Australia’s young pair team Anastasia Golubeva and Hektor Giotopoulos Moore have all they need for a bright future. However, when the Russian single skater Golubeva and Australian Giotopoulos Moore had a tryout at the end of 2019 and decided to team up, they couldn’t have imagined the difficulties they would have to overcome. But neither Corona lockdowns nor months of being stuck abroad and visa problems could stop the duo. In 2022 and 2023 Golubeva and Giotopoulos Moore won silver at the World Junior Championships and took gold in the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final in 2022. At the World Championships, the talented pair landed in eighth place.
Although Giotopoulos Moore, like Australian pair skater Harley Windsor, is a student of the Russian-born coaching couple Galina and Andrei Pachin, it wasn’t Windsor who got him interested in the discipline. When he was about nine years old, he watched a pair skating in the rink.
“They never skated internationally, but they trained with my coaches,” said Giotopoulos Moore. “I remember coming into the rink and they were doing a lift. That’s when I thought, ‘wow, that’s cool. I want to try that!’”
Since then, Giotopoulos Moore has wanted to do pair skating, something his coaches, former pair skaters themselves, were happy to support.
“It was never really planned for me to do singles,” shared the skater who just turned 21. “My jumps were okay, but I didn’t have much interest in single skating, honestly. It’s much more fun to do pair skating elements with a partner.”
Galina Pachina recalled Giotopoulos Moore’s love for pair skating at first sight.
“When Hektor first came to the rink, he came to me and my husband’s practice with a pair team and of course it made a big impression on him. Also, when we saw his very tall dad, my husband and I knew right away that Hektor would be tall, and it would be nice to prepare him for pair skating from childhood. Of course, like everyone else, he skated singles first, but we always tried to teach him with a focus towards pair skating.”
However, pair skating always takes two, and finding a suitable partner isn’t easy. In Australia, there are few competitive figure skaters anyway, and even fewer who want to do pair skating or are suitable for it. Therefore, Giotopoulos Moore looked around abroad. First, he skated with Karina Akopova of Russia for almost a year, then with Milania Vaananen of Finland for the same amount of time, but that partnership didn’t last either.
“About a month after that, my coaches contacted Nastia’s (Golubeva’s) coach and we had a tryout,” he said.
Golubeva was a single skater in the Moscow suburb of Balashikha when her coach got the call one day from a colleague.
“I hadn’t thought about pair skating at all,” the now 17-year-old recalled. “I thought, well, I can give it a try, if I don’t like it, I’ll stick to singles.”
But pair skating immediately intrigued her.
“Hektor lifted me and that was such a great feeling!” said Golubeva. “It was interesting, it was new, and after the tryout, I went out and told myself I wanted to do pairs.”
That was in October 2019, and Golubeva wanted to finish her single skating season and earn the Russian “Master of Sports” degree, which was important to her. Therefore, she practiced both singles and pairs in the beginning, and Giotopoulos Moore returned home for some time. Just as they were about to get started, however, the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
“I came back to Moscow in the middle of February 2020,” Giotopoulos Moore recalled. Her season as a single skater wasn’t over yet and we were training a little bit on the side. Then the lockdowns came.”
He was stuck. He couldn’t return to Australia as the country barely allowed even its own citizens to enter, and Golubeva had zero chance of getting a visa. They had no ice, and until July, they met almost daily and did off ice training, working on the twist and on lifts.
“That made it easier for us when we got on the ice,” said Giotopoulos Moore. “We could do lifts right away.”
In between, they had to find other places to train as Giotopoulos Moore needed a new visa and had to leave Russia. For a few months, the pair trained in Belarus. That was easier because the country allowed visa-free entry for up to three months. When the time was up, Giotopoulos Moore left the country with his Australian passport and returned with his Greek passport – because he also has Greek citizenship. For a year and a half, he couldn’t go home. It is no wonder that the Australian is now fluent in Russian. Golubeva is learning English, but Australian English is not so easy to understand.
“Our whole training process is in Russian,” she revealed. “Only when Hektor doesn’t understand something or is too tired to speak Russian, do we speak English.”
The duo made rapid progress. Golubeva was thrilled with the pairs’ elements. She enjoyed not only the lifts, but also the throws.
“At first I was a little scared with the throws, but then I loved it!” she said. “It’s such a thrill!”
When competitions started again in the fall of 2021, the Australians debuted in the Junior Grand Prix and left a positive impression. At their first Junior World Championships in 2022, they took silver. Russian skaters were already banned at the time, but Golubeva and Giotopoulos Moore could have had a chance of winning a medal even if the Russians had participated.
