Home Figure Skating News Israel’s Tkachenko and Kiliakov move up the ranks

Israel’s Tkachenko and Kiliakov move up the ranks

Skating towards senior success

by Paula Slater

Elizabeth Tkachenko and Alexei Kiliakov

Elizabeth Tkachenko and Alexei Kiliakov

Israel’s Elizabeth Tkachenko and Alexei Kiliakov had a spectacular season this year, showing massive improvement since 2022-23. The ice dance team medaled at both their individual Junior Grand Prix (JGP) events, before taking silver at the Junior Grand Prix Final. They capped that off with a second-place finish at the 2024 World Junior Figure Skating Championships. The team chalks it up to being together for so long.

“Last year was actually our fifth year competing in the Junior category,” Kiliakov pointed out. “Even though we are young, we are really starting to feel like we are growing into becoming a Senior team. That is the ultimate goal, anyway, for a top Junior team with intentions for the podium.”

At the beginning of the season, they successfully competed among some very strong senior teams at 2023 Lake Placid Ice Dance International, placing seventh.

“Thanks, in part, to the support of our federation,” said Kiliakov of the event. “All of this really impacted our mindset, skating, and confidence, which is why we were able to show such successful results in the past season.”

Kiliakov and his parents already had Israeli citizenship, so the decision to switch from the United States to Israel came naturally as they had progressed and developed as a team. Tkachenko also has relatives in Israel.

“It was the right time,” said Kiliakov of the switch they made a few years ago. “Representing Israel brings more responsibility in a way, because when you receive an opportunity for more international events, you need to be ready as an athlete to show good results.”

Changing federations was a big step,” he added. “It was very helpful because the federation’s president, judges and technical specialists were very welcoming. They worked with us to improve our programs and guided us in the right direction.”

Back to the basics

A great deal of work was put into the 2023-24 season for the team who was 11th at Junior Worlds the previous year. Under long-time coaches (and Kiliakov’s parents), Elena Novak and Alexei Kiliakov Sr., they increased the amount of time on the ice and also focused a great deal on off-ice training.

“We just tried to figure out what really works for our team,” said Tkachenko. “We went back to a lot of the basics, like skating close together, having a lot of power and working on stamina.”

“Honestly, playing to our strengths is probably the one of the biggest things that helped us this year,” added Kiliakov. “Just because every competition and season prior has been kind of a lesson about what we’re good at and what to work on. So, we really just tried to put all our best strengths into one package while remedying our drawbacks to try to get the best product out there.”

Interestingly, the duo won the senior national title last year, but competed as juniors in Halon this year, where they won gold as well.

“It was because of the tight turn around between worlds, junior worlds and the Israeli Championships,” Kiliakov explained. “My mom teaches at the Oberstdorf camp, so she had to leave for that. So, we really needed to start work on our new programs for the next season. It was just going to be a very tight fit for us to convert our programs to senior for nationals, so we decided to just take it easy and stay junior for just nationals this season.”

ION and coaching team

Tkachenko and Kiliakov currently train at the Ice Dance Academy at the ION International Training center in Leesburg, Virgina. The entire academy moved from the Rockville Ice Arena and Wheaton Ice Arena in Maryland across the Potomac to Virginia in 2020.

“There were several factors for the change, but at the time, one of the biggest ones was COVID,” Kiliakov explained. “I feel like this was just a common theme across everything. COVID changed a lot of things in many ways. But when it came to quarantine and isolation restrictions, Maryland was a lot slower to lift restrictions. For example, in ice rinks you weren’t allowed to hold hands or skate with a partner. And for an ice dance academy, that was a bit of a deal breaker.”

After the pandemic, the coaching team when through some shifts. Just over a year ago, Pierre Souquet-Basiège was added to the group.

“He helps in the technical aspect,” said Tkachenko. “He gives us exercises that improve our basic skating skills, edges and deep knees. So, he’s really useful in that.”

“Yeah, and he brings a very unique perspective to choreography,” Kiliakov pitched in. “This season, he’s helped us with some of our elements, and I mean compared to how it was before, it just felt so much better. You know, you have my parents creating kind of a framework and then you run into certain problems. One step might not work very well. We might have to change or add something, and he’s always been very good at offering solutions and making everything very well-rounded.”

The team also has a great deal of support in the off-ice dance disciplines from other instructors that work with the academy.

Virtue and Moir spark inspiration

Both ice dancers admire two-time Olympic Champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir for their strength and passion.

“When they come together, it’s magic,” observed Kiliakov. “They are very effective dancers yet are still able to maintain almost perfect skating skills and technique; it’s amazing to watch them! Their partnership lasted for 21 years. We feel a connection to them because we also have a very long partnership currently going on almost 14 years.”

In addition to the Canadian legends, they enjoy learning from current teams as well.

“Like at the Grand Prix Final this year, I really enjoyed watching the top senior teams,” said Tkachenko. “There are different things you can take from each team. For example, like Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier. They have really good expression in their programs. And the Italian team of Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri, they have like incredible speed which just makes the program look really effective. So, it’s just like bits and pieces from a lot of different teams.”

