Alena Kostornaia: “When they took me back to Tutberidze’s group, I had to give an interview with tears in my eyes saying, “Oh, forgive me, I’m such an idiot, just take me back.”

Posted on 2023-04-25 • No comments yet


Full interview with Alena Kostornaia about the unexpected switch to pair skating, the real reasons for missing the Olympics, relations with Tutberidze and Plushenko, a scandalous interview after returning to Khrustalny and much more.

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source: RSport dd. 25 April 2023 by Vlad Zhukov

Alena, how and why did you decide to switch to pairs?

Alena Kostornaia: I had surgery on September 7th, followed by a long rehabilitation. When I returned to the ice, I realized that it was impossible to do the usual things—I couldn’t do a lot of jumps. And who needs such single skaters? I thought about pair skating; I needed lifts at that time. We started to learn lifts, then twists, then throws… And it all started to come together; I liked it so much. There was no pain that I experienced during jumps. And I thought: if this is really a chance to stay in figure skating, to fight for top-5 or top-3, why not try?

You talk about pain during jumps, but throws seem even more dangerous.

Alena Kostornaia: A lot depends on the partner, I only have to land.

Isn’t that the most painful part?

Alena Kostornaia: No, for me, the most painful thing is the swing movement. And we don’t need that here. I just got turned around, worked with my ankles, and put my arms and legs together. And it’s desirable to land. Falling from throws is quite painful; the height is different.

So, you have serious competitive plans?

Alena Kostornaia: If not for competitions, why bother with all this?

There was a lot of skepticism among fans that this was all just for show…

Alena Kostornaia: I can say that a month ago, the federation felt the same way. Time passed, we developed elements and a program, and the conversation changed completely. So, everything will be proven by actions.

If we talk about switching to pairs, one of its most important catalysts should be competition in singles skating, right?

Alena Kostornaia: First and foremost, it’s the hip operation. Competition in pairs is no less fierce. And in general, where there is no competition, there is no progress.

Why did Georgi Kunitsa become your partner?

Alena Kostornaia: He did pairs for quite a while with experienced partners, but it just didn’t work out. And then I showed up. We skated together for a show at first, and then I approached him and said, “Let me try.” And he was like, “Think ten times; you understand that there’s no going back.” I thought, I’ll come back. My physique allows me to do it if there’s a desire. I approached the coach, and then we told about everything together. That’s how it happened.

So we started for a show, and then I didn’t have the desire to say to him, “Oops, sorry, I’m going to skate with someone else now” (laughs).

What’s it like skating with a guy you’re dating in real life?

Alena Kostornaia: It doesn’t affect anything on the ice. We came and work hard so then we can rest together. There are no such thing as us having arguments on the ice or anything like that. I love to argue, but that’s all in off the ice.

Do you have plans to fully compete as a pair next season?

Alena Kostornaia: We plan to compete in competitions starting in September. We also plan to fight for the national team. We’ll see how it goes, but we and the coaches will go for the maximum. We’re 100 percent confident in each other.

What was the reaction of your acquaintances to your decision to switch to pairs?

Alena Kostornaia: My parents and relatives always support me, except for one thing. But that was a separate story. My friends, Anya Shcherbakova, Dasha Usacheva, and all the others, were a little shocked.

Did they not expect it?

Alena Kostornaia: I think so. Although I always told them that there are options, they would say, “It’s so scary; they fly there,” and so on. And I’m like, “It’s okay.”

What was the funniest message you received about this? Can you share without naming names, just as a fact?

Alena Kostornaia: People were divided into two camps. Some said, Wow, cool. Others – ew, why did you come up with this? Well, I’d rather go with the first category. I like them better.

About the relationship in the pair. Have you and Georgi discussed what you would do with the pair if something goes wrong?

Alena Kostornaia: We didn’t think about it because everything is fine so far.

How did you learn to trust your partner? Doing lifts, for example.

Alena Kostornaia: It was okay with lifts and twist, surprisingly. But with the throws… I still watch the first videos of the throws. Two rotations and a small height – I make my regular jump higher. But I fell from them as if the height was huge, as if I was falling from a wardrobe.

But I just felt like I immediately understood that he knew what to do. That I’m just a body that needs to be thrown. And if I start thinking of something myself, it will only get worse. I blindly trusted right away, and that was it.

