When Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii began the 2018-19 figure skating season, not many people expected a lot from them. Following a great 2016-17 international debut season, in which they took the silver medal at the ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships, the young team struggled and didn’t even qualify for Junior Worlds in 2018.
However, the pair skaters from St. Petersburg, coached by Artur Minchuk and the legendary Tamara Moskvina, immediately made an impact at the senior level, picking up a silver at the Grand Prix in France, bronze at Russian Nationals and at the 2019 ISU European Figure Skating Championships. They topped that off with a sixth-place finish in their debut at the 2019 Worlds Figure Skating Championships.
Nevertheless, the European bronze medalists, who are still actually junior-age eligible, don’t want their success to be considered a “breakthrough.”
“I don’t like the word ‘breakthrough,'” Kozlovskii said. “In this past season, we achieved some personal success, but we don’t want to assess this season. As athletes, we are living in cycles and I think we can assess ourselves at the end of the Olympic cycle. At the end of the season, we rate the season just for ourselves. We draw our conclusions; we fix our mistakes and we try to improve.”
Boikova feels it is hard to judge their own development as this happens during the training process.
“Our parents and coaches, who are watching us, obviously see it and tell us what we need to do better,” she explained. “So, there is obviously a kind of development. We ourselves are not feeling that something is changing.”
Her partner pointed out that people from the outside, like coaches and spectators, can judge better. However, he personally feels that their skating and their interpretation are maturing.
“We want to become better and stronger,” Kozlovskii stressed. “Obviously we’re learning certain lessons from competitions. I think it is important to take in the lessons that you get from life and from competitions. For us, the most important thing is to skate, to put in a lot of effort into the interpretation of the programs, because as we said before, everybody does the (same) elements. Nobody is really setting themselves apart technically with some elements, but only a few are really skating.”
“Additionally, there is a huge difference between junior and senior pairs, especially in the skating, not in the elements,” Boikova agreed. “Therefore, when you move up to the senior level, you need to work more on the vision, on the skating skills and transitions.”
This is exactly what the team has focused on in the past months when preparing for this season.
“We are working a lot, actually,” Kozlovskii said. “We mounted new programs. We went to two training camps in Sochi and Kislovodsk to work on our physical preparation. We’ve worked on the elements. We’ve done a lot already for our general development. Obviously, we do feel progress.”
Coach Artur Minchuk is pleased with how the past season went and feels that the team had showed tremendous results in their first senior year.
“They made it,” he said. They are fighters. I don’t have any question about that. We have really good contact with them about how to compete. They know these nuances now themselves, the words, the moves that can help them and that can pull them out of a bad condition.”
Now the skaters and coaches are focusing on the upcoming season and have been working hard to be competitive with the leading teams, however, Minchuk feels that, “while close, they are still not skating as freely as the masters.”
“We made it under the top six (of the world),” he pointed out. “We increased the degree of difficulty, the throws, death spiral, we changed that and we’ll include it and show it. They are looking great, they’re jumping great and they have great throws and lifts. Obviously, we’re preparing them so that they’ll be ready for 2022 and there won’t be any questions about their skating.”
Boikova and Kozlovskii have upgraded their technical content with a throw triple flip that replaces the throw triple Salchow in both programs. They’re also doing a more difficult death spiral. They and their coaches know that at this level, each detail counts.
“Now, at the senior level, even a one-hundredth of a point plays a role,” Minchuk noted and recalled how close it was at Europeans when his team edged Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise of Italy for bronze by just 0.14 points. “All senior pairs try to squeeze out everything possible. Each hundredth, each tenth is counting. You need to work for each one hundredth of a point. Each finger move, each glance, the head, the hair style, everything (counts).”
While Minchuk, 30, is a young coach himself, Tamara Moskvina has decades of experience under her successful belt as she has coached She knows how difficult it can be to come off a successful year, especially with athletes as young as Boikova and Kozlovskii.
“As in nature, after a sunny day, there is dusk and then night falls,” said Moskvina, who has coached several pair teams to Olympic and World gold. “Therefore, a coach always expects that there will be some difficulties after a successful season. Everything is new for athletes that are just starting to compete at the international level. At the same time, they think, ‚Oh, we achieved a lot,’ and then their assessment of the work they have done and of the work that they still have to do, might not be right and adequate. That is the work they have to do to get to the level of athletes that have been competing at the international level for a long time and that have high prestige, experience, and their name and that are accepted by the experts. This is the difficulty.”
Moskvina further points out that it is not always easy to make clear to young skaters that enjoyed early success that they need to continue to work as hard or even harder as before. She feels they still need to be convinced that the small details are a sign of quality and need to be executed perfectly every time.
“Athletes that got results quickly sometimes feel that the critique coming from the coaches are undeserved,” she explained. “It is important that they turn 360 degrees in a lift and then change the position and not to do so after 350 degrees, for example. The skaters might think what they are doing is good enough, while in fact it is not.”
“At the international level, it plays not only a role that you landed an element, but how you performed it, how you are skating, how deep your edges are and how fast you are moving,” Moskvina continued. “Not only the quality and the unison of the pair in each move, but also the expression and connection to the music is important. They were top six in the world and top three in Europe. That means we have to progress further and faster. Nobody will wait for you and nobody will make room for you. This is sport. It is a competitive fight, like in life and in nature.”
