2018 Olympic gold medalist, 2019 World champion, and 2018 European champion Alina Zagitova participated in all of the festivities during the week of the 2022 Russian Figure Skating Championships last month – and between her performances at the gala exhibition of national championships and at the annual Ice Fantasies of Tamara Moskvina, the 19-year-old figure skater spoke to Olympics.com about her Olympic experience and what has been happening in her life since.
Interview with Alina Zagitova, by Tatjana Flade and Olga Ermolina, translated from Russian to English:
Alina, four years ago at the 2018 Russian Championships, which were held at the same Yubileyny arena, you were selected for the Olympic Games in South Korea, now you worked here as a commentator for Channel One. With what emotions did you follow the 2022 national championship?
At this championship, I was in a different role, off the ice, in a completely new role for myself – I took interviews from athletes for Channel One. I prepared for this seriously, read in advance, reviewed all the interviews of our dancers, wrote myself texts about Nikita and Vika (Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov), Sasha and Vanya (Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin), since I didn’t start working from the first but from the second day of the championship. I love to be prepared. But this was not needed when it was necessary to ask questions of the singles skaters. Nothing scary. I realized that in such work, a lot is unpredictable, everything can change quickly, and it is impossible to plan everything. But if you understand the essence of what you are asking about, then you need to speak from the heart. I realized that being a journalist means being interested all the time, watching what is happening. Being in the know is the most important thing, so the profession of a journalist is very difficult.
Did you watch the girls’ performances calmly or with excitement, since you yourself experienced such a thing?
I watched the girls prepare. It was stressful enough. Exactly. But at that moment I exhaled, I realized that the most important thing is that I am not on the ice, that I have something else because I have no idea what it is like for them now. The competition has become much higher and, as they say, the strongest survive and win. Therefore, I watched with some nostalgia because four years ago I won the championship here. But although I myself did not perform now, I was just as nervous because I went through all this before the Olympics in South Korea and I know, I understand all these feelings when you go out on the ice. It is impossible to forget completely. No way. Therefore, I understood how the girls feel at this moment.
2022 Russian national champion Kamila Valieva said she sometimes consults with you.
Kamila and I – yes, we somehow became friends. When I come to my morning workouts, she sits opposite me in the dressing room. In the evening, I do not always manage to practice, there are some other things to do. Kamila and I are in touch. At the gala exhibition, I helped her put stickers on her face. I don’t know, I’m pleased when people ask me for advice. It is always nice when you can convey some of your knowledge, experience, but, of course, not everything.
What is the most important piece of advice you gave?
I will not give advice when I am not asked. But I think that in sports I can tell something 100 percent. It’s just that each athlete is individual and whatever advice you give, it might not help because people are different, everyone has their own path that needs to be traversed. It was like that for me. You can listen to someone’s advice, take something out of it, but still your experience is better than someone else’s.
What is more difficult for you – commenting or skating on ice?
This is different. As a journalist, it is still difficult for me to turn on at the very moment of work but as an athlete you go to the Russian championship or other competitions for some time, train. You leave, of course, with nerves but still your body does what has already been developed. And when you sit down with a microphone, everything is unpredictable. To be honest, it’s still hard for me to watch figure skating because I think: now, I could also perform and still experience the same sensations in my soul, when it takes your breath away, you get a feeling of euphoria, as if you go out on the ice yourself. It’s still hard for me to watch all this.
Didn’t let go?
You have not announced your retirement yet.
Of course not. But at such competitions as the championships of Russia, the world, and others, I do not compete because I am not in physical shape, but I would like to.
Do you have the thought of returning to the sport in any capacity, as an athlete, as a coach?
I don’t know. It was always interesting for me to coach but it takes a lot of nerves. Let’s wait and see.
A familiar phrase.
Yes. You know, when I started working in journalism, I realized that I want athletes to respond with less standard phrases like: wait and see; time will show; it is the judges who decide, not me… It turns out that the athlete seems to have answered and said nothing. I would like to hear more detailed answers from them. And, finding myself in the role of a journalist, I understand that I need to pull something out of the respondent and at the same time, I know that he will not say anything because he wants to keep something inside himself.
Now you have the opportunity to look at the event from two sides. Are you interested in doing journalism?
Yes. It is interesting for me to talk to a person, to understand how to approach them, so that they open up and do not answer with standard phrases. Now I am learning this, I recently read an article that you need to win over a person to yourself. I remember our interview with Rita Mamun (Margarita Mamun – 2016 Olympic champion in rhythmic gymnastics) after the Olympics. This was her first interview and she asked where I would like to go and took me to a pet store, where there were dogs, different animals. I began to tell something, started talking on my own, although usually I was shaking when I had to go to an interview. And then I opened up, I felt good. So the main thing is to catch the moment when a person can open up. Journalists are psychologists too.
Do you rewatch your Olympic performances?
I used to watch them many times but now, for some reason, no. Too much nostalgia. And before, when I watched, I thought – wow, so cool! When, after the Olympic Games, I was asked about my emotions… Yes, I just worked very hard. And only now, after a while, I understand what the emotions were and what I went through.
And what were your emotions?
Completely different. I could not fully rejoice… My mother came to the Olympics, I knew where she was sitting in the stands, and it helped me a lot. I went out on the ice with a completely cool head. But before that there were very difficult training sessions. Then, even before the short program, they took me for doping, and I missed the training session, which made me nervous…
You know, before the free skate, I had a dream that I was winning the Olympic Games. And imagine, I wake up and understand that the free skate is still yet to come… And there was a feeling like in childhood, when you had a dream, that you had wings behind your back and you were flying, and you wake up and… But this dream turned out to be prophetic.
