Pavliuchenko and Khodykin aim to fly high as ‘Black Swans’

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space e1603641773276While Russia’s Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin were not selected for Worlds in Stockholm this past season, they are still considered a very strong team, both technically and artistically, and should not be counted out for the upcoming season. In fact, they are one of the few pairs that include a side-by-side triple flip in their programs. The 2020 European bronze medalists didn’t make the cut for Worlds as they lost to Anastasia Mishina/Alexander Galliamov and Aleksandra Boikova/Dmitrii Kozlovskiiat at the Russian Cup Final in February. With Russia currently boasting four teams that have won medals at the ISU European, World Championships and World Junior Champions, there is little room for any error.

The 2020-21 season ended rather abruptly for Pavliuchenko and Khodykin, and they did not have an easy start. Health problems were holding them back. Khodykin suffered a from a knee problem in October and both skaters came down with Covid-19 in the fall and missed the Grand Prix Rostelecom Cup. They came back to claim bronze at the Russian National Championships in December. Then, in March, Pavliuchenko began having unspecified symptoms which was later diagnosed as the Eppstein-Barr virus. However, the skaters have since fully recovered and have resumed training following their vacation that they spent at the sea. Overall, they were still pleased with what they have done.

“We showed a lot of progress at the end of the season, especially in the last two months or even in the last month,” Khodykin said. “We probably would have had different success in the season if we had made that progress earlier.”

Pavliuchenko and Khodykin are now currently deciding about their programs for the upcoming season. Their coaches, Sergei Rosliakov and Sergei Dobroskokov, wanted to keep the upbeat Short Program to “Sing, Sing, Sing” for the Olympic year, however, the athletes don’t quite agree.

“Basically, this program was created as a caricature of ice dance,” Khodykin shared. “As they say, a joke told twice is not funny anymore. Our coaches feel that the international judges have not seen the program, but I am convinced that the international judges are watching figure skating on TV and videos and that they have seen the program.” He would prefer to do something different, perhaps something similar in style or even going back to their successful Short Program to “Storm” by Balázs Havasi from the 2019-20 season.

Pavliuchenko sees the pros and cons of keeping the “Sing, Sing, Sing” Short Program. “On the one hand, the program is broken in and you feel it very well. On the other hand, you are getting fed up with it inside and even if you make some changes to it, the emotions might not be the same.”

While the Short Program is still under discussion, the team has decided about the Free Skate which will be choreographed by Alexander Zhulin. They chose music from the Black Swan soundtrack. There were other options, but the skaters, along with former ice dancer Betina Popova (who works with the team as a permanent choreographer), preferred Black Swan. “Actually, I am expecting to wear a costume like Jean-Luc (Baker, in his exhibition program),” Khodykin joked.

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space e1603641773276“They have skated to Swan Lake before, with hip-hop, but they were very young then,” Popova pointed out. “The swans now have grown up.”

The 2020 European bronze medalists are looking to continue to improve over the summer, specifically on their skating skills and presentation. “We also want to polish some elements,” Pavliuchenko said. “We want to learn to do better attempts (of elements in practice) to the maximum. So when we go out to compete, we don’t just do everything well, but do it well in the performance. Sometimes in the performance you are a bit tight. We want that the adrenaline works in our favor and not hold us back.”

Her partner agreed: “In practice some things are better. We can improve the elements, add speed, height – as they say, ‘faster, higher, stronger.’ Our lifts are very difficult and we want to make them look even more beautiful and easy, at high speed, in order to get a higher GOE.” The team also wants to continue to work with two acrobats on adding some new tricks; something they feel sets them apart from other teams in terms of transitions and innovative lifts.

“We just have very creative people around us,” Pavliuchenko said. “When you come to practice, you are getting ideas from all sides. And you say, ‘good, let’s try.’” Khodykin added: “For example, one day before we left for Russian Nationals, our acrobatics coach Juri Vasilievitch (Tiukin) came up and showed us something, saying ‘Here, little kids are doing this. We make it a bit harder for you and next season we can do this lift.’ And I am saying, ‘Yes! Cool! We can do it before the throw!’” Additionally, the skaters want to add a triple toe-triple toe combo to their arsenal.

Despite very different personalities, Pavliuchenko, 18, and Khodykin, 21, are get along very well. Khodykin is very calm while Pavliuchenko is very emotional. “My character is like that,” she admitted. “I can be in a great mood now, then in a moment the world turns upside down and I am crying. Then some time passes and I am happy again.”

Her partner reacts with understanding to these changes of moods. “Each human being is an individual,” he pointed out. “I’m no angel. Sometimes I can’t stand it either, but there are no fights between us, no throwing of skate guards and bottles. When I am calm and confident in myself, then I am supporting of Dasha. When I myself feel something boiling inside me, something doesn’t work out, I just keep quiet or say, ‘OK, it’s over, let’s go to work again.’”

“He behaves in a very mature way,” Pavliuchenko confirmed. “We are grown up enough to realize that this is just our job and all conflicts won’t lead to anything. Our task it to get out of any uncomfortable situation and just continue to do what we have to do.” Choreographer Popova praised the skaters for their professional attitude. “They’re actually an amazing couple,” she said. “They are never fighting with each other at all during practice. That is fantastic!”

Pavliuchenko and Khodykin are happy to have the former ice dancer on their team. “She is showing us how to perform in a better way, with the transitions, with the steps,” Pavliuchenko said. Popova and Khodykin revealed that they were married last August – something they had kept private until now. Khodykin doesn’t feel that his personal relationship to Popova has changed him. “I am still the same,” he said with a smile. “Maybe my approach to figure skating and to practices has changed a bit – I am taking it a bit easier, but still with the same seriousness and intentions. I am not looking for the sense of life in that (figure skating). I enjoy it more.”

The two-time national bronze medalists both have exams coming up. While Pavliuchenko is graduating from high school, Khodykin is graduating from university with a degree in sport event management next month. After that, the team will attend a training camp in Sochi to prepare for the 2021-22 season. They have not yet made plans on which international competitions (outside the Grand Prix) they would like to attend, but they are heading into the Olympic season trying to keep the right mindset.

“The most important thing is to work every day and to have a blast,” Pavliuchenko pointed out. “This past season we enjoyed our programs and I think that is probably the most important criteria.”

Khodykin added. “If you are enjoying your programs, you bring them across differently. We saw the reactions of the audience to our short program, to our free skate (“S.O.S. d’un terrien en détresse”). Yes, it was a difficult piece of music and story and not everyone might have understood. Now we want to take something that is possibly easier to understand, but we want to build it the same way so that it will transfer to the audience and judges.”

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