“I think the senior teams are a lot more specialized and differentiated in a way that juniors just aren’t,” added Kiliakov. “You know, they all have so much experience and time in the sport. They figured out what they’re good at and they figured out what makes their own programs look good. So, it’s very interesting to just see them put that out there.”

Family roots and playgrounds

Tkachenko’s parents, Oxana and Valery, are both from Ukraine and moved to the U.S. in 2006. Oxana speaks Ukrainian, Russian, and English, while Valery speaks Russian and English. Both of Kiliakov’s parents are from Russia.

Russian is also Tkachenko’s first language. She started learning English when she was five while in kindergarten. She has a 19-year-old brother, Alexander (Sasha for short), who used to skate until he was eight. Kiliakov’s first language is also Russian, but he admits that his reading and writing were ‘rusty’ in the past until he started becoming friends with other Russian skaters.

Tkachenko and Kiliakov have known each other since they were toddlers, first crossing paths on a playground about 15 years ago. Over the years, their bond has grown so strong that they consider each other siblings. Their mothers were members of a close-knit community of Russian-speaking moms, frequently organizing gatherings where their children could play together.

“We know and understand each other extremely well,” said Tkachenko. “For example, when one of us is tired or moody, the other already knows how to deal with it and how to be supportive. There are no secrets between us, we tell each other everything. We also physically feel each other very well since after so many years we have gotten used to how the other moves. Skating together feels satisfying; it’s like walking for us, completely natural.”

“We rarely argue, but if we do, we usually sort the conflict out in a couple of minutes,” she added. “Neither of us is too proud to apologize or admit that we were wrong because we both know we are just more productive when working together. There is no reason to argue, fight, or ‘be right.’ We are a team, and we are strongest when we are together.”

Tkachenko and Alexei Kiliakov in 2015

Elizabeth Tkachenko (8) and Alexei Kiliakov (9) pose for a photo at the 2015 Eastern Sectional Juvenile Championships.

Moving up the ranks

The team is currently preparing to compete in the Senior category for next season. However, they are not excluding participation in some Junior events if it strategically makes sense.

“All of this is carefully planned and monitored with our federation,” said Kiliakov. “I mean, it’s just that there’s a lot of factors at play when it comes to our season’s plan. Especially because we are also moving up to Senior and we’re no longer the only team at a particular level like we were at Juniors. So, our federation will decide where we may go based on what will hopefully produce the best outcome.”

Meanwhile, they are focusing on enhancing their speed and power on the ice as part of their ongoing improvement efforts.

“We are also working on showing more connection between us when we dance,” said Kiliakov. “Like focusing on both the technical and performance aspects of our programs. We hope that we can show more captivating skating for the audience. We are also going to be working on creating unique elements, such as more acrobatic lifts and more challenging footwork that can showcase our deep edges.”

In regard to footwork, both ice dancers agree that the diagonal steps are their favorite.

“They can be very big and sprawling,” Kiliakov explained. “I find with a circular it can be challenging to close this loop and to skate big and with a lot of speed. It’s a challenge!”

“I definitely agree about the circular,” Tkachenko added. “We’ve had those in the past before and we always had this problem where we would have so much speed and it would just look like an oval and not like a circle. You can just do a lot more with the diagonal steps.”

Pushing boundaries and experimenting

Tkachenko and Kiliakov acknowledge that transitioning to the Senior level marks a significant milestone. Nonetheless, they eagerly anticipate the opportunity to push their limits, demonstrating their potential as a successful and cohesive mature team.

“In Juniors, you can be forgiven when you are focusing on the technical aspects and kind of forget your performance, your facial expressions, for example,” Tkachenko explained. “But in Seniors, everything has to be put together, so you have to be both technical and very expressive. You have to show your programs from both aspects. I think Seniors have to be very well-rounded and have to prove themselves.”

While they are not ready to reveal their new programs yet, they both admitted to liking this past season’s free dance the most.

“It’s really unique,” said Kiliakov, of the piece by Inti-Illimani. “The Duchesnays skated to it many years ago. For me, it was very unexpected, like the beginning of how we kind of start apart and then we come together. It’s like simple movements. But something you wouldn’t usually expect in ice dance.”

He also recalls hearing and loving the music, which was used in the ballet Ghost Dances, as a youngster in the academy when another team skated to it.

“When we were choosing music at the time, I said, ‘what was that one song that I used to love so much?'” he recalled. “And that’s just kind of how it came about. And my favorite thing was definitely the very unique choreography. But also, I want to say that just this narrative behind it, like the story that it was trying to tell, was very powerful.”

“It was a contemporary dance piece about political oppression in South America,” he explained. “It’s very difficult to put that on the ice for it to be obvious. That’s exactly what our program was because it was trying to have the same theme and emotional feel of oppressiveness, strength and resilience. Just not in the same political landscape, obviously. I thought it was a very interesting direction for a figure skating program to go.”

