Roman Sadovsky: Figure Skater & YouTuber

The Grand Prix season always seems to bring its share of new stars and surprises. Roman Sadovsky was a bit of both in November, when he unexpectedly won bronze at NHK Trophy. 

Not many picked the 20-year-old Canadian skater to medal at NHK, which featured an impressive field of men’s competitors, including two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu. But Sadovsky seized the moment in Sapporo, impressing judges and fans with his sweeping quad Salchow jumps and elegant programs. His medal was a bit of a surprise; yet, it was something he’d been building toward for several years.

From 2012-2016, Sadovsky competed successfully on the Junior Grand Prix (JGP) circuit, winning two JGP titles and three other JGP medals for Canada. His transition to the senior ranks was slowed by growth spurts. Sadovsky is now one of the tallest men’s skaters competing internationally, and navigating the physical changes he experienced took time. But with the guidance of his coaches, particularly longtime coach Tracy Wainman, Sadovsky made his senior debut in the 2017-2018 Olympic season. Since then, he has won three Challenger Series medals. His bronze medal at NHK Trophy represents his biggest success yet as a senior. Sadovsky now hopes to translate the confidence gained from his performances at NHK to a good result at Canadian Nationals this week.

In addition to training, Sadovsky also coaches at his rink in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Off the ice, he enjoys pursuing his interest in photography, sharing many pictures on his Instagram page. Sadovsky is also the creative force behind the popular Romsky YouTube channel, where he posts witty videos, or vlogs, documenting his training and experiences as a skater. (Not to mention his promposal. :-)) His channel has attracted almost 5000 subscribers.

Recently, Sadovsky took some time out from his training to chat with me about his background, how he got into skating, how he got and then lost a triple Axel, how growth spurts affected his skating (both technically and artistically), why he loves working with choreographers David Wilson and Mark Pillay, which quad may come next for him, how he films his videos, and more. Take a few minutes to get to know this multi-talented young man! 

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Sadovsky skating his long program

 

Q:  Roman, your parents moved to Canada from Ukraine before you were born. Where are they from in Ukraine?

Sadovsky:  My mom is from a city called L’viv, and my dad is from a city called Ivano-Frankivs’k. They’re both from western Ukraine, so it’s very Ukrainian. The eastern part of Ukraine–a lot of them start to speak more Russian. At home, my parents always spoke Ukrainian, so that’s the language I picked up. I can’t really speak Russian. I can pick up on words, and understand a lot of it. But to actually communicate, it’s really difficult. 

Q:  So you’re bilingual in Ukrainian and English?

Sadovsky:  I wouldn’t officially say bilingual, because I’m not that good. I can hold a conversation. I think if I lived in Ukraine for two or three weeks, I’d probably pick it up really fast. But I wouldn’t actually say I’m bilingual. Every competition that I go to, everybody looks at my name, and everyone on the Russian team just automatically starts speaking to me in Russian. And I’m okay; I can hold up for a while. Then I have to admit: “Okay, I don’t know what you just said.”   (Note: Russian and Ukrainian are separate languages, but are linguistically similar.)

Q:  Do you go back often to visit Ukraine?

Sadovsky:  Not very often. I’ve only been back a handful of times. I do have some family back there, so that’s the main reason for going back. 

Q:  Figure skating is well-known in Ukraine, and there have been many successful skaters from Ukraine. Is that how you wound up getting into figure skating?

Sadovsky:  Not at all. I wanted to play hockey, actually. My parents wanted me to be super-busy as a kid. So they put me in swimming, gymnastics, and a learn-to-skate type program. One of the coaches at that program–I don’t know what she saw–but she said, “Okay, you should try figure skating first.” She convinced me that it would help if I wanted to play hockey. That’s when I first started trying to figure skate. And since then, I never thought about even starting to play hockey. It’s a coincidence–I wanted to play hockey, but one person said, “Try this.” And that was it. 

Q:  When you first started, did you like it a lot? Or was it just one of many activities that you enjoyed?

Sadovsky:  When I first started, it was just one of many activities. My love for the sport grew over time. Eventually, it got to the point where it was more time commitment. So I stopped gymnastics, and then I stopped swimming afterward. Stopping gymnastics or swimming wasn’t devastating. But stopping skating? That was never a thought. I was like: “No, no, no. That, we’ve got to keep going.”

Q:  What parts of skating did you enjoy as a kid?

