When answering these questions – on December 8th, in Torino – Italy’s Nikolaj Memola hadn’t yet won the Junior Grand Prix Final gold on home ground.
He was second after the short program – a balletic, elegant rendition of Rachmaninov’s Prelude no. 2, brought to essence in 2 minutes and 40 seconds – and took his time, a longer, meaningful time to answer each and every question he was asked by the journalists in the mixed zone.
Given his successful journey this season, the questions were many, the interest was genuine – and Nikolaj’s detailed, collected answers, and his subtle yet striking, impressive presence on the Olympic ice of Palavela in Torino made for an extremely gratifying experience throughout the event.
No wonder the overall reaction was so positive, so appreciative towards this young man who would make history for his country, for Italian skating as a whole, by winning the first junior Grand Prix Final title in the men’s discipline.
A tall single skater – if not indeed the tallest out there: 1.95 m without skates, more than 2 m with his skates on –, arms spread in the air, as if he were about to fly, and yet so humble, so beautifully grounded, so conscious of what he can do, of what he can’t do yet or needs to improve, while looking to learn from each and every skater around.
You’ll discover a particular lesson he wants to learn from the women’s skating, for example, the lesson of consistency, and you’ll hear names like Carolina Kostner, Satoko Miyahara, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva or Alexandra Trusova, and the inspiration Nikolaj draws from each of them.
And you will hear him talk about challenges (talk his height, for one, and the way he tries to make it work for him), about skating on home ice (and especially on Olympic ice and the emotions it brings), about working on quad(s) and music choices, about beginnings, sports he tried, sports he follows – in short, you’ll get to know him better, and where he comes from with his skating.
On December 11th, victorious fists in the air, victorious shout in the air at the end of his Samson and Delilah free skate, elegant, focused and not leaving anything to chance, you know he’s done it: 19-year old Nikolaj Memola won the junior Grand Prix Final gold, and won all of us.
[What follows are Nikolaj’s answers to various questions by various journalists in the mixed zone of 2022 Grand Prix Final in Torino, Italy – after junior men’s SP; he was 2nd after this particular segment. For a wider picture, some of Nikolaj’s answers in the press conference after the overall event, which he won, were also introduced, as separate quotes.]
Nikolaj, how was it to skate your short program in Palavela?
It was super nice to see an Olympic crowd in Palavela – because, after the pandemic, our sport felt super lonely, if I can say that. So it’s a big emotion to skate in front of such a great crowd, where the public not only supports me, but every skater on the ice.
You’re skating on home ice…
I live in Monza, this is my home town – but I skate a lot of time here, in Torino, and there are a lot of people that I know in the public, and I am extremely happy for that. For me, the support is always the most important thing, because I skate for myself, yes, but I also skate for the crowd. So I am super happy that people that I know are here.
You are very tall as a single skater – did you grow fast? And does this affect your jumps?
Yes, I am very tall, and I grew a lot during my first junior season and I had like 20 centimeters more during the summer – so the first two seasons were very, very difficult for me.
But now I learned to deal with my height and it doesn’t affect me… Well [he nuances with a smile], sometimes, when I am bit off axis, of course, for me it’s a little bit more difficult than for shorter skaters, but it is what it is.
At the moment, I am 1.95 centimeters without skates – so I guess, with skates, I will be like 2 m and something.
What were your expectations coming to the Final?
Every time [I enter a competition] I don’t want to look at the results – I just want to see if I did my best. And I came here, I did everything clean [in the short program], so I am happy with it, I am happy with my second place, because if the American guy [Lucas Broussard] is first [after SP], that means he skated better than me. So I’m super happy with the result.
Where do things stand when it comes to quads?
I actually train every quad – but the best ones are probably Salchow, Toeloop and Lutz. But I like to try everything because I think that there are very important – and so I try to learn them, slower, but all of them.
At the moment, I don’t feel ready to put one in a program yet. During my training, I’ve always tried to do my program with quads, but here I want to try to skate clean.
>>> “This competition I did not feel ready to put a quad in my program because I know I’m not as mature as other skaters, as the senior skaters. I work in training on my program with quad jumps in the beginning because I just want to start to feel ready. But I know that when you add a quad, you have to be super sure that you can do it. I have less than 50% success rate, so it’s just not good enough yet for a program. Of course I will try to add them for Junior Worlds, but my main goal is to skate clean there – and, if I’m not ready, I will not attempt one”.
What about the music for your programs?
I chose them myself, for the short program and for the free program.
