by Anne Calder
This morning I opened my new calendar to January where the scenic winter photo was a quick reminder of my imminent trip to Detroit and the 2019 US National Figure Skating Championships.
I can’t believe 25 years have passed since the last time Nationals was held in the Motor City. During that time I attended 18 US Championships, retired from teaching and moved to the Arizona desert and started writing for ice-dance.com.
I was there – it was my third US Championships. I remember my arrival that cold winter week in 1994. The snow and ice had almost prevented my plane from landing, but the streets were salted, so I was able to get to my hotel safely.
I was excited. I was there to see Tonya Harding – the first American woman to do a triple axel, Michelle Kwan – the 13-year-old pixie phenom from California, and Elaine Zayak and Brian Boitano – the recently reinstated professionals and former Olympians.
However, instead of recaps of jumps, spins, and personal challenges, the major headlines would be about an incident to prevent the 1993 Ladies Champion, Nancy Kerrigan, from defending her title and going to the Lillehammer Winter Olympics.
I remember well that Thursday afternoon. A friend and I had walked over to Cobo from Joe Louis Arena to watch the ladies’ practice. As we were preparing to leave our balcony seats above the exit to the dressing rooms, we heard a piercing scream – Nancy Kerrigan had been attacked!
I digress… These memories are best shared in chronological order.
Before the drama at Cobo, the first two days of the U.S. Championships were quite low keyed. They included Novice and Junior competitions plus Championship Compulsory Dance and Figures. I skipped those events, so my first visit to Joe Louis Arena was for Original Dance on Wednesday afternoon.
It sounds like heresy today, but back in 1994 ice dance was not my favorite discipline. What happened that day would later be overshadowed by the Kerrigan incident, but it was one I vividly remember.
I arrived just as the warm-ups began. Since I knew nothing about ice-dance, I listened attentively as my seatmates pointed out the couples on the ice, adding tidbits of information about several.
Our conversation was abruptly interrupted when Renee Roca, half of the 1993 US Championship team, collided with Galit Chait & Maxsim Sevostyanov. She was skating backwards, so the collective warning scream from the audience was too late for her to swerve. She fell to the ice, holding her left arm. Her partner, Gorsha Sur, scooped her up, and within minutes, they rushed off to the hospital.
I was quickly brought up to speed on the Roca & Sur story.
Renee Roca won bronze at the 1980 World Junior Championships with Andrew Ouellette. She later competed with Donald Adair, winning Skate America, Skate Canada and medaling three times at the US Championships, including gold in 1986. She skated one year with Jim Yourke before retiring in 1989 and turning to choreography.
Gorsha Sur & Svetlana Liapina of the Soviet Union were second at the 1984 and 1985 World Junior Championships. The next three years, they won silver at Nebelhorn, NHK, and Skate America before turning professional to tour with the Russian All-Stars headlined by Jayne Torvill & Christopher Dean.
In January 1990, after performing in the New York area, four members of the Tour, including Sur, Igor Shpilband, Elena Krykanova and Veronica Pershina defected. A skating club in the Detroit area eventually took in the former ice dancers.
Sur wanted to continue skating. An acquaintance persuaded him to contact Roca, who recognized his name when he left a message on her Colorado Springs phone. Ironically, Sur, Liapina, Roca and Yorke had shared the podium at the 1988 Skate America in Portland, Maine.
Roca took a chance and went to Detroit for a two-week workout. Afterwards they were invited to skate on the Brian Boitano-Katarina Witt Tour. Next they competed at the 1991 World Professional Figure Skating Championships in Landover, MD and finished third.
In 1992 the ISU adopted proposals that would allow ineligible athletes to seek reinstatement as amateurs to compete at the World Championships and Olympics.
Roca & Sur applied. After qualifying at Midwestern Sectionals, where one judge gave them a 6.0, they won the 1993 US Dance Championships in Phoenix, AZ and were 11th at Worlds.
They were favorites to defend their title in Detroit and win a trip to the Lillehammer Olympics and the World Championships. Sur’s citizenship made the Olympics uncertain, but Worlds was within reach.
Back at the Arena, the competition continued. The tenth couple just finished their dance as Roca & Sur returned. They had 10 minutes to prepare themselves before their warm up would begin, and Roca was still in her practice outfit. With her left arm in a cast from her fingertips to the elbow, Roca & Sur danced a very sultry rhumba and placed second.
Unfortunately, two nights later the couple was unable to perform their Free Dance to “Summertime” and had to withdraw from the competition. Since they already knew that Sur’s accelerated path to citizenship had been denied, there was no reason to risk further damage to her arm.
Their Olympic and World Championship dream was shattered.
Roca & Sur competed for two more years, reclaiming their US title in 1995 and placing second in 1996. After retiring, the couple toured with Stars on Ice and performed in several ice shows.
In 2006 Gorsha Sur graduated from the University of California Hastings School of Law and is currently a lawyer in Los Angeles, California.
Rene Roca choreographs for figure skaters and ice shows.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Several novice, junior, and senior 1994 US Nationals ice dance competitors are still involved in the sport.
Galit Chait Moracci is the Israeli Figure Skating Team head coach; Technical Specialist (ISR). She competed internationally for Israeli 1995-2006; 2002 World bronze medalist; 2002, 2006 Olympian.
Elizabeth Punsalan & Jerod Swallow were 5x US National Champions and World Championship Competitors; 1994,1998 Olympians. Jerod Swallow is the Managing Director of the Detroit Skating Club.
Cheryl Demkowski Snyder, Michelle Poley Marvin, and Oleg Fediukov coach at the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society.
The following are coaches: John Lee & Ron Kravette (Skating Club of Boston); Greg Maddelone (Baltimore Figure Skating Club); Brandon Forsyth (Ann Arbor Figure Skating Club); Russ Witherby (Palm Springs at the Desert Ice Castle).
Eve Chalom teaches figure skating and is a dance movement therapist in Chicago, Il.
Yovanny Durango is a Technical Specialist (USA) and coaches at the Ice Works Skating Complex (Aston, PA). He and partner Shay Sterlace are the 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 U.S. Adult Dance Champions.
Mark Fitzgerald is the Ice Director at Arizona Ice in Gilbert, AZ.
Robert Peal is a coach/choreographer at the Skokie Valley SC. His son/daughter Elliana Peal & Ethan Peal will compete in Novice at the 2019 US Nationals. They are the 2018 Intermediate Dance Champions.
Michelle Poley Marvin coaches Cordelia Pride & Benjamin Lawless, who will compete in Novice at the 2019 US Nationals.
Mathew Gates is a World & International Coach/Choreographer at the Extreme Ice Center (NC). He and Svetlana Kulikova will coach the Junior team, Katarina DelCamp & Maxwell Gart at the 2019 US Nationals.
Charlie Butler is an internal medical doctor. As an entrepreneur, he started several successful companies including an ice skate blade company “Ultimate Skate LLC”.
IDC researched the 1994 US National Figure Skating Champion ice dance competitors for the above list. If we have omitted or incorrectly identified an individual, please accept our apologies and notify us with a clarification. Thank you – [email protected]