Olympic champion causes controversy with Holocaust skating routine

Tatyana Navka
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MOSCOW (AP) — An Olympic ice-dancing gold medalist and her dancing partner have caused controversy by dressing up in concentration camp uniforms for a routine on a popular television show.

Tatyana Navka, who is the wife of Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov, and partner Andrey Burkovsky appeared in Saturday’s episode of “Ice Age” dressed in striped uniforms bearing yellow six-pointed stars and heavily made-up to look bruised and frail.

Their routine, which aired on state-owned Channel One, was based on “Life is Beautiful,” the Academy Award-winning Italian movie about a Jewish father who pretends for the sake of his small son that their internment in a Nazi camp is just a game.

Navka’s Instagram account soon was flooded with indignant comments.

Navka, 41, who won gold in ice dancing for Russia at the 2006 Turin Olympics, and Burkovsky, a 33-year-old theater actor, told Russian media that it was their way of paying homage to Holocaust victims.

Their dance sparked outrage in Israel.

“Motifs from the Holocaust are not for parties, not for dance and not for reality (TV),” Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev told Israeli Army Radio on Sunday.

“Not one of the 6 million danced and a concentration camp is not a summer camp,” Regev added, referring to the number of Jewish dead.

Other people in Israel were not as categorical.

“You have to keep in mind that this is being done on Russian television,” said Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center who described the performance as “quite kitschy” but added that in the Soviet Union media and officials did not dwell on the Holocaust so any discussion of it Russia should be welcomed.

“So, in that respect, this performance was actually a refreshing change and a different way of looking at the Holocaust. That’s why it had some value.”

Peskov told reporters on Monday that his wife’s dance routine is not something for the Kremlin to comment on, but said: “I’m proud of my wife. This is all I can say.”

While some Russians were indignant at what some saw as mockery of the memory of the dead, others posted messages of support on Navka’s Instagram account, saying that the dance brought tears to their eyes.

The routine was choreographed by 2002 Olympic silver medalist Ilya Averbukh, who is Jewish.

Averbukh, who said in a 2012 interview that he “had problems” in his childhood because of his Jewish name, stood by the Holocaust-themed dance.

“This routine is my idea,” Averbukh, who is also Ice Age’s chief producer, told Komsomolskaya Pravda on Sunday. “I have done a lot of routines on the war and Jewish themes.”

Senior Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, have honored Holocaust victims and have spoken out against attempts to justify the crimes of Nazis or their allies.

Holocaust-themed routines aren’t new to sports.

In 1996, France’s synchronized swimming team had to scrap its program, which depicted the arrival of Jewish women in death camps and their final march to the gas chambers, following an intervention by the French sports minister. The routine was also based on a movie and set to music from Steven Spielberg‘s “Schindler’s List.”

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Novak Djokovic wins 10th Australian Open, ties Rafael Nadal for most men’s Slam titles

Novak Djokovic Australian Open
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic was simply too good at the most crucial moments and claimed his 10th Australian Open championship and 22nd Grand Slam title overall by beating Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5) in the final at Rod Laver Arena on Sunday night.

The victory allows Djokovic to return to No. 1 in the ATP rankings.

The 35-year-old from Serbia did not compete in the Australian Open a year ago after being deported from the country because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19.

Government restrictions have eased since, and he was able to get a visa this time despite still not having gotten the shots against the illness caused by the coronavirus.

Now Djokovic has run his winning streak at the hard-court tournament to 28 matches.

His 10th trophy in Australia adds to the record he already held. His 22 major championships — which include seven from Wimbledon, three from the U.S. Open and two from the French Open — are tied with Rafael Nadal for the most by a man in the history of tennis.

Tsitsipas fell to 0-2 in major finals. He also lost to Djokovic at the 2021 French Open.

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Chock/Bates, Knierim/Frazier futures unclear after clear-cut wins at figure skating nationals

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SAN JOSE, California – They have both begun the new Olympic cycle as the undisputed national leaders in their figure skating disciplines, cementing that status with U.S. titles Saturday – the fourth for ice dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates, the second for the pairs’ team of Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier.