Did you really consider the possibility of returning to singles if something went wrong in pairs?

Alena Kostornaia: Well, it wasn’t like I’d skate in pairs for five years and then come back – that’s already unrealistic. But like Ksenia Sinitsina, for example, she tried it for two weeks, didn’t like it, and went back to singles. I think even if you skip a season switching disciplines, there won’t be much difference. Yes, your scores will suffer because switching back and forth is not encouraged, and skating is different. But you can still return.

There is an opinion that your decision to switch to pairs was influenced, among other things, by the Olympic season.

Alena Kostornaia: Well, nothing special happened there. I skated in the Grand Prix, was supposed to go to the Final, then it was canceled, and then I just couldn’t get out of injuries. I broke my arm, returned to training for a week and broke another arm. Eight weeks (of break), a week of training and another eight weeks. Then I switched to Elena Germanovna (Buyanova). We choreographed the programs and started to work on them and my hip started to hurt. I kept enduring, and when I came to Novogorsk and did the MRI – they made me do it – it turned out that I needed surgery. That’s how it all was.

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Can you tell us more about what happened at the pre-Olympic Russian Nationals?

Alena Kostornaia: I broke my arm; they withdrew me. It makes sense when you have a cast from your fingers and above the elbow, only two nails stick out. You can’t even bend your arm; in fact, you’re disabled. I went to the medical center, I had to sign documents with my left hand – 40 sheets. I learned how to use my left hand. There was no chance.

Once I came out for training, my mom was doing my laces. It was such a shame! I couldn’t even put on a sweater, it just wouldn’t fit. I was standing in a top, pants, untied boots, yelling, “Maaaaa!” I went onto the ice and started to skate, and because my blood was flowing, the cast began to press. Sergei Viktorovich (Dudakov) and Daniil Markovich (Gleikengauz) apparently saw everything during that training session and called Eteri Georgievna. They said it was terrible.

Eteri Georgievna and Philipp Shvetsky were in touch with the federation and quickly took me out of competitions. They only told me this news after it had spread all over the internet. It was unpleasant, but there was no other way.

It was obvious that they would withdraq me, the question was only who would do it.

So there was no chance to compete at all?

Alena Kostornaia: Absolutely not. I had just gotten the cast on, and in a week it would be necessary to leave for the Russian Nationals.

What exactly was broken?

Alena Kostornaia: I won’t say the names of the bones, but three out of twelve, I think. There was a strong fracture and a silly fall. I just fell back, as always, and my arm twisted sharply. At first, I thought it was okay, but then I realized that I couldn’t take off or put on a glove. And I couldn’t jump; my arm was dangling, and it hurt. I skated for the 20 minutes left of the ice training and then went to the emergency room.

So it wasn’t just a “crack in the finger,” as coaches said.

Alena Kostornaia: Not everything that is said and voiced is reality. But it’s already in the past.

The question was simply that Eteri Georgievna hinted that you could have competed for the Olympic spot.

Alena Kostornaia: Coaches don’t spread on the nature of injuries and everything else because there will be a lot of questions to them. Then there will be questions: how could this happen at their training sessions? That’s why everything is hidden and smoothed over. And, in principle, this can be understood.

No hard feelings?

Alena Kostornaia: It was hurtful to me as a person who always strives to tell the truth, no matter what it is. That they first say one thing, then another, and at the same time don’t believe me. How is that possible? It’s unpleasant. But, okay, soa much time has passed. I have a different life now, everything has changed ten times over.

You also said at the time that you couldn’t comment on it.

Alena Kostornaia: It would be strange if coaches said one thing and at the same moment I went and said another, making them look like complete fools. It wouldn’t be very nice on my part or very beneficial on their part. Because then people would start talking again: “Don’t you know what’s happening on your ice rink?” This wasn’t good for me either because I skated in that group and was constantly the first to be kicked out (laughs).

Really the first one?

Alena Kostornaia: Well, metaphorically speaking.

And not metaphorically?

Alena Kostornaia: Well, there were always a lot of problems with me. (laughs)

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Closing the topic. Don’t you have any hard feelings about the Olympics you couldn’t qualify for?

Alena Kostornaia: No, not at all. No one forced me to go and jump and injure myself. It’s not my fault either. It’s just a normal training process.

