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Reflecting on Worlds: Mikhail's Big Surprise

  • Reflecting on Worlds: Mikhail's Big Surprise

    Mikhail Kolyada of Russia competes during the men's short program of the European Figure Skating Championships in Bratislava on January 27, 2016. / AFP / SAMUEL KUBANI (Photo credit should read SAMUEL KUBANI/AFP/Getty Images)

When the first group of men took to the ice for the short program at the TD Garden, the stadium was barely half full. This was not for a lack of tickets being sold; rather, it could easily be attributed to a long-standing bias that a lot of skating fans still, unfortunately, hold.

You see, the draw at Worlds is divided into two halves, according to the skater's World Ranking, and then drawn randomly within that split. Thus, skaters who are lower ranked go earlier in the event. This has led to a distasteful habit by some skating fans of skipping the earlier groups, with a snobbish belief that the "lesser skaters" are not worth their time or money, or that they will only come for the last group where the "top skaters" are.

Mikhail Kolyada was the surprise packet of the Russian season. He had missed the entire 2014-2015 season after, unbelievably, breaking his leg doing footwork (now, that's the definition of unlucky). He had flown under the radar for much of the 2015-2016 season, picking up a silver and bronze on the Challenger Series (finishing third overall), before making his Grand Prix debut for the injured (and later retired) Artur Gachinski at the Rostelecom Cup, where he finished fifth.

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But he quickly forced himself into the spotlight at Russian Nationals, where he finished a fabulous second behind Maxim Kovtun. A fifth place quickly followed at the European Championships, but even with that under his belt, he was still very much considered a long shot at Worlds. And he had drawn second to skate.

There was certainly no chance of not seeing him on the ice. His short program was set to Nightingale Tango and John Gray Foxtrot by Matvey Blanter, and somehow that equated to a bright green shirt, with yellow stripes and checks and pink trimming. And he made sure the crowd was going to pay attention from him right from the opening.

Mikhail opened with a fantastic quad toe-triple toe combination, greeted with a mixture of shock and delight from the crowd, many of whom were not expecting it. It helped that we got a celebratory fist-pump and a charming smile on the way out! It was followed soon after by an absolute beauty of a triple Axel, and Mikhail looked relaxed, confident, at ease on the big stage.

We were then treated to some more quirky choreography before the flying sit spin, and then a bit of program character as Mikhail pulled a series of hilariously brilliant faces to go with his humorous movement. It was all leading up to his solo triple Lutz, which wound up being as soft as butter.

And then it was right back into the character with quirky faces and funny choreography down through the step sequence, performed to the fullest, skipping and turning his way down the ice and clearly loving every moment of it. It was followed by his superb camel change camel, the flying change being particularly unusual and interesting, and the donut position on the second foot strong and well-executed. Mikhail then moved into the final combination spin, perfectly centred, complete with a Biellmann spin to give the crowd one last fun moment - such spins are rare in the male field - before finishing with a "peek-a-boo" to the judges and a grin of pure joy.

It was one of the best performances of the night, and the score - 89.66 - would hold up as the leader all the way to the last group. He would go on to finish sixth in the short program and fourth overall, a superb pair of performances that some pundits thought should have got the bronze, and established himself as the new leader of the Russian men.

And I will admit, it was particularly satisfying to imagine the red faces of those who had deliberately skipped the early groups because they did not want to see the "lesser skaters", and so missed the skate that would wind up leading for most of the event.

You can watch Mikhail's fun short program here, and see his spooky and delightful Nightmare Before Christmas free skate here.

That's the end of my "Reflecting on Worlds" series. If you have any requests for Worlds moments that you want me to write about, you can tweet me at @missklovatt and I'll click the old memory bank into gear! But for now, it's almost time for the Grand Prix announcements!

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