Two-time Russian National champion Anna Shcherbakova spoke to news agency TASS after winning her second gold medal in this season’s Cup of Russia series. The 16-year-old spoke about mental challenges when trying the Lutz-loop combination in Sochi, the not ideal preparation for this competition, and the future of the season.
Anna Shcherbakova’s interview with TASS reporter Vladislav Zhukov; translated to English:
TASS: The stage in Sochi turned out to be ambiguous for you. On one hand – first place, on the other – imperfect performances. What are your feelings from it?
Shcherbakova: At this stage, I probably didn’t like it more than I liked it. I made a lot of mistakes… It all started with the short program. I was very worried about the combination – I thought only about it the entire performance. And it didn’t work out.
After that it was very difficult to tune into the free skate. The evening was just kind of endless for me. I was just starting to forget about the competition, switching over, when the thought came back to me that some kind of end of the world had happened, a tragedy, everything was over. (Laughs) But then I tried not to think about it, to tune in more into the free skate.
It seems to me that I managed to go out for the performance without thinking about the short. Thought about how to fix the situation. And that the fight was yet to come, and I hadn’t lost everything yet.
TASS: We will talk about the combination a little later. Here’s what it seemed like to me – the second start of the season, it should already be easier. But in Sochi, it seems, on the contrary, it became more difficult for you.
Shcherbakova: It’s unpredictable. Not always that the more starts you have – the more confident you are. Perhaps, it happens to me, that I go to tournaments with the same technical set as I had last time. And if in the previous one I skated well, then I feel responsibility – now you are obliged to skate no worse.
For example, last time I had a flip, and I was very glad that I did it. Now I felt some kind of obligation, that is, I must do it in order to be no worse. That I must move on. Therefore, sometimes it is even harder to perform a second time.
TASS: About the flip. As far as I understand, you planned to do two quads in Sochi already?
Shcherbakova: This option was practiced in training. Let’s just say – in different forms. But, literally at the last moment, we decided that it would be more reliable to skate with one. Well, for me it was very important to feel the difference this time from the previous one. That this is not one successful quadruple attempt at the start, but that I approach it correctly in the six-minute warm-up and just as confidently do it in the performance.
TASS: Now let’s deal with the combination.
Shcherbakova: Eh, yes. (Laughs)
TASS: At both stages of the Cup of Russia, you gorgeously landed a quadruple flip. And both times – errors on the loop in a combination with the Lutz. What’s wrong with it?
Shcherbakova: In the short program, I’ve had it before… Still, this is the most important element in the program, so you always worry about it more. There were sometimes problems before that – if not at the competition, then at training. With it there are more nerves, then mistakes happen.
In the short , of course, it was very upsetting. Because of this, probably, an error occurred in the free skate. Usually, in the free skate I concentrate on quads. I tried to remember – I never, in principle, had gross mistakes on triples. Not in the past, not the year before last. If quadruples did not work, then I always did triples.
This time, after an unsuccessful combination in the short, I was again overthinking – after the quadruple I did not let go of the situation and, closer to the second half, I started thinking about the Lutz-loop again like God forbid it doesn’t happen like in the short. Probably, this prevented me from doing it on the first attempt. On the second one, I also felt uncertainty and somehow instantly – I didn’t even have time to think – I decided to attach a triple toe loop, so that there was at least something. (Laughs)
TASS: But you probably understood that there will be a repetition of jumps and it will not be counted?
Shcherbakova: On the exit of the combination, I realized that the toe loop would not be counted anywhere. Of course, I didn’t think: “Well, maybe at least this toe loop will be counted.” Just an instant decision – since it’s not a loop, then I’ll attach a toe loop. But I do not regret that it turned out this way, because for training, I made a combination. Of course, it should be with a loop, I understand, but it happened.
TASS: Tell us a little about the preparation for the competition. We talked with Daniil Markovich, and he said that there were certain difficulties with this.
Shcherbakova: There were difficulties, they always arise. Upon returning from Syzran – at first there was some burst of energy, I was already trying to do a program with two quads.
Then there were minor problems… I got sick, then went back, recovered. This is not serious, but it still slightly messed up my preparation. I devoted more time to quadruple jumps during this time, restored. In principle, there is progress, and I think it can be seen that this time I jumped the flip more confidently. The Lutz has already recovered in training, there were good attempts.
I think we will slowly recover. Hopefully nothing will interrupt the preparation anymore. Although now, upon arrival, I will need to break in new skates.
TASS: New skates again? There were new ones after Graz.
