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Figure skating only at Kulik, Gordeeva's new rink

Kulik's Skating open for business in Lake Forest, Calif.

Katia Gordeeva and Ilia Kulik are proud of the work they put into opening Kulik's Skating.
Katia Gordeeva and Ilia Kulik are proud of the work they put into opening Kulik's Skating. (Courtesy of Kulik's Skating)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(09/13/2012) - Any skater who has toured with Ilia Kulik over the past 14 years can tell you what an incredible eye he has for technique. Since winning Olympic gold in 1998, he has served as a technical consultant for various skaters as well as a presenter at seminars internationally.

Now Kulik and his wife, fellow Olympic gold medalist Ekaterina Gordeeva, have opened their own rink in Lake Forest, Calif., a city in Orange County. They describe Kulik's Skating (kuliksskating.com) as a facility designed, built and operated by skaters, for skaters. There is no hockey or public skating, which means the ice and rink are kept at a temperature optimal for figure skaters.

"This idea came up probably 2 1/2 years ago. I decided, let's do the research," said Kulik, who examined all the details, from resources to price to the latest equipment.

"It's all worked out piece by piece -- like a big puzzle, it came together," he continued. "I couldn't have hoped for a better place. It's exactly how I envisioned it."

While Kulik and Gordeeva consider this very much a training environment, it is not meant for elite skaters only. The couple welcomes all levels, including beginners and adult skaters.

"For us, figure skating is a great journey starting from childhood," Kulik said. "When I didn't know I would be a great skater, I was just learning and seeing, feeling it out. It was so much fun. Then as a competitive skater, it was always a great experience, really challenging and fulfilling. As a professional and now as a coach, and also as a skating parent, that excitement remains. We really want to share that love for skating on all levels.

"It's easy for us to connect with people who love skating as much as we do," he added. "It doesn't matter the age. As long as you have that attachment to figure skating and appreciation of that wonderful sport, this is all we need."

As Kulik and Gordeeva's daughter, Elizaveta ("Liza"), advanced in competitive skating, they noticed a real shortage of ice time in Southern California, where they reside. Liza, now 11, would finish school at 3:00 p.m. By the time she got to the rink, there would be less than an hour of freestyle ice left.

It's extremely important to both of them that Liza, who will compete at her first regional championships this fall, attends regular school instead of being home schooled and training during the day.

"She could wake up at 4:00 in the morning and go skate at 5:00, which is really against your biological clock," said Gordeeva, who added that as Liza gets into her teenage years, they want her to maintain her focus in school and continue to develop her social skills.

In order to make it figure skating only, the facility has a somewhat smaller ice surface. At 80-by-130, it's about two-thirds the size of an NHL rink. A dance studio and gym are also part of the operation.

Gordeeva teaches a skating skills class that includes skaters of various levels. She's also teaching learn to skate and has already had eight beginners move from those classes into regular lessons.

Kulik said safety is paramount for beginners because one or two bad falls can turn them off the sport before they've even started.

"It's really important how you introduce the first five lessons," he said. "All the beginners who started with us so far said they're absolutely thrilled. We really can't wait to see them develop."

Coaches and choreographers who are U.S. Figure Skating and PSA members, and who have active liability insurance are welcome to operate at the facility. Freestyle sessions are open to those who meet the aforementioned criteria as well as their students, but it is imperative that they embrace the facility's sense of collaboration and openness.

"The sport is difficult enough," Kulik said. "Secrets are not the way to go."

While lengthy tours are out of the question, both Kulik and Gordeeva continue to perform -- joking that now it's easier than ever to find practice ice. He will compete at the new Medal Winners Open in Japan in October.

"It's very exciting and motivating," Kulik said. "I can't wait to compete."