Huddled around one side of the rink, a group of skaters pointed towards Yuri and began chuckling among themselves. At first it started low whispers among themselves, but soon enough they forwent trying to hide their intentions.
“His hair is too long. He practically looks like a girl.”
“Did you see his skates? They look like he found them inside a dumpster.”
“I’m pretty sure my mom throughout that outfit last week.”
“He probably won’t be able to stand up straight when it’s his turn.”
Yuri didn’t want to say anything, but it wasn’t like he couldn’t hear what the other skaters were saying about him. They weren’t trying to be discrete, but he was thankful that his grandfather wasn’t close enough to overhear their rude remarks. He would have a hard time explaining their cruelty to someone as gentle as Nikolai.
Bored of the least creative group of kids he had ever heard, Yuri looked around the room to the other skaters lacing up their skates for the warm up. Just by looking at them he could see most of them were idiots that had no reason to think they deserved to be on the same ice as him, but he didn’t say anything for the sake of being humble.
There weren’t many people on the ice, nothing at all that was impressive, and Yuri’s eyes immediately landed on his grandfather as he began his stretches. They hadn’t been sure he would be able to make it to the tryouts, his health hadn’t been the best as of late, and even now Yuri could catch him sneaking coughs into his handkerchief no matter how hard he tried to hide them for Yuri’s sake. Nikolai always liked to say Yuri got his stubborn persistence from him, but Yuri’s primary concern was proving to Nikolai that his efforts in making the trek over had been worth it. He gave his grandfather an uncharacteristic smile as assurance that today would be a great day for them which Nikolai returned with sincerity before Yuri returned to focus on his skating.
Behind him someone else complained, “It’s too cold in here. My usual rink is warmer than this. It’s probably going to affect my skating.”
A few of the other skaters seemed to agree and some went further to complain about things such as the new outfits their parents had gotten them or that their skates weren’t tying up properly, but Yuri knew they were all just making excuses for any possible bad performance.
Yuri didn’t need to make excuses because he knew he was going to win even when he was going completely out of his element. His family could only afford a few hours of professional coaching in well maintained rinks so most of his practice usually took place on frozen lake near his home. Most of the year it was frozen over, Yuri wasn’t too sure how any life could survive in conditions that cold, but in the few months it wasn’t Yuri wasn’t above breaking into nearby rinks to practice after hours. It wasn’t like he needed anything other than his skates and ice to practice anyway.
Yuri knew this competition was important and forced himself to focus. It wasn’t always that the legendary coach Yakov Feltsman was prepared to another skater under his wing. One of his senior skaters was retiring after an amazing career and there was an opening for anyone Yakov thought worthy of it. This was an opportunity Yuri couldn’t let slip by, one he and his family quite literally couldn’t afford, and if he didn’t start to focus his dreams of becoming a professional skater were as good as done.
Breaking him out of his thought, a powerful voice called out, “Everyone get in line,” and the skaters rushed to follow his orders. They quickly assembled in the center of the rink, a few of the skaters definitely more confident than others, and pulled a number out of the bag one of Yakov’s assistants held in front of them. He explained, “This is the order you’ll be skating in. This is your only opportunity to impress me so make sure it’s worth my time. You will know directly after you skate if you will be accepted as my student.”
After Yakov left the ice to watch from the sideline the assistance asked, “Can everyone get off the ice so we have a chance to clean up before the first skater? Please line up in order so we can move faster, hand your music off to the person who will ask for it, and use this time to go to the restroom if you need to.”
As they began forming a line it was obvious to Yuri that the person in front wasn’t ready for the stress and fidgeted from foot to foot in anticipation. The people directly behind her were trying to be encouraging, but Yuri could tell they were just as nervous. It pleased him to see that some of the people the most nervous were the same as those you had been insulting him only a few minutes ago, but he knew it would do him no good to focus on their own failings.
Yuri was ready to trade spots with any of them, he wasn’t one to wait for his turn and as it stood he was second from last, but he didn’t want Yakov’s first impression of him to be one of insubordination. That would come after when Yuri became one of his students.
In Yuri’s opinion the first three people in line had had reason to be worried. Their music selection was horrible, annoying pop music that did not compliment their skating in any way, and their talent was only slightly above average, if that. Glancing back he could tell Yakov shared his opinion as he swiftly dismissed them from the rink and ushered the next person forward with little to no shown interest.
The only person of note was a somewhat talented boy, Yuri thought his name was Vlad from what his parents were saying, and so far he was the only one Yakov didn’t immediately dismiss from the room. He instead rushed to his parents as they beamed at his performance and offered him encouragement. The remaining parents were growing almost as anxious as their children as they saw just how many skaters Yakov was harshly dismissing, but turning to his grandfather Yuri could see that he looked as calm as other. His only worry seemed to be the pirozhki he was eating as he waited for his grandson to get on the stage.
