COVER STORY

High Expectations

Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov

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Olga Timokhova
High Expectations

When Tatiana Volosozhar’s former partner retired she refused to accept that her skating career was over. In her heart she knew there were greater moments ahead. All she needed was a new partner.

And the one person she had in mind was Maxim Trankov who had considered quitting the sport after his former pairs partnership disintegrated.

Mere months after teaming up, this inspiring duo became the talk of the skating world.

Volosozhar and Trankov had many reasons to celebrate at the end of their second season as a team. The Russian duo won both of their Grand Prix events, placed second at the Final, repeated as World silver medalists and captured their first European title.

Both acknowledged this season was so very different from the first. “I can confirm what people say, that the second season is harder,” Volosozhar said as Trankov nodded in agreement. “In the first year everything is new, and you are carried by adrenaline and enthusiasm. But in the second season you are more conscious of the areas where you might be lacking and what your strong points are.”

Their coach Nina Mozer concurred. “In the first season, there are a lot of emotions. This year, those emotions were gone. But then they had injuries, one after another. They didn’t only compete with their rivals but also with injuries. I hope that we leave all this behind,” she said.

Volosozhar, 26, who had issues with her shoulder and hip, and Trankov, 28, who dealt with a groin injury for months, skipped the World Team Trophy in April to attend a two-week rehabilitation course at a health resort located in Russia’s Altai Mountains. “We are continuing to do rehab. We don’t have any problems right now, but they are long-term, so we have to take care of them. The first half of the season was hard competing with injuries,” Trankov explained.

“We are thinking ahead and we knew we needed to rest and recover to be able to approach next season calmly,” Volosozhar added. “This kind of vacation was something new for us. We liked it, although it was a little boring as we were the only guests at the resort.”

Last season the team made a lot of progress, adding higher point-earning elements to their repertoire. “We learned a more difficult throw jump that we included in the short program and we did the back outside death spiral for the first time,” Volosozhar said.

“We also did three new lifts in the free skate and we learned a level 2 twist,” Trankov added. “We are moving forward and are improving step by step.”

Mozer believes their technical proficiency made them one of the best pairs teams in the world in their first full season on the international circuit. “As partners they were already feeling what kind of move would come next. Unfortunately, the new throw was one of the things that led to Tatiana’s hip injury,” Mozer said.

“When you watch them you aren’t looking at whether an element is executed or not but how it is performed, how it is done within the context of the music and the program. This was their most important progression last season.”

RISING FROM THE ASHES

Skating fans will no doubt recall the Russian meltdown that took place in the pairs short program at the 2012 World Championships. Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov fell on the exit of a lift; Yuri Larionov lost his balance during the final pose (taking his partner Vera Bazarova down with him) and then Volosozhar and Trankov crashed to the ice on the death spiral.

They left the kiss and cry in a zombielike state, totally shocked by what happened. Their score left them in eighth place. “It was a catastrophe,” Mozer recalled, adding that only recently was she able to watch a video of the short program. “I didn’t want to watch that program, but I was forced to during a meeting. It was a learning experience. You can never relax even for a second.

“Because the Russian teams were all in the same flight for the short, there were lots of emotions backstage. And then all of them started falling apart. Stanislav Morozov was sitting with Tatiana and I was with Maxim. We were discussing distracting topics to have a completely calm situation. And then suddenly the other Russians around us got anxious, grabbing their heads saying, ‘Oh, they fell.’ ‘Oh, they fell again.’ Tatiana and Max were understandably quite tense when they took to the ice.”

Mozer said other factors also came into play. “We came from snow in Moscow to palm trees in Nice. People from Russia were calling asking, ‘How are you over there, are you easing off?’ I think all this had an influence. There were too many people around us saying we came to win.”

As Volosozhar and Trankov took to the ice for the free skate, they were in a zone. “Tatiana and Max were tuned and ready to fight,” Mozer said. “I’ll never forget it.”

In the end, it was oh so close with the Russians landing in second place a mere 0.11 points behind the gold medalists.

“Someone said to me, ‘What a huge experience you got at this competition.’ I said, ‘Yes, but I don’t want to experience it again,’” Mozer recalled. “It was a difficult competition, with two very different situations. I will remember Nice for a long time.”

Though Volosozhar and Trankov did not analyze the mishap they have set a goal for next season to learn how to deal with miscues in the short program in the most effective way. “Every pair has this kind of meltdown at one point, I think,” Volosozhar said. “It was just a coincidence that something like that happened.”

MOVING FORWARD

In early May Volosozhar and Trankov headed to Korea to perform in Yuna Kim’s shows. “We really liked it. We have been to Korea before, but this trip was the best. The organization was very good and the show was great,” Volosozhar acknowledged.

Trankov said he especially enjoyed performing with 2002 Olympic co-champions Jamie Salé and David Pelletier and Anton Sikharulidze and Elena Berezhnaya. “While Yuna and Evan Lysacek are our time and generation, it was very nice to take part in the same show as the Olympic champions from 2002."

