Two sisters' rink
They shared the
same vision of world competition, but while an injury has sidelined one, the
Berkeley Prep duo are still side by side on the ice.
By ALEXANDRA ZAYAS
September 8, 2006
Not even the sun
was awake early Tuesday morning when the Leonov sisters twirled across the rink
at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon.
Masha landed a
triple toe loop. It wasn't perfect, so the 13-year-old from Berkeley
Preparatory School tried again. And again. Her Achilles tendon throbbed with
pain, but her ache for world recognition as a figure skater burned stronger.
Masha won first place
in her division at one of the nation's most rigorous tournaments this summer -
the Liberty Summer Competition in Philadelphia - and will compete in the South
Atlantic Regional Championships next month.
Rank high and her
chances of going to the 2010 Olympics go up. Rank low and her chances dwindle.
But she's still got time, and a lot can happen.
Her big sister,
Katya, once shared that dream until she caught her skate while practicing weeks
before the regionals last October and broke her leg. Two surgeries later, the
16-year-old glides cautiously but still practices as often as she can. She
loves to choreograph and is qualified to coach.
Since Masha was 5
and Katya was 7, the Leonov sisters have trained in one of the world's most
"You go out
there, and you only get one chance. You can lose your trip to the Olympics
because of one fall," said Katya, who lives with her family on Harbour
Now, Masha will
have to excel at the upcoming competition for both of them.
"Don't let me
down," Katya told her.
The Russian family
bleeds excellence, ambition and discipline. What they don't have is time.
One of their
biggest obstacles: "the speed limit," said their dad, Andrei Leonov,
as he zoomed along the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway en route from the
rink in Brandon to Berkeley Prep., where they both attend.
Andrei Leonov and
his wife, Elena, who also have two boys, Nikita, 11 and Andrei, 3, take turns
shuttling their daughters to and from skating classes. Because Tampa doesn't
have a rink, the girls practice in Brandon and Oldsmar on weekdays and in
Kissimmee, where their coach lives, on weekends.
skating training is limited in Florida and confined mostly to the Kissimmee
area, Andrei Leonov said. Many of the serious Florida figure skaters move north
for better opportunities.
competition level increases, so does her travel, which takes time and money.
"For us, it's
increasingly difficult to give her this chance," said her dad, whose job
at a fertilizer trading company brought the family to Tampa 14 years ago. Now,
he owns several small businesses.
to buy, plane tickets and hotel rooms for competitions around the globe. This
month it's Boston, next month Pennsylvania.
Last month, the
sisters attended an elite summer skating workshop in Spain. There, they studied
under Alexei Mishin, the renowned coach of several Olympic champions, including
one of Masha's heroes, 2006 gold medalist Evgeni Plushenko.
young figure skaters the girls' age are home schooled to accommodate practice
and travel, but both of them love the classroom. Shortly after 5 a.m. Tuesday,
Masha was perfecting her paper on The Old Man and the Sea.
School was Katya's
best outlet after her devastating injury. It gave her a chance to discover the
extracurricular activities she had missed out on because of skating. Katya's
favorite is the debate team, and her new dream is to go to an Ivy League school
and study international relations.
Masha tries to
keep up with nonskating school activities and jokes about the time the science
and Latin clubs were competing in the same city as her figure skating
competition. She juggled the three competitions the same weekend.
But Masha has no
time to watch television or go to her friends' birthday parties. She can't eat
bread or sweets or drink soda. She eats her cereal at 5 a.m. and isn't in bed
until after 11 p.m.
it takes," Masha said.
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