Ukrainian figure skater
An Olympic champion with a heart of gold, figure skater Viktor Petrenko is known for his finesse on skates and for the finesse of his heart. With his trademark grace and poise on the ice, he skated to gold-medal championships in international amateur competition and generously used his influence to raise funds and otherwise assist with worthy causes both internationally and at the personal level. Following the breakdown of his national identity, the Soviet Union in 1991, Petrenko broke new ground as an international representative of the newly recognized independent Ukraine. In the mid 1990s he immigrated to the United States where he raises a family, performs, teaches, and maintains close ties with his homeland.
Petrenko was born in the Black Sea port city of Odessa on June 27, 1969. His parents, Tamara and Vassily were engineers. Petrenko, the eldest of their two sons, was never athletic by nature. He was, in fact, a sickly child, but he enjoyed soccer, and his parents encouraged him to skate at the local rink so that he might develop more stamina and strength. He also studied classical dance and was an accomplished student of ballet.
A Rising Star
Petrenko, having begun skating at age five, was ten years old when he first caught the notice of coach Galina Zmievskaya. In observing him on the ice, she recognized his potential as a figure skater and took him and his brother, Vladimir, under her charge. Petrenko, an able student, managed his first triple jump at age eleven.
By his mid teens Petrenko was a world-class skater. He won the Junior World Championship at age fourteen and placed on the Soviet national team. With practice he matured admirably as a skater, unusually graceful and very smooth, he was notable for his layback spins. He has been called the Baryshnikov of the rink for his grandeur and eloquent flourish on ice.
Petrenko advanced in his skill, and in 1984 he performed internationally on tour. In 1988 he emerged as a major international presence on ice when he took the bronze medal in the men's individual figure skating competition at the Olympics in Calgary, Canada. He took another bronze that year—at the World Championships in Budapest—and by the end of the season was the number one ranked skater in the world. Petrenko had mastered the triple axel at age sixteen but was never completely comfortable with quadruple spins. In practicing to perfect his quadruple toe loop after the Skate Canada meet in 1988 he tore a muscle in his pelvis and spent weeks away from the ice in a painful recuperation.
The injury left him unable to sit, and after missing the European championships altogether he returned to competition, but placed a disappointing sixth at the World Championships.
Once healed he made his presence felt when he returned to the ice for the 1989-90 season. That year he took the first of his two consecutive European Championships and finished with a silver medal at the Worlds and a silver from the Goodwill Games. He went on to win the Skate America competition and back-to-back trophies from the Japan Skating Foundation (NHK). At the World Championships in 1990-91 he accomplished the second of back-to-back silver medals.
With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Petrenko shed the weight of an outer core of national identity. No longer a member of the Soviet National team, he now skated for his homeland, Ukraine, a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a more intimate association with a greater commonality. Now a Ukrainian national, Petrenko, it seemed, burst out from his holding pattern and let loose with a never-before-seen vigor in his competitive demeanor. After a second place finish at the European championships, he skated to Olympic gold in Albertville, France, and then to gold again, at the World Championships in Oakland, California. Enjoying the view from the pinnacle of international competition, he embarked triumphantly on the Tour of Champions.
With his career in first place he pushed his professional life aside to focus on personal matters. After completing the tour he returned to Odessa for his wedding to Nina Melnik on June 19. Melnik, the daughter of Zmievskaya, had been a companion of Petrenko since childhood. They and their families had grown close, and a week-long wedding celebration ensued, capped by an Israeli honeymoon for the pair.
Professional Turned Amateur
With Olympic and world championships in his pocket, Petrenko made the decision to skate professionally. He moved with his family to Las Vegas where he trained with Karin Doherty at the Santa Fe ice rink. Unprotected by the rigorous demands of amateur competition, the professional circuit proved tumultuous for Petrenko.
