"My heart opens up when I am on the ice!" - Meet Nikita Starostin

September 22, 2022
By Judith Dombrowski
Photos © Judith Dombrowski

"I consider myself as a citizen of the world, speaking the language of joy and passion that I have for figure skating!" 20-year-old Nikita said in the mixed zone after the biggest competition of his career so far - the World Championships in Montpellier. You can see that tremendous joy once Nikita steps onto the ice. Where others seem shaky and nervous, Nikita has a bright smile on his face and carries it through his performances. Which doesn't mean he is not nervous. In fact, the mental side of skating is a big objective he wants to improve on - as you will learn in this interview.
I was curious to know more about the charismatic young man, who was born in Russia, currently lives and trains in Belgium, and skates for Germany. So I met with Nikita after his free skate in Montpellier and also caught up with him a few weeks before the start of the 2022/23 season.

Part 1

Nikita, congratulations on finishing your first very long senior season here at the World Championships. How do you feel about it and what were your personal highlights?

I feel good, I think I gained a lot of experience but I can totally see that I want to improve on so many aspects: skating skills, technique, jumps, and I learned that I just have to enjoy myself because I have nothing to lose.
My highlights were definitely Europeans and also Worlds. At the beginning of this season, my goal had been to make it to Europeans, I achieved that and then Worlds were an amazing bonus.

Here at the World Championships, you competed with the very best in the world. Whom of your competitors inspired you the most?

My favorite skater is Deniss Vasiljevs because he is so unique. Nobody skates like him, glides like him, and has so much speed. His body movements and emotional expressions are one of a kind. Watching him skate is really inspirational.
Another skater that really impresses me a lot is Donovan Carrillo, who unfortunately couldn't compete here, but he was amazing during the Olympics. He is coming from a country where he doesn't have too many opportunities and he really makes the best out of his possibilities. I was so happy for him when he skated clean and even landed a quad. That's amazing.

Great choices, I totally agree on both.
You have a really interesting story, you lived already in many different countries. I would like to hear more about it. Where are you originally from and when did you start skating?

I was born in St. Petersburg and I started skating there. Before that, I had tried already football, swimming, and dancing. Finally, we decided to try skating because my mother had also been a figure skater. I was seven years old when I started. So when we came to the club and asked if I could join a group, the coach there said: "You are already too old. You will never be a professional figure skater!"

Oh, you should definitely send a picture from the World Championships then!

(laughs) Yes, I guess I should.

What made you stick to figure skating then?

My heart opens up when I am on the ice and skate. I love that feeling, to glide and to jump. I love to express myself on the ice, it just brings me so many positive emotions.

How did it happen that you moved to Germany?

I was around 13 years old when we moved there because my mother got married to a German. I would say that even before that, I was raised with a European, very open mindset. So I was very happy when I got the opportunity to represent Germany. I am very grateful that the German federation trusted me and they opened many doors for me. Back then, I trained partly in Oberstdorf, and partly back in Russia, as my main technical coaches were there. Then, as arranged by the German federation in 2018, I met my current coach, Adam Solya, in Oberstdorf.

I was just about to ask when you two met.

We met at a training camp and he upgraded my programs a lot in just a week. We continued working together and I improved tremendously in just one month. His ideas and exercises seemed the perfect fit for me. So Adam offered to help and support me even more. He suggested I could move to Belgium and work with him and his team. It works out amazingly. Especially during this season I developed and improved a lot. I really enjoy working with Adam as well as with Jorik Hendrickx.

As you moved so much around, I guess it was difficult to attend school next to skating?

It was difficult indeed. During COVID times I did some online lessons and I finished some courses but I plan to complete my high school diploma in Dortmund at some point. Therefore I plan to move to Germany and I will also train there more often then. The school there will be in German, so it will be a challenge, but I do want to improve my German anyways so I am looking forward to that.

Good luck on that. I am looking forward to do an interview in German with you one day!

I am looking forward to that too.

What are your next goals in skating?

The most important thing for me is to stay healthy and of course to learn some new tricks. (laughs) I hope to create two beautiful new programs together with Adam. We have some ideas already and are really looking forward to working on them.
Of course, I would love to compete at many more big championships, European Championships, World Championships, and of course my long-term goal would be representing Germany at the Olympics.

Do you have any passions next to figure skating?

Well, skating is actually very time-consuming, but I really discovered Bikram Yoga for me recently. I love it. It's a really heavy workout, you are sweating a lot, but you are changing your mindset: you are focusing more, it really strengthens your mind and your health. The difference to the usual yoga is, that you have to hold really difficult, static postures and it all takes place in a heated room and usually lasts 1 1/2 hours. It's really heavy. But it gives me additional strength on the ice.
I also really like to sing. I really enjoy it a lot and I heard people say that I have a nice voice. (smiles)

That's amazing. Hopefully, more people will get the opportunity to hear you then at some point.
As a last question, I read on the internet many skating fans praising your nice and detailed costumes. Can you tell me a little bit about them?

