Nikolaj Memola had a great 2022/23 season, winning the Junior Grand Prix Final, placing 2nd at Italian Senior Nationals, and then 4th at Junior Worlds. Now entering his first full senior season, the 19-year-old placed 8th at the Autumn Classic International in September.
“I’m happy the season has started,” Nikolaj reflected. “Of course, I don’t want to say I’m satisfied, that’s not true. I managed to do something in the programs, I landed both axels. Of course, I need to work on everything because it was the first [competition]. I was a bit tired. But overall, I’m pretty happy.
“I was very, very happy about my short program yesterday. I saw the score, and I can say, I think it wasn’t right. I’m very critical of myself, like today, when I made a few mistakes. But I thought yesterday was a bit low. But the most important thing is that I’m satisfied with my performance yesterday. When I finished my program. I was very happy. So that’s what matters, and I need to go on working that way.”
In the short program, judges ranked Nikolaj from 3rd to 12th place in PCS, an unusually wide range. “Of course, you can’t be liked by everyone,” was his response. “So I think it’s very good to start doing competitions to try to understand what the actual feedback from the judges is. You cannot just take one competition and say, ‘Oh my god, I got four in presentation from one judge, and another gave me 8.50.’ So it’s not just one competition, we need at least a few to understand where to focus the work.”
Summer training in Toronto
Over the summer, Nikolaj spent three months training at the Toronto Cricket Club with Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson.
“I’m very grateful to them because they treated me like part of their team and not as an external skater. I had a great time, and we did great work. And I think the results will be seen during the season – of course, it’s not something you can see just showing up at the [first] competition.”
“Of course, we worked on my jumps. But the main focus was that I had to try to stay calmer. Not to rush things, like I want to do a quad so I just go for it. We worked on stroking, skating skills, and on everything. So that was the real work for me, not only just the technical part. The general aspect of a training session was very, very good.”
Nikolaj is working on every type of quad in practice and is overall happy with his progress. “In the short, I didn’t want to try it, because I want to start a bit calmer this season. I don’t want to rush everything in the first competition and then struggle throughout the season to keep up with the same amount of work.”
“The best quads are the toe and lutz. But I also do salchow, loop, and sometimes flip. So I’m trying to work on everything… I think we’re on the right path. My goal is to have maybe two in the Free and one in the Short. I don’t want to make the mistake of just adding quads and removing choreography and stuff. I don’t want to try to create a program over the quads, just to add them to the program as it was last season.”
While in Toronto, Nikolaj stayed with Canadian skater Corey Circelli. “He is my best friend. And we had such a great time because we both skate so we can push each other. We watched competitions together. It was very fun, and we did a lot of stuff in Toronto. Every weekend we had something to do…So I had such a great time here [in Canada].”
Nikolaj’s coach (and mom) Olga Romanova also accompanied him part of the time in Toronto, and when she was in Europe, they worked online.
Nikolaj shared the benefits he sees by having his mom as his coach. “In the beginning when I was young, of course, it was hard, because when you’re a child, you see your mom as a mom, not as your coach. So it’s a bit hard if you don’t want to listen to her. Like if she says ‘Go and do your homework,’ okay, I will. If she says ‘Go and do your free skate.’ Yeah, I don’t know if I will. But now, I’ve matured a lot. The last couple of seasons, it was great to work with her.”
“I know that she will always do the best for me because she’s my mom. Your mom is never going to do something bad for you. So we get along very well. We learned how to know each other in an athletic [context]. Because of course, the relationship is different. When we are on the ice, I cannot allow myself to be her son, I need to be her athlete and she is my coach. Of course today she says “Oh my god, I’m happy for you’ – but she also has something to say about my performance.”
Repeating programs – for now
Nikolaj is reusing his programs from last season, which were choreographed by Corrado Giordani and Andrea Gilardi.
“I always want to say that I’m also a choreographer for myself, I usually make the base of the program and then they help me. For example, Andrea helped me with the steps to get level four. And Corrado is a ballet dancer, he helped me with arms and with the general look of the program. While I was in Toronto, I also worked with Tracy.”
