by Matteo Morelli
Sofía Val and Asaf Kazimov are a new partnership representing Spain. Their training base is the new SK International Ice Dance School in Madrid, headed by former Spanish ice dance champions Sara Hurtado and Kirill Khaliavin. They told us a bit more about themselves and how they went from deciding to skate together when the skating season had already started to competing at the World Championships in Saitama.
Sofía and Asaf, thank you very much for talking to us. You are a new partnership that was formed a few months into the 2022/23 season. How did you find each other and how did you decide to skate together?
Asaf Kazimov (AK): I split with my previous partner at the beginning of August last year, when I used to skate with Germany. I started to search for a new partner and Sara told me that Sofía was searching for a new partner too: we had a try out here in Madrid, with Sara and Kirill. On the way back in the plane, I already knew that I would have liked to team up with Sofía.
Sofía Val (SV): Our try out wasn’t that long, it was five days. We were both searching for partners. After the try out we knew we wanted to skate with each other, so it all happened pretty quickly. He decided to come here and train with Sara and Kirill, and we are very glad it is working out so well.
Glad to hear that things were so good from the start. Did you know each other before?
SV: We never spoke to each other. I was still skating in juniors last season and Asaf was competing in seniors.
AK: We knew of each other from other people, but we had never met in person before.
You have been skating together for such a short amount of time, yet you have already accomplished some very important results this season, including going to a major event like the World Championships. What did you focus on since you decided to join forces? Did you immediately set up objectives for the season?
SV: We didn’t set big objectives from the beginning because it was already quite late in the season when we started together. We didn’t know if we were going be able to compete because we didn’t get the release. It was a bit complicated, it always takes a bit of time and we were trying to do everything in a very short period. We couldn’t do Nationals officially, so our objective was just to try to do this competition in Tilburg (International Challenge Cup) to try to get the points for Worlds, but already competing at an international event was a big step for us.
AK: We were waiting for my release from the German Federation and we only got it at the end of January, which was the last week where you could try to apply to compete in Tilburg. We were very happy to be able to skate at this competition together.
Let’s go back to the past. How and when did you approach skating? Have you always been ice dancers, or did you start in different fields and then shift?
AK: I am originally from Russia and I started to skate there. I used to do some single skating for six years, and when I was around eleven I changed to ice dance. My coaches said “well, you are quite okay with jumps, but not as good as you could be”, and they asked me if I would like to try ice dance. I did that, and I really enjoyed it. And then my family and I moved to Germany in 2012, and I have been doing ice dance since then.
SV: I started single skating in Madrid, and I never thought I would have come back to training here! When I was thirteen, I watched ice dance on television and wanted to try it, so I went to try it in Lyon and I really enjoyed it. Within a week I decided that I had to do ice dance, and moved there. It was a pretty quick decision! Coming from single skating, I didn’t really watch ice dance in person that much, and I was very impressed by the senior ice dancers training there.
You had different partners before deciding to skate together. What did you take away with you from your previous experiences?
SV: Your work ethic is very important and it needs to match your partner’s as well. The rest can come along and with work, results will come in. When you are not comfortable or your communication with your partner is not the best, it is really difficult to spend hours on the ice with the other person. Asaf and I can work for hours together and we still enjoy the process, we love every minute we spend on the ice and I think this is the most important thing.
AK: I totally agree with Sofía. For me, communication is also the most important factor, because sometimes you see each other almost 24/7, so you need to take everything with a lot of humour, support each other, find compromises and solutions together. It is very important.
You are training at the brand-new SK International Ice Dance School in Madrid, which opened around a year ago and is led by Sara Hurtado, Kirill Khaliavin and Ksenia Monko. How are you finding it there?
SV: I started skating here since last summer, when I didn’t have a partner yet. The previous season, I was training in Villard-de-Lans when Sara called me to say they were doing this project, and I knew I wanted to work with them. What is very important to me is that they are 100% into this, they are fully committed and spend a lot of hours with us.
AK: After the try out in September I already knew I wanted to be part of this project. It was the full commitment that totally persuaded me, the working attitude, the way we all work together and support each other.
SV: They are very open minded, they let us have our space to create and really support us, but also lead us to what they think is the best option for us.
The ice dance movement in Spain enjoyed some years of great quality skating with two teams competing at international level: Olivia Smart and Adrián Díaz, and your coaches Sara and Kirill. How do you feel following in the footsteps of these teams?
