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Makarova takes gold at Mid-Atlantic Championships

Russian champion targets triple Lutz, triple toe combination

Ksenia Makarova (left) and training partner Natalia Popova finished 1-2, respectively, at Mid-Atlantics.
Ksenia Makarova (left) and training partner Natalia Popova finished 1-2, respectively, at Mid-Atlantics. (Lynn Rutherford)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(09/13/2010) - Ksenia Makarova took top honors at the 85th Annual Middle Atlantic Figure Skating Championships, hosted by the Skating Club of New York at Chelsea Piers Sept. 10-12.

The reigning Russian champion, who lives in Newburgh, N.Y., and trains at The Ice House in Hackensack, N.J., performed with speed and confidence to earn 170.70 points overall.

"I do [Mid-Atlantics] almost every year, although I didn't do it last year for some reason," the 17-year-old -- a onetime U.S. novice competitor -- said. "It helps me get my season started, try out the ice and get used to having an audience.

"My performances were strong, I thought, for this point in the season. There are a lot of things I can work on, but they were good skates for me."

Makarova, eighth at the 2010 World Figure Skating Championships, performed a solid short to Spanish guitar music including a triple toe, triple toe combination; triple flip with a turn out on the landing and entertaining steps with fast twizzles. She earned 60.15 points.

"I like the music because it's really fast, and it brings out the fire in me," Makarova said. "This season, I want to definitely improve my performance quality, my second mark [Program Components]."

The statuesque blonde channeled Eva Peron in her free skate to "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" and other melodies from Evita, landing another triple toe, triple toe combination and triple loop, among other jumps, and earning 110.55 points.

"I just love this program; the dress [by Stephanie Handler] is beautiful and the music is amazing," she said. "In the beginning, it's very powerful, and in the end it gets very happy."

Makarova's total score was well ahead of that of her friend and training partner, Ukrainian champion Natalia Popova, who climbed to second place overall with a strong free. Another Ukrainian competitor, Anastasiya Kononenko, was third.

Raina Narita, a competitor from Skating Club of New York, was second after the short and placed fourth overall.

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Makarova moved to the U.S. as a child with parents Larisa Selezneva and Oleg Makarov, longtime Soviet pair competitors who won the 1984 Olympic bronze medal as well as two European titles.

The family, which also includes nine-year-old Alexei, eventually settled in Newburgh, N.Y., and Selezneva and Makarov coach at the Ice Time Sports Complex and other area rinks. Their students include Israeli pair Danielle Montalbano and Evgeni Krasnopolski, who will compete at the upcoming Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany.

Selezneva and Makarov -- who were coached by the renowned Igor Moskvin and were one of the first pairs to regularly include side-by-side triples in their programs -- passed on their athletic gifts to their daughter.

"They put me on the ice when I was six, and I didn't like it," Ksenia said. "When we came to America they had their camp, and all I could do was skate, so I ended up getting back on the ice, liking it and being social with all the other girls. That's how I started."

Makarova is coached by Galina Zmievskaya, Zmievskaya's daughter, Nina, who does Ksenia's choreography, and Zmievskaya's son-in-law, 1992 Olympic champion Viktor Petrenko.

She also gets input from another of Galina's recent students, Johnny Weir.

"[Johnny] came for my last competition at Hackensack [the Moran Memorial], and he helps me a lot when he's here," she said. "He comes and watches me and gives me advice, but he's too nice. He needs to be more strict."

One cannot say that of Zmievskaya, a disciplinarian famous for her no-nonsense approach.

"I like that because sometimes you need that push, and Galina is like, 'Just do it' instead of 'Oh, don't worry, it's ok," Makarova laughed.

"Viktor also works on everything with me, but mostly the jumps. He works on the technique. He's also kind of strict, although not as strict as Galina, and he's calm, very calm. I like that about him."

Makarova, who just started her senior year of high school in Newburgh, lived with her coaches this summer, simplifying the hour-and-a-half drive from her family's home to the Ice House.