The coaches and athletes selected the music for the new programs together.
“It is not like, ‘I liked something and say that this is it,'” Minchuk pointed out. “We’re choosing together with the whole collective. Tamara Nikolaevna (Moskvina) finds something and brings it. We discuss it and say yes or no. It is important that the kids understand which character they are skating to. They are not like robots. We tell them, ‘you do this or that.’ They also understand what they need.”
The Short Program to “My Way” by Frank Sinatra was mounted by Natalia Bestemianova and Igor Bobrin while Nikolai Morozov choreographed the long program to music from James Bond movies.
“Our coaches will always confirm the music,” Kozlovskii shared. “We are suggesting our options, but the coaches with their vision on how to make these programs successful have the last word about the music. But we like our programs.”
“In the free, we want to try for ourselves a new character,” added Boikova.
Minchuk pointed out that it was important to try a somewhat different style after their “Nutcracker” long program, although he feels that classical music works well for his team.
The coaches have a clear vision of the programs and Moskvina feels that the title “My Way” is symbolic. She feels that it is “her way” as a coach and that she has a way that she leads athletes on in their lives as athletes and people.
“It is the way, the path of this team,” she said. “Which way do they go? Will they be like a comet that shines brightly and then disappears? They have to learn to listen to the coaches, to listen to each other, to try to understand their place in this hierarchy of the skating world. They need to realize their value as a team (as well as) their strengths and weaknesses. This is a path and therefore I agreed happily when Igor Bobrin suggested this music and this idea.”
The theme of the James Bond free skate is about the relationship between man and woman.
“Everybody has a profession and everyone is following an agenda,” explained Moskvina. “There is the good-looking guy, like Dima (Kozlovskii). He enjoys that role. He needs to pay attention to his partner that he tries to draw into his job, which is skating. At the same time, he is playing around and casting his spell to the world around them. Meanwhile, the girl, Aleksandra, wants to charm this young man, to lead him away from his other admirers and to skillfully twist him around her little finger. The choreography reflects this story. At some point, they are separated, looking at each other, assessing each other, trying to get each other’s attention.”
The spectator might not realize this deeper sense as he or she is just seeing an interaction between the partners as they express it through figure skating elements, as Moskvina feels. The coach was happy that finally she got to work with Morozov, something she has wanted to do for a long time.
“I suggested this music to him, because I felt that the kids can express themselves with that theme,” she said. “They needed something different this year.”
The skaters try not to let the pressure and the expectations get to them.
“To be honest, I don’t have any special expectations and I think it is the same for Dima,” said Boikova. “We just have to focus on skating clean, doing our job and make ourselves and the coaches happy.”
“Expectations really can drag you down,” Kozlovskii agreed. “Going with expectations into a competition is tricky for an athlete. We go out to do our job. We know what we can do and what we have to do. The spectators are probably expecting something from us, the coaches and the federation, but we ourselves… we don’t expect anything from ourselves. We just want good performances. This is what we are working for and what we’re spending a huge time on in our preparation.”
Minchuk doesn’t perceive lack of motivation following the success his students enjoyed. In fact, he feels that they dealt with it well and they they were prepared for that.
“Now, since they came sixth (at Worlds), they have the motivation to move up next season, to do better at Europeans and the Grand Prix,” he said. “There should be a motivation. The most important is that they want it themselves. You don’t have to push them to work, to force them. They know what they want and we’re guiding them.”
However, he knows that expectations are high. Given that they were well-received, there is now a sense of responsibility.
“They rested and then worked, now we’re getting ready,” Minchuk offered. “The main goal is to skate clean and to show the work we’ve done in the choreography so that the spectators give a standing ovation like it happened last season after the free skating. This is the most important, I believe. I think we won’t have problems. They are ready, they are young, there are no problems with the health. This is a plus that we have compared to other grown-up teams that need to keep it up.”
Off the ice, Kozlovskii is studying at a prestigious university for government-municipal administration.
“Right now, everything is fine,” he said. “I passed all the exams, but during the season it is not easy. Studying in a non-sports faculty is much harder for an athlete than in a sports university. But this was my choice and I am happy that I have the chance to develop myself, try something new, and get into something new as the sport is taking up a lot of time and room in my life and in my head. Therefore, when I am switching from figure skating to my studies, something completely different, it is very interesting. It is distracting me and even helps to train with more enthusiasm and to set goals, because there is no overdose or overload (of figure skating).”
Boikova now is entering 11th grade in high school and has already been preparing with a tutor as she knows that she will miss a lot of classes during the season.
“I’m trying to go through ahead of time what the others are doing while I’m away,” she said. “I will focus on the subjects that I need to pass for my major, which is Russian, literature, English and mathematics.”
Once Boikova finishes school, the skater wants to study journalism. She even launched a YouTube channel, but then did not have enough time to produce content. Right now, she is using Instagram to write and express her thoughts and her perception of what she sees around her.
This season, Boikova and Kozlovskii want to establish themselves as one of the top pair teams in the world. The key for that is consistency in the performances and in the results.
“Otherwise, it is like a comet that flew by and everyone says, ‘Oh’ and then it is gone,” Moskvina summed up. “But the Milky Way is eternal.”
Boikova and Kozlovskii will be showing their new programs at the test skates this coming weekend and are currently slated to compete at Skate Canada and Rostelecom Cup this fall.