World champions Mishina and Galliamov: Without trust, pair skating is ‘impossible’

In an exclusive Q&A, Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov open up about what makes them both "maximalists" - and the impact of famed coach Tamara Moskvina.

By Nick McCarvel & Ekaterina Kuznetsova
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Sitting in third place after the short program at the 2021 World Figure Skating Championships, ROC pairs team Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov summoned the skate of their career to claim a surprise world title on their debut.

It was the first time in 35 years that a pairs team had won worlds in its first appearance – and they’ve been golden ever since, going undefeated in the 2021-22 season.

The duo, who are expected to be named to the ROC team for the Olympic Games Beijing 2022 in the coming days, capped their Olympic preparations by claiming a first European Championships title last weekend (15 January) behind three world record scores, in each of the short program, free skate, and overall total.

A team obsessed, they say, with improving and not with their scores, believe it all starts in an inherent trust of one another that they’ve been building up for years.

“A pair without trust, in general, it is impossible for a pair like that to make it,” said Mishina, 20, in an exclusive interview with Olympics.com in November. “When you skate together for five years or more, you trust each other 100 percent. You’ve [been] through so many situations together: When you were tired together and at the end of the season; and when everything was fine. And that's why there's no such fear anymore.”

Mishina/Galliamov will need to be fearless in the pair skating event, which this Games will be held at the close of the Olympics as the Chinese duo – two-time world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong – are home hopes for a gold.

The Chinese will contend with the reigning world champs, as well as a three-team strong ROC squad, which will likely feature multiple-time world medallists Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov.

The stage is set for pair skating fireworks.

“Everyone at the Olympics is your rival,” Mishina said when asked about who they have their eye on the most. “Everyone is preparing, everyone is at their peak form. It's great that there's competition.”

Added Galliamov: “I can say that Sui/Han are a great pair with a lot of experience and skill, and I even watched them at the competitions back when we didn't even skate together yet. I liked them a lot. And I watched them at PyeongChang 2018. It was in the middle of the night [for me], because of different time zones with Russia, and I watched them live, got up early for this. And of course, this pair... they are so good. There is nothing more to add.”

Mishina/Galliamov did have more to add, however, on other topics. Their answers – translated from Russian and edited for clarity and length are below in the following Q&A.

Mishina and Galliamov, worlds 2021
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Early days: Starting skating and teaming up

Olympics.com: How did you get into figure skating?

Anastasia Mishina: Well, in short, I got into figure skating by accident. My neighbor did figure skating and me and my mom were invited to watch the practice. It turned out that I even got skates the next day. I started skating. I switched to pairs early, at the age of 10. I was transferred [to the discipline] by Elena Klimova, mother of Fedor Klimov, the Olympic champion.

Olympics: How soon did it become clear that you two had the important pairs chemistry that would lead you to success?

Aleksandr Galliamov: Me and Nastia had common goals. We thought the same way, we understood what we wanted to achieve in sports and slowly moved in this direction and still work tirelessly on that.

We have a desire to always improve ourselves, to learn something new and so on. We want to constantly work and make our work more complex.

Olympics: Aleksander, is it true that when you were 14, you had some problems with coordination? Can you tell us more about that?

Galliamov: At the age of 14, I switched to pair skating and at first, I had discoordination. I grew a lot, stretched out a lot. This was certainly very unpleasant. Then I was paired up with one partner. So little by little, (turns to Mishina) I even remember when you skated with Vlad [Mirzoev], we were juniors, so my pair and Nastia's pair competed against one another (laughs).

So I was 17 years old back then, Nastia was 15. And then we became a pair and began to skate together, and after some time we grew and learned a lot of things together.

Working with famed coach Tamara Nikolayevna Moskvina

Olympics: How did you decide to move to [famed Russian pairs coach] Tamara Moskvina's group and what is it like working with her?

Galliamov: We thought it was hard to change things, but we realized that if we wanted to make further progress, we had to change something.

When you move to such an experienced, great coach like Tamara Nikolayevna then the rest of your problems are nothing. Everything is solvable and we understood that the most important thing is to work under the leadership of Tamara Nikolaevna and we slowly began to solve some kind of nuances that occurred, got used to them, and kept working.

