Adelina Sotnikova: Olympic champion has no right to make mistakes

Elena Vaitsekhovskaya’s big interview with Adelina Sotnikova.

Three years ago, when we talked about a possible return to sport, you said: “I understand that I already have Olympic gold medal that no one will take away from me, but I understand that I want to keep the level I have reached, I want to stay on top. To do this I just have to work very hard.” What happened then in your mind that made you reconsider many of life’s attitudes? Does the gold Olympic medal change consciousness so much?

– Probably, this medal simply has both pros and cons. You become famous, popular not only among sports fans, you start to communicate with a huge number of people, you start to feel like a different person, you get a different circle of communication, that’re pros. Cons are that all this is very addictive. Your mind start thinking differently. It’s interesting, it’s a different life, different media, other interests.

You can go where you want, do what you want. Yes, at some point you start to understand that there’s a lot of this around you and you need to limit this activity somehow, stop it. But there’s a vicious circle in mind: if everything is good with health and I have enough strength for both training and doing something else, why not go where they invite?

And if at some stage something is not good with health, why should I stay at home? To be forgotten? Athlete’s term is not too long. Moreover, figure skating is not hockey or football. Our sport is still of an acquired taste.

I did not expect to hear such from you. It is generally believed that in Russia everyone is interested in figure skating.

– Such an illusion could appeared after the Games in Sochi, when the whole country really watched competitions. I commented competitions in Korea, woke up at four in the morning. At the same time, many of those with whom I spoke did not even know that the next Olympics was already going on, despite the fact that performances of our Olympians were constantly shown in news. I realized very well then that things which is happening at home touch people’s souls much more deeply.

Whose state do you understand better? Alina Zagitova’s, who won the Olympic Games, or Evgenia Medvedeva’s, who lost them?

– Medvedeva’s, probably. Firstly, Zhenya competed in Pyeongchang almost at the same age as I did in Sochi. Alina is only fifteen, 15 and 18 it’s a different brains. Zhenya is a workaholic. She knows what sport is, knows what it’s like to work. Of course it was a bad luck that injury happened at the most inopportune moment. It seems to mee that in our sport the coach should calculate very precisely when to reach the peak and when to slightly reduce the loads.

Not so long ago, Medvedeva and I met at show, and she said that she hasn’t skated for a whole week. But this did not stop her from getting on the ice and whizzing right through all her jumps. Without warm-up, without normal lighting. If for some reason I haven’t been at the rink for a week, I always feel scary of jumping. What if I’ll push wrong or I’ll fall painfully or I’ll turn my hand. Seems these girls do not think about such things at all.

Your former coach Elena Buyanova told me that before the Olympic Games in Sochi you did not have a single, even a tiny injury – all the muscles were so thoroughly prepared for work.

– I agree, it really was so.

And then, when you slightly “let go” yourself, injuries appeared.

– There’s truth in this. I missed the World Championships after the Games. Then there were shows to which I was invited, then I was given a month off. Our family went to Paris, then to Turkey. I have never rested like this in my life. Has received huge pleasure from rest, from food, from possibility not to do anything and not to think about anything. Full relax.

It was very difficult to take a grip and started to train again. It was hard to loose weight. By the beginning of the season, I regained shape, I lost weight, in a word, everything was fine. And then there was an injury – a partial rupture of the ligament of the right leg.

At that time my mind also made it difficult. No matter how many times you say that you need to throw away the thought that you are an Olympic champion, it’s still constantly spinning in your head. You have a gold medal, the whole world is bubbling around you, they call you everywhere, invite you. If something does not work out, the most unpleasant thing begins. Because you can not even speak out. You’re an Olympic champion, you do not have the right to make a mistake. There is a feeling that everyone around you thinks only about that.

But the Olympic champions are not robots. They also have a soul, body that is constantly changing. Each time this is a new sensation on the ice. One day everything hurts, the other day you lose weight, then you gain weight, and this may not be related to how much you eat. And most importantly, you never know how long this will last and what you will have to face tomorrow. And no one is insured of this.

How tough should you keep a diet during this period?

– Tough. But that diet that was developed for me, at least, consisted of food. I have never used any pills or powders, although I know that such methods exist to stop puberty process. It is already suspended by work. By daily training to seven hours a day. If in addition to this you do not eat, which organism will survive?

