Hundreds of youngsters head to the McCann Ice Arena in Poughkeepsie every year for figure skating lessons, many of them, no doubt, with dreams of making it to the Olympics. Those taking ice dance classes have an edge: One of the instructors has first-hand knowledge of what it takes to get there.
Sergei Sakhnovskiy, who teaches solo ice dance, skated in three Olympics (1998, 2002, and 2006) with partner Galit Chait. The Russian-born athlete and his partner finished as high as 6th place in the 2002 games, in the Ice Dancing Mixed category.
The dark-haired, blue-eyed Sakhnovskiy, 42, first got onto the ice at age 4 in his native Moscow, where he had to participate in a three-day audition to enter the Junior Figure Skating School. He missed the first day, and ended up in 26th place in the rankings. Problem was, the school historically accepted only 25 new students a year. But the teacher must have seen something special, because Sakhnovskiy was allowed to join.
Training was intense, even at age 4. Practice was held four days per week, before and after school. When he was 8 years old, Sakhnovskiy realized he preferred ice dancing to figure skating: “I was scared to jump on skates,” he says, matter of factly. “In ice dancing, you do not jump.”
In addition to skating every week (two days indoors, two days outside), students studied ballet twice a week and needed “off-ice training” (endurance and strength) twice a week. He grew better every year, moving on to more advanced skating schools as he aged.
All that training paid off, as Sakhnovskiy and then-skating partner, Ekaterina Svirina, began competing internationally; they won the gold at the 1993 Junior Olympics, and a silver medal the following year.
Word spread about this talented young Russian. And in 1995 he had a tryout with Galit Chait, a Russian-Israeli skater from the United States, to be her partner and train to represent Israel at the Olympics. “They came to Russia and brought him back to the US to train while they got his Israeli citizenship,” explains Sakhnovskiy’s wife, Laurie. “A lot of Russian skaters skate for other countries, because [Russia] is a very competitive country to skate for.”
His thoughts on the Olympics? “The opening ceremonies are amazing,” Sakhnovskiy says. “Other than that, it is a lot of hard work.”
In between those Olympic experiences, he and Chait competed (and medaled) in several international competitions a year, including Skate Israel, the World Figure-Skating Championships, and the European Figure-Skating Championships.
Although his Olympic experiences were over after 2006, he never stopped skating. He performed on the popular Russian TV show Skating with the Stars – Ice Age. Then he moved to New York City, where he coached skaters. He met Laurie through a mutual friend while they were both coaching an ice show there. Laurie also coaches — “She jumps well,” Sakhnovskiy says with admiration — and was a Junior National Pairs Gold Medalist, and a double Gold Medalist in national figure skating. Together the couple founded New York’s first National Theater on Ice team, the Ice Scrapers.
They moved to Dutchess County last summer, and both coach at McCann. They have a little one — perhaps a future skater? — of their own, 15-month-old Luca.
Sakhnovskiy has advice for aspiring Olympians: “Be stubborn to get results. Use your coach and their knowledge to your advantage.”
Does he see future Olympians in his students? He’ll only say that if you have that dream, you need to work hard at it. “You have 20 seconds on the [Olympic] podium, but it takes 20 years [of work] to get there.”