“I had bulimia starting from when I was 12. At some point I resigned that in the best case, I’d die in about 15 years from thyroid or throat cancer. My husband pulled me out of that abyss.” Frank interview with Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva

Posted on 2023-08-25 • No comments yet


Interview with ice dancer Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva, 2023 Russian National champion. About past season, joining Zhulin’s group and suffering from eating disorders.

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source: RSport dd. 23d August 2023 by Anastasia Panona

Russian ice dance champion Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva, in an interview with RIA Novosti Sport, shared how she and her partner Egor Bazin ended up in Alexander Zhulin’s group and how her husband helped her overcome years of bulimia.

During the Olympics, we talked, and I remember how uncertainty pressed on you so much – whether you go to Beijing or not… Two years later, did you let go of those feelings? Is there no more Gestalt?

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: My strong quality is that I can accept the rules of the game. We became the fourth pair at the Russian Nationals back then – well, considering Vika and Nikita (Sinitsina/Katsalapov), who were out of competition. I understood that was it. And I accepted that even on the day of the free dance. What was hard was this situation where I shouldn’t go to the Olympics but I should still preparing. Or shouldn’t I? I should in the morning, but in the evening, I already shouldn’t. That’s how it quickly changed. The subjunctive mood is the hardest for me.

Honestly, when Sasha and Vanya (Stepanova/Bukin) left to China, I breathed a sigh of relief. We were given two weeks of vacation. I stayed home, watched the Olympic Games. Nothing bothered me.

You watched them as a spectator, not as an athlete?

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: No, as an athlete. As the first substitute. Who will do everything to be there.

Before the start of the second “closed” season, I can’t help but ask. Do you have enough motivation now? The probability of being at the Olympics in the nearest unclear how many years now is very elusive.

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: Everyone talks about motivation. Naturally, we skate for the opportunity to compete in international competitions. We understand that the situation is difficult and not getting better day by day.

But now, Egor and I have developed such good relations in the pair, so much energy has appeared. Even knowing that this season, the next season, and the season after that may all be domestic, we still have something to say. The previous one was completely rough. There is a sense of dissatisfaction. We loved our free dance so much, but didn’t skate it perfectly in big competitions. The motivation now is simply to do what we enjoy. To the fullest and with pleasure.

All my previous seasons, I had a fear that I would have to step on the ice after a vacation, and I haven’t rested, and I have no strength. Figure skating has always been my top priority, but this spring, due to many changes happening simultaneously, it became completely the highest priority. I haven’t felt such pleasure in a long time, that I’m on the ice and just doing strocking – that’s what I felt with a pounding heart on the very first training after the vacation.

Your move to Alexander Zhulin caused quite a frenzy. Can you explain now why you left Denis Samokhin and what you were looking for in a new team?

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: We needed a fresh start. I felt like I was fading away. Everything felt too difficult for me. Egor was struggling too. He supported me in all the points I brought up. So, it was a mutual decision.

I’m the kind of person who doesn’t act spontaneously. I always think about everything a billion times – consequences, pros, cons. Of course, this (thoughts about needing to change something – ed. note) lasted a long time. Not just a season or two.

Did you think that everything would work out and fall into place eventually?

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: Yes. As an athlete, you always start by looking for the problem in yourself. Maybe I just need to work more, endure, wait. But no, there comes a day when you can’t convince yourself anymore.

I spent seven years in that group. Often, the relationship between coaches and athletes turns into something familial, like a family. That happens – Vasilisa and Valera (Kaganovskaya/Angelopol) say they feel that way with Anjelika Krylova. Every athlete and coach has their own comfort zone. I always felt like the leader of the group, but we didn’t need the feeling that we were a family. At some point, they really believed in me, because I teamed-up with their very first athlete they had been nurturing since childhood. A 13-year-old girl with no experience teamed up with an adult boy. They gave me a chance, and I repaid it with superb diligence.

We never had conflicts, even during my transitional age. I always knew very clearly that a coach is the person who leads me. An adult who invests a lot of time and attention in me. You need to control your emotions, put your “self” aside, be silent. For quite a while, that’s how it was for us. I’m grateful to them for everything, because everything I represent is Maria Borovikova, Denis Samokhin, and Nikolay Nikonov. They taught me everything – from the fact that skates should be white with clean laces to executing a Choctaw. The coaches knew me since I was a child and always perceived me as such. Even when I grew up. That was one of the problems.

