California

Canadian men have a rich history of success on the international stages. With some 14 World titles to their credit, names like Brian Orser, Kurt Browning, Elvis Stojko and Patrick Chan have become legendary. But when three-time World Champion Chan hung up his skates for good in April 2018, there was a void in the Canadian pipeline. Without an obvious successor to Chan, it appeared as if the national team would be entering a rough patch. 

But then Stephen Gogolev happened. The gangly then 13-year-old made his senior debut alongside Chan at the 2018 Canadian Championships, where he finished in 10th place. And although it might have seemed like Gogolev appeared out of thin air, in reality, however, he was already laying the groundwork to begin his own reign at the top. It was not a matter of if, but when.

Gogolev won the Canadian pre-novice, novice, and junior men’s titles in succession from 2015 to 2017, and almost snared the senior title in his second try in 2019, finishing first in the short program and taking the silver medal overall. He is not fazed by his successes, but instead uses them to craft a laser-sharp focus on improving everything about his skating. “I try to do my best at every competition and treat every competition the same, regardless of how big it is,” said Gogolev.“ Of course, I would like to do well at the bigger competitions, but I still try to treat all events the same.”

Perhaps it was his philosophy of focusing on improvement versus results that led him to Rafael Arutyunyan. After leaving his long-term Toronto training base at the end of last season, Gogolev made a bold move in June, relocating to Irvine, California, to train with Arutyunyan at the new Great Park Ice Arena. “Generally, we thought it was a good place to train. I really like it here,” said Gogolev who made the move with his mother. “Everything is completely new and it’s warm here. Rafael and I have not worked together that long yet, so we are still figuring out what we need to do.”

Gogolev, who trained with the likes of two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and two-time World champion Javier Fernández in Toronto, is enjoying sharing ice with reigning World champion Nathan Chen, who also trains with Arutyunyan when he is in California. “It’s really motivating to be training right beside him,” Gogolev said of Chen.“ Watching him do impressive jumps and to witness how hard he works every day. I look up to him, and in the future I would like skaters to look up to me in a similar way.

“When I trained with Yuzuru, I learned a lot about hard work and dedication. He was always really focused on his session, and it’s something that I took note of. I noticed how open Javier was to everything. He wasn’t afraid to try anything, and he was also a very hard worker. Having the opportunity to train with this caliber of skaters has been invaluable to me.”

In the hope of realizing his own potential, Gogolev has entered into Arutyunyan’s fabled ‘two-year plan’ that aims to transform a skater into a full-fledged contender. “I always say that it takes me two years to get the skaters to where they need to be,” Arutyunyan said. “When we start, my goal is to teach them how to train. Stephen is no different. I teach my students not only what to do in training, but what to do in the evening and off ice as well. If the skater follows my advice, then I believe that they become athletes who can train themselves with small corrections from me.”

Arutyunyan was encouraged to welcome Gogolev into his training group based on what he saw on the ice, but what sealed the deal was how the 14-year-old conducted himself when they spoke about making the change. “I like everything about him. The way he looks, the way he moves. I like how he jumps and how he talks. I think that he is a person who I like because he is polite and works hard,” Arutyunyan explained. “Right now there is nothing special about anything that Stephen does. It is his potential that is exciting. I see the way he works and think about his future progression, and I believe that if he continues to work hard and listens to my advice, he has the potential to be great.”

He also likes that he can speak Russian with Gogolev, who is fluent in the language. “It helps me explain things more precisely,” Arutyunyan said. “English is my second language, and sometimes when I coach I don’t have the right words to explain exactly what I want to say. Sometimes, how I say things might come across as too rough, but it’s not what I intend. With Stephen, I can speak with him in Russian and get my point across easily.”

Gogolev showed his mettle last year when, as the first alternate, he went to the Junior Grand Prix Final as an injury replacement and stole the show, becoming the youngest man to ever win the coveted crown. This season things did not pan out for him. He finished second at his first Junior Grand Prix assignment in Lake Placid and fifth at his second in Croatia. 

Fifth at last season’s World Junior Championships, Gogolev, who turned 15 in late December, will not be competing at the 2020 Canadian Championships for unspecified reasons. However, under Skate Canada criteria he will still be eligible to secure a return trip to World Juniors in early March. “I think that first place is definitely within the realm of possibility,” he said of his prospects in Talinn, Estonia. “But I have so much work to do I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself.”

Though Arutyunyan does not dissuade his athletes from having goals, he prefers to look at the big picture rather than the present. “I don’t look at the short term. I look at step-by-step improvement, and look for long-term success,” he explained.“ What kind of product do I want to build? How do we get there? Everything is just another step. What good is having success on the junior level if you cannot sustain that success on the senior level?

“I like to look at what happens when the athlete starts to win — how they compete at the World and Olympic level. Can they get to the top six in the world, and how can I help them sustain those results to have a long and successful career? For me, it’s not about what they can get today, but instead what they will get tomorrow.”

This season, Gogolev is skating to “Grand Waltz” from the ballet “Anyuta” by Valery Gavrilin and “Yablochko” from Reinhold Gliére’s ballet, “The Red Poppy,” choreographed by Nadezda Kanaeva. The program is a nod to Gogolev’s Russian heritage, and he believes it will be a strong vehicle in his evolution as a performer. “It’s really energetic and fast,” the Toronto native said. “It’s a challenge to do all of the choreography and elements. The content will probably stay the same as last season — a triple Axel and a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination. This year, the juniors are required to do a solo loop jump, and I will do a triple.”

For the free skate, he enlisted 2003 World ice dance champion Shae-Lynn Bourne to choreograph a new program to a Peter Gabriel medley of “The Rhythm of the Heat,” “Darkness” and “Red Rain.” “This program is a bit calmer than the short, but it is fast in some places,” Gogolev explained. “The technical content is up for debate and will probably evolve as the season progresses. I know that I will have two triple Axels because I am most confident with that jump.”

Having settled into his California routine and in keeping with Arutyunyan’s approach, Gogolev is now focused on his training rather than setting specific competition or season goals, He is planning to add a quad loop and a flip to his repertoire this season — he already has the Salchow, toe loop, and Lutz — and said he “would like to have all the quad jumps, but we are careful to train smart so that I don’t get injured as I am learning the jumps.”

Prior to the move Gogolev was attending regular school in Toronto, but this season he is taking online classes. Following his move to California, his brother remained in Canada to attend university. His father, a businessman who remained in Russia, visits when he can.

When he is not training, Gogolev enjoys everything Southern California has to offer, including mountain biking and exploring the city he now lives in. “There is a really good ski resort an hour and a half from Irvine that has a really cool downhill park with jumps for mountain biking. It’s really fun,” he said. “I have gone to the beach with my parents and to Knott’s Berry Farm (a theme park) with the whole skating group. I am just getting acquainted with the area, but I like it.”

Gogolev also got quite the introduction to his new environment on July 5, 2019, when a 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck in Ridgecrest, about 150 miles away from where he trains. “It was really surprising. I wasn’t sure what was happening,” he recalled “I was in my room and the house was shaking.”

But the earthquake did not scare Gogolev into leaving California. “I will stay,” he said. “I like it here.”

(This article has been updated from the one originally published in the IFS October 2019 issue.)

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