Denis Khodykin’s interview with Sport24

Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin at the 2021 Rostelecom Cup on November 26, 2021 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Oleg Nikishin/International Skating Union via Getty Images)

Russian pair duo Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin won the 2018 World Junior Championships, and in their second international senior level season already won a bronze medal at the 2020 European Championships. This season, Pavliuchenko and Khodykin won silver medals at both of their International Skating Union (ISU) Grand Prix series appearances – and were even first after the short program over reigning World champions Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov last month at the Rostelecom Cup.

Despite having an unenviable task of battling Mishina and Galliamov, Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, and Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii just to make it out of Russia, Pavliuchenko and Khodykin are an emerging pair and are entertaining to watch with a unique acrobatic style in their performances.

Russia’s Sport24 sat down with Khodykin for an interview to get to know the other half of the two-time Russian national bronze medalists.

Interview by Sport24 reporter Konstantin Lesik; translated to English:

What does your typical work day look like?
I usually get up from 9 to 10 in the morning. Depending on what time I went to bed. I try to sleep for 8 hours. I come here – warm up, ice. It happens that after the first training I go to the gym. Then a break for sleep, massage, study – always in different order. At 5:45PM warm-up for the second workout, at 6:30PM on ice until 7:30PM or 8:15PM.

Do you have strength for anything when you come home?
Yes. I watch movies, TV shows. I study.

Are you studying? As far as I know, you have already graduated from university.
I am engaged in online courses. I didn’t want to talk about it at all but okay. I want to go into IT.

Why?
This is the only area that is actively developing. It’s good to do remotely. I tried it, I liked it. Now I continue. I have been practicing for 6 months already.

In one of the interviews you said that you are concentrated at the rink, but loose in life. How does the freedom manifest?
Everything improves with age. Well, so… There is no such thing that I will arrive an hour before so as not to be late (smiles). I’ll go out as usual (laughs). I can forget something.

Not so long ago we had a workout that I slept through. The alarm did not go off. The charger broke, the phone died. I woke up and I have no money even for the trip. I don’t use cash but all the cards are in my phone. I missed the workout.

How did the team react?
Everyone lost me, were worried. Well, what can you do? It happens. This doesn’t happen very often. There is no such thing that I oversleep every week. And at all trainings, I approach my work responsibly.

If we return to freedom… Maybe some kind of mess until it finishes me off. On the ice, I am concentrated as much as possible, and in everyday life I am not very interested in all these questions (laughs). Somewhere to go? Do something? Sharpen your skates? Oh-oh-oh, this is a huge task and a tragedy.

But laziness is the engine of progress. If a person is lazy, he does what is important to him. If a person is not lazy, he does everything in general.

Are you lazy?
Yes.

That is, a lazy person can be the winner of the European Championships?
I believe that laziness is a key indicator that I am a good athlete. Better you explain to me a little longer, so that I do less but more correctly.

You and figure skating – how did it happen?
We went to the mass skating. Somewhere near the Young Pioneers’ Stadium, a skating rink was made. There I saw a girl spinning and realized that I wanted to do this. In the summer my grandmother took me.

Do you have figure skaters in your family?
Younger cousin.

As I understand it, she went into figure skating after you, inspired by your example?
Yes.

And there was no one in your family to inspire you for a sports career?
My sister played tennis, my grandfather is a master of sports in boxing and skiing. And so – my dad is an engineer, my mom is a sales manager.

Nothing foreshadowed the appearance of figure skating in your life.
Well, yes. There could also be hockey. But there they did not see the potential and said: “Don’t.” As a result, I went into figure skating for my health, then it began to work out, I became a master of sports in singles.

There was, of course, a moment when I wanted to quit. But this happens with all athletes. You get tired physically and mentally. Parents then said: “Think.”

Without imposing their opinion?
Mom wants me to participate in figure skating. For example, if I tell her now that I have finished, she will first ask to think. And if I say that I thought and weighed it, then she will be upset. She wants me to do this.

Why didn’t you succeed in singles?
Didn’t do quads. I perfectly understood that it would be more difficult for me to learn them than for the other guys from the group. I don’t have such a high jump, not such a twist. I did not jump the triple axel, I did a double by a quarter, even the quadruple toe loop was closer to me.

At some point, problems with triples began – a transitional age. Perhaps I would have learned them later. But at that moment I realized that I didn’t want to. There was one competition where I did it specifically.

