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Russians looking for gold after surgery

Domnina and Shabalin gear up for Europeans

Maxim Shabalin has recovered from his meniscus surgery and looks to win gold at the Europeans with his partner, Oksana Domnina.
Maxim Shabalin has recovered from his meniscus surgery and looks to win gold at the Europeans with his partner, Oksana Domnina. (Getty Images)

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By Tatiana Flade, special to icenetwork.com
(01/18/2008) - After winning the gold medal at the Grand Prix Final in December, Russian ice dancer Maxim Shabalin had to go straight to the hospital, instead of back to the ice to train for the next event. The 25-year-old underwent meniscus surgery on his left knee, but he has been back on the ice since Jan. 4 and is ready to compete at the 2008 European Championships with partner Oksana Domnina in Zagreb, Croatia.

The Europeans will kick off with the compulsory dance on Tuesday, Jan. 22. After winning the silver medal at Europeans last year, where they only narrowly lost to Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder of France, Domnina and Shabalin now want to challenge for the gold. The couple missed Russian nationals at the beginning of the year because Shabalin was still recovering, but they performed very well in their other competitions this season, even though Maxim was battling injuries.

"This season I have a lighter version of my body. I lost the meniscus and the appendix," Shabalin joked in an interview with icenetwork.com. He first underwent meniscus surgery on his right knee in May and started to train fully only in July.

"This is very unusual for us; normally our programs are ready at this time," Domnina added. In September, Shabalin came down with appendicitis and had another surgery. The couple lost more precious training time but made it to their first Grand Prix, the Cup of China, in early November.

"We had two choices -- to work twice as hard to make up for the lost time, even though that was a bit risky, or to cancel the competition. But we wanted to compete," Domnina explained.

The team led after the compulsory and original dances but eventually lost to Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto in the free dance. The Russians lost major points in their program, because Shabalin accidentally lifted his partner during their spin. According to the judging system, this was ruled a lift, it received only a level-one and it gave them five lifts total, one too many. This deduction cost them the gold medal.

Domnina and Shabalin then won the Cup of Russia at home without facing strong competition and edged out their top rivals -- Belbin and Agosto and Delobel and Schoenfelder -- at the Final in Turin by less than two points.

Shabalin, however, already was suffering from pain in his left knee. "It happened at the very end of the last practice at home. I put down my foot in a wrong way, and it hurt so much I hardly could walk," Shabalin told icenetwork.com. The Russians didn't even know if they could compete in the Final but traveled to Italy anyway. The dancer thought he was suffering from an inflammation in the knee, but when he came home on December 17, he was diagnosed with another torn meniscus. Surgery was inevitable.

But now he is optimistic for Europeans. "It was my decision to make, and I took it. We're going to compete at Europeans," Shabalin said in an interview with the Russian agency "Allsport."

"I didn't want to lose the form that Oksana and I got into in the middle of the season for the Grand Prix Final. If I had rested and taken a lot of time for my recovery, we would have needed to start from scratch in our preparation for worlds. I didn't want to cancel this competition [Europeans], didn't want get up from this chair on which I just sat down with Oskana. It's pulled away immediately, faster than you can look! But, most of all, I listened to my inner feelings, and I feel that I can compete," he explained.

Domnina and Shabalin hope that they can take another step towards their big goal for the season, the top of the podium at worlds. After being touted as medal contenders last season, they only finished fifth at the world championships in Tokyo.

"Our goal since the past two seasons now has been winning, everywhere, in each competition," Domnina said. "I think that is the goal of each athlete. The job is to be first, to be the best. At worlds [last year], we felt that we skated well for ourselves, but just the circumstances weren't in our favor. Mainly we drew the conclusion that we just need to work, work, work, to work a million times harder."

Domnina and Shabalin were not able to work as hard as they would have liked when preparing for Europeans, but with their two strong programs -- a lively Cossack Dance in the original dance and a dramatic "Waltz Masquerade" in the free dance -- they want to come out on top in Zagreb. There, Shabalin can give himself the best birthday present, as he'll turn 26 on Friday, Jan. 25, the day of the free dance.