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Petukhov soaks up Olympic spirit at IOA in Athens

2006 Olympic ice dancer plans to use what he learned to expand "Fever on Ice" program

Denis Petukhov (right) with USOC representatives Michelle Brown and Justin O'Connell at the International Olympic Academy.
Denis Petukhov (right) with USOC representatives Michelle Brown and Justin O'Connell at the International Olympic Academy. (courtesy of Denis Petukhov)

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By Mickey Brown
(07/05/2012) - For two weeks in June, Denis Petukhov immersed himself in the spirit of Olympism.

Petukhov was in Athens June 16-30 for the "52nd International Session for Young Participants" of the International Olympic Academy (IOA). The assembly brought together people from all walks of life -- from professors to sports management majors to physical education teachers to former Olympians -- to learn about the Olympic movement through a variety of programs, lectures and seminars.

Petukhov, who attended as an athlete representative, was a natural fit to take part in the session: Not only does his story embody the idea of Olympism, but he and wife Melissa Gregory have put those ideals into practice through their acclaimed "Fever on Ice" program, enriching the lives of young people through education and athletics.

"It was helpful to go through the course to learn about Olympism, fair play, tolerance, respect for others," Petukhov said. "These are things we will incorporate into our program."

The overall theme of the two-week session was "Propagating Democracy through the Olympic Movement." Prospective attendees had to write an essay on this topic to gain admittance.

"I wrote my life story: living in three countries -- USSR; young, democratic Russia; and the U.S," Petukhov said. "In the U.S., I couldn't compete in the Olympics in 2002; I wasn't a citizen. Only in 2006 did my Olympic dream come true.

"It was a great match."

As one of the topics at the IOA was "Is the Olympic movement only about winning medals?" Petukhov was asked to relate his and Gregory's story.

"My experience not only was about medals but about two countries coming together, learning how to work together," Petukhov said. "Two countries that were always fighting -- we represented the opposite. We fell in love. Our Olympic experience was much sweeter. It was very meaningful."

Participants also got a chance to venture outside the classroom, to bask in the culture at the site of the ancient Olympics. Organizers of the session orchestrated an opening ceremonies and torch relay, and attendees were taken to see the ruins of Olympia.

Petukhov noted that while many other countries have established their own Olympic academies, to his knowledge, there isn't one up and running in the U.S. (It is his understanding that while one did exist at one time, through a combined effort of Penn State University and the U.S. Olympic Committee, its whereabouts are unknown.)

He wants to look into the possibility of starting -- or reviving, whatever the case may be -- such an institution in this country.

"What's not developed in our country is education about tolerance of different countries, the respect we need to have for each other. We need to use sports as a tool to accomplish this," Petukhov said. "People usually come together when they play sports. It's very democratic. It aids in personal development, understanding and learning how to improve society, how a team works, Olympic values -- it's a great educational tool."

Petukhov left Athens with the goal of finalizing a course on Olympism and the ideals of sport for "Fever on Ice." He and Gregory also want to start a course about women in sport and the importance of girls participating in athletics.

Petukhov said, "We have math, reading, all the other subjects. This trip is going to impact the other part, the personal development. We want to use things like art, poetry, music, all these other components, to create good balance with reading and writing. We want to use sport as the main tool to explore all this and learn."