Daniel Samohin broke new ground for his native Israel last season, closing it out in spectacular fashion with a victory at the World Junior Championships in Debrecen, Hungary, in March. Samohin’s win was historical. He is the first skater from his nation to have ever won a Championship title at any level.
Skating is in Daniel Samohin’s blood. His father, Igor Samohin, was a former pairs skater who represented the former Soviet Union. After moving to Israel in 1996, he coached the Olympic figure skating team for five years.
Samohin, who was born in Tel Aviv in 1998, was 5 years old when his family relocated to the U.S. in 2001 in search of better training conditions for his elder brother, Stanislav. They finally settled in San Diego, Calif., where Igor Samohin coaches his two sons at the Poway Ice Arena and their mother, Irina, choreographs their programs.
YOU CAN’T WIN THEM ALL
Samohin kicked off last season by winning two senior events: The Philadelphia Summer International in July and the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in September. He claimed silver medals at both his Junior Grand Prix assignments, and became the first singles skater from Israel to qualify for the Junior Grand Prix Final.
The outcome of the Final did not turn out as Samohin had hoped. He was hit with technical deductions in the short program and had an even tougher outing in the free, falling five times. Samohin landed in fifth, finishing almost 20 points adrift of the top four men. “Placements are definitely a great thing to have, but not everything happens the way you expect it to,” Samohin said in reflection. “You just have to move on, work harder and keep going with your journey in skating.”
Six weeks later he headed to the European Championships in Bratislava, Slovakia. With only one berth available for his nation at the World Championships, he was in a battle with his teammate Alexei Bychenko to earn the coveted assignment. Skating to “Still Loving You” by The Scorpions in the short, Samohin nailed a quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination and a quad Salchow, but fell on the triple Axel. He landed in fifth, right behind Bychenko.
Things did not improve the following evening. Skating first in the final flight, Samohin executed a quad toe-double toe combination, stepped out of a quad Salchow and popped the triple Axel. At the halfway point of his “Sherlock Holmes” routine, he landed another quad toe, but then doubled the Lutz. His score left him in seventh place overall. Bychenko captured the silver medal and the World berth.
Though Samohin was disappointed with his performances, he viewed his second trip to Europeans as an important stepping- stone for next season. “Physically I was capable, but mentally I am still young and I really rushed some things,” he said. “I think I am going to be able to control that and come back next season a little bit stronger.”
HISTORY IN HUNGARY
Samohin was considered a heavy favorite to take a medal in his third appearance at the World Junior Championships in March. Those odds were enhanced when the top two challengers for the title, America’s Nathan Chen and Japan’s Sõta Yamamoto, withdrew due to injury.
By the time Samohin arrived in Debrecen, expectations for a podium finish were high, but his campaign did not get off to an auspicious start. In the short program, he stepped out of the triple flip, a costly mistake, and also received an edge violation call. Despite landing a triple Axel and a triple Lutz-triple toe combination in his routine, he found himself in ninth.
“I was definitely a little disappointed. I knew I could have done better and I knew that one mistake would cost me a lot,” Samohin said.
“The triple flip is not a hard jump for me, but it’s definitely harder due to the edge and control of the jump. You have to really understand how your body works on that jump, and I think I used too much power going into it. That’s what caused me to step out because I over-rotated. I should have been calmer. I prefer doing quads in the short program, so I think next season it’s going to be fun competing in seniors because I’ll be able to do two quads in the short. Hopefully, my scores will be a little bit higher, depending upon how I skate.”
Though he was at a disadvantage skating in the second to last flight in the free, Samohin had an ace up his sleeve: an arsenal of jumps that none of the other men could rival. He deployed those jumps with devastating effect, landing two quad toes (one in combination), a quad Salchow and a triple Axel. His routine earned a personal best score of 165.38 and he vaulted into first with a combined total of 236.65 points.
“I realized that I was there to have fun and do my job, so I shouldn’t worry about one mistake,” the 18-year-old said of his short program. “I needed to go into my long program being a little more confident and less nervous. I have learned not to worry about one bad element or one bad program because there’s always going to be next year or there’s going to be another program.”
