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Home ice for Estonian dancer at 2010 Europeans

Rand and American partner Mallory look forward to Tallinn event and more

Caitlin Mallory and Kristian Rand hope to make it all the way to the 2010 Olympics.
Caitlin Mallory and Kristian Rand hope to make it all the way to the 2010 Olympics. (J. Barry Mittan)

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By J. Barry Mittan, special to icenetwork.com
(06/10/2009) - For Estonian skater Kristian Rand, the 2010 European Figure Skating Championships will provide an opportunity to compete in his hometown when the event is held in Tallinn in January.

Rand will be skating with Caitlin Mallory, an American from Berkeley, Calif., with whom he has skated for the past year. The couple placed 14th at the 2009 European Championships and 20th at the 2009 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in their first two ISU championship competitions together.

For Mallory, the event will provide another opportunity to compete at the highest level in ice dancing.

"I decided to skate for Estonia after having a great tryout with Kristian," she continued. "For a year, I had searched for an American partner, but eventually I decided that I was willing to skate for another country, as it meant that I would have the chance to form a really great partnership. My experience so far representing Estonia has been wonderful. I have been to Tallinn twice, which is an amazingly beautiful city. I am very excited about the Europeans in Tallinn!"

Asked about what it's like skating with Rand, Mallory said, "We have a great time working together, and it is very enjoyable to train and learn as a team. Off the ice, we share a lot of similar interests, in terms of art, culture and food. On the ice, I think that our styles are very complementary of each other. Of course, as a new team, we are still developing our style and learning how to better relate to each other.

"This season, our primary goal is to show how much we can improve. Last season, we were just getting started, but now that we have some experience together, we're excited to show what more we can do. Of course, it would be amazing to make it to the Olympics, but we have plenty of other great competitions to look forward to as well, like Europeans and worlds. We would like to improve on our standings and give some new personal-best performances."

"Every sportsman wants to go to the Olympics," Rand stated. "If we make it, it will be very nice."

Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva coach the dancers, who train in Canton, Mich.

"We train on the ice for about four hours a day, five days a week," Mallory noted. "Off the ice, we train about eight more hours per week. We have a strength and agility fitness program that we do three times a week. We also take ballet lessons and work off the ice with our ballet instructor."

Asked about how the partnership came together, Mallory explained, "Kristian and I teamed up back in May of 2008. Our coaches arranged the tryout, as Igor had worked with Kristian before and knew his skating very well, and I was in Canton looking for a partner. We've worked together with Igor and Marina for about a year now. Kristian worked with Igor and Marina for a couple years prior with his former partner.

"Igor choreographs our programs, but Marina also has a lot of influence and fine tunes them."

Last season, the couple used "Yes Sir, That's My Baby" by Walter Donaldson for their original dance.

"We liked that it was fast and energetic and is a style that neither of us had ever attempted," Mallory stated.

They used Bach's "Suite No. 3 Air" and "Toccata and Fugue" for the free dance.

"We picked 'Air' because it is incredibly beautiful, moving music," Mallory explained. "I loved Sergei Ponomarenko and Marina Klimova's Olympic-winning free dance set to the same music. We thought this music would suit us well. I've always loved the dramatic, balletic and classical styles. Kristian has skated to similar-styled pieces in the past. We are in the process of exploring our style as a team."

For the 2009-10 season, the dancers will use Estonian folk music for their original dance.

"Our free dance is 'Peer Gynt' by Edvard Greig," Mallory said. "We chose to use certain parts that have not been skated to before, as far as we know. We chose the music because it is beautiful but also has a lot of character."

Their exhibition music will be by Georg Ots, the famous Estonian singer.

Rand had skated for more than 10 years with his original partner, Grethe Grunberg, with whom he won the silver medal at the 2007 World Junior Figure Skating Championships. They were the first Estonian skaters to medal at an ISU championship, but Grunberg retired after that season to focus on her university studies, leaving Rand to sit out the 2007-08 season.

He started skating when he was 5.

"My mom was a coach, and I stayed with her every day," Rand said. "I never jumped, just skated."

