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Olympics dream coming true

NFA student to represent Russia
extra photo- Going to the Olympics is Russian skater Ksenia Makarova, a junior at NFA. Photo taken at Ice Time in the Town of Newburgh.Times Herald-Record/DOMINICK FIORILLE
By KEN McMILLAN
Times Herald-Record

NEWBURGH — Ksenia Makarova has a lot in common with her classmates at Newburgh Free Academy. She enjoys listening to music, especially Lady Gaga. She likes going to movies and shopping. She's learning trigonometry, how to write better essays in English class and getting ready for her SATs.

When she returns to school on Monday, Makarova probably has the best answer to the question: What did you do over the holidays?

Makarova — better known to her friends by her nickname Ksusha (Soo-sha) — won the Russian national figure skating title on Christmas, and received word on Thursday that she will represent her homeland at next month's Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia.

"Being in the Olympics is just going to be fabulous," Makarova, 17, said Friday, her last day off before resuming a hectic training schedule on Saturday. "I've been dreaming it my whole life, and it coming true is amazing."

Not bad for the kid who really didn't like skating when her family moved from Russia to Newburgh when she was 8 years old, but who learned to love the sport by watching her parents train local figure skaters at Ice Time Sports Complex.

Nine years later, she will represent her family at a third Olympics, following her parents' participation in 1984 in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, where they won a bronze medal in pairs skating, and in 1988 in Calgary, Alberta, where they placed fourth.

"I was really surprised when I won," Makarova said. "It's an honor. I am the champion of the biggest country in the world. It's really nice."

The enormity of her accomplishment caught just about everyone by surprise, especially since Makarova made the jump from junior level to senior competition just two months ago.

The short program is Makarova's strength, and she put herself in great position by placing second on Christmas Eve. Before she went to bed, Makarova thanked her parents for their hard work and promised them she would skate her best the following night.

Right before Ksenia took the ice as the final competitor, Oleg Makarov and Larisa Selezneva offered their daughter some simple advice: Skate your program, just have fun and show what you can do. They watched with hopeful anticipation as she skated a beautiful long program marred by just one fall. Makarova was breathing heavily when her routine reached its conclusion, and she recognized the audience with bows and waves.

The teen clutched stuffed animals in her lap and flashed smiles at the TV cameras as the family waited for the scores. Mom held her daughter's red jacket, with Russia adorned across the back, on her lap while dad rocked a bit impatiently to her right, with crossed legs and arms.

Ksenia was the first to realize she had won when the scores flashed on a monitor, and she pumped her right hand in approval. Oleg squinted at the screen and asked his daughter, "What number does that say?"

"I said, 'I think it says first,'" Makarova said, breaking into a huge grin and nodding in approval. Oleg smiled and opened his arms for a big hug, and Larisa followed with a hug and a kiss of her own. Ksenia flashed a huge smile as she stood up and blew a big kiss to the applauding crowd before departing.

Before long, a podium was set up and the top finishers were presented with medals. Makarova was also presented with a vase-shaped cup with "Russian Nationals" inscribed on it and a picture of the host city, Saint Petersburg. Makarova was especially thrilled with all the flowers she received.

Even with all the pomp and circumstance, the championship still didn't register.

"I woke up the next day and was like, 'Oh my God!'" she said.

"I didn't expect to win this competition," Oleg Makarov said of his daughter, "but inside deep, I understand she can do it, but still for me it was a surprise. All evening and the next morning, it was like I was in shock and still didn't understand what happened. My daughter (was a) champion."

Apparently there was some confusion about whether Makarova had earned one of her nation's two berths to the Olympics, and it was thought she would have to perform well at this month's European Championships to secure her spot. That issue was cleared up when the family received a letter from the Russian skating federation on Thursday with details about the pre-Olympic camp outside of Vancouver, with hotel, meal and uniform information.

"My dad read the letter and then he called me," she said. He said 'Ksusha, come downstairs. You have a letter. I was like, 'Oh no, what's the letter about?' I sat down and read it. That's when we realized that I am going. I got up and hugged my dad. I was really happy."

Makarova will compete for the European title in three weeks, and then in Vancouver three weeks after that. The core elements of her short and long programs will stay the same, but Makarova hinted there might be some subtle changes. Makarova trains with her parents, and receives additional tutoring in New Jersey from famed coach Galina Zmievskaya, 1992 Olympic champion Viktor Petrenko and three-time American champion Johnny Weir.

"I really hope to do well in Europeans, skate clean programs and show myself to be the best I can be, and the same with the Olympics," Makarova said. "I am not expecting to place first, second or third because it will be really hard. I will be competing against really experienced skaters who skated for a while in these competitions. This is, like, me just starting out. There is a chance that I might do really well, but it's hard to say."

Makarova expects everyone will be happy to see her when she returns to her junior-year studies at NFA on Monday. She said she text-messaged and phoned all of her friends when she returned to the states last week.

"My friends were just thrilled," she said. "They were like, 'We know someone going to the Olympics. This is amazing."

kmcmillan@th-record.com


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