Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Alexei Krasnozhon, 16, and his family emigrated to the United States in 2014. In his second season on the Junior Grand Prix circuit he claimed silver and gold and is headed to the Final in Marseille in December ranked third.
IFS intern Brooklee Han sat down with the rising U.S. star to talk about his new life and training environment; his goals for the Final and the 2017 U.S. Junior Championships.
What was behind the decision to leave Russia and move to the U.S.?
Well, at first I was really good back in Russia. Then I got injured and I couldn’t get myself together and my coaches kind of gave up on me. I had no motivation to train and I kept injuring myself. I wanted to keep skating, so my parents and I decided that I should move. I chose the U.S. because it is a big country and it has really good schools. It was important to both myself and my parents that I could go to school and continue skating.
Do you have U.S. citizenship?
No, but we are working on it.
How did you come to train with Peter and Darlene Cain?
I chose to come to Texas, because Texas is fun. No, really I don’t know why I chose to come here. It was just a weird decision, but everything fell into place and I just ended up in Texas. I didn’t know Peter and Darlene prior to moving here. My parents just wanted me to train in the U.S. with an American coach.
How long did you have to wait for a release from Russia?
About 18 months. It was a nerve-wracking time. Every day it was like, “Is it going to come tomorrow? Did we get it? Did we get it?” For me, and I think for Peter, it was a very difficult time, but I think we both knew that we were going to get it eventually.
There was nothing we could do, so I just trained. I feel like it was good that I skipped one season, because I improved a lot during that time. From that perspective it was good. I got the chance to improve before I competed internationally again, but at the same time it was very stressful.
How is your training different than it was in Russia?
I don’t know if it is like this everywhere in Russia, but where I trained we never ran full programs. We did sections of the programs every day, but we only ran full programs maybe once a week. Meanwhile, in the U.S. everyone runs full programs everyday and that is why, at international competitions, American skaters never look like they hit a point where they are going to die in the program.
How is the Cains coaching approach different from that of your former coach, Alexei Mishin?
Mr. Mishin had this approach where he would go out onto the ice and everyone skates and he would help everyone a little, but mostly he just worked with his top skaters. He would just say a couple words and then you would go and work by yourself, but he has so many good skaters that everyone would be fighting for attention.
When I was skating with him, there were three guys and we were all around the same level. At first we were just trying to do double Axels, but then we were doing triples and triple Axels — and it was just crazy. In the U.S., you are the one pushing yourself to improve. When you are injured or hurt you don’t have to keep fighting for attention and it is OK to rest.
Can you tell us about training regimen?
I skate six days a weeks and I am on the ice most days between three and four hours a day. I run full programs every day — both short and long — except Saturday. That is something that when I first came to the U.S. I really struggled with, but I learned how to deal with it and now I run my programs every day. Now I get concerned if I don’t run my programs every day.
When I say I run my programs every day, that doesn’t mean that I skate them clean every day. I just try to do my best. If I finish my program and I fell four times, I know that that was the best I could do on that day. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want them to always be clean, but I know I can’t land everything all the time. I don’t get on the ice and expect to do clean programs 25 days in a row — I just expect myself to go out and do my best.
What do you hope to achieve this season?
My goals for this season are to try and skate my best and medal at the Junior Grand Prix Final. I also want to win junior nationals, because the third one is the charm — I hope. I would also like to be selected for the World Junior team. At Junior Worlds I would love a top six finish. I think that that is a realistic goal, because it would be my first Junior Worlds and there are a lot of really good guys.
Which areas of your skating need improvement?
I would love to improve my spins. I can get level 4s, but I really would like positive GOEs on all of them. I would also like to continue to improve my skating skills. They are a lot better than they were, but there is still a long way to go. I would like to have more speed and be more graceful on the ice; I want my skating to look effortless. This is a bit weird, but I also am really focused on my hand and wrist movements. I can create really nice lines with my arms, so I really am focusing on finishing the movements with my wrists and hands. People think that it is a really simple thing, that you just extend your fingers, but it is really quite hard when you have been skating like that for such a long time. I really just want softer hand movements.
You missed the cut for the 2015 Junior Final — did that motivate you to work harder?
Last year was my first JGP season. When I went to my first event in Latvia I had no expectations. I literally just wanted to do my best and see where I ended up. After my short program I was third and I thought, “Wow! I could do something here,” and that just killed me mentally before the long program. My long was awful. I still medaled but that was a miracle.
Going into my second JGP I knew that I had to win to make it to the Final. I saw the other guys there and I just told myself to skate my best, but in the back of my head I knew I was not ready to make the Final. Even if I had made it to the Final I would probably have been fifth or sixth because I was not at the level that I am now. My jumps were so sloppy; my spins weren’t there, my skating skills weren’t there and so I think it was a good lesson for me to not make it to the Final, because then I really knew that I had to improve those things.
