In pairs skating, success most often comes with longevity. It can take years for a team to reach the top echelons of the discipline.
But Russia’s Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii found early success, climbing the global pairs ladder at a record pace. The St. Petersburg duo stormed to the top of the European podium in just their second season on the senior circuit, serving notice they will be strong contenders for a step on the podium in Beijing.
It has been an almost meteoric rise to the top for Russian pairs team Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii, who first caught the world’s attention when they claimed the silver medal at the World Junior Championships in Taipei City in 2017.
That success motivated the team to set higher goals for the following season, but all did not go as planned. Though they captured gold at their first senior event in Minsk, Belarus, and mined silver at Warsaw Cup in Poland a month later, they finished fifth at the Junior Grand Prix Final. That competition would be their last international of the season.
Boikova and Kozlovskii did not skate well at the Russian Championships, finishing fifth in seniors and fourth at the junior level. That disappointing result precluded them from qualifying for the 2018 World Junior Championships.
The duo were given permission by their coaches, the legendary Tamara Moskvina and 31-year-old Artur Minchuk, a former pairs skater, to move up to the senior level for the 2018-2019 season. It was a wise decision, which took the pressure off Boikova and Kozlovskii. Few were expecting top results from the team given their not so successful final season at the junior level, and the fact that they were newcomers on the senior scene.
However, their first year in the big leagues was relatively successful. They won two Challenger Series medals, captured bronze at their second Grand Prix in France and another at the Russian Championships. Minsk was once again a lucky place for Boikova and Kozlovskii, who finished third at the 2018 European Championships, just 0.14 of a point ahead of the Italian team of Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise. Kozlovskii described that result as a miracle.
The St. Petersburg team closed out their senior debut campaign on a high note, with a sixth-place finish at the 2019 World Championships in Saitama, Japan.
ON THE RISE
It was a different scenario the following season and, with higher expectations placed upon them, Boikova and Kozlovskii did not disappoint. They struck gold at both their Grand Prix events, Skate Canada and Rostelecom Cup, both times defeating the reigning World silver medalists Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov.
Throughout that season, Boikova and Kozlovskii landed on every podium but one. A subpar free skate at the Grand Prix Final in December 2019 left them in fourth place overall. Two weeks later, the duo claimed their first senior national title and topped it off with a decisive victory at the 2020 European Championships in Graz, Austria, winning the competition by a decisive 25.94-point margin over Tarasova and Morozov.
It was, therefore, understandable that Boikova and Kozlovskii were eager to compete at the ensuing World Championships in Montréal, Canada, and ready to challenge for the top step of the podium. But those hopes and dreams were scuttled with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which led to a cancellation of the competition by the Québec government.
That was a difficult pill for the Russian team to swallow. “It was tough because there was kind of no ending to the season,” Boikova said. “I felt the lack of adrenaline and emotions and there was no bright ending point of the season. Therefore, it was hard and missing this final competition brought a certain emptiness with it.”
Kozlovskii, who like Boikova was looking forward to returning to Canada, agreed with that sentiment. “It was such a great, interesting, busy season, even more so since Worlds should have been in Montréal,” he said. “We were there twice for Skate Canada and we have the nicest impressions of this country. We had already been to Montréal and we liked this city. We really wanted to go back there and take in the atmosphere of a big competition, and we wanted to feel that tension.
“We had a huge desire to perform there. It would have been something special. For the first time there would have been the ISU Awards. Until the last moment we believed that Worlds would be postponed to a later date. We were preparing for this for a long time and also preparing for it mentally.
“In the last week before we were scheduled to leave, with just a few days of practice left, we already had a plan in place. Our approach to training a week before a competition is different. Our suitcases were almost packed and we were ready to go to the airport when suddenly we were told, ‘you know, guys, you are not flying anywhere.’ It was sad. It was upsetting.”
Though they were disappointed, both understood why the event was cancelled. “We understand obviously that peoples’ health is the most important and all sport organizations have to follow the recommendations of governments and health care experts because this is about peoples’ lives and that comes first,” Kozlovskii said. “That is much more important than the personal desire of athletes to perform at the World Championships, as Tamara Moskvina said in an interview after the cancellation of Worlds.”
Fortunately, Boikova, 18, and Kozlovskii, 20, were able to switch their mindsets quickly and, as the lockdown in Russia did not start until the end of March, they were still able to train for two more weeks. “We did not hang our heads for a long time because in our sports business we need to take it from the facts that we have,” Kozlovskii explained. “We realized that we could not make our own Worlds; it would not happen. We always need to find something positive for ourselves in any kind of negative moment. In any case, we were given some time to switch ourselves off and leave it in the past. We turned the page. It is behind us.”
