Ice Network

Stolbova, Klimov go for more contemporary style

Olympic silver medalists explain story behind eclectic free skate
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Having competed just twice this season, Russians Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov are flying way under the radar going into this week's world championships. -Getty Images

Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov have been one of the top pairs teams in the world since 2014, when they claimed an Olympic gold (with the Russian team) and an Olympic silver (in the pairs category). After two seasons marred by injuries, they are ready to fight for a world title in Helsinki. They agreed to talk about their programs this season -- a short to "Clair de Lune" and a free to a trio of selections by French composer René Aubry -- with icenetwork. (Klimov is fluent in English and acted as the spokesperson for the team.)

Icenetwork: One year ago, you had landed superb side-by-side, triple toe-triple toe-double toe combinations at the Grand Prix Final, which you won. You were the first pair ever to land it, but you didn't try it in Ostrava (at the 2017 European Championships). Do you plan to include it at worlds in Helsinki?

Klimov: Yes, we have been practicing this jump combination and plan to do it at worlds. We started to practice it several months ago. Actually, Ksenia was doing it just for fun, and Nina [Mozer] (their coach) told me to try doing it as well. Then it started to become better and better, and we thought we would include it in our program.

Icenetwork: Your programs, as we saw them at Europeans, have shown a big difference in style; you're bringing more emotion into them than before. Have you worked on this specifically?

Klimov: I can't say that we worked specifically on emotions. We had worked far more on acting when we presented our free program to Notre-Dame de Paris. What certainly plays a role, however, is that when you start to feel a program well, then you add emotional parts to it. I must say that we really feel our programs this season.

Stolbova: It's actually hard for me to complete some strong elements and act at the same time. The Addams Family and Notre-Dame de Paris (their free skates from 2014-15 and 2013-14, respectively) were more acting programs than the ones we skated to last season and this one. They were more "recognizable" as such.

Klimov: In Saint Petersburg, our choreographer teaches acting as well. We worked with him, and it allows us to act more. He's been our first teacher in this area.

Icenetwork: How did you build this season's free program?

Klimov: We looked for interesting music. We decided to revisit the style we used last season, with a more contemporary theme, which everybody liked. Contemporary style may be seen in ice dance, but it's something new in ice skating. Nikoli Morozov, who crafted this program, confirmed that nobody had done this kind of a program before and gave us the go-ahead to continue in this style. Ksenia is always looking for something special!

The last part of it comes directly from a commercial for some kind of a shampoo or shower gel, which was shot with a Russian ballet dancer. Ksenia liked the music, so she took the part from the commercial and included it in the program.

The first part of the program is really interesting. It's special music composed by French composer René Aubry. We watched the original ballet, or performance, for which it was originally created. It was really strange. We took the music, but of course we made up our story, not the story of the ballet.

Icenetwork: Can you tell us what story you devised for it?

Klimov: Yes, of course. It is more complex than last year's program. It's the story of people who have lost their purpose in life. The way I feel it is that Ksenia is that kind of a person when the music starts. Throughout the program, she communicates this feeling to the other character, and at the end of the program we both are kind of lost and purposeless.

Icenetwork: That's rather dramatic!

Klimov: (Laughing) At least, it should be! But, of course, everyone can understand the program the way one wants. That is only the official story. That idea is what we took as the storyline, but we hope everyone can find something special in it and relate to it.

Icenetwork: Maybe it's because of the contemporary style of the piece that your programs from the last two seasons seem to be quite intellectual. Is that something you like?

Klimov: (Laughs) We hope they are intellectual! We always try to make sure that our programs bear some ideas, and that they make people think. This is one of our targets: Make sure that people think of what we show. That's what figure skating is about, actually; it's an art, not only a sport. We're trying to do art!

Icenetwork: You're working a lot on broken lines in this program, and that has to jive with the contemporary style of your program. How did you adapt the various elements for that?

Klimov: Indeed, the elements and positions we present in the program needed to be adapted. Ksenia was the one who changed our body positions, especially in the lifts. Actually, the changes we had to make to the lifts themselves were quite limited. Our biggest job was to modify our body positions. For instance, the Group 5 lasso lift has the same basis in our short and in our long program -- but the positions are completely different, because the styles of the two programs are completely different!

Icenetwork: What about your short program, set to Claude Debussy's "Clair de Lune"?

Klimov: It was Ksenia's dream to skate to "Clair de Lune." It's kind of a tradition that every couple has to skate to classical music at least once in its career! We decided that it would be this year. Ksenia selected the one interpretation she liked most, so the piece is exactly what she wanted. It's really her thing!

Icenetwork: You were agreeable to this?

Klimov: (Smiling broadly) You know, it sounded good on the ice. If your partner has a dream, then you'll do anything to make it happen!

Icenetwork: May I ask you about your health? One year ago, you had to withdraw from the European championships because of a problem with your arm. How is it now?

Klimov: Now, everything is good again. There was something wrong with my nerves in my right arm. I couldn't feel my muscles anymore. They fixed them, and now I feel good. It started from nothing, and it was a tiring injury. The doctors relaxed some muscles, and everything became better again from that point. I can't feel anything bad anymore.

Icenetwork: Does that injury explain the difficulties you have had with your triple twist?

Klimov: No, not at all. The twist has always been our most challenging element. It's also the one element on which we work the most -- much more than any other. It's improving. During Europeans, it was good in both programs. This is one of the good takeaways we had from Ostrava: We landed two good twists. We keep working on it all the time, both in Saint Petersburg and in Moscow. Otherwise, it would just get worse.

Icenetwork: Two seasons ago, you decided not to compete at worlds in order to train quads. What happened to them?

Klimov: We needed more time to work on our elements, and we wished to add a quad throw salchow to our program. It was more difficult than we had anticipated. We also took the time to work on other sides of our skating, like choreography and other elements. What we share on the ice is what we have now. We're not ready for the quad yet. When it's ready, we'll show it. But we don't want to show a throw with mistakes.

It was difficult to miss that half season. I don't know if it helped us or not, but I wouldn't like to miss any more competitions. We don't have that many milestones left before the Olympics. That, of course, is our first goal. Also, it's too difficult to watch other competitors skate without us!

Icenetwork: You were nominated by your federation to be elected to the newly created ISU Athlete Commission. What was your motivation for that?

Klimov: I am volunteering for that position because I'm interested in the work we will do there, especially in liaising with the figure skating technical committee. The committee decides rule changes and new rules, and I am convinced that athletes can bring a lot to that. We need to have a voice there. After all, aren't we the ones who apply those rules in our daily life?

We would make sure that every skater understands the purpose of rule changes, among other things. I will not remain a competitive skater my whole life, and that involvement would be something I could do after my sports life is over.