|There have been countless cases of people meeting over the Internet, but in the situation of Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov, it's worked out as something more. The two are married and are also headed to the Olympics on the U.S. ice dancing team.|
Gregory, who is from Highland Park, Illinois, met Petukhov, a native of Kirov, Russia, through a posting on the International Skating Union partner search page. They corresponded via e-mail for a few months before meeting for the first time on August 31, 2000 at the Denver airport. Denis skated with Melissa and was then expected to leave for another tryout, but never went and didn't use his return ticket, slated for two weeks later, to Russia.
"We still have the ticket he never used," Gregory said.
Petukhov said he still has the lone piece of luggage he came with from Russia.
"I had nothing left behind me and nothing to lose at that point, so I decided to stay and try my chances here," he said. "I wanted to finish what I started."
Petukhov began skating at the age of eight in Russia, only after a trick by a coach, who said the kids were going to play soccer. Petukhov said he signed up, but then received skates. Two years later his coaches paired him up with a girl for ice dancing.
Petukhov and Gregory's story is almost like a fairy tale. In 2000, Petukhov posted an ad for a partner on a web site and Gregory responded to it.
"I had a few responses from all over the world," Petukhov said. "I didn't know what to do at that moment, but I just read Melissa's resume and I thought this is the person I should try first. When I came to this country, she was the first girl who I tried out with."
Petukhov said the international figure skating community is actually small and coaches usually know people all over the world to match a needing partner. However, in this case nobody was helping them and Petukhov called it fate and rare.
"I think it's just an honor to be an Olympian. I think it's the greatest event in the world," Petukhov said. "I think everybody is going to feel honored."
The partnership didn't start out that easy, considering there was a language barrier, which contributed to a lengthy communication process. However, the duo overcame the odds and won a bronze medal in their first year at nationals in 2002.
The couple married in 2001 in Las Vegas. Petukhov became a United States citizen last February and now the two are headed to their first Olympics.
"If the skating one day will end, we're still going to go on," Petukhov said. "We're still going to figure out something together. The future of us is together and our home is here."
And as for the music they chose for their routine, it relates to their special relationship.
"This year we chose Romeo and Juliet, which we think fits us the best because it's a great love story," Gregory said. "For the Olympic season we can show it off."
- Eric Gold, Olympic Staff Writer