At this point, their respective paths to the 2026 Winter Games seem free and clear of challengers.

The question for the dancers and the pair is how far down that road they intend to go.

“I don’t know what the next four years will hold,” Chock said. “But we’re committed to each other and our goals, and we’ll decide when the time comes.”

Chock, 30, and Bates, 33, engaged to be married in the summer of 2024, have been at this a long time. And their trophy case is packed to the gills, with the only gaps a world title and an individual Olympic medal.

They have competed together at the senior level in the U.S. Championships for 12 seasons, winning medals at the last 11. They have been to nine world championships, winning three medals, and three Olympics (four for Bates), winning a yet-to-be-awarded team medal last year in Beijing.

(The unresolved doping case involving Russian skater Kamila Valiyeva has delayed the awarding of the 2022 team event medals. Maybe it will become a wedding present for Chock and Bates. Or a fifth anniversary present…)

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Until this year, Chock and Bates had faced formidable rivals on the national scene – 2014 Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White; 2018 Olympic bronze medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani; and 2022 Olympic bronze medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, with whom Chock and Bates traded gold medals over the previous four seasons. All have retired from competition.

Saturday, they cruised to the gold medal by 22.29 points over Caroline Green and Michael Parsons, the largest ice dance victory margin at nationals since 2006. In a discipline where established hierarchy weighs heavily, Chock and Bates find themselves in the unfamiliar position of being on a metaphorical easy street to the top step of the U.S. podium.

“We – at least I – felt nervous today,” Bates said. “We (still) felt compelled to skate well. The lack of maybe the Hubbell-Donohue back and forth did not mitigate the specialness today.”

Knierim, 31, and Frazier, 30, have similar longevity at nationals, even if they did not team up until 2020, taking the U.S. title in their first season together.

Knierim skated at seven nationals with her husband, Chris, winning three titles, Frazier at seven with Haven Denney, winning once.

Knierim and Frazier had expected to retire after last season, when they missed nationals because Frazier contracted Covid but went on to place sixth at the Olympics and unexpectedly became the first U.S. team to win a pairs’ world title since 1979. Their experiences on the Stars on Ice Tour led them to reconsider.

“It made sense on our timeline to move on,” Knierim told me in September. “We had done everything we could in two years.

“Yet it felt like it could be sad or disappointing to end a really talented career together so soon. Being on tour had opened our eyes to how in synch and unified we were on the ice. So there was a little bit of curiosity, a feeling of ‘What else are we capable of?’”

Their personal circumstances have changed during the course of this season. Chris Knierim starts work Thursday as skating director of a rink in the Chicago suburbs, and the Knierims recently bought a house in that area.

Knierim and Frazier have been training at a rink in Irvine, California. Should they decide to continue as competitors after this season, it would almost certainly entail a move to Chicago for Frazier.

Knierim insisted her house purchase was not an indication of what her plans with Frazier are.

“Right now, we are staying the course, based in Irvine through the world championships (in late March),” Knierim said before winning her fifth U.S. title.

“We do have some changes ahead of us. But I’d hate to jump ahead and say yes or no to next season. We learned that last season.”

Frazier spoke Saturday of reflecting throughout this season about their personal journeys and their partnership, the kind of reflection that often accompanies doing something for the last time.

“We just are trying to soak it in as if it could be your last, but the future is unknown,” Frazier said.

Knierim and Frazier prevailed Saturday with the largest winning margin, 31.11 points, in the 18 years that the International Judging System has been used at nationals.

They saved several points due to her quick thinking.

After Frazier put his hand to the ice on the triple toe loop that was to open a triple-double-double-jump combination, Knierim saw that her partner was going to follow with only a single jump and followed suit. It led to the delightful oddity of side-by-side single toe loops.

Nicely executed ones, too.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at every Winter Olympics since 1980, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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