- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) No couple has a more diverse background at the Olympics than ice dancers Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev, who have dubbed themselves the "New American and the Native American."
"I don't think anyone could have been more proud at opening ceremonies than Peter and myself," Lang said. "Me as the first Native American woman in the Olympics and Peter as a new citizen."
Lang and Tchernyshev are four-time U.S. ice dance champions. They became partners in 1996, although he came to the United States in 1992 after the Soviet Union dissolved and funding for many skaters disappeared.
Given permission to skate for the United States in international events, he needed his citizenship before he could compete in the Olympics. It wasn't until January 2001 that Tchernyshev received his citizenship and the couple set its sights on Salt Lake City.
"I look back and look at how miraculous it was that our paths crossed," said Tchernyshev, whose grandfather won four Soviet singles titles (1936-39). "And this is one of the rewards."
Lang is a member of the Karuk tribe of northern California. According to the U.S. Figure Skating Association, she is the first American Indian in the Winter Olympics.
At the Opening Ceremony, Utah's five major tribes were given the honor of welcoming the Olympic athletes. Leaders from the Ute, Navajo, Paiute, Goshute and Shoshone nations greeted the world in their native tongues, then blessed competitors from five participating countries.
Lang was among those who participated.
"It was amazing," she said. "The whole place was focused on them, and it was an honor to be part of that."
For Tchernyshev, it was one of many indelible memories.
"It was unbelievable, indescribable," he said. "You would have to be there to really know what it was like.
"When Naomi was accepting gifts from one of the Indian tribes, I started crying."
Tcherynshev's eyes began to water as he recalled the experience and the rest of the Opening Ceremony, particularly meeting President Bush.
"How do you say what it means for me to meet the president of the country?" he said. "He shook every athlete's hand, and I didn't know if I would even be one of the [American] athletes a year ago.
"It is the highlight of a lifetime."
Despite their string of U.S. championships, Lang and Tchernyshev are long shots for a medal here. The highest they have finished at worlds is eighth, and their only international victories came in the watered-down Four Continents of 2000 and 2002.
They missed the entire Grand Prix season that ended in December because of his shin splints and didn't unveil their free dance until nationals last month, where they won easily.
With the glacial pace of change in the world of ice dance, though, it would be a strong showing if they finished in the top five in Salt Lake City.
But medals hardly are what these Olympics are about for the couple, which trains in Hackensack, N.J., with other Olympians like Sarah Hughes, Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman and Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, who won the pairs short program Saturday night.
Lang and Tchernyshev were in the rink to see that and plan to attend as many events as possible. Lang entered the Salt Lake Ice Center with a small American flag on Saturday.
"We've overcome so many obstacles, I can't think of them all," she said. "Just to be here is so gratifying. We're going to make it all fun."

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