FLINTSHIRE ice queen Marika Humphreys-Baranov will return to the Winter Olympics, eight years after realising her dream of representing Great Britain on the world stage.
Marika, now 33, flies out to Vancouver today (Thursday) to act as a technical specialist – ‘a new breed of judge’ – at the 21st Winter Games.
In 2002, in Salt Lake City, years of hard work and dedication paid off for Marika, when she competed for the country with her husband Vitaliy.
The couple, who live in Shotton, finished 15th in the ice dance event as the only amateur pair in the competition and the only British skaters at the games.
For Marika it was a case of third time lucky, as she had twice come agonisingly close to reaching the Olympics, her goal since the age of 10.
She qualified with then-partner Justin Lanning for the 1994 games at the aged of 17, but the pair lost their place in the Great Britain team to Torvill and Dean, who decided to make their Olympic comeback after a 10-year hiatus.
And four years later Marika and partner Philip Askew missed out by just one place.
Even in 2002 games Marika thought she might lose out again, when she and Ukraine-born Vitaliy fell narrowly short of the British Olympic Association’s strict qualifying criteria, despite easily meeting the International Skating Union’s (ISU) requirements.
But the BOA reversed its decision following pressure from the National Ice Skating Association of Great Britain.
Marika and Vitaliy, who married in 1999 and won two British titles together, also represented Great Britain at the World Figure Skating Championships in Nagano, Japan, in 2002.
Today Marika, a five-time British ice dance champion, still nurtures the next generation of Team GB hopefuls at Deeside Ice Rink in Queensferry.
And the couple are proving they are still a top team as Vitaliy, 35, who worked as a waiter in a Chester hotel in 2002, now helps her train their protégés.
“We’ve got a lot of very talented young skaters, which we’re very pleased with,” said Marika. “Some of them have certainly got the potential to go a long way.”
One of their bright hopes is 18-year-old Ben McNulty, from Connah’s Quay, who was snapped up to tour with on an ice adaptation of Disney’s Finding Nemo in North America.
Since their Olympic appearance, both Marika and Vitaliy have gained degrees in sports science from Glyndr University in Wrexham, and Vitaliy is now studying physiotherapy at the University of Salford.
Former Deeside High School pupil Marika, who became Britain’s youngest ever ice dance champion in 1992 at the aged of 15, said she is relishing the prospect of an Olympic return.
She told the Chronicle: “I can’t wait to get out there, I’m hoping to enjoy some really top quality skating.”
The 2010 Winter Olympics get under way this weekend, and run until February 28.