Tamara Moskvina, the entertainer

MISSISSAUGA, Ont.

Tamara Nikolayevna Moskvina makes an unforgettable entrance into any room.

There’s not a hint of shyness in her mien. Her lively eyes catch you quickly. You never really know what she’s plotting, if indeed she is. She’s a Russian with an irrepressible rapier wit. She’s compelling, even if she stands only 4 foot 10. She has a pixie haircut. It suits her.

At 75, she barrels along an echoing hallway at the Hershey Centre, where Skate Canada International has been held, and admits that although she no longer does double Axels, she does do handstands from her forearms. We almost had an exhibition and wait wistfully for a future encounter.

But at issue this day was the state of her pair team, Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, in the pairs free program. Leaving the ice, Smirnov had his arm around Kavaguti. She appeared to be unable to put weight on her right leg. Heavens knows how she finished this long program. Perhaps she had hurt herself during a strange fall after a jump sequence early in the routine?

Moskvina is very direct in her analysis of Kavaguti’s current health. “Yuko is dead,” she said. Nobody believes this. Of course, she is poking at lampshades, playing with you.

Well, how is she really? Falls and slips and crashes often happen in pairs, Moskvina says in indirect explanation. “This is okay,” she says. “We are in sport competition, not in hospital, telling about injuries.”

In other words, she does not wish to speak of this.

“We don’t want to discuss any medical,” she said. “Skaters come to competition to compete. Not to complain.”

Kavaguti’s current injury is all the more worrying because she and Smirnov missed half of last season when she severed the Achilles tendon of her right foot in St. Petersburg, Russia. Is her current injury related to her past injury? No, says Moskvina. We got that much.

Who knows if we will see Kavaguti and Smirnov again this season or ever? He is now 32, she is 34. They have a staggering history of injuries. Let’s not even talk about Kavaguti’s penchant for dislocating a shoulder while attempting quad throws, something they’ve been trying since 2006.

Most recently, Smirnov severed a patellar tendon in a fall during a minor competition (October 2013), causing the team certain heartbreak: missing the Sochi Olympics on home ground.

They returned with a vengeance and won the 2014 Nebelhorn Trophy with a throw quad Salchow . They won Skate America with a throw quad Salchow. Last season, they upset Cup of China favourites Wengjing Sui and Han Cong by landing two throw quads.

They seemed indestructible until Kavaguti severed her Achilles in Jan. 15, 2016. “We thought that was the end of their career,” Moskvina said. Because Kavaguti is so painfully thin, doctors found that her Achilles was paper thin, too, and “worn out.”

So Moskvina took a deep breath and assisted Kavaguti however she could, helped her psychologically. Offered her the milk of human kindness. Got her out of the hospital. Got her to rehab. Fortunately, Kavaguti was able to have surgery quickly, in mid-January. But doctors told her that it could take a year or a year and a half to heal. Smirnov helped, although he sweated out his future. Eventually, he found a new career: teaching skating. Still, Moskvina could still see that the competitive fires were smoldering in Kavaguti.

After six months, Kavaguti told Moskvina: “I want to skate.”

Moskvina hadn’t suggested it. Had doctors ever told her she should never skate again? “They never mentioned not,” said Moskvina, with that look.

So on their tenth anniversary of being a pair, Kavaguti and Smirnov began to pick it up again. Don’t even think they are trying quads this year. Moskvina knew they had to start slow, if they wanted to get to the 2018 Olympics.

Kavaguti is ferocious in her determination. Inspired to be a pair skater by Elena Berezhnaia, winner of the 2002 Olympic pair gold medal, Kavaguti, then called Kawaguchi, born in Japan as she was, wrote a letter to Moskvina, telling her she wanted to skate pairs. Moskvina didn’t take it seriously at first, but Kavaguti was persistent, and Moskvina finally she took her on as a student.

Kavaguti skated for Japan at first, then moved to Russia,  took out Russian citizenship (which meant she had to forfeit her Japanese citizenship) and went to university in St. Petersburg to study international relations. Hang the language barrier. Kavaguti can speak fluent Russian and English. There is nothing she cannot do, when she puts her mind to it.

One of Moskvina’s friends told her one day: When she watched Kavaguti skate after her injury, she changed her dread of slogging through a work day. “Whenever I don’t want to go to work, I think of Yuka and Sasha and I put on my smile and run to work,” the friend said.

“Such example is a good motivation for normal people,” Moskvina said. And that’s why Moskvina supported Kavaguti who “continued for the love of her sport and the desire to overcome difficulties.” She could not say no.

If anybody understands hardship, it is Moskvina. She lived through the Siege of Leningrad during World War II. Her family was forced to escape, head for the Ural Mountains and try to survive. Malnutrition stunted her growth. But it also made her the perfect pair partner.

Her future husband, Igor Moskvin, was her coach and urged her to switch from singles (she may have been the first singles skater to do what is now called a Biellmann spin). She teamed up with Alexei Mishin – who also walks the hallways with mischievous eyes at Skate Canada this week – and medalled at world and European champions.

She has been married to Moskvin for 52 years. They cherish their two daughters, Olga and Anna who have given them two granddaughters, one 22 years old, the other three months. “Married 52 years, this is a big achievement,” Moskvina said. “I should go into the [Guinness] World Book of Records.”

Ask her how old she is, and she says: “I’m only 25 to the first 100,” she said. “Can you count?” Her husband is 87.

“Do I look like a 25-years-young lady?” she says, looking at a Japanese reporter. You can tell that numbers are bumbling around in his mind. She clucks her tongue in mock-suggestive way. Her little audience laughs.

“It keeps us young because we deal with young generation, with people devoted to art and sport while motivated…to overcome life difficulties,” she continues in a more serious vein.

Also, she says as an aside, “I stay a lot of time in the refrigerator.

“And in the refrigerator, even meat is not spoiled.”

Yes, that’s our Tamara Moskvina. By now we’ve forgotten all about Kavaguti’s injury.

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3 thoughts on “Tamara Moskvina, the entertainer

  1. She is such a lovely lady! I saw her in the concourse and when I waved at her, she came and shook my hand. I will never forget that show of kindness toward a fan!

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