Sadovsky:  I think just the nature of being able to compete and perform. I think that’s what stuck out the most. And the overall intricacy. In comparison to swimming … I didn’t really enjoy swimming the lanes of the pool, back and forth, over and over. Skating was definitely way more engaging. Just something about it–it’s hard to explain. Maybe just the glide. The ability of almost dancing on the ice. That attracted me.

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Competing at 2014 Canadian Nationals  (Andre Ringuette/Getty Images North America)

Q:  In terms of technique, did jumps and spins come easily as a kid? Or were some elements harder to get?

Sadovsky:  I would definitely say I was a natural spinner. I caught on to more difficult spins at a faster rate than other people. As a kid, I did pick up on things relatively quickly. It was nice. (Laughs) Just having a natural athletic acuity. But definitely, spins were what came to me the easiest, relative to other people. 

Q:  You first started working with your coach, Tracy Wainman, when you were eight years old. And you’ve been with Tracy most of the time since then. (Note: Wainman is a former two-time Canadian national ladies champion.) What is your relationship with Tracy like, and how has it changed over time?

Sadovsky:  It’s such a long connection. I think when I first started skating at the club, it was obviously fresh and different. But now that we’ve traveled together, we’ve been to so many competitions together, I think the training atmosphere between us is pretty casual, in general. Just because we’re so used to the routine. When I come to the rink, we’re both there to do a job. It’s casual, but still structured and organized. It’s been so many years …. We are very close, that’s for sure. It’s pretty fun at the rink.

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Roman with his longtime coach, Tracy Wainman, in 2015  (David Li)

Q:  So you and Tracy were together when you were little, and then into your junior years. You competed junior internationally for a fairly long time–five seasons.

Sadovsky:  Yes, I almost maxed out on my [junior] years, I think.

Q:  Were you 13 when you started?

Sadovsky:  Yes. Right when I turned 13. My birthday, I think, is just before the cutoff. So I was 13 at my first Junior Grand Prix, and I think 18 at my last one. 

Q:  After such a long junior career, what was it like when you finally made the transition from juniors to seniors?

Sadovsky:  It was really rewarding. I was always itching, itching, to go senior. But ….  I developed really quickly up until I was 13. And then, around 14, 15, 16, is when I had massive growth spurts. And that’s when my jump development really slowed down. I was still improving in other aspects. But if you look [at it] completely objectively, the technical difficulty in my program when I was 13 was very similar to something I was doing when I was 15. I didn’t add a quad or a triple Axel into the program until I was 15. So, that slowed development didn’t allow me to go into seniors as fast as I would have liked. When I finally was getting used to my body and being able to perform in seniors, it was very rewarding. 

Q:  You mentioned big growth spurts. You’re definitely on the tall side for a singles skater, at just under 6’1”. How do you feel that affected things, in terms of technique?

Sadovsky:  It definitely changes everything. I think the most difficult part was dealing with the change. Just the rhythm changing. My limbs lengthening–I had to figure out where to put my legs. That definitely slowed me down. I would say now, [in terms of] jump technique, it’s very important that I keep it as clean as possible. My room for error is a lot smaller because of my height. If I’m off even by a little bit on take-off, it’s pretty well over, because my center of gravity is so much higher. Saving jumps is a lot harder. Just overall, jump technique is very, very important for me. But on the other hand, I think the height definitely helps with overall performance and presence on the ice. It went hand in hand.

Q:  When you started into your growth spurt, did you notice big changes right away, or was it a gradual thing?

Sadovsky:  It’s a gradual thing. I didn’t wake up one day and be like: “Oh my gosh, where are my jumps?” (Laughs) It’s more like … just overall consistency drops a little bit over time. And you don’t even necessarily see it, or completely feel it. But you realize: “Okay, I’m sort of doing the same thing. I don’t feel like I’m really getting anywhere.” You make weird mistakes that you didn’t used to make. Sometimes, I would feel the rhythm on the jumps was really off. Let’s say triple Lutz. I would still be doing them, but they weren’t as good as what I was doing before. And it’s not overnight, but these things happen, and you’re like: “Okay, it’s kind of weird, I learned this already, it shouldn’t be like that.” It was just me adjusting over time to the changes of the body. 

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All grown up: Roman with his coach now

Q:  In terms of your jump development, you mentioned that you didn’t add a quad or triple Axel until you were 15. Which came first?

Sadovsky:  Axel came first. But then I actually performed quad Salchow in competition first. What happened was that I landed triple Axel for the first time when I was 14. But then, I lost it for a year and a half. And within that time, I got quad Salchow, like six months after. I lost triple Axel within 2 months of landing it. So it was sort of like a toss-up–a juggle thing.

