Daria Danilova & Michel Tsiba: The One With Friends on Ice

Daria Danilova & Michel Tsiba: The One With Friends on Ice

Dutch pairs team Daria Danilova and Michel Tsiba were in Moscow when they heard about the cancellation of the 2020 World Championships from social media, just hours before their flight to Montreal.

“We had a flight at 5am and then at 12, so five hours before our flight, we were back and we got online and on Facebook there was news that the Worlds was cancelled. And I’m calling Daria, like, what the hell is happening?” 

A statement from their federation followed at 3am, and just like that their first senior season was over. “The first day it was hard for sure,” Tsiba explained their reaction to the cancellation. “I think there was a statement one week before worlds where [they] said that we’re doing Worlds like, don’t worry about it guys, we’re preparing, it’s gonna happen. It was just–, we didn’t expect it so it was tough. As we can see now, the whole COVID situation got so out of hand. So probably it wasn’t the right idea at that point in time.”

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© Daria Danilova | Instagram

In 2018 after competing internationally as a singles skater for several years, Michel Tsiba decided to switch to pairs. He attended a seminar in Berlin where he met Vladislav Zhovnirski, former coach of Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov. He saw potential in Tsiba as a pairs skater and suggested a try out with Daria Danilova. The following week he was on a plane to Moscow, and the rest is history.

Qualifying for the 2020 European Championships was a highlight of the 2019-20 season for Danilova and Tsiba. They were the first Dutch pair to compete at the event since 1996. The duo earned the technical minimums needed to qualify for Worlds at Challenge Cup, the following month, which was another personal highlight.

© Michel Tsiba | Instagram

However, the season didn’t start out easy for them. Just after Finlandia Trophy, their first competition, Danilova and Tsiba were training a twist off-ice when Tsiba felt a pain in his left knee. Following an MRI scan it was diagnosed as a torn meniscus, an injury that he was familiar with, having torn the meniscus in his right knee five years prior.

“It was basically a pain of instability. So it wasn’t a direct pain, like let’s say you have a wound and it gets worse but whenever you’re doing a jump, you just feel that your knee kind of [wobbles], or when you do a lift, it just doesn’t feel stable. It’s weird to explain.”

He decided to complete the season. Because of his prior experience with the injury, Tsiba knew how he needed to take care of it. A combination of resting, icing and not agitating his knee when practicing.

He decided to complete the season. Because of his prior experience with the injury, Tsiba knew how he needed to take care of it. A combination of resting, icing and not agitating his knee when practicing.

An operation was scheduled for March 31st in Amsterdam but was cancelled as the COVID numbers were rising and he was given a date of either May or June at the earliest. Instead of waiting, which would have pushed his recovery time back by months, Tsiba contacted a doctor from the German team who operated on him the following day.

Who are your skating idols?

DARIA

Stolbova/Klimov, Yuzuru Hanyu, Carolina Kostner, Virtue/Moir

MICHEL

Yuzuru Hanyu, Sui/Han, Mao Asada, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Papadakis/Cizeron

For the first two years of their partnership, Danilova and Tsiba would travel between Berlin and Moscow every three months due to visa reasons and were separated for even longer during the summer of 2020, when most teams would have begun training for the next season. Danilova is a Russian citizen and struggled to get a visa to allow her into The Netherlands, which she needed to obtain before beginning training in Berlin.

She eventually got a permit, and the duo began training together at the end of August. They also started a new collaboration with Olympian and three-time German national champion in ice dance, Joti Polizoakis, for their new programs.

Polizoakis proposed the idea for their short program, a cover of Billie Eilish’s ‘Bad Guy’, performed by Ariana Savalas.

 “We’re Billie Eilish fans and there was this tango cover that we enjoyed. [Joti] wanted something out of the box and not something that somebody skated before.”

© Michel Tsiba | Instagram

Both are also self-proclaimed super fans of Friends. Danilova suggested the title song ‘I’ll Be There for You’ for the free program but they needed to add another track. They really enjoyed the Eric Carmen version of ‘All by Myself’ and decided to create a Friends themed program. Danilova’s outfit at NRW Trophy was a reference to one of Rachel’s most iconic plaid skirts. Tsiba wore a ‘Ross’ outfit of a red shirt and jeans, but he got negative feedback from judges and was going to change it for Worlds.

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© Daria Danilova | Instagram

“If we had to describe it, we’re both kind of fresh skaters. You have some skaters who love to use very slow music, very beautiful music, although we want to grow into that field too. We’re a little bit more funky, and like a little bit more happier [music].”

Hardest element to learn?

DARIA

Throw

MICHEL

Twist

“Crazy,” is how they both describe their 2020-21 season. The team’s main coach, Pavel Kitashev, is based in Moscow so they trained through Skype with a phone set up on a tripod. “It was tough to not be able to train with our coach. It was something that we never had to deal with [before], these kinds of issues, but in the end most importantly we made it through and it made us stronger.”

