2023 Australian Open Men’s Singles Draw

Editor’s Note: Five days after this story was first published, Anastasia Smirnova And Daniel Cyanicia announced their withdrawal from the US Figure Skating Championships due to Smirnova’s injury, which will prevent them from training until mid-February. Smirnova and Cyanitsya, who have the third-best US pairs score this season, plan to petition to have one of three team pairs at the World Championships for March.

There are thousands of threads in the tapestry of life, with solid, neutral monochromatic twisted yarns topped with multiple colors of delicate weft yarns to create a scene that can piece together a moment in time or a lasting image.

Events can conspire to make everything begin to unravel as well, turning a stable and pleasant view into a discordant and disturbing one, and a seemingly stable life into one filled with uncertainty. This is what happened to the lives of American skaters Anastasia Smirnova And Daniel Cyanicia.

In the weft of their fabric, the azure blue threads and golden yellow of the flag of Ukraine are combined with the coral red, bright white and dark blue of the United States. The colors illustrate the past, present and future of the team that left their native Dnipro, Ukraine two years apart to build a sporting life 5,200 miles away in the Minneapolis suburbs, where they train with the coach. Trudi Oltmans.

Their movement involved predictable cultural and linguistic disintegration and separation of families, difficult obstacles but surmountable in a world ever more interconnected. Nobody threatens the integrity and power of telling their story or woof.

“We had no problem adjusting,” Siianytsia said in a recent Zoom interview, and is now fluent in his English.

Then came last February 24, when Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine started a war that has lasted nearly a year, ripping through the tissues of millions of lives.

world away

Dnipro, a city of about a million people in eastern and central Ukraine, was largely spared the horror of war until Saturday, when a Russian missile destroyed most of a civilian apartment building and killed more than 40 people. The missile destroyed about six dozen apartments and also destroyed windows in nearby residential buildings, displacing many other people.

Via text message, Oltmans said the Smirnova and Cyanitsya families were doing well.

“I feel really bad waking up and seeing the news like that, that the places where you used to hang out with your friends when you were little were destroyed, and I also feel so sad for the people who have been affected by this explosion,” Sciantsia said in a text message on Sunday forwarded by the coach.

Smirnova, 18, and Sianitsya, 22, saw their family members in person after the World Junior Figure Skating Championships nine months ago in Estonia. Smirnova’s mother managed to get from a refugee camp in Poland to Estonia. Siianytsia saw his mother and sister, now 5, in a refugee camp in Poland, where they spent three months immediately after the Russian invasion. Their mothers eventually returned to Ukraine to be with their husbands, who could not leave under wartime martial law should they be called up to fight.

Siianytsia’s mother, stepfather, sister and half-brother and Smirnova’s mother, stepfather and half-sister have been returning to Dnipro for several months now, which has become home to more than 100,000 refugees from Ukraine’s embattled far east. A siren has sounded in Dnipro more than 1,000 times in the past 11 months, but fortunately no attack has followed.

“As a man who could serve (in the army), I felt guilty that I had left,” Sciantsia said. “We both talked to the therapists.”

He talks to his family at least once a day, several times. Their stepfathers serve in a local advocacy group that Cyanitsya likens to neighborhood watch.

“I only read the pro-Ukrainian news,” he said, “to go with the positive instead of the negative.” “This helps a little bit.”

serendipitous pairing

Throughout all this, when healthy, they continued to train and compete in the most dangerous discipline in figure skating, one in which a small slip of focus or error can lead to an alarming fall, especially when a man lifts a woman above his head. That fall on an elevator at a show the previous May gave Smirnova a concussion, hurting his start to the season, his first full season as a top-level competitor.

It was one of several physical misfortunes for a pair who began skating together in 2018, after an initial tryout on the gym floor at Smirnova’s Dnipro High School. However, they would have been medal contenders at the US Championships in San Jose, California.

(Jurij Kodrun – International Ski Federation / International Ski Federation via Getty Images)

How Sianytsia first — or at all — came into contact with the Oltmanns seems rather remarkable, given that he skated with little distinction in Ukraine.

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

His name appeared on a partner-finding site, a skateboarding version of a dating app, a place where women vastly outnumber men. Siianytsia’s mother was a friend of a skater’s mother whom the Oltmanns helped prepare for the shows, and his mother encouraged him to move to the United States because his competitive career had stopped in Ukraine. A friend’s signal was enough for the coach to invite him to Minnesota. He has been living in her house since his arrival in the summer of 2016.

“When I picked him up at the airport, he was about 15 and weighed about 90 pounds. I just wish he had a return ticket,” Oltmans said with a laugh.