Q:  Once you got the quad Salchow, did that jump stay with you?

Sadovsky:  More or less. I was doing them in practice quite consistently. But I definitely worked on that [triple] Axel for a long time before I got the hang of it again. I think it took literally a year and a half until I could do it again. For some reason, it was so good when I was 14. And then I wouldn’t do it again until almost 16. 

Q:  That must have been frustrating!

Sadovsky:  For sure. 

Q:  You now have two quad Salchows in your long program, two triple Axels, and your other triples. Are you still working on learning other quads as well?

Sadovsky: Oh, yes. Last season, I also had quad toe loop in the program. But there’s a little bit of a back story to that. During the summer last season, I had an ankle injury. So I was limited in doing flip and Lutz. Tracy and I wanted to go more consistent and more clean, in general. But last year, we had no choice. We had to put a jump in, and I couldn’t do flip or Lutz, so I had to swap them out for a double Axel and a quad toe. So I actually had, in a way, a more difficult program, because I had two quad Sals, quad toe, and two triple Axels. It’s just I couldn’t quite handle it last year. Sometimes the [quad] toe would work, sometimes it wouldn’t. But it was just a situation where I had no choice. I had to fill that jumping pass in with something. This season, thankfully, my ankle injury has been more recovered, and we’re focusing on getting cleaner programs more consistently. That’s why I haven’t been doing the quad toe in competition.  For me, I find that with every quad that you add, it completely changes the flow and the ballgame of the program. The initial goal at the beginning of the season was to get the quad toe in by Nationals. But I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen now. (Laughs ruefully)  

Q:  But you continue to practice it?

Sadovsky:  Of course, yes. I’m definitely practicing it, and I definitely want to get it more into the program next year, probably. I have to work on general body maintenance and just avoid those incidents [i.e., injuries] from happening. Then we can hold out a little longer throughout the season, and get both more difficult and more consistent programs, at the same time. I’d say the next quad after that– with the most potential to be in a program– would probably be Lutz. I’m not saying that I can do it [yet]; I’m just saying I can try it. That’s probably the closest thing that would be next.

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Mark Pillay: Choreographer of Sadovsky’s long program

Q:  I wanted to ask about presentation and artistry. You’ve worked with noted Canadian choreographer Mark Pillay on many of your long programs, including your current free skate, set to Schindler’s List and Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C Sharp Minor (aka Bells of Moscow). What is it like working with Mark, and what have you learned from him?

Sadovsky:  It’s just really, really fun. We have a lot of fun getting programs done together. The reason why I like working with Mark on long programs is that, through experience, I’ve seen that he really understands pacing. And he understands the difficulty of senior programs. And the priorities on the quads. Because no matter what, we’re going to be doing the quads. He knows how to choreograph in a way that I’m not too distracted from doing the quads, but at the same time, it’s still engaging. So he’s very good strategically. I can blend in the jumps with still complex choreography. He can also figure out jump order, which is really good. This latest program, I found that the jump order helped me so much. 

Q:  I noticed that your 4S/Eu/3S combo is not at the beginning of the long program, but midway through.

Sadovsky:  Yes. I do get the 10 percent bonus on it, I think. I’m pretty sure it’s in the second half. I’m pretty confident in that combo. That’s why it was definitely worth it. 10 percent for that combo is quite significant. [Note: With the 10 percent bonus, the combo is worth 15.95 points in base value.]

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David Wilson choreographed this season’s SP

Q:  You’ve also worked frequently with David Wilson, who choreographed your current short program to “Fly Me to the Moon,” sung by Chris Mann. What is it like choreographing with David, and what has he taught you?

Sadovsky:  We also have a lot of fun working together. David and Mark are very similar in some ways, and very different in others. When Mark choreographs, it’s like very planned out. Everything is very strategic. When I work with David, it’s …. very artsy. He works with the flow, trying to discover together what we can come up with while we’re working the programs. Mark already has sort of a plan in place; David works on the fly. Both are very good, of course, and you can see it in the programs. Both have really good results, but very different styles. I think it’s important to have two different choreographers for the short and the long. I feel it just shows a little bit more skating vocabulary. A different choreographer is going to have a different flavor–that’s the best way I can explain it. 

Q:  Do you usually find the music for your programs, or do the choreographers suggest music?

