Russia’s Mikhail Kolyada is one of last season’s major discoveries. The 21-year-old St. Petersburg native had global audiences sitting up and taking notice in his first full year on the senior international stages.

To many, Kolyada seemed to come out of nowhere. Though he showed a lot of promise in the junior ranks, he was inconsistent and fell off the radar when a broken ankle sidelined him in 2014.

But last season, Kolyada oozed a calm confidence from the outset. He placed fifth at his first senior Grand Prix in Moscow, repeated the result at Europeans and skated into fourth at the World Championships in March. While the Russian ladies have become a dominant force at the World level, the men have been lagging behind. Kolyada’s results have provided the Russian Federation with new hope.

In Boston, he catapulted from being a virtual unknown to a skater everyone was talking about. Second out of the gate in the short, he held onto the lead through the next 22 skaters, landing in sixth place and into the final flight of the free.

Drawing first to skate in the final group was a bonus, he said. “I didn’t have to hear any other scores…there was no tiresome waiting. I went out and did everything. It was another little dream come true, to go there and skate well. Last season I had the breakthrough I had been waiting for a long time.”

Many other less experienced athletes would have wilted under the pressure of skating in the last flight at their first World Championships, but not so for Kolyada. He said the experience made him psychologically stronger. “Worlds was a great experience; I enjoyed everything; the atmosphere, and the warm welcome by the audience and the judges. I expected this kind of performance from myself, because I was well prepared, but I tried not to think about it too much because it was such a big competition,” he said.

Legendary Russian coach Tatiana Tarasova told viewers during her Worlds commentary that, “Kolyada jumps like (Mikhail) Baryshnikov.”

Kolyada expressed surprise when told about this comparison to the Russian-born dance great, but there is truth to it. He sets himself apart from many others with high, seemingly effortless jumps. He credits Valentina Chebotareva, who has coached him since childhood, for his clean technique. 

He said he remains calm at competitions by covering his ears when he is about to skate, so that he does not hear the marks announced for the skater before him. “About one and a half years ago, I stopped listening to the scores of others. It is easier for me to keep my focus if I don’t know how others have skated.

“But I’m always watching the ones that skate after me. That is my favorite part of a competition,” he added with a laugh.

Kolyada, who reminds many of Ilia Kulik physically and technically, received a lot of positive feedback at Worlds. “People came up to me and said that they liked the programs and my jumps,” he recalled with a laugh. “A lot of people — and actually, I don’t really know anyone — congratulated me, nevertheless. It was really nice. I never had so many compliments. Less people had congratulated me for my birthday. Everyone, including old friends, wrote to me. A big audience was watching.

In late April, he was invited to compete in the Team Challenge Cup on short notice. “The competition in Spokane was unusual, because I have never participated in an event like that,” Kolyada explained. “It was not so much a competition, but more of a little show with the support of a team. It was hard for me, because I was told only two days before I left that I was going, and I didn’t have time to prepare properly.”

As the skating world was discovering Kolyada last season, he was discovering the world. In March, he went to North America for the first time, staying in the New York area to prepare for Worlds. “We went to New York and for the first 30 minutes everything was like, ‘Wow.’ But then I got used to it,” he said. “The people, the houses and the cars are no different from what we have.

“It was interesting and I liked it. We went to Central Park, Times Square and to the top of the Empire State Building. In Boston we also walked around the city. I liked Boston more than New York. You can see the city was built by Europeans and the European and local style blend well together. I liked the panorama of the city better. The atmosphere is calmer; there isn’t that city bustle, and everything is a bit quieter. I liked that.”

Kolyada hopes to expand his travel experiences next season by visiting new places. “It is interesting everywhere and
I’d like to go everywhere at least once,” he said. “I have wanted to go to Japan for a long time to see what the country is like and how the people live there. China would be nice, too.”

His programs last season, “John Grey” and “Nightmare Before Christmas,” suited his cheerful personality, but Kolyada is looking for something different for next season. He has started working on ideas with his choreographer, Olga Kliushnichenko. “We decide all together about the music, but it is a long and difficult process,” he explained. “What to skate to is always such a headache because people have skated to this and people have skated to that. We have to choose something that suits me.”

Kolyada plans to add a second quad, likely a Salchow, to his short and free next season. He said he was inspired watching China’s Boyang Jin in Boston. “I was looking at his jumps — they’re amazing. (Yuzuru) Hanyu also has great jumps, with good height, distance and speed on the landings.

Away from the ice, Kolyada is competing his studies at the Lesgaft Institute of Physical Culture in St. Petersburg. While he comes across as a fun-loving personality, he is also a very responsible young man. As the oldest of four children, he helps take care of his siblings, two of which are significantly younger. Cooking, cleaning and changing diapers are not a problem for him.

Kolyada said his parents are very excited to see him doing so well. “They told me that I made them very happy. If it weren’t for my mom, I never would have gotten into figure skating. My dad wanted to put me into wrestling, but my mom said, ‘No, he doesn’t do wrestling,’” Kolyada explained with a laugh.

“Wrestling is not such an esthetic sport, and I’m so used to figure skating now that I can’t imagine myself in any other sport. I’ve been skating for most of my life. It has become my life and I think it suits me well.”

Kolyada said the best moments of last season were the end of his free program at Worlds and taking his final pose after the free in Spokane, “because then I knew for sure that the season was over. A lot of good work has been done and now there is a basis from where I can push forward, to move up step by step. The success last season motivates me a lot. I don’t want to go lower now, I just want to go up — only up.”

His Grand Prix assignments this season are Rostelecom Cup and NHK Trophy.

(Originally published in the IFS August 2016 issue)