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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


January 26, 2002 - Issue 54


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The Naomi Lang Story

by John Harjo NDN, photo by Gary Lake
editor's note: THEY WON!!! On to the Olympics!! Good Luck.
Naomi Lang photo by Gary LakeAmong her long list of athletic achievements Naomi Lang (and her partner) has been the U.S. National Champion of ice dancing for the past three years (2001, 2000, and 1999). Naomi and Peter are headed to Los Angeles in January of 2002 to defend their title yet again, but this time the title holds more opportunity, the champion is guaranteed a trip to Salt Lake City to compete for the United States in the 2002 Winter Olympics. Her partner, Peter Tchernyshev, is a Russian immigrant who was recently awarded United States citizenship in January of 2001, which means he can compete for the United States in the Olympics.

That is a good thing because Peter was bred for the sport. For three years these two have been the premier US Ice dancers and no one, besides Naomi and her family, has stopped to notice that the exceptional athletic instrument named Naomi Lang is a Native American, a Karuk Tribal member.

The Karuk’s ancestral location is in northern California, scattered throughout Humboldt and Siskiyou Counties. The US Government officially recognized the Karuk in 1979 and their constitution was adopted in 1985. They are a relatively small tribe when compared to others across the nation, but one member out of the roughly 3,096 Karuk is making news across the nation and the globe.

Most of the time when a Native American makes the news in the sports world it is expected, and many tribal members already know the story of the athlete. News travels fast across Indian Country. A local athlete goes to college and competes for the local University and does well, maybe they continue, and maybe they don't. Tribal members know about them and it gets tossed around the BIA email system and people spread the news to other tribes through friends, inter-tribal marriages, and the Pow-wow trail. Naomi's story however is different.

She was born in Arcata, California to a Karuk father and a French/English/Irish-American mother. Naomi and her mother left northern California when she was eight and headed to Allegan, Michigan. Naomi's maternal grandmother was ill and both moved to Michigan to be closer to her.

Naomi started ballet at the age of 3 back in California at the Redwood Concert Ballet. At the age of 6 her first ballet performance was in "The Nutcracker"as a bon-bon. She attended an Ice Capades show at the age of eight and decided she wanted to ice skate. With a background in ballet Ice Skating seems a natural adjustment to her dancing abilities. She attended her first lesson in Kalamazoo, Michigan and was coaxed by her mother because she said, "I didn't want to go. I was nervous and I got scared, but after my first lesson I liked it."

At the age of thirteen she started commuting to Detroit as a member of a bigger club with better coaches to perfect her skating abilities. While skating for the Detroit Skating Club and training in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Igor Shpilband and Liz Coates were in charge of making Naomi the skating phenom she is today. At fifteen she started living with family in Detroit and spending her weekends in Allegan with her mother.

Her first partner was John Lee and their first competition at the novice level they won. From sixteen to seventeen Naomi and John competed at the junior level and their highest finish was a second place showing. At age eighteen they split. This is when Naomi's biggest decision was to be made.

Naomi and her mother had to choose to either have Naomi stop skating or to find someone like a sponsor to pay her way. Naomi said, "My mother was running into debt. We had to pay for costumes, travel, and skates and it gets expensive. That's when Peter wrote for a tryout in New York." After a tryout with Peter Tchernyshev Naomi said, "He said he would help with the expenses." It was hard to leave friends and family in Detroit, but it was an opportunity Naomi said she couldn't miss. She packed up her belongings, moved to New York and spent her senior year at Lake Placid High School. They spent nine months training and they competed at Nationals bringing home a fifth place finish in 1997. Later, in their first international competition they finished tenth.

Naomi wasn't happy in New York. The school wasn't what she expected, there weren't many people her age where she was, and she had no one but her mother and a few new friends to interact with. This meant after about a year in New York the two moved to Michigan to train under Naomi's old coaches Igor Shpilband and Liz Coates. Naomi and Peter in their first year of training in Michigan placed third at the US Nationals. Their third place finish was followed by two first place National Championships. They had accomplished what they wanted to in Michigan, but the routine they felt was turning stale and they needed something new to bring their skating to a new level. So, the two decided to move once again back to New York.

The two are now members of the American Academy Figure Skating Club and train in Hackensack, New Jersey at the Ice House. Their coach and choreographer is now Alexander Zhulin and the two are performing at their best. Together their athletic achievements include the following:

2001 Goodwill Games 4th
2001 World Championships 9th
2001 Four Continents 2nd
2001 US Nationals 1st
2000 Trophee Lalique 4th
2000 Skate America 5th
2000 Keri Lotion Classic (team) 2nd
2000 World Championships 8th
2000 Four Continents 1st
US Nationals 1st
1999 Trophee Lalique 5th
1999 Skate America 3rd
1999 Keri Lotion Classic (team) 2nd
1999 World Championships 10th
1999 Four Continents 3rd
1999 US Nationals 1st
1998 Cup of Russia 5th
1998 Skate America 5th
1998 Masters of Figure Skating 1st
1998 US Nationals 3rd
1997 Skate Canada 9th
1997 Skate America 6th
1997 US Nationals 5th
1997 Challenge Lysiane Lauret 10th
1997 Midwestern Senior Sectionals 1st

Pending the outcome of the US Nationals held in Los Angeles in January of 2002 the two may have the chance to compete in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. Going into Nationals as the three-time champion Naomi and peter have more than a chance to make their Olympic goals happen. If Naomi and Peter make it to the 2002 Olympics then she will be the sole Native American competing, and she will have nations within a nation watching her every move.

Naomi said, "I'm proud to be Indian and competing in sports. I have worked and am working very hard to make something of myself. I want to help young Native kids make something of themselves." Naomi has said she would like to help in any way when it comes to Indian youth and ice-skating. "Ice skating is a year round event and I'll be on tour until after the World Championships. I should be done in August (2002)." She hopes in her time off in the future to include Indian kids in her ice skating instruction and to attend college and earn a degree in veterinary medicine.

"With unfettered joy and freedom, Lang and Tchernyshev performed to the music "Parisian Walkways." The program earned the couple three perfect scores of 6.0 for presentation and, more importantly, their first trip to the Olympics.

Lang, 23, of Allegan, Mich., and Tchernyshev, 30, a native of St. Petersburg, Russia, who earned his U.S. citizenship last year, won their fourth consecutive U.S. Figure Skating ice dancing championship and the chance to skate next month in Salt Lake City. They are the first team to win four straight nationals since Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert from 1981-1984."

Read more ...


The Official Website for Lang & Tchernyshev
The Official Website for Lang & Tchernyshev is written and produced by Lang & Tchernyshev, in cooperation with Figure Skaters Online.



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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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