Ice Network

Kolyada shows different side of Russian skating

Russian silver medalist says he considers himself half artist, half athlete
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Russia's Mikhail Kolyada showed his vast potential at the 2016 European Figure Skating Championships, particularly during his gripping free skate. -Getty Images

When he arrived in Bratislava, Slovakia, for the 2016 European Figure Skating Championships, Russia's Mikhail Kolyada was virtually unknown, even in his home country. By the time he left Bratislava, however, Kolyada had made tons of fans and returns to Russia with a solid reputation as a skater to count on in the future.

Kolyada, who will turn 21 on Feb. 18, competed in two events during the 2013 Junior Grand Prix Series, but he broke his ankle in August 2014 and sat out the entire 2014-15 season. Recently, he returned to win the silver medal at the 2016 Russian Championships and was selected to participate in his first European championships.

His first go-round in Slovakia was rather rough. Kolyada's short program was far from his standards, but he went on to skate the third-best free skate of the competition, well above the top-ranked Russian man, Maxim Kovtun. Kolyada rallied to fifth place overall. But more than anything else, Kolyada managed to entertain the audience from start to finish, even when his technical performance was being challenged.

Kolyada is fun to watch: He has a rich and joyful personality, he is keen to skate in sync with his music and he likes to relate to an audience. If he skates well, he could be one of the main stories to come out of the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships in Boston.

Kolyada was gracious enough to sit down for an interview with icenetwork, even though he knew that exchanging ideas in English would be quite challenging.

"Figure skating is a sport, that's for sure. But figure skating is also an art. As a figure skater, I try to combine sport and art in my programs," he said right away.

Kolyada lives and trains in Saint Petersburg, Russia. He has ample opportunity to attend cultural events, which are abundant in the city.

"I go to the theater sometimes," he acknowledged humbly. "And I enjoy it!" He added, with bright eyes.

"Also, I must say, that I am naturally an extravert in my daily life," he noted.

Kolyada is an actor on the ice -- a rare feat in today's Russian skating. He interprets each one of the characters he portrays.

"The first part of my short program is a tango," he explained. "The second part is more humorous, almost clown-like. The idea came from me. I proposed the foxtrot music of that second part to my choreographer (Olga Kliushnichenko). She accepted and said, 'We will do something with that program, and it will be well done.'"

Kolyada fell after his opening quad toe of his short, and the landing of his triple axel was not too clean, either. But as soon as the second part of his routine started, the one choreographed to the foxtrot in "John Gray," he engaged the whole arena in a split second, grabbing them through the remainder of his routine. He drew the energy back from the audience and replaced the triple toe he could not launch earlier to right after the triple lutz. All of his elements -- the three spins and step sequence -- were rated Level 4. He received excellent components, around 7.5 points -- quite encouraging for a first-time competitor at the event.

Kolyada fared much better, at least technically speaking, in his free skate, which was the third best of the segment, right behind Florent Amodio's exhilarating routine. His presentation was just superb, and he brought the audience to its feet -- again.

He skated his free to music from The Nightmare before Christmas.

"The idea of the long program is the following: I should spoil Christmas, but in my soul, I don't like the idea. So I am tortured," he said. "I'm tortured by myself. It's a problem for me to decide what to do: Should I spoil Christmas, or should I not?"

How does the program end, then?

"Well, the end of the program is completely open," Kolyada said, laughing. "It's for you to decide, and you can imagine the outcome of the plot that you like!"

Kolyada's style looks somewhat like that of Russian skating legend Igor Bobrin, the 1981 European gold medalist and world bronze medalist, who has toured extensively through the world with his show following his competitive career.

"He is a big star in Russia," Kolyada acknowledged.

"Sometimes, I imagine that I am an actor myself," he said, rather shyly. "At other times, well, I need to remember that I should be an athlete first!"

Would he like to become an actor one day?

Kolyada thought a while before answering.

"I don't know," he said, but his eyes were sparkling enough to say otherwise.

On the global scene, Kolyada has managed to create programs that are both technically packed, original and entertaining -- quite a challenging task with the number of elements required in today's skating.

"Well, that's what I try to do, have both a technical and entertaining side to each of my programs. I must admit that I'm not interested in watching programs that all look alike," he said.

The way he plays with the audience might make him one of tomorrow's skating stars, if he manages to deepen his jumping technique and make it more reliable.

"Currently, I would say that my quad is about 60-percent reliable," Kolyada said. "It would be great if it were 100 percent, but I do what I can!

"What I'm sure of is that I like to skate for the audience, especially when it's big and packed in a sold-out arena!" he continued. "I really like to get the emotion from the audience. It's like a balancing effect: The audience gets the emotion from my skating, and I get the emotion back from the audience. I am glad that people like my skating, and I like the audience's reaction."

Would he consider himself more of an athlete or an artist?

"Well … 50-50," he suggested.

In just two months at the world championships, the world may have to learn about Kolyada. If it does, it will be in the best possible way, by being entertained through great technique.

A special thanks to Iosif Rovkahk and Stanislav Elagin, who interpreted this interview.