Shcherbakova: Graz… When was Graz? What was there? (Laughs) Europe, right?
TASS: As if it was in a past life.
Shcherbakova: Oh, yes. (Laughs) Well, there were new skates then. There was one more before this season. And now.
TASS: New skates every few months?
Shcherbakova: It turned out like this: I came to Novogorsk, rolled out the new ones which I skated with up to this moment. They barely survived this time, with scotch tape. They are still okay, but they definitely need to be changed. I already had a ready-made pair for this case. The scheme has been worked out – last year some skates also did not survive the whole season.
TASS: Will you have time to break them in before the ISU Grand Prix stage in Moscow?
Shcherbakova: I have no choice, I have to. (Laughs)
TASS: By the way, what do you expect from this tournament? Formally – your first international competition of the season, but in fact – the next national competition.
Shcherbakova: I think it will not feel much different from the test skates. The site is the same, as far as I understand. I will tune in the same way – it depends on my programs, what difficulty they will have, it is not yet known, in training it always changes.
For me, of course, the short program will be very important. It will be necessary to somehow be able to tune in to this combination, to work it out. But not so that there is any obsession because of it, since at these competitions I was only thinking how to make the Lutz-loop better. And as a result, there are so many mistakes on it. It is necessary to bring this to automatism so that there are no unnecessary thoughts.
TASS: Please do not engage in excessive self-criticism.
Shcherbakova: Yes, after the short I realized that. As soon as I forget about it, calm down, these thoughts come to me again: “It’s all, it’s over, nothing happened!” As a result, I decided for myself that no matter what happened, I would just go out, try to do my best and in no case would I be upset. Of course, there was some kind of fatigue, at first, maybe I thought I had done something wrong in the second half of the program, but in general there is no frustration. I’m happy with the flip and I know what to work on next.
TASS: Where did the two-time champion of Russia come up with such self-criticism?
Shcherbakova: This is probably an internal feature, and plus we work so much, the expectations from us are appropriate. You try not to pay attention to what is happening around, and to skate the same way as you have always done. But, of course, some thoughts appear superfluous, pressure… But you also need to be able to cope with this. And I think on the second day I changed my approach to the performance. I will try, despite my mistakes, to always evaluate performances with a cool head.
TASS: What is this season like for you? Strange, incomplete, incomprehensible.
Shcherbakova: I don’t know what to expect from it. I really hope that there will be major competitions, especially the World Championship. This is probably the main dream for this season – that it happens. For my part, I will simply do my best to perform well at the Russian National Championship, improve and always be happy after the skates. (Laughs) Otherwise I really did not like this feeling after a short program in an interview, when I had to tell something after a bad show. It’s much nicer after the good ones.
TASS: Previously, you were a cheerful trinity, plus Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva were at their peak. Now each of them is going through their own difficult period of life. And now you are definitely at the forefront. Are you ready for the fact that all the attention and hopes are only on you?
Shcherbakova: Probably, it is these thoughts that interfere with skating. I try to deal with it, skate the same way as I did before. But, to be honest, at the competitions… We crossed paths with all the girls at the test skates, and our purely human relations remained the same. It was very nice to remember these, let’s say, old feelings in the locker room.
We chatted calmly, and maybe that wasn’t even enough. Last year, we went to all the competitions together, and some kind of atmosphere developed. And it became even calmer, probably. In Syzran, I competed alone – somehow I lost the habit of it. I was tense, all in myself. We must somehow be able to divide. Separately – friendly relations, separately – competitions, where everyone is for themselves.
TASS: I have long wanted to ask this question. As a rule, successful athletes are most often people with very strong motivational factors, and mainly financial ones, in order to improve their lives, help their parents. You are a unique case, because there can be no such motivator for you, you have a wonderful family, wonderful mom and dad. But at the same time you are fighting. What drives you?
Shcherbakova: Indeed, no one ever forced me. My parents always say: “If you don’t like it, we’ll end it, let’s go study or something else.” This, of course, was when I was younger – now they naturally understand that this is very important for me. And there is no such talk like – we’ll end it.
I love doing this. Of course, it’s hard in training. Not always a high. I have to work, but I love performing so much, feeling these sensations, conveying images – let’s say, the theatrical component of figure skating. Somehow everything is taken together.
I can’t imagine myself in ordinary life. Every day it’s routine to go to school, come back, do homework – and all over again. I don’t see myself in this, I always need movement. We go to competitions and it is a great pleasure for me. This is probably the main motivator.