“Due to the political situation, I stopped feeling safe in Russia.” Interview with Mikhail Nazarychev who left Russia and spoke against the war
Interview with former Russian pair skater Mikhail Nazarychev who has left Russia and spoke against the war.
source: Metaratings dd. 10 January 2023 by Bella Gaurgashvili
Together with his former partner, Iuliia Artemeva, Nazarychev is the 2020 World Junior bronze medalist, the 2021 Russian Junior Champion, and the 2021 Internationaux de France silver medalist. Many were looking forward to the further progress of a bright pair in senior skating, but this was not destined to happen. In June 2022, it became known about the breakup. Shortly thereafter, Mikhail moved from Russia to the United States, where he is now building a new life.
In the interview, Mikhail talks about:
- why their pair with Iuliia Artemeva broke up;
- What was the reason for his departure from the country;
- What are the strengths of coach Pavel Slyusarenko;
- Tutberidze’s assistance to their pair;
- When, for the first time, the skater thought about changing sports citizenship;
- What are the differences between figure skating in the USA and Russia;
- In which country will Diana Davis and Gleb Smolkin feel comfortable.
Your life has changed a lot lately. A year ago, you competed with the strongest figure skaters in the country at the Russian Nationals, and today you are in Miami, not competing. How did it happen?
Mikhail Nazarychev: Everything is quite simple and logical. Due to the political situation, I ended up in the USA. I stopped feeling safe in my country and wondered what options could be found for safety and a normal life. I managed to find this option.
Even before you left for the United States, it became known about the breakup of your pair with Iuliia Artemeva. What caused the breakup?
Mikhail Nazarychev: This has already passed, and I would like to say that I do not want to make anyone take sides. It was a good time. I can only speak positively about this time.
There were questions for me as an athlete, I guess. But not as an athlete at competitions—I always performed all the elements, and the judges and technical specialists always noted me in the pair. There were claims made about me outside of sports: the fact that I like to admire myself, have quite provocative social networks, and so on. In my opinion, the breakup of our pair happened because hatred toward me accumulated because I didn’t change anything about myself and because my partner had to skate with me, which apparently pissed her off.
There were many attempts from outside to make us end our careers in this pair earlier than planned. One day I came to training, and there we had a conversation with my coach, Pasha Slyusarenko, and a partner. Actually, I was put before the fact; I was told that we are finishing work in this pair, because no one wants or someone does not want. I was asked my opinion. I mentioned that this is taking too long, and I also can’t sit all the time, like on a powder keg: we skate, we don’t skate, we want to skate, we don’t want to skate.
So, this whole situation lasted quite a long time?
Mikhail Nazarychev: Yes. It has become commonplace for me that every time something does not suit someone. I just got tired of it at some point.
Who announced this decision to you?
Mikhail Nazarychev: It seems to me that this decision was made collectively, by my coach and partner. They announced. Since this was not the first attempt, there was no surprise. We didn’t get along. Iuliia is more calm. I can’t say that she is closed. It’s just that she will do the job first, and then she can joke, relax. I’m different. I usually do two things at the same time. I can simultaneously perform elements and joke. I don’t think one interferes with the other. It’s just the way I am.
Officially, your breakup became known in June last year, but when did it actually happen?
Mikhail Nazarychev: It happened before. By the time the official news came out, I had been skating with Nadia Labazina for a long time.
You skated together for four seasons and did it very successfully. Weren’t you embarrassed to leave like this? After all, so much time and effort have been invested in your pair.
Mikhail Nazarychev: In a pair, the work of both is important. If one person does not want, then what is the point of forcing someone? You can’t force someone to like you.
I can’t believe that they didn’t try to persuade you and Iuliia to stay in a pair. You were considered one of the most promising pairs.
Mikhail Nazarychev: A huge amount of work has been done with our pair. A huge coaching staff worked with us. Pavel Slyusarenko, Maxim Trankov, and I skated at the Khrustalny skating rink with Eteri Tutberidze last season. Specifically, Pasha (Slyusarenko) did a lot for our pair to exist. When the question of the breakup came up, he spoke to us repeatedly. He, all the choreographers of the group, the head of the Perm Figure Skating Federation, and many other people tried to prevent a breakup. But what happened did happen.
How did events develop further after the breakup of your pair?