Maybe it was for the better. Maybe if I had competed in the Russian Nationals at that time, something else would have happened, and I still wouldn’t have made it to the Olympics. It would have been worse if I had been withdrawn from an official training session.

How did you feel when they were there and you were here?

Alena Kostornaia: At first, it was terribly upsetting. Then there were other competitions (the European Championships – ed.), then the Olympics, which I didn’t even watch. I thought, in theory, I could have been there. And then at some point, I just let it go. It was and it passed. This thought came to me, “Just keep working hard so that someday you can go somewhere.”

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You were the European champion with Tutberidze when you left for Evgeni Plushenko. Looking back now, do you feel like it was a mistake?

Alena Kostornaia: No. In Plushenko’s team, I was given the opportunity to progress, but some factors didn’t allow me to take full advantage of it. Overall, it wasn’t bad. Even with flawed performances, I still received scores no lower than usual.

There was a quarantine, and I had a hard time recovering. There was a transition, my programs were choreographed at the last minute, and we only showed the short one at the test skates. It’s impossible to put together and prepare programs in a month. Plus, there was a big break. For the first time in my life, it took me three weeks just to land a triple jump. Even after my hip injury, I could still go on the ice and do something.

My body did not obey me, I was in some kind of incomprehensible substance. Everything hurts: legs, back. It’s hard to force yourself. And there are children next to you who go and easily jump triple-triple. You stand and think, “And I should compete with them. Mm, great.”

And there was also COVID.

Alena Kostornaia: Yeah, they tried to revive me for a week back then. The whole season was like that. During quarantine, my body changed a lot, I had to rebuild myself. After COVID, my bone fragility increased. And before that, I rarely got sick, but now if there’s any coughing child nearby, I immediately got sick. Now I’m used to it and if someone sneezes, I move away ten kilometers. But back then, I was sick for weeks after every nearby sneeze. My mom was very worried, she couldn’t understand what was happening to me.

Did Evgeni Plushenko really give you personal freedom in terms of choosing training times and other things?

Alena Kostornaia: As always. Everyone has a schedule, and you’re given a choice, for example, 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. or 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. You choose and go according to this time for the whole season. Before going on the ice, we warmed up for an hour and a half, well, we did warm-up exercises. There’s very strong physical training in terms of preparation. People just crawl out of there. If you didn’t die, that’s good. So, I’m not surprised how girls like Veronika Zhilina and Sofia Muravieva can perform those programs with quads. It’s effortless for them after that.

Have you experienced weight control, physical abuse, and other things that are talked about a lot now?

Alena Kostornaia: With weight control – all my life. In the morning, my mom weighed me, in the afternoon – coaches, and in the evening again my mom. She was heavily involved in my figure skating. But, in fact, weight is injuries, even in childhood. Weight fluctuations plus kilograms are a load on the knees, back. So, in adulthood, it will all be even more difficult.

But I can’t say that I was beaten up – that never happened. But somewhere, you could get a slap upside the head. But excuse me, it’s my own mother. If you really messed up, it was your fault, and you opened your mouth where you shouldn’t have, when they were already looking at you expressively – a normal child would just shut up. And I didn’t understand these looks and did what I shouldn’t have. That’s why I often got in trouble.

Do you consider these methods to be the norm?

Alena Kostornaia: Well, no, probably not. Everything can be solved with words, but at that moment it didn’t apply to me. I’ve already said that if I had a kid like the one I was in my childhood, I would refuse them. Well, not like a mother but like a coach would refuse an athlete. I don’t know how everyone else put up with me. The dancers I practiced with refused to work with me after two classes. I was a terrible child and athlete, and people were constantly refusing working with me.

What was so terrible about you?

Alena Kostornaia: I talked back, argued, and was lazy. Well, not really lazy, I just didn’t do what I was told. You couldn’t make me do something I didn’t want to do. Even now, I suppose.

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So, you just needed motivation, not punishment?

Alena Kostornaia: Not even motivation. I need to be given ideas, like, look, if you do it like this, then this will happen. And that’s it, then you can’t stop me. If I decide to do something, there’s no chance someone will stop me. That partly comes from my mother, who did a good job of raising me when I was a child.

