Children of champions follow parents onto the ice

Offspring have met with varying levels of success

Nobuo Sato and his daughter, Yuka, have 12 Japanese championships between them.
Nobuo Sato and his daughter, Yuka, have 12 Japanese championships between them. (Getty Images)


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By Sarah S. Brannen, special to
(06/24/2013) - Some familiar names have been showing up on results sheets lately, as children of champion skaters from the 1980s and '90s move up the ranks under their own steam.

The son of 1988 Olympic champion ice dancer Andrei Bukin, Ivan Bukin, won the 2013 world junior dance title with partner Alexandra Stepanova. The son of two-time Olympic champion pairs skater Artur Dmitriev, Artur Jr., won the 2011 Russian junior title. Ksenia Makarova, the 2010 Russian champion, is the daughter of Larisa Selezneva and Oleg Markarov, the 1984 Olympic pairs bronze medalists.

Maxim Naumov, the son of 1994 world pairs champions Evgenia Shishkova and Vadim Naumov, won the juvenile title at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Also competing in Omaha, Neb., were the son of 1992 Olympic champions Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, Anthony, who finished eighth in novice dance with partner Sarah Feng; and the nephew of 1992 Olympic champion Viktor Petrenko, Daniel, who placed 10th in novice men. The nephew of 1981 world silver medalist David Santee, Ryan, finished fifth in junior men at the 2013 Upper Great Lakes Regional Championships.


Gabriella Marvaldi, daughter of 1993 world champion and Olympic medalist Isabelle Brasseur and two-time U.S. champion Rocky Marval, won the intermediate pairs bronze medal in Omaha with partner Kyle Hogeboom. (She is now skating with Cody Dolkiewicz; they plan to compete as novices next season).

"We don't put any pressure on her," Marval said. "We hope she is successful and takes it as far as she can. Having two national medals is great. If she continues on, then we'll be happy for her."

Marval says that although he and Brasseur did not push Gabriella to skate, Marval's mother bought her granddaughter a pair of skates when she was 4.

"My mother pushed me into skating," Marval said, laughing. "She put Gabriella into the learn-to-skate program, and she loved it. She always gravitated to skating; maybe because of seeing us at the rink, seeing videos of us kind of inspired her."

Marval says he and Brasseur have been careful about sharing their lifetime of knowledge and experience with Gabriella, who is 12.

"I've been skating for 40 years!" he said. "You can't fill a child's head with too much information all at the same time. You have to coach within what your child's abilities are. You teach the proper technique, discipline and the total package."

Marval admits that he and Brasseur worry about their daughter skating in the risky discipline of pairs.

"We constantly worry; that's not even a question," he said. "She'll say, 'I'm scared, you don't understand!' And we'll say, 'Actually, we do.' We've both been through it. We know what it feels like; we know what to expect."


Both of two-time Olympic champion Ekaterina Gordeeva's daughters followed their famous mother into her sport. Older sister Daria competed for a while but has now stopped skating. Elizaveta ("Liza"), 11, (the daughter of Olympic champion Ilia Kulik) competed in juvenile at the Southwest Pacific Regional Championships, just missing qualifying for the final round.

"I would like Liza to understand how wonderful our sport is in terms of continuously learning something new," Gordeeva said. "I would like her to understand how it is to get the high-level jumps, to go to international competitions, hopefully, to really appreciate all she has done and get a prize for it, to feel that moment. But at the same time I want her to keep loving it. And, obviously, I want her to study and go to college and be a normal kid."

Gordeeva says she didn't plan for her children to become skaters.

"I didn't really think of it in the beginning when they were little," she said. "Obviously, I wanted them to be in some kind of sport; I think it's very important for kids to be in a sport. Daria was traveling with me all the time when she was 4 or 5 until school started. I was on the tour most of the year. She always saw skating, and she loved to dance. She saw me practicing many hours a day and training and eating properly, and having a disciplined life every day."

Although Gordeeva wasn't traveling when Liza was small, Liza saw her father on the ice every day.

"Liza saw us practicing and training; she loves it, and she sees our passion about the sport," Gordeeva said. "It's in our family like that - our life is all about skating, really."

Gordeeva says Liza sometimes feels a little pressure at Kulik's Skating, the rink in California where both parents teach.

"Sometimes she thinks because we're coaching other kids in front of her, we're putting more pressure on her," Gordeeva said. "Because we have many skaters and they're all practicing together, Liza is always in the group. She feels at the same level as the other girls. That way, it's a little bit easier for her."


The eldest son of 1984 Olympic silver medalist Kitty Carruthers-Conrad, Brett ("B.J.") Conrad skated competitively until he was a freshman in high school, finishing eighth in intermediate men at the 2010 U.S. Junior Championships and ninth as a novice at the 2011 Midwestern Sectional Championships. Brett, who just turned 18, plans to take his senior free skate test this summer.