Olympics: What is the secret behind Tamara Moskvina's success?

Gallyamov: Tamara Nikolaevna has...

Mishina: A very good system.

Galliamov: Yes, the system. She makes us very disciplined; the intensity of work is much higher. When we come to the training - you can't just stand there doing nothing, there is simply no time for that.

At the same time, we work on the elements, on their very tiniest parts... so it can be as beautiful as possible from the beginning to the very end.

Not being afraid to take a chance

Olympics: How do you think your programs are competitive for the Olympic season and why did you choose them?

Mishina: At the beginning of the season, we were told by 90 percent of people that our programs were very bad and wouldn’t work. And now it's the third or fourth competition for us [Rostelecom Cup] and more and more people say that it [the free skate] is good. This is interesting. Maybe it is not a standard program, nobody expects to see such a program on the ice. Probably this is the trick - everyone has more lyrical or ballet-based program. We have an unusual one here.

Olympics: You describe the whole process of choosing the program that not everyone liked or understood as quite a risk. Is the Olympic season time to take such risks?

Mishina: At first we were shocked ourselves, when Tamara Nikolaevna brought us [the music for the free skate, by Georgi Sviridov]. We were like: 'What is this? Are we supposed to skate to it?' Tamara Nikolaevna was convincing us and, for at least two months, we argued with her. We were saying: 'Let's try something else.' But she was adamant: 'This is a masterpiece and it will turn out well.'

Galliamov: Yes, she saw us in this program. At first, we really did not understand this program. The music was even playing as a background noise at first. We listened to this music several times.

Mishina: Right, 200 times, for two months (both laugh).

Olympics: Speaking about trust for a pair – why is it so important?

Galliamov: It's really all about trust. You're asking me if I'm afraid to do all this. This is not scary because we have been training these elements almost since childhood. Nastia started at 10 years old [and] I started training at 14. And yet, we are still in this teenage phase. It's all about daily practice. Slowly, step by step. Probably at the very beginning, I made lifts with my arms not fully streched out, [but] I took it slowly, I even practiced with the benches to understand how the lift should work.

Admiring other pair programs

Olympics: Is there any program from another pair that you can call your favourite?

Mishina: If not to choose from this season, but in general, I really like the program of Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov in the Olympic season [2013-14 when the team won silver]. This is the Addams Family program that was created Alexander Stepin. And I really like it because it had very vivid characters and it's a very lively program, very interesting program.

Galliamov: Out of the latest programs I can name the one I was re-watching many times. It's Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot, their Olympic skate [in 2018]. It is a truly memorable program. These people are pair skating.

I really re-watched it a lot. They are a very beautiful pair and there is much to learn from them.

Olympics: With Savchenko on the mind, how many Olympics do the two of you plan to participate in?

Mishina: We do not look that far ahead because there are so many factors that affect this. There may be super strong athletes with quad jumps who will emerge, and we are not likely to do quads jumps (Galliamov laughs).

Then there is also the health factor: You need to maintain health so that there are no injuries. Health is above all in sports, you need to monitor it as much as possible.

'We're both maximalists'

Olympics: 2021 was a tough year and the previous one was even more difficult. Aleksander, you had COVID, how did it effect your skating?

Galliamov: It was kind of unexpected. We wanted to go to Russian Championships but Tamara Nikolayevna told us that I need to pass the test so that you can go to the competition. And, as it turned out positive for me, I was actually very surprised because we had to leave in about two days. And just a couple days after, of course I lost my smell and taste.

I was sick at home for two weeks and then I went to practice.

It was very difficult after. I had to take care of my health very closely. I just thought, ‘Well, it's going to pass on it's own.’ I tried to do what I could at home, but unfortunately nothing helped and I already had to consult with specialists in that case. Soon I recovered and it turned out to be a short interval, in the stretch of the 2021 season, although we did not have so many competitions that year. We are glad that we were able to show our maximum and make things that didn't work for us in the first half of the season happen [in the second half].

Olympics: Overall, what do you think unites you as a couple?

Galliamov: We're both maximalists. We’re both people who want to work, to get better and be better. We do not sit still, and want to improve every day. In any case, we are trying. And of course, Tamara Nikolayevna and our entire team of coaches help us with that.

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