The 2002-03 Season: Naomi Lang & Peter Tchernyshev

Happy to have made it through Stars, Stripes and Skates with the injury Photo by Michelle Wojdyla

U.S. ice dancers Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev had a physically and emotionally hard season, but they still came away with their fifth straight U.S. title. The team was forced to withdraw from its ISU Grand Prix events due to Lang's tendinitis, and they were only able to compete in three events this season. But at the end of the season the dancers were pleased that they moved up one spot to finish eighth in the world. Adding to the stress of the season was the fact that teammates Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto were hot on their heels, and they finished one spot ahead of Lang and Tchernyshev at Worlds. Here's a look back ...

Coaching Change & Tendinitis

At the beginning of this season, Lang and Tchernyshev announced the end of their two-year partnership with coach Alexander Zhulin and that they would work with the team of Tatiana Tarasova and Nikoli Morosov in Connecticut.

The team now trains solely with Morozov.

Tchernyshev carries Lang at Rockefeller Center as they try to rechoreograph their program. Photo by Michelle Wojdyla

Lang's bout with severe Achilles tendinitis and bursitis in her left leg really started to flare up in late September when they performed in the Stars, Stripes & Skates charity event at Madison Square Garden in New York City. She was unable to do all the rehearsals and run-throughs, so she watched as Tchernyshev did them alone. In fact, when it came time to do the dress rehearsal and lighting run-through, Tchernyshev did their "Parisian Walkways" routine as a solo dance. He skated the entire pattern for lighting purposes, but he improvised some of the choreography to reflect a solo skate. Lang joined him for the show, but it was obvious then that something was wrong.

Then at the skating show that opened Rockefeller Center's 66th season Oct. 21, Lang was not doing well. Both skaters were on the ice during the morning practice, trying to re-choreograph the program so that Lang had a minimal amount of time with her skates on the ice. Lang said she had taken her skate off after practice and her ankle swelled up so badly she wasn't able to get it back on for the show. When it came time to do the actual performance, they came out in street clothes and apologized for not being able to perform.

"I think Peter and I will be able to really grow and improve our level of skating working with Tatiana and Nikoli," Lang said.

Lang was forced off the ice Oct. 21 when she was diagnosed and told that resting her ankle was the best thing she could do. Due to the injury, the duo had to withdraw from both of their Grand Prix assignments this season - Smart Ones Skate America and NHK Trophy. Lang and Tchernyshev returned to the ice in November focused on making up lost time.

"This past month has been very frustrating for both Peter and I," Lang said in November. "I am happy to be back on the ice training again. I love our new programs, and I can't wait to skate and defend our title at the U.S. Championships in January."

State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships
Lang and Tchernyshev debuted their new programs at the U.S. Championships taking their fifth U.S. title. Photo by Paul Harvath

Lang and Tchernyshev debuted their new programs at the U.S. Championships taking their fifth U.S. title. Photo by Paul Harvath

Lang and Tchernyshev made their season debut at the 2003 State Farm U.S. Championships and narrowly beat silver medalists Belbin and Agosto to win their fifth consecutive U.S. title. They are the first U.S. team to win five straight U.S. dance titles since Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert won five straight from 1981-1985.

"It feels great," Lang said. "I thought I would be in a cast five weeks ago."

Not long before the U.S. Championships, Lang found out that she had a cyst in her foot. She said she would have it taken out after Worlds or the Chevy Champions on Ice tour.

Wearing extra padding in her skate, Lang said she had not experienced pain the month before the U.S. Championships, but she admitted to feeling pain during both compulsory dances. Tchernyshev said he felt they were 70 percent of where they wanted to be for the World Championships in March.

They debuted their new original dance, which relies less on traditional ballroom style and more on a light-hearted quality that features Tchernyshev, but they landed in second overall after Belbin and Agosto took top honors in the OD.

"I felt like our performance was great," Lang said. "We're just happy with us."

"We had a great competition - everybody [did] - this year," Lang said. "When I saw the results I picked up anything I could find and threw it and kicked the air. I was so excited. It's been a really stressful week and a really stressful season for us. We're just happy we could go out and put out all these really strong performances. It's really emotional for me."

Lang stumbled and slowed down the required element in their free dance to "Still Loving You" by the Scorpions. But the choreography by Morozov made good use of signature moves that highlighted Lang and Tchernyshev's repertoire.

Lang's reaction after the free dance said it all. Waiting backstage in front of a television, she watched with hands over her mouth as "second" lit up the scoreboard next to Belbin and Agosto's names. Lang screamed and leapt to her feet. She and Tchernyshev, after a frustrating season where they were unable to compete, became only the third American dance team to win five U.S. titles.

Four Continents Championships

Third, first, second, first, third: That's how Lang and Tchernyshev's placements at the Four Continents Championships have gone since the event began in 1999. They've medaled every single year, but this year they had to settle for the bronze, which they have not received at this event since the first year they participated. The twist this year was that Belbin and Agosto finished ahead of Lang and Tchernyshev for the first time ever.

The first two rounds of competition went well as Lang and Tchernyshev performed their quickstep better than they had been doing it in practice. But their original dance was not as difficult as the dances by the top two couples. They did remain in second after the OD however, and their free dance went over well with the crowd. But Belbin and Agosto's free dance also went over well, and Lang and Tchernyshev ended up with the bronze.

As they spoke with the press after the free dance, Tchernyshev thanked Lang and said how proud he was of her.

"I have a cold, so I was nervous about holding up to the whole program, but I think I did my best," Lang said after the free dance. "This (performance) was much better than nationals." "We have another few weeks, almost a month to prepare for Worlds, and then we're going to be on top of the game," Tchernyshev said.

World Championships

Lang and Tchernyshev skated well at the 2003 World Championships in Washington, D.C., and said they gave their free dance 100 percent. They moved up to eighth place after finishing ninth in 2000 and 2001. Tchernyshev said he is proud of Lang, since she competed with her injury starting with the 2003 U.S. Championships. Lang was emotional after the performance, which was the culmination of a rough season for the dance team.

"It has not been a long season for us. We've only competed three times, but it seems like three years," she said. "There was so much more stress this season, especially with Tanith and Ben running after us."

But Lang said the competition between the two is good, and it pushes both teams to do their best.

"It's not bad to finish behind Tanith and Ben. Sometimes you need a push," she said. "Everything happens for a reason, but it is good that the U.S. has two teams in the top 10."

ABC Sports International Figure Skating Challenge
Lang and Tchernyshev skated an exhibition at the ABC Sports International Figure Skating Challenge in April. Photo by Michelle Wojdyla

Lang and Tchernyshev closed out their season by performing an exhibition at the ABC Sports International Figure Skating Challenge April 8 in Bridgeport, Conn. The team seemed very relaxed at the performance, and they were happy that the competition season was over. They are currently touring with the Chevy Champions on Ice Tour.

Stay tuned to U.S. Figure Skating Online for more U.S. Team 200203 season recaps. We'll review the seasons of the top three placewinners in senior men's, ladies, pairs, dance and synchronized team skating.

Bookmark and Share