I know that Buyanova still believes that the starting point, which made you think about leaving to another coach, was Masha Sotskova who joined the group. Here is her verbatim phrase: “I think she was expecting that for her sake I would leave everyone else and would make her skate.”

– I did not take offense at Elena Germanovna for taking Masha. Because I understood that I always had something that stopped me from training – show, then “Dancing with the stars,” then injury, then something else. And the coach needs an athlete who will work fully. But as for making me skate… There was such a desire, in my heart I really really wanted that.

So why did not you openly tell Buyanova about this?

– Probably, I was afraid, what if she will refuse? On the other hand, I was already 18 years old, then 19, 20. An adult girl. Elena Germanovna had been dragging me for so long, and I am very grateful to her for this. After all she’s not the most healthy person, she has her problems, she has a family, there are guys who are just beginning to achieve something – Masha and Sasha Samarin whom she also helps.

Also the thing is that I really love Elena Germanovna. We have been going through life together for so many years. Perhaps I was just unconsciously afraid that she will need to pay a lot of attention at me again, and by this I will create new problems for the coach.

But why did you choose Plushenko as a new coach?

– Who else I could go to? I did not talk to anyone about changing a coach. Neither with my mother, nor with my dad, nor with my agent. I came to Plushenko, talked to him. He did not immediately agree. I also was not sure of anything, so we agreed: first we’ll see how it goes and then we’ll decide what to do. Before that, I had not skated for a long time, I had no physical form. And Zhenya at the first training says: “Come on, Shoot the duck ten times” And he begins to do it himself.

I was speechless. A man who is 33 years old and has 33 screws in his back, did these “shoot the duck” one by one, and I try to do one and I can not get up – I fall. After a week of work I began to do “shoot the ducks”, began to jump over the bench, as I did when I was 13-14 years old. I was so enthusiastic that I wanted to work more and more.

At the same time, I was constantly thinking that I had to decide something with the transition. That this will surely be a blow for Elena Germanovna. That she is about to return to Moscow from the World Championships and will surely immediately fly on vacation … Most of all I did not want Elena Germanovna to find out that I’m training with Plushenko not from me. That’s why I wrote sms to her, where informed her about changing a coach and asked permission to come to have a conversation.

And two days later I got seriously injured. Not even on the ice. I did a series of jumps over the bench, the bench swayed, I flew off it and twisted my leg. They brought ice, I’m hysterical, children are frightened around, Plushenko does not understand what happened, he was in the next room at that moment and ran to my cry.

Then have made MRI – torn ligaments, month in cast.

At the same time, I clearly understood: to Elena Germanovna, with whom we have already agreed to meet in CSKA, I will not go with cast. In short, I drove up to the rink, took off the cast, took all the willpower, crossed myself and walked as normal.

Was it painful?

– I really tried to hold on, to be honest. I don’t know how I endured. But we had a very good talk with Elena Germanovna. Although it is still difficult to think of this all. I even wrote her on Shrove Sunday, wrote that I apologize for everything and will always consider her my coach and a very special person in my life.

Did it take long to recover after the injury?

– Yes. I returned on the ice only in June, and at the end of July I needed to be at least in some shape to perform in a show in Japan. Then I was rescued by the doctor of our football team Eduard Bezuglov. Thanks to him, I was able to put my foot into a boot, because before that I could not do it at all.

I flew to Japan – there Mirai Nagasu doing triple Axeles. I was so ashamed. I sat in the locker room and thought: now I’m going on the ice and what will I show? And I began to jump. Mom, who accompanied me on that tour, was shocked: “Daughter, are you crazy?” But to go and show only double jumps to the public was not acceptable for me.

During two weeks of tour I worsened the condition of my leg very much. Japanese doctor always tapped my ankle, even he was surprised how can I skate. Then I returned to Moscow and told my agent that I decline the next trip.

He tried to persuade me that in Italy the posters with my photo are ready, but I stood  my ground. Yes, I will earn money, but for what? To spend them on treatment? Nobody pays me now: neither the federation, nor CSKA, there is no medical insurance.

But I still went to Italy, I was given a permission to skate without jumps. Then in Moscow I once again made an MRI, and it turned out that in addition to ligaments I have a fracture of the calcaneus and I need surgery. The surgery was recommended in Germany, where I had one of the surveys.

