By Hiro Yoshida
Tamara Moskvina needs no introduction. The renowned Russian pairs coach is an icon of the sport and one of the most fascinating and energetic people you are ever likely to meet. After last season passed by without the opportunity to see her peering intently over the boards at international competitions, she was back on the circuit at the Nebelhorn Trophy last month with Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov on their comeback from Smirnov’s horrific knee injury that derailed the trio’s Sochi Olympic ambitions.
Moskvina herself seemed genuinely thrilled to be with her students again in the thick of a sport that she has devoted most of her 73 years of life to first as a skater and then as a coach. “I am really happy because this is their first competition after a long, long interval when he was injured and that he has now made a healthy recovery,” she confided.
In the year that Kavaguti and Smirnov were absent from competition much has changed in the world of pairs. Olympic champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov are sitting out the Grand Prix series due to injury and most of the top pairs internationally have broken up or retired and new partnerships have been formed. The Nebelhorn Trophy was an opportunity to remind everyone that the Saint Petersburg pair was returning for one more season.
“This is an important competition because we wanted to try out both programmes before the Grand Prix events,” Moskvina explained. “That’s why we came here (to Oberstdorf).”
Speaking after the free skating where Kavaguti and Smirnov secured gold with many in the Eissportzentrum giving their “Manfred Symphony” programme a standing ovation, their coach declared herself more or less satisfied with how things had gone.
“There was, as we say in Russia, a little bit of dirt. A little bit of dirt here and there, but the main elements were done and still with these little mistakes they produced a very good impression so that the audience and the judges realised the content of the programme and appreciated the choreography.”
The Russians last skated at the 2013 World Championships and, when asked whether they had any jitters about coming back after such an extended period out of competition, Moskvina felt it was more a case of not being match fit rather than any anxiety.
“It seems to me they were not nervous, but they didn’t divide their concentration and rest between the elements. Because when you compete in several competitions then you are completely aware about where you can smile, where you can pull yourself together. That they were decisive and fulfilled the quadruple salchow throw shows that they were not nervous. They were just not quite yet ready with all the difficult elements in these great programmes that also require strength and concentration.”
While their short to Massenet’s “Meditation from Thais” that Kavaguti and Smirnov are skating this season was their second choice for the Olympics, one of their main motivations for continuing their career was to be able to perform their “Manfred Symphony” free in competition as they had poured their hearts and souls into the routine.
“We didn’t want to end our careers without having skated this programme for the public,” Kavaguti said. “I have special memories about all the programmes I have skated, but in most of them I am portraying a character. With “Manfred” I feel I can be who I am on the ice.”
Moskvina concurred with her student’s high estimation of the free and believes that it will be a programme that people will remember in years to come.
“It seems to me that the public, and I myself, do not like tragedy on ice, but this programme does not produce the impression of tragedy. It’s really dramatic and the public, and myself as a spectator, look at it and cannot take away our eyes because the plot of the programme is catching our attention.”
“If they will combine all the elements and all the requirements of the rules and present such a programme, I expect a standing ovation,” Moskvina declared.
There is a tinge of sadness that the couple were not able to show these programmes off last season, especially with the Olympics being in Russia and the World Championships in Kavaguti’s homeland of Japan.
“The toughest part of the year was probably during Sochi,” Kavaguti recalled. “Although midway through the Olympics, we were on tour and couldn’t follow the competition which was in a way a good thing. Not being able to go to Worlds may have been harder as I had pretty much given up on competing in Sochi when Sasha’s injury happened. But I still held out a little bit of hope that we could go to Saitama.”
While Moskvina expresses some regret about her charges not being able to compete in Sochi, she believes there is no purpose in looking back now as what is done is done.
“As a coach I was preparing them to be on the podium at Sochi. With the programmes they prepared for last season and how they skated at the beginning of the season, I was completely sure that they would fulfil that dream and they would be among the medallists and probably they would have finished (their careers) as we had planned. In Russia we say ‘If it will be and if it will be and if it will be, in your mouth the mushrooms will grow (and it would no longer be a mouth, but a garden)’ but there is no ‘if’. Reality is that they did not compete and so there is no point to go back and think what would have happened.”
“I think that people also appreciate that after such an injury that they came back,” Moskvina mused. “The people are kind of putting themselves in their place ‘If such a tragedy or such injury happened with me, what would I do?’ or ‘If such tragedy will happen to me in my profession, will I have the strength to come back?’ They showed a great example not only because they continue skating and they recovered, but as human beings they found that strength and overcame all the psychological difficulties, physical and organising problems and came back.”
Moskvina has not set any specific medal or title expectations for her team this season in what may potentially be their last one.
“Whatever will be given I will be satisfied. It will depend on many, many ingredients and nobody knows what will happen as there are in life unexpected things happening every day, every second. So how we can predict? We live with what will happen and try to find the better exit from every situation. The best solution, the best exit.”
And what are the goals of the pair and their coach for the coming season?
“The main goal is to be healthy and be happy. That’s my goal too.”
**Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov will compete this weekend at Skate America in Chicago, the first stop on this season’s ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating series.**