Alina Zagitova is only the second lady, after Yuna Kim, to win all major ISU championship titles – including the Olympics, the World Championships on the senior and junior levels, the European Championships, and the Grand Prix Finals on both the senior and junior levels.
In December 2019, following the 2019-2020 ISU Grand Prix series Final, the now-18-year-old announced that she would be taking a break from her competitive career. Since then, she has begun studies at a university, became a television show host, and appeared in numerous shows as a performer. She sat down with Russian media outlet RBC to talk about her experiences at the Channel One Trophy team competition, about her personal life – including her studies and plans for the future, and responded to whether or not she is thinking about a comeback.
Interview translated to English:
Before the final press conference at the Channel One Trophy, you said that you have never been so happy. Where does so much emotion come from? After all, the tournament was conceived mostly as a show.
I can say that it was purely in the team event that made such emotions. That is, when we had the Olympics in the team tournament, I did not even have time to get into these feelings because then I had to compete in the individual event. Plus, the pandemic played a big role. Due to the long break in competitions, the emotions of all competition participants were many times greater. Everyone was happy to get together on the ice. Therefore, in the recent team event, I really enjoyed it.
Were you in the mood only for the individual event?
The mood was for the Olympics in general. The individual event is, of course, special. In the Olympic team event, I skated only one program. Plus, at the Olympics, everyone is focused on performances and training, the responsibility to the country is great, so you can’t fully enjoy communicating with your teammates – everyone is focused on the result.
That is, the team spirit was not felt?
I felt it, of course, but in a different way. Every athlete is proud to participate for the national team at the Olympics – this is the pinnacle of sports. It is for this that you work and train almost all your time, almost all your life. At the Channel One Trophy it was fun, friendly, fiery. Everyone got a lot of adrenaline.
Returning to the team competition of the Channel One Trophy. As far as I know, you generally took it very seriously. You were at Megasport very early in the morning, made sure which uniform went to whom, laid out blankets…
Yes, of course, I took my task very seriously. You saw that in the morning I was on the ice and prepared, thought over everything to the smallest detail…
And still. What is the reason for this involvement? Are you just a perfectionist or do you want a competitive environment?
I’m probably such a person – a perfectionist in everything. Basically, I did all this for the team. To make them calmer, more confident, there was less stress. I initially said that my team will have just such an atmosphere – pleasant, cheerful, benevolent. I think it happened.
I remember you said that you would set everyone up and everything would be great.
And so it happened – it was super. Rather, my task was to create a warm and at the same time energetic atmosphere around our team. Still, the coaches set up for the performances. Figure skating fans were rooting for all the athletes, the audience watched on TV. Again, after a long competitive break, all athletes took these starts seriously. As Eteri Georgievna said, it was a rehearsal for the team tournament before the Olympic season.
Can you formulate what you saw as your role as a captain?
My task was for us to become one team. So that everyone can feel the atmosphere of the team tournament. To some extent, turn it all into a holiday.
It turns out that you were such a core, a leader. How do you like this role?
I liked it. (smiles) I was honored to be the captain of the team, our team was great. The opposing team was great too. I think together we gave a big figure skating holiday to all the fans.
Being a leader is a pleasure when the team appreciates you. But I can say that I did not command anyone! We all had such initiative: someone would throw an idea – and I was like: “Oh, cool!” Then another one and another… I listened to everyone, we did it all together. Honestly, it was very cool.
You did not command anyone except the guys. I heard you told some people to clap more quietly.
I just approached all the athletes and asked how it was more convenient for them. I know that some people, for example, are better off without applause. And someone, on the contrary, need to be supported more strongly, to shout out something even so that they get together.
For example, Dasha and Denis (Daria Pavlyuchenko and Denis Khodykin were a pair on Alina’s team), when I approached them, they said that they had better not have applause. But the boys didn’t hear this, they’re driven, they clap, shout, support, so I told them: “Quiet!” But only in this case.
For most skaters, this season has turned out to be crumpled. And you have studies, Ice Age, shows, and advertising shootings…
I still finished school. Got driver’s license, do not forget about that. Indeed, there were a lot of things.
Do you single out any specific event for yourself?
I can’t even choose one… By the way, I’m still 18 years old! Also important. All events were different, but very significant for me.
What about studying? I remember you or Eteri Georgievna laid out how you prepare for the session, falling asleep on the table…
It was Eteri Georgievna. We laughed with her, and she was like: “Let me put it to myself.” Well, of course I agreed. But in fact, I did not sleep there – I just laid down and looked down, and everyone already thought that I was falling asleep. In general, at school, I never sleep! They ask a lot but I force myself to stay awake, to learn the material. It can be hard, I study until nightfall.
Like a real student.
Probably, yes, but I still sleep normally because I need to recover before training. I cannot strongly violate the regime.
By the way, we have not seen the report on the session.
Well, everything is fine.
Did you pass everything as “excellent?”
Not really, (smiles) but I passed the exams successfully. It was hard but I did it. Just today was the last exam – English. Difficult but I did it.
What is more difficult – going to an exam or a free skate at the Olympics?