But at the end I was cured in Italy, in a Roman clinic, where I went on the recommendation of Bezuglov, and they did it without any surgical intervention. In September, I spent about two weeks in this clinic, had procedures from morning till late evening. In December, I slowly began to train, glide. And only now my foot is back to normal.

At the end of last autumn I talked with Plushenko and he said that he almost coach himself those who skate in his school.

– It’s not true, he coaches me. Although he’s often on the road.

What are Plushenko’s strong sides as a coach?

– He shows exercises on ice himself, he can motivate and I really need it right now. First of all Zhenya is a technician, and in order to jump like before I lack correct technique because the body has changed. I also rotate not fast enough, lack speed. We need to work on this but I just started to practice normally.

Aren’t you afraid of that insane difficulty, towards which the development of single skating is currently moving? Or the example of Carolina Kostner who remains competitive in her 30 years inspires?

– It’s still easier for Kostner, she does not have to fight to skate for Italy. And for me to get into the national team and go to the European or World championships it’s necessary to overcome a lot.  At the same time, I’m not too bothered by the fact that 13-year-old girls doing quadruple jumps in competitions. Because 13 years is not even 15.

The victory of Alina Zagitova in Pyeongchang gave reasons to say that in women’s single skating the most important thing is to be born in the right time.

– With the current rules, it’s true.

Would you like to change the rules in women’s single skating? Forbid doing all jumps in the second half of the program, for example. Or make any other restrictions?

– The most important thing I want to see in figure skating is that juniors compete with juniors, and seniors – with seniors. Till 17 years skaterperforms in juniors at least . And starting with 18 can move to seniors. Then everything will fall into place.

Junior skating is generally another kind of sport, another head, another possibilities. Accordingly, everything is built only on what children can show, that is, on jumps. It seems to me that in our sport no one needs robots that do quad-triple-triple-triple-triple-triple-triple, I do not know how many. And an adult can show both the elements and the program, as the child will never show it.

So you’re not a fan of Zagitova?

– I did not say that. Alina showed at the Games a wonderful, very bright program – in this she can be compared with Julia Lipnitskaya, as she skated in Sochi. Just no one  understand what will happen next. After all people want a skater not just to win the Olympic Games, but skate after that.

Do you believe that Medvedeva and Zagitova will skate till the next Games?

– With the current rules, it will be very difficult both physically and psychologically. Because even now more young girls step on Alina and Zhenya’s toes.

And did you have a feeling when you competed, that Medvedeva is somewhere behind? Or you haven’t met at the level of direct competition?

– We did. Zhenya competed at the Russian Championship back in 2013, before the Games in Sochi, and in 2014 she already showed quite technical jumps. It was obvious that this girl is very expressive, very emotional in terms of figure skating. In any case, I knew that there is such Zhenya, who works 24 hours a day, and who skates unmistakably.

To be honest, do you want to come back to sport?

– Yes. I also constantly ask myself this question. Yes, there are a lot of shows where I am invited and where I like to perform. But every time I watch competitions, I want to bash my head against the wall. I miss sport so much that I am ready to give up everything just to return at least the shape I had once.

If you could go back in time, would you go to skate in the “Ice Age”?

– I would. There was a serious reason for that.


– Yes. I then got into a very complicated financial situation, because I took a mortgage for an apartment in a good house. I thought it was the right option to invest the money that I earned. I’m not such kind of person to throw this money on cars, something else, or go to rest on expensive resorts. There was a lot of other things in addition to the mortgage. It’s just not for common ears.

When do you plan to start working at full strength, with full loads?

– I have already started. But to work fully I need to loose weight a little. I’m a little overweight, I know that. Then we will start to restore jumps, combinations, and of course I do not mean “toe loop-toe loop”. This is the last century, as they say.

If you really feel that you are ready to come back and compete, maybe it makes sense to think about options how not to waste your nerves on the fight for getting into the national team?

– You mean to change the country?


– This is the easiest way. Everyone can go the easy way. There is Italy, or Georgia. Moreover, I was offered such options.


– Thank you, I will decline. I’m an Olympic champion in figure skating, which played for Russia and, if I return, then only to continue to represent Russia. In this respect, I am a patriot. To change citizenship in order to have an opportunity to go to a certain championship? I’d rather fight to go there from my country.

The main thing that I realized during this time, that everything depends on me. Not on Zhenya, not on Elena Germanovna, not on agents, not on parents, or on anyone else. Only on me and my desire to return.

by Elena Vaitsekhovskaya for

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