by Anne Calder | Photo by Robin Ritoss
Sara Hurtado and Kirill Khaliavin recently shared their thoughts about their early skating years, career-changing decisions, and paths that laid the foundation for their current partnership.
Hurtado and her previous partner, Adria Diaz, made history as the first Spanish ice dance team to compete internationally and at the Olympic Games. They parted in October 2015.
Khaliavin was a Junior World and Junior Grand Prix Final Champion with Ksenia Monko. As seniors, they earned a 2014 Grand Prix silver medal and competed at the 2015 European and World Championships. Monko retired in 2016.
Sara Hurtado – Early years
In 2001, Sara Hurtado took her first skating lesson in Madrid. She was nine years old.
“From the first day my mum took us for lessons, it has been my life. Suddenly it was the best day of the week to go and skate,” Hurtado said. “I think I didn’t choose it; it chose me.”
Hurtado was drawn more to the artistry than the jumps and technical side. In 2006, when her Barcelona skating friend Adri Diaz struggled with elements, his coach suggested ice dance. Diaz asked Hurtado to attend a Spanish Federation summer camp organized with French coach, Romain Haguenauer.
“We loved it so much, that we wanted our Federation to start ice dance in Spain,” Hurtado explained. “Finally two years after the tryout, John Dunn arrived in Madrid to start the ice dance project with us. He took two single skaters with completely different techniques to international competitions where we competed as the first couple in the history of Spain!”
In 2011, the duo followed John Dunn to his new job in London, where unfortunately the training conditions were not as they thought. Four months later, in the middle of the season, they moved to Montreal to train with Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon.
“We had already skated there for a couple of weeks in the summer, and we really liked their method and them as coaches,” Hurtado said. “It was a bold move for them because we arrived totally out of shape, physically and mentally. They reorganized [us] in a record time.”
Three years later, Hurtado & Diaz finished 13th at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The next season, they achieved their best results, including a personal best score and fifth-place finish at the 2015 European Championships. They were 14th at the 2015 World Championships.
The team withdrew from their 2015 Grand Prix events when their partnership dissolved in October 2015, and Hurtado returned to Madrid.
“I’ve lived the happiest and saddest moments of my career with them [Dubreuil/Lauzon],” Hurtado said. “There’s only so much a coach and training condition can do. At the end of the day, it is us as a team, as skaters, who have to put in the work and perform well in competitions.”
Kirill Khaliavin – Early years
Khaliavin began to skate in Kirov, Russia when he was four years old. In 2000, after trying singles and several ice dance partners, he teamed up with Ksenia Monko. Their group left Kirov for Rostov in 2005 due to problems with ice time.
In 2009, the team moved to Moscow with their coach, Olga Ryabinina, when she received an offer from Elena Kustarova and Svetlana Alekseeva to work with their group.
The first two seasons in the capital city, they twice won the Junior Grand Prix Final and medaled at the Junior World Championships—bronze in 2010 and gold in 2011.
Unfortunately, Khaliavin contracted mononucleosis and the duo missed half of their first senior season. They were only fifth at the 2012 Russian National Championships, a disappointing finish for a team that showed so much promise as juniors. In February 2012, they changed coaches to Alexander Zhulin and Oleg Volkov.
“It was a really different feeling to skate in another group, with a different philosophy of skating and skating vision,” explained Khaliavin.
They had a breakout 2014 Grand Prix Series, followed by silver at the 2015 Russian National Championships and assignments to Europeans and Worlds, where they finished eighth and tenth, respectively.
In October 2015, Monko & Khaliavin placed fifth at Skate Canada, but withdrew from the Rostelecom Cup in November due to an injury to Monko.
Hurtado & Khaliavin – A New Partnership
As the bells rang in the 2016 New Year, Monko’s health was of primary concern to the team. After 15 years as partners and since they are also a couple off the ice, it was a complicated decision. All things considered, Monko finally chose to end her career.
Khaliavin loved to skate and wanted to continue to compete. The Russian team was aware that Hurtado was back in Spain and without a partner. Khaliavin, Monko, Hurtado, and Diaz had all known each other since their Junior Grand Prix days.
“We (Adri and I) learned our first words of Russian from them,” Hurtado shared.
At Monko’s suggestion, Khaliavin sent Hurtado a text.
Meanwhile in Madrid, the Spanish ice dancer was contemplating her alternatives.
“I gave myself time…time out of the ice to see if I missed it, to see what would motivate me again and see if I was only done with the team of Hurtado-Diaz, or with the sport as well.”
“I think it took two weeks to put my skates back on again. It was fun to skate – without any pressure. I knew if a partner would come up, at least I’d give it a try. This time with the experience of my partnership with Adri, I knew what I was looking for, and how I’d do some things differently.”
“I knew how hard it is to find a boy with a good level who wants to skate for another country different to his own during the pre-Olympic season. I seriously thought it was impossible until Kirill texted me. Thankfully, as we say in Spain, ‘Hope is the last thing you lose.’”
Tryout – Release
In March 2016, Hurtado flew to Moscow with a three-day visa and spent time skating and talking with Khaliavin and meeting the Russian coaches.