There was an option in pair skating, and I decided to give it a try. The family also advised to change the look. For the first time I got into pairs at a tournament in Graz where I participated as a singles skater. I caught a glimpse, and my mother and sister watched closely, and they liked it. They said: “Denis, why don’t you want to be in pairs? Everyone there is like that….” (at this moment Denis portrayed a large and brutal person). But after that I skated in singles for another year or two.

I have always said that I do not want to go to pairs because it’s scary – the hand will slip, the partner will fly to the side, and the brains will be on the side.

Is there no such fear now?
No. Now I understand perfectly well that it will not happen.

Tell us about your partners before Dasha.
We started with Sasha Firsova. She, I think, went into dancing. I don’t know if he still skates. We did not match with her technically. There was a variety of jumping content. I understood that I had to go further, I didn’t want to sit in pairs.

Then there was Masha Bogoslovskaya. At some point, she said that she went in for sports purely for herself and did not want to join any national teams. Of course, I also do this for myself but I would like to develop and somehow monetize my work, if there is such an opportunity.

So two years passed – a year with Sasha, a year with Masha. And now I’ve been skating with Dasha for five years.

“Purely for myself” – how is that?
We got into the national team. Masha said: “I don’t want this.” And she left. She didn’t want to work harder, to prepare somewhere. She said that she skates for health. For me, this is official version.

In fact, it could be different?
I do not know. Maybe this is just an excuse. She then went to the group to Artur Dmitriev. And, as far as I know, she later said exactly the same phrase to her next boy.

Describe your first meeting with Dasha.
We met on the bus, going to the skating rink. She looked at everything with dumbfounded eyes. Skated for a week. Something preparatory was tried in pairs but for the most part she remembered jumping because she missed a lot.

A month later we met at a training camp. During this time, Dasha lost 10kg. And we already began to work closely, to learn pairs elements.

You were around 17 years old, Dasha – 13. Did you feel the age difference?
Many have a bigger difference. But every pair has a different relationship. We are purely co-workers. In general, on the contrary, I’m used to communicating with people who are older than me. It used to be like that at the rink. Now I am skating with those who are younger.

Do they call you “You?” (There are different words for “you” when speaking formally to elders and informally to someone of the same age in the Russian language)
(Laughs) I’m 22. Well, come on.

I heard in training that they say “You” to Betina. (Formally)
Well, she’s a coach. I also communicate with her sometimes with “You” while working on the ice.

That is, your relationship with Dasha is purely a partnership?
I would even say that we have an even closer relationship with the coach. In terms of friendship. With Dasha, we are more than colleagues. But partners, yes.

It is important here to distinguish between a “colleague” and a “partner.” When we talk about “partner,” a huge amount of trust is added here. Figuratively speaking, a girl must trust her life. She’s thrown in the air. She must trust that she will be caught. This is the difference.

Did Dasha trust right away?
Well, yes. This is the essence of pair skating. If you now take a girl who is 17-18 years old and who has never done paired elements, she will have more fear. At 13, you don’t realize it all that way. At the age of 13, you are not afraid of roller coasters either. You’re just having fun.

What qualities do you value in your partner?
She’s responsible. Will arrive an hour early in order not to be late. This is great.

She is hardworking. If I’m lazy and I need to do less, then she will do more. The coach is here like a balance of it all.

She is sociable.

This is good?
For her, yes.

And for you?
Differently. We’re just different people. We have little to talk about. But this does not prevent us from doing well. Everyone finds their friends with the same interests. We have a common job, we have trust in each other. What happens in our lives is separate from this.

You and Betina got married. Did you discuss this with Dasha?
No.

Well, did Dasha congratulate?
Well, yes (smiles).

I do not discuss her problems or joys in life with her. We don’t go to the movies to have a good time. We’re not having a cool time. I will have a cool time, for example, with my friend Vitya Kudryavtsev. We have common topics, common interests. And with Dasha, different interests. What do you do? This is fine.

Is there a quality that you don’t like about Dasha?
She cries a lot for no reason. In my opinion.

Why?
Because it doesn’t work out. It happens, just comes in a bad mood and may cry. Due to the fact that something will not work out on the first try. Now, if ten times in a row it does not work out, then, in my opinion, you can cry (smiles). But now it’s gotten better.

What is the fundamental difference in your characters?
I am calm, she is not. I would like to name another good quality of Dasha – she is not afraid. This is good. In a pair, only a boy should be afraid.

