Big interview with Victoria Sinitsina. About partnership with Nikita Katsalapov, life in America and growing up.
Vika, you’re not a bitch, not that type of girl, right?
– Appearance is deceptive. Even a quiet angel can conceal a devil inside. I’m not a bitch, but sometimes it jumps out of me when I’m angry or in a bad mood. And it’s normal, because bitchiness attracts people. It helps to cope with difficulties.
Do you often get mad and say “Why I’m not like that?”
– Happened. I’m a gentle person by nature, for whom it’s hard to say a clear, loud “No!” Which for a real bitch will not be difficult. I always smooth the situation instead of refusing, or keep silent.
And when was this first hard “No!”?
– Let me think.
Or is it still in the future?
– No, it has already happened. Firstly, I’ve changed a lot after I teamed up with Nikita. When I got home from America on my first vacation, my parents didn’t recognize me in many things. Because in work with Marina Zueva I began to look for myself. Analyzed my character and understood that I must become a completely different person. Parents looked at me and said: “Something in you has changed.” For twenty years they have been seeng me almost everyday and then they haven’t seen me six months. Of course they caught every little thing. Generally speaking, I got a backbone. At Marina’s rink I learned how to stand up for myself. And I wondered what I needed – bitchiness or just confidence? I thought what would suit me more.
Mom and Dad rejoiced at their daughter, who spoke with an American accent, or did they want to see the old Vika?
– I spoke English only a couple of times, in Moscow stores, saying “thank you” instead of “spasibo”.
“Thank you” and “sorry” are incredibly comfortable and quick words to say.
– I also think so. And parents … We have such a family where my choice has always been appreciated. I remember, at school I was at homeschooling. Because of the sport. After every training, I sat at the table, took a pen and fell asleep on a notebook. My dad is hot-tempered, it was hard for him to endure my evening craving for knowledge. Sometimes he took my pen, started to explain something and broke it against the paper. But in the end I took all the exams on time, and my parents have never threatened to quit my figure skating. When I first came from Detroit, they saw their daughter grow up, and I, as before, was sure that they trust me, letting me know that I’m doing everything right. In this case, I ask their opinion, which sometimes runs counter to mine, but I will still do it my own way.
What was the peculiarity of your American stress?
– I was an 18-year-old girl who looked even younger. I was always thought of as a child. I grew up a nice and quiet child, I changed at least four schools. After the fifth grade, I mainly studied external. I went to the classes and they asked me: “Girl, where are you going?” I go to my 9th grade, but I look like the 6th grade. I go, and there’re my bearded classmates and girls with physically developed bodies, not like me, an unknown for them athlete. “Hey, are you sure you’re in the right class?”, they ask. And here I’m eighteen and this girl suddenly changed everything in life – partner, coach, place of residence. The first six months in America, I was on the verge of closing myself off from the world. It did not happen, but I bottled myself up. Because of the search for the right character. I left alone, without my mother and father, to unfamiliar people, from whom I was suppose to live, to unfamiliar coach, with unfamiliar partner. I knew Nikita, but I never communicated with him close.
At that point, I made my choice, after which I realized: there is no choice anymore. I must grow up, I must make my own decisions, I must at last prepare my own food, clean the apartment. Parents love me, and before that I had only two concerns – to study and to skate. In Detroit, I had a concern to live. I would not call it survival, but I was forced to become an adult and it was unusual.
In what did you have to limit yourself?
– In food, it was necessary to finish with this.
Did you eat cakes skating with Ruslan Zhiganshin?
– No, it’s different. In America, food is absolutely different. I ate the same way as in Moscow, but immediately noticed that I started to put on weigh. I was also changing physically, like a woman. Ate a little bit of something and the weight immediately goes up! Marina constantly put me on the scales, I was afraid of it. Before weighing, I took off all the hair clips, elastic bands, chains, ran to the toilet, so no extra gram shows up. I cried. But I really wanted to skate. I had to keep myself in shape at all costs. But I got over myself thanks to Marina.
When the ice training was over and evening came, I put on my trousers, three sweaters, and once a week I also wrapped myself in a film, and ran for the hours.
Film? But it’s dangerous for the heart.
– Yes, I did so only once a week, but it helped me a lot.
Marina did not swear?
– I didn’t tell her about it. She gave me the task: come when you will weigh this much. Marina is a pretty harsh coach. I didn’t understand it immediately.
I tried. I had one diet, then another, then I started eating just rice. Then I just went crazy about this topic, started to weigh myself four times a day. It’s not normal for a person. Thank God, I have a head on my shoulders, and I haven’t reached real problems. Soon I canceled many products and began to eat a little differently.
That you can’t eat at all?