Hurtado described the tryout as “awkward, but in a funny way.” However, once they held hands, both Hurtado and Khaliavin thought it felt good. It wasn’t forced.
“We didn’t speak the same [oral] language, but we spoke the same body language. In Spanish and Russian, a beautiful move is a beautiful move,” Hurtado said. “We also understood we had a very similar way of thinking, and we were both ready to team up.”
They agreed they should represent Spain, but train in Russia with Zhulin and Volkov. However, Khaliavin needed to be released by the Russian Federation before an official announcement could be made. Hurtado’s tourist visa was expired, so she went back home to Spain.
When she returned to Russia on a new (longer) visa, the training had to be kept under wraps because it could affect the Russian Federation’s decision. Hurtado could not disclose she was in Moscow, nor could the status of the Monko/Khaliavin partnership be revealed.
“We couldn’t really make it public just because we didn’t know if it was going to happen in the end,” Hurtado explained. “That time was very nerve-racking because we could feel that we had something good going on, but we didn’t have permission yet.”
Rumors swirled in the skating community, but it was not until September 2016 that the Russian Federation granted Khaliavin unanimous permission to skate for Spain. On the same day, it was finally announced that Monko had ended her skating career and would be coaching.
The new team could officially train together, but ISU rules about changing countries required them to delay competition a full year from the 2015 Rostelecom Cup, for which Monko and Khaliavin had committed.
Hurtado speaks Spanish and English, but she did not speak Russian when she moved to her new training site.
“It was a big adventure, but actually easier than what I thought,” Hurtado said. “I moved in with Tiffany Zagorski. She speaks Russian very well, and she showed me around the city. She was like my personal guide. I don’t know how I could have adapted so fast otherwise. Honestly, anything I’ve needed, I’ve had someone helping me.”
Skating with a new partner is always an adjustment, too. Both Hurtado and Khaliavin had learned to dance with a single partner, and then stayed with that partner for years. Being next to a new person on the ice is always a great challenge.
“I’d say the holds,” Hurtado answered when asked about skating adjustments. “Those kinds of connections you generate with your partner after a long time skating together. You don’t even need to look to know where his hand will be. Changing [a] partner is a whole new body language to create.”
Humorously, Khaliavin added, “Sara is a bit shorter than Ksenia.”
Challenges of a New Team
“The first year was a real challenge,” Khaliavin said. “We had not so much time to skate together and do some base for us. We needed to do a program and come to a good shape before the first competition.”
“It went by so fast and it was all very intense,” Hurtado added. “In two months, we had all our competitions and during them we went through everything possible—pressure, ups and downs, and all of it brought us together very strong. With that experience, we kept building and growing as a team.”
In December 2016, they won gold at the Santa Claus Cup and the Spanish National Championships. They were awarded the sole ice dance berth for Spain at the 2017 European Championships. Just before Europeans, they picked up a silver medal at the Mentor Torun Cup, and then went on to finish 13th at 2017 Europeans.
In a controversial decision in late February, the Spanish Federation chose to send Olivia Smart & Adri Diaz (Spanish national silver medalists) to the 2017 World Championships in Helsinki, Finland. They finished 18th and qualified one Spanish team for the 2018 Olympic Games.
Meanwhile, a disappointed Hurtado & Khaliavin focused on their training and the goals they had set for the next season.
Hurtado explained that they wanted their Olympic year programs to be very special and related to Spanish language and culture.
“For the short [dance], we went with the groovy Latin rhythm of Carlos Santana. We hope it brings the public to dance and have a good time during those three minutes.”
“For the Free Dance, we chose ‘Don Quixote,’ but from the Spanish side of the story. It is about a couple in the streets of Spain who are in love, but her dad doesn’t want her to go with him because he is not wealthy. It is a love story.”
“We went to Madrid to work with the great Antonio Najarro to bring up an organic character and still keep the essence of the Quixote. It is a beautiful combination of Spanish and Russian culture we have made between classic ballet and flamenco. Hopefully people will remember it as ‘Hurtado-Khaliavin’s Quixote.’”
“Working with Antonio was amazing, and he inspired me a lot in only a few days. I’m very proud to represent such a rich culture this season,” Khaliavin added.
Russian Wedding – Spanish Citizenship
In June, Ksenia Monko & Kirill Khaliavin became life partners at a wedding ceremony in Kirov, Russia. In July, Kirill Khaliavin was granted Spanish citizenship in Madrid. Olivia Smart, the new partner of Adria Diaz, also received her Spanish passport.
Since Spain will send only one ice dance team to the 2018 Olympics in South Korea and both new teams have met the citizenship requirements, competition will be fierce this season.
“It will be chosen from the result of two competitions: Golden Spin and Nationals, this being the tiebreaker in case there is one,” Khaliavin explained.
“As we see it, this is a competition with ourselves before anything,” Hurtado said. “What we want is to bring two good programs to the best of their potential. Hopefully, that will give us good results in the competitions we have planned. Of course Olympics are there, but also Europeans, Worlds, Nationals…a lot of strong events. We should be ready to deliver, and that’s our main goal. [We want to] keep growing, keep building, and show improvement.”