When Marina Anissina's management company hired a Los Angeles photographer for a promotional photo shoot in July, her agents envisioned warm and relaxed lifestyle shots, Anissina's fiery red locks tumbling down over a cotton T-shirt and comfortable jeans. But Anissina had different plans. She showed up for the shoot wearing a black Dolce and Gabbana suit with a patterned wrap. When presented with the casual clothing, she scowled.
"I don't," she announced disdainfully, "wear jeans."
Anissina did not need a fitting. She wore what she had on. She also took to the camera as if it were a row of figure skating judges. Liz DeSevo, her representative from Collins Marshall Management, recalled the photographer's awe.
"She is the essence of style," DeSevo said.
It's partly Anissina's sense of style and appreciation of the finer things in life that have gotten her entangled in the largest mess in the colorful history of figure skating, a sport that's long been peppered with scandals, suspicions and controversies. The Russian-born Anissina, who left Moscow for France to train with her current ice dancing partner Gwendal Peizerat in 1993, claims she knew nothing about the alleged attempts of reputed Russian mobster Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov to fix two figure skating competitions at February's Olympics in Salt Lake City -- including hers. She does, however, acknowledge being Tokhtakhounov's acquaintance, and that -- along with wire-tapped conversations in which she and Tokhtakhounov allegedly make reference to a fix -- has at best brought her undesirable publicity and at worst may subject her to criminal charges. Another unpleasant possibilty is discipline from sport officials.
Anissina, 27, said early last week that it must have been someone else's voice on tapes in which she allegedly told Tokhtakhounov she would have won the Olympic gold even without his help. But during a telephone interview from France on Friday, she admitted "it's possible" she spoke with Tokhtakhounov after the Winter Games.
"But I didn't speak to him during the Olympic Games," she said. "I knew him as just a normal person because he lived in Paris. With foreign people, everybody knows everybody. I never talked something bad [with him]. For me, he was a good person, very friendly with everybody."
French figure skating president Didier Gailhaguet said Anissina was beguiled by a man she knew only as a wealthy, jovial, generous socialite with an exhilarating lifestyle and the willingness to share it. Through Tokhtakhounov, Anissina attended high-society events and met other Russian athletes, fashion designers, artists and choreographers in Paris. Anissina has said she met Tokhtakhounov in 1999, the year he was made a knight of the Imperial Order of St. Constantine, which claims to seek the cooperation of the elite intellectuals of the world. Anissina and hockey player Pavel Bure attended the lavish gala in Paris.
"He really seduced her, in a way," said Gailhaguet, who was suspended for three years in April for his role in allegedly fixing the Olympic pairs competition, which he denies. "He presented her the jet-set of Russia, star people from culture, from art, from [fashion]. . . . This is something that she really loved.
"I know she had no idea this guy was in the mafia."
If Anissina discovered how to enjoy life in Paris, in Moscow she learned how to get ahead. She grew up in a family of athletic champions. Her father, Viatcheslav Anissina, won a world championship as a Soviet hockey player. Anissina's mother, Irina Chernieva, was a pairs skater who finished sixth at the 1972 Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan. Both have continued in their sports as coaches, and Anissina's 22-year-old sister was a Bolshoi ballerina. From her parents, friends and observers say, Anissina picked up a hard determination to succeed, a drive that at times overwhelmed her more relaxed French teammates when she arrived in the country.
"She has a very championship personality," said Alexander Zhulin, an ice dancing silver medalist at the 1994 Olympics who coaches U.S. ice dancers Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev. "She's a very tough lady. She always tries to be first . . . the best in the world."
It is somewhat ironic that Anissina essentially was forced to leave Moscow because her partner at the time dumped her for another skater, a woman he loved and later married. The new partner was Irina Lobacheva; his name was Ilia Averbukh. The two Russians finished second in Salt Lake City to Anissina and Peizerat.
Without a partner, Anissina wrote letters to two young ice dancers she had admired: Canadian Victor Kraatz and Peizerat. Only Peizerat wrote back. Early in 1993, at the age of 17, Anissina -- who spoke not a word of French -- traveled to Lyon to join Peizerat, moving in with his family.