At the Olympics, definitely. But in general, these are completely different sensations and, as I said, a different level of responsibility. And also in the level of training. In sports, I am a professional, with my coaches everything was worked out to such an extent to the point of automatism that it seemed as if everything was done by itself.
How did the teachers treat you?
You know, everything is different…
What about indulgences?
No. This I can tell right away. To be honest, I thought that I would be treated differently, let’s put it this way. On the other hand, I like that I am just as common a person for them as everyone else.
There were such moments even in life. I go somewhere in a mask – there is one attitude towards me. I take it off and everything is different. I personally don’t like it. It seems to me that all people should be treated equally well.
But you are an Olympic champion, a World champion, a European champion… Who, if not you, deserves special treatment?
Well, I have such a character. Maybe someone likes it. I don’t.
An important clarification – are you talking about your own popularity or about the same attitude?
About the same attitude towards all people. I think it should be so.
By the way, how do you feel about this very popularity?
You know, calmly. Sometimes they even recognize me in a mask by the eyes. This is very surprising to me.
In your case, it is not difficult at all.
Yes? (laughs) It seems to me that you have to look so hard to notice me. I am directly surprised by this every time.
How did you come up with the idea of going to study journalism? You seemed to be biased towards journalists.
Actually, no, I generally treated journalists well. Just, let’s say, there are different journalists. (smiles) Why did I choose journalism… Honestly, I want to develop. And it seems to me that I broke this stereotype that an athlete goes to study at the Russian State University of Physical Culture by default. Isn’t it?
To a certain extent, yes.
Here you go. Everyone had such a reaction: “What?” I always have time to enter the Russian State University of Physical Culture but I wanted to develop myself in another area. And I still manage to do it. I don’t know yet where this path will lead me but it will definitely be useful for me in life.
But the choice was deliberate? That is, you pursued some goals entering the journalism faculty?
First of all, I wanted to develop myself in the media environment. So that I can speak well – I think I’m already doing better. And producing… If I want, I can produce myself. Well, if I do it well, of course. (laughs) In general, it seems to me that development is the most important thing for a person.
I’ll probably still as you. You’ve probably seen what was happening around the Ice Age. In particular, how much criticism poured out on you. Did it hurt a lot?
Honestly, I’m used to it. Figure skating is generally very widely and massively discussed now. People have a huge interest. Someone admires, someone criticizes – this is normal. For myself, I am always looking for ways for self-development and I know what I need to work on.
It’s clear with journalism, but what about producing?
For me, this is something new. I can produce both myself and others. You never know what will happen in life and what will eventually come in handy. For example, I don’t know. I can only say that life does not end with training. But you can try as a coach in the future, why not? Or by the same journalist.
About coaching. Earlier you actively considered this option. Now what do you think about this?
I do not like to make plans for the distant future. Maybe I want to fly into space. By the way, there really is such a thought in my head.
Well, there were already plans for a parachute jump.
Probably, first a parachute jump, then… Well, let’s see. (laughs) In principle, the vestibular apparatus works well for me.
You have been working with Puma for a long time. How is your partnership going?
Great! I have been working with the brand for several years now and I am very glad to be the international ambassador for Puma. It seems to me important when you can inspire the audience for new achievements and help develop in sports, even if starting with the smallest steps in this direction.
It seemed that a pause in the competition and a change in occupation helped you become a little freer and more relaxed. Is that true?
This is probably a consequence of a large number of factors. I got older, my social circle expanded, I met new people, I go a lot of places. For example, the same Ice Age helped me to open up in a new way, and I felt it.
There I began to communicate with the stars of show business, who, you know, do not go into their pockets for words. And I am the kind of person who is always afraid of offending someone but I had to ask quite provocative questions. This was demanded of me, and whether you want it or not, you have to do the job.
Probably at that moment you began to better understand us journalists?
Well, after all, I did it in my, let’s say, interpretation. Slightly softer.
By the way, did you come up with the questions yourself?
At first I was advised what to say. Then we all realized that it would be easier for me to come up with them myself. Because it will come from me. That is, I look and ask about what interests me. It seems to me that this helped me to start talking better towards the end of Ice Age.
In principle, there was a lot of work with this. I did a lot with a tutor, a lot! We talked about different things. For example, a black hole in the wall – describe it. Well, a black… well, a hole… What else can you say about it? It’s really hard.
Do you speak so freely on this topic? I mean vocabulary.
Well, we are dealing with reality. I am critical of myself, I always demand from myself “better, higher, stronger” – this is the only way to achieve something. I can’t even say that I skate perfectly, although many say this.
You are amazing now. Seriously.
I think it’s good that I’m saying all this. Because it is sincere.
Let us then be as sincere as possible – about the main thing. Are you watching the competitions right now?
In fragments – yes. If I have time.
With what emotions?
With the usual, probably.
That is, there is no such thing: they say, eh, now would you go there?
Of course I would. I sometimes put myself in the shoes of a person who comes out to speak. I remember my feelings. Oh, it’s very difficult. (laughs) You need to overrule yourself.
Have you ever had a desire to return during this season?
Yes. said without hesitation)
How many times?
A lot. (sighed and paused before answering)
What is stopping you?
There are some moments. But there are also those that inspire, and there are a lot of them. So wait and see.