Last week, 16-year-old Anna Shcherbakova won her third consecutive Russian national title in Chelyabinsk. She had just barely managed to recover from pneumonia, which she caught in November, but refused to be stopped.
Shcherbakova fought through deep breathes and was first after the short program. In the free skate, she landed two quads and delivered an emotional performance to run away with another gold medal.
Interview; partial translation to English:
Channel One: How much did you sleep after the free skate?
Shcherbakova: Probably two hours. We did not arrive so late but the adrenaline was off the scale. I just laid there for a long time and could not sleep. I looked at social media. In the beginning, I had a list to respond to everyone on WhatsApp because that is where the people closest to me were. Then I responded on Instagram; I watched an overwhelming amount of stories, read comments, and tried to answer as much as possible to everyone who gave me so much of their time. Then, after some time, I went to bed and thought to myself that I could not believe that the competition was over.
Channel One: Did you rewatch your performance?
Shcherbakova: Yes, I rewatched it. I had mixed emotions – on one hand I don’t understand how I did it myself, on the other hand I personally see the moments in the performance – after all, it was my first run through – when I tried to exhale to gain strength for the further part. I cannot say that I was 100% into every movement because perhaps that would not have been enough to do the jumps.
Channel One: The decision to perform was…
Shcherbakova: … my own. At first, yes, it seemed like it was necessary to discuss whether I would perform. I made it clear to everyone that I would perform in any way, no matter how I felt. It seemed to me that I clearly explained my position. But everyone continued to tell me that we can withdraw. And in the end, already on the day of the competition, when my mom approached me with this question, I asked, “Please, not a single word more. You are interfering with my preparation.” Because it is hard to get ready for a good performance when everyone around says that “you can’t, you can’t, don’t skate, in any case you will not succeed, you are not ready, you could barely breathe yesterday, how will you finish the free skate?” These questions. I convinced myself – I will finish, I will finish.
Channel One: Yesterday your dad promised to ask you where you got your strength.
Shcherbakova: I don’t have a clear answer. I probably felt the strength that I can somewhere inside. That is, if I had some kind of thought that it wouldn’t work at all – I wouldn’t do it. But somewhere inside there was this hope that at the right moment I will be ready. There were unsuccessful practices but I tried not to think about that. I tried to keep this hope inside myself and that at the right moment I will be at the top of my capabilities. Yes, this is probably the most important thing – self-confidence and a cool head, and, of course, at that moment I understood that it would also depend on my condition.
Channel One: But did you realize that everything could have ended differently?
Shcherbakova: It was hard. I can say that in general I had a completely different attitude. I was not nervous about the program that what if I did not have enough concentration, now I feel bad, I will fall. I did not have these thoughts. Somehow I was so busy with my problems that it seems to me that there were so many other thoughts that there were not usual nerves. There were no worries about how many points I will, what place I will get. Somehow I managed to completely pull away from it and came out, as much as possible, with a cool head.
Channel One: Was the free skate easier for you than the short program?
Shcherbakova: No. Morally not at all. It turned out that I was a lot calmer during the short program. During it, I was not nervous at all. Despite the fact that I felt bad and the coaches said that I felt unwell, I already skated the short program in practice at home. And also did not feel very well but knew that I could handle it, that there won’t be such fatigue that needs to be directly overpowered. If it happens then it will already be after all the jumps. Therefore, even though it probably looked like I was more tired, this is because in the short program you do not have such strong adrenaline. You know, this is the beginning and the free skate will continue. So yes, I kind of looked more tired after the short. After the free, it is a little harder morally because I had to tune in for the skate. Everyone says, “we will skate as in training,” and I do not skate in any way like in training. I do more precisely now, not like I do in training. Because it was morally harder than physically, which was because of the adrenaline. After the performance, no matter how hard it was, there are all these emotions and you don’t feel tired for probably even the first few hours. That’s why it looked easier.
