John Baldwin went to St. Petersburg in December 2006 to skate. He came back to the United States later the same month lucky to be alive.
Baldwin, 33, a two-time U.S. pairs champion, was in Russia for the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final with skating partner Rena Inoue. The couple placed fourth in the pairs competition and was wrapping up their trip at the final skater's banquet and award ceremony on Dec. 17 when Baldwin and a small group of skaters from the competition left and walked to a nightclub near their hotel. Baldwin remembers staying at the club for about an hour before getting up to use the restroom.
That much Baldwin knows for sure. Beyond that, the details are hard to recall.
"I was led outside to a car. I'm sure I was told it was a cab and that my friends were waiting for me," Baldwin said, believing that's the only way he would've gotten into the car willingly. "I believe at this point I was forced into the vehicle. I remember three other people in the car with me including the driver. We drove outside the city about thirty minutes or so to a wooded area and stopped at a narrow apartment-style five- or six-story building."
Baldwin was found in the wee hours of the morning by a Russian couple. He had been knocked out and left in the snow. There were contusions on both sides of his head and also on his nose and cheek, and a deep cut penetrated the left side of his head. He found himself later back in the hotel room. The couple had left a phone number on a card along with a message -- "We find you."
"I imagine they must have found a keycard to the hotel on me and that's how they were able to take me back," Baldwin said of the couple.
The suit he had been wearing was covered in dirt. Dried blood stained his face and shirt and he was still bleeding from the nose. He had broke cartilage in the top part of his nose, but no bones were broken. All of his personal belongings -- a wallet, camera, watch, belt, necklace, and his Olympic ring -- had been stolen.
Inoue called one of the Russian team coaches when Baldwin returned. The coach said Baldwin was lucky, that usually the muggers "would kill him or throw him in the river, so he is lucky just to be alive."
Baldwin and Inoue were the last two Americans left at the hotel and had a flight to catch that day. There was no time to alert authorities or even check into a hospital.
"I didn't even notice that my Olympic ring had been taken until I was at the airport," Baldwin said. Inoue offered him a chilling reassurance: "You're so lucky they didn't take your finger or hand with it."
Baldwin took a risk by deciding to take the flight back to Los Angeles with his head swollen and bloodied. Inoue didn't think they'd even be allowed on the plane with Baldwin in that condition.
"I just wanted to get back to the U.S. so I took about six Advils, put an icepack on my head, and kept my face down so nobody could see," Baldwin said.
And they did get back -- after a painful trip. The two went directly to the emergency room of St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica after landing in Los Angeles. Baldwin had a CT scan to ensure there were no blood clots in his brain. He was then diagnosed with a concussion and vertigo and underwent an MRI and further blood tests later in the week -- all of which came back negative.
In the three weeks following the ordeal, Baldwin stayed off the ice due to the dizziness caused by the head injuries.
"I considered the time off to be the safest approach," Baldwin said. "Getting back in the rink and training really makes me focus on the task at hand and takes my mind off what happened.
"We are ready to compete again."
Baldwin and Inoue have been model athletes for U.S. Figure Skating, with national championships, world medals, and Olympic appearances on their list of accolades. John was the U.S. figure skating team captain at the 2006 Torino Olympics -- where he an Inoue finished in seventh place -- and the couple is currently the top ranked U.S. pairs team on the Grand Prix circuit.
The couple gained additional recognition in January 2006 when they landed the first successful throw triple axel in pairs figure skating history -- a manuever that helped them win the 2006 U.S. Championships.
With the frightening night behind him, Baldwin is ready to put his focus back on skating, but thoughts of the brutal robbery remain. Baldwin is currently seeing a psychologist to help him deal with what happened, and he is also attempting to contact the Russian couple that probably saved his life.
"It's the scariest thing that's ever happened to me in my life," Baldwin told ESPN.
Baldwin and Inoue aren't letting the incident get them down. The two are slated to compete at the 2007 U.S. Championships in Spokane, Wash., beginning Jan. 21.