Some familiar names from the past popped up on the Jumbotron at the 2016 U.S. Championships. The Russian influence has been present at nationals for almost two decades in the form of coaches and choreographers, but, as their children grow up, a new tradition is unfolding.
Maxim Naumov, the son of the 1994 World pairs champions Evgenia Shishkova and Vadim Naumov, is one of them. In January, the 14-year-old won the bronze medal in the novice men’s event. “It was a great feeling. It was a relief,” said his father Vadim, who co-coaches his son. “I felt so much pressure for him. I am thankful that everything ended up well.”
Shishkova, who is one of Maxim’s choreographers, admitted that she was too nervous to be in the arena for his free program. “If I could, I would skate for him. It would be much easier,” she said.
Vadim added: “The first thing Maxim asked as he left the ice was: ‘Does Mama know that I did well? Does she feel proud of me?’”
Having watched the video of her son’s performance, Shishkova said that while she is proud of what he accomplished, she sees room for improvement. “He did the best that he could, but I know that he could do better. He just needs more experience.”
In 1998, seeking new opportunities, Shishkova, 43, and Naumov, 46, left their native Russia and moved to the United States. They settled in Simsbury, Conn., home of the world-renowned International Skating Center of Connecticut. “We wanted to skate in shows and professional competitions. We looked at a couple of places, but then a good friend of ours, who was the manager in Simsbury, called us and asked us why we would look anywhere else,” Vadim recalled.
“We already had friends training there — Ekaterina Gordeeva, Sergei Grinkov and Oksana Baiul — who were teammates of ours from the Olympic Games. So we decided to come here, and we’ve been here ever since.”
Maxim initially skated at the recreational level and said he remembered the first time his parents took him to the rink. “I was 3 years old, and I had little white skates because they didn’t have black skates in my size. I just started skating and have been doing it ever since,” he said. Around age 6, he started to take the sport seriously. “It took a little while. I think it was when I started landing triples and really feeling the ice, and I started to get the feel for jumps and spins and began to understand the artistry and skating to the music.”
Vadim said finding the right balance between parenting, coaching and choreographing was the million-dollar question for him and Shishkova.“There was a period of time when I wasn’t sure that I would be able to continue,” he said. “We had to learn to keep the roles separate, and it took a while to figure out. You have practice and then go home and want to be a normal family and erase everything that was done or said in the practice. That’s very hard, but we have a great coach in our rink, Vladimir Petrenko, who is taking a lot of the load.”
Maxim has also been working with Mathew Gates on choreography and said his component marks have improved with his help.
Shishkova and Naumov might have discouraged their son from skating but instead they saw skating as a way to give their son a leg up in life. “The path of the athlete is not just the sport itself,” Vadim said. “This is a great life lesson.This teaches so many things at a very young age: discipline, dedication and hard work. The payoff for the hard work is a sense of accomplishment on almost an everyday basis. I think that this gives a great advantage later in life in whatever career he may choose, whether it’s sport or not. It’s a great opportunity to learn some of life’s great lessons early on.”
They encourage Maxim to be as conscientious about his academic studies as he is about skating. “We’re certainly trying to find a balance in terms of sport and education,” Vadim said. “It’s a constant struggle, but we’re trying to get both sides of his life to the highest standard that they can be.”
Maxim said his favorite skaters are Yuzuru Hanyu, Evgeni Plushenko and his parents. “I like the way Hanyu skates and does his jumps; it’s crazy,” he said. “I don’t know how he can do it like that with such ease. I was always watching Plushenko when I was younger, and I wanted to be like him. I have seen many videos of my parents skating. I really like the long program from the Albertville Olympics. The costumes were so green, you could probably see them 30 miles away.”
His parents have their own favorites, naming Meryl Davis and Charlie White and Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov. “And I have to say that I love Patrick Chan,” Shishkova added. “He has an amazing quality in his skating.”