Shaking his head to keep from getting distracted, Yuri did a few quick jumps to keep his body warmed up as the line became shorter and the ice rink became emptier. Most of the skaters’ programs were completely forgettable, all the money in the world couldn’t buy talent, and the only thing that eventually broke him out of his concentration was when a familiar face came rushing into the rink and towards Yakov. At first the guests thought it was some kind of emergency considering just how fast he was running, but in the end he simply stood beside his couch and asked, “This is the trials for the new skater, right? See anything interesting?”
Yakov sighed and said, “Not really, but there’s one I would be willing to settle for if necessary. There aren’t many skaters left and I’m not that hopeful we’ll see anything interesting.”
Now that he wasn’t moving, Yuri could tell why the face seemed so familiar. It was Victor Nikiforov, the only skater Yuri felt truly inspired by, and he must have felt Yuri’s gaze on him because he directed a kind smile his way soon after. It was a stark contrast to the atmosphere in the rest of the room, it felt like each student was going toward his or her execution, and Yuri immediately cast the other skater’s harsh words aside as he stood in the front of the line waiting for the next routine to start.
Even though Yuri was actually playing attention to the performance, it was just as forgettable as anything else he’d seen and he wasn’t surprised when Yakov dismissed him with the same harsh attitude he had given the other students. If anything he seemed even more annoyed being that there were only two skaters left and his chance of finding a student worthy was growing slimmer and slimmer.
Once the ice was clear and Yakov motioned Yuri forward, he took his place on the center of the ice and waited for the music to start. It was a smooth calming melody, incredibly different from the music others had played, and he immediately began moving into his step routine. It wasn’t too difficult, his grandfather had suggested he start off easy to get used to the stressful situation and calm his nerves, but he quickly went into an axel jump and quickly after a double axel. Harder footwork followed the double axel, it gave him enough time to gauge everyone’s reaction to his routine so far, and he could see that Yakov was interested but not excited. Victor looked slightly more interested, but he still didn’t think Yuri’s performance was quite that memorable.
Accordingly, Yuri went into his combination, a double lutz and double axel combination that was only slightly over rotated but one he landed firmly. It gave him enough time to look back to his grandfather watching him proudly and with a simple spin he could see Victor wearing a big smile.
As he entered the last third of his performance Yuri decided against the single flip and single axel his grandfather thought was a fitting end that wouldn’t challenge his stamina. Instead, he went for a double single combination before going into his combination spin. His landing wasn’t as firm as the previous one, but he quickly regained his balance before skating towards the center and using the last of his stamina in his spin. He extended one leg out for a few spins but as soon as the music began to wind down he pulled his arms and legs in to gain as much speed as possible while he ended the routine.
Yuri was sure he must have missed Yakov’s instructions as the blood continued to rush into his ear and he labored to catch his breath. When he finally mustered up the energy to look up he found Victor and the other assistant in the room clapping at the performance, Yuri thought it might have been the first time they did that but he wasn’t paying enough attention to be sure, while Yakov stood as still as ever. For a moment Yuri thought he might have been just like the other kids who had gone before him, too sure of his talent and mediocre to the trained and unbiased eye, but as soon as Yuri could stand up again Yakov instructed, “Ivan will take your information and brief you on some routine things. Be here again on Saturday and we’ll begin on your training.”
Still in disbelief, Yuri didn’t remember how but he managed to find his way to his grandfather and leap up at him in an excited embrace.
Nikolai easily returned the sentiment and whispered, “You did great, Yuri. I’m really proud of you.”
The two were stuck in their embrace until the assistant, he introduced himself as Ivan, asked, “Can we go somewhere and talk in private? This rink is going to be used for the junior practice in a few minutes and it will be easier to talk in one of the office rooms.”
They followed him quietly, there was still one more routine going on and Vlad was now worried about not getting the same response as Yuri, and they found themselves in a quant office and offered paperwork to look over. Ivan explained, “It’s all pretty standard and you can look it over in your free time and contact us if you have any questions, but I can give you a summary right now. You will join our training group and have regular meetings, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday for 3 hours. Once Yakov thinks you’re ready and have enough skill you will join the preteen league and compete as such. Competition will be held nationally and if you have the talent for it you will be competing all over the world. Do you have any questions right now?”
Cautious of Yuri’s growing excitement, Nikolai asked, “How much is this going to cost?”
Used to the question, Ivan said, “I can’t say for sure right now, but we are pretty good with financing. If you have any financial difficulty it’s taken into account in deciding how much we ask you to pay and so far no one has been turned away because of financial difficulty.”
Right on time, Yakov entered the room and added, “We want the best of the best, regardless of how much one might make.” He could see Yuri beaming up at him and added, “If you decide to join us, then you will be one of the greatest skaters in the world.”
Yuri smirked and said, “I can’t wait.”