Channel One: How did you decide to do two quads?
Shcherbakova: We were preparing the option with two quads for the Russian Grand Prix. At that time, I already had the confidence that we had overcome this bar, and I did not plan to go back down to one. Of course, during the preparation for the Russian Championship, there were training sessions when I could not land a single one, when it did not work at all – neither a triple, nothing. I missed training. It was like a roller coaster. I could come one day: I feel good, all jumps work out. Then I could get tired very quickly, everything stops working out. The task was just to come up in good condition, be at the peak at the time of performance. At the morning workout, everything went far from successful, but this does not mean that I thought, “That’s it, it’s over.” On the contrary, I thought: it means that by the evening I have to come up in the best possible condition in order to get there and skate as good as possible.
Channel One: Did you have an idea to skate the program without quads?
Shcherbakova: I did not consider this option due to the fact that now it is difficult for me to functionally skate the entire program, and quadruples, if done cleanly, do not take so much energy. A purely executed quadruple, on the contrary, gives further drive, some kind of energy. If I replace them with triple jumps, this does not mean that by the end of the program I will be less tired. Perhaps the program will be even worse.
Channel One: Did it seem to us or did you turn to someone when you left the ice…
Shcherbakova: When you are taking the ice, at this moment – you are alone on the ice, a huge arena, the audience is looking only at you, they clap for you, and at that moment only support you, help you to tune in. And I always try to feel this energy, you can say recharge because, of course, when something doesn’t work out in training, you question how – this is such a feeling of adrenaline that gives you the opportunity to do more than you can do. And when I take the ice, I try to feel this energy, the support of a huge audience, to calm down. And to skate this program for them as best as I can. That is, it’s not somewhere we’re looking now, but precisely the energy of the audience, trying to feel everything in ourselves, take it into the performance.
Channel One: So, first place at Nationals and the ticket to the World Championships are yours.
Shcherbakova: We can safely say that the World Championship is a huge goal for this season. I really hope, I believe that it will still be held. Because all this should not be in vain. I did not perceive the Russian Championship as a final point, but as a qualifying point for the World Championship. Of course, everything turned out somehow very loudly, so many emotions, as if everything really ended. Perhaps I overcame this moment. This is a good ending to the tournament, but it should be the beginning of something bigger. Good selection that I passed. I have the satisfaction that I selected, I gave my best, despite the condition, without any indulgences to myself. I did not facilitate the programs, I skated to the maximum that I wanted. I would like to prepare for the World Championship with the same attitude. Without doubts and rushes – whether it will or not, what if all this is in vain. I think if it is canceled a second time, it will be much harder. Therefore, I want this happy ending to happen at the end of the season.
Channel One: You skate for yourself but bring joy to millions of fans.
Shcherbakova: After this competition, when I read what the spectators, the fans wrote, I could also have tears. Because people felt the same thing that I felt, they were inspired. You always want to share your joy and other emotions with someone. And now I have a complete feeling that an unreal number of people shared the emotions with me. Perhaps many worried about me even more than I was about myself. Of course, this is just incredible. Viewers see this story that it is not as easy as it sometimes seems. Because when everything is going very well, sometimes the audience does not have such enthusiastic emotions. When it seems that all this was easily gotten. And when one after another the girls come out, show such performances – you can see the struggle, what we go through, what kind of competition we have, how hard these performances are sometimes given. Many people were worried after the short program that I was breathing heavily. But this is a sport. If I had not performed at these competitions, they simply would not have seen – I would have been breathing heavily in training in the same way, skating the programs. And every day several times, I would still redo it. This is how programs are developed so that they (the audience) do not see how we breathe heavily. When they see that the program is over and the athlete is not very tired, this does not mean that it is not difficult. This means that in training he went through this fatigue, breathed heavily, barely completed the program. But they did it so many times to bring it to that state. Perhaps, just yesterday and the day before yesterday, many saw what often remains in training.