Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov, the two-time and reigning Russian national pairs bronze medalists, are coming off the most successful season of their young career.
After claiming two silver medals on the Grand Prix circuit last fall, the duo qualified for its first Grand Prix Final. Sitting in third after the short program, the team succumbed to nerves and slipped to fifth after the free skate.
RISING TO THE CHALLENGE
Less than two months later, Bazarova and Larionov skated into third in Bern and captured their first European Championship medal. “We couldn’t believe it at first and we were overwhelmed by our emotions,” a thrilled Bazarova said at the time.
Larionov was equally delighted. “There were so many emotions. We will remember that moment for a long time,” he said. “We didn’t think about a medal. We just focused on ourselves and tried to skate without a mistake. Before we skated, our coach told us: ‘Just believe in yourselves and don’t be stressed.’”
Bazarova, 18, and Larionov, 24, are always critical of their perform- ances as they strive to be the best they can be. “There is no limit to perfection,” Bazarova said. “We try to do better at each event that we compete in.”
Though Bazarova and Larionov are now on track for Sochi, that was not the case three years ago when their career came to a grinding halt.
In January 2008, Larionov received a letter from the International Skating Union (ISU) informing him that he had tested positive at an out-of-competition doping test conducted in his hometown of Perm in late November 2007.
The sample contained Furosemide, which is on the list of prohibited substances, is known to be used as a masking agent for anabolic steroids and other drugs.
Larionov claimed he took a pill that contained Furosemide for a headache. He was unaware of the ban on the substance. The ISU did not accept the explanation and banned him from competing for two years, the automatic ban for use of that drug.
Larionov was in shock. The ban meant he and his partner could not compete at Junior Worlds, where they were considered top contenders for the title. Worse, they had to return the gold medals they had won at the Junior Grand Prix Final because the competition took place in December, subsequent to the positive test.
“In the beginning, it was very hard to realize that this had happened. It was difficult for me to look into the eyes of others,” Larionov admitted. “Then Vera and I sat down together and talked everything through. We said to each other, let’s forget about it. We just have to move on, that’s it.”
Although her career suffered as well, Bazarova chose to stick by her partner. “There were offers from others, but I said right away that I’m not going to skate with someone else,” she said.
Their coach, Liudmila Kalinina, continued to work with the couple, despite the fact that they could not compete nationally or internationally, which also meant they had no opportunity to earn prize money. The ban was lifted in the summer of 2009 when the anti-doping rules changed and the ban for the use of Furosemide was reduced to 18 months.
Bazarova and Larionov returned to the competitive arena in time for the 2010 season. They placed fifth at their debut at the European Championships, 11th at the Olympic Games and eighth at the World Championships.
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
Being a couple off the ice has its challenges, both admitted, adding that most of their disagreements are about skating. “Usually we quarrel in practice, if anything,” Larionov said. “Obviously sometimes there is something, but you just have to move on. We say to each other: ‘Don’t do that again, let’s forget about it and continue as if nothing happened.’”
Bazarova said she tries not to quarrel, but in the process of working it sometimes happens.
When asked what their favorite elements are, Bazarova answered without hesitation. “I like the throws the best. They are fun when they work out.”
Larionov was genuinely surprised by the question. “To be honest, I’ve never really thought about that,” he admitted with a laugh. “You have to do everything anyway and you have to love all the elements. The most difficult ones are the throws and the jumps. Everybody can do the lifts and the twist, but the focus is on the throws and solo jumps. A lot depends on them.”
When it came to naming their skating idols, it was unanimous that the 2002 Olympic pairs champions Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze are their greatest inspiration. “They are our favorite couple. We really liked them and I think they were very impressive when you look at their elements and their skating in general,” Bazarova said.
“Elena and Anton were inspiring,” Larionov added. “They were able to portray what it was they wanted to bring across. They could build a program and show it the way they wanted it to be seen, so that even spectators who didn’t know much about skating could understand it. When you watched them your soul was touched instantly and you felt the emotion.”
Taking a page from their idols, Bazarova and Larionov said their goal at the World Championships was to skate cleaner and with more emotion and improve on their eighth-place finish last season.
Their ultimate dream is to compete at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi.
Originally published in June 2011