Russian figure skating legend Irina Slutskaya has not been involved in the sport lately but the two-time Olympic medalist and record seven-time European champion sat down with the Russian Olympic Committee website teamrussia.pro to talk about the current state of the sport, Russia’s top figure skaters nowadays, and who will be the favorites at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Irina Slutskaya’s interview with Team Russia; translated to English:
Team Russia: It seems that after the birth of your third child, there is less of you in figure skating than before.
Slutskaya: I have devoted my entire adult life to figure skating. Parallel to sports, I was developing as a woman, as a person. Of course, in recent years, figure skating has undergone significant changes, but I’m still in the subject. I’m not going deep into it anymore, but I follow events, our leaders, I have my own opinions about them, priorities are in place.
Team Russia: Do you have any favorites?
Slutskaya: I sympathize with some more, others a little less. Often, sympathies are renewed every season – after all, an athlete can appear in a completely different way. If they lose more than they gain, then the attitude changes towards them.
Team Russia: How do you like figure skating in the era of the pandemic? It was recently announced that the third stage of the Russian Cup in Sochi will be held without spectators.
Slutskaya: It seems to me that the presence of spectators in the stands is not the main issue. Now in many countries in the world, with the exception of Russia, the level of figure skating is in a state of stagnation. It may happen that in the future only our athletes will compete with each other, and their foreign rivals will lose their skills without full-fledged performances. There is no complete clarity with the Grand Prix, the stages in Canada and France are cancelled, the fate of the European and World Championships are unknown.
As for the presence of spectators in Sochi, this is a forced measure. Of course, performing in public is more exciting. But on the other hand, when you go out on the ice, you completely abstract from what is happening around the rink.
Team Russia: One of the main events of the past week was Alexandra Trusova’s quad loop, landed during training. Can you call her a unique figure skater?
Slutskaya: Of course. After all, Alexandra owns all quadruple jumps, which is beyond the control of even men. Now all this arsenal must be collected in competitions. The main thing is that you need to have enough strength and patience.
Team Russia: So what’s next?
Slutskaya: For now, Trusova is a small and mischievous girl. But the process of maturation of the organism cannot be prevented, so very soon it will be necessary to adjust the technical capabilities. Much will depend on how her new coaching staff handles this fine-tuning. And what was laid down earlier will remain with her for life: she mastered the quadruple toe loop, salchow, lutz and flip under the guidance of Eteri Tutberidze. This is the very core on which new complicated elements will be strung. Let’s see what will happen in a year, how the skater will cope with five quadruple jumps in one program.
Team Russia: In your opinion, is Evgenia Medvedeva, who missed two stages of the Cup of Russia series due to back problems, capable of reaching a level that allows her to be among the elite?
Slutskaya: If Zhenya returned to the Tutberidze group, it means that she feels that she can rebuild herself on the previous tracks and continue the victorious march. Medvedeva is a born fighter, ambition will always come first. On the other hand, in order to win, you now need to master at least one quadruple jump. Some girls between the ages of 12 and 14 are already doing them with ease. In this regard, Zhenya will struggle. Those triple jumps that she has in her arsenal will not be enough to fight for the podium. And whether Medvedeva will complicate the content, I will not assume.
Team Russia: What do you have in mind?
Slutskaya: If this season you can still rely on chance, that rivals might make a mistake, and there will be enough triple-triple combinations for a high place, then next year, when Kamila Valieva and other juniors finally gain a foothold in the adult group, it will be necessary to use heavy artillery in the form of a quadruple jump or triple axel.
Team Russia: Last Sunday, by the way, Valieva performed it in training. How do you like her condition and the new free skate Bolero, shown at the second stage of the Cup of Russia series in Moscow?
Slutskaya: What readiness of an athlete can we talk about in mid-October? It is possible to give the first marks only in December, and the skaters reach their peak form by March. Valieva has definitely reached a new level of herself. Now she will be under general scrutiny, including people who are not quite adequate. Some of them will definitely not like the rope on the dress, makeup or hand movement. Kamila has something to work on, she has excellent potential. Of course, at the age of 14, it is difficult to portray passion and love, going out on the ice to complex classical music. But anyway, I really like her skating style and beautiful lines.
Team Russia: What can you say about the decision of the Executive Committee of the Figure Skating Federation of Russia, according to which it is required to participate in two stages of the Cup to qualify for the National Championship?
Slutskaya: In those years, when I was performing, there were also certain qualifying criteria. Of course, when an athlete skated at the Grand Prix stages, they received an entry to the Russian Championship. Now the coronavirus has mixed up all the cards.
Team Russia: Recently, we have seen a fierce confrontation in the information space of the coaching staffs of Evgeny Plushenko and Eteri Tutberidze. Will this war harm our figure skating?