Sadovsky:  It depends on the year. Sometimes it’ll be my request, sometimes the choreographer is searching. At the end of the day, I’m the person who says: “Yes, I’ll skate to that,” or “No, I won’t.” For example, in this case, both [of my current] programs, I didn’t find [the music]. There are times when I want to skate to this or that. This time, I wasn’t sure. I was kind of waiting. “Well, maybe David will give me something, or maybe Mark will give me something.” For the long program, Mark sent me this piece of music, and I instantly knew,  “Okay, yes, I want to skate to this.” It was very simple; I listened to it once, and I was convinced. Done. David, he sent me this music [“Fly Me to the Moon”] …. I really wasn’t a huge fan at first. David really liked it; Tracy really liked it. I wasn’t a big fan, because I felt it’s a little too slow, too stagnant. But, Tracy suggested we just bring David in, and generate some ideas on the ice. Because sometimes, listening to music [on the ice] is a little bit different than listening to it on a phone. So we brought David in, and we started generating these ideas. And I thought to myself: “Okay, this could actually be a really good program.” And I went with it.

Q:  Skating to Schindler’s List … Obviously, the music has great historical significance. Plus, it’s quite popular–a lot of skaters have used it. Did you ever feel nervous about it, on that account?

Sadovsky:  Not entirely, because it is a different arrangement. It is mixed in with Bells of Moscow. And it’s not that we mixed it together; the person who arranged it created this piece that perfectly blended together Schindler’s List and Bells of Moscow. I had actually wanted to skate to Bells of Moscow at some point. And I thought, “Oh my gosh, this is perfect–a mix of the two pieces together–and it’s just so well done.” I honestly never really thought about pressure because of Schindler’s List. I knew a lot of people had skated to it. But I also knew that if I skated well to it, no one’s going to think about that. 

NHK Trophy Figure Skating, Sapporo, Japan - 23 Nov 2019
Feeling the music

Q:  Let’s talk about the growth of the presentation side of your skating. Is that something that’s come naturally? Or have you worked on it in specific ways as you’ve gotten older?

Sadovsky:  I’ve definitely worked on it. Facial expressions were one [thing] that we worked on for the past couple of years. But also, with growing, and having a longer body in general … I’ll be honest, my overall body [line] was pretty poor. Leg extensions weren’t the greatest, arm extensions weren’t the greatest. I was basically extending my leg to the point where I thought it was extended. But it was longer than I thought it was! (Laughs) I would have bent knees in places where I was convinced that they weren’t. Posture … my shoulders would either slump or actually go up to my ears. They’d be too high. Stuff like that, I definitely had to focus on, especially while growing. I did a lot of ballet off the ice. We specifically ran the programs a lot, really focusing on those aspects. David is here in Toronto, so he would come by once in a while, for some upkeep. Mark, he’s farther away, so it’s more difficult. I’d get feedback from him [based on] competitions, or we’d actually send videos for him to look at. And work off of that.

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Winning a medal at NHK Trophy  (Kyodo News)

Q:  So you went through your growth spurts, you worked on your presentation, and your jumps developed. This season, it all came together at NHK Trophy, where you won your first Grand Prix medal. What was the whole experience at NHK like, and what was your reaction to it?

Sadovsky:  Going into the competition, I sort of knew what I could achieve, if I were just laying it down. The thing is, I haven’t been satisfied with [my] performance in a long time. Last year, at Autumn Classic [where he won a bronze medal], I felt it partly. When I was younger, I had really good performances at Nationals, for example. When I was 13, 14, I had good performances, and I was really satisfied with what I was doing. For a while, I’d say, there wasn’t that fulfillment. There was always: “Oh, I wish I did this,” or “I wish I could do that.” At NHK, when I finished that long program, I definitely had that satisfaction back, for the first time in a long time. I still made a couple of mistakes, but I knew that, for where I am right now, this was definitely really good. The only thing I would change [is] I don’t think the short was performed nearly as well as I could have, compared to training. 

Q:  It was a great long program, and a great result. Having achieved that, and gained that satisfaction again, how does it make you feel going into Nationals?

Sadovsky:  It definitely gave me more confidence. I think I probably struggle in general with low confidence. But then, skating like that, it just shows me that I do fit in. That I can be at that senior level, and I can compete with these world-class skaters like Yuzuru Hanyu. I mean, I’m still like 60 points off, but … I can still be there. It’s definitely nice to know, going into Nationals. Knowing that I can perform that well, with that level of difficulty, is definitely a huge confidence booster. 