Mikhail Nazarychev: The pair broke up. It wasn’t a lifelong relationship. It’s just a sport, just a career—nothing personal. We continued to work with Slyusarenko. Iuliia teamed up with Lyosha Bryukhanov, and I teamed up with Nadya [Labazina]. And we all, together, continued to work there.
Do you keep in touch with your coach, Pavel Slyusarenko, now?
Mikhail Nazarychev: No.
Did your departure contribute to this?
Mikhail Nazarychev: I think yes. It was really hard for him and for me. It’s not easy when you know a person, work with him for many years (about 10 years in our case), and then you part. It must be very unpleasant. I understand him perfectly. I did not warn him before leaving Russia, but for only one reason: I knew that if I warned him, then all borders would be closed for me and I could not go anywhere. I would really like to tell him in advance, to prepare him too, but I understood that this would make the situation worse for me.
Did you manage to somehow explain yourself afterwards?
Mikhail Nazarychev: Yes, we’ve had video calls a couple of times. We talked, explained everything to each other, and ended on a good note. I am very grateful to Slyusarenko for his work. I’m glad we know each other, and I hope our paths cross again sometime. Pasha is a great professional. I spent a lot of time in figure skating, and I saw a lot, so I can say with confidence that Slyusarenko is an ideal coach. He listens to the opinions of his athletes and knows how to find an approach for everyone. Karina Safina and Luka Berulava of Georgia skate under his quidance. Luka is a very temperamental guy—he’s of Georgian blood, you know. Well, even if you take me, it was not easy with me; I know it very well. However, he managed to find a way. Others in his place would have given up long ago.
It was incredibly great to work with him. For any person who wants to do pairs or try figure skating, I highly recommend coach Slyusarenko.
Can we say that the break with him was the most painful for you?
Mikhail Nazarychev: If you take all the people I know in Russian figure skating, then yes, this is the most painful parting. But then again, it had to end someday. All athletes eventually finish they work with one or another coach.
Last season, you spent a lot of time at Khrustalny. What are your impressions of this place? Did you manage to work with Tutberidze?
Mikhail Nazarychev: Yes, we skated both in Khrustalny and in Novogorsk with her. Tutberidze helped us with all sorts of advice about costumes, emotions, appearance, and presentation. Her entire team also worked with us: Sergei Dudakov and Maxim Trankov, for which we thank them very much. She has a strong coaching staff.
What is the main impression Eteri Georgievna made on you?
Mikhail Nazarychev: The seriousness of intentions. I don’t know how to describe it correctly. This is a great and strong coach with a team in which she has everything under control. Everyone knows their job and their rules, and this is very cool. Discipline is incredible. Even if we compare the children who train with us in Perm and with Eteri Georgievna, it’s like night and day.
It is clear that children are children everywhere. But as soon as the training process begins at Tutberidze’s group, these children turn into little professionals. They know the whole routine and all the rules. And it is clear that they need it. Not their parents, not a coach who forces, but children themselves need it. Therefore, they have such excellent athletes there.
Many criticize the strict working methods of Eteri Tutberidze. Have you noticed something like that?
Mikhail Nazarychev: There are no any strange methods of coaching. They simply have everything in order. How else? You can’t do anything without discipline. If you do whatever you want, then nothing will work out. Yes, from an early age, she teaches children that they are athletes and that they are responsible. In my opinion, it’s great.
What can you say about working with Sergei Dudakov? He is considered one of the leading jumping specialists in Russia.
Mikhail Nazarychev: Nothing. This is not because he is a bad specialist. The thing is, I don’t have any jumping technique at all. I jump by some rules of my own. In such a situation, it is difficult to teach or retrain. Slyusarenko knew how I was jumping. He had an approach for me.
In this case, what functionality did Trankov perform regarding your pair?
Mikhail Nazarychev: First of all, he helped with emotions. Helped with programs, with transitions, and with the work of arms. He hated empty spaces in programs. He was constantly adding and suggesting new things. And also, we spent a lot of time trying to fix our twist. Since it was, in fact, the least expensive element in our programs. Therefore, together, we devoted a lot of time to a twist.
You noted that after the break with Artemeva, you teamed up with Nadezhda Labazina. I assume you don’t skate together anymore?
Mikhail Nazarychev: Yes, I left alone. She also did not know about my departure. There was no conversation after.
Do you somehow continue to train now, or have you decided to take a break?