"It was really nice because we skated from morning to night, and then went to the gym," she said. "Natalia lives with them too, and she is home schooled, so she lives with them all year. She really helps me get through everything. When we have bad days, we comfort each other. It's nice to have a skating partner." (Popova's family lives in Ontario, Canada. Her proud father was on hand at Mid-Atlantics taking photos.)

The fall brought a change in schedule.

"Right now for my senior year I start school early and get all my classes done, then go straight to New Jersey," Makarova said.

"I skate two sessions, with a little break in between, and then go home work out. If my parents have lessons in New Jersey, my dad will usually drive me, but he's going to Germany [for Nebelhorn] soon, so I will be driving myself."

Makarova, who placed 10th at the Vancouver Olympics, hopes to repeat as Russian champion, although she faces an onslaught of young teenage talent including 13-year-old Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, the triple Axel-wielding student of Alexei Mishin who just won the Junior Grand Prix Romania; 2009 Russian champion, 14-year-old Adelina Sotnikova and several others.

"They are good," Makarova said. "They have to still grow up because they have child skating. That's what I've been working on also, to skate like a woman."

There's no worry there: Makarova -- who estimates she stands five foot six or seven -- has a striking appearance on the ice. She is especially excited about her free skate.

"For my long I really want to add a triple Lutz, triple toe [combination], hopefully by nationals or even earlier," she said. "I can do it in practice, but I have to get used to doing it in the program. [Triple Lutz] is one of the hardest jumps for a lady skater to do, and if I do it, I think I'll get even more confident with easier jumps."

Makarova and her coaches have also targeted improving marks for transitions.

"I want to be more relaxed in my skating and [put] more steps before my jumps," she said. "I want each jump to be a surprise and the same with spins."

Her dad, Oleg, thinks Ksenia's top ten placement at worlds and corresponding rise in the ISU rankings will help her scores.

"The judges will be more aware of her this season," he said. "Before, she was a lot lower in the rankings. She was at Olympics and worlds. It always helps, the more international competitions you do."

Mom Larissa says that through it all, Ksenia keeps a smile on her face.

"She has always been a happy girl," she said. "When we go back to Russia, everyone asks why she smiles all the time. She's always been that way. She's having a very good time skating."

Miner's Casablanca wins the day
While Makarova turned to the stage for inspiration, 2009 U.S. junior champion Ross Miner hopes his free skate to music from the Warner Brothers classic Casablanca is the continuation of a beautiful friendship.

"It's my favorite movie; I feel the connection with the music," he said. "It's beautiful, lyrical and poignant at the same time.

"I did it once as a novice, and I thought it would be a good [vehicle] to show off my more mature skating."

Miner's triple Axel was off -- he fell on his first attempt and skidded through his second -- but he still earned 110.37 to take first place in the free and win with an overall score of 176.43. His short, to Cuban salsa music, was fast and energetic, and he landed the Axel with a small step out.

Coach Peter Johansson thinks his skater's jumps will be there when it counts.

"Our big goal for Mids was to get two Axels out in the free, and that didn't happen, but I think Ross is in good shape," he said. "He's doing NHK and Cup of China, and there are still about five weeks training left."

"I can't wait to get back [to Boston] and practice that Axel," Miner said.

Johansson and Miner plan on staying in Nagoya, Japan after NHK and then traveling to Beijing. They will be training and competing in Asia for three weeks.

Miner's training partner Jason Wong, tenth at 2010 U.S. Championships, won the short with a superb outing to "Sweet Remembrance of You" including a triple Axel; triple, triple combination; and a stunning spread eagle-split jump combination into a triple loop. He had jump trouble in his free to The Truman Show, but still placed second with 161.35.

Wong will compete at the upcoming Nebelhorn Trophy.

"Jason did really well at nationals and got selected for Oberstdorf," Johansson said. "He is a very talented skater. He had a great short here; the long was obviously not as effective. We're going to put it behind us and start anew."

Parker Pennington also had a strong short, to his self choreographed Chocolat. Pennington, who placed 16th at the 2010 U.S. Championships but eighth the previous year, elected not to compete his free skate here. Sam Dafoe's solid free lifted him to third place overall.