Ruslan Zhiganshin’s retirement means the end of one of Russia’s top ice dance teams, as well as the career of an accomplishes skater.
Since the end of the last figure skating season, anxious fans have awaited news on Elena Ilinykh & Ruslan Zhiganshin. A second disappointing season in a row had left a much loved Olympic gold and bronze medalist and her partner facing long odds to make it to PyeongChang, and there were already rumors going about they weren’t even going to try. This week, those rumors flooded the message boards, claiming they were both quitting.
Whether Ilinykh is yet we don’t know. But today the Russian media reported that Zhiganshin is. The article says very little about why, or what either skater now plans to do with themselves. We may never even know the particulars on the former, though hopefully the latter will make itself apparent sooner rather than later.
Zhiganshin achieved distinction with two different partners. He and Victoria Sinitsina had a very successful junior career, culminating in an undefeated season that ended with the 2012 Junior World crown. They continued their rise over the next years, going to the 2014 Olympics as the third Russian team, in a season where they finished just of the podium at Europeans and the top ten at Worlds:
But by the time they did the last, their partnership was already doomed. Shortly before, Sinitsina and her boyfriend Nikita Katasalapov had decided to skate with each other instead. He and partner Elena Ilinykh had become a huge success, winning bronze in the ice dance in Sochi as well as gold as part of the team event. But despite the protests of the Russian federation, Worlds was barely over before two of Russia’s most promising partnerships were no more.
Two more, however, formed out of the remains of them. The two spurned partners took the most obvious option, pairing with each other. And in the 2015, it looked like they might be the winners of the whole affair. While Sinitsina & Katsalapov faltered in their first season together, ending it early with fourth at Russian Nationals, Ilinykh & Zhiganshin made the Grand Prix Finale, became National champions, and repeated his fourth at Europeans and seventh at Worlds:
But in the 2016 season, things went the other way. It may have been partly political, but they found themselves suddenly scoring below their former partners, and this time they were the ones ending their season early with a fourth at Russian Nationals. Even when Sinitsina & Katsalapov themselves crashed and burned this last season, they still couldn’t capitalize, ending up painfully losing bronze to them at Nationals by less than two tenths of a point due to a costume failure.
Poor Zhiganshin found himself in his partner’s shadow throughout their partnership. Elena Ilinykh’s devoted followers even often called them “Elena Ilinykh and friend.” She is one of the best ice dancers to come out of Russia this decade, and we really should hope she stays on and can find a new partner. In theory, plenty of men would love to skate with her. But right now, none of the Russian ones who could possible take her to the Olympics seem to be available.
Even if we manage to keep her, Ruslan Zhiganshin himself is a sad loss. Had he had a bit more luck, who knows how far he could’ve gone. As it is, he should be remembered for all he did manage to accomplish. Despite what some of Ilinykh’s fans may think, neither she nor Sinitsina did any of it alone.