Samohin said he headed to the stands to watch the rest of the event, with no expectation that he would win a medal, let alone land on top of the podium. “I was watching all the skaters and I was rooting for them. Once the last group started, one of the ladies from the organizing committee came up to me and said, ‘You’re a contender for a medal right now so you have to come back with me.’ I asked her what she meant and if I could stay and watch and she said, ‘No, you have to put your skates on.’”
As each skater ahead of him fell by the wayside, it soon became clear to everyone except Samohin knew that he was going to win. “The last skater was in the middle of his program and people came up to me and said, ‘You won Junior Worlds!’ and I said, ‘What?’ It was really crazy because I didn’t know how to process the situation. All of a sudden I was in first place and thinking ‘Wow! What the heck?’”
On the evening of March 26, while the family was at dinner celebrating his victory, Samohin received some tragic news. Igor Pashkevich, the 1990 World Junior champion and 1996 European silver medalist, had died suddenly in Miami, Florida. Pashkevich had coached alongside Samohin’s father for many years and the bond between he and Pashkevich was so strong that Samohin referred to Pashkevich as his uncle, despite the fact that they were not blood relatives. “It was such a big drop in emotions,” Samohin recalled. “I was super happy and excited, and then all of a sudden there was this horrible trauma. It was very sad. He and my dad created a coaching technique together and had been friends since they were 5.”
The cause of Pashkevich’s death has not been officially announced. Samohin said he and his family are still looking for answers as to how he died. “We’re really trying to figure out what happened because we’re not sure yet. We’re waiting for that news.”
Samohin said he channeled his emotions into his skating as he processed the loss of such an important figure in his life.
SKATING WITH THE BIG GUNS
In preparation for his move into the senior ranks next season, Samohin attended the World Championships in Boston as a spectator to get a taste of the atmosphere he hopes to be part of going forward. Israel has only one Worlds spot in 2017, and he is going to give it his best shot to ensure that he is the one who will make the trip to Helsinki.
“It is all going to depend on my Grand Prix results and the rest of my season, but it’s definitely motivated me even more,” he said. “Since I won Junior Worlds, I want to step up to senior Worlds and see what I can do there. Hopefully, I can place top 10 so that we can have two spots (for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games).”
Samohin is currently thinking about two new competitive programs, but is still undecided about the music. However, it is clear that he will be exploring new territory in terms of choreography. One of his new programs next season will be a tribute to Pashkevich. “I’m going to devote a program to him. I’m probably going to be pretty emotional every time I skate it, but I want to do that. He deserves to have his name live on,” Samohin explained.
“I’m not 100 percent sure right now if I will go somewhere for choreography or if I’ll stay home and do some here. I’ve been looking at some classical pieces. I was thinking maybe I would do one classical program and then something crazy again. I’m not sure yet. I have skated a little bit, but now I have to start jumping again.”
As one of a cohort of young skaters who are including quads and other demanding elements in their programs, Samohin is aware that the physical stress and strain has contributed to some serious injuries. He said he is a firm believer in moderation and listens to what his body tells him. “I do a lot of exercises for stretching, massages and ice baths. I do those ice chambers as well, so I always try to take care. My body comes first for sure. There are days where I just feel I’m not capable of doing something, so I won’t do it. For example, if I don’t feel a quad toe today, I’ll just come back to it tomorrow. I try to think a step ahead.”
Earning a berth to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea is foremost in his mind these days. “I’m going to prepare as much as I can and do some harder elements and programs,” Samohin said. “I’m going to be keeping an eye on all those factors and work as hard as I can. I have two more years to get ready for those Olympics. We’ll see what happens.”
Samohin’s brother, Stanislav, 25, is set to return to the competitive arena later this year after sitting out the last two seasons due to injury. “I always picture going to Korea with my brother,” Samohin said. “It would be awesome if we get to go to the Olympics together.”
Daniel Samohin will make his senior Grand Prix debut at Skate Canada, with a second event at Cup of China.
(This story was originally published in the IFS August 2016 issue)