Professional Turned Amateur
With Olympic and world championships in his pocket, Petrenko made the decision to skate professionally. He moved with his family to Las Vegas where he trained with Karin Doherty at the Santa Fe ice rink. Unprotected by the rigorous demands of amateur competition, the professional circuit proved tumultuous for Petrenko.
Beginning in 1994 the Olympics was staggered into a biennial schedule with the winter Olympics scheduled for 1994 and at four-year intervals thereafter. To encourage greater competition for the transitional winter games in Lillehammer in 1994, the International Skating Union (ISU) passed a one-time-only resolution allowing professional athletes to reclaim amateur status that year for the purpose of Olympic competition. Then twenty-five years old, Petrenko accepted the ISU offer and returned to Odessa to train and qualify for the competition. He made his appearance at the games, this time skating for the fully independent Ukraine, not the CIS. Although a medal eluded him, Petrenko placed fourth and left Lillehammer gratified for the experience.
Up close and personal, Petrenko befriended the hard-knocks Olympian Oksana Baiul and convinced Zmievskaya to take the young figure skater into her home when the loss of family became an overwhelming burden for the girl. On his return to the United States, he resumed professional status and moved with his family to Simsbury, Connecticut, where a colleague, Bob Young, had built the International Skating Center. Petrenko made the move along with Melnik, her mother, and Baiul. They were joined in Connecticut by Ekaterina Gordeeva, her husband Sergei Grinkov, and the couple's daughter. Soon afterward, to Petrenko's sadness, Grinkov died an untimely death of a heart attack in 1995. Petrenko's daughter, Viktoria, was born on July 21, 1997.
With Melnik teaching dance classes at the Skating Center, Petrenko supplemented his professional touring schedule as a skating pro at Young's ice center and went on tour with the "Nutcracker on Ice" in 1994-95. Despite an unfortunate slipped disk he managed to recuperate after seeking treatment in Odessa, and competed in the Tournament of Champions that season. In addition to purchasing a home in Simsbury in 1996, he assumed the role of Beast in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" on ice. In competition at the Winter Open on December 17, 1999, he finished in second place.
His ongoing humanitarian efforts and personal kindness are as much a part of his life as his skating accomplishments. Early in his career, as an amateur skater in Moscow in April of 1986, he became overwhelmed with concern upon hearing of the explosion and meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. In the 1990s, after making a name for himself as a skater, he became closely affiliated with a New Jersey-based relief fund, called Children of Chernobyl. He used his celebrity to raise funds for the organization, and made follow-up contacts to insure that the funds were being used effectively.