Maria Pavlova and Alexei Sviatchenko
Pair skaters Maria Pavlova, 19 and Alexei Sviatchenko, 24, are hoping to create a new chapter in figure skating history for their country. Hungary looks back at a successful figure skating history, but it has been a while since Hungarian skaters won medals at ISU Championships. To be precise, Julia Sebestyen is the last Hungarian figure skater to make a championship podium when she won the European title back in 2004 on home ice.
Competing in their first season as a team, Pavlova and Sviatchenko secured the best placement for Hungary in Pairs in decades by coming in fifth at the 2023 ISU European Championships and seventh at the 2023 ISU World Championships.
Hungary’s previous top team, Ioulia Chtchetinina and Mark Magyar, finished as high as sixth at Europeans and were the first Hungarian pair skaters in 66 years to qualify for the Olympic Winter Games in 2022. However, due to a Covid-19 infection, they were unable to compete in Beijing.
Following their strong debut last season, Pavlova and Sviatchenko are aiming higher and aspire to make history for Hungary by achieving podium finishes in major competitions.
“It’s true, we presented ourselves well in the past season, but there were some difficulties,” Pavlova recalled. “We missed the first half of the season as there were injuries and I was sick a lot. But we realized that we need to work and go for our goals. Our coaches are happy with the past season. At the same time, we understand that this is by far not our best and we are capable of much more and this is what we are working on for this season.”
“Masha (Maria) and Alexei already had competitive experience,” coach Dimitri Savin pointed out. “After the first tryout, we realized that they matched in their rhythm, desire and abilities. Our work was to get them to gel as a team and get them consistency. We put in a lot of work to achieve the right condition.”
The team’s preparation for the season is in full swing.
“We’re working on all elements, and we try to improve the quality of execution and add lightness to each element,” Pavlova noted. “We pay a lot of attention to the lifts and we’re thinking of something new and interesting. Also, a lot of time is dedicated to the jumps as we want to add harder jumps.”
Coach Savin confirmed that they want to make their jumping passes and the combination in the free skate more difficult.
“It is easy and interesting to work with them,” he said. “The most important thing is that they understand and trust each other. They easily manage a big workload and understand what they are doing it for.”
The team has prepared two new programs for the season. Their permanent choreographer Sofia Evdokimova, a former ice dancer, built the new free skate to “My Perception of Love” by Benjamin Amaru.
“It is a very soft, but powerful program,” Pavlova shared. “We like the idea, and we will perform it with great joy at competitions.”
The short program is set to selections by Queen and was choreographed by renowned ice dance coaches Irina Zhuk and Alexander Svinin. Savin explained that they used an interesting arrangement of the music of the legendary band and that the program turned out “bright with a twist.”
“It was our first time working with them and they have a huge experience in mounting programs,” noted Pavlova. “The program turned out to be energetic and very difficult.”
Pavlova, who has competed for Hungary since 2021, and Sviatchenko are both Russian born. They mostly train in the Olympic city of Sotchi alongside Russian and international pairs under coaches Dmitri Savin and Fedor Klimov, the 2014 Olympic Pairs silver medalist.
“We have very good conditions,” said Pavlova. “Sometimes we are training in different places, but most of the time we are in Sotchi. The weather there is always nice, everything is very close and there is the healthy sea.”
Their training mates include Daria Danilova and Michel Tsiba, who compete for the Netherlands, and the Russian duo of Karina Akopova and Nikita Rakhmanin.
“That helps us a lot,” Pavlova observed. “Everyone is trying to improve and therefore we have a certain competition that does not allow us to slack off in the training process.”
Pavlova, who just turned 19 on August 2, was a single skater in Russia and made the decision herself to start a career in Pairs.
“I didn’t see any further sense in competing in singles,” she offered. “The girls started to do to quads, and I wasn’t ready for this.”
Pavlova joined the training group of Sergei Dobroskokov and Sergei Rosliakov in Moscow. Sviatchenko switched to Pairs back in 2011 when he was 12.
Sviatchenko fell in love with figure skating when seeing it in an ice rink and asked his mother to sign him up for lessons.
“I skated in Kolpino (near St. Petersburg), and my parents decided that I should try to transfer to the Figure Skating Academy in St. Petersburg to improve my skills and results,” he recalled. “To my regret, I was far behind my peers, and they didn’t accept me in the single skating group but sent me to ice dance. However, my mom didn’t give up and talked to pair skating coach Alexei Sokolov to take me into his group.”
Sviatchenko went on to skate and compete with various partners, first in St. Petersburg and later in Moscow. Meanwhile, the Hungarian Federation invited Pavlova to skate with Balazs Nagy and she decided to try that.
“This is how I went to Budapest,” she explained. “Everything went really well, and we liked it.”
The coaches saw potential in the team that indeed ranked 11th at the ISU European Championships 2022. However, the partnership ended soon afterwards. Then in March 2022, Pavlova teamed up with Sviatchenko.
“The hardest thing was to learn to skate together, to understand the timing of each other and to build the elements,” Sviatchenko shared. “The easiest thing for us was to find a common language.” “We understand and support each other,” added Pavlova.
The skaters admit that learning Hungarian is challenging, but they are studying it with the help of textbooks. Naturally, the team was disappointed when the Hungarian Federation returned the ISU European Championships 2024 due to the ongoing political and economic crisis as the Hungarian Federation said in a statement at the time.
“We were very upset,” said Pavlova, who is a citizen of Hungary. “We really wanted to skate in our country at such an important event and show our best. Hopefully, we’ll still have this opportunity in the future.”
The skaters are looking forward to competing in the ISU Grand Prix Series for the first time. They have been assigned to Skate Canada in Vancouver and to the Grand Prix Espoo in Finland. Before their Grand Prix debut, they want to kick off their season at Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf and Finlandia Trophy in Espoo.
“We don’t have special expectations,” claims Sviatchenko. “Our goal is to perform well, and everything depends on us.”
Savin agreed, adding, “In general, in our group, we believe that happiness loves silence. Just work, have fun, give everything you have, and the results will come. Everyone wants to win, and we are not an exception.
“They have potential, time will show what kind of potential,” Savin summed up. “They have talent, their desire is immense. We hope we can fully realize our plans and potential. We do not look ahead. Hard work will lead to the desired result. We want to continue to skate consistently, cleanly, to add brightness and look spectacular.”
Obviously, the team has the potential to medal in the ISU Grand Prix and that would be a first for Hungarian Pair Skating.