Ice dancers blaze Olympic trail for Turkey

13/02/2014

Prior to Alisa Agafanova and Alper Ucar, Turkey's only Olympic figure skater was Tuğba Karademir, who participated in women's singles in 2006 in Torino and 2010 in Vancouver.

By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 13/02/14

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Alisa Agafanova (left) and Alper Ucar (right) are Turkey's first Olympic ice dancing team. [Alper Ucar]

Turkey has virtually no international record in figure skating, but Alisa Agafanova and Alper Ucar will attempt to change that in Sochi.

The pair will be Turkey's first Olympians in ice dancing and just the second and third figure skaters ever to represent Turkey in the Olympics, participating in Monday's ice dancing competition.

Agafonova and Ucar comprise an offbeat and artistic team under the direction of coach Alexander Zhulin, a two-time Olympic medallist from Russia, who has guided numerous high-profile teams, including 2006 Olympic ice dancing champions Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov.

Agafonova and Ucar won the silver medal in November at the 28-nation NRW Trophy in Germany. And in 2011 they were Turkey's only medal winners when they took silver at the 58-nation Winter Universiade, held in Turkey's eastern province of Erzurum. It was the country's first-ever medal in an international ice skating competition.

Ugur Erdener, the head of Turkey's Olympic committee, told SETimes that Agafonova's and Ucar's participation in Sochi is of great significance, considering that only 24 teams qualify for the Olympic ice dancing competition.

Erdener said Turkey needs to examine the main strategies of countries that have succeeded in figure skating in order to boost its own performance, because it is relatively a new field for Turkey.

"By this way, we would not only succeed in the Olympics, but we will also increase our chances at further championships in Europe and around the world," he added.

Prior to Agafanova and Ucar, Turkey's only Olympic figure skater was Tuğba Karademir, who participated in women's singles in 2006 in Torino and 2010 in Vancouver.

Agafonova, 23, was born in Ukraine, which has a much deeper figure skating tradition than Turkey. Since gaining its independence in 1990, the former Soviet republic has sent 32 figure skaters to the Olympics and won two medals.

After skating with fellow Ukrainian Dmitri Dun for five years, Agafonova teamed up with Ucar in 2010, representing Turkey. Ucar, 29, was born in Denizli and competed as a singles skater for years until transitioning to ice dancing in 2009.

Agafonova started skating when she was 6, Ucar when he was 7. Years of practice and perseverance have made them Olympians.

Agafonova told SETimes that she considers it an honour to be part of Turkey's first Olympic ice dancing team and have the chance to make history for the country.

Asked for her feelings about representing Turkey, rather than her home country Ukraine, Agafonova said, "Turkey gave me a lot of opportunity for my career and I really want to say to the world that Turkey can skate."

Ucar told SETimes that it is always difficult to come first and to open the door. He added that he has dreamed of opening a training academy in Turkey to provide aspiring figure skaters with a working programme and a well-equipped facility.

"However, in Turkey, what is important is the result, not the whole process. We have had a real effort and devotion, while the successes we get so far are not insignificant because they are the results of years-long efforts as well as the financial and psychological support of our families," Ucar said.

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"Ice skating is the unique sportive branch that combines music and aesthetics, and has an impact over the feelings and the thoughts of the audience," he added.

Ucar said athletes from Turkey can be successful in many sports with devotion and effort.

"However, there is not an established sponsorship culture in Turkey to encourage athletes," he said. "We have been representing Turkey in [figure skating] for 12 years in various Olympic games. However, we still have difficulty in finding sponsors. Consequently, Turkish athletes can reach their targets only with their individual efforts."

How can Turkish Olympic athletes find more support through sponsorships or the government? Add your thoughts in the space below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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