Moskvina and Minchuk took immediate action and got the team working on new challenges. “We as coaches have enough experience to motivate the athletes again and to turn their attention to the tasks that need to be done,” Moskvina said. “Therefore, nobody stopped training; nobody was crying or fell into a depression. It was very calm. If you ask them, they will tell you that they started right away to prepare for the new season.”
Like many athletes around the world, Boikova and Kozlovskii believe the unexpected break had a lot of positives for each of them personally. “I am a person who always likes movement and cannot sit on the same spot for a long time. This is very difficult for me,” Boikova explained. “During this self-isolation time with all the measures in our country, to sit at home helped me to become more settled and more attentive because there was more time. I didn’t rush anywhere for anything and I was able to occupy myself with my self-development in a more detailed way. I am afraid that without the self-isolation I would not have sat down for hours to study for my literature exam.”
For Kozlovskii, it was the realization of the importance of developing the ability to listen, and to listen to each other. “In one moment you really understand that some conflicts are stupid. We are all human beings, living on one earth and we are one,” he said. “Trying to divide everyone into ethnic groups by religion or nationality is not the most important thing. The most important thing is that we are all human beings living on the same planet.
“Some problems and conflicts we can solve only by acting together as one. Listening to each other and building international connections with the goal of the fastest communication, fastest collaboration of countries, regions and states in order to overcome a threat of such import, without bureaucratic moments that slow down the functional response.”
Moskvina feels her skaters handled the situation well. “We motivated our athletes about what to do, how to do it and how to deal with it,” she said with respect to the coronavirus pandemic. “This concerned the whole world and therefore nobody made a tragedy out of it. If you compare our situation with other areas such as education, world economies and transportation, there are much bigger problems. It is not right to panic or to call our situation tragic.”
The rink where Boikova and Kozlovskii train reopened in mid-July. They and their coaches decided not to go to the national training camp in Novogorsk at the end of May because both had to study for exams. Boikova recently graduated from high school and Kozlovskii finished his third year of studies in government- municipal administration.
“The exams were constantly postponed and so the preparation time was extended and I was studying most of the time. That was good, too,” said Boikova, who had exams in the Russian language, literature (her favorite subject) and social sciences. She now plans to attend the same university as Kozlovskii to study journalism.
Kozlovskii, meanwhile, is already thinking about earning his diploma next year. “As they say, a busy person has no time to be sad. Yes, Worlds was cancelled and for a certain time we were upset and were in a sad state. But the exam session and the studies were drawing closer and some personal questions had to be solved,” he recalled. “All this came up fast and so the stress was gone quickly. If you do something outside the sport, you can always control your emotions and your head in a better way.”
Combining school and high-level sport is not easy and can be exhausting for athletes that have to spend hours learning or doing homework after a full day of training sessions. In that regard, Boikova and Kozlovskii felt it was helpful to have some time away from the ice.
Though the duo was unable to do any on-ice training, they both kept up separately with off-ice exercises in order to stay in shape. “Honestly, I am already used to being in shape, therefore I can’t say that it was very hard,” Boikova said with a smile. “I don’t like running so much, but since there was no training I had to run a lot. It was possible to do that outside the city and I stayed there most of the time.”
“We worked separately. We decided there was no sense in risking anything, especially since the situation was very tense in the beginning. But it was also not bad, we also needed to take a break from each other,” Kozlovskii added with a laugh.
Boikova admitted it was a somewhat strange feeling to return to on-ice training after such a long break. “It was a bit weird because it was quite warm in the city and I walked around in sneakers. And when you are in skating boots they fixate your ankles and that is a strange feeling as if something is irritating you. This is probably the only feeling that I remember. But we obviously missed the ice a lot and were happy to start training again.”
Her partner had a lighter take on the situation. “For me, it was like here we go again, back into the battle. There were no accidents and the feeling for the ice came back quickly,” said Kozlovskii. “When you have skated for most of your life, you don’t forget how to do it after a few months.There is no problem. People here returned to the ice after a longer break and after serious injuries and surgery. We were in great health and just went out calmly and started to work again. God hope that it stays that way.”