After the Olympics, you said that you did not immediately realize that you had become a champion, and Eteri Georgievna Tutberidze advised you to put on the gold medal and go to bed in order to wake up, see, and understand. Was that so?
I deliberately put the silver medal that we won in the team event in the pocket of my jacket, so that it was always with me because then it seemed to me that it was something unreal, and this medal meant a lot to me. And I don’t remember exactly, I think I put my Olympic medal under my pillow. It was not very comfortable to sleep with a medal.
How did your life change after the Olympics?
Not at all. There was just a lot of attention, there was some pressure from the press and people who write on Instagram, social networks… It is very distracting. You cannot train with a cool head and with a cool head go to the competition. A lot of emotions. You go to training in the morning, and you can’t do anything. Basically, the same training but it was difficult for me.
What was the hardest part of your sports career?
After the 2018 World Championships. After Milan, I felt very bad. She was very upset.
Where did you find the motivation to continue?
It was here that my parents and my mother, first of all, said that everything must be completed to the end. Mom, even in training, always said so: you need to train more, go stretch. Although it was possible to immediately go home because it was late. But she said no, it needs to be done, and, probably, she conveyed this character trait to me.
So it was necessary to win the World Championships, to win the missing title in the collection in order to put an end to it?
Yes. Not a period but an ellipsis. So that I would be calm, would not regret anything. But the preparation for the World Championships in Japan was very difficult. I missed workouts, and not because I didn’t want to train but simply thought – I’ll go now, I won’t succeed again, and at the same time I understood that I won’t succeed because I missed the workout…
A vicious cycle.
I don’t know what was in my head then, I was sitting outside and just crying… I still can’t calmly recall it…
Well done for getting ready, going, and winning.
I am very glad that then Eteri Georgievna kicked me a little and forced me because I didn’t want to go to the World Championships, and everyone now knows that. I didn’t want to, first of all, because I didn’t succeed in training, there were no clean skates. And I remembered the words of Eteri Georgievna when she was asked: are you worried before the competition? And she replied, “Why worry? If you trained well, then it will bear fruit. You will perform as you practiced.” And I also understood and understand this. I knew that before Saitama I hadn’t trained very well and a miracle had to happen and how I needed to pull myself together… There had to be a certain strength, energy, emotions… Until the last moment, I didn’t want to go to the World Championships. I made up my mind at the very last moment.
In sports you have won all the titles and now you are trying yourself in different fields. How difficult is it to find new goals to strive for?
Now my goal is to do my job and do it well. This is probably the goal. So that I would be happy, so that the people who took me and entrusted me with this work would be happy. In sports, the goal is clear – the Olympic Games, to win everything. And in journalism… For now, it’s just fun to do your job…
I really enjoy working in television. When I came to Ice Age, this was my first experience. It was difficult at first, I did not understand what and how. And although I had an ear for insurance, I was very worried, lost, and this interfered. It seems like I watch speeches, scroll something in my head, come up with questions, but I go up to a person and don’t remember anything, just from the word “absolutely.” I saw that a person fell and I told them it was a great performance, and I heard what is she was doing… But nothing happens right away, all of a sudden. And I am very grateful that the people who took me as the host understand everything and gave me the opportunity to host Ice Age again, and see how I gradually improve and develop. This is so cool.
You always said that you don’t like publicity but thanks to your work in television, you got into the spotlight. Reconciled with such a life when your every step, your personal life is discussed in the press?
It’s impossible to get away from the attention of the press, they still climb. But now I am also on the other side, so I partly understand that journalists need sensations and without us they would have nothing to write about. But I prefer to communicate with reporters who can be trusted. And I myself want to become such a journalist.
A public person is largely dependent on public opinion. And for me it plays a certain role. Yes, I probably could ignore everything that is written about me. But I have parents who read this too. And if a lot is familiar to me, I have been in this since the age of 14, then my parents only now really collided and are very upset. And when I see this, I get upset with them.
You recently posted a post about yourself on Instagram. Was it important for you to share your experiences with people who also encounter hate in life?
I think many are faced with hate, bullying at school, at work, and when people see that they are not alone, then perhaps my words will help them in some way. To be honest, I was angry by the reaction of some viewers during Ice Age. No matter what I wear, it’s impossible to please everyone. They write why my arms are open, I go out in a dress with sleeves and they ask why I am closing them?…
Or my fans and Zhenya Medvedeva’s (Evgenia Medvedeva – two-time Olympic silver medalist and two-time World champion) write nasty things to each other. But I have said many times: “Guys, let’s live together.” If you don’t like something, why not come up to me and say it straight to my face? They are sitting in the stands, why not go down, not come up, I’m here, next to them, at the side. Let them say it.
I don’t want to end the interview on that question. Tell us a little about Masaru, an Olympic gift. How is she?
Now I have a third dog, and Masaru doesn’t get along very well with her yet. Masaru has her own personality, she likes to lie down, to be cuddled. She does not like to run, she has a measured lifestyle. If in the morning I make myself a sandwich with cheese, and small dogs immediately eat the pieces of cheese that I give them, then Masaru will sniff, taste, if she doesn’t like it, she won’t spit it out but gently put it on the floor… She has very smart eyes and a smile, which I like.
We tried to find a “partner” for her to have puppies but Masaru is a bit grumpy and we thought we wouldn’t insist. Yes, and it’s a pity to give the puppies back. Everyone tells me, she will forget them, she will not understand, but I will not forget. Therefore, I told my parents: if there are puppies, I will keep them for myself. I wanted Masaru not for advertising, not for something else, but was looking for a friend.