This season I knew it was my time. I knew that I was ready and I wanted to show everybody how much I had improved. Last year I made stupid mistakes on my spins and I told myself that I wasn’t going to do that, no matter what. I knew that if I could medal last year, then this year, with all the improvements I have made, I could make it to the Final.
Tell us about the JGP event you won in Slovenia.
That was probably one of the hardest competitions I have ever done. In the lead-up to the event everything went sideways: three of our flights were delayed getting there, I was sick and had a little fever and my luggage got lost. Everything was totally off, but I had no choice but to go out there and try to do my best.
In addition I only really had one solid week of training prior to the event, but I also understood that I couldn’t just go over to the judges before my program and tell them that I was sick and hadn’t really had a lot of time to train.
I had two days of training in Slovenia before my event and I tried to make the most of those practice sessions. When it came time for the competition I knew that there was nothing else I could do. I just had to fight for it.
Obviously I knew that the other guys competing there were really good, but I also knew that they were tired, because they had also just competed a few weeks earlier. Even though I may not have had the most training time in the week or two before the competition, I had months of solid training and program run-throughs to rely upon.
With the win in Ljubljana and a second place finish in Ostrava you rank third heading into Marseille. What is it going to take to beat the two guys ahead of you?
Everyone who has qualified for the Final has a chance to win. The separation will come from someone getting a +2 on a jump and someone else getting a +3. Whoever is going to get higher GOE’s, better levels on spins and steps and stronger component marks will come out on top. I think this will be especially important in the short program, where everyone is planning basically the same elements.
What was the rationale behind learning the quad loop rather than an easier one?
My first triple was the triple loop and I have always like doing loop jumps. When Peter and I decided it was time to start learning and working on quad jumps, we tried Salchow, toe, loop and flip on the harness and I felt most comfortable rotating the loop. At the time my triple toe and Salchow were both very weak, so it was hard for me to try and add a fourth rotation. The flip was OK compared to the Salchow and toe, but I remember that the first quad loop I tried, I almost landed. So I thought that if that one felt the best, why not go for it. It seemed like the easiest path for me.
The jump was downgraded at your first event and received a negative GOE at the second assignment.
I was very excited to have been the first person ever to land a fully rotated quad loop, however since I received negative GOE’s, it could not be recorded. I have recently increased the number of quad loops I attempt each day. Before I was treating it like it was very special jump that I could only work on at certain times, but now I know that if I want it to be clean and consistent I need to work on it more often.
Are you working on any other quad jumps?
At the moment I am not. Last year before nationals I made the mistake of starting to work on all of the quads, except for the Lutz, and it really messed me up, because I was spending all this time working on jumps that I did not need for nationals. At the end of this season, however, I am planning on really starting to work on other quads. I think I could definitely get a quad Salchow and maybe a flip too. I have landed the Salchow before, but adding more quads to my repertoire is my main goal for this upcoming off-season.
Do you get nervous when you compete?
I used to get really nervous when I competed. Last year at nationals my nerves were especially bad and after that event I knew that I had to do something. This year I have tried to do what Yuruzu Hanyu does before he competes. He takes this one breath before the program and lets everything go and whatever happens, happens. I watch videos of Hanyu all the time and I kept seeing him take this big breath before he begins his programs, so I decided to try it myself.
You can tell in his face that he does get nervous sometimes, but when he goes out there and takes his breath, it is like nothing matters. If he falls he falls, but he never lets go of the performance. He is still in it. If you are standing there at the beginning and are thinking about falling on your opening jump, you are probably going to fall, but if you stand there, take a breath and know that you are trained and prepared, you are going to be “in the zone” and do the best that you can. Sometimes your best that day is what you think is the absolute worst, but it is what needs to happen for you to learn and grow.
In the past you have struggled with performing consistent short programs. This season they have all been clean.
In many ways I think that the short program is easy, because I have been doing the same jumps in my short programs since I was 11. Everyone thinks that the short program is all about the jumps, but if you have been doing the same jumps in the program for so long, there is no reason to not have a clean routine. That is something that I really thought about after last season and it made me more confident in the short program.
Maybe once a week I have a messy short, where I have a sticky landing or miss a level on my steps or a spin, but most of the time I skate good, clean short programs. However, in competition there is really no reason to fall or mess up on jumps I have been doing for five years.
How are you preparing to improve on your third place finish at nationals last season?
This year I have a very different mentality going into nationals. After I came in second in Ostrava with this huge score, I felt really confident and it was the same in Slovenia. Winning the competition was a huge boost and I realized that I knew how to compete. I am not scared going into nationals this year and I think that the Final will just be another confidence booster before heading to nationals. I know that I am ready and I know that I can skate clean programs there.