At that point, Sciantsia couldn’t land a single axel, Oltmans said. By 2018, he’s getting bigger and stronger, and has mastered all three jumps while competing two seasons in junior-intermediate and junior-level singles. It was then that he and Oltmans began looking for a duet partner, and Cyanitsya saw Smirnova’s name on the partner search site. The two had skated on the same rink in Dnipro, but their four-year age difference meant that they had only fleeting acquaintances.

Smirnova, who goes alongside Nastya, has been skating for Ukraine with Artem Darinsky, winning the 2017 junior national title and competing on the ISU Junior Grand Prix circuit the following season. After that partnership ended, she, too, was searching and contacted Siianytsia. When he returned to Dnipro in May 2018 to take his high school graduation exams (he was studying online) and visit his family, they arranged the experiment, which Oltmann watched via FaceTime.

“I told him, ‘I’m not sure what I’m looking for, but you’re there, so give it a try,’” Oltmans said. “All I can say for sure is that it was a good height for him.”

That FaceTime was enough for her to invite Smirnova, who initially also lived with the coach but now shares an apartment with another skater. To help the couple perfect their English — they both grew up with Russian-speaking parents — the coach insisted they speak nothing but English from waking up until 6 p.m. every day. Smirnova also finished Ukrainian high school online.

During the 45-minute Zoom interview, it was clear she was more withdrawn. This is the opposite of how they behave personally, said the coach.

Along the way

Their budding partnership dragged on for three years of one thing after another: Covid restrictions; injured her ankle the night before the short program at the 2021 Nationals, when they won the junior title with intentionally watered-down programs; pulling out of what was supposed to be their first national appearance in 2022 when they both contracted Covid; His Covid infection lingers for weeks before turning into bronchitis and the flu; Then the Russian invasion which briefly stripped them of all desire to train.

They have earned a spot on the US team for the 2022 World Junior Championships based on past results. Despite his illness and their failing motives, they did not withdraw because there was no one qualified to take his place. After months of frustration and seeming acceptance of the idea of ​​their season ending, Cyanitsya said he wanted to go to the worlds, and Figure Skating USA signed on to the idea.

(Jurij Kodrun – International Ski Federation / International Ski Federation via Getty Images)

“There were three reasons why I wanted to leave,” he said. “One was that I could do it even with a little bit of training. Second, my partner could see her mother, and I would be able to see my family. Third, I wanted to help the union. We have (more) places for the kids to come.”

As the only American team at the event, with only 10 pairs competing, they earned the association’s runner-up spot once they finished. They did better, however, finishing fourth.

Then Smirnova received a concussion, which prevented her from training continuously for several weeks. They started the 2022-23 season in early October with a struggling seventh at a Challenger Series event in Finland. No sooner were they back in Minnesota than Sciantsia developed a sore groin, forcing them to withdraw from what was supposed to be their Grand Prix debut at Skate America.

Oltmanns said they were unable to put together a solid two weeks of training until November, three weeks before they made their Grand Prix debut in Finland, where they finished fourth.

They followed that up by winning the Golden Spin of Zagreb, another Challenger Series event, in early December, with personal best scores for the free and total skate.

“We were much more nervous than Zagreb for Finland (the Grand Prix). We were more mentally prepared there,” Smirnova said.

“The win was a huge boost for the Nationals, especially since the short program wasn’t (of the quality) we wanted, and the free skate had some minor errors,” said Cyanitsya. “It showed us the results we could get if we skated cleanly. Knowing we had almost twice as much time to prepare for the Nationals gave us extra confidence.”

Standing with Smirnova atop the awards podium in Croatia, two skaters from one land wearing the competitive colors of another, Scianitsa felt an achievement could resonate in both places, even if he wasn’t good enough as a young skater to compete for Ukraine.

“We felt very proud, because the athletes of Ukraine or the United States are looking forward to you,” he said. “Maybe they wanted to be like you, the way you looked at the German Olympic couple (2018 gold medalists) Alyona Savchenko And Bruno Massot). She was Ukrainian, he was French, and they were doing what we all do: figure skating, performing, enjoying the sport itself, no matter what flag it represented.”

Both he and Smirnova have green cards — another color of thread for the current iteration of the tapestry — and must become US citizens in time to be eligible for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

“I feel an emotional bond with Ukraine, my heritage and my family, but I just felt as an athlete that I represented it and that I was part of the American team,” said Syanitsya.

They can be yellow and blue in spirit, and red, white and blue on the ice, weaving the threads of their lives into a compelling story.

Philip Hirsch, who has covered snowboarding for the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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