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Editor’s Note: Five days after this article was originally published, Anastasia Smirnova When Danil Sianitzia announced that the injury Smirnova sustained prevented her from training until mid-February, so she withdrew from the US Figure Skating Championships. Smirnova and Sianitzia rank her third among the U.S. pairs in her best total her score this season, and her third of her three pairs on the team at the World Championships in March. I plan to apply for one.

The tapestry of life has thousands of threads, with strong, neutral, monochromatic warp threads covered with thin weft threads in multiple colors, creating a scene where moments and enduring images can be brought together.

Events conspire to begin unraveling everything, transforming a calm and comfortable landscape into an unnervingly jarring one, and a seemingly stable life into one filled with uncertainty. This is what happened in the life of a pair skater in Anastasia Smirnova When Danil Sianitzia.

In the weft of the tapestry, the azure blue and golden yellow threads of the Ukrainian flag are combined with the coral red, bright white and navy blue threads of the United States. The color represents the past, present and future of a team that left Dnipro, Ukraine, where they were born and raised two years away, to build a sporting life 8,200 miles away in the Minneapolis suburb where they coached and trained. Trudy Ortmans.

Their move included the expected cultural and linguistic turmoil and separation from their families. Nothing threatened the integrity and strength of the warp or weft of their story.

“We had no trouble adjusting,” Sianytsia said in a recent Zoom interview. His English has become fluent.

And on February 24th last year, Russia’s unilateral invasion of Ukraine began, beginning a war that lasted nearly a year, tearing apart the fabric of millions of lives.

world apart

Dnipro, a city of about one million inhabitants in east-central Ukraine, had largely escaped the horrors of war until Saturday when Russian missiles destroyed most of civilian apartments and killed more than 40 people. The missile destroyed about six dozen apartment buildings, blew out windows in nearby residences, and evicted many others.

Oltmanns said via text message that both Smirnova and Sianytsia’s families are safe.

“I woke up in the morning and saw the news that the place where I used to play with my friends as a child was destroyed. said. In her Sunday text message forwarded by her coach, she said.

Smirnova, 18, and Siianytsia, 22, last saw family members in person after the World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Estonia nine months ago. Smirnova’s mother managed to reach Estonia from a refugee camp in Poland. Sianitzia met her mother and her sister, now 5, who spent her three months in a refugee camp in Poland immediately after the Russian invasion. Their mother eventually returned to Ukraine with her husband.

Siianitsia’s mother, stepfather, sister and brother, and Smirnova’s mother, stepfather and sister-in-law, all returned for several months to Dnipro, home to more than 100,000 refugees from besieged Far Eastern Ukraine. More than 1,000 of her danger sirens have been sounded in Dnipro over the past 11 months, and fortunately almost all of them have not been followed by an attack.

“As a man who could serve (in the army), I felt guilty for leaving,” Sianitzia said. “We both talked to therapists.”

He talks to his family at least once a day and she talks many times. Both of their stepfathers work for the local defense group, which Sianytsia likens to a neighborhood watch.

“I read only pro-Ukrainian news, positive, not negative,” he said. “It helps a little.”

an accidental pairing

All this time they have continued to train in good health and compete in the most difficult disciplines of figure skating. Minor shifts or mistakes in concentration can lead to stunning falls in this area, especially when a man is holding a woman overhead. Such a fall in the lift at last May’s show left Smirnova with a concussion and jeopardized the start of her current season, her first full season as a senior-level competitor.

It was one of several physical misadventures for the pair, who began skating together in 2018 after their first tryouts at Smirnova’s Dnipro High School gymnasium. He would have been a medal contender for the U.S. Championships.

(Jurij Kodrun – International Skating Union/International Skating Union via Getty Images)

It seems quite remarkable how Cyanitsia was first, or not at all, connected with the Ortmans.

“I wondered about that question too,” he said with a wry smile.

His name appeared on partner search sites, figure skating versions of dating apps, and sites that typically had women far outnumber men. Sianytsia’s mother was friends with the skater’s mother who helped the Oltmanns prepare for the show. His mother encouraged him to move to the United States because his competitive career was stalling in Ukraine. A recommendation from a friend of hers was enough for Coach to invite him to Minnesota, where he has lived at her house since arriving in the summer of 2016.