That's amazing, thank you. I like them a lot as well and Adam is actually also the mastermind behind them. We worked together with a costume design company from Finland but he had the main ideas, like the colours and the design came from Adam. My short program costume (of the 21/22 season) should represent my freshness and youth and in the free skate I wanted to show more maturity. Both of these aspects are also represented in the costumes. Adam will also create my next costumes for next season and I am already excited about it.

I am definitely excited about it as well and we are looking forward to seeing the results of your hard off-season work, new programs, new music, new costumes very soon.

Part 2

At the beginning of September I caught up with Nikita in a phone call, to hear how he had progressed over the summer.

Nikita, it's been about four months now since we talked in Montpellier. How was your summer?

After Worlds, I took a little time off, had some vacation, but stayed at home and relaxed a bit. When I came back on the ice I started pretty intensely. Apparently, I wanted too much too quickly, so I hurt myself and had to slow down a bit and build up smarter. But in general, I can say my summer was great, I had a lot of camps, was very motivated, had good practices, and improved on my jumps. I would say that my mindset changed since Worlds. I realized that I really need more difficult jumps to be overall competitive and I am working a bit differently now, but it made me enjoy skating even more.
Recently I already competed at the German test skates in Oberstdorf. I went for the full programs, including all difficult jumps, and even though not everything went perfectly, the federation was very pleased and gave me some advice. I am really motivated and excited now for the season to start.

So, what did you work on specifically during the off-season?

I was working a lot on the quad Salchow and I would say it's in good shape. We need to adjust it a bit but it's very close. I also worked on more difficult combinations, for example, triple Lutz - triple loop. I will try to put both into my programs. I am also working on the quad Lutz. I feel very confident with my triple Lutz, I think I have enough height and revolution to go for it. So far I have only tried it on the harness, but I am looking forward to try without it soon. In my off-ice training, I put a lot of focus on explosiveness and quickness. I think this helps me a lot to become stronger on the ice and rotate faster.
It is also important to me to work on the mental side as I was very often very nervous last season which held me back a bit. For example, I started to meditate every morning, which helps me a lot. I feel more energized, more focused, and more aware of the things around me. I saw the result already as I was less nervous than usual ahead of the test skates.

Not too long anymore until your season will start - what are you looking forward to the most?

I am looking forward to show the work I put into my artistry, and, of course, I am hoping to show the quad and the triple loop combination. I can't wait to show my two beautiful new programs and I hope people will be able to see how much heart I put into them.
In general, I hope to stay healthy and injury free. I realize more and more how important it is how much you sleep, what you eat, how you warm up, how you stretch, and all these kind of things.

What can you tell already about your two new programs? You chose "Maria" from "West Side Story" as the short program, and "Corner of the Earth" and "Canned Heat" by Jamiroquai for the free.

We consciously chose two programs with styles I never skated to before to explore new sides of me. The "West Side Story" program is about love and I am trying to express the emotions of the story. It requires a lot of expressions that I have never done before. Adam and I worked a lot on that and I hope to show what I learned.
We chose the Jamiroquai program because it's funky and fun. The first song - "Corner of the Earth" is about enjoying life, and the second part - "Canned Heat" makes you want to dance.

Especially the free skate sounds like you will be able to express your personality and it will surely shine through.

Yes, I am in love with my new programs. Whenever I skate them I feel them in my heart, I feel them in my chest, and I truly enjoy myself on the ice.

You trained in Belgium, Finland, and Germany over the summer with many other elite skaters. How did you profit from these environments?

I really enjoyed all these camps and I profited a lot because I met and trained with so many different elite athletes. I trained for example with Alexia Paganini, Niina Petrokina, Ivan Shmuratko, Lukas Britschgi, and many more. It's always so inspiring and motivating to learn from others. To see how they prepare, warm up, or other slight nuances that I can adapt for myself. We additionally had a great time and became good friends.
Even though I didn't train with him, I got really inspired by what I heard about Shoma Uno. That he can enter the ice very early in the morning and deliver a clean program with all the quads. That's very impressive and the fact that he is able to do that inspires me to not hesitate too long during my practice sessions to go for the more difficult elements.

Apart from skating you had planned to work on your German. How did that go?

I bought an online course and actually studied a lot and I think I improved quite a bit.

We can try to speak in German if you want.

(In German) Yes, sure. when I was in Dortmund I only spoke in German and the German federation was very satisfied and happy and so was I. It is very important for me, as I am aiming to achieve the B1 level of German in order to get my German citizenship and to communicate fluently with my German teammates.

(In German) This sounds very good, I suppose you aren't far from that B1 level.

(In German): Thanks so much, I can basically understand everything in German, I just need to improve in expressing myself in more difficult sentences.

I can definitely tell how much you improved. Keep going, you are certainly on the right track in language learning as well as your skating career. Good luck with your season debut at Nebelhorn Trophy and everything beyond.

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