When it comes to figure skating choreography, Nikolai Morozov, who coaches in Newington, CT, is the man of the hour. He first came to the world’s notice through his work with Tatiana Tarasova and Alexei Yagudin on Yagudin’s famed 2002 Olympic short program, Winter. More successes quickly followed as he guided Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz to their only World ice dancing championship in 2003, while choreographing the programs for many of the sports leading ladies. Then he choreographed the Matrix free skate for Brian Joubert, who became the first Frenchman to win Europeans in decades in 2004. By the 2004 Worlds, he had choreographed the programs for all of the ladies who reached the podium in Dortmund including Shizuka Arakawa, Sasha Cohen, and Michelle Kwan.
Morozov began skating when he was five. His parents started him in the sport after doctors told them he needed more exercise. “Skating was very popular so they thought it would be a good sport for me,” he said. He was a good singles skater but switched to dance at 16. “I was working with the same coach as Ilia Kulik. Kulik was much better than me so I stopped. Then a dance coach called me and I trained alone for several months before going to Switzerland to work with Natalia Linichuk for a year.” He was paired with Olga Pershankova, with whom he skated for several years.
In 1996, Morozov began skating with Tatiana Navka. At their first Worlds together, Navka and Morozov finished 14th in 1997 even though he was hampered by a torn meniscus in his knee that occurred during their first practice in Lausanne. “When we came home, they told me I would need surgery,” he said, “and I fell right on the floor.” But he recovered after a month of intensive rehabilitation and the couple won an Olympic berth by taking the gold at the Karl Schäfer Memorial in Vienna. They went on to finish third at the 1997 Cup of Russia, tenth in the 1998 European Championships, 16th at the 1998 Olympics, and tenth at 1998 Worlds.
“When Tatiana decided to change partners, I found one Russian girl to skate with, but after skating for three months, I decided it wasn’t worth years of my life to get back to the top ten,” Morozov stated. “I had already been to the Olympics and the Worlds. But I didn’t know what I was going to do. I never planned to be a coach. It just happened.”
“After I finished skating, I went to Tatiana Tarasova with a big bouquet of flowers to thank her for all of the help she had given to me,” he recalled. “And she told me she had a proposal for me. She asked me to help her with Alexei (Yagudin). I mainly helped him with his choreography but we were also best friends. Soon I was working with all the skaters in Tarasova’s group. There was no separation of who does what. We worked as a team. I learned everything that I know as a coach from Tatiana. She knows more than I will know when I’m 60.”
“The first program that I choreographed by myself was for Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder in 2001,” Morozov said. “I also worked with Tatiana on the Italian’s (Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio) Lord of the Dance. Last season, I did the choreography for more than 50 skaters in all of the disciplines.”
“To do it, you have to look at the skaters skate and see how they move on the ice to tell what is best for them,” Morozov explained. “The choreography for the dancers is the most difficult because of all the changes in the rules. You have to be careful of the line and what will look good. There are not many programs with interesting stories. I always try to tell a story. It can actually help the skaters because they know what they are doing. Most of the programs are done in the spring. You have to change a lot to make them higher level as the season goes on, especially with the Code of Points.”
Although he is most famous for his choreography, the 28-year-old also has a full stable of skaters for whom he is the primary coach. That includes instruction in both dance techniques and jumps up through the quad. “Now I am working with five dance teams plus Kevin van der Perren in men’s,” he said. “I’m also coaching Shae-Lynn (Bourne) for her singles career. I work on the ice from eight to six, every day but Sunday.”
One huge advantage for Morozov is his ability to demonstrate any move on the ice, including both the lady’s and the man’s positions in ice dancing. That allows him to work with each partner as the other watches to demonstrate the correct positions. Van der Perren said, “Nikolai is a better skater than most of the skaters he works with. He can easily demonstrate very difficult footwork. That makes it easy to train with him.”
To relax, Morozov likes to listen to music, especially modern dance music. He likes to play golf and soccer with other skaters and also enjoys fishing and skiing. He also enjoys spending time with his daughter, Annabelle. Morozov doesn’t take many vacations. “When we take a week off, we have to work too hard the next week,” he said.