By Matteo Morelli, Team FSO contributing writer
Photos by Robin Ritoss and Matteo Morelli
Germany’s Nikita Starostin is a skater that is full of energy and seems to face the challenges that this sport brings with a positive attitude. We met him at Grand Prix of Espoo in Finland, the first Grand Prix of his career, where we talked about the current season, how he is maturing as a skater and what he is working towards. We also had the lucky chance to follow up with him at the European Championships in Kaunas, Lithuania, where he told us about his change of short programme half way through the season and achieving his best results at the continental competition yet.
FSO: Nikita, thank you so much for talking with us. Grand Prix of Espoo was your first ever Grand Prix assignment! How do you feel now that you have reached this milestone?
Nikita: I feel amazing! I feel really blessed that I got this opportunity to compete at this event and show myself on a different level. For the Grand Prix, you have to be selected by the ISU and you have to earn it with your results. I was shocked when I heard that I got invited to the Grand Prix in Finland, also because I really like this country and am always happy to compete here.
FSO: In September, you already competed in the same arena at Finlandia Trophy.
Nikita: Yes, I had a funny short programme but the free was really amazing.
FSO: Were you happy with your programmes at Grand Prix of Espoo?
Nikita: In general, I am satisfied with the free programme, just not with the triple Axel because I forced it and it didn’t work out. But this was still fine and by the end of the programme I started to enjoy myself, when I heard the audience clapping and screaming.
FSO: How did the last-minute notification to attend the Grand Prix affect you?
Nikita: At first, I was a bit afraid, for me it was a big thing, but afterwards I started to analyze and digest the news and I was really feeling good about it, I felt ready and started to prepare for it.
Nikita: My choreographer and technical coach, Adam Solya, suggested to do a disco style/80s in the short programme. At the beginning, I was not sure about it, but when I heard the music and I heard the remix for the step sequence I thought I would love to skate on it. We came up with a new style, because each season I want to show that I am capable of doing different styles and be flexible.
With the free programme, we came up with the Backstreet Boys’ “I want it that way” and “Larger than life”. It was my decision to use this music, which I heard last year at Finlandia Trophy and touched me. Also, my choreographer Adam works in the Royal Conservatory in Brussels as a teacher, I saw many musicals from Adam’s work that he choreographed and one of them was a musical with the song “Larger than life”; each time he was doing choreography on this music, it was always stuck in my head and all the time I was singing it afterwards. So, this was also the reason why I chose this song and “I wanted that way” is to express my feelings. I love to skate on this, I love to feel this music, I want to deliver it to the judges.
Nikita: All designs for all my costumes are the work of my choreographer Adam. We both sit with the designer and we first think about which colours can be on the music, then we also check the story of the music and maybe watch some video clips, like the Backstreet Boys. We decide together, but mostly Adam chooses everything, and I trust him one hundred percent.
FSO: It seems like you have a very good relationship with him. How long have you been working together?
Nikita: For five years! The German Federation first introduced me to Adam to work on polishing my programmes, but afterwards Adam noticed my talent and we just started to work together. I moved to Belgium to fully work with him and it is amazing. I would never imagine in my life that I would be competing at the Grand Prix, also at the Europeans and Worlds. I never even dreamed about this, but since I started to work with Adam, I started to think more properly and more realistically about figure skating and I started to think about what I wanted to achieve.
FSO: Let’s look at your recent competitive years: how do you feel as an athlete that is maturing and growing in this sport?
Nikita: I feel much more mature, I think this year more than ever before. I feel already more experienced and I feel more confident. I have a lot of figure skating friends which I meet during competitions, I also have my training partner Loena Hendricks that also shares with me some experience and some tricks to do during the competition, and Jorik Hendricks, my technical coach, who shares what he experienced during his professional career. During last summer, I was in Finland for a few months working with Marina Shirshova, the Finnish national coach: she polished my triple Axel, it was so consistent and amazing. For me, this Axel is more about patience and being relaxed, because it is there. When you learn biking, you never forget how to bike. It is the same with the jumps: you never forget how to jump because it is in your muscle memory. It is a process, you have to learn from it.