– The first thing I refused of was the phrase you just said -“You can’t eat at all.” These words kill me, from them I want to eat even more. You can’t think About this “at all”. Marina told me this: “Do you want french fries? You eat one piece. Do you want some chocolate? Break off the square and eat it.” If something is forbidden forever, I will have a breakdown. In fact, I didn’t limit myself dramatically, just began to eat rarely and little by little.
How is Marina when she’s angry? I only know her smiling. Even when I angered her, she smiled.
– (Laughs) Apparently, she is like that in anger. In fact Marina is a psychologist, and I’ve never saw her furious. She can speak calmly but the person will be dumbfounded. Marina knows where to beat.
With what feelings did you go to the 2014 World Championships in Saitama?
– Like it were an ordinary competitions. Katya and Dima withdrew, our two pairs performed. There was only one thought in my head – to save three spots for Russian dancers for the next season.
I’m talking about something else. During this championship there was information that you and Katsalapov are leaving your partners and teaming up.
– But what to do? Athletes should be able to abstract from everything at competitions. The thing is that before Worlds we had a conversation with Nikita, but during the competitions we still did not make any decision. The idea to team up became our common risk. But this idea did not finally appear until the Championships in Saitama. I mentally distracted myself from the situation with outside speculation and got into my mental ball. I understood: my partner is Ruslan, and I must do my job.
People can take such a common risk when they fall in love.
– No, Nikita and I weren’t in love. We just took a chance. We are athletes, we are crazy.
Who told your coaches Elena Kustarova and Svetlana Alekseeva about this?
– I came to them with my mother and said. I was afraid to do this alone. Still I was a little girl then. And Kustarova and Alexeeva raised me. But soon I was 100% sure that I want such a change in my life.
You didn’t believe in Ruslan?
– No, I can’t say that. I know Ruslan for a long time and respect him very much. He was like a brother to me. We have been skating together from nine to eighteen years. Of course, I offended him.
Didn’t you share with Zhiganshin your personal thoughts about the future?
– No, why? These were just thoughts, my personal thoughts. And nothing more. To be honest, at the World Championships I was really alone. Inside myself.
But after the rumors leaked to the press, did you talk to Ruslan?
– No, he didn’t let on and I’m very grateful to him for not starting to sort out our relationships. He concentrated and, just like me, worked the World Championships.
What scared the most? Strong pressure from coaches, the leadership of the federation, the public, or simply possibility not to meet expectations? “Little Girl” and Katsalapov – Olympic champion and a talented skater.
– Of course, I was afraid of that pressure from the side. Many did not support this decision. Indeed, those six months in America were very difficult, I did not use social networks for about three months. Communicated with parents, walked around Detroit, worked, trained. But I knew what I was doing. I knew that I would have to work ten times more than Nikita to skate with him. If he did twice as much as usual, I did twenty times more.
Have you reached Katsalapov’s level now?
– I think yes. It’s really hard for me to do something right away, but from the tenth attempt I’ll do it. And I was not hurt by the fact that Nikita can do anything immediately, but I need several attempts. I’m always convinced that after a dozen attempts I will definitely succeed, and I will exactly match him in any movement. This is me, in life and in sports.
Damn these social networks, someone will always damn there. But in 2014, did someone called you and said “Girl, what are you doing?”
– No. I’m very glad that many people in the Ministry of Sports and in federation finally supported us. It’s true, Nikita and I are very grateful for this. At first we shocked everyone, of course. We were told: “Guys, you should think about this ten times.” But after that we felt that they supported us.
President of the Federation of figure skating Alexander Gorshkov said that he had repeatedly tried to persuade Katsalapov not to destroy the previous pair.
– So, that’s how it was.
Did you have a personal conversation with the Ilinykh?
Because of this move, we can say now that Russian dances have disappeared from the favorites for at least one Olympic cycle.
– Well, don’t blame us! It happened absolutely not because of us!
I agree. Still, Bobrova and Soloviev missed too many World Championships for various reasons.
– In figure skating a rise is always followed by a failure. And in ice dance it’s even more complicated than in other kinds. Very rarely someone makes a breakthrough as, for example, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. I competed with them from infancy and saw how they stood at the tenth places for a long time. But at some point they found their own style, understood where they need to do and achieved success. Don’t write off the Russian pairs, they will always compete.
Zhulin really wanted to go to the Olympics with two pairs, including yours. If you had made your way to South Korea, how do you think would there have been a theoretical chance to get a medal?
– Last season it was difficult to do. We don’t take into account the first two places, everything is very clear with them, but from the third to the tenth place – all the pairs are good and about the same level.
Fantasizing. You are among those who are from the third to the tenth place. You skate both programs perfectly, all the details of the fourth level. Would the bronze be possible or not?
