Ice Network

Move to Moscow has Sakhanovich dreaming big

Lyrical skating style, love of poetry belies Russian prodigy's youthfulness
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Serafima Sakhanovich is taking on some heavy music in her programs this season. -Getty Images

Serafima Sakhanovich of Russia began her second go-around in the Junior Grand Prix Series with wins in Slovenia and Japan. In Ljubljana, the 14-year-old set a personal best with 191.96 points -- a score that would have put her eighth at both the Olympics and world championships last season.

It seems every year a new young and talented Russian lady emerges, one with qualities all her own. Sakhanovich is no exception. What sets her apart is a very clever and, at the same time, risky tactic: All the jumping elements in her short program come after the halfway point. This, and her style of jumping with one arm over her head, like American Adam Rippon, earns her additional points.

"I believe I've done well at the beginning of this new season. However, I hope that my results will be even better," she said.

Last season, she came up one spot short of winning the JGP Final, losing the gold to her teammate, Maria Sotskova.

"This time, I would like to win. But who wouldn't? All I have to do is just keep working," Sakhanovich said, smiling.

In the offseason, the reigning Russian junior champion moved from St. Petersburg to Moscow to work with Eteri Tutberidze, the renowned coach of European champion Julia Lipnitskaia.

"I really like my new coach and her group. Here, everyone supports each other. Eteri Tutberidze is a coach who understands everything and everyone, and easily finds common language with athletes," she noted.

According to the skater, the reason for her moving was a lack of funding. In St. Petersburg, she couldn't find any sponsors. She even thought about quitting skating.

"St. Petersburg's skating federation did not want to release me. They said that there are just a few high-level skaters remaining. But in the end, they agreed," Sakhanovich explained.

Sakhanovich lives with her mother in an apartment near the rink. (Her father stayed behind in St. Petersburg.) After some initial hardships, Sakhanovich's relocation has started to pay off. Under Tutberidze's tutelage, she has two new programs that have gone over very well. Her short is to the music from My Sweet and Tender Beast, by the Moldovan composer Eugen Doga.

"It is a very beautiful melody, and I feel it well. The image I have is light and intuitive," she said. "The girl I'm portraying has matured but does not want to part with her childhood. I have a bird, which symbolizes childhood and which I let go of at the end of the program. But what adult does not dream of becoming a sincere, happy and carefree child again? So as I release the bird, I decide to follow it."

This is not the first time this musical piece has been used in figure skating; Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen used it for her short program in the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons. The melody of this composition has a progressive tempo, and the young Russian has learned to keep up with its quickening pace.

"In the beginning, it was a little bit hard to cope with this music, but later it became easier," Sakhanovich admitted. "I think now I'm coping very well with it."

For her free skate, she chose a serious and complex piece for such a young lady: "Oblivion" by Astor Piazzolla.

"I like programs with a soul, which tell about the lives of people. I do not like emptiness and skating that expresses nothing," Sakhanovich insisted. "Earlier, I did not dare to take on such serious music. I thought that it did not suit me, but I hope that I was wrong in my doubts."

Indeed, while speaking with Sakhanovich, it's becomes apparent that she does not like emptiness even in words. That quality, she says, stems from having a strong relationship with her parents, who, among other things, passed to her a genuine interest and love for poetry. She often reads verses by Sergei Esenin and Eduard Asadov, her two favorite poets.

"My father and I have the same preferences in literature and music. We even have a common [favorite] theme: animals," she said. "We begin to read aloud together, and I become immersed in the wonderful words."

Her love for the beautiful words does not mean that she loves them everywhere. The Russian skater has her own opinion on this season's rule change that allows singles and pairs skaters to use music with words in competition.

"In general, I take it positively," she said. "Vocals don't draw your attention to the singer, but they also do not help to convey emotions. If a person is not emotional with music without words, he or she will be the same with [music with] vocals."

The lyrical nature of Tutberidze's new student is evident even in her attitude toward ice, which she considers a living creature.

"The ice will treat you as well as you treat it, no matter in what city or country," Sakhanovoich offered. "Often a skater falls and starts angrily hitting the ice with his or her heel, making a dimple. The next time, that skater will fall directly on [the same spot]. The ice loves a respectful attitude, and then it will help you."

Sakhanovich's stated goals for this year make it clear that she plans on being a serious contender.

She said, "I would like to win major events and be included on the national team."