From (Bela)Russia with love

After Austin arrives, he and his co-author take an interesting side trip

Austin Kanallakan finally made it to Belarus, but his bags did not.
Austin Kanallakan finally made it to Belarus, but his bags did not. (Karen Terry-Perreault)


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By Andrew Speroff & Austin Kanallakan, special to
(10/02/2008) - Andrew Speroff and Austin Kanallakan take us behind the scenes in Gomel at the JGP Belarus.

Tunnels of the Belarussian Underground

All these events are true until proven otherwise.

There we were in the city market of Belarus, with cats running amuck in the streets. Andrew and I were bored with the whole shopping experience, so we decided to venture off on our own.

On our way back to the city market, we stumbled into an unlikely adventure we'll be able to tell for ages to come. We were miles away from the group by now, and we noticed a shortcut down an old, abandoned, underground subway station.

I bravely exclaimed, "Let's walk through there."

Andrew, hesitant at first but determined to affirm his manhood, decided to make the trek through the dark underground train station. There were tunnels leading in every direction, and if it weren't for Andrew's cognitive compass, we would have easily been lost. Visibility is low in the impenetrable darkness, not allowing us to see the packs of rats on the floor (or so we believed). An old subway track lay ruined at our feet. In the distance, we could see a flickering light, which momentarily gave us courage, but then suddenly a menacing black cat with ruby red orbs for eyes scurried across our path!

"Want to turn around?" Andrew asked.

"Nay!" Austin retorted, and we journeyed on.

With weakened knees, we trekked on through the darkness. Suddenly, and horrifyingly, to our left, a giant metal door pounded -- "Ba-Boom!" -- much like the beating of our hearts, and suddenly it burst open revealing two men, both adorned in black, very surprised to see us in this predicament.

Now in a brisk walk, we didn't look back. The men had vanished from sight, but only momentarily. We heard a motor rip through the silence, a cold sweat dripped down our faces, lights flashed on our backs, and a truck began driving toward us from out of the blackness.

The only way out was to move forward. Adrenaline rushing, we sprinted toward the light at the end of the tunnel. As we made a break for it, a second flickering light reveals an old woman screaming.

I shouted to her, "We don't speak your language!"

We hurried, considering the truck was at our heels. We ignored the woman's howling and finally broke into the radioactive sunlight and safely onto a busy market street, allowing us to live to tell the tale.

Thursday: A day in Andrew's Shoes

My trip to Belarus was the trip from that hot place ruled by that Satan character, filled with stress, sadness, dehydration, hunger, sleep deprivation and heartbreak -- arguably the two worst days of my life.

The whole fiasco started off with our gate being moved, which, in my case, was a big pain in the butt because I have to run in flip-flops, and they kept falling off every 13 seconds. I finally arrive at Gate B87 only to find out the flight was cancelled because they gave away our fully functioning plane to "a more important flight" whose plane was malfunctioning.

We (myself and my coach, Peter Oppegard) raced back to customer service at Gate B2, and when I say race, I mean race. We were in competition with at least six other people to be first in line. (Again, I'm in flip-flops, so I'm kicking those off at people in hopes of retarding my competition). It was epic.

In the end, we were the first to the customer service gate. The customer service representatives were friendly but unhelpful. We decided to use our lifeline and phone a friend, Angelita, U.S. Figure Skating's great travel contortionist and my last hope. Like the godfather of travel agents, she "pulled some strings" and hooked us up with a flight to Germany seven hours later, after which we had to backtrack through the "fashion rainforests" of Milan before getting to Minsk.

After a nine-hour flight with no sleep, two one-and-a-half-hour flights with no food, a five-hour bus ride with no stop and a temperamental bell-"man" named Helga, I arrived in the quaint European "tourist hotel" in Gomel, Belarus. (Did I mention that the airline lost my bag with my skates and all my essentials in it? As you can imagine, I'm a little frustrated). I quickly ascended the stairs of the hotel and reached Room 319. It was 5 a.m. I woke up my roommate, Andrew Speroff, and we exchanged greetings and witty banter.

The next morning, feeling fresh and revitalized from the three hours of sleep during which I had to continually swat away mosquitoes fighting over my ever-so-sweet flesh and the shower I took using Andrew's soothing botanicals shampoo for body wash, I had nothing to wear but the stiff, smelly clothes I'd had on for three days. Because of my disheveled appearance and lack of fashion variety, Andrew let me borrow some clothes and "walk a few days in his shoes," considering my bag wasn't going to get here until the day of my competition!

Since I didn't mind walking a few days in Andrew's shoes, I thought, why not give his skates a try? Big mistake. (I'd also like to thank Mark Mitchell, who was very kind and generous, and let me borrow a couple T-shirts).

To be continued....
Austin Kanallakan



I finally found the Internet in Belarus, and it was actually hiding in the stands in the main rink. Can you believe that?

Last night, our first night here, the team walked around downtown, accompanied by our beautiful bus girls from the airport. During the walk, I found time to talk to the girls about American politics and why men in Russia grow mullets (apparently, it's fashionable). We then had a team dinner at a pizzeria in town.

This morning, Austin [Kanallakan] got to my room at 5 a.m. with nothing but the clothes on his back... literally. I am watching him right now; he is in practice wearing my skates.

Tonight, I think we are going to go walk around the shops close to our hotel and then enjoy one of the delicious dinners of frankfurters and goat's milk the hotel buffets provide.

Austin promised to help me with the diary, so hopefully tomorrow we will have some tales to tell.

From (Bela)Russia with love,