional stage show, he will appear in a short film, The Void, which shoots this summer in Chicago, and another project he isn't able to discuss yet other than to say it is being pitched to Netflix and Hulu.

"The thing I love about performing arts is the discoveries that you make," Benoit said. "You get to step into somebody else's shoes and appreciate a full spectrum of humanity. Before, I was splitting myself (between skating and acting), and now I can fully invest."

Pogrebinsky said she wants to continue competing.

"I accomplished a lot with Alex, but I still have goals and ambitions, so I'd like to stay with Igor [Shbilband] in Michigan and look for another partner," she said. "I have a couple of tryouts set. The goal would be to find someone as quick as possible so I can get back on the scene and not miss any opportunities that might open up."

If she can't find the right partner, Pogrebinsky plans to move back to her home state of California and study kinesiology and nutrition.

"I would stay connected with athletes and the skating scene, possibly as a trainer," she said.

Dancing on ice

Former men's singles competitor Parker Pennington has put together a series of shows that combine skating and dance since 2011. The latest, "Skate Dance Dream," Pennington's 12th such show, will be held April 7 at the Mentor Ice Arena in Mentor, Ohio.

Dancers from the TV show So You Think You Can Dance will join young local dancers, and young skaters will perform along with stars Kimmie Meissner, Katie McBeath, and Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc. 

"It's been a bit of an evolution," Pennington said of the show. "We have over 200 kids participating in the show; it has been very well received in the Cleveland skating and dance communities. We've learned a lot in all the years we've done them, and it will be a first-class production in every sense."

Pennington is the artistic director at the Cleveland Skating Club, as well as the head of the club's Theatre On Ice team. He said the skaters and dancers enjoy watching and learning from one another.

"The dancers -- both the stars and the kids -- are in complete awe of the figure skaters," he said. "We have an open skate after the show sometimes and the dancers will throw on some skates and be like, 'Wow, this is really, really hard.' The art forms are similar, so I think there is that appreciation on both sides."

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