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In 2255, Tikhonov was elected captain of Team Alpha for the final round of testing in Advanced Tactical Training, facing off against Team Delta, led by Cadet James T. Kirk. Team Delta achieved the highest score in the First Contact mission final. Tikhonov led Team Alpha to victory in the Security final, the Derelict Cairo scenario, in which members of Team Alpha fired at Kirk from the ceiling duct of the USS Cairo's bridge, distracting him while Tikhonov and another cadet came up through the turbolift shaft and phaser-stunned him.
Tikhonov subsequently was the victim of a practical joke perpetrated by Kirk and three other cadets, Rodriguez, Bartley and Sweeney. The other three men wanted to place a live chicken in Tikhonov's room in Nimitz Hall, but the window was locked because Tikhonov had a female cadet with him. Kirk tricked Tikhonov into leaving the room, then pretended to be checking the window seal, allowing him to unlock the window and enable the other cadets to put the chicken through it. A few days later, Kirk's Team Delta outperformed Team Alpha in the Science mission final, the Tanika Station scenario.
Tikhonov, an arrogant Russian man, enjoyed American metal thrash-rock music. Kirk considered Tikhonov's tactical thinking superior to his own and hoped he would someday lead his security team, but did not feel Tikhonov would ever make a good starship commander. Tikhonov reciprocated Kirk's respect, expressing the hope that Kirk would someday be his third officer. (TOS - Starfleet Academy novel: The Delta Anomaly)
Tikhonov continued to be Kirk's nemesis at Starfleet Command College, where Kirk frequently defeated him in the simulators. Physically stronger than Kirk, Tikhonov had a reputation for bullying other cadets, including Pavel Chekov. He socialized with a group of fellow Russians known as the "Russian Mafia". During the Zeta Fleet Training Exercise in May 2255, Tikhonov was assigned as captain of the USS Farragut, in command of Task Force Blue, with Kirk as his first officer. Tikhonov's aggressive tendencies nearly led to disaster in the Zeta scenario, but Kirk successfully urged him to resolve the situation with diplomacy. (TOS - Starfleet Academy novel: The Gemini Agent)