Slutskaya: Sometimes you want to say: “Calm down and do your job!” However, it seems to me that the war is being fought more on one side. More often we hear critical attacks from Plushenko’s team, which, meanwhile, received two ready-made athletes.
I do not want to condemn anyone – everyone has the right to make their choice. Tutberidze, as before, continues to work and moves forward, although, probably, like everyone else, makes mistakes somewhere. She found herself in a difficult situation. The European champion and the bronze medalist left her, and there are also accusations that the programs were weak.
Team Russia: Can such things be resolved only on ice?
Slutskaya: Naturally! If the World Championship was held in Montreal, cancelled due to the coronavirus, then such conversations might have been avoided.
I am convinced that Eteri Georgievna did not grab onto her students, like the last reed. Any coach is ready for such a turn of events, and there is nothing to stir up controversy on this basis. If they left, they left. Tutberidze has many talented young athletes whose victories are a matter of time.
Team Russia: I have heard that the race for quadruple jumps takes out femininity. Do you agree with this statement?
Slutskaya: Everyone has their own individual style. For some it is more athletic, while others prefer lyrical tones. The same Valieva does not look like a foreign body among adults. She has a twist that is rarely seen in other skaters.
It is important to understand here that while complicating the program, it is important to preserve the individuality and the choreographic side. You can’t be sharpened only for quadruple jumps. Many young athletes, that I have seen, try to improve the second mark. For complete harmony, they need to get into the music, into the image that the choreographer builds.
Team Russia: You became the first skater to perform a triple Lutz-triple loop combination at the 1999 Grand Prix Final. It was this element that allowed Alina Zagitova to take Olympic gold nineteen years later.
Slutskaya: In 1999, I jumped two triple combination in one program: Lutz-loop and Salchow-loop. I am pleased to know that this bar was actually held until the Games in Pyeongchang. Our generation has paved the way for today’s youth to go after the Olympic gold medal.
Team Russia: Admit it, are you are still haunted by the 2002 Olympic Games, where you took second place due to the dubious decision of the judges?
Slutskaya: What happened is gone. I am philosophical about life. To live in resentment is to destroy yourself, your own energy. I prefer to look at the current situation from a different angle. I have two Olympic medals in singles skating. This has never happened in our history. I really want our girls to perform at two or three Olympics, and that one of them breaks my Guinness record by winning more than seven gold medals at the European Championships.
When life outside of sports began, I realized that it would not be possible to rest on your laurels for a long time. You have to look for yourself, learn and not stop in your development. And you should not take on something for which you have no purpose.
Team Russia: So you want to say that the main difficulties you had to overcome were after the end of your career?
Slutskaya: Yes. You need to be able to survive, earn. Girls want to start a family, give birth to a child, arrange a home life. And no medal will help you find happiness and be realized in a new way.
Team Russia: In a year and three months, the Olympic Games are due in Beijing. Who do you see on the Russian national team? This, of course, is about ladies’ singles skating.
Slutskaya: This is a very difficult question, I cannot give a clear answer. The circle of contenders is clearly outlined, but it is impossible to say in advance which of them will shoot out. There is Trusova, Shcherbakova, Kostornaia, Valieva, Medvedeva. I really want to see Elizaveta Tuktamysheva in Beijing – she has taken a very long and persistent way towards the goal. In spite of everything, Liza is torn up: then the axel will jump, then the quadruple toe loop. Anya Shcherbakova is becoming more and more beautiful every year. Absolutely – no one has a 100% guarantee.
Team Russia: What can you say about the opponents from abroad?
Slutskaya: I have no doubt that the fight for the Olympic podium will unfold exclusively between our skaters. The Japanese lady Rika Kihira can be competitive. Judging by the short videos on social media, she is very determined. The talented American Alisa Liu, it seems to me, lost a little. Maybe some Korean figure skater with a quadruple axel will appear, from whom nothing is expected yet.
Team Russia: How correct is it to discuss the performances of young figure skaters, almost children, examining their costumes in detail, criticizing them for mistakes?
Slutskaya: Believe me, people discussing hairstyles, colors of dresses and tights have nothing to do with figure skating. There is a professional component – technique and artistry. Whether the image corresponds to the world level, how cleanly the program is executed – this is what we need to talk about, and not about individual details of the costume. Sound criticism should exist, but these days, internet couch experts are trying to outmaneuver themselves. In terms of the degree of inadequacy of fans, figure skating in our country is second only to football.
Team Russia: Can TV shows such as Ice Age influence the development of figure skating in Russia?
Slutskaya: Of course, it is possible to popularize our sport through television shows. The main thing is not to create a false impression that, allegedly, in two or three workouts, a person who first got on skates learned to perform complex elements that professional skaters have been working on for months. It is necessary to convey from the screen that figure skating is aesthetics, beauty and full development of a child.