What new elements have you added to your programs this season?
This year I put the triple Lutz-triple loop combination in my long program. It is combination I have been doing for a long time, probably since I was 10, but last season I stopped doing combinations with triple loop. I think this was a silly mistake, because loop combinations are special and if you can do something special, why not show it to everyone? At the end of the program it is worth a lot of points and it shows the judges how well trained I am.
Previously I had done triple Axel-half loop-triple flip, but you run the risk of getting an under-rotation call on the half loop, resulting in a negative GOE. Although it is a unique combination it is very risky.
Tell us about your music selections for this season and how your music selection process works.
Usually my coaches and I will each have a few ideas for music in our heads, from specific pieces to just a genre or mood we are looking for, but then my choreographer, Scott Brown, will send some music and we all will listen and hear a piece and it will be like, “Oh my God! This is it.”
This year, however, I sent Scott my choice of music for my short program, “Etude Op. 10, No. 3 in E” by Frédéric Chopin, and he really liked it. I was very excited that I was going to skate to this, as it is a much more mature piece of music than what I have used in the past, but I knew that if I was going to skate to such an incredible piece, I really needed to work to make sure that I didn’t look like an elephant out on the ice.
I work off the ice in front of the mirror a few days a week to make sure I am getting all the little nuances and details of the choreography right.
For my long program, Scott selected “Rodeo” by Aaron Copland. At first I wasn’t sure that this was the right music for me. At the time it seemed like such an unusual piece of music to skate to, but a few days later I thought about it some more and realized that Javier Fernández skates to unusual pieces of music all the time, and he is the World champion. That made me very excited because I knew I had the chance to try and perform like Javier. It really was a dream come true. It really is a joy skating this program.
Are there any current skaters that you look up to? If so, who and why?
There are three skaters that I look up to. I admire Patrick Chan for his amazing skating skills. He just flows across the ice and it looks so effortless.
I admire Javier Fernández for his incredible technical skills and his ability to perform and sell a program. I love how he can tell a story with his routines. Everyone always thinks that he just does these goofy, silly programs, but can you imagine how hard it must be to be in character and smiling while heading into a quad Salchow in the second half of your long program, with the World title on the line? That is another thing I admire about Javier: he never gives up. Most people, if they finished fourth at the Olympics with two programs like that, would retire, but Javier kept going.
Finally, I admire Yuruzu for his beautiful jumps and how he handles all of the pressure. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for him with all of the fans and the expectations, but he always goes out there and performs his best.
How important do you think quads are in competitive programs?
For the top six or so men in the World, level 4 spins and steps and strong component marks are just the default settings. Their spins are always there; their steps are always there; and their performance is always on. In this way, they are all on the same level, but in order to separate themselves from the rest they need the quad. I think that you need at least one to be competitive, but at the same time, it isn’t just about doing quads.
I would rather just try and land one quad, but give an amazing performance than land four quads but have a boring program. It is about landing the jumps, but also about giving great performances and constantly improving. With the quad you are obviously going to fall sometimes, especially the first year that you are trying it, but then the next season it will be better, that is just part of the learning process.
You have been competing at the junior level for several seasons. When will you make that leap to the senior level?
In order to be a real senior skater I will have to work very hard on my skating skills and performance. That is really what separates senior men from junior men. The senior men always perform well. Their performances are so good. That is really what I will have to focus on to make myself competitive at the senior level. I will also have to work on the consistency of my quads and add at least one or two more into my program.
What do you want to do after you finish skating?
I would like to go to college and get a pre-med degree and hopefully go to medical school. I would like to become an orthopaedic sports surgeon or a cardiologist.
What country would you like to visit that you have never been to?
I would love to visit Switzerland. It is a neutral nation and has not been involved in wars for so long and everyone says that once you go there you have a different view of the world.
What is your:
Favorite off-ice training activity? I love doing off ice and different workouts, but I really love lifting weights.
Favorite element? Triple Loop
Toughest element? Forward Camel Spin
Favorite movie? “Wolf of Wall Street”
Favorite recording artist? The Beatles
Favorite songs? ‘Til I Collapse; Lose Yourself; and Won’t Back Down — all by Eminem
Favorite school subject? Last year it was Advanced Placement Biology. This year it is Advanced Placement Chemistry, mostly because it is the only class that I have an A+ average in.
Favorite country? I really like Slovenia, but my favorite country is Italy.
Favorite thing to do outside of skating? I have a penny board and I really enjoy long boarding and skateboarding. I used to snowboard a lot but, in Texas we don’t get a lot of snow, so I just stick with skateboarding now. I also love to swim and do anything outside, like hiking or mountain biking.
Craziest thing you have ever done? One day, my friend Ben and I did donuts in his car in the rink parking lot.