Gorgeous shirtless men lifting each other? Sign me up! Ukraine's Aleksander Liubchenko and France's Jean-Denis Sanchis have only been skating together as an acrobatic duo for a short time, but they are already earning a huge fan following in Europe and abroad and taking artistic and professional skating by storm. I was fortunate enough to speak with them leading up to the Xtreme Ice World Skating Championships in Russia, one of the few true live professional competitions out there offering an opportunity to acrobatic skaters worldwide to showcase their talents and compete in an ISU free zone of real creativity. We talked about their careers in competitive skating, what brought them together, how they learned some of the death-defying tricks they perform and much, much more. Get ready for an interview you are going to just love!
A from Aleksander: I began to skate when I was four years old because my father wanted me to become a hockey player. For this age, there was no difference in ages with the figure skaters and hockey players and I skated just to twelve years old in men's skating. I had all doubles and two triple jumps. After my federation decided to change my sport career, they gave me to the ice dancing. I can tell you that I was sure that ice dancing was not sport but after the first week of training, I understood that skating skills wise it is very, very difficult. I skated in Ukraine in the ice dancing pair and I made fix or six Junior Grand Prix and a lot of international competitions. I won a lot of them but after I decided to change my country because my Federation can't propose for me something great after my sport career. After two years of problems with Visa I came to France to skate with a French girl named Sarah Robert Sifaoui and so that's how I met JD. I made my first backflip on the ground at fourteen years old in the summer camp with my ex team so when I came to the new club in Bordeaux, I saw one crazy guy who made a lot of things on the ice and he is not so tall. I proposed just for a joke to make one lift from the pair skating but without technique or physical preparation and with our difference of weight of 15 kg (me 75 and he 60) it was not possible. We worked a lot and we learned some things I remembered from Besedin and Polishuk because when I was young I saw that they have already have been skating together and made a lot of things, so I proposed to make something like this. Our first presentation on public date of our acrobatic pair was on April 23, 2013.
A from Jean-Denis: I begin to skate ten years ago in Bordeaux Sport Ice just for fun at the beginning, I had my first partner at twelve years of ago and then when I was eighteen I was looking for a new partner and found Maria Stepanova from St. Petersburg but she did not have a Visa to change countries. In September 2012, I was at the Conservatoire de Bordeaux in contemporary dance C3 second year, to spend a DEC (Diplôme d'Educator Choreographer). In February 2013, Sarah Robert Sifaoui and Aleksander Liubchenko changed figure skating club from Paris and moved to the hometown of Sarah: Bordeaux. I sometimes helped Sarah and Aleksander in search of lifts, in the lobby. Sarah was extremely compact and agile but I saw HE easily did the work as a partner and he wasn't afraid of elements.
Q: How do you even create and perfect all of the crazy acrobatic tricks that you do? I imagine a lot of work happens off ice but have you worked with other male/male acrobatic pairs to perfect all of these risky elements as well?
A from Jean-Denis: One day Aleksander offered to me jokingly to do lifts. We learned a little technical ground is still hard PHYSICALLY to make up. Before, we could only do a backflip on the ground but we were excited about being acrobats on skates like Besedin and Polishuk.
A from Aleksander: Before we watched the tricks and elements in some videos, so for the beginning for us it was a joke and we worked together just when we wanted and in the garden or on the street but after invitation for the gala of the champions on the Grand Prix in Paris, we understood that it is interesting a lot of people and we began to have fans. We understood that we must work more and make more crazy things for impress public. So, in January 2014 we found one training place in our city and began to train and we had the progress but not so fast. In August 2014, we had found another place with a coach and real acrobats who won the French Championships and they were third in the World Championships in 2014. They are really great so we began to train with them and very, very fast we learn elements with high difficulty (like Besedin and Polishuk) but to transfer all of this on the ice we need more time, but you will see all this one day!
