Always Home At St. Petersburg

 

by Susanne Kempf
Photos ©
Susanne Kempf


Coming back from a strong start into the Olympic season, capturing the silver medal at Skate Canada and the title at the Cup of China, the 2000 World Champions, Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov, have their sights firmly set on the Olympic Games in Torino in less than 4 months.

Susanne Kempf met the humble and amazing couple for a general chat about the past season, their early beginnings together, the Olympic season and their future plans after 2006.

AS: With the past Europeans having taken place in the city of Torino where the Olympics will be, what are you memories of that competition there?

A.T: Well, about our performance I was not really satisfied. We made a mistake in the short programme - well, actually two - and three mistakes in the free programme and we didn't achieve what we had wanted there."

AS: What had been your goal?

A.T.: We wanted to win. But now it's ok. We skated very well in the past season with the new judging system.

AS: Do you like the Code of points?

A.T.: I like that every element has some points and that everything counts because it's more objective. Before, in pairs skating you had to do just clean jumps and clean throws and that's it. It didn't matter what lifts and spins you did. I think the new system has moved pairs skating forward.
But the disadvantage of this: With the second mark, the program components, the judges can still do anything.
I mean, Masha and me often have the highest technical mark in the World but we are put down in the second mark. We don't think that's completely justified but...

AS: Why do you think you are often "held down"?

A.T: Well, probably because we are already too old (laughs). No, seriously. Tatiana and Maxim certainly were the best in Torino.

AS: What is your relationship with the other two Russian teams?

A.T.: Well, we are not friends but I can say that the relationship is very good!

AS: Do you think the rink is a good rink for the Olympics, did you enjoy skating there? What about the ice?

A.T.: The ice is different, I liked the ice in the practice rink much more. But generally I liked the rink although it is very small. How much spectators do fit in?

AS: 8500....

A.T : That's really not so much. I remember Salt Lake City.. it was so big! And besides, in the Palevela rink on one side there is only tv, press and cameras so... still, it is very bright inside and I enjoyed that.

AS: So, how did you start skating?

A.T.: Well, I was 6 years old and my parents took me to the figure skating school near my hometown Samara. I started out with single skating of course but I also did some compulsories..."

AS: Really? (reporter cannot hide her excitement as a huge ice dancing fan herself... ;)

A.T.: Yes. Actually it helps a bit for us single skaters to be able to do some compulsories but it took a lot of time and also a lot of money because the ice time is expensive.


AS: What was the hardest jump you ever did?"

A.T.:The flip. But it is funny: The triple toeloop was the jump I had the most problems with at the beginning (laughs). I had learned the salchow first, then the loop, then the flip - but I never "understood" the toeloop, I learned it last.

AS: If you are looking back at your career (you have been skating with Masha for 7 years now), what would you say has been your best performance so far?

A.T.: Well, I fondly remember Euros in Prague 1999 which was the first major competition we won. Elena Berezhnaya had to withdraw because she was sick but still, we skated very good there so we earned that victory. Then there is of course Worlds in Nice 2000 where we skated very well too. But as far as our best skate is concerned.. well, I have to say it was the short programme at Worlds in Dortmund. It was the best skating of my life. We did everything. At Nationals 2004 we would have won under the new system, judges told us afterwards. In the short programme we were two points ahead, in the free programme five points. But under the old system we were 2nd.

AS: What do you feel when you are on the ice? Do you notice the audience or are you in your own world?

AT: In my own world. But the audience helps us. Masha told me it is the same for her too, especially in Torino. Maybe not so much at the beginning because you have to concentrate really hard but later on, yes.

AS: Do you have a favourite element?

A.T: I like lifts very much because I do it very well (smiles). Masha likes the throws but not so much the split twist.

AS: Looking back a bit at your common story. It is well-known you skated in the USA in Tarasova's show but how exactly did you meet Masha?

A.T.: Well, figure skating is a small world, esp. for the Russians and somehow everybody knows everybody. :) The first time we met in Japan at the World Championships 1994, she skated with Anton Sikharulidze and I skated with a Japanese girl. We met and she told me she liked me. But then I moved to Japan for the ice show. I knew I hadn't done a lot of important things in my life but I knew I could do something very good in the amateur sport and I wanted to come back. In 1996 somebody told me Masha was looking for a partner and invited me to skate with her but somehow we didn't end up skating together before 1998..."

AS:Which skater did inspire you when you were younger? Who did you look up to?

M.P.: Gordeeva&Grinkov

A.T: When I was younger it were Artur Dimitriev and Natalia Mishkutionok. But actually now I like G&G. Their skating was so light and nice. Maybe they didn't have the most difficult jumps but still.."

AS: Which is the type of programme you like skating the most, which style do you generally prefer?

A.T.: We love the Tango SP from last season very much, also the SP before. In fact we did like all our short programmes from the past 5 years very much, I cannot really explain why. As far as our free programms are concerned, obviously "Four Seasons" is very important for us as we won our first titles with it and including the Worlds title. Also, the "Circus Princess".

M.P.: I particularly liked the "Chess" programme.

AT: Viktor Petrenko skated to it 1993/1994 as well before he went back to the Malaguena programme. He told me - and Alexandr Zhulin as well - that it is a great music but very difficult to skate to. I don't know why but it is. Funny. I remember we did a clean short programme in Salt Lake City and two triple toes in the long programme, one in combination.

AS: What is your goal for the next time in Torino then? In which fields do you think you can beat the Chinese?

A.T.: We have to work a lot to show our best and we want to be more smooth, clean and beautiful to look at. We used to have a big problem with stamina and got tired towards the end of the program. That's also because of our big height difference - if I am tired I am more likely to make mistakes especially during the lifts. But now we have started to run marathons with friends of ours, they are twins, Dimitri and Alexander. They used to run marathons professionally but had to stop because of injuries.. They help us a lot. We meet them twice a week for conditioning training.
Anyway, we don't have problems with the lifts generally but we need to work on the split twists (Alexei smilingly looks over to Masha who clearly isn't enthusiastic about this.. ;) ). I don't think we will show any quadruple throws, that's just too dangerous.
At the last GP we beat the Chinese couple with two more points in the technical elements in the SP but there is still room left in the program components field.

AS: What are your plans after the Olympic Games?

A.T.: Maybe we are going to do coaching - we like it very much. We already have some young teams in our rink. It makes me and Maria happy to be able to help them. We are gonna stay in St. Petersburg - so many skaters are in America nowadays, somebody has to stay at home (laughs).

AS: Thanks for the interview! Good luck for the season!

 






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