AK: We are still a very young team, so we are starting our development now, trying to progress with everything. Obviously, we would like to be as good as the previous teams: Sara and Kirill are our idols, we are very glad to skate with them and be coached by them. We are taking it step by step, there has to be continuous improvement.
SV: There are more teams coming here at our school. That is also really nice because we get to compare ourselves to other teams, try to learn what they can do better than us, and vice versa.
AK: It is good sportsmanship and rivalry.
Let’s look at your debut: as you said, your first international competition together wat the Challenge Cup in Tilburg, where you ended in sixth place. How did you feel then and what did you take away from it?
SV: I think it was a great debut. I was very nervous. We had only been skating together for a few months and we wanted to skate clean, but in the back of our heads we knew we wanted to get the points for Worlds. You don’t want to get too much pressure in your head, just in case you get too disappointed, but we were really pleased with the results.
AK: I was not as much nervous, but rather thinking about the programmes, how they should be. After the competition, we were very glad that we managed to do what we did, especially after such a short period of time.
The results at Tilburg allowed you to qualify for your first senior World Championships, where you ended up being the first team on the ice to open the rhythm dance. How did you live this experience?
SV: We didn’t have any rankings, it was our second competition together and my first seniors, so it was a really amazing experience, we were so glad to be there.
One thing that stood out is how much all skaters in Saitama seemed to have bonded. That must have been really nice!
SV: Yes, I already knew some teams, others I didn’t. Being able to be in the hotel with all the other skaters was really fun. We had the best time. It was great also because a lot of the teams that were there are amazing skaters and we look up to them, so also getting to know them as people was amazing. For example, the first three days we were training with the Italian couple Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri. That was fantastic!
AK: When you are on the ice with this team that just won the European Championships and then end up in second place at Worlds, it is something else!
The location itself must have been beautiful too.
SV: It was! And the organisation of the event was amazing.
In terms of current or past ice dance teams, do you have any that you take inspiration from and you look at as what you would like to become in the future?
AK: There are a lot of great teams: Virtue/Moir, Papadakis/Cizeron, for example. There are great teams that have great qualities. I think it is very important to develop your own style and your own feature on the ice, for the judges and the crowd, to show that you are different: this is what we are trying to develop within the next years.
SV: There are young teams now that are so powerful, and the older teams: you can learn something from every team. For example, I look up to Madison Chock: I love how she moves, her presence on the ice, her look from the beginning before she even starts the programmes, her hands when she is skating, everything, but we are trying to develop our style slowly, we are young and we hope that we will get there.
The 2022/23 season is now over: how is the work for the new season shaping up? Have you already set up your goals?
AK: Concerning the programmes, we are currently thinking about them because the theme of the Rhythm Dance is the 80s and there is a lot to choose from. We are trying to find the style that suits us. Concerning the goals, we want to take it step by step, we want to try to develop from year to year. We will take this time now until the season starts to work on the new programmes and do our best.
SV: We want to try to do as many international competitions as we can to be known as a couple. Being new, especially in the ice dance world it is important to be known and also get experienced, because there are other older teams that have much more experience and so that plays a big part. Hopefully we will start to get a bit of ranking for the big competitions.
Let’s move away from the ice: tell us something about yourself, your passions, what you like outside of skating!
SV: We don’t get that much time off! Some days, we start at eight in the morning and finish at seven in the evening. A lot of the days we rest, but we both have other interests. I am studying psychology from next year, I am very excited about this! I am going to do it half offline and half online, because it can be pretty hard to do everything together.
AK: I started to study electrical engineering, and just finished my bachelor’s. I might start a master’s degree here in Madrid. After the skating career, I would probably like to work as an engineer.
SV: We also both love dancing, I love hip hop. It is super fun! Takes off your mind a bit from your programmes, which you might get a bit tired of doing them all the time. I also love baking, and being with my dog!
AK: Family time is always great, after Worlds I went back to Germany to see my family and my girlfriend. We had a great time, because now I live in Madrid permanently and I don’t see them so often.
Thank you both a lot for sharing so much about you. Is there anything you would like to add to our conversation?
AK: I would like to say, once again, thank you to our coaches. We say this to them every day, but still we want to thank them for all the opportunities they give us, for their work with us and how much time they invest into it.
SV: It wouldn’t be possible for us to compete in such a short period of time if they weren’t with us on the ice for so many hours, so thank you Sara, Kirill, and Ksenia.