Interview With Elena Bechke

Russian figure skater Elena Bechke, Olympic Silver Medallist at the 1992 Albertville Games

Elena Bechke's story is one of perseverance. Struggling through the early part of her career, she rose to the occasion so many times with partner Denis Petrov, winning the World bronze medal in 1989, two medals at the European Championships, the 1992 Soviet title and ultimately, the Olympic silver medal at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. Turning professional following that year's World Championships, Bechke and Petrov went on to be one of the most successful professional pairs teams of all time, finishing second at the World Professional Championships five times and ultimately winning the World Professional Championships in 1996. They toured with Stars On Ice for seven years and won the U.S. Professional Championships, Canadian Professional Championships, U.S. Open Professional Championships, Challenge Of Champions and ESPN Pro Championships, a later incarnation of the Legends Of Figure Skating Competition. Their skating was everything pairs skating should be: daring, difficult, beautiful and artistic. Now remarried and a mother of two, Bechke lives and coaches and North Carolina... and her daughter Sophia is an up and coming skater in her own right. Elena took the time to talk about both her "amateur" and professional careers, relationship with Petrov, Stars On Ice, her children and much more in this must read interview:

Q: Your skating career was filled with so many amazing moments - medals at the Olympics, World Championships and European Championships and wins at the World Professional Championships, Challenge Of Champions, Canadian Professional Championships, U.S. Open and countless other professional competitions. What are your proudest moments and most special memories from both your "amateur" and professional careers? 

A: Probably the 1992 USSR Nationals. Denis and I won... finally, and it was last in history USSR Nationals because after that there was no more USSR. The Olympics... big time! I managed my nerves and did my best! Also, the 1996 World Professional Championships... we won and we did perfect!

Q: You toured with Stars On Ice for seven years. What did you enjoy most and learn most from your time on tour?

A: I loved every minute of my seven years with Stars On Ice. I learned how to be your best every show and how to share your talent with spectators. I learned and improved my English. I loved traveling on a private jets, going to beautiful American cities and traveling with the best skaters in the world.

Q: Before skating with Denis Petrov, you were won Skate Canada and a medal at the 1986 World Championships with your first partner Valery Kornienko, who was twenty years your senior. What were the high and low points of this partnership and what brought you to Denis Petrov? How did your coach Tamara Moskvina become involved in the process?

A: I always was with Tamara Moskvina. She coached me with Valery too. We were 1986 European Bronze Medalists and traveled a bit within the former USSR. When Valery decided to stop skating, Tamara advised me to try Denis as a skating partner. She knew what she was talking about!

Q: You competed at a time in Soviet pairs skating when you were up against SO many great teams at home, Gordeeva and Grinkov, Mishkutenok and Dmitriev, Shishkova and Naumov and Eltsova and Bushkov among them. How much pressure was there in competition at the Soviet Nationals and what did you learn from your competitors that improved your own skating?

A: There was SO much pressure that at times I did not want to compete. I always wanted to do my best but because of my nerves I had a few very rough events. I learned a lot from Gordeeva and Grinkov. They were my idols. I could watch them skate every day. I also learned how to be tough and positive when things are not that easy. Competing against great skaters helped me to become a stronger person.

Q: You and Denis married in 1990 and divorced in 1995. How challenging was balancing your personal relationship with Denis while still skating together every day on the ice?

A: It was not that hard. We were great friends but were just too young to take care of each other's emotional needs.  

Q: Do you and Denis still speak and would you ever consider skating together again?

A: We do not stay in touch and I'm not sure why. He is in China and I am in the U.S. I wish I could talk to him and just see how he is doing. There is no skating together in the near future.

Q: On your father's side of your family, you are of Hungarian heritage. Have you visited Hungary and what cultural traditions from Hungary and Russia do you celebrate in your life today?

A: I have never been there. The only Hungarian items I know these days are my last name and some great dishes my Mom cooks. My dad passed away in 1993.

Q: You have had so many fabulous programs over the years - "You Don't Bring Me Flowers", "The Young Lady And The Hooligan", "Whole Lotta Love" and "Blue Danube" among them. What were your favourite programs to skate and what is one piece of music you would love to skate to even now?

A: "Flowers" for sure. One of the best ever. The "Hungarian Dance" of 1999/2000 was just perfect. "Creation of the World" was simply unbelievable. I can watch those programs every day and still feel proud of Denis and I and all our coaches and choreographers.

Q:  What is your favourite movie, song and book?

A: Sleepless in Seattle and Nicholas Sparks books. He is from North Carolina as well. I love Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. My favourite song is "Just The Way You Are" by Bruno Mars.

Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why?

A: Kristi Yamaguchi. She was the most disciplined athlete in the world. Paul Wylie. The most passionate skater of all times. Scott Hamilton. The most creative and engaging skater and person I have ever met.

Q: You remarried in 2001 and now are a mother of two and a skating coach in North Carolina. How has life changed for you since your skating career ended and what do you consider most important in life now?

A: My kids Alex and Sophia are my world and my happiness. My family is the most important part of my life.  

Q: What is one thing most people don't know about you?

A: I am very insecure at times. I come across as I know it all but I really do not. I come across as a tough Russian woman but I really am not. I have my weak moments.

Q: If you could tell one person struggling with their confidence on the ice something, what would it be?

A: Let your skating come from your heart. Skate from your heart. Listen to your heart.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":