“Daria arrived, I think in the middle of August, and she had to come to the Netherlands and still had to get her permit done. I came from an operation, so like six months of no skating. I was able to do a lot of physiotherapy, but I mean it’s nowhere near the training we do in skating.

Then in November, we did our first competition. We actually never skated a full free program with elements before this competition, but we knew there will not be so many competitions, so we have to take advantage of every opportunity we get, just to get the rhythm.

Honestly I think this was our year of just getting through, just pushing through, because we’ve had a lot of obstacles before like, with all the training issues, with my injuries, with all the visas and also, don’t get me wrong, I think everybody has had problems in the COVID situation but it was also for us financially hard for us.

We made it to Worlds which was one of our goals, unfortunately, it was not successful. We did feel that like the first months getting back, let’s say September to December, they were super tough. We were stressed because maybe Europeans was gonna happen, we had to be ready quick. We said we can do it, but it was just not realistic, right? Then from January to March, we started to get more confident because we had some time, we were skating, getting more into the programs. A few weeks before Worlds we were like, wow, we’re super prepared now. We’re really, really in good shape and really ready to, you know, show this to the world and unfortunately, we weren’t able to do it at Worlds. After Worlds we were like, okay, this was not successful, but the confidence that we had before Worlds is still there, so we’re even more motivated now to kind of convert this crazy season into the next season to make it successful.”

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© Michel Tsiba | Instagram

Favourite and Least favourite elements to perform?

DARIA

Fav – Lifts and Twists, Least – Throws

MICHEL

Fav – Twist, Least – Death Spiral

Two of their competitions in this season were held in ‘bubble’ like formats, with mandatory negative tests just to compete. At Challenge Cup, if skaters weren’t at a practice session, the only other place they could be was their hotel rooms. Food was delivered to rooms and masks needed to be worn everywhere.

Tsiba described Worlds as being stricter with testing every three days but movement around the hotel was more free than at Challenge. One floor had games that people could play and there was a balcony they could use to get fresh air.

“You have so many different perspectives, right. You have people who wanted the competition [to happen], you have people who thought it was safe, you have people who thought it was unsafe, we had many opinions. Also within the bubble you have people, let’s say, who were more comfortable with being around people. We are one of those couples. You have people who were super distant. So like for us, we loved it. It was a great way to finally get back to competitions.

Every morning you would have to fill out a questionnaire saying you were feeling healthy. Every time you would enter the rink, they would take your temperature. There were certain ways that you would have to go so people wouldn’t walk against each other. We would get gloves [for utensils] to put food on plates, so there was less touching the same things as others. But it was great to finally see some skaters again because it’s actually been one year since we’ve had a major competition.”

© Michel Tsiba | Instagram

Favourite quality about each other?

DARIA

Misha is very kind and wise because when I give up a little bit, he talks with me and inspires me.

MICHEL

Daria is somebody that, no matter what her mood, she will always give her best. When she comes to training, it’s not like ‘I feel tired and I will just rest’, no. She will always give 120% and will always reach for a little more. So like let’s say the coach tells you, ‘you go and do 20 push ups’, she’ll do 21. To show a little bit more, that she’s wanting it more.

Danilova and Tsiba have already begun preparing for next season, with a goal of getting an Olympic spot at Nebelhorn Trophy in September. “We know what we can do, we know what our potential is, we just haven’t been able to show it to the world yet. Now we’re just working on the elements. We’re not changing much when it comes to programs, we’re just keeping it the way it is. We were thinking of maybe trying something new, but because we had not so many competitions last season, we definitely have not shown the full potential of our programs yet.”

There is, however, still one more hurdle before reaching the Olympics. Getting Danilova Dutch citizenship, a process that is normally quite complicated. One would have to live in the Netherlands for five years and pass a test to show you can speak Dutch, the latter of which Danilova has been studying for the past few months.

Suppose they earn an Olympic placement from Nebelhorn; in that case, there is a possibility that the Dutch Olympic Committee will help their case, but it’s a vague process. The team, however, is more hopeful for 2026.

Something people might not know about you?

DARIA

I have a cat and dog. I really love ‘The Last Dance’ on Netflix.

MICHEL

I can’t stretch my arms from when I was born, I’ve been so inflexible, my body is super stiff. I only started stretching at the age of 12. The way that my bones are set, I can’t stretch my arms. So let’s say in a lift, it was a super hard struggle for us in the beginning. So when I lift Dasha, because the secret to a lift is, you lift the lift, then you lock your elbow so you can turn around, and for me, this was such a hard thing to practice because I couldn’t stretch my arms. So the first years I always carry her on my muscles because I wasn’t able to close my arms.

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© Daria Danilova | Instagram

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