In the 2022-23 season, the duo established themselves and shone in the junior and senior ranks. They were the only pair at the World Junior Championships and the World Championships to include a triple toe-triple toe combination in their program. They repeated as World Junior silver medalists.
“Honestly, I was very nervous at our first Junior World Championships,” said Golubeva. “Now I had much more confidence and more experience. It was easier to skate.”
Following the ISU World Championships, the skaters enjoyed some time off.
“I went back home to Moscow to see my family and my friends,” Golubeva shared. “I spent about four weeks there.”
Her partner spent his holiday at home in Sydney with his family and friends.
“We travel so much for competitions and training that we really just wanted to spend our holiday getting quality time with our loved ones,” he explained.
In the upcoming season, the Australians will move up to the senior level as Giotopoulos Moore has aged out of juniors. They also proved that they are more than ready for it.
“We have many plans,” Golubeva noted. “At the moment we are working on the throw triple flip and side-by-side triple flip. We are hoping to put them into both programs. And of course, we are working on all our elements trying to make them the best they can be.”
Pachina pointed out that they also want to improve their triple twist technique.
The team started their season preparation at their home rink in Sydney at the beginning of May.
“Right now, we are working on the new elements for the coming season and starting to build up our fitness for programs,” Giotopoulos Moore shared. “We are also working very hard off the ice on our strength and conditioning with our personal trainer, Zsolt Zsombor.”
“There are no changes in our training process,” Pachina elaborated. “We just added a more athletic training with a coach and also plan to do some ballroom dance lessons to improve their understanding of the rhythm of dance and sense of the partner.”
The team plans to go to Montreal in mid-August before the season starts as there is not enough ice time in Sydney and no other high-level pairs.
“The kids need to practice with couples at their level,” the coach pointed out. “As they say, ‘show yourself and look at the others.’”
Pachina sees the strength of her team in the fact that they are able to pull themselves together very well in competition and are often even performing better in competition than in practice. She also identified the weaknesses of her students.
“The weakness of Nastia is that she can be very tense and wants to do everything perfectly well, but it gets in her way,” said the coach. “Hektor’s weakness is that he can be overconfident, and he can make stupid mistakes in the programs. But we all work together to try to correct these problems in training.”
Pachina is happy with the work attitude of her skaters and feels they work very cohesively.
“They try very hard and listen to every comment from the coach and other coaches, from judges, and other experts,” she said. “They are both very diligent athletes and are not afraid to try something new.”
The World Junior silver medalists have decided to keep their short program from last year but are changing their Free Skate after keeping it for two seasons. They are working on the new program with Pachina and Russian-Australian ice dancer Jonathan Guerreiro, who now lives and works in Australia.
“We’ve chosen to skate to music from the movie The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” Giotopoulos Moore revealed. “It’s a very romantic piece of music and we are trying our best to do it justice.” “We chose this piece of music as we feel it’s a good piece for a new pair coming into seniors and we both really enjoy it,” Golubeva added. “It was a joint choice between all of us.”
Golubeva and Giotopoulos Moore mostly train on the fifth continent as she must be in the country for at least six months to meet the requirements for a permanent residence permit. She, in turn, needs this to be able to apply for citizenship later on. Training in Russia is difficult anyway under the current circumstances.
Depending on their ISU Grand Prix assignments, the skaters and their coaches will decide which Challenger Series events they want to attend. They are hoping for Skate Canada and NHK Trophy, and they are excited to start the new season.
“I feel like we have definitely matured as skaters and people, we also gained a lot of experience throughout the last season,” Golubeva noted. “If you compare our skating from Junior Worlds last and this year, I feel like there is a big difference in our skating, presentation, and element quality.”
“Our main goal this season is to skate the best we can at all our competitions and push ourselves to be competitive with the top pairs on the senior circuit,” Giotopoulos Moore said.
Their coach agreed.
“Their potential is quite big as they can do all triples and they always enjoy learning something new,” said Pachina. “They are very hardworking and disciplined, and most importantly, they both have a great desire to achieve good results at the world level. Their goal for the new season is to prove themselves at the senior level, and obviously we want to hold our position in the top eight in the world. If we compare them at the beginning of last season when we set goals for medals in juniors, at the end of last season, they achieved that. I hope for the new season that they will be able to compete with the strongest pairs at the senior level.”
Barring injury, chances are good that they will achieve these goals.