Mikhail Nazarychev: I train on my own schedule. The training process consists of the following parts: ice, gym, and physical training. I perform jumping elements and pair elements, but most of the time now I skate as a single skater. Officially, I don’t have a partner yet. My goal now is to improve my skating and jumping. I can’t give more details yet.
So you’re not going to end your career?
Mikhail Nazarychev: I took a short break for a possible change of citizenship, then I will resume my career. I’m in great shape and really want to skate.
Why did you choose Miami as your relocation destination?
Mikhail Nazarychev: The United States turned out to be one of the easiest places to move to. You also need to understand that the USA and Russia are countries that create the rules both in figure skating and in general. Europe most often plays by the rules of the above countries.
Have you considered any other options?
Mikhail Nazarychev: Considered, but we did not agree with the federations.
You touched upon a conversation about a possible change of citizenship. At what stage are you, what were the requirements for you, and is there an understanding of the timing?
Mikhail Nazarychev: I’m only considering this option so far, consulting with people, so no steps have been taken on this matter yet. The time frame can be any length of time: the decision can be made in a week, six months, or a year. But this is not particularly important to me because, to participate in the competitions, you need only one passport in a pair; only for the Olympic Games you need two.
Certain conditions were set before me, but these are absolutely adequate conditions that could be set for any athlete.
Will it be US citizenship?
Mikhail Nazarychev: I don’t know; I can’t say anything about it.
How hard is the whole process? Isn’t it complicated by the attitude toward the Russians?
Mikhail Nazarychev: Not everywhere. There may be a little bias here and there, but for the most part, there is a very positive attitude toward Russian skaters. Everyone understands the level of our figure skating. Therefore, many are happy to accept our skaters.
After your departure from the country, did representatives of our federation somehow try to contact you?
Mikhail Nazarychev: Maybe they tried, but I had no desire to communicate with them.
Do you understand that there is a possibility that you may no longer return to Russia? At least in the near future. Do you have any regrets, sadness about it?
Mikhail Nazarychev: I’m not going back. I don’t feel sorry either. I’ve been planning this for a very long time. I had thoughts about changing citizenship even before the moment I teamed up with Iuliia.
Have you shared these thoughts with anyone?
Mikhail Nazarychev: Pasha [Slyusarenko], Yegor Zakroev, the president of the Perm Figure Skating Federation, Shuboderov Dmitry Aleksandrovich, are well aware of this. It surprised me when, after the test skates among juniors, I came across an article in which Zakroev claimed that none of his athletes wanted to change their citizenship. It was very strange to me.
I know at least four people who would like to change citizenship. And they know this very well, but, of course, no one will talk about it. Even when I was representing Russia, if I mentioned in an interview that I was thinking about or would like to change citizenship, it was always cut out.
It turns out that you had thoughts about changing citizenship long before the start of all the events. What was the reason?
Mikhail Nazarychev: First, to feel safe. It was the same even before February. In my case, nothing has changed in this respect. Well, representing other countries has always piqued my interest.
Before I teamed up with Iuliia, I saw more opportunities in leaving the country. After everyone liked our pair, I decided that we could wait. I understood inside: as soon as we were no longer needed, it would be possible to return to the issue of changing citizenship.
If I changed citizenship outside of the current situation and it worked out, I would stay with Pasha (Slyusarenko). Because it’s hard to find a better coach than Slyusarenko.
If all these events had not unfolded, would you have left?
Mikhail Nazarychev: Probably no. This has become a point of no return.
How did your parents react to your departure? Did they support you?
Mikhail Nazarychev: They were happy; they supported me. They said that if I planned everything and had everything under control, then I should go.
Have you already managed to get in touch with figure skating in the States? What is the fundamental difference between figure skating in our country and in the USA?
Mikhail Nazarychev: There are no fundamental differences. Of course, I can’t compare yet. In Russia, I skated everywhere and all my life, but here I am just starting. But so far, everything is the same.
And if we abstract from sports, where is it better – in Miami or in Perm? What is the difference between the US and Russia in general?
Mikhail Nazarychev: A very interesting comparison – Miami and Perm (laughs). For the time being, of course, it is better for me to live outside of Russia. I flew somewhere many times, and I realized long ago that I should leave. The standard of living is fundamentally different. Russia is not even close. Here, it would be even more correct to say the rest of Russia, except for Moscow, because all the money is in Moscow. Once you get out of there, everything becomes very clear. There are, of course, many good cities. For example, Perm. I have nothing against this city. There is an excellent school of figure skating, and there is a wonderful president of the figure skating federation who does everything for the athletes. But if we are talking about Miami and Perm, then we cannot compare them.
