Four End-of-Season Retirements
Brezina, Ge, and Agafonova & Ucar all end their careers at Worlds, another U.S. dancer also retires.
Many things follow an Olympic Games, but perhaps the most emotional are the many retirements that inevitable happen very soon after. Some of the biggest happened right after the Games. Right after winning their second medal, pairs bronze medalist Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford immediately confirmed it. Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir didn’t after winning the dance, but no one expects them to compete again at this point.
In fact, that’s what a lot of skaters are currently doing: postponing the decision or final confirmation. Comments have also abounded about taking things season by season, although the skaters making those are likely enough to last at least another year or two. Still, we may be getting announcements all through the summer, some from skaters who chose to skip Worlds, either due to physical issues or just because, but still won’t speak for beyond that.
And then there are the skaters for whom this season was their last, but they saw it through to the end. Two of them made it clear beforehand. In fact, they had both even said that they might retire after last season, but when they both earned their countries Olympic berths they had no intranational competition for, they chose to stay to use them.
There was then a question whether they’d stayed for Worlds afterwards, but they both did, and ended their careers with strong free skates. And now, in their first week of retirement, at least one ice dance team has joined them, as well as another ice dancer whose partner will try to find a new one.
Brezina Goes Out on a Good Note
When Michal Brezina said at the 2017 World Championships he might retire immediately, it made sense he might have been feeling a bit discouraged. His previous two seasons have been bad, and he gone from being a medal contender at the biggest events to not even being one on the Grand Prix circuit. His final season went a little better, but the field had still passed him by technically, and quad errors at the Olympics left him sixteenth there. No one was sure at that point whether that wouldn’t be the end for him, if he might not bother with Worlds. In the end, he did, and skated the best free program he’d done in years, set a new personal best (although this was probably because of scoring inflation), and left with a top ten finish.
The last quadrennium wasn’t good to Brezina, but before that, he was one of the big names on top of the sport. He came up from juniors in 2009, already looking to usurp fellow Czech star Tomas Verner, which he did before too long. (Verner, who retired in 2014, didn’t have a good final quadrennium either). He then became a contender for the World podium, finishing fourth in both 2010 and 2011, though sadly that was as high as he ever got there. His Grand Prix medals include a single gold at 2011 Skate America, although that was event nobody skated well at. His biggest accomplishment was making the European podium in 2013 with a good skate of one his more famous programs:
Brezina was one of those skaters who was never the best at anything in particular, but when he was good, he did everything well. He and Verner together also put Czech skating back on the map, which it hadn’t really been since not long after it split from Slovakia. Although he has no immediate successor, he has no doubt been a heavy inspiration to most of the candidates, including brothers Jiri and Matyas Belohradsky, who will be favored to both make their Worlds debut next year, thanks to the two berths he earned the country as a parting gift.
Misha Ge Finally Done
It took until the summer was nearly over to Misha Ge to confirm he would indeed compete this last season. He was rewarded for it early, finally winning a Grand Prix medal at his last event on that circuit, the 2017 Internationaux de France. He never was a contender at anything bigger, simply due to his relative lack of technical content. But he was one skater for whom it mostly wasn’t about the results, but purely about the skating itself. And the love of the fans. His farewell message was posted in three different languages:
ENG: This Bow to All the: Audience, Fans, Teachers, Mentors, Inspirations, Icons, Friends and People who was on this long journey with me. Without You, i wouldn’t be here today. Thank You. • RU: Этот Поклон, Всем Моим : Зрителям, Фанатам, Учителям, Наставникам, Друзьям и Всем тем кто были со мной на этом долгом пути. Без Вас, я не был бы здесь сегодня. Спасибо Вам. • CHN: 这一个礼，是给我的：观众们，粉丝们，老师们，导师们，朋友们和其他配有在一场旅行之路的人们。如果没有您们，今天我不会站在这里。谢谢您们。
He first showed up on the international circuit in 2011, a year after he decided to compete for Uzbekistan, though he has also lived in Russia and China, and has described himself as a citizen of the world. Even when he didn’t make the free at 2011 Worlds, he immediately attracted attention as an artist. His programs could either be character programs, where he displayed impressive showman skills, or lyrical ones, where he dazzled with beauty and emotion. For this last quaddrennium, his competitive programs were mostly in the latter category. But even then, his show programs were often the former, making him a highlight in any gala he participated in. It got him often invited to competition galas his results wouldn’t have otherwise gotten him into, including his final one:
He was a skater who did his own choreography, even taking classes on dance choreography in both Beijing and Los Angeles. That talent he will continue to put to use. Already he’s choreographed programs for many other skaters too, including 2015 World Champion Elizaveta Tuktamisheva, and World medalists Elena Radionova and Anna Pogorilaya, and no doubt there will be many more to come.
His personality was another appealing thing about him; he was the kind of skater who started a tradition of group selfies at galas, which he has now asked others to continue. Meanwhile, there are still many kinds of things he may yet do, as his most recent Instagram notes.
Agafonova & Ucar Announce Retirement
Although Ge’s farewell message was merely confirmation, another one was news. After their free dance at Worlds last week, Alisa Agafonova & Alper Ucar revealed that they were both retiring to coach, her in France, him in Detroit. This wasn’t that much of a surprise, though, since they’re both a little old to go four more years, him especially. Also, he’s taking up a position in the International Skating Union’s athlete’s commission, which he couldn’t hold while still competing.
Agafonova, born in the Ukraine, made her international debut with Dmitri Dun when she was only twelve, had a successful junior career with him, including a Junior Grand Prix win in 2008, before they split in 2010. Ucar made his at thirteen, as a singles skater, one of the very few Turkey had. At the advanced age of twenty-four, he decided to make the switch to dance, and skated with one partner for a season, before teaming up with Agafonova. By then, Turkey had gotten its first Olympic skater in Tugba Karademir, who had achieved notice and caused the sport to grow in the country. But she had newly retired, and there was no obvious candidate keep it going.
Agafonova & Ucar turned out to be the ones, immediately winning silver at the 2011 Winter Universiade, which Ucar describes as one of the biggest moments in Turkish winter sports. The rest of their medals would be at lower events, but they would include two golds in the fall of 2015. They would make both the 2014 and 2018 Olympics as well. Just about all their significant accomplishments were firsts for Turkish ice dance, of which there still isn’t much. They hope for more in the future. They also leave behind quite a few memorable programs, including a couple featuring music from Turkish composers:
Benoit Out, Pogrebinsky Looking for New Partner
Below the trio of teams that have dominated U.S. ice dance in the past quadrennium, several more have tried to up and come, and have attracted notice. Among them were Elliana Pogrebinsky & Alex Benoit, who won pewter at the 2017 U.S. Nationals:
This season, however, they had a much more disappointing seventh-place finish. And that has turned out to be Benoit’s final competition. He announced his retirement this month, explaining that he wanted to focus on a full-time acting career. Pogrebinsky has already started the partner search. Benoit wasn’t the first partner she had some success with, so he certainly need not be the last. But it’s never easy for a girl to find a skating partner, and breaking through with him in the U.S. dance field might be even harder. She’s even got back-up plan if it doesn’t work out.
As it is, she sits on and Benoit retires with four international bronzes, including a Junior Grand Prix one, and a summer event gold to their names, and the love and support of many skating fans; their Twitter feed is now full of it. And when Pogrebinsky isn’t even twenty yet, with the right partner she could go much further.