Picture by 2021 Getty Images

After revitalised season, Mikhail Kolyada has his stride back: "I’m not going to stop there"

The ROC figure skater missed the entire 2019-20 season, but this year won gold at a Grand Prix stop and his national championships. He wants only to carry his momentum forward.
By Interview and translation: Tatjana Flade. Edited by: Nick McCarvel

It was a season of comebacks for Mikhail Kolyada.

World bronze medallist in 2018, Kolyada was sidelined during the 2019-20 figure skating season due to sinusitis, eventually having nasal surgery and missing a pivotal year ahead of Beijing 2022.

But the 26-year-old switched to famed coach Alexei Mishin in June of 2020 and had a season to remember while the sporting world struggled with the global pandemic: He won at the Rostelecom Cup as well as at nationals, and placed fifth behind two strong performances at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships late last month.

“I'm not going to stop there,” Kolyada told Olympic Channel in an exclusive Russian-language interview, translated below. “The answer is simple [this season]: I saw and felt the development.

“I started only last year in the middle of June to work with [coach Mishin] and I will continue to train according to his system.”

That “system” has produced Olympic champions like Evgeni Plushenko, while Mishin also currently works with Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, who won silver at this year’s worlds.

Kolyada will be a part of the Figure Skating Federation of Russia (FSR) team at this week's World Team Trophy in Osaka, Japan, the final event of the figure skating season.

We preview the unique team format here.

Below, the usually tight-lipped Kolyada opens up on his performance in Stockholm, reflects on his work with Mishin, discusses his programs, costumes, and more.

Olympic Channel (OC): How do you analyse your performance at the world championships?

Mikhail Kolyada (MK): Coming back is always difficult and interesting. Obviously, there were shortcomings that we will work on very hard. Alexei Nikolaevich [Mishin, coach] leads the way and I am just following him. I am doing what he says. Looking at the free skating, at first we planned the (quadruple) Salchow as the first element. But then he said after all that we’ll skate with two [quad] toes.

OC: A lot of skaters are especially nervous in the short program as a lot depends on it and you don’t get a second chance. Former world bronze medallist Vincent Zhou didn’t even make it to the free skating after a poor short program performance.

Kolyada: Yes, it did not work out for him. It is clear that many skaters did not have competitions, with the exception of the Grand Prix, that was held in their home countries. Well, maybe they had two or three events, maybe four … I think that it was easier for the Russians as, for example, for me this [worlds] was my eighth competition if you don’t count the test skates. To put it short, we had enough opportunities to compete and to perform the programs in front of an audience, [which is] different from doing them in practice.

[The competitors at worlds] were people of serious level. It was in your head that this is, after all, the world championships and you had to approach it with the maximum responsibility. This goes for literally every action. In the free skating not everything worked out, but if you look at the emotional part it was the best performance [of the season] for me.

OC: There were no popped jumps.

Kolyada: Yes. This is something we are working on, so that this doesn’t happen.

OC: Your coach, Alexei Nikolaevich Mishin, has shared that he knew he needed to implement a system for you.

Kolyada: He understood that right away. While at the beginning I did not understand why and what for. [Now] I think there is no question that he doesn’t have an answer for.

OC: What does freedom mean to you?

Kolyada: I see myself as a free poet. Obviously, I have obligations to my family, to myself, to my coach. In general, no one can forbid me to do anything.

"For me, freedom is freedom of action. When I feel the mind flying and understand that I am being heard, whether at home or on the ice, then I am happy." - Mikhail Kolyada

OC: What is happiness for you?

Kolyada: For me, happiness is being alive. I'm happy when I come home, happy when I go out on the ice. I feel this literally from every day and every action.

Costume surprise and getting into character

OC: Your new costume [pictured above] was a big surprise to a lot of fans and watchers of the sport.

Kolyada: There were contradicting statements about the costume. The idea was to make it look like a ballet training outfit. We could not copy that completely, because they are different and it would just not look good on the ice. This way it is a bit civilised, but it is clear, I go out and everybody sees this is ballet. I even started to feel a bit different in it. The feeling of the program comes to me through what I am wearing.

When I am in my jacket [in the short program] and I start doing some moves that are uncharacteristic for me, it all goes with the character – some mannerisms, some micro-movements, facial expression... literally everything starts to change. When I put on this new costume for the free skate and look at myself in the mirror, I kind of want to stretch, to grow a few inches. I like this costume. I looked at myself on the screen and I realized that if you don’t know me personally, you would not say that I am 1.68m tall. Maria [Evstigneeva, costume designer] did a great job.

OC: When did you get this costume?

Kolyada: Not long before the world championships. I skated a few times in it. [Coach] Alexei Nikolaevich just came up one day and said, ‘We’re doing a new costume.’ We called, they send sketches, we agreed on everything and they tailored it. By the way, I also like that this costume is without any sequins. It does not need sequins. Maybe it is not as light, as airy as the previous costume, but it is also very good in its own way.

OC: The color of the old costume was of course very beautiful. This one is grey, but it really suits the character.

Kolyada: It is a good contrast, though. The ice is white, I am all grey-black, so I am visible, right away.

OC: The Nureyev program, your free skate, is so beautiful and popular. Have you thought about keeping it for next season?

Kolyada: I can’t answer now. I would like to do something different; I would like to try myself in another character. I think that we’re going to change the short and the free program. I started to think about a new short and a new free, but as practice shows, Alexei Nikolaevich most likely already has some plans.

OC: This year, you suggested the music for the short yourself?

Kolyada: Yes, and it worked out well. Alexei Nikolaevich accepted it right away and there were not long discussions about the music.

OC: From this year, which program is closer to your personality?

Kolyada: As strange as it may seem, the character of Nureyev is closer to me. I just feel this music better, the musical accents, each little move with the finger. I am not a ballet dancer, not at all... but for some reason this particular program awakens some kind of emotion in me, that creates something unique.

OC: I think this program suits you very well, because it is very profound.

Kolyada: Yes, this character just takes your heart. The program is so profound, both the program and the music, everything came together very well.

Mikhail Kolyada: Feeling - and skating - free

OC: Your free program is called “The White Crow” and it seems to suit you also for another reason. I remember that in an interview some time ago you said that as a kid you felt like a “white crow.” Why?

Kolyada: There are many reasons. One of them is the sport. I was not able to hang out with the other kids after school. I couldn’t, because I had training. Everyone had three months of summer vacation and I had three weeks.

I also remember when I was in the kindergarten – in the morning I went to practice, my mom then took me for lunch to the kindergarten, I had lunch and slept and the other children did not understand where I was in the morning. I don’t remember if I told them that I am at training. There was always something different. I cannot say that I am somewhat weird, no, but each person is unique in his own way. I see a situation and sometimes I look at it from a slightly different angle, that is, sometimes I am seeing things that other people just might not pay attention to. Over the years this has become more and more apparent.

OC: Well, one can feel that you are have your own vision of everything.

Kolyada: That is true.

OC: There is something unique. Which is interesting.

Kolyada: I can’t imagine what would have been if I had been born, let’s say, in the Soviet Union. I probably would not have been able to come to terms with that system. Everyone wearing the same – white shirts, blue jackets, red ties…

This is something I cannot accept. Obviously, I cannot exactly confirm that as I was born after that time, but according to what people tell, it was like that. Of course, for a period of time, I can concentrate and do everything the same way.

"For example, when we take the training process, then I am trying to do everything step by step, every day, day in and out, the same thing, in a system. I realize that this helps me to move forward. But sometimes the soul asks to fly." - Mikhail Kolyada to Olympic Channel

Interview by Tatjana Flade conducted in Russian.