Nikita Volodin: “It took five days for us with Minerva to realize that we have potential.”

Posted on 2023-12-18 • No comments yet


Translation of the interview with pair skater Nikita Volodin after winning the Gran Prix Final in a pair with Minerva Fabienne Hase.

original source: dd. 12th December 2023 by Artem Kuzmin

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Nikita Volodin was born in 1999 in St. Petersburg. Until 2022, he competed in pair skating representing Russia at international competitions. After an unsuccessful search for a partner at home, Volodin decided to skate for Germany together with Minerva Fabienne Haese. On December 8 they won a sensational victory in the ISU Grand Prix final in Beijing.

Q: Almost all the headlines featured the words “sensationally won.” How unexpected was this success for you?

Nikita Volodin: Initially, we understood that our pair had potential, but how it would be judged was unclear. After the first competition in Italy, we realized that we had good chances for a decent result this season. After two victories in the Grand Prix stages, it further strengthened our determination, but the preparation for the Final wasn’t easy. After Japan, I fell ill, and I spent the whole week with a fever before the Final. Literally a day or two before the departure, I still had a fever, and until the last moment, we were considering whether to go or not. But in the end, we decided to fight. Only on the day of the competition did I start feeling a bit better, and the fever subsided, but I was still sick. I guess it was noticeable.

Well… and the free program was very challenging. Therefore, it was, of course, a big surprise that we won. Although after the performance, I was completely indifferent to everything. Everyone noticed it, and I couldn’t do anything about it. But now, of course, we are very pleased and happy that we embarked on this adventure.

Q: I can’t even imagine what it’s like to skate in such a condition.

Nikita Volodin: I think in this regard, the illness even helped me because there was no pressure. I was thinking about how to take care of myself a little and how to distribute my energy. In terms of winning the short program, it didn’t pressure on us at all, at least not on me personally. So, I guess, psychologically.

Q: How do you feel now?

Nikita Volodin: Much better now. I returned to Berlin, and on the first day, I already feel healthy. We’ll be competing in the national championship this Friday.

Q: You have a tough schedule.

Nikita Volodin: Well, these are the last competitions of the year. Then, there will be a break until the European Championships.

Q: You had a very promising pair with Alina Ustimkina. Why did this partnership break up?

Nikita Volodin: What happened is something that happens to girls during puberty, let’s put it that way, certain changes occur. We tried for a very long time to cope with these changes, but in the end, Alina decided that she would do shows. I stayed in sports to find a new partner.

Q: So, in other words, she grew up rapidly?

Nikita Volodin: She grew rapidly, yes, and all the pair elements immediately disappeared, as it happens because stability is crucial in pair skating. No matter how hard we tried to cope with it, we couldn’t, so we split up. Then, I was fortunate to quickly find the next partner — Amina Atakhanova, who also had great prospects. We immediately joined the Russian national team, but there were health issues with Amina. She spent a long time treating her back and leg (we waited for her almost the entire season), but couldn’t recover and eventually decided to quit sports because her health didn’t allow it.

Q: And you had to search for a partner again…

Nikita Volodin: Yes, because I didn’t lose hope. I understood that I could do all the pair elements and could do them at a good level; I just needed to find a good girl. And we found Taisia Sobinina, with whom, I believe, we had a quite productive season in juniors. Unfortunately, towards the end of the season, Taisia was prohibited from skating for health reasons. I won’t disclose what happened, but doctors prohibited it, and it takes a very, very long time to recover.

Now I’m very glad that she recovered and continues to skate. And I started looking for a partner again. This time there was a candidate, Vika Vasilieva, who was a very strong junior and performed at the international level, winning Grand Prix stages and making it to the Grand Prix Final. There were high hopes for her. We skated for three months, so we taught her from scratch all the pair elements to a good level and performed well in Kazan. But then something happened again, and without explaining rational reasons, she returned to Moscow. And I was alone again.

Q: Many would have given up in your place.

Nikita Volodin: Yes, and I despaired at that moment. This circle happened again; I was searching for a partner again. But I didn’t find anyone. And I was invited to a show as a partner to Yuko Kavaguti (two-time European champion, world championship medalist. — Ed.). A very famous athlete, and, of course, such an opportunity couldn’t be missed: I still skate alone. I skated with Yuko in the show for almost a year, but she still occasionally came to training. I took a lot from her in terms of skating, in terms of some elements. I want to say a big thank you to her.