NEW SEASON PREPARATION
Boikova and Kozlovskii had a new short program choreographed by Alexander Zhulin immediately after Europeans, something they now regard as a twist of fate. “Thinking of it now … You know, we managed to do 50 percent of the work without any suspicion of what would happen later,” Kozlovskii said. “Building programs is always difficult from a logistic point of view because Alexander works with the leading teams in the world, such as Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, for whom he has to also do their programs.
“Also, other choreographers are not working only with us — they are working with many athletes from different disciplines. So it is not always easy to align our plans for vacations, training camps and the time the choreographer needs for us. All athletes do their programs in one period because after Worlds that is what everyone thinks about. So this is the most important and difficult time for the choreographers. They need to do programs within two months and provide a huge number of athletes with new ideas.
“So Tamara found a very comfortable time for us and for Alexander who was able to work with us calmly. And all of this was also part of our preparation for Worlds. After such an event as Europeans you need some mental reload. As part of this reload we wanted to do our new short, so it came together and we were lucky that we went into quarantine with a new program.
“If it is different or not from previous programs, the experts shall judge. I think it is too early to talk about the music, as we don’t know how things will develop. Will there be test skates? Will there be competitions this year? These are the big questions. Obviously, we are hoping for the best outcome.” “Our coaches always choose the music that we are able to skate to and that suits us, that develops us as artists and as athletes,” Boikova added.
Moskvina and Minchuk’s original plan was to have the team work with other choreographers on a new long program, but that has not yet happened because of the current travel restrictions. “Nevertheless, we will have very good programs with very good music,” Moskvina promised. “We coaches are also helping to build the programs — we are thinking about which elements are suitable and we have artistic input.”
Boikova and Kozlovskii still hope to get a new long program, but if not, they can use last season’s successful James Bond themed routine as a backup. “We will see what we skate in competition, depending on the situation, the preparation and the necessity,” Moskvina said. “If we have the choice between a new program and the program that they have skated only until Europeans, it will be better than having just one program.”
While the team still reflects fondly on their triumph at Europeans, they feel it is now in the past and are looking ahead with new goals. The plan is now to improve the quality of their skating, the elements and presentation of the programs. “We finally started to skate again only a few days ago. We have to recover, to reconnect with the ice and in general, as I have said many times before, now the main focus is on skating quality and interpretation,” Kozlovskii said.
“We don’t want to be a couple with one style that people say, ‘this suits them and that doesn’t suit them.’ We want to be a team that can do everything. We want to be versatile, interesting and always new. Even though we have progressed a lot in the past year, there are still deficiencies that we need to fix.”
Moskvina believes the further development of the team will come with interpreting different styles of music improved speed and clean elements. “There are many directions in which their abilities can be developed. We are currently thinking about new elements to make the programs harder,” Moskvina said.
Boikova and Kozlovskii also now have the benefit of training alongside another top young Russian team that recently joined their practice group. Anastasia Mishina and Alexander Galliamov, the 2019 Grand Prix Final bronze medalists, switched to Moskvina’s school in March and will also be coached by her and Minchuk. “Competition brings you together and is a generator of progress,” Boikova mused.
No matter how I relate to it, Tamara knows what she is doing and why she is doing it. Therefore, I think we are moving in the right direction, and the arrival of one of our competitors in our group is — I would not say a kick in the butt — but something that pushes us to go further. An additional stimulation.”
Moskvina believes the addition of the new team to the group will be beneficial. “I agreed because it is better to train two strong teams. It is more fun for them and the competition character with sparring partners exists. Mishina and Galliamov is a high-level pair on the national team. The skaters have always gotten along well. It is a motivating and positive collaboration.”
When asked how Boikova and Kozlovskii reacted to the news, Moskvina did not mince words. “The Skating Club Tamara Moskvina is a sports club. I am the coach and I decide who trains here. New skaters came that they already knew and it was cheerful. They joked around, said hello and they enjoy training together.
“Now that they have practice mates, it is more fun to train, but they also realize the seriousness of their situation. Aleksandra and Dmitrii understand the tasks they have to accomplish and they approach them with much enthusiasm. The coaching team tries to show them not only their positive attributes, but also those that still need development when compared to the competitors they went up against at the Grand Prix and Europeans, and that they would have competed with at Worlds. We know the advantages of some of the other athletes and we are trying to develop our skaters’ abilities on all levels.”
Moskvina remained in St. Petersburg for the entire summer and not attend any training camps with her students in other parts of Russia. The rink where her skating school is based was opened just a few years ago and has everything the skaters and coaches need for training, both on and off the ice.
(This article was originally published in the IFS October 2020 issue)
2020 RUSSIAN CUP