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Shpilband opens new horizons for Russian duo

Riazanova, Tkachenko enjoy atmosphere in renowned coach's camp

Ekaterina Riazanova and Ilia Tkachenko won their second career Grand Prix medal, a bronze, last month at Skate Canada.
Ekaterina Riazanova and Ilia Tkachenko won their second career Grand Prix medal, a bronze, last month at Skate Canada. (Getty Images)

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By Vladislav Luchianov, special to icenetwork.com
(11/14/2012) - The Russian ice dance duo of Ekaterina Riazanova and Ilia Tkachenko are paying special attention to improving the quality of their skating this season.

In the offseason, the skaters began a collaboration with renowned specialist Igor Shpilband, who, with Marina Zoueva, mentored the two leading couples in modern ice dancing: Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

Although their coaching alliance fell apart last summer and the colleagues became competitors, the constructive rivalry between them likely will benefit ice dancing in general. This can already be seen in the development of Riazanova and Tkachenko.

At the second stage of the Grand Prix Series, Skate Canada, the team showed the first results of their work with Shpilband. The Russians took third place, behind Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, who also train with Shpilband, and Vancouver Olympic champions Virtue and Moir, who work with Zoueva.

The decision to work with Shpilband's group was made by the skaters and their head coach, Alexei Gorshkov.

"All issues we decided together, and [we] unanimously chose Igor Shpilband," Tkachenko said. "Maybe it's because we are used to working with men. And maybe the fact that both leading couples, Virtue and Moir and Davis and White, remained to work with Zoueva played a role. Igor also has strong ice dancers -- for example, Cappellini and Lanotte -- but in his team, there are more opportunities to grow and develop."

The issue of whether Riazanova and Tkachenko should go either to Shpilband or Zoueva has been discussed in Russia for a long time. First, it was only as a consultation, which then became a full cooperation.

"Our federation suggested we try this option, and we do not regret that we agreed to it. The atmosphere in the group is very constructive and friendly at the same time," Tkachenko said. "We will not only go to his camp in America, as it was in the summer, or before Skate Canada; at all competitions, Shpilband will be with us."

"Everyone supports you. In practices, we have not only technical support but the mental [aspect] also," Riazanova said. "Many professionals are working with us in various fields. There's even a ballet dancer."

Jana Khokhlova -- the 2009 European ice dance champion who competed with Sergei Novitski and also worked with Shpilband while she was teamed with another partner, Fedor Andreev -- is very glad about the recent results of Riazanova and Tkachenko.

"Their progress is already visible. Igor has brought a fresh wave to their performances," Khokhlova said. "I can say that the guy's skating has improved overall, and their style also has changed a little bit. In general, they've left a good impression."

Shpilband hopes his cooperation with Russian dancers will be long lasting.

"Our plans are serious enough. They have big prospects and potential, but, of course, it takes time," Shpilband told Sovsport. "It makes no sense to begin something like this for a short time, so I hope our work will continue."

"I think they were good at Skate Canada and showed two strong programs. Ekaterina and Ilia looked very good in both of their dances. Both programs were skated clean, especially the free dance. I'm very pleased with their performances," Shpilband said. "But, of course, there are many things that can be improved."

Gorshkov believes that his students' level of ice dancing has advanced and hopes for further successes.

"For several years, they have worked only with me and our choreographer. At some point, I realized that they needed a new impetus, fresh ideas and so-called 'change of scenery,' Gorshkov told the Podmoskovie journal. "I believe that this move (working with Shpilband) has fully justified itself. The skating of Ekaterina and Ilia became better; they've increased the speed of their movement on the ice by 20-25 percent. Cooperation with Shpilband will continue, so I look forward to further improvements."