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Just as the 2019-2020 season was starting, Russia’s Mikhail Kolyada started falling off the figure skating radar.

He first withdrew from his Challenger Series competitions, then from his two Grand Prix events as he battled ongoing health problems. Diagnosed with recurring sinusitis, which had bothered him since mid-2018, it repeatedly played havoc with his skating performances the previous season.

Last summer, Kolyada’s team thought the health issue was resolved. However, it kept recurring and by the fall it became clear that nasal surgery was inevitable. Kolyada underwent the procedure on Oct. 31 in his hometown of St. Petersburg. His recovery period was extended and he was not allowed to resume training until the beginning of January.

“Why did it take that long? Because the nose is a very sensitive spot and it (the surgery) was not very pleasant,” Kolyada explained. “The recovery took a very long time. The doctors told me that I needed to be careful. I should not jump the gun and that it was better to take a bit more time and wait so there would not be any complications.”

The two-time Russian champion was unable to breathe through his nose for about 10 days after surgery and said, “it was completely clogged. At least the healing process went well. Now I’m taking prophylactic measures and I’m feeling good. I don’t see any problems with my nose now and therefore I’m hoping we closed that chapter.”

The long rest was probably what Kolyada’s mind and body needed. All high-level athletes are under constant pressure mentally and physically. Most just carry on until their body makes it clear that they have to take a break before they burn out and ruin their physical and mental health.

“At first I was sleeping a lot. I ate, went for a walk, slept. Then I realized I needed to do something, so I put together furniture, which had to be done anyway. I hung up a picture at home, built a shelf — little things, something here and there, but it all came together nicely and I wanted to do something at home. I was cooking sometimes … hopefully I did a good job,” he said with a laugh. “Of course, it was good. I never had a problem with cooking.”

Still, it was not an easy time for Kolyada but he appreciated having his wife Daria — a former pairs skater who competed internationally for Russia and Hungary — at his side. The young couple married in July 2019. “My wife supported me. She was always at my side, always helped with words or when I asked her to do something. I always felt that I have a person next to me that I can rely on no matter what happens. Just to realize that I am not alone was incredibly nice,” Kolyada said.

In one of his rare Instagram posts, he thanked the people around him, including the Russian Figure Skating Federation and the local St. Petersburg federation for their support. Although Kolyada usually does not speak about his private life, he especially thanked Daria in a touching message revealing that he fell in love with her when he was 15 years old. At the time she was still a singles skater who trained in the same group as him with coach Valentina Chebotareva.

Kolyada has a lot of dedicated fans that did not forget about him while he was gone. On the occasion of his 25th birthday on Feb. 18, they posted photos and sent many messages to him. “I don’t celebrate my birthday, just because most of the time it is a work day and, so on my birthday I went to practice as usual,” the two-time European bronze medalist said. “However, this birthday was a little different from the others. Because I have been married for more than half a year it felt a bit different. It is very nice when you have your own family.

“I want to say an extra thank you to the fans. Recently I started using Twitter a bit, and I posted a photo with vinyl records and wrote that I bought a record player. I am now sometimes listening to vinyls. I just enjoy putting the record on the player, switching it on, just the whole process — a little retro,” he said with a wide smile. “So I posted this photo and on my birthday the fans presented me with five or six discs — Frank Sinatra, Barry White and some others — old school. I am an avid music lover and I don’t have just one style that I listen to, I listen to everything that I like and add it to my playlist.”

When Kolyada eventually returned to the ice on Jan. 8 he said he took the process slowly to pick himself back up. “It was very hard at the beginning. Everything hurt, nothing worked. I was in a bad mood, and then everything came together. Now I’m getting into shape because I need to take part in some shows. I have to show something and it has to be pretty.”

He has been invited to perform in Elizaveta Tuktamysheva’s show on March 9 in St. Petersburg and the Figure Skating Federation of Russia show on March 29 in Moscow. There might be also other shows over the summer. 

Kolyada is looking forward to performing his exhibition number (“Wind of Change” by The Scorpions, which was originally planned to be his short program this season) on March 9. It will be his first public appearance since the Russian test skates at the beginning of September. “It is nerve-wracking, of course because I haven’t performed in public for a long time,” Kolyada admitted. “Even though it is a show, it is a responsible event for me and it will be nice for me to perform. I’ve been skating for so long…there has always been this adrenaline and obviously you get used to that.”

Healthy and happy, Kolyada is enjoying being back on the ice training and said he feels great. “The most important thing is your mood and the way you approach things, and this is how it is going to be. I am in a great mood — maybe because I had a little rest mentally and now I’m coming to practice and I’m working with new power and new desire.”

Kolyada is now making plans and preparing for next season. He will attend an off-ice training camp in Kislovodsk and plans to attend other training camps as well over the spring and summer. He is not sure yet whether he will keep his competitive programs — “Diga Diga Doo” for the short and “Charlie Chaplin” for the long — or if he will change at least one of them. He likes to keep things under wraps, including possible changes to how he trains and his mode of preparation.

“Maybe there will be changes. Let’s keep it a secret. Why talk about who prepares in which way? Everyone should keep secrets, I think. Without that the intrigue is lost.”

Despite his long absence, Kolyada does not need to worry about a loss of interest from his fans. Many are looking forward to see him performing in the exhibition galas and are excited about his return to competition next season.