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An Olympian explains: How to master figure skating with Maxim Trankov

Up until the start of Beijing 2022, will unveil the secrets behind each of the 15 disciplines of the Winter Games through exclusive interviews with legends who accomplished greatness in their sports. 

By Indira Shestakova
Picture by 2014 Getty Images

Figure skating is one of the most popular winter sports and one of the oldest in the Olympic programme. In 2014, Maxim Trankov and his partner Tatiana Volosozhar became the first figure skaters to win two gold medals at the same Olympics (in pairs and in the inaugural team event). Since 2018, Trankov has been coaching Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov.

The Russian figure skater spoke with to discuss his career, the biggest challenges of the sport, medal favourites for the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, and more.

Below is a transcript of that interview, lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Olympic Channel (OC): How did you fall in love with figure skating? What made you want to become a professional athlete?

Maxim Trankov (MT): I was about three years old when my older brother and mom decided to take me to a rink. I guess the love [for figure skating] came after I had retired from the sport. Before it was work, or my life was treating me in such a way that it would have been harder to move on unless it was with figure skating, so I kept practising. But I was not a figure skating fan and didn't really love what I was doing.

OC: Are you still involved with figure skating after your retirement? Do you still skate?

MT: My wife Tatiana Volosozhar and I have participated in a lot of ice shows, and they need to be trained for. I was also asked to help coach my friends from the national team, which I've been doing since 2018; even though I never wanted to be a coach. I also work as a commentator and expert on figure skating on television, which I find much more interesting than coaching.

OC: Is there any particular athlete who inspired you or that you consider to be the legend of your sport?

MT: I had idols as a kid. A lot of people say, 'I don't have idols, I'm just myself', but it seems insincere because all athletes have someone as an example to follow at some point. For me it was Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, as well as Katya Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov. I still believe these are the two best [figure skating] pairs ever.

OC: If you had to explain figure skating to someone in a few words, what would you say?

MT: That it's a kind of mix between sport, heavy physical exertion and loads due to the need for coordination, even overloads in some cases, and art. We're very close to ballet, in the sense that we share a lot of similar elements with regards to dance, music and costumes.

Figure skating in one minute

  • The basics: Individuals and pairs compete in the short programme and free skate, which, depending on the discipline, may include spins, jumps, lifts, throw jumps, death spirals, and other elements. A figure skating routine is scored by a panel of judges, with medals awared based on a combined score from the short programme and free skate.
  • Olympic history: Figure skating first featured in the Olympic Games at the 1908 Summer Olympics. Since 1924, the sport has been a part of the Olympic Winter programme. The Olympic disciplines are men's and ladies' singles, pair skating, ice dance and a team event, first included in 2014.
  • Olympic medals by nation: Russia (including the Soviet Union, the Unified Team and Olympic Athletes from Russia) is the most successful country in Olympic figure skating, with 58 medals. The USA is second with 51 medals, while Canada sits in third with 29 medals.
  • Olympic medal leaders: Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are the most decorated Olympic figure skaters with three gold and two silver medals. Gillis Grafström (SWE) (three golds, one silver) and Evgeni Plushenko (ROC) (two golds, two silvers) each have four medals.

OC: What's the thing you love most about figure skating and the most challenging part of it?

MT: The hardest thing is finding patience and overcoming pain. The most beautiful moment comes when you're alone on the ice and there's a huge crowd in the stands; you can be whoever you want to be on the ice.

OC: What are the main skills someone needs to succeed in figure skating?

MT: If you're not very coordinated initially, then figure skating will be quite difficult. Bodyweight can also be an issue; a heavier athlete will have a harder time with the jumps. But the most important formula that I've found is the ability to have patience and tolerate pain. Only by overcoming the latter can you achieve your goals.

OC: How can you explain Russia’s remarkable success in figure skating?

MT: We have a very strong coaching school which, after a slight decline, has been picked up by young professionals. Figure skating is also very popular in Russia, and following the team's success at Turin 2006, when we won three golds and a bronze, its popularity has continued to grow. We can also point to the influence of Ilya Averbukh, who created the ice show business. And of course, Ice Agе, a once incredibly popular TV show, helped grow interest in the sport.

OC: What are the three most memorable moments of your career?

MT: The first is the 2005 Junior World Championships in Canada. It seemed impossible, but my then-partner Maria Mukhortova and I managed to win. That's the only time I cried on the podium.

The second is my first Olympics in Vancouver. I can't call my performance successful, but becoming an athlete at the Olympics, even more so in the team of a country like Russia — for my sports family, it was very important. It was my dad's big dream, he hadn't succeeded, but I did. I remember the euphoria when I was waiting for a bus to the stadium. You realise that in just an hour, no matter how it ends, you're already a competitor at the Olympic Games.

The third moment is the 2011 World Championships in Moscow. This was me and Tatiana Volosozhar’s first international competition. We realised that we had succeeded as a pair in quite a short period. We hadn’t even won a world championship medal before, but just a year after the Olympics we stood on the podium between Olympic bronze and silver medallists. It became clear that we could work very hard and win a medal in Sochi.

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy (C), Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov (L) and Pang Qing and Tong Jian stand on the podium at the World Championships in 2011
Picture by 2011 Getty Images

I would also add a fourth moment: being chosen as the Russian flagbearer for the closing ceremony in Sochi. I'm very proud of this moment; for me it's more important than all my medals.

OC: Was that the best moment of your Olympic career outside of competing?

MT: Yes. In ever Olympics figure skaters were awarded with their medals immediately following the competition, but in Sochi the medal ceremony was the following day. After the performance, you're emotionally vulnerable, but the next day it's different. Then we walked through the Olympic village and there was an announcement over the loudspeaker that Maxim Trankov had been chosen as a flagbearer. It was super cool.

OC: What can we expect from figure skating at Beijing 2022?

MT: Our girls can make a lot of noise. There may be a historic achievement, at the last world championships they [Anna Shcherbakova, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Alexandra Trusova] swept the podium. One is better than the others, and there are about five more behind who are no worse. Plus we have a very strong young skater in Kamila Valieva. In pairs skating we won gold, bronze and had a fourth place finish at the 2021 World Championships, so in Beijing we can win more than one medal too.

Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov were good last season in ice dance. They won the world championship; before that they had won the European championship, where they had beaten the undefeated French pair of Papadakis/Cizeron. I think Nikita and Vika should try to take on the world leaders.

In the men’s event, the most interesting confrontation will be between Yuzuru Hanyu and Nathan Chen. At his first Olympics, Chen completely failed in the short programme. So, in terms of psychology, there may be an advantage on Hanyu's side. But what we can see in recent years is how focused and technically strong Chen is.

In the team tournament we (ROC) have to fight to win. We are the first-ever Olympic champions in this discipline. We lost to the Canadians in PyeongChang, but I think we can get our revenge in Beijing.

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