Broken arm doesn't break dreams of hard-luck pair


DETROIT -- Renee Roca couldn't feel her left arm, the one that was wrapped in a cast from wrist to elbow, the one she broke just two hours earlier.

So she skated. And smiled. A half-hour after leaving a hospital, she reached out and gently took the hand of her partner, Gorsha Sur, and glided on the ice, doing a rumba in a half-empty arena named after Joe Louis.

No one could battle as hard as Roca, a 5-foot-4, 100-pound ice dancer wrapped in a black dress.

"I don't know if I can take one more thing," she would say later. "It's too much for me."

After the original dance was over yesterday, Roca and Sur found themselves in second place at the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

They still could overtake the leaders, Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow, in tomorrow night's free-skate final.

But standings don't matter with Roca and Sur. They won't be going to the Winter Olympics, anyway.

She is American. He is Russian. And the U.S. Olympic Committee isn't budging.

No U.S. citizenship. No Olympics. Period.

Still, they are here, completing a story that is part soap opera, part inspiration.

Roca, 30, never finding the right partner, never finding the right luck, never getting to her Olympics.

And Sur, 27, bold enough to defect from Russia four years ago, bolting from an ice show in New York, landing in a flea bag of a hotel in New Jersey, and calling the FBI to declare his freedom.

Figure skating brought them together. They turned pro and madesome money. And when the rules changed and pros could skate against the amateurs, they came back to competition, trying to get one last chance to make an Olympics.

But citizenship for Sur was a problem. He needed Congress to waive the five-year requirement to gain his legal status as an American.

Sur is used to red tape and bureaucracies in Russia. And now he knows red tape American-style. Congress simply did not move fast enough.

Still, the pair would not quit. They would come to Detroit anyway and show America they were the best ice dancers.

But finally, yesterday, they were stretched to a breaking point during the afternoon warm-ups.

Roca was sandwiched between Galit Chait and Maxim Sevostianov, falling to the ice, somehow breaking the radius bone in her left arm.

"I heard a snap," Roca said. "I couldn't even look at it."

Neither could Sur. All he could do was curse. In English.

"I was so upset for her," he said. "All she has gone through."

Roca and Sur were bundled into a car and rushed to the nearby Hutzel Hospital by Dr. Steve Plomaritis. Without pausing in a line, without signing a medical form, without even showing any proof of medical insurance, Roca was taken straight into the X-ray room.

The break was diagnosed. The arm was wrapped. The pain was wiped away by shots of novocaine.

"We looked at the clock, and the doctor said, 'It's OK, you can skate,' " Roca said. "I said, 'What?' He said, 'No, it's a clean break. You can make it. You can get to the arena.' "

So, off they went, back to Joe Louis Arena, arriving just in time for a quick clothing change and a quick warm-up before their performance.

Sur was nervous.

"Renee was like a China doll," he said. "I was afraid to touch her."

But Roca took his hand and off they went, two minutes and 30 seconds of gritty, dirty dancing.

"I told him to just touch the ends of my fingers," Roca said. "And he did. If I had had two hours to really think about this, maybe I wouldn't have skated. But it all happened so fast. And it all meant so much to me."

Roca isn't sure about skating in the long program. The arm will hurt, she is sure. The choreography will have to be changed, too.

"When you have a cast on, you don't have mobility, and it's like you're paralyzed on the ice," she said.

But they have come so far and proven so much. To themselves. To American skating.

A broken bone, a slow-moving Congress, a citizenship paper, none of it can keep them apart.

"We didn't want people saying, 'Hey, why did they get special treatment?' " Sur said. "So we went through this process. We got very close, as close as you can get to making the team. She's an American. I want to be. Unfortunately, this sport takes two."

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