His brother, Taavi, who is five years younger, also took up the sport and competed in ice dancing at the world junior championships, placing 22nd with Irina Shtork in 2007 and 2008.

Mallory started a year later than Rand.

"I stared skating when I was about 6 years old, and I began competing when I was 8," Mallory recalled. "One day, my mom took me to a public skating session at Berkeley Iceland, just for fun. She has back problems and can't skate at all herself, so she asked a coach to help me for the day. I had so much fun that day with Tony Howard, my first coach, that my mom decided to put me in weekly lessons. It kind of progressed from there.

"For a while I did ballet and gymnastics in addition to skating, but I think they were always kind of secondary to skating, which I loved the most."

She never played any other sports: "I am pretty terrified of any sport that involves a ball," she noted.

"I competed in freestyle until I was 15 years old, going through the junior level," she stated. "My highest achievements in freestyle included a pewter medal at the Junior Olympics at the intermediate level and two trips to sectionals at the novice level.

"I started ice dance when I was almost 16. It was a very difficult decision for me to retire from freestyle skating, but I really struggled with nerves in competition. Although I had a couple of pretty nice triples in practice, they seemed to escape me when I was under pressure, and, in the end, I knew I didn't have the consistency to make it much farther in competitive freestyle skating. I decided to try ice dance because I still loved skating and performing so much, and, in fact, the artistic aspect of skating had always been what I loved most about the sport. I really enjoyed taking part in all the local artistic or 'showskate' competitions.

"I love how ice dance is all about interpreting music, artistry, beauty and innovation. I also love working with a partner, because artistically, there is so much more you can do as a pair. There are so many opportunities for interesting lines and movements and feelings and interactions when you are skating with a partner. Ice dance is every bit, actually even more challenging, than freestyle. There is no such thing as perfect; there is always so much room for improvement in technique, interpretation -- everything."

Mallory skated in California before looking for a new partner and eventually finding Rand.

"Brent Holdburg was my first ice dance partner, and we skated together for four seasons," Mallory explained. "We trained in San Jose, California, with coaches Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, who I admire and respect tremendously.

"At the junior level, Brent and I were the U.S. junior dance silver medalists in 2005. In 2007, we came in seventh in senior dance at U.S. nationals, which was our highest result in the senior level. Internationally, we came second at the Golden Spin of Zagreb in Croatia in 2006 and fourth at the 2007 Karl Schafer Memorial Trophy. Our partnership ended after Brent suffered an unfortunate series of ankle injuries."

Off ice, Mallory likes to read, go to movies and paint.

"I like to paint with acrylics and watercolors," she said. "Mostly I do still lifes or outdoor scenes, and sometimes portraits. Back in California I have a cat and a dog, Mazie. Mazie is a long-haired miniature dachshund. My entire family is pretty much obsessed with her, and I'll admit that a lot of my paintings have been portraits of my dog. She makes a great model.

"I really love taking walks and absorbing the scenery. I especially love the San Francisco Bay Area, where I'm from. However, I love traveling and exploring new places. Tallinn is an incredibly beautiful and artistic city that I love to walk around in as well."

The new couple has not quite found the same musical interests, but they are getting there. Rand prefers Estonian music but likes American radio music as well.

"I listen to all types of music," Mallory said. "I actually really like some of the oldies -- the Beatles are timeless."

Off ice, Rand's passion is soccer. He used to play for his school team, which was first in the city. Now he plays with a club team.

"I play forward because I like to score goals," he said.

Rand also likes to go out with friends and chat on the computer.

Mallory is a junior at the University of Michigan, majoring in neuroscience.

"I know it's a pretty broad field, but I have many more years of school to figure out exactly what it is that I want to do," she said. "I plan to go to graduate school after I finish my undergraduate degree.

"I'm working as a research assistant at a memory and cognition lab on campus. My work involves testing subjects in memory tasks. It's pretty fun."

Rand has graduated from high school and plans to do something in the sports field as a career. He is thinking of either coaching or being a sports psychologist.