You said that in figure skating, you are best friends with Beijing Olympic champion Alexander Galliamov. Do you still keep in touch with him?
Mikhail Nazarychev: Before the Russian Nationals, we kept in touch with him. Then we were both busy. I think we’ll message each other and discuss everything later.
What is he like in everyday life?
Mikhail Nazarychev: He’s a very responsible and punctual person who always does everything right. Loves style. You can understand it from his social media (laughs). In general, a very cool person and a good friend.
In general, according to your recollections, how friendly is our environment in Russian figure skating? Can it even be called friendly?
Mikhail Nazarychev: There is no friendly environment. Of course, there are people who know how to separate sports and personal life, but these are few. There is no such thing as true friendship. Maybe there is friendship between those who are always on the pedestal and those who will never be there, and everyone knows that. In this case, yes, there can be friendship because there is no rivalry and no one is jealous of anyone. But friendship among those who constantly share the pedestal is impossible. At least in figure skating, there is no such thing.
Of course, there are exceptions, and I do not argue. But there are very few people who are able to separate the sport from everything that happens off the ice. Sasha Galliamov, Matvey Yanchenkov, Andrei Filatov from ice dance – they can. But in general, it is often funny to watch how many people pretend that they are friends, although that is far from the truth. Everyone loves to be hypocritical; everyone loves to lie. For some, this seems to be okay.
Russian figure skaters are deprived of the opportunity to compete at international competitions. How hard is this for athletes?
Mikhail Nazarychev: It’s shitty. Although depends. Maybe someone trains for money. Now the federation is trying to do everything possible so that the top-3 in each discipline do not go anywhere and remain in Russia. As a result, they organize domestic competitions and rename regular competitions to the Russian Grand Prix, in an attempt to compensate for the lack of international competitions.
Can this fully compensate for the lack of international competitions?
Mikhail Nazarychev: Money – yes. But globally, it makes no sense. Yes, you will earn a lot of money, but you will not leave a mark on the ISU records, and you will not be able to show your programs to the whole world. In terms of career growth, this is the lid of the coffin. In terms of just sitting and making money, this is a great option.
You noted that you are thinking about changing citizenship. Could this option be a good alternative for Russian skaters?
Mikhail Nazarychev: Of course. This would be a great option for those who place below top-5 all the time, for example. For those who, for various reasons, cannot compete with the tops: lack of physical endurance, jump content, etc. It’s easier to change citizenship and be the best in another country than to waste time in your own country. No offense will be taken, but what would Karina Safina have achieved if she had not moved to the Georgian national team?
Some in Russia are condemning the change of sports citizenship. For example, the whole season we have been discussing the possible transfer of the dance duo of Eteri Tutberidze’s daughter Diana Davis and Gleb Smolkin to the USA. Have you heard anything about it?
Mikhail Nazarychev: Yes, I heard it, of course. If they want to go, then let them go. Here, my opinion does not matter. This is their choice.
But would it be a good impetus for their career development?
Mikhail Nazarychev: They are doing fine. Their coach is Diana’s mother. They would feel great in Russia as well.
How will they feel in the United States after changing their citizenship?
Mikhail Nazarychev: I don’t know the world of ice dance. Just considering what kind of coaches they have, the coaching staff, how artistic and strong they are, I think they will be fine.
Last question on the topic. Can you imagine a situation that in the near future, Tutberidze moves to the United States and begins to work there officially?
Mikhail Nazarychev: I don’t know. I am not so familiar with Eteri Georgievna. It seems to me that everything suits her in Moscow. If she wanted to change something, she would have done it a long time ago.
When do you think Russian athletes will return to the international arena?
Mikhail Nazarychev: Never. It is clear that someday it will end, but when exactly – no one knows. It certainly won’t happen anytime soon. There is one hope that someone will eventually come to their senses and say, “Sport, art is out of politics.” But in war, all means are good, so it is unlikely that international organizations will get rid of Russian athletes, they will be tormented to the last.
Is it fair, in general, that the athletes, who had nothing to do with it, have become hostages of the situation?
Mikhail Nazarychev: Yes and no. I have mixed feelings. Even for myself, I can not find the right answer to this question.
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