FSO: What objectives are you working towards this season?
Nikita: I am working towards good confidence and consistent skating. And mostly to enjoy myself during the competitions. At the Grand Prix, I did it and I had one of the best feelings on my short programme ever during my career: I felt free, 1,000% myself.
I was also thinking about (Ilia) Malinin and how he skates really easy and light and I was thinking I should also learn something from the way he skates. I did that and it helped me.
Nikita: I have a lot of dreams! Since yesterday, I have a new dream: I want to participate at NHK Trophy Grand Prix in Japan, because I love Japan and the people there are amazing. Worlds in Japan were an unforgettable experience and a lifetime memory, it was incredible!
I have a funny dream: to become 11 times German Champion! I just like the sound of it!
Also, my dream is to land a quad Lutz and a quad Loop in competition.
FSO: It is good to have these objectives to focus on as you plan things.
Nikita: My goal is to enjoy the process a bit more, not the outcome only. Sometimes you forget that the process is one of the most interesting things that you work on every day: it can be hard, it can be amazing, but it is part of the bigger scheme. Also, my goal is to become mentally a bit more confident.
FSO: You mentioned Malinin: is he a skater you take inspiration from?
Nikita: I like that he watches the other skaters before he skates. Everyone has different preparation for the competition, but I like his approach: he lives in the moment and he doesn’t think about the future, he seems to be fully present.
Adam Siao Him Fa is also such a huge inspiration for me. I have been watching him since the beginning of the season, he inspires me so much with his huge jumps and effortless skating, and how he delivers the choreography is just incredible.
FSO: What about past skaters? Is there anyone that you really like and that inspires you?
Nikita: Of course: Adam Rippon is amazing, his skating was beautiful; also Jason Brown, but he is still skating! Brian Joubert was one of my favourite skaters: I liked how he was skating and how strong he was. Also Nathan Chen, he is so incredible with his jumps and how he delivered his programmes, he skated clean 99% of the times! And Javier Fernandez: I really liked him, he is also an amazing athlete, a legend.
FSO: Is there anything that you would like to add or check?
Nikita: I am really thankful to my team, believing in me and supporting me through all times. I am thankful to my federation and to be able to represent Germany. And also, I am thankful to myself, for working hard every day and achieving these results!
FSO: You entered this year’s nationals in Germany not feeling well, which affected your performances, with you ending up in silver medal position.
Nikita: The Monday before leaving for nationals I was really sick, I had 39 degrees temperature. I had the option to withdraw, but I decided to compete because, before nationals, I went to Finland to get ready for nationals with my coach Marina Shirshova. Adam asked me if we should withdraw, but I said no because we invested a lot of time and energy in it. I was really not ready mentally, physically and emotionally, it was a big suffering for me to skate. After nationals, I took one week off to recover completely. I started to work again, took a mental coach, and I understood that I am heathy again and that I can start to do full preparation for Europeans.
FSO: You then attended your third European Championships, ending in 13th place.
Nikita: I never felt so well prepared! The only thing I made myself pressured for was the short programme, because I had to qualify. In the free programme, I decided to enjoy it and show my qualities. Unfortunately, the Axels didn’t go as planned, but the rest was really good and clean. The performance overall was satisfying, I had a good connection with the judges. I had fun with the step sequence, although I was a bit exhausted at the end, but still I tried to perform. Overall, I am really happy that after nationals I put myself together to work for the Europeans.
Nikita: The main reason was that I had low components in the short programme, even with a good skate like what I did at the Grand Prix. Afterwards, we realised the reason why my components were low was that my two programmes were similar and we decide to change the style. The Classical option got immediately deep into my heart, I felt comfortable when hearing the Nutcracker music. We created a new short programme in two days. We are really happy with this choice!
FSO: Lastly, you share you want to win 11 national titles, is this still valid?
Nikita: Well, it was a funny thought that came in my mind! The main thing is that I want to be healthy, compete and enjoy myself, enjoy the process and the competitions, because they are the celebration of the hard work and a moment where you can shine in front of people. National titles are important of course, but next time I will be smarter and take the right decision if I do not feel well at all!