Q: I know that Yuko Kavaguti also had a very high opinion of you back then.

Nikita Volodin: Honestly, even when I skated with Yuko, we constantly invited her back to sports: “Wouldn’t you like to come back, Yuko?” I think she wanted to, but she understood that age and possibly health wouldn’t allow her. She was a little worried about it, but I thought she could come back and do it all.

Q: I’ve also heard a story about Ksenia Stolbova, that she was also upset that she refused to skate with you at some point.

Nikita Volodin: Yes, unfortunately, it didn’t work out with her either… When I was ready to give it a try, she had already definitively decided to end her career. But I think we could have had a good result together.

Q: Another thing. Is it true that you even offered Medvedeva to try pairs?

Nikita Volodin: It’s true. Can you imagine how desperate I was at that moment, considering all options? When you have nothing to lose, why not ask. But, of course, Zhenya said no, she didn’t even consider it, meaning she couldn’t see herself in pair skating.

Q: Did she react strongly?

Nikita Volodin: Well, of course, she was a little indignant. An unknown skater writes to her in her status. Maybe she knows, but… Overall, she reacted normally, absolutely adequately.

Q: And what year was this?

Nikita Volodin: This was probably in 2019 or 2020. I don’t remember exactly, so much time has passed. Probably 2019.

Q: I see… and then you had an option with the German figure skater Minerva, am I understanding correctly?

Nikita Volodin: So, I skated in shows for about a year, and just under two years ago (in March), Minerva’s coach, Dmitri Nikolaevich Savvin, called me and said that there was a good option for me and, in his opinion, we should do well together. After that, I immediately watched all the videos on YouTube, how the girl jumps, how she skates. I really liked what I saw, but I had to try skating, feel it. After that, we looked for a long time for an opportunity for the first try-out training. In the end, they arranged a visa for me, sorted out the tickets, and in June (a year and a half ago), I flew to Berlin for the first time, and we skated for five days. After that, we realized that we had potential, and we wanted to work together. But by that time, I already had a contract with “Navka Show” for three months. In the end, I flew, skated for three months in Sochi, and returned only in October. And from October, probably just over a year ago, we started skating and working productively. At the same time, we were waiting for the release from the Russian Figure Skating Federation. According to the rules, you need to wait two years after you were in the Russian national team, and these two years expired for me in May. That is, we gollected all the elements, and at the end of May, I got the release. We were very happy because the situation in the world is not easy right now. Thanks a lot to the federation for letting me go, clearly, according to the rules and without any unnecessary questions.

Q: You applied for release a year ago, and the quarantine when changing citizenship lasts two years. I didn’t understand anything.

Nikita Volodin: It turned out that I was in the national team with Vika Vasilieva when we finished skating; I skated in shows with Yuko for a year, so I wasn’t in the national team; and therefore, when the option with Minerva appeared, I had to wait for another year.

Q: Okay, I get it now.

Nikita Volodin: In this regard, it also coincided well that we had time to work on all the elements, choreograp the programs calmly, not rush anywhere, and enter the new season now in good shape and ready.

Q: Again, considering the political situation, were there any objections to the fact that you are running away, changing citizenship?

Nikita Volodin: No, there were no objections because the entire pair figure skating community knows me, and they know how long I was looking for a partner, how many attempts I made. From everyone I meet or have worked with in St. Petersburg, I hear only kind words. Everyone is very happy for me because I really went a long way to skate at this level, to show such results. Because, after all, I really love figure skating and deep down never wanted to quit skating.

Q: Were there such thoughts?

Nikita Volodin: Well, the work in the show was probably the first step towards this. Because shows and sports are a bit different things. There are more opportunities to earn money in shows. I also want to say a huge thank you to “Navka Show” for the opportunity they provided because the money I earned there helped me a lot to settle in Germany in the beginning. I think everyone has such thoughts when you try a lot and get no result. It’s very difficult to try again and again. But now I am naturally very happy that I didn’t give up.

Q: How did you settle in Germany?

Nikita Volodin: I live in a dormitory, I have my own room, quite spacious. It has all the amenities: a kitchen, refrigerator, everything you need, a television. So, everything for living is here. For athletes too: massage, physiotherapy, doctors. In this regard, everything is very good, and we are supported.

Q: Is it a sports dormitory?

Nikita Volodin: Yes, we train at the “Sportforum” base — an athletes’ facility. And one of the ice arenas for figure skaters is located here.

Q: Did you know German, or did you have to learn on the go?