I love classical music, I had always listened to it – and while shuffling on Spotify, I heard this piece by Rachmaninov [for the short] and I just wanted to try to do it. I actually tried to do it three years ago, but I didn’t feel ready to skate to such an important piece of music at the time.
I decided to just leave it and, maybe, choose it later – and this year I finally skate to it.
You mentioned that today you’re on Olympic ice – how much does Milan 2026 feature in your thoughts?
It’s actually one of my goals to skate on home ice at the Olympics. For me it’s a dream and I will try to do my best in these four years before Milano-Cortina.
Will you watch the senior men in the Final here in Torino, and look up to someone, maybe?
I will watch Daniel [Grassl], because he’s my teammate, but I will watch every single guy, because there’s such an opportunity here for us, the junior skaters, to watch the senior men and try to learn something from each one of them. I will watch everyone, because I’m just very inspired by all of them.
Nikolaj, when did you start skating?
I started when I was super young, because my mom is my coach [Olga Romanova] – so she… not forced me [smiling], but when she was training other skaters, I was always there in the ice rink, so I started to skate, and I started to do it, professionally, when I was 13. Before it was just a game for me.
Now it’s my life – so it’s very different.
Did you try any other sports than skating?
I love every other sport, I love athletic, I love gymnastics, I love rhythmic gymnastics. And when I was young, I basically tried every single sport because my family was super happy with it – they wanted me to do something, not just for the result, but for my health. Now, when I am at home, I watch a lot of sports on TV, from tennis to Formula Uno.
And when you started skating was there someone that you admired, that you wanted to be like?
I think everyone has something that I want to learn from. I can say that Yuzuru Hanyu is one of my idols, because he’s the best of all times. Of course, Evgeni Plushenko is one of the best, Nathan Chen as well – and I also love watching women… because I think that they are better than men.
Because when you are watching a competition, the men’s result can just change from one competition to the other, from short program to free program – but women are always so consistent.
I love Satoko Miyahara – for me, Satoko with Carolina Kostner are the best figure skaters in the world, because their programs are not only jumps, but also artistic presentation.
I also love Elizaveta Tuktamysheva – she’s a model for me, because she has had such a long career, and when everyone was saying: You can’t go to Worlds, because there will be always younger girls in front of you, she showed everyone that she could do it.
And also Sasha Trusova, because she proved that quads are not only for men – and so this is super inspiring for me.
>>> Nikolaj commenting on the historical gold medal he won in Torino: “I feel amazing! I started the season with the goal of coming to Torino, but the first place here was not my goal – and then the medal came, and I’m extremely happy”.
“I was very nervous before the skate, I was thinking I had to skate clean because I knew the other skaters are extremely good. I just wanted to give everything of me, and when the music ended I hit the ice to release some of the pressure”.
>>> On the senior men in the Grand Prix Final in Torino: “Everyone here in the senior event is amazing – I watched the competition before my competition and it was just unbelievable to see such great performances, from Daniel [Grassl] to Shoma [Uno]. I just want to watch all of them and try to pick the best from them, and improve myself. For example, here we have Ilia – he is a great jumper, Shoma is an artist, Daniel has such a strong mental approach to competitions, Shun has great jumps, Kao has extremely big jumps. Everyone has something to look up, to take from and improve”.
And if you need a reminder of just how great this season has been so far for Italy’s Nikolaj Memola, there you have some reference points.
JUNIOR. Competing on both junior and senior level this season, Nikolaj started the season as junior, winning silver at 2022 JGP Czech Republic in Ostrava, then gold at 2022 JGP Latvia in Riga, hence qualifying for the Junior Grand Prix Final in Torino.
And we know how that ended – with a historical medal: the first Junior Grand Prix Final gold for an Italian man and only the second Italian JGP gold in any discipline – after the gold won in Lausanne, in 1998, by junior ice dancers Federica Faiella and Luciano Milo. 1997-1998 ISU Junior Series was the inaugural season of what was later named ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating.
SENIOR. On the senior level, Nikolaj Memola won bronze in both his Challenger events, 2022 Lombardia Trophy and 2022 Budapest Trophy.
He is also the 2023 Italian national silver medalist – a medal he won in Brunico, in December. Nikolaj was third after the short program, but won the free skate – and the silver medal overall. There you have him pictured in the Kiss and Cry in Brunico, alongside his mom and coach Olga Romanova.
What’s next for Nikolaj? We shall wait and see. Among other competitions, 2023 Junior Worlds will be held in Calgary, Canada, from February 27 to March 5.
[Story by Florentina Tone
Photos by Alberto Ponti, Wilma Alberti and International Skating Union
Homepage photo: Alberto Ponti
Featured photo © International Skating Union]