Mikhail Kolyada: “I am sure that I have not yet reached my limit”
Mikhail at the base in Kislovodsk
Mikhail Kolyada was probably the most unlucky skater of the past season, missing all major events he qualified for: the ISU Grand Prix Final was cancelled, he got injured just before Europeans, then caught Covid-19 before the Olympic Games and eventually was banned from competing at Worlds as was the whole Russian team.
Nevertheless, Misha overcame these setbacks to turn in two excellent performances at the Russian team competition Channel One Cup in March. And he feels motivated for more. We met a hard working Misha at the Kislovodsk training camp and took him out for some off-ice photos.
*Why do we report on Russian skaters and publish interviews with them in spite of the terrible war (which is even not allowed to be called war in Russia) in Ukraine? We believe that these horrible events are not the fault of the Russian people and we feel that the civil society in Russia should be strengthened and not excluded.*
What was the biggest disappointment of this past season for you?
Mikhail: That's a tough question. Every time when it was announced that we would not be able to go to the Grand Prix Final or the World Championships, of course it was frustrating, because all athletes are preparing, getting into top form, trying to show their best at the most important events of the season. And if, for reasons beyond our control, situations like those during the season arise, you have to look for an alternative. By the way, speaking of the Channel One Cup, I'm really glad we had it. It turned out that I had not competed since December. And it was very important for me to go to the Channel One Cup, to feel what it was like to perform in front of a crowd after quite a long break.
As for disappointments, I could not go to the European Championship, because I was injured in training. I missed the Olympics because of Covid. Of course, it was a shame. But on the other hand, life doesn't end there. You have to move on.
Do you think there was any chance for you to compete at the Olympic Games, if you had come later?
Mikhail: If not for Covid, it would have been a completely different picture. But I had never had two negative tests before the end of the Olympics. I took so many tests! You'd think that's it, I'd recovered, my symptoms were gone, I could smell something, but then I took the test and it came back positive. I retake the test - it is negative. I call Alexei Nikolaevitch, and he says I need two negative results. I take another test and I am again positive. For 40 days I had positive tests, although I had been taking them in different laboratories with different equipment, and all the same...
Even if I had travelled to Beijing, I surely would not have competed at the Games. Most likely the tests would have been positive, because, as China has more accurate and sensitive equipment. And they would have quarantined me, which would have been even worse. Then I wouldn't have been even able to participate in the Channel One Cup.
After my illness I almost did not skate for a month, I was weak for a long time. It was very difficult to skate at the Channel One Cup. It was even more difficult than the first competition of the season. My physical condition suffered a lot. In Saransk, I stepped on the ice and it was like starting from zero. And in Beijing you had to perform at the main event of a four-year-cycle. I understood that it was unreal to prepare in such a short period of time and to perform at my maximum right after my illness.
I did not watch the Olympic Games. I could not sit in front of the TV. It was hard: they were there, I was here. Of course, I realized that I could not do anything about the situation, but that did not make it any easier.
Mikhail at a warm up session in Kislovodsk
As soon as you recovered from Covid, you continued training.
Mikhail: Because it was important for me to perform at the end of the season. Of course, we were preparing for the World Championships, because we didn't know yet that the Russians would be banned. I understood that I needed to catch up. I saw the goal and went to it. When you have a goal, a plan, a specific date of the competition, everything is much easier, you get into the work faster. Suppose, they say abstractly you need to do something in August, and nothing good will come out in the end. But when I know for sure, for example, that on August 15 I have to skate, I will be ready.
That's the way it is everywhere. And accountants give a quarterly countdown by a certain deadline. Athletes need to know when they're going to compete, to set themselves up, to distribute their energy, when to peak. I don't know how it is for others, but for me personally it's easier to get ready when there is a clear plan beforehand.
Did you have any doubts about your future career during the season?
Mikhail: I thought as long as I am healthy, have the desire and motivation I should skate because I will always have time to start coaching and I need to use what I have now. I have potential and I want to use it. I am sure that I have not yet reached my limit.
With the years I started to look at competitions, at the preparation and training in a different way. Not like when I was 15 years old. And the coaches are very supportive of me. As is the Federation. Alexander Georgievitch Gorshkov and Alexander Ilyitch Kogan called me and said: ‘Everything will work out, we believe in you, and if you have any questions, call us right away.’ The only thing that bothered me a little was the phrase of Alexei Nikolaevitch, who kept repeating in every interview that our project would last for two years. Perhaps I took his words too literally. But at the end of the season we talked and discussed everything. I got rid of that little thing in my head.
Mikhail exploring the mountains around the base in Kislovodsk
Were you happy when you talked to Mishin?
Mikhail: Of course I was. Why should I be sad. Everybody feels good about it. (laughs).
At the Channel One Cup you did the triple Lutz as the first jump in the free and short program. Does that mean you are aiming at bringing back a quad Lutz?
Mikhail: Yes. But we won't be doing “The White Crow”! Let's just say I have a quadruple Lutz in mind.
The season ahead, at this point without any international events, is an opportunity to experiment. What do you think?