Beginning in 1994 the Olympics was staggered into a biennial schedule with the winter Olympics scheduled for 1994 and at four-year intervals thereafter. To encourage greater competition for the transitional winter games in Lillehammer in 1994, the International Skating Union (ISU) passed a one-time-only resolution allowing professional athletes to reclaim amateur status that year for the purpose of Olympic competition. Then twenty-five years old, Petrenko accepted the ISU offer and returned to Odessa to train and qualify for the competition. He made his appearance at the games, this time skating for the fully independent Ukraine, not the CIS. Although a medal eluded him, Petrenko placed fourth and left Lillehammer gratified for the experience.
|1969||Born June 27 in Odessa in the former Soviet Union|
|1974||Begins ice skating lessons at age 5|
|1979||Catches the notice of Galina Zmievskaya, for his talent as a skater at age 10|
|1980||Masters a triple jump at age 11|
|1983||Earns a place on the senior National team (of the U.S.S.R)|
|1984||Tours Europe and American with top international skaters|
|1992||Joins the 40-city Tour of Champions (U.S.); marries Nina Melnik on June 19 in Odessa; enters first professional competition; moves to Las Vegas with his family|
|1994||Resumes amateur status according to new ISU ruling; returns to Odessa to train for the Olympics; wins a spot on the Ukrainian Olympic team bound for Lillehammer; moves with his family to Simsbury, Connecticut|
|1994-95||Joins the "Nutcracker on Ice" tour; suffers a slipped disk; competes in the Tournament of Champions|
|1995||Loses family friend and former teammate Sergei Grinkov, to a heart attack on November 20|
|1996||Assumes the role of the Beast in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast"; buys a house in Simsbury|
|1997||His first child, a daughter named Viktoria, born on July 21|
|1999||Finishes in second place at the Winter Open on December 17|
Up close and personal, Petrenko befriended the hard-knocks Olympian Oksana Baiul and convinced Zmievskaya to take the young figure skater into her home when the loss of family became an overwhelming burden for the girl. On his return to the United States, he resumed professional status and moved with his family to Simsbury, Connecticut, where a colleague, Bob Young, had built the International Skating Center. Petrenko made the move along with Melnik, her mother, and Baiul. They were joined in Connecticut by Ekaterina Gordeeva , her husband Sergei Grinkov, and the couple's daughter. Soon afterward, to Petrenko's sadness, Grinkov died an untimely death of a heart attack in 1995. Petrenko's daughter, Viktoria, was born on July 21, 1997.
With Melnik teaching dance classes at the Skating Center, Petrenko supplemented his professional touring schedule as a skating pro at Young's ice center and went on tour with the "Nutcracker on Ice" in 1994-95. Despite an unfortunate slipped disk he managed to recuperate after seeking treatment in Odessa, and competed in the Tournament of Champions that season. In addition to purchasing a home in Simsbury in 1996, he assumed the role of Beast in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" on ice. In competition at the Winter Open on December 17, 1999, he finished in second place.
His ongoing humanitarian efforts and personal kindness are as much a part of his life as his skating accomplishments. Early in his career, as an amateur skater in Moscow in April of 1986, he became overwhelmed with concern upon hearing of the explosion and meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. In the 1990s, after making a name for himself as a skater, he became closely affiliated with a New Jersey-based relief fund, called Children of Chernobyl. He used his celebrity to raise funds for the organization, and made follow-up contacts to insure that the funds were being used effectively.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1983||Won the Junior World Championships|
|1986||First place, Golden Spin|
|1988||Bronze medal at the Calgary Olympics|
|1989-90||First place, Skate America; Japan Skating Foundation Trophy|
|1990-91||Won the European Championships|
|1992||Gold medal at the Albertville Olympics; gold medal at the Worlds Championships; first place, Miko Masters|
|1993||First place, Skate America; first place, Nations Cup|
|1994||First place, European Championships; first place, North American Open; first place, Skate America|
|1995||First place, Challenge of Champions|
|1996||First place, Men's Pro Championships|
|1997||First place, U.S. Pro Championships; first place, Ice Wars|
Address: c/o International Skating Center of Connecticut, 1375 Hopmeadow Street, P. O. Box 577, Simsbury, CT 06070. Online: www.geocities.com/Colosseum/Midfield/3907/CelebVik.htm.
Hartford Courant (January 6, 2002): H1.
"Biography." www.geocities.com/Colosseum/Midfield/3907/longbio.htm (February 6, 2003).
"Viktor Petrenko." Biography Resource Center Online. Gale Group, 1999. www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (February 6, 2003).
"Viktor Petrenko." www.geocities.com/Colosseum/Midfield/3907/art17.htm (February 6, 2003).
Sketch by G. Cooksey