Volosozhar and Trankov headed to the U.S. a couple of weeks later to work on new programs with Nikolai Morozov. Music selection was first on the agenda. “For us this is always a cooperative effort, everyone listening to the options and choosing the best one. We have a lot of ideas, but we don’t know yet what we are going to do,” Trankov explained.

One thing they are adamant about is not repeating what they did last season. “We don’t want to be associated with a stereotype. We always want to be different,” Volosozhar said. “We have some ideas and will see what comes out of it.”

Trankov said they are always looking for something new. “We are trying not to be within a certain frame. Because of our ages we know we cannot compete for a long time, so we want to succeed as much as possible,” he said.

When it comes to elements, the duo is on the fence when it comes to the throw triple flip. “We tried it and we didn’t see a big advantage compared to the loop,” Trankov said. “We don’t know yet if we are going to do it. We made the twist more difficult and are trying to get it to a level 3, maybe even a level 4. Except for the Chinese and us, nobody else is doing it.”

Recent rule changes have forced them to think about new lifts. “When the system started out, they said that if a high percentage of the athletes can perform an element at level 4, then it has to become more difficult. This season, the two strongest couples in the world missed lifts or lost levels on them in different competitions,” Trankov explained.

“This shows that the two best couples in the world cannot do a consistently level 4 lift. And yet they still make it harder? I don’t see any sense in this. I’m afraid it will go on until someone has a really bad fall.

“We’ll work a lot on the lifts in the off-season but we also are thinking of adding more difficulty to our jumps, because Tatiana and I can do different kinds of triples. So maybe we will make the jump combinations harder, add another triple or the double Axel. We are trying different things, but we don’t know yet.”

The International Skating Union technical committee handed out a questionnaire to skaters at Worlds, but Trankov wonders if anyone is listening. “The top pairs skaters talked about it in the dressing room. We all agreed on the same things that should be changed,” he said. “But what they have done does not reflect our opinion at all. Nothing is better. I don’t understand the reason for the questionnaire. It seems like they took all our answers and made it harder on purpose.”

Volosozhar and Trankov feel that their discipline is headed in the wrong direction and that the artistic aspect is suffering because of the technical. Trankov has previously spoken out against quadruple throws. “I think that pairs skating, like ice dance, is more artistic. It is more an art, more of a show, because there are two people that can express something and not just skate to the music,” he said. “I think that pairs skating should develop in this direction.

“Tatiana and I are trying to break the stereotype that you have to do a throw triple Axel or quad throws and twists. We believe that you can win with the beauty of skating, choreography and good programs that create an image on ice.”

Volosozhar agreed. “I think this is more interesting for the spectators and will push the development of figure skating further. Now it is going more into the direction of some kind of athletic acrobatics. At some point probably a side-by-side salto (backflip) will be a required element,” she added with a laugh.

That those who follow the sport don’t have any influence on the direction figure skating is taking is something Trankov does not agree with. “I think that fans play a more important role and should be involved in the sport’s evolution,” he said.

NO PRESSURE

Russia’s decades-long stronghold on the sport came to an end at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games where Evgeni Plushenko captured silver and Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin danced into third. Volosozhar and Trankov hope to change that dynamic in 2014.

They have positioned themselves as top medal contenders not only for the upcoming season but also for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games that will take place in their home country.

Expectations will be high, given that at this time Volosozhar and Trankov are Russia’s best gold-medal shot in Sochi. Plushenko will be 31 by the time the Games roll around, and while there are a number of promising female stars, it is impossible to predict how they will perform under the homeland spotlight.

Volosozhar and Trankov are very aware of this. “We can get used to the pressure in the upcoming seasons. But the pressure from above or from the fans is not affecting us. We have set goals for ourselves. We have to satisfy our own standards, and if we do, then everyone around us will be pleased as well,” Trankov explained. “So we won’t think about what others want from us, but what we want for ourselves. We got a lot of experience at the World Championships in Moscow and can take something from that.”

The duo is surrounded by a strong team, which includes two coaches, two choreographers and three doctors. Federation officials are also very involved in their preparation.

“We have a lot of people working with us. Constantly someone is coming to watch our training so we are used to this kind of pressure,” Trankov said. “The deputy sports minister, Yuri Nagornykh, comes to all our run-throughs.”

Volosozhar added with a laugh, “He is keeping his hand on our pulse.”

Trankov said that while they have achieved a lot in two years they are learning from others’ mistakes and are hoping to avoid making the same errors. “We didn’t team up when we were 16 years old. We have both skated pairs for a very long time. The experience is already there,” he said.

Mozer believes that her students perform in a way that almost nobody remembers that they have been a team for such a short time. “Sometimes I think if they had more experience as a team, it would influence some things and the results would be better. But this wouldn’t be right because even Aliona Savchenko needed five years to achieve a top result.