"Skating is in his blood," Carruthers-Conrad said. "When he was little, Peter and I were still skating, so I would bring him with me everywhere. He loved the lights and the costumes and all that. In the back of my mind, I guess I did hope he would love it. The first time I put him on skates, he absolutely hated it, so we were like, 'Well, this isn't going to work.' But then he wanted to come again and he fell in love with it, and it was all he wanted to do."

Although she coached her son, Carruthers-Conrad felt it was important that he have a different primary coach.

"I did coach him, but I was always his secondary coach," she said. "Shanyn Vallon was his coach. I thought it was important not to be the mom and the coach. He needed unconditional love from me; he needed me to feed him and get him to the rink on time and pay for his lessons."

Carruthers-Conrad said she was far more nervous watching her son compete than she ever was when she competed herself.

"I think I would call my mom every day and say, 'I don't know how you did it. How did you look so calm and not be nervous?'" she said. "It was awful. I can't even put that into words. When you're the mom, not the coach, there's a feeling that it's completely out of your control. I never got even half as nervous when I competed myself, even at the Olympics. You know that ice is slippery and a lot of crazy stuff can happen."


The daughter of two-time Olympian pairs skater Bill Fauver, Thoburn, competed in intermediate ladies at the 2013 Eastern Great Lakes Sectional Championships. Fauver says he and his former wife, Laura Sanders, who is Thoburn's coach, never wanted to push their daughter into the sport.

"She made her own decision," Fauver said. "Laura and I gave her the opportunity, but we didn't want to push her at all. She was just out there playing with us, zooming around the rink. She didn't really focus on skating until about three years ago. She made her own commitment to do it."

Like the other parents interviewed for this article, Fauver said he didn't put pressure on his daughter to win.

"The philosophy that we teach with is one of performance rather than placement," he said. "That changes the mindset of the athlete, and it's better for them. The goal is to encourage the skater and keep them in the sport longer."


Ten-time Japanese champion and renowned coach Nobuo Sato's daughter is, of course, 1994 world champion Yuka Sato. Yuka's mother, Kumiko, is a two-time Japanese champion in her own right. Yuka says her parents always wanted her to skate, although in the beginning she spent time in the rink with her father while her mother took care of her brother, who had severe asthma.

"I had a group of three friends the same age, so the four of us hung out and started skating," Yuka said. "I wanted to do it like my friends did."

Yuka says her parents wouldn't have pushed her to keep skating if she hadn't wanted to.

"They understood that if it wasn't something I totally loved to do, it wasn't going to work," she said. "They wanted me to know how to skate, but they didn't have an intention of keeping me in the sport if I didn't love it."

Yuka says that when she was little, she wanted as much attention from her father as possible.

"I was always asking for lessons," she said. "I would think it was my turn next, and then he would go to someone else, and I would complain, 'Why don't you give me lessons?'"

However, Yuka now thinks that this was for the best.

"They didn't over-teach me," she said. "Because they didn't have much time for me, I had a lot of play time on the ice. By the time I was a teenager, my feet in skates were like being in sneakers. I didn't realize until much, much later that I had more 'tools' in my feet -- not maybe jumping or spinning, but I was able to do a lot more with what was hidden in the toolbox. So that when I was ready to use it, it was there."

In addition, Yuka benefitted from both parents' extensive experience.

"They were right there supporting me and also very realistic," she said. "If you don't like it, you have to work hard and improve it. And, also, it's not all about the results."


Julia Vlassov, the 2006 world junior pairs champion, is the daughter of 1976 Soviet champion and 1977 world silver medalist pairs skater Alexander Vlassov.

"I started skating when I was 4, and I was probably at the rink before that," said Julia, whose parents both coached. "It was kind of a natural thing for me to do. If I was at the rink 10 hours a day, I might as well skate."

Julia says the hardest thing about being the child of skaters and coaches was that she could never get away from it, even at home.

"We would go to the rink and talk about skating, go home and talk about skating," she said. "We'd try to separate it, but that's hard to do. The nice part was that my parents knew me a lot better than if someone else had coached me. They knew how to get me back on track and how to deal with me."

All the parents interviewed for this article said they are happy their children followed them into skating.

"Absolutely," Fauver said. "She gets a lot of joy out of it."

"Why wouldn't you want your child to skate?" Carruthers-Conrad said. "There are so many great things this sport can teach you. There are only two or three who make the Olympic team each year, but there are so many things this sport can offer. I know Brett is grateful for everything he's learned from his competitive days in skating."