Mikhail: Alexei Nikolaevitch is the one who decides what we do. He decides what we do and do not do. But I agree, in the new season it is possible to try new things. It's not just possible, it's even necessary.
As for new things. Usually women who want to change their lives get a new hairstyle. Is your new hair color an indication for that?
Mikhail: No. You're digging too deep. It's simpler than that. I wanted to try it, so I tried it. It doesn't mean anything. I was just on vacation and I dyed my hair. It started when I had Covid, and I saw an ad on the internet -- pick your hair color. I picked ash blonde, looked it up, not bad. And when we went on vacation, we decided: what if not now? I like it. All in all, I am happy with the result.
Mikhail at the training base in Kislovodsk
We thought, maybe it is a new look for your character a new program.
Mikhail: Certainly not. I'm not growing a moustache to do "Masquerade". (laughs).
Have you started working on new programs? Do you want to change both or will you keep "The Nutcracker" Short Program?
Mikhail: Alexei Nikolaevitch is thinking about it. But knowing him, we might do (two) new programs. We started to do the free program with Ilia Averbukh. I like the music. I like the character and the interesting music that gives me the space for creativity.
It is very interesting to work with Ilia. As I have said before, I like his approach. Ilia doesn't offer ready-made stuff, he doesn't insist on just repeating something, but he uses what I can do. It's as if we're putting decorations on a Christmas tree. Some things I can suggest myself, and he will say, ‘Cool, let's keep that’. It's really a collaborative creative process. In terms of ideas, Ilia is a genius. He can come up with a seemingly small detail that becomes a memorable feature of the program. Even in costumes. Like the one epaulet on my Nutcracker costume. Being able to come up with a continuing story that would catch on, to tell it on the ice certainly speaks of talent and experience. Ilia has been creating programs for "Ice Age" for so many years now.
Speaking about experiments. What do you think of Ilia Malinin's quad Axel? Is it safe to say that other skaters will now follow up as it happened when the girls started doing quads?
Mikhail: Time will tell. It depends on more than just the abilities of the athletes. There are a lot of factors that come together. The triple Axel needs to be high, technical and properly rotated. Points-wise, it is not worth so much more, but the risk is high. We’ll see.
Mikhail at a training session in Kislovodsk
Right now you are performing in a lot of shows. How do you feel about that?
Mikhail: I didn't really have many competitions this season, and being in a show is a good chance to perform for an audience. Since the season ended, I've participated in six shows of Eteri Georgievna Tutberidze, three by Zhenia Plushchenko, one by Ilia Averbukh, and another one called ‘In Love With Figure Skating’. Alexei Nikolaevitch said it would be useful. And actually I've never been against performing in a show.
Obviously, shows are not competitions. But they give you some adrenaline, even if it is not as strong as in competition, but still, during the performance there's an exchange of energy with the audience. In addition, the atmosphere at the show is different. I would say, more difficult. Because you have to perform on different-sized ice sheets with spectators sitting right by the ice, no boards, dim lightening... You have to get used to it and try it out. And if the size of competitive rinks will be different in the new season (NHL format), you need to be prepared for that, too. That is, the show allows you to try a lot of different options. And for me it's a kind of training. I see the show as a kind of training process.
What was the most memorable thing about the shows?
Mikhail: The crazy support from the audience. In every city. From Minsk to Tashkent. Full rinks. People met us, asked for autographs, gave us standing ovations! And that crazy energy gave me so much strength, though, it seemed, that by the end of the season everybody was tired. But to go out on the ice every time and make the audience happy - that's great!
After Kislovodsk, you next training camp is in Sochi?
Mikhail: Yes, on June 17 we`ll go to Sochi. Alexei Nikolaevitch doesn`t like to sit in St. Petersburg for a long time.
Mikhail during off ice training in Kislovodsk
Now you have a new coach in your group, former ice dancer Kirill Aleshin. You said before working on skating skills is important to you.
Mikhail: I’m really interested in working on skating skills, especially with professionals. Now in Kislovodsk, I was breaking in new skates, and it was hard to do something like that yet.
Before shows, when we all have practice together, I always try to learn some things from the dancers - Nikita (Katsalapov), Vania Bukin gave me some tips and tricks. I try to take something from everywhere. And the fact that we have now a staff coach for skating skills with Kirill Aleshin will benefit all of us for sure.
What is your mindset heading into the new season?
Mikhail: With a fighting spirit. We already had the experience from the pandemic season when we had mostly Russian competitions and I remember that I only competed at few international events in Minsk, The Hague, and at the end of the season at the World Championship.
In the upcoming season participating in international competitions is for now – so I hope - still under question. But our federation has already announced a Russian Grand Prix Series. It's great that they're doing this. I'm glad that there will be a seeding process for these events, because it is not interesting when all top skaters compete at one event, and then nobody is at another one. As long as there are competitions, it's already good!
The Russian version of this interview has been published at the website of the Figure Skating Federation of Russia.
Русскую версию интервью вы можете прочитать на сайте ФФКР.
Mikhail during off-ice training in Kislovodsk
All photos by figureskating-online.com/Tatjana Flade and are not to be copied, reprinted etc. without permission.