Q: You'll be joining skaters like Philippe Candeloro, Zabato Bebe, Marie-Pierre Leray, Annette Dytrt and Yannick Bonheur, Akop Manoukian and Aidas Reklys, Ievgen Lukashenko and Anton Kovalevski and American Open Champions Vladimir Besedin and Alexei Polishuk at this year's Xtreme Ice World Championships in Russia. What are your goals and secret weapons for this competition?
A from Aleksander: We are ice dancers, so no one from this competition can show more skating skills than we. This time we are changed and worked on our choreography a lot, so you will see something extraordinary. We have three new, new elements for example a backflip from my shoulders and two acrobatic lifts with the speed. Our goals are very simple. We want to WIN and now we are sure that we can!
A from Aleksander: I had learned my first backflip before our first presentation together. I could do it on the ground but on the ice it is different. You need to have good coordination. I did my first backflip perfectly for two days of training and for the next two days JD made exactly the same. I had sent one letter in June 2013 with one question to Guinness if anyone already had this record. I had an answer that Robin Cousins had the record in 5.48 meters which is really long. I wasn't sure I could beat it so I didn't answer Guinness. In May 2014, CBBC contacted me and proposed to me that I try to beat it and I said okay. I had a problem with my knee from the gym when I made the record. The exit was very bad the first two times. I tried to beat the record three times. The first time I made 5.28 meters. Here I realized all of the cameras from CBBC are on me and other French channels as well and I must win the record. The second time I had 5.50 and I won by .02 but understanding it was so close, I took the jump a third time with speed and got 6.09 meters, beating an Olympic Champion.
Q: How can "regular" skaters get more involved in acrobatic skating? There isn't exactly a how to book!
A from Aleksander: When I will put all of the gymnastic elements on the ice, I hope to open an ice acrobatic school but the message for now for everyone is try and don't be afraid.
A from Jean-Denis: There is a lack of skaters trying to repeat and improve acrobatics on ice. We aim at this, of course. but use common sense and self-preservation instincts to protect ourselves when doing acrobatic tricks like all of the world's best skaters like Philippe Candeloro, Surya Bonaly, Kurt Browning and others. We find working in the gym on new elements is important. We work on things in the gym to stop rotation of the body for fear of injury and proficiency. We use a special retainer for the neck. The MOST significant thing is stability. When we first transferred moves to the ice common sense and self-preservation instincts were not working and the first elements that were transferred to the ice FORMED the basis of fear. You have to spend the time in the gym practicing because when you perform adrenaline just rolls over you. If you stand on bare shoulders, the weight of the sharp blade and the risk of slipping and your carotid artery is very dangerous. You already know about the specifics of the lifts but speed with these tricks can cause injury. When you jump a somersault on the ground your feet and shoulder width are apart and you have to break up and wait when you turn. On the ice when you stick and you stick your toe pick and it is not parallel to the ice, there is an issue. To show acrobatics, you must test yourselves. Aim farther into the forest for the more wood!
Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why?
A from Aleksander: First, Kurt Browning. I think he is the best single skater ever. He made jumps but his performances and skating skills are great. I want to skate on the same ice with him! Secondly, ice dancing couple Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat. Then, pair skaters Volosozhar and Trankov. They are amazing. It is like Kurt Browning but in pairs. Of course, also my first coach who learned me basic skating in my home town in Kharkow, Tatiana Vasilievna Grusheva.
Q: What's one thing most people don't know about you?
A from Aleksander: We first made backflips with the blades for the ice dancing (MK Dance). I have education of the artists of ballet (classic choreography). I have finished ballet school and college so I am choreographing ballet classic and I am coaching now with JD and studying choreography.
A from Aleksander: It is the speed... and the possibilities on the ice.
A from Jean-Denis: I love to and want for the future to push my abilities to maximum on the ice with Aleksander, to go to the highest possible level by showing you that skating can be more than what one sees on TV to give you always more fun!
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