When Russian singles skaters Lubov Iliushechkina and Nodari Maisuradze teamed up in May 2006 to skate pairs, coach Natalia Pavlova thought it was a hopeless adventure.
“Lubov was overweight, and Nodari’s father had begged me for a month to teach his son. Nobody wanted to take him on,” Pavlova recalled. “At the time I had no other couple, so I agreed to team them up, just to have something to do.”
With no pairs experience, the duo had to start from scratch. They remember their first tryout very well. Iliushechkina described it as uncomfortable.
“At the beginning, it was awful, but after 30 minutes, it was OK,” Maisuradze said.
“For almost one year, we mostly focused on skating together, and we didn’t really work much on elements,” he added.
Iliushechkina also had something else to learn. “Natalia told me that the man is the boss in the pair, so I try to listen to him,” she said with a mischievous smile.
In 2008, they claimed silver at Junior Worlds, their first international event. The duo dominated the junior circuit the following season, winning both the Junior Grand Prix Final and Junior Worlds.
They placed fifth at 2009 Europeans but were forced to skip senior Worlds after Maisuradze injured ligaments in his hand in a skiing accident.
Their first full season in the senior ranks did not go well. Iliushechkina struggled with her jumps, and they failed to make the Olympic team.
This season, the duo are back on track, winning their first senior Grand Prix title at Skate Canada.
A week later they finished fourth at Cup of China where Iliushechkina’s jumps were deemed under-rotated and their component scores were rather low. “Maybe I was a little tired,” she admitted.
Though the Moscow-based team were disappointed with that result, they qualified for the Grand Prix Final. “This was our minimal goal,” Maisuradze explained. “It is the result of all the hard work we’ve done over the past months.”
Iliushechkina, 19, and Maisuradze, 22, said they are motivated to work even harder for the upcoming events. Making corrections to the way they practice has made a
difference, Iliushechkina said. “Now I have a different approach, and I’m calmer.”
Both said they are not just focused on the element levels but also want to show the beauty of the sport. “We want to show skating as it used to be,” Maisuradze said, but admitted their lifts could be right out of Cirque du Soleil.
Iliushechkina believes their originality is a strong point. “What I like most about skating is the feeling of satisfaction after a good performance, and we both really like to perform in front of an audience.”
Pavlova was initially surprised at her new students‘ commitment but is very happy with their progression. “They came out of nowhere. They work really hard,” she said. “In the first two years, they accomplished as much as others do in four years. I don’t have to push them. On the contrary, I have to restrain them a little.”
When asked to describe her partner, Iliushechkina responded without hesitation. “He is stubborn, demanding, understanding and sometimes explosive,” she said.
Maisuradze, however, thought about the question. “I can’t really describe her. She is different from others,” he said. “There is only one in a million like her.”
Originally published in February 2011