Hurtado & Khaliavin open SK International Ice Dance School

By Matteo Morelli | Banner photo by Anais Martinez y Maria Elena

After saying goodbye to competitive skating at the end of the 2021/2022 season, Sara Hurtado and Kirill Khaliavin embarked on a new venture launching the SK International Ice Dance School in Madrid, Spain. They told us about how the idea came about, what it took to develop it and how they are planning to help the new generations of skaters leverage their potential.

Sara and Kirill, it is a pleasure to talk to you. After leaving your competitive career at the end of the 2021/2022 season you have embarked on a new adventure as ice dance coaches. What led to that decision? 

Sara Hurtado (SH): Every time there is an end to an Olympic season. As an athlete you take a moment to reflect and decide what you want to do next. Our Olympic season didn’t end up as we were expecting, so we wanted to take a moment to not think about anything and see how we felt. We had Revolution On Ice scheduled, the skating show that Javier Fernández has in Spain, which didn’t happen that season. Everything then snowballed around us. We had to leave Russia and our coaches, finding ourselves in Madrid without proper conditions to keep training at high level. 

We were debating on trying different coaches or moving again. We realised that if we wanted to keep going, it was going to demand a lot of energy and sacrifices from us. During that time, Kirill was helping with the club in Madrid, and I was helping in Majadahonda, and we were happy teaching and coaching. The decision to stop competing was kind of easy for us at that point. 

You then decided to set up the SK International Ice Dance School, which was in itself another important decision. What did you have to do to make it happen?

Kirill Khaliavin (KK):  We wanted to keep going with the ice dance, so the next step for us was to open a school in Madrid, where Sara is at home and where I really enjoy living. I always knew I wanted to become a coach when I finished skating, because there are a lot of things I want to make on the ice that I haven’t done yet, visions to present through my perspective, and my own idea of how ice dance should evolve. It was a milestone to finish as a skater and start as a coach, surrounding myself with the athletes, coaches, choreographers and staff that share your idea and vision. 

SH: When we found ourselves here in Madrid, we realised there was no proper place for ice dancers to develop as they should. Everything surrounding the sport is super easy to find in Madrid, it is such a big city that you have the best qualified people to bring a good team together, including coaches, choreographers, dancers, doctors. 

Thinking about the name of your school, how did you come up with it?

SH: We did a lot of brainstorming. We wanted to generate something cool, but at the end the simplest option turned out to be the best. Since it was something super personal for us, we wanted to take care of everything: we were playing around with our initials, and then suddenly we thought to call it SK, which is the beginning of the words skating and skills – what we do and what we love – and it is also both of our initials together. I called a good friend of mine which did the logo with the design of the blade shape, and all started to make sense!

Photo by Nacho Casares

When did you start to work as coaches?

SH: We properly started to work around October 2022. 

How do you think the school has been evolving so far?

SH: Going to Worlds with one of our teams (Sofia Val and Asaf Kazimov) meant so much. I don’t think a coach can easily do that in less than a year! 

KK: This was a big milestone for us, particularly thanks to the guys being able to skate clean and qualify for Worlds. At the competition in Holland, Maurizio (Margaglio) was congratulating me and told me I should be celebrating, but I was already focussing on the next steps. Right now, the goal in my head is to prepare the couples for the next season. We are focussed to go from point to point. 

SH: If we look back, everyone has improved a lot. We can see how they are growing as skaters and as a group, they generate a very healthy energy all together. For us it is very important to take care of that, of what happens off the ice, have a laugh, enjoy. This first season was a good test to see if this direction was working or not, and answer is yes, it is. There are things we want to improve, but so far we are really happy.

How many students are you working with at the moment?

SH: We have four teams now, three seniors and one junior. 

You must be quite busy with the new season coming up, new choreographies to make and new rules to implement!

SH: Yes! And each team that comes to the school means two more programmes for us to work on!

Also working with you is Ksenia Monko, another ex ice dancer turned coach, and it seems that you have put together the right infrastructure around you to support every skater appropriately. 

SH: Yes, we do. For example, Ksenia is actually the experienced coach in here, she has been doing this for longer than us. Between Kirill and I, we can manage the technical elements, choreography and the music elements. We also work with a dance studio and a training facility that covers physiotherapy off ice. This sport is so complete and you can’t leave anything out: you have to work on how you move, how you perform, how you manage your emotions on a programme, you have to be fit and in good shape, have the endurance to be able to do difficult routines. We have a big “army” of eyes and hands that each one of us brings in. 

Do you think you have your own style as coaches?

KK: If you do something, you have to do it from how you feel and how you think it is going to work. If the others say that we have our own style, then we have it.

SH: The guys give us the way, we never impose a style to them, we try to bring the best of each personality out. We have four teams, but each one is very different on the ice. They believe in what they perform, in the programmes that they skate. 

You are focussing a lot on mental health, which is a very important component of coaching that is finally being addressed more. How do you implement this with your athletes?

SH: We have a lot of conversations, it is important that they know they can call or text us at any time with any doubt or problem they have. Being young makes it easy, they see us as authority but we are also fresh out of this: they feel less distance between them and us, they feel more open to speak about everything. We spend a lot of time together! Every time we see the energy switching and we don’t see them enjoying it and working in a constructive way, we ask what is going on, we check in with them. This career teaches you to work as a team.

Do you feel you have changed since you have become coaches? 

SH: I don’t think I have changed that much, it is the way that we put who we are at work which is different. What I can say is that the work now is more mental than physical, from the side of the barrier you need to focus a lot and remember all that needs to be done. We end the days being very tired, even without the physical efforts we were used to before!

KK: The priorities have changed. We see things from a different angle. If I speak for myself, I think I changed a lot during the skating career, but from the finish of the skating career to coaching I don’t see a big change, particularly in such a short time. Sara and I were never scared to change, to decide, to put things on our shoulders, be in charge of programmes, elements, preparation. We are always open to talk to our athletes and listen to them, as our coach was doing with us.

Do you have any long-term ambitions that you are working towards?

SH:  Bring our teams to their best, whether that means Europeans, Worlds, Olympics, as long as they have a safe and professional place in Madrid to skate and develop. The dream would be to put Spain and Madrid on the map of international ice dance. We are here and we are open!