INSH ALLA

translated from the Arab: If there is Allah's will

ForewordIt's not with malice, but with regret that I was writing about my heroine. While gathering material for this story, I had to listen to many an unpleasant details about this woman, whose pretty look seem to hide her real face shown here. But this is what the critic's job is like. His job is like that of the traffic policeman who has to fine violators to prevent them from getting a sense of impunity and posing a serious danger for other motorists and pedestrians.

I always considered my duty to inform readers about what is happening in big sports behind the curtains, unseen for outsiders. And if someone think his or her reflection in mirrow is distorted, you'd better look at the face first.

The city of Yekaterinburg in Russia's Ural Mountains, called Sverdlovsk in Soviet times, has been famous for its residents' proficiency in winter sports. Speed skating and so called Russian hockey were especially popular.

In those old times, the Sports Army Clubs hockey team Sverdlovsk was among the countrie's best - and the names of Valentin Atamanychev, Nikolai Durakov, Alexander Izmodenov, Mikhail Osintsev, Valentin Khardin and Viktor Shekhovtsov sounded familiar to hockey lovers all over the country. The team became winners of several USSR and world championships. Between the seasons hockey players married and got children. In 1964, Sverdlovsk team's legendary defender Viktor Shekhovtsov also became father of a charming girl, Alla.

May be due to her father spending a lot of time on ice, she was icy firm in her desires starting from early childhood. And she got three all-dominant desires: those for money, power and fame.. Following the time fashion, the parents sent little Allochka to a figure skating school. She has shown certain abilities and soon was transferred to a higher-degree specialized skating school and became specialized in dances on ice.

Her coach was Lyubov Fomicheva, a well-known ice dancer, who performed in pair with Oleg Epshtein. After a while, Fomicheva got married Vladislav Petukhov and went to Kharkov in Ukraine, so Alla went into the hands of Igor Ksenofontov, widely-considered the patriarch of the Urals school of figure skating, whose trainees would make honour to any nation. The ice dance pair of Alla Shekhovtsova /Sergei Zhirnov in 1979 and 1980 won the Russian Federation's tournaments and came seventh in 1979 USSR championships. Soon after that, Zhirnov left the figure skating and Alla tried her luck with Andrey Ingodov and Vyacheslav Kuzichev, but didn't achieve such success with neither and stopped her skating career in 1983.

Years passed, and a little schoolgirl turned a gracious young lady and became a promising college student with cold head and icy heart. Shekhovtsova graduated from the Sverdlovsk National Economic College, where her mother worked as a professor, and became an expert in industrial management. That profession would serve her well in the future. Never intending to deal with national economy, after her graduation she went to her home 11th figure skating school to join Igor Ksenofontov. He entrusted his former student to lead a group and she began thinking about future laurels.

She knew well that the experienced coaches go abroad far more often that experts in national economy, so she viewed that job as a step forward her future well-being. It's difficult to say whether Shekhovtsova could have reached any success as a coach. It's possible that she could have brought some of her students to the level of the European ot world championships an go abroad to accompany them, but the fate decided otherwise.

Oleg Epshtein, the partner of Shekhovtsova's first coach, Fomicheva, soon returned to Sverdlovsk from Ukraine. Although Ksenofontov found a group for him as well, Epshtein considered himself a far better coach than an ex-trainee of his former mate, and he began attacking Shekhovtsova, looking for flaws in her work.

But Epshtein would soon realize that Shekovtsova's character was far from angelic. A conflict flared, which meant that one of two must leave. But Ksenofontov, the wise peacemaker, found a compromise solutions, helping Alla turn from coach to judge.

She well could do that since she automatically got the judge's title back in 1979 when she received her skating master title. That's how our Ice Princess found herself in conditions helping her rise to satisfy her Three Wishes.

In about the same time, in the mid-1980s, Shekhovtsova got married. Despite being a namesake of the late Soviet Marshal Konev, her husband was a simple sailor. Despite of the sumptuosus wedding, the marriage was to fall after soon.

When her husband came back from cruise after several months, she could well sing him a song from then-popular Soviet Movie Amphibian Man: "Hi, Seaman! You were off for so long. I have forgotten you. I now like the Sea Devil and want to love him!"

She indeed would be eager to love the Devil, although she waited for a year and a half before divorcing her husband not to challenge the public. In fact, many Alla's friends were surprised not by her soon divorce, but rather by the marriage himself, since even back in sports school years Alla expressed firm certitude that her marriage would only be that of convenience.