Anissina took to French fashion very quickly, soon adopting a more trendy wardrobe, but she did not make friends immediately. There were jealousies because she had claimed a good partner in Peizerat. There was also a culture and communication gap that Anissina seemed slow to bridge. Even today, Anissina seems slightly uncomfortable draped in the French flag. "I don't want to live forever in France," she admits on her Web site. "It's not good for Russian to live abroad. The mentality is too different."
"I was maybe the only one who would talk to her," said Philippe Candeloro, who won the bronze at the 1994 and the 1998 Olympics. "She had the Russian style. She was a very strong girl. . . . When she felt like people opened their arms to her, she started to be more nice."
Even Peizerat had difficulty understanding his occasionally petulant partner. She had once described them as fire and water.
"Before, I looked at Marina and asked myself, 'How is she thinking?' " Peizerat said in an interview on their Web page. "We were so different! Now, I know her way of thinking is strongly influenced by her Russian culture."
Others in the skating world watched the distance between her and high culture shrink faster than between her and her French teammates. One championship judge noticed that she and Peizerat rarely spent time together off the ice.
"She was always with the Russian skaters," said Katalin Alpern, a judge from Israel who has evaluated Anissina since she won her junior world titles with Averbukh. But "she changed her [personality]. She started to act as a French lady; she had always been just a girl from Russia. When she went to France, she changed the character. She tried to wear very nice clothes and everything."
Though she and Peizerat had their differences, they found success under coach Muriel Boucher-Zazoui. By 1996, when Anissina won her French citizenship, they finished fourth at the world championships, then fifth the following year. Though Anissina was considered a demanding perfectionist and a relentless worker, she clearly had some understanding of the politics long considered fundamental to figure skating judging -- and apparently no self-consciousness about putting that mind-set in writing. A month before the 1998 Olympics, she, Peizerat and Zazoui jointly signed a letter to former French skating federation president Bernard Goy asking for the assignment to the Games of a judge who, they said, had "started a very important political work" in their favor. "Unfortunately and still for a short time [in ice dancing], the results do not come only from the performance," the letter said.
The judge in question, Jean-Bernard Hamel, was assigned as a last-minute replacement for another judge. Gailhaguet, taking over the presidency at that time, said the assignment was made for reasons other than the letter. Anissina ended Friday's interview before the topic could be broached.
At the 1998 Games, they won the bronze medal. In 2000 in Nice, France, they won their first world title. By the time the 2002 Winter Games rolled around, she and Peizerat were gold medal favorites, which, in the slow-moving world of ice dancing results, is almost as good as having the medal in hand. Friends and acquaintances say she was supremely confident before the event.
U.S. and Italian authorities, meantime, say she and her mother discussed a deal put into place by Tokhtakhounov that was intended to get the gold medal for Russia in the Olympic pairs competition in exchange for a gold medal for France -- and Anissina -- in the dance. According to wire-tap transcripts included in the U.S. complaint filed last month in federal court, Anissina's mother contacted Tokhtakhounov to ask a favor regarding the Olympics. Tokhtakhounov allegedly said Anissina would be the Olympic champion "even if she falls."
Anissina said last week that couldn't have been her mother's voice on tape. Her mother, who lives with her in Lyon, France, could not be reached to comment.
Those who know Anissina say she is close to her mother, who eventually followed her daughter to Lyon, taking up coaching there and watching Anissina's dog, Maroussia, when she travels. Several people who know Anissina said they often see her mother at competitions, but that her presence never seemed overbearing. Both parents attended the Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Russian Olympic and skating officials have denounced the charges as flimsy. They say they are part of a North American scapegoating of Russia that began at the Salt Lake Games.
"It's like Hollywood. It's 'Austin Powers II,' " Zhulin said. "Even if Anissina's mother speaks to this guy, and says, 'Please help my daughter,' and he says, 'Sure,' then what? Do you have a tape of him talking to a judge saying "put 5.9 for Marina Anissina or I will kill you?' If you've got that, you've got a great tape.
"I wouldn't be happy to be in her place if she is innocent. I just feel really, really sorry for her."
Anissina said she has been exhausted answering questions about the scandal. She and Peizerat are scheduled to leave today for a vacation. She closed her brief interview Friday with pleading words for Tokhtakhounov.
"I'm sure he didn't do anything," she said. "I'm sure of it. He can't do anything in figure skating; he didn't know anybody. It's not possible."