Not long ago, Russia’s figure skaters in the ladies discipline were a force to be reckoned with. Irina Slutskaya not only won Olympic silver in 2002 and bronze in 2006, but also a whopping seven European titles between 1996 and 2006, and two World titles in 2002 and 2005. Maria Butyrskaya became the first Russian lady to win Worlds in 1999 and earned six European medals, including three gold ones.
Russia’s Elena Sokolova, Julia Soldatova, Olga Markova, and Viktoria Volchkova also stood on the World and/or European podium, making 1996 to 2006 the golden decade of Russian ladies skating. However, it soon fizzled out.
Since Slutskaya’s and Sokolova’s retirement, no Russian lady has stepped on a podium at a (senior) Grand Prix event or Europeans Championship – let alone Worlds – in the past two seasons. Ksenia Doronina wants to change that.
The tall 17-year-old more or less came out of nowhere when she won Russian Nationals in 2007 for the first time. Her international experience at that time was limited to three Junior Grand Prix events (with her best placement being 6th in 2006), but at Nationals she was able to show her best and deservedly won, although she was still lacking in expression and choreography.
The skater, who is originally from Moscow but moved to St. Petersburg as a teenager to train under Tatiana and Alexei Mishin, was sent to Europeans in 2007 and had to learn the hard way: after an erroneous short program, she stood in 28th place and failed to qualify for the free skate. “Last year it was a shock for me when I won Nationals, and I was lacking experience,” recalled Doronina. “This year I had more confidence.”
However, the 2006-07 season didn’t kick off too well for her. The athlete decided to change coaches at the end of last summer, and left Mishin for Alla Piatova. “The contact between student and coach was lost,” Doronina explained. “It became really hard to work together. It was my decision to switch coaches and I informed my previous coaches myself. It came as a shock to many people that I left such a well known coach as Alexei Mishin, but I thought Alla Yakovlevna (Piatova) would be a good choice. I found a very good contact to her quickly and now it seems to me as if I have been training in her group for many years.”
At her first international event of the 2007-08 season, Doronina skated poorly at the “Cup of Nice” in France and didn’t do much better in some national events. As a result, the Russian Federation pulled her from her only Grand Prix assignment, the Cup of Russia, in November. “This came somewhat unexpected to me,” the skater admitted. “They told me that it depends on my performances in the national competitions if I compete in the Grand Prix. As I wasn’t able to show my best there, I wasn’t selected for the Grand Prix.” The disappointment just made her work harder. “I fully focused on Nationals instead,” she added, “and then it went well for me at Nationals and also at Europeans and Worlds.”
After the mediocre beginning of the season, Doronina’s second consecutive win at Nationals came as a surprise to many people. She didn’t perform flawlessly, but she skated well and showed significant improvement since the previous year. The jumps remained the same, but the spins and in-betweens were stronger. She also showed more expression and made better use of her choreography.
Doronina cracked the top ten at the 2008 European Figure Skating Championships, placing 9th, and then placed 17th the following month at her first World Championships. “I’m very pleased that I was able to compete and debut at Worlds,” Doronina said. “The result could have been better, but I was happy with my short program. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to show all my elements in the free skating and therefore I didn’t move up.”
The most important experience for Doronina at Worlds was that she coped with her nerves in front of such a huge crowd. “I think I never competed in an event where the stands were as full as they were there,” said the skater. “This experience will help me in any case for the future, because now I know the atmosphere of World Championships. European Championships are still something else. The level of competition at Worlds is completely different. I think this experience will help me to skate my programs with more confidence.” Doronina added: “Compared to last year, I’ve worked more on my programs. I also believe that I learned from my bitter experience last year, and therefore I skated with more confidence at Europeans. I was there for the second time after all.”
Doronina skated to a Flamenco in the short program. Originally she had a new short program to The Dying Swan by Camille Saint-Saens, but then switched back to her old short, because “it’s better not to die and I decided to live in Spain.” Her long program was to music by Alfred Schnittke from the soundtrack of the Russian film Skazka Stranstviy (translated to The Story of the Voyages in the U.S.). As she kept both programs for two years, the Russian Champion is preparing two new routines for the upcoming season, but the music was not yet available at press time.
Doronina proved she had strong character after switching to her new coach on her own initiative, however, that was already the case since she made the personal decision to skate at the tender age of four. “My older brother skated,” she revealed, “but then he didn’t like it anymore and my mother wanted to give his skates to the daughter of a friend. But I said ‘No, give them to me, I will skate now’. It was my own idea to start skating. I watched skating on TV, the World and European Championships, and I felt that I should do that.” And so now she is.
Doronina just finished school this summer and will now began her studies at at the Sports Institute, like most athletes in Russia. However, she doesn’t want to limit herself to this education and would like to study design later on. “I really like drawing and I’m also drawing the sketches for almost all of my costumes myself,” she said. “Then I show my ideas to the tailor, and the designers there suggest me their own ideas, and together we find a common solution.” Hence, her yellow and black costume for her Flamenco program. “In general, people are using red or orange (for a Spanish theme), therefore I wanted to do something different and chose yellow and black.” Other hobbies include collecting souvenir magnets from different countries to decorate her fridge and listening to all kind of music.
Doronina’s idol in skating was for many years, not surprisingly, Irina Slutskaya. “She is a great skater, a fighter,” the Russian explained. “Now I like Carolina Kostner. I’ve known her for a long time as she often came to Alexei Mishin’s training camps. It’s enjoyable to talk to her, she is a really nice girl.”
For the future, Doronina has ambitious goals. “I like to raise the bar for myself, because you work harder when you have big goals. Next year, I’d like to compete for a medal at Europeans or to reach the top five. For Worlds, I would like to make the top ten which was a goal that I didn’t fulfil this year. I want to make it not only to the European, but to the World elite of figure skating, and I will do everything that I can to achieve this goal.”
Although the Russian ladies didn’t see much success in the past two years, the athlete is optimistic about their future. “I wouldn’t say that the level (of Russian ladies) is so bad. We now have some strong junior skaters,” Doronina pointed out. “One of these girls, Alena Leonova (she finished 6th at Junior Worlds), is skating in my group, and I think this is strong competition. We don’t have a star right now, but there will be stars. There was a big gap after Irina Slutskaya when you look at the age. There is an age difference of nine years (between her and the current Russian ladies). We are now getting experience and we will give our best,” Doronina promised.
For now she is scheduled for the Cup of Russia Grand Prix event in November and plans to attend international fall competitions.