Kavaguti & Smirnov Call It a Career
Elder statesmen of Russian pairs announce they are done after ten years on the competitive circuit together.
Throughout the summer, it’s been indicated to us that we were probably going to lose Yuko Kavaguti & Alexander Smirnov. When they withdrew from the Russian test skates a few weeks ago, they said they would compete only if the Russian federation wanted them to. They’ve probably since seen the strength of the current Russian pairs field, and that this wouldn’t happen. On Friday, word came from their longtime coach Tamara Moskvina that they were out completely, choosing not to risk their health when they wouldn’t make the Olympics anyway.
They’d lasted much longer than most expected. Indeed, after the 2010 Olympics, most didn’t even expect them to stick it out until 2014, if only because she especially wasn’t too young even then. And when they weren’t even able to compete in that Olympic season, most thought that truly had to be it. But arguably their finest hour came after that. And by staying as long as they did, they earned a deep respect and admiration for their persistence and dedication to their sport.
Through Three Quadrreniums
Yuko Kawaguchi had already been training under Tamara Moskvina for years, representing both Japan and the U.S. with different partners, before the legendary pairs coach matched her with Alexander Smirnov in 2006. They made a splash immediately, medaling at the Cup of Russia that year. The first of their many injuries and a bad long program at Worlds prevented them from accomplishing any more that year. But more success came in the next one, including their first medal at the European Championships, and fourth place at Worlds. They also became the second team to ever land the throw quadruple salchow, and won the first of three Russian titles despite having to stop in the middle of their free program to pop her dislocated shoulder back in!
By the time they won bronze at 2009 Worlds, they were serious contenders for the 2010 Olympic gold, and indeed under pressure to win it and continue on the winning streak Russia had had ongoing since the 1960s. Kawaguchi had even given up her Japanese citizenship for a Russian passport, not an easy thing for her to do emotionally, her name changing to Kavaguti to accommodate the Cyrillic alphabet. They were never the favorites for it, even before the return of legends Xue Shen & Hongbo Zhao to the scene. But they showed their ability to surprise at the 2010 Europeans, where they pulled the upset for their first title there:
Sadly, their only Olympics proved the most painful moment of their careers, as another bad free skate left them in fourth, resulting in an unceremonious end to the winning streak and backlash. It couldn’t have been easy for them to go to 2010 Worlds, where they nonetheless won bronze again. That would be their final World medal; the highest they would finish after that was fifth.
But the following years would see them take a step up artistically. It started the very next season, when they debuted their signature Claire de Lune long program, which they would use for the 2012 and 2017 seasons as well. This beautiful piece had fans seeing them in a whole new light. It would help win them three of their six Grand Prix golds and one of their two Grand Prix Finale bronzes, and nearly netted them another European title in 2011:
They would start to be passed by other Russian pairs as the quaddrennium wore on, and even if they hadn’t had to miss the Olympic season, they probably wouldn’t have made the team anyway. But they would come back skating the most beautifully they ever had. For the most part that got them results much like the ones they’d been having already. But at the 2015 European Championships, they put it all together to shock for their second title there. And that wasn’t even their most incredible feat that year. That instead came at the 2015 Cup of China. That too was a shock upset, and they made history by landing two different throw quads in their free skate:
They would cap it off with second Grand Prix Finale bronze, which would be their final significant international result. Another injury would take them out of 2016 Europeans, and then once again the younger Russian pairs would pass them, and their results in their final competitive season would not be as good.
According to Russian news, they will continue to skate in shows, and also work as coaches under Moskvina, the woman who coached them through their entire career. She’s now approaching 80, and might be looking to prepare a pair of successors. Kavaguti & Smirnov may be done with competition ice, but their contribution to Russian skating isn’t over yet.