“Being a new team is not an advantage or disadvantage. Creatively Tatiana and Max aren’t saturated with each other and they are enjoying their work together. When you are together for a long time it becomes boring,” she added.

SOCIALLY CONNECTED

Volosozhar and Trankov enjoy each other’s company both on and off the ice. They attend the theater, musicals and the ballet together. “We go quite often. We are not just caught up with figure skating but are developing culturally,” Trankov said. “We learn from the actors and how they play their roles. We went to the Bolshoi Theatre several times. Two days before Worlds we went to see ‘Swan Lake.’ It is all very interesting and helps us develop. Whenever possible we get out into the theater world.”

Moving to Moscow opened up a whole new world for Volosozhar. “When I was skating with Stanislav (Morozov) in Chemnitz, which is a small town, I didn’t have this opportunity because of the language barrier,” said Volosozhar who hails from the Ukraine. “Here in Moscow I want to take in as much as I can. I have a dream to go to St. Petersburg to see the ballerina Uliana Lopatkina. I can learn a lot from watching ballet.”

Volosozhar enjoys shopping in her spare time but admits Moscow is very expensive. “If there is an opportunity to go to America it is better to go shopping there,” she said, adding that she has a diverse fashion style. “I try not to be connected to a classical or any particular style. It usually depends also on my mood.”

She also likes to cook. “The sly Maxim usually comes over and says, ‘Oh, I have nothing to eat at home,’ she said with a laugh. “So I say, come eat with me, I’ll feed you.”

Trankov said Volosozhar makes very good blini (Russian pancakes). “Everyone who skates in the Morozov group knows the word blini, because Tanja has fed them all,” he said with good humor.

Trankov likes to stay connected with fans, especially on Twitter. “We have fans that have been with each of us for many years and have followed us at many competitions and shows and we know them. Some we even call friends,” Trankov said. “Sometimes they ask interesting questions or five people ask the same question, and then I just answer with one Tweet to all of them. Sometimes they ask questions to which you can find the answer on the Internet. I never answer those questions.”

They also maintain a blog, which both say is easier than answering all questions from the fans. “I am not such an active user of Twitter. I post basically pictures,” Volosozhar said.

SOCHI AND BEYOND

While Volosozhar and Trankov are hoping Sochi will be the highlight of their career, it might not spell the end. “We can’t say that Sochi will be our last competition. It is possible that we’ll skate for another year or maybe we’ll even stay for the next Olympic Games,” Volosozhar said.

“It also depends on if the financial support remains at the level it is now. If after Sochi everything will be like before Vancouver, then it doesn’t make sense,” Trankov added.
Mozer expressed surprise upon hearing this news. “Guys, we only agreed on Sochi!”

When asked what they plan to do at the end of their competitive career, Trankov said he is interested in choreography. This spring he choreographed programs for Latvia’s Alina Fjodorova. “I know her coach. He knows that I am creative and asked me to help with the programs,” Trankov said.

“I spoke to Nikolai Morozov and he told me to try it and gave me some advice. So I went to St. Petersburg and did the programs. It was very interesting. The short program I did completely myself, and for the long program, they gave me the music that they had already prepared. When I was doing the program I took on the role of Nikolai and Tatiana became Tatiana Tarasova. I reacted the same way Nikolai does,” he said with a hearty laugh.

“Alina is hoping to make it to the 2014 Games, so I am rooting for her. If she makes it, I can say that I am not such a bad choreographer and that I have an Olympic ticket with this program. Also, for Latvia this would be a big step.”

Volosozhar is not sure what she will do following her career. “I think I’ll be involved in the sport, but I can’t say now that I want to be a coach,” she said. “Maybe I’ll become a stylist or a make-up artist.”

One thing she is sure about is having a family. “I want to be a mom. I want first to have a boy! We have all girls in my family, therefore I want a son,” she said.

There is a lot of speculation that Volosozhar and Trankov are a couple off the ice, something both deny. “We simply have a very good relationship. It clicked right away,” Volosozhar explained. “When we teamed up we talked a lot about general topics and we became friends. We developed a very good relationship in our pairing.”

Mozer confirmed her team gets along very well and feels that working with them is special. “I like that they exist and that I see them every day. I enjoy working with them so much,” she said. “They are so different from each other, are both very interesting and they complement each other. They are both beautiful and they look good on the ice. I sincerely adore them.”

When asked if she considers them the ideal pair, Mozer did not hesitate. “Yes, I can say so.”

FACTOIDS:

Tatiana Volosozhar was born in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine. She began pairs skating at age 14 and competed on the international circuit for six years with her former partner Stanislav Morozov.

Maxim Trankov was born in Perm, Russia. He and his former partner Maria Mukhortova won the 2005 World Junior pairs title.

Volosozhar and Trankov teamed up in May 2010.

Maxim Trankov likes Russian hip-hop and composes his own music.


Originally published in August 2012

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