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Monday, 11 February, 2002, 00:47 GMT

Ups and downs of Russia's pair

By BBC Sport Online's James Cowling

Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, the Russian pair embroiled in the biggest controversy of the Games so far, are no strangers to the drama they currently face.

Talk of whether the gold they won ahead of Canada in Monday's pairs final was justified or not has refused to go away since the medals were placed around their necks.

The uproar which followed the judges' decisions has even seen the International Skating Union launch an inquiry into the final.

And although the ISU insists the results will not be changed, the fact that they have been moved to take such action can only have tarnished the pairs' achievements.

Nevertheless, Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze will perhaps be less surprised than anyone else at the situation they find themselves in.

Ever since winning the silver medal at the Nagano Games in 1998, their time on an off the ice has been somewhat tumultuous.

Even before the latest controversy broke, Sikharulidze was moved to speak of the traumas of their recent past.

At the end of their fine performance in Saturday's short programme, he said, "Many things have happened to us in the last four years, good and bad.

"To be here and skate well is just great."

After winning their second World title in 1998 in Helsinki, they decided to follow their coach, Tamara Moskvina, to train in the United States.

"Berezhnaya had to practice alone for an exhibition number when her partner didn't show up"
James Cowling

At the European Championships the following year in Vienna, Sikharulidze was sporting a huge cut over his left eye.

He declined to comment, but did say that living in America was a huge adjustment for them.

A few weeks later, they were stripped of their European title after Berezhnaya tested positive for a banned substance.

She had taken an over the counter medicine for a cold during the event.

The Russians have also had their share of inconsistency problems over the years too.

At the Cup of Russia in November, they were third in the short program after a disastrous skate.

Their off ice partnership also seems a bit turbulent.

Last year during the World Championships in Vancouver, Sikharulidze failed to show up at a function.

When asked where he was, Berezhnaya shrugged her shoulders.

The couple also missed the exhibition due to illness.

Party antics

It was rumoured that he had been up all night partying.

At a competition earlier this season, Berezhnaya had to practice alone for an exhibition number when her partner didn't show up.

The 1980 Olympic Champion, Robin Cousins, said recently, "The Russians are in a class of their own in everything they do. They've been lacking emotion of late and that somewhat depends if they are on speaking terms."

If the two can hold it together for the remainder of the competition, they will keep the Russian tradition in pairs' skating alive.

Russian pair teams have won the Olympic gold medal every four years since 1964.

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