There were also some scary words about eating disorders in the question – that should be the work of a psychologist. The main thing is to recognize the cause, acknowledge it, and move in the right direction. If you don’t notice or miss it, everything can end very badly.

Now there are many interviews where guys talk about their experiences and I wonder why they stayed silent when it was still possible to help them. There is a psychologist in the team, and even in Novogorsk they have one. I was sent to him when a manual therapy doctor saw me picking at a hangnail, which was not even a hangnail but a scab that formed after I got a tattoo.

It seemed like a minor problem, but even that was noticed. Yet half of athletes are now saying that they had problems, but no one noticed. Did the coaches and parents not see anything? They could have talked to them and sent to a specialist who, I’m 98% sure, could have helped. It’s strange. You can’t force someone to do something, but you have to pay attention to what’s happening around you.

You had three famous coaches – Tutberidze, Plushenko, and Buyanova. Did any of them really understand you?

Alena Kostornaia: With Eteri Georgievna, when I came back after Plushenko, we had a lot of conversations during the season. We had a dialogue, which surprised me at first. In general, yes, I think Eteri Georgievna knows me better than anyone else.

And is there such a thing as an ideal coach?

Alena Kostornaia: No, there isn’t. It’s important to me that I’m heard, even a little bit in certain moments. So that there’s no sense of ‘you tell us, but we’ll do what we want anyway.’ We’ll choose music because we will have to listen to it all season and watch you doing something on the ice which is not even skating.

In what format did these conversations with Eteri Georgievna take place after your return?

Alena Kostornaia: We talked a lot about various topics, I won’t specify. I was surprised by this because it didn’t happen before. But it only happened in the off-season, during the competition season everything abruptly stopped (laughs). I understand that with competitions, a group of 15 people like me, you can’t talk to everyone. Because of this, the contact was slightly lost and everything became disjointed.

Let’s go over some of your bright quotes to reveal them even more. “Plushenko – charisma, energy, willpower. Tutberidze – grace, strictness, achieving results by any possible means. Buyanova – honesty, support, ability to direct in the right direction.”

Alena Kostornaia: When Evgeni Viktorovich goes on the ice, there’s some kind of special energy in the arena. People feel it, there’s a certain power coming from him. And he’s the same in training. He starts doing something on the warm-up, and we’re just standing there thinking, “How does he do that?”

Eteri Georgievna Tutberidze is called the Snow Queen. I remember when she went on the ice, she looked around in such a way that it became scary. The first two years at “Khrustalny,” when she appeared, I skated close to the boards, afraid to do something wrong. Her strict gaze, posture, and I just thought, “Help!”

Elena Germanovna knew how to use words without any swearing or insults in such a way that it would hit you, but it wouldn’t humiliate you. This “unpleasant” turned into “I’m going to do it now.” Moreover, it wasn’t a one-time thing, it was enough for a long time.

Why Tutberidze is about using any methods to achieve results?

Alena Kostornaia: Because it’s a conveyor. If one breaks down, the next one comes. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. Everyone has their own way of working. Some coaches train one athlete from 15 to 30 years old, while others train from 15 to 18. But as practice shows, after the age of 19, it’s not really about sports anymore. Everyone has a different age range of work.

The next quote: “I don’t perceive a man as an authority figure. For me, it’s not an authority. I rely more on life experience, some knowledge, something else, and not on patriarchy.”

Alena Kostornaia: I meant that I can’t blindly trust a man in certain matters. For example, costumes, some aesthetics. Perhaps a woman can better see how they fit me. This doesn’t apply to jumps, technical execution, or program — of course, if someone explains something to me, I’ll listen. A coach is a coach, they won’t make you worse.

And the last quote: “I was a little offended when they interviewed me and Tutberidze on Channel One. The questions themselves forced me to say that I was wrong.”

Alena Kostornaia: It was unpleasant. Because in every question… I still doesn’t have a calm attitude towards this topic because it infuriates me. When they took me back, I had to give an interview in which I had tears in my eyes and had to say, “Oh, forgive me, I’m such an idiot, just take me back.”

Since then, I haven’t given a single interview where I tried to smooth things over. If I spoke, I spoke directly. This situation made me so angry that I set a goal for myself — no more interviews where I’ll embellish something for someone’s benefit, thereby lowering myself.


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