The short program is Prelude No. 2 In C Sharp Minor by Sergei Rachmaninov. It’s clear from his commitment to the music and movements that Nikolaj has a deep appreciation for classical music and ballet. At 195cm (6’4”) he’s an unusually tall singles skater, but his long limbs help him to fill the rink with each gesture.
“When I was young, my mom decided to send me to ballet school. And we also went to Russia every year – because she’s Russian, I’m half Russian and I have family there, I used to skate there and they do a lot of ballet. I was into ballet since I was a child, that is one of my favorite things. I love to go to the theater, it’s a passion for me. I’m not the best ballet dancer, I have to say because when I grew up, I lost a bit of flexibility. But yes, for me, it’s one of the most important things for figure skating.”
The free skate is to unique combination of Samson et Dalila by Camille Saint-Saëns, and two pieces by Muse.
“I wanted to use ‘Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voice’ by Muse, it’s the French part. I was at a competition and I heard that music and I was like ‘Oh my god, so beautiful.’ But I didn’t want to do a full rock program because I don’t think it’s my style, rock, I need a more classical style. So I decided to use opera in the first half, and then Muse, and then the classic ‘Samson et Dalila.’ So it’s a very particular mix, but I think it works… I always loved this music and I want to give something more, add more spice to it.”
Also in the works is a new short program to “Adios Nonino” and “Invierno Porteño”.
“It actually was inspired by Satoko Miyahara, it’s like some sort of tribute, and that’s why I didn’t want to perform it because I didn’t feel it was ready. I think if I’m gonna get compared to her, I really want to skate well. I’m just leaving it there [for now]. When it is ready it will be great to perform. I really look up to Satoko, every time she skates in shows I always try to keep up with her performances. I think she’s a great skater, everything she does is so beautiful.”
Goals on and off the ice
Nikolaj had been studying law at university but decided to take a break from his studies to focus on skating.
“I actually love law school and everything that was around it,” he shared. “It’s very interesting for me, but I figured out that with competition and everything it’s very hard to keep up with my university. I just decided to stop it because I didn’t want to do two things and not do them in a good way…maybe I can find some way to do it online, which would be great, but my university didn’t have that opportunity. So I decided to stop it, but I’m not gonna throw everything away, and then when I’m ready, I will go back to school.”
When not at the rink, Nikolaj finds whatever opportunities he can to hang out with friends.
“You’re all day at the ice rink so you don’t have much time for them and then in the evening you’re tired so you just want to relax, so when I’m not skating, I just want to hang with them. I like to be with my dog. He’s in Italy, so I’m going to meet him after three months. It was crazy, I missed him so much. So I’ll spend some time with him. I like to watch ballet actually, when I have the opportunity, and to go to the opera. I love to go to theaters. But mainly I like to stay with friends and spend time with them.”
Nikolaj has a busy competition season and is planning to skate at two more Challenger Series events (Finlandia and Budapest Trophy) followed by his Grand Prix assignments in France and Finland. After Autumn Classic, he set new goals for himself.
“I want to get more stamina for my free skating and to maybe change something in the program. When I’m back in Italy, I can work with my choreographer and full-time with my mom, who really knows where my struggles are. I think I want to improve everything. It was not bad today, but it has to be polished.”
Italian men have three spots at Europeans and two spots at Worlds this year, and Nikolaj hopes to be named to the team for both competitions. He appreciates the challenge of competition among his compatriots on the Italian team.
“It’s such a pleasure to skate with them because the level is very high, so we can push each other, we can stimulate each other…I think the Italian federation did a great job with us. I hope I can still be in the top at least three this year. Of course, I’m not gonna lie, I want to be the top one. I think everyone wants that, you’re not just competing for fun.”
“I want to improve myself and be at the top, and I think I have a lot of work to do because Matteo is very mature and has great skating, and Daniel has jumps. So I have to improve but I think it’s possible. I am very focused on that. I want to skate clean at Nationals, and then we’ll see. Everyone is great, so whoever is going to go, they’ll deserve it.”