Sunday, January 20, 2013

Pogrebinsky and Gudis have Junior Worlds in their sights

Elliana Pogrebinsky and Ross Gudis individually have many talents and when they were teamed up four years ago, it was a perfect match.  The team have gone on to win medals at the intermediate and novice levels.  They competed as Juniors last season and finished 8th.  That earned them a trip to JGP Lake Placid and a 6th place finish there earned them a 2nd assignment to JGP Slovenia where they finished 11th.  They train in Wheaton, MD at the prestigious Wheaton Ice Skating Academy.  They won bronze at Eastern Sectionals to qualify for nationals.  They talked to me about the beginnings of their partnership, competing internationally for the first time and the possibility of attending Junior Worlds.

Tell me about yourselves outside of skating.
Elliana Pogrebinsky:  I moved to Maryland from California almost 4 years ago to skate with Ross at WISA. Before switching to Ice Dance, I studied Ballet, was a competitive Ballroom dancer and Rhythmic Gymnast. As one of the top Pacific Region gymnasts, I was nominated to the U.S. “Future Stars” team and qualified for three Rhythmic National Championships in three different levels. I love to draw and play guitar. I’m a 9th grader in Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School and go to Russian School on Sundays. 

Ross Gudis:  I’m in 11th grade at St. Albans School and my favorite subjects are Math and Physics. I love sports of all kinds and my favorite teams are the New York Yankees and the Washington Redskins. I have also been  learning to drive and am in the process of getting my license. Hanging out with friends, going to the beach and playing with my dogs are my favorite things to do when I have time off.

Tell me about yourselves as a team.  How long have you been skating together and how did you get paired together?
EP: We tried out when I was 10 and Ross was 13. We were both young for our advanced level and had been searching for the right partner for more than a year. Coaches on both coasts thought we would match each other perfectly because we are tall with long lines. This is our fourth year of working together 2-6 hours per day/6 days a week on and off the ice, including ballet, ballroom, strength and conditioning. The first two years my mother and I spent in Maryland were really cold and, although playing in the snow was fun, I missed the California weather. I still miss my family and home, but I love working with Ross and the Academy which makes it worthwhile being here.

RG: The first time I skated with Elli, I knew she was the perfect partner for me. We just seemed to click right away. I was so glad she came to Maryland. Now, at 14 and 17, we have achieved numerous successes, including being on the podium at Sectional and U.S. National Championships. We hope to continue to place among the top U.S. National skaters. Recently, we became members of Team USA and were honored to receive two international assignments to Junior Grand Prix in Lake Placid, NY and Bled, Slovenia.

What made you decide to pursue ice dancing?
EP: I was a Freestyle skater first, but the coaches thought that my ballet and ballroom experience, with the flexibility of the Rhythmic gymnast along with the body type would work better for Ice Dancing. It’s perfect for me as it combines all of my favorite sports in one. I love the speed, beautiful music and costumes. I enjoy performing with my partner in front of the judges and spectators, playing different roles and imagining stories.

RG: I have been skating since I was 5 years old. When I was 6, our coach, Alexei Kiliakov invited me to see if I liked skating with a partner. I have been with the Academy ever since.

WISA has some of the top dance teams in the country.  What is it like to train with so many talented teams?
EP: Working every day with so many other teams makes training so much more fun than working alone. We also have an opportunity to compete with the best teams every single day. Outside of skating, we are good friends and like to go to the movies, museums or to celebrate holidays together.

RG: I have grown up with the Academy skaters and we understand each other’s lives. We all push each other, and have fun doing it.

Elliana, you're very involved in charity work.  Tell me about that and what inspired you to give back.
EP: I’ve learned it from my parents who immigrated to the U.S. 23 years ago. In the former Soviet Union, they didn’t have their own place to live in and had to stay in line for food for hours. The first thing they did in the U.S. – helped new immigrants to get their apartment, clothes and food. I love animals, maybe, because I was born on April 22nd, Earth Day, so I donated my own savings to help those that are in shelters. I also help teachers at the Russian School and volunteer at an organization that works with autistic children. I realize how many less fortunate humans and animals struggle every day. I appreciate what I already have and want to become successful in sport and personal life, so I can help them more in the future.

RG: Each spring break I enjoy volunteering at the Washington D.C Charter Latin School as a tutor. 

Tell me about your programs this season.
EP: We have a beautiful “Masquerade Waltz” by Aram Khachaturian as our Free Dance. It feels like it was composed for our team because the music is very elegant, romantic and somewhat mysterious. We try to portray two young people who fell in love at the Ball.

RG: I am very happy that our Short Dance is a Hip-Hop since it’s popular with our friends and something many teenagers would like to dance. Elliana and I had a lot of fun taking Hip-Hop classes and we try to incorporate what we’ve learned into our program. It’s fast with a little bit of a futuristic twist.

You had the chance to compete at two JGP events this season (USA and Slovenia). Tell me about that experience and what you took away from it.
EP: It was an honor to skate for the U.S. at two international competitions. We enjoyed traveling to the foreign country with other Team USA members, living in the hotel with athletes like us, experiencing new foods, and admiring beautiful scenery, but most of all – competing against the best teams from all over the world. It helped us realize our potential and built our self-esteem.

RG: It was thrilling to have the opportunity to represent the U.S.A. after eleven years of exhausting work and dedication to Ice Dancing, 3.5 of them with Elli. We were completely independent at these competitions since parents were allowed only as spectators. It was our job to follow an intricate schedule of practices, meals, meetings, and events, be responsible for organizing our own costumes and getting enough sleep. We learned a lot from it and hope to use this knowledge at future Grand Prix assignments building up our international experience.

You were the surprise winners in the free dance at Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships over reigning Junior champions Aldridge and Eaton. Did that help to set the tone for your season?
EP: Being in one group with U.S. Junior Champions was a thrill by itself, but winning this event gave us a feeling of belonging to the top group of skaters in the country and helped to compete at the same two JGP competitions as Aldridge and Eaton.

RG: It gave us the confidence that we have the potential and the training to be one of the best. The victory gave us the motivation to build on that success in the future.

What have you been focusing on improving this season?
EP: Ice Dancing is not only a sport, but an art too. We are working on expressing ourselves more while achieving high levels for our elements.

RG: We have been focusing on making our movements flowing and smoothing our transitions from the fast to slow passages of our music.

What are your goals for Nationals?
EP: Our goal is to skate two clean programs and enjoy the experience of being at Nationals with other Academy teams.

RG: Our goal is to have all of our hard work reflected in our dances. We have made vast improvements since Sectionals and hope that the hard work will show in our scores. We also have aspirations for Junior Worlds.

What would it mean to you to make the Junior Worlds team?
EP: It would mean our training paid off, but it's only the beginning in order to make the Senior World team some day. 

RG: It would be a great opportunity for us to continue gaining international experience and an honor to represent our country again.

What skaters do you look up to?
EP: My coaches and fellow competitors from WISA Academy. From previous champions, I admire Sasha Cohen, who was so beautiful and flexible that I love to learn and perform her unique elements. Among ice dancers, I look up to Olympic champions Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, my previous coaches in California, and Tanith Belbin, whose beauty and talent helped me to choose to pursue Ice Dancing.

RG: My coach, Alexei Kiliakov. He is the hardest working man I know and his dedication to his skaters can not be matched.

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