Nikita Volodin: I started learning German just a couple of months ago. Throughout the year, I learned English, and I communicate more with my partner in English. Naturally, we plan to go to the Olympics, and for that, you need to obtain real citizenship. Right now, I am actively working on this and learning German.

Q: Is it difficult?

Nikita Volodin: Not easy, not easy. For now, I can say what my name is and a couple of common phrases because there isn’t much time with our tight schedule. Essentially, only now, after the national championships, I will have more time to work with a tutor.

Q: How is life in Germany overall? Were there difficulties due to differences in mentality and culture?

Nikita Volodin: Naturally, the sports culture in Germany is different, as it is in any other country. And the mentality is different too. But my partner helps me with everything. She is like my second mother here in Germany. If there is any problem, I immediately call her, and she helps me figure everything out. Because I don’t speak the language fluently, don’t know certain rules, and she teaches me in this regard: what to do, say, and so on.

Q: How do athletes in Germany live in terms of financial support? Do you have a salary? Is it enough?

Nikita Volodin: There is a salary, there is sponsorship payment. They help German athletes quite well. In general, the most necessary thing for an athlete who has just arrived is money for food and accommodation. I had no problems here — earnings from participating in “Navka Show” helped. Now, obviously, after winning, the attitude is different, so to speak, and it has become even easier.

Q: Understandable. Do you want to move to a separate apartment?

Nikita Volodin: Actually, it is very comfortable in the dormitory: you have your own room, and everything is provided for you for free. So, for now, there is no such desire, but, of course, in the future, I would like to live in an apartment.

Q: We roughly understand what a dormitory is in Russia, but what does it look like in Germany?

Nikita Volodin: In Germany, a dormitory looks absolutely different. Everything is completely new, of high quality. I myself lived in a dormitory in Russia for some time or visited my friends in the dormitory. Of course, everything here is completely different: everything is new, of high quality, constantly cleaned, and well-maintained. In general, cleanliness and order, as is customary with Germans — that’s what I really love.

Q: How did your family and friends in St. Petersburg react to the move?

Nikita Volodin: They are very happy for me because my family invested a lot in this sport. My mom and grandmother sponsored me: my mom worked, and my grandmother took me to training. And now they are immensely happy that I can realize myself, so they support me in every possible way.

Q: Given the doping cases, did you face any suspicious attitude in Germany?

Nikita Volodin: No, no. I am registered in the ADAMS system; they periodically come to check us. I have never had any problems with doping.

Q: You probably heard various critical statements from Canadian figure skater Meagan Duhamel about Russian athletes. She, in particular, mentioned that something suspicious was given to them during training. Here’s a quote: “I know some skaters who trained there and then returned. They said they were given something like black resin to drink instead of food during training. They don’t even know what it was, but I heard about it.” Did you ever get such questions?

Nikita Volodin: No, no one asked me that. Honestly, I haven’t encountered anything like that and don’t even understand what is being talked about, although I trained in Russia almost my entire life.

Q: You’ve already won the Grand Prix Final. What’s next? Of course, every athlete dreams of Olympic gold, but now, perhaps, this dream has become more tangible?

Nikita Volodin: Certainly, it’s the dream of any athlete, I am more than sure. Since childhood, my grandmother drilled it into me: “You must become an Olympic champion.” And now, perhaps, this core that was instilled in me helped maintain my motivation and continue despite everything. Naturally, this dream has become a bit more real now. My partner and I will take steps toward it, step by step. After the national competitions, we will prepare for the European Championships, which will take place on January 7, and then we will see how things unfold.

Q: Everything is heading towards you possibly being one of the few figure skaters from Russia at the Olympics, albeit under the German flag.

Nikita Volodin: Honestly, I don’t know, I haven’t even thought about it. Naturally, I want to compete with the strongest athletes in the world. My partner and I are eagerly awaiting the return of strong pairs from Russia and are actively preparing for it.

Q: There was a high-profile article by journalist Philipp Hersh, who noted a decline in the level of performances by foreign figure skaters without Russians. Is the situation better in pair skating?

Nikita Volodin: The level of international competitions is good; there is competition. Just look at the Grand Prix Final: there was a very interesting competition, the intrigue lasted until the last moment. Perhaps, such a level of competition is essential. In Russia, there is also a high level of competition, although it has always been very high. So, I cannot say that figure skating has degraded because many new strong pairs are emerging now. Take, for example, Minerva and me.


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