Judge Alla Koneva began attending various competitions in many Soviet republics, getting the necessary record to receive first an All-Union judge category and then that of a world-class judge. Only the latter would allow her to work abroad.

At the same time, Alla was carefully viewing people who could help her on her career path, already strewn with nails and teeth of her numerous less lucky competitors.

It was said before that angels were reluctant to give the girl their character. But, apparently having pity on her, the skies sent her a very agile quardian angel to clear her path to the Bright Future.

The Soviet Union still existed when her angel showed Mrs. Koneva a man who could serve as a great springboard for her carreer. Valentin Piseyev excelled neither in his beauty, intellect or manners and was only five years younger than Alla's father. But he has something better, that's the post of Chairman of the Figure Skating Federation of the USSR.

The black-eyed (in Russian also the same as the evil eyed) ancestor of one of the Golden Horde's horsemen was a dedicated ladie's man so he easily fell for a young and pretty provincial lady. Seethed with passion, Piseyev didn't noticed that what he has taken for a golden fish was a gilded spoon-bait with a big hook. A stormly romance came, and soon the groom was forced to become a family man as his persistent fiance got pregnant.. In addition to the wedding ring, the new wife of the USSR Figure Skatingg Federation's boss got a desired Moscow residence permit, son Stasik and a real chance to become the First Lady of Soviet figure skating. It so happened, however, that in this field Alla Koneva nearly shared the fate of another First Lady, Raisa Gorbachev, as the Soviet Union collapsed soon.

But unlike dreamer Mikhail Gorbachev,who failed to satisfy the tastes of her wife, Valentin Piseyev was a pragmatist. He immediately targeted the seat of the chairman of the RSFSR's Figure Skating Federation (formerly just part of the USSR Federation) and soon got it, kicking out his own former protege, Sergey Kunik.

And Alla soon became an international judge, restoring her maiden name, Shekhovtsova, as her husband's name was popular neither in the ISU, nor in the former Soviet Union and abroad, let alone Russia, where he immediately became known for his boorishness.

Unlike her husband, prone to the well-known Russian weakness and only mastering some rude commands in Russian, Alla spoke good English, knew how to present herself and could easily make a favorable impression on foreigners.

One may predict that in the future she will seek a seat in the International Skating Union. I wouldn't be surprised if at one of their next congresses they would try to make Shekhovtsova a member of the ISU Ice Dancing Technical Committee to replace the former Olympic champion Alexander Gorshkov.

Slowly but firmly, Mrs. President is trying on the mantle of the Snow Queen of the Russian figure skating. Just in case, Shekhovtsova has combined positions of both coach and judge, which is categorically prohibited by the ISU rules. She also has persuaded her husband that she had given up herself to him not only for the chance of being mother, spouse and housewife and laid her well-manicured hand on her natural domaine - ice dancing.

So far she was encountered some resistance only from Natalia Linichuk, since another prominent figur Natalia Dubova has made a timely retreat, disappearing into America's wilderness, her refuge prepared well-in-advance.

Linichuk also tried jingling her Olympic golden medal according to her habit, but fast realized she was bound to failure in this clash of wills. She drew in her claws for a while and followed Dubova's path into the United States backwoods.

Shekhovtsova's next step was to spread her influence to other fields of figure skating. Angry Figure Skating Federation's officials who entirely depend on Piseyev and consequently asked not to be identified told me that the aging president doesn't make a single decision without his spouse's consent. And she already allows herself to put up a rude pressure on judges from the former Soviet republics during thee international competitions as follows: "You give the first (second, or third but no less than the fourth) place to my pair or we will destroy you!"

If things continue to develop in accordance to this customary scheme, skaters, coaches, judges and even Figure Skating Federation officials will have to study Koran and chant Insh Allah (or better Insh ALLA) before every international tournament, compliting lists of national teams, undergoing any test of simply receiving skates and other gear. If there is Alla's will...

Afterword January 1997:

This article was published in September 1995. To my regret, in the last 15 months nothing has improved in the Russian Figure Skating Federation. On the contrary: Alla Shekhovtsova concluded an alliance with Natalia Linichuk and now has complete dominion over the Russian ice dancing. And she has become neither lesss aggressive nor more courteous...

A.W.

© World copyright by Arthur Werner

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