– Don’t fantasize! Consistency from competitions to competitions is important ice dance. It’s not hockey. The stage is important. When you prove and show that you can climb the stages, then they will put you there. Unfortunately, we have such kind of sport.
By the way, when did you first say that “No!”? And to whom?
– You ask, but I think of my first adult “Yes”. I told it to Nikita when we teamed up. It was purely my decision, and nobody else’s. The first “No” took place in America. But I don’t remember the exact place, time and circumstances. Maybe something was not working out on the ice, and we wanted to give it up, but I said to everyone: “No, I will do it.” I’m patient from kindergarten. There I fed from a spoon my peers who did not want to eat lunch.
Did you have conflicts with Nikita because he was bored waiting for your tenth attempt?
– There were no conflicts. In work, we grumble at each other, like all other people. But that’s how we was looking for a comfort.
– For a partner. So at the right time he could help you.
Have you always kept such discretion, or were there moments when you wanted to send everything to hell?
– Honestly, there were. But every time I returned to the fact that I want to skate and to win. When they hang a medal around your neck, this feeling is very tempting. I want to stand on a pedestal and sing the Russian anthem.
What happened at the rink in Canton, that you had to return to Russia?
– Nothing actually happened. I don’t want to talk about this now.
Did Nikita hit you?
– No, there were no physical assault.
Why did you leave?
– We felt that it is very difficult for us to work in America financially. The dollar rate soared, and it became much more difficult to live. We were given some money for training, but we lived on our own. We came to the conclusion that we need to return. Although it was cool to train and live there. Canton is such a little village. Quietly, calmly. You go out and Bambi runs at the meadow, bunny jumps out, squirrels jump along the trees. The weather is always good. Especially in the winter: I leave the house and hardly open the door. Snow to the waist. But you have to pay for everything.
Didn’t you come to the idea that Marina Olegovna is good and professional, but she is not a wizard and you can work effectively in Russia?
– You can also become champions in Russia, but there’s also some magic in Marina. And in Oleg Epstein, and in Johnny Jones, and in the choreographer Alena. All of them understood that Sinitsina / Katsalapov was a clean page. Especially they helped me, because I did not know English and was not as famous as Nikita. Marina called Nikita at the weekend at ten in the morning with the question: “Nikita, are you sleeping, are you?”. Initially, we went to her, because in our country there was simply no one to go to, and Marina had gold and silver of the last two Olympics. I am happy that such period happened in my career. Just like I’m happy to work with Zhulin.
There’s a believe in Russia that Marina Zueva or Igor Shpilband work primarily on their American pairs, and spend less time on the Russians – you or Ilinykh / Zhiganshin.
– I don’t agree with this. In Canton it wasn’t like this. Maya and Alex Shibutani were on the ice, we looked at each other and competed. The same with Katya and Dima. Marina has a clear schedule: two hours for us we, two for Shibutanis, two for someone else. If you want to work with her fifteen minutes instead of two hours, it’s up to you.
When did feelings happened between you and Nikita?
– It happens immediately, as soon as you see a person. There was a difficult period. We began to communicate more. The first year we were driving in the car and did not know what to say to each other. And after we were silent, because we began to understand each other without words.
If one of you can’t compete further, the other ends his career?
– I think yes.
I remember the gala program of Sinitsina / Katsalapov and the public background: everything is clear, she isn’t good enough.
– And our pair was only two months old.
Did you feel negligence atitude?
– I felt, but I kept telling myself that I still had a lot of work to do. Two months is nothing. Tessa with Scott have been skating together for twenty years. Then I wanted to show people that I did a lot of work on myself, and was satisfied with this work. The Federation acknowledged that there is an improvement, we must go further. And a year later we had a test skates in Sochi, where Nikita came with a stress fracture in the foot. We did the programs early, even managed to perform in America in closed competitions, after which Nikita’s foot began to hurt. He did an MRI and left to practice. He sits, ties his shoe, Marina comes with a picture and says to him: “That’s all, go get a cast. You don’t go on the ice.” And I began to train alone. At the training camp in Sochi, the Federation, Tarasova and all the others watched as I skated the waltz “Swan Lake” alone and the free program to Bocelli. Tatiana Anatolyevna them came to me and asked: “Do you want to skate alone at the test skates in front of the audience?” “No, Tatyana Anatolyevna, thank you, I don’t want to,” I replied. I’d rather sit on the stands with Nikita.
Was she serious?
– I realized that yes. And this was also the result of Marina’s work, who said: “If you learn how to skate the programs alone, it will be much easier in a pair”. If you’re able to do the most uncomfortable step sequence without a partner, then you will easily perform this program in competitions.