“When I picked him up at the airport, he was 15 and weighed about 90 pounds.

At that point, Ortmans said Sianizia had failed to land a single Axel. By 2018, he was bigger and stronger, mastering every triple his jump while battling his two seasons in intermediate and entry-level singles. That’s when he and Ortmans started looking for a partner for the pair, and Sianizia saw Smirnova’s name on a partner search site. Although the two skated at the same rink in Dnipro, they were just acquaintances due to the four-year age difference.

Smirnova, who goes by the name Nastyia, skated in a Ukrainian pair with Artem Darenskyi, who won the national junior title in 2017 and competed on the ISU Junior Grand Prix circuit the following season. After that partnership ended, she was also looking and got in touch with Sianytsia. When he returned to Dnipro in May 2018 to take his high school graduation exams (he had been schooled online) and visited his family, Oltmanns shared a tryout he saw on FaceTime. I arranged.

“I said to him, ‘I’m not quite sure what I’m looking for, but you’re there, try it.’ It’s just that he was just the right height for me.”

That FaceTime was enough to invite Smirnova, who initially lived with the coach but now shares an apartment with another skater. Both grew up to Russian-speaking parents — coaches insisted they speak only English from waking up to 6 p.m.

During the 45-minute Zoom interview, he was talkative, but she was more withdrawn. That’s the opposite of how they act directly, the coach said.

long way to go

Their early partnership has survived one after another for three years. Covid restrictions. Short at the 2021 Nationals on the eve of her program, when she won the junior title in a program they intentionally watered down, she injured her ankle. Withdrew from what was their senior national debut at the 2022 Nationals when both contracted Covid. His Covid infection lasted for several weeks before turning into bronchitis and flu. And the Russian invasion temporarily lost the desire to train.

They had earned a place for the US team at the 2022 Junior World Championships based on past results. Despite his illness and their declining motivation, they did not withdraw as there was no one qualified to take their place. After seemingly accepting the idea, Sianitzia said she wanted to go to the world, and US Figure Skating approved the idea.

(Jurij Kodrun – International Skating Union/International Skating Union via Getty Images)

“I wanted to go for three reasons,” he said. “One was that I could do it with very little training. Second, my partner met her mother and I met her family. We got (more) spots for our next kids.”

As the only U.S. team in the event with just 10 pairs, they earned the federation’s second spot just by finishing. But they topped it off, taking fourth place.

Smirnova then suffered a concussion and was unable to train consistently for several weeks. The 2022-23 season started with a difficult 7th place finish at the Challenger Series event in Finland in early October. Shortly after they returned to Minnesota, Sianitzia injured his groin, forcing him to withdraw from his senior Grand Prix debut at Skate America.

Ortmans said he was unable to put together a solid two weeks of training into November, finishing in a respectable fourth place three weeks before his Grand Prix debut in Finland.

They then won another Challenger Series event, the Golden Spin in Zagreb, in early December with their best scores in the free skate and total.

“We were a lot more nervous in Finland[Grand Prix]than in Zagreb.

“The win was a boost for the national competition, especially since the short program was not as good as we had hoped and we had some small mistakes in the free skate,” said Sianizia. “It showed me the score I could get if I skated cleanly. It gave me confidence because I knew I had almost double the time to prepare for the national competition.”

Having stood on the award podium alongside Smirnova in Croatia, where two skaters from one country wore the competitive colors of another, Sianitzia was not good enough to compete in Ukraine as a young skater. Even if it didn’t, I felt that the achievement could resonate in both places.

“We were very proud to know that Ukrainian and American athletes looked up to you. “Maybe they wanted to be like you. Like when you look at the 2018 gold medalists. i saw savchenko When Bruno Masso). She was Ukrainian, he was French, and they just enjoyed figure skating, performance, and the sport as much as we do.

Both he and Smirnova have green cards. This is another thread color in the current tapestry iteration. You must become a US citizen by the time you qualify for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

“While I feel an emotional connection to Ukraine, my heritage, and my family, I have never felt as an athlete, that I represent, and that I am part of the U.S. team.

They become yellow and blue in their souls and red, white and blue on ice, weaving the threads of their lives into compelling tales.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to

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