Longevity and trust

When you’ve been skating together for a long time, there’s a trust and understanding that develops between partners. This trust can give them the confidence to step out of their comfort zones and explore new techniques, moves, or routines. As with many teams, this is no different for Tkachenko and Kiliakov.

“I just feel so comfortable with Alexi, I have no shame,” laughed Tkachenko, regarding trying new things.

“Yeah, it definitely makes the creative process a lot better just because we’re not necessarily worried about having a strange idea or that sort of thing,” Kiliakov added. “Even if an idea isn’t the best, it’s great to put everything out there.”

They both love skating to all kinds of music because there is “beauty in variety.”

“Any piece of music can be used to create a captivating program,” noted Tkachenko. “Especially with the right music cut, the right choreography, costumes, etc. We personally really enjoy very upbeat programs that just make you want to dance. In the past, some of our favorite programs have been our hip-hop.”

This would include their 2021-22 short program rhythm dance to “Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer and this year’s 80s race car-themed routine to music by Yello.

“We love dancing and having fun when we skate,” she continued. “Upbeat programs are definitely a strength of ours. In the future, we are looking to challenge our comfort zone and are thinking of perhaps trying something more classical or modern.”

Elizabeth Tkachenko and Alexei Kiliakov Rhythm Dance 2024

Israel’s Elizabeth Tkachenko and Alexei Kiliakov perform their Rhythm Dance at the 2024 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Taipei City.

Education and Hobbies

Tkachenko will graduate from Riverside High School in Leesburg, Va., next month and plans on taking online courses at the local community college. Kiliakov is currently studying economics full time at George Washington University.

“It hasn’t been easy, but my professors have been pretty helpful and accommodating so far, which has helped a lot,” he said. “In DC there’s tons of opportunities for economics. I’m working in my economics department at GW as a research assistant now, so maybe research is an interesting direction. There’s a lot of opportunities like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) right on campus. They take a lot of internships and that sort of thing.”

Outside of skating and studying, Tkachenko enjoys going on long walks, working out, experimenting with different styles of dance, and reading.

“I also love spending time with my mom,” she shared. “She’s like my best friend, so we could really just sit down and talk. But sometimes we like to go on nature trails or get coffee or just drive around to listen to music. So, it could be literally anything; it doesn’t have to be something specific.”

Kiliakov enjoys watching shows, playing video games, and sometimes reading.

“Something more I enjoy is drawing stylized maps,” he offered. “I find it satisfying to go through the artistic process of capturing an area’s unique sense of place in a hand-drawn map. I like taking places that are special to me or that are interesting and just kind of trying to represent them in a certain way.”

Both skaters have pets. Tkachenko has two border collies, Oddie and Penny, that herd her and the family around the house. Kiliakov has two Russian blue cats named Alf and Orso, as well as a sun conure named “Sunny.”

“He can be fun,” he said of the parakeet. “He likes to, you know, walk around the house on people’s shoulders. Sometimes he joins us for a meal.  The cats are interested in him, so he likes to taunt them. Sometimes he’ll stand on the edge of a table or a countertop and just look down at them on purpose, you know?”

One thing both skaters have in common is that they both enjoy choreography.

“I love choreographing and experimenting with different styles of dance, including contemporary, hip hop, jazz, etc.,” said Tkachenko. “When we choreograph our programs on the ice, Alexei and I are both involved in the process. I’ve always enjoyed it a lot! There’s so many different possibilities and things you can do with it. So, it just makes me so happy to participate.”

“I love dance,” added Kiliakov. “I love figure skating, and I definitely have an artistic side to me. And this is a great way to express it.”

Lessons learned moving into 2024-25

Tkachenko and Kiliakov both agree that major lessons they have learned over the years is “to trust the process” and that “all good things take time.”

“We also got better on connecting with each other and depending on each other in high-pressure and stressful situations,” shared Tkachenko. “We are each other’s biggest supporter. Hard work really does pay off and you just have to stay patient and stay consistent.”

“This season we’ve had a lot of big competitions, and ones that we had low pressure, like the JGP events,” she continued. “We really wanted to go to the Final, so we just knew that we had to skate clean. We started to figure out when and how to talk to each other with certain words and phrases that would help. Also, creating the most comfortable atmosphere before the run through and before the performance.”

“Yeah, I think it’s been huge just figuring out our own routine,” Kiliakov agreed. “I think it’s like this really big expectation. A lot of people do very similar things on their warm-ups, you know, when they’re getting ready and that sort of thing. We learned that that’s not necessarily for us because a lot of teams, everything they do, it’s together, they get ready together, they warm up together.”

“I just think we’re very different people,” he explained. “And at the end of the day, we need to be ready. We learned how to be there for each other while also taking care of ourselves. For instance, Liza might be jogging, and I might be like stretching or doing something different, you know? And then we always come together at the end, and we discuss what we want to do at that event and what things we’re going to focus on.”

Their first competition of the season will be at 2024 Lake Placid Ice Dance International which takes place July 27 – 31, 2024, in Lake Placid, New York.

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