Then you should have done a double axel.
– My last double axel I did thirteen years ago with a landing on my face. My lips have eclipsed my cheeks, and I began to be afraid of jumping. So I left single skating. I didn’t overcome myself. My very coach, Yulia Vladimirovna Lebedeva, seeing my troubles, said: “Vika, you are tall, you have long arms, long legs. You are a pure ice dancer, try it.” She did not want to kick me out, but she recommended: “You should go there …” There is to Irina Lobacheva and Ilya Averbukh. I went and did not return. Irina and Ilia became my first coaches in ice dances, but instead of the competitions they entrusted me only a part at the … New Year show for kids. My main task was to completely change clothes in twenty seconds. There I performed with Ruslan Zhiganshin. I played Olya, he – Kolya from the tale of the same name. We went on the ice, he shouted to me “Olya-ya-ya-ya-I!”, and I told him “Kol-ya-ya-ya!”. But I immediately liked dances. I even went to my singles group for a couple of weeks and told all the girls how cool it is when they put you in a pair with a boy and you hold his hand. Dances inspired me with a strange feelings that I shared with my friends. I was nine years old…
What emotion did all your coaches whant to get from you?
– It’s hard to show it with my appearance. Marina got me a psychologist who said: “Show the tiger!”. I did not succeed. I sat every day in front of a mirror and growled. I was looking for this predator in myself. The psychologist went with us to the training camp in Kislovodsk, talked to me a lot and from there I returned different. The anger in me has woken up. Both in look and work.
Have you already said your clear “Yes!” by that time?
– Yes, I have, but I constantly heard from others that “you won’t cope”. And sometimes I asked myself the question: “What if I won’t cope?”. I discussed these topics with a psychologist, and she helped me to leave unnecessary doubts. I finally found this cat look, which is good for life. Now I have faith in myself and no shyness.
In April 2016, Zhulin, not yet being your coach, told me about your pair: “I call this the program “From the life of pigeons”. It seems like they are in love, but everything is too sweet … Love has several stages. The beginning, the meeting at the cinema, the candy-bouquet period, sex, conflict. And here they met with flowers at the cinema, the program is over, but they are still with these flowers at the cinema.”
– I think now his opinion has changed. The first year – yes, we were like that. Even the first two. I was not a tigress at the age of eighteen. Someone already at sixteen can behave like a mature girl, but this story is not about me. I was raised in a different way. Of course, some did not like me because I could not give as much passion on the ice as Lena Ilinykh could in a pair with Nikita. But it was a long time ago. Today Sasha tells us: “There are always enough emotions between you.”
I was always amazed by Ksenia Stolbova, who expressed such a genuine passion in a pair with Fedor Klimov, without feeling anything like that to her partner.
– Not every Juliet loves her Romeo on stage. But she plays love. And Ksenia has such a look that she can kill anyone with it. For her, it’s not a problem at all.
The last Russian Nationals. Free dance. Nikita holds onto his leg, you do not take his eyes off him, and it seems you say: “What’s wrong, let’s go.” It seemed that you did not believe that he had an injury.
– I believed, because I knew perfectly well in what condition he went to the ice. It all started on a five-minute warm-up. On a lift, he began to throw me and twisted his leg. I feel Nikita to such an extent that I can understand him simply by taking his hand. I hold his hand, look at him, but he can not step. “What happened?”, – I say. He told me: “Wait, do not rush.” And then: “I can not step on.” I could only ask Nikita one question: “Can you?”. He answered: “Yes.” But made it clear with gesture “Don’t touch me.” I nodded, and set myself the task: “I don’t care, I have to skate him to the end of the program.”
– Fear. I was afraid myself and I saw his frightened eyes. I see that he limps and suffers a terrible pain, but we can not withdraw.
We took the starting position, the first sounds of the Rachmaninov’s sounded, I went with some kind of energy that I have never felt before. We got at an excellent pace to the step sequence, and there we must press the ice showing the edges. There are three elements left, and he stops with one single word: “That’s all.” We approach the referee and announced the withdrawal. Zhulin was in shock, but he needed to prepare Katya and Dima.
Then I remembered myself at one of the past Grand Prix. I got my leg cut in the morning, they stitched it and by the evening I had already performed. During the skate my eyes were in tears, and the blood was squishing inside the boot. But this is a common thing for a skater. Remember Zhenya Tarasova at the World Championships in Helsinki. At the Russian Championships in St. Petersburg, I had to support Nikita. I left the rink that day at two o’clock in the morning due to doping control, and Nikita was already at the hospital with a chaperone and a doctor. Hard December, hard year. But on the first of January we turned the calendar and moved on.
by Anatoli Samokhvalov for rsport.ria.ru