Dasha throws out her emotions at the rink, and I do it somewhere else. I try to treat training like work – something to endure, something not to say. There is no such thing that I will do something emotional out of anger. I’d better be patient, and then I’ll go to the forest and it’s time.

You said you could have gone to study to be a pilot if it hadn’t worked out with figure skating. Is it true?
Yes, it was the first season with Dasha. I was told – either the national team, or fly. So what? Physically I was ready, physics at school was going well, although I just hate this subject. And they make good money in this area. The future could be good.

We made a kind of bet. If I don’t get into the national team, I go to study to be a pilot.

Is a pilot’s career more likely a desire of your parents?
Yes. I wanted to go to sports management which is where I went.

Did you manage to graduate without any problems?
The problem was with English. I couldn’t get this to change. Every weekend during training camp in Sochi, I flew to Moscow to pass it. Arrived once – missed. The second time I flew in – the university was closed, I did not wait. I passed it only on the third time.

Not very comfortable.
Yes, but I myself initially missed the change. But I’m fine with English, I just didn’t get in. But I fiddled with accounting.

Do you want to be a coach in the future?
At the moment, I don’t want to. This is a lot of work with psychology. It is difficult to find an approach to everyone. First you have to bring people to the maximum of their physical capabilities, and then – analyze psychology. And I want to create, create, create. And I find it in the IT profession.

Ice Age and performances in various shows – a story about you?
About me. I don’t want to skate until I’m 40, but after finishing my career I would like to compete and earn extra money. It’s no secret that you make money on these shows.

Have you thought yourself how long you will perform in big sports?
There is a rough guess. But this is more a matter of desire. As for health, they skate in pairs even up to 40 years old.

But you don’t want to 40?
No.

And until 30?
(Smiles) No. Probably up to 26. Maximum – up to 28.

Would you want another life?
I would like to realize some of my own plans. A professional athlete has a lot of responsibility and a lot of routine on his shoulders. Do you remember the beginning of our conversation? I have been in the same place for 8 years.

Yes, you go towards the goal. Some of us become Olympic champions. What’s next? Life is different for everyone. Some have it good, cool. For others, it is quite different. Therefore, I want to develop not only in sports.

8 questions from fans

  1. Is everything alright with your health?
    The previous year my knee hurt, this year my back. Now I am already skating even without a knee pad, and my back is completely healed too.
  2. Will you bring back the triple flip?
    We will not. But we are working on the Lutz. We are working to show it this season. I will not promise anything. We work, we achieve stability. If we succeed, we will insert it into the program.
  3. This season the Swan Lake program is not only yours but also your competitors’ Alexandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii. Did you know about this when you were preparing for the season?
    I don’t know when they were preparing the programs but we found out that they had Swan Lake when they said about it. They found out that we have Swan Lake at the end of last season or in the summer. In general, we learned about their plans later, when our program was created. Well, in general – we have different productions. They have ballet, we have the film. No problem.
  4. Were there any alternative program options for this season?
    To keep the short. But in the Olympic year we need to go with new programs and give all the best.
  5. Who is the closest person to you?
    I AM.
  6. Do you consider communication with journalists your professional duty? Or does the athlete not owe anything to anyone?
    I always say: “Take an interview, I’m all for it.” I cannot even consider this an issue because I am pleased to communicate with journalists. I am for any movement except hunger strike. But I don’t think it’s work. It’s just cool to talk about yourself. If people are interested, why not? And if you don’t want to… First, you have certain responsibilities to the media. I think everyone has questions that they don’t want to answer. And you have the right not to do this while communicating on other topics.
  7. What performances in the entire history of figure skating would you show a person who is far from this sport in order to interest him?
    My friend is engaged in contemporary art. Andrey Obraztsov, Gallery of Fine Art. I threw him a photo from our exhibition program, asked: “Does it look like contemporary art?” He said, “Wow, that’s cool. Throw me the video.” That is, he was interested in it. I showed him many programs, including Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. I would highlight the current short program of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. This is one of the masterpieces of figure skating. So musical that I’m shocked. Very cool job. I would also highlight Patrick Chan. He skates gorgeous.
  8. One more question from the subscribers. I read it verbatim. How can you be such beads and when will my heart be returned?
    I don’t know (smiles shyly). When we put together bad programs. That is, never! (laughs)

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