Golden Skate

Russia’s Popova and Mozgov are ‘on the right track’

While Russian ice dancers Betina Popova and Sergey Mozgov say that they are “terrible athletes” and very difficult to work with, they ended their season with a highlight by striking gold at the Winter Universiade in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, in March. Now they are fully motivated for the upcoming 2019-20 season while working with coach Anjelika Krylova for the second year.

Following the Universiade, the ice dancers had to take some time off to heal injuries.

“Betina healed her foot and I took care of my problems and a relatively short time ago, we started to train decently and we recovered,” Mozgov shared.

“We’ve already been working on some elements and ideas for the programs,” Popova added. “There are some things we managed to do in this short time actually, because we barely skated after the Universiade.”

Preparations are well underway as the skaters share during an interview at their training base, the Megasport rink in Moscow. They are mostly training in the underground practice rink of the facility that has been used many times for the Grand Prix in Moscow, as well as for the ISU European Figure Skating Championships and the ISU World Figure Skating Championships 2011.

Popova and Mozgov have picked their music and are happy to share the information.

“We have nothing to hide. Our free dance is to the classy music of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Popova said. “Our short is [to] Cabaret,” Mozgov added. “It’s fun, perky,” his partner continued. “We’ll have two totally different programs. The Bohemian Rhapsody will be in new style for us, a new experience.”

The music selections from Cabaret are “Willkommen,” “Money, Money” and “Mein Herr.” The ice dancers chose the Free Dance music themselves. Originally, Krylova had something else in mind.

“That was more difficult to understand for the spectators and for us,” Popova noted. “The music was too difficult, we’re not ready for it yet.”

“We’re not yet at this level,” Mozgov agreed.

Krylova gave the nod to her students’ choice to skate to “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

“The most important is that Anjelika sees us in these programs, she believes in us and she feels us, and therefore we are confident that it will work out well,” Popova said.

Their Short Dance music to Cabaret was a common decision. “Considering that there should be Charleston, Swing and Foxtrot, in my opinion, there is not such a big choice,” Popova shared.

The ice dancers are hoping for positive feedback for their programs. “We’ll try everything possible so that it will be interesting for the spectators, because we’re skating for them,” Popova pointed out.

Krylova is pleased with what the team has come up with for next season. Also part of the coaching team is Oleg Volkov and two-time World Ice Dance Champions Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski, who are helping out mostly with choreography.

“I think that the programs are a very good choice,” Krylova commented. “This is their style, both the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘Cabaret.’ I think that suits them and their character very well and we’re looking forward to see that.”

The ice dancers have been working on new and exciting elements off-ice, and Popova revealed that they are still trying to make sure that one in particular can be “realized” when it is brought to the ice.

“We did it on the floor and it is really cool. How we can do that on the ice, on skates, we have no clue, there’s such a lift … I’m already scared of it. I sent a photo to my mom and she said, ‘I won’t watch your performance, I won’t watch that, skate yourself,'” she explained with a laugh.

The Universiade Champions find crazy ideas like this new lift they plan by watching ice shows and circus performances and by just brainstorming and playing around with moves.

“We’re trying to do something that not everyone is doing in their programs,” Popova pointed out. “Someone does it like that, we’ll do something of our own. It is very important to think of something new so that figure skating as a whole is developing.”

While the dancers feel that they are now on the right track, they admit that the first year with 1998 Olympic silver medalist Krylova as a coach wasn’t easy.

“We are terrible athletes, after all,” joked Mozgov. “We’re arguing a lot. However, we know that we have to work on ourselves and we need a different approach.”

“In the past season, we didn’t reach the level of our coach,” added Popova. “This season, we’ll try to fix all these deficits and we want to be worthy of our coach. We have an awful character, we are disgusting athletes that are not working in the right way, but now we’re improving. We have everything to win, and we want to do that, because we’re fed up with sitting somewhere in the middle.”

Popova admitted that it was hard on the coach to work with them as they have a “really difficult character.”

“She wants to invest in us,” Popova elaborated. “We want to invest something ourselves too, and this is not always coming together. Therefore, it comes to many conflicts and we solve them the hard way.”

“I think it will be easier this season, because we’re learning to adapt to each other,” Mozgov noted.

Krylova agrees. “Betina and Seriozha [Sergey] are more or less gelled as a team, although three years is not so much time for this in ice dance, plus changing the style. They got used to me, I got used to them, and I think the second year is going to be easier. I won’t say it’s going to be easy, nevertheless, because they are very individual people with their character, their habits. They are already grown up. I don’t want to break them, I want to direct them into the right way that I envision for them and to do what we can do together to achieve a result.”

Near the end of the past season, the ice dancers felt that their relationship had already started to improve.

“At Russian Nationals we already showed good skating,” said Popova. “I think at the Universiade we were able to give the maximum of what we were able to get out of this season. Obviously, the first year is difficult, a reset, and therefore we were not able to show everything that our new coach gave us and we’re aiming at continuing this next season.”

While not quite at the level Krylova has planned, she agrees that there is indeed progress.

“This softness in their skating is only starting to appear, this contact between them in their skating,” the coach explained. “What we still need more is to communicate better. They are not used to that at all. They are not used to talking about problems they might have. I just like to have a close relationship with my students, this might be good or bad, depending on the situation. When they told me about a problem, we solved it together. I think that is very important.”

Overall, the ice dancers feel their skating has improved compared to the past, which is important.

“Our skating was more jerky, and now it becomes step by step softer and more fluid,” observed Mozgov. “We’re trying to move into the ideal direction, in the direction of [Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume] Cizeron,” Mozgov noted.

However, the Universiade Champions don’t want to copy others, as Popova is quick to point out. “We don’t want to copy, but just to take some positive parts of others. We understand that this is required now and we’re trying to realize that with our feet plus to show our individuality and our ideas.”

The whole team has set high goals for next season. “I see the biggest chances for them,” Krylova concluded. “Obviously, Russian Nationals will be the main event for them to qualify for Europeans and Worlds. This will be very important. Of course, we have to start the season in very good shape and they have to do well in the Challengers and Grand Prix. They need to be close to the top three and trying to make the top three. They have everything for that if they are healthy and if they are in shape.”

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