Q:  Internationally, there’s quite a high level of competition in the men’s event. Do you ever wonder: “Hmm, what do I need to do to stand out in the crowd and be noticed?”

Sadovsky:  I don’t really worry about that. Because I feel like my style of skating is definitely different than what everyone else is doing. I do feel that I have a differentiating quality. It’s just more actually doing what I need to, within those 4 minutes. And over time, I’m going to have to pick up that technical difficulty. No matter what, that is where it’s going to have to go. But overall consistency is my #1. And then, if I can slowly up the technical difficulty, while still maintaining consistency, then I think I can start giving the top skaters a run for their money.

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Skating the short program at NHK

Q:  What do you see as the differentiating quality in your skating?

Sadovsky:  Spins, I think, are a big one. I also feel that I have a pretty good edge quality, in general. That’s definitely to the credit of Tracy. Tracy was basically a prodigy when it came to figures. I think that her growing up with that type of disciplined figures session rubbed off onto her coaching. She definitely is a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to that stuff. So, I developed good skating skills over the years.

Q:  Let’s talk about your off-ice interests. I was noticing that you have a lot of great photographs on your Instagram. Do you enjoy photography, off the ice?

Sadovsky:  Yes, I do. Basically anywhere I go now, I bring my camera with me. I just bring my camera everywhere.

Q:  Do you prefer taking pictures of people, or landscapes?

Sadovsky:  Everything. I like doing portraits. I also like doing urban landscapes–that kind of thing. If I travel somewhere, I want to capture, when it comes to photos, stuff that I can remember. Like, if a city gives me a certain feel, how can I get that feeling into a photo?

Q:  You also have a very popular YouTube channel called Romsky. How did you get started making videos, or vlogs, and what drew you into it?

Sadovsky:  As a kid, I was very interested in cameras, computers, that kind of thing. I got my first real camera when I was 10 years old. I was really into stop-motion animation, but I didn’t do much with it for a while. Then, I brought my camera to Junior Worlds one year. I brought it just to take some pictures. I also took some videos at the same time, and did an edit. And I really liked it. I was like, “Hmm, what can I do with this?” And I saw a lot of vlog channels online. I thought, “Okay, maybe I could pull this off.”

Q:  You’ve built your channel up over a couple of years. So you have quite a library of videos. 

Sadovsky:  I’m definitely posting a lot more now than I did before. I want to treat it a little more seriously than before. I would go like six months without posting. Right now, I think I’m averaging every two weeks.

Q:  Do you have someone who helps you with the filming? Like when there’s footage of you at the rink?

Sadovsky:  Basically, I’d say 99.9 percent is me filming myself. Imagine me carrying a camera attached to a mini tripod, holding it out in front of me, and looking at it. That’s essentially what’s happening. So I’m walking around with a pretty big camera setup, and just talking to it. It looks a little bit ridiculous. It’s actually kind of weird. (Laughs) Try going on to the street and walking around with a big camera like that and talking to it. That’s what all the major vloggers do. As a viewer, you don’t realize it. And then when you try to do it, you’re like, “Oh my gosh, this is really weird.” That’s basically how I film myself. For stuff that’s on the ice, I just set it down on the boards. There’s been maybe one or two videos when I had a friend film for me on the ice. Or maybe Tracy. But not a lot. As a total, maybe 3 minutes out of all my videos were filmed by someone else. Everything else is completely by me.

Q:  That’s pretty amazing. Do you do all the video editing yourself as well?

Sadovsky:  Yes. That’s one hundred percent on me.  

Q:  Not to be too nerdy, but what program do you use? What are some of your tools?

Sadovsky:  I have this pretty cool desk setup with my computer and my speakers. I built a computer just to be able to edit all this stuff. But recently I switched to a MacBook, and I’ve been editing with a program called FinalCutPro. That pretty much satisfies all my needs.

Q:  As you do more videos, do you feel like you learn more techniques and use more effects?

Sadovsky:  A little bit, definitely. I already knew a lot, starting off. So that was my advantage. It wasn’t like I was completely clueless when I started. But whenever you’re more experienced, you learn how to do things more efficiently and get stuff done faster. 

Q:  Thanks for chatting with us, Roman, and good luck at Nationals!

Sadovsky:  Thank you!

Note:  Check out the Romsky YouTube channel here:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWZJ3gGYI_Qd36YeM_sKbZQ.

You can view Sadovsky’s photographs on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/roman_sadovsky/.

Follow him on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/_romansadovsky.

 

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