Perhaps the transition to senior sports played a role, the responsibility of being the first pair in the country – we were their first and only. I think, due to inexperience, some moments were missed. Sometimes we wanted someone to explain something to us. Or said it differently. These seem like small things, but they add up to a big snowball that crushes you.

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There seemed to be some confusion with your parting. It’s as if everyone slightly misunderstood each other.

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: There was a moment when Denis Eduardovich told the press, “This was Liza’s decision. Egor informed us about it.” But it’s not entirely true, because initially, Egor and I went to him together. We wanted to say goodbye and discuss everything in person. However, there was no dialogue. Instead, there was quite an emotional, disjointed monologue from his side, after which we parted ways. And only after that did Egor decide to clarify things and express himself, so he sent him a message.

I really hope that emotions will settle someday. I have no complaints or questions for them, only gratitude. Moving from one coach to another is like changing jobs. It’s absolutely normal.

Do you remember the epithets you used earlier to describe, for example, the Russian Nationals? Sticky air, the feeling of being at a gunpoint. Everything was about torment, pain, and suffering. And what are they like now? Second wind, love, enjoyment.

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: How terrible. Turns out, things could have been different. I feel like a phoenix now.

It’s fortunate to experience this during your career. Imagine if many finish without ever feeling that peaceful pleasure.

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: There are many like that. Even champions. Of course, I won’t name names, but there are adult athletes who have achieved great heights, yet they experienced figure skating purely as heavy work.

I’m grateful to fate for such an opportunity. That I’m not just dragging myself along, but skating.

I don’t have any more questions about your motivation. I assume the feelings are something like, “If I have the Olympics – great. If there’s no Olympics – great.”

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: We all hoped, believed, waited, and prayed to be allowed to participate. Of course, we really want to go. When we weren’t allowed last year, I was in a coma-like state. When it became known this season that the suspension was being extended, there was no feeling of not knowing what to do next. There was no paralysis. We know: there are test skates, there are competitions, there’s a plan…

…we keep working?

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: Haha, yes! A terribly cliché phrase, but that’s exactly how it was. Not a single moment of doubt. It’s really unfortunate that things turned out this way, but we continue working.

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What sets the training with Zhulin’s group apart?

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: Sergei Georgievich (Petukhov), Petr Vyacheslavovich (Durnev), Sasha – Alexander Vyacheslavovich (Zhulin), Dima Ionov, and other specialists – they all work a lot with us. And we work about the same amount independently. So, if you imagine that none of them is on the ice, we won’t miss a day of training.

The initiative comes from us. As soon as the coaches see it, they immediately join in. No one will have to force anyone.

Since April, no one has raised their voice once. There simply hasn’t been a situation where it was necessary. Because of that, the atmosphere is very healthy. You come to work with pleasure.

Plus, of course, they’re very supportive. As soon as they see any improvement, they tell you that you’re a figure skating genius. I’m exaggerating, of course, but it’s incredibly important for me. I get charged up and ready to work another ten hours. Egor is the same.

And yes, how wonderful it is to start your workday at 11 in the morning! We have class at 10 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and the ice at 11. There’s nothing earlier. We have full workdays and full weekends, during which you start to miss the ice. A very important point is the convenient schedule. I used to lack this before. I could receive a message on Sunday evening saying that Monday is a day off. Having some semblance of a personal life was impossible.

From the outside, it seems that people go to Zhulin not so much for the famous resources – ice, conditions, professional expertise – but for the absence of strain in the work.

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: That’s a very accurate description. There’s no drama. It was indicative during the training camp. The second week started, which is the most critical moment. Everyone is already tired, but active work is still ongoing. We get on the ice on Monday, it’s just a horrible day. Nothing goes right. But the coaches understand that such things happen, and it’s normal.

We were once working on spins. Spinning for an hour and a half, coming up with new poses – it wasn’t working. And we’re both emotional, wanting everything all at once. We got frustrated. We’re boiling. We approach the boards. “Why are you getting upset? The first position was good. Let’s try it again. Didn’t work? It’s alright, at least the lift was perfect.” Such friendly cool-headedness in response to our emotional state. I felt this and appreciated it so much.

Two hours after the break, we went back to training. Everything that hadn’t been working for those two months suddenly started to work. And it’s like that in everything.

Is it some kind of pedagogical gift?

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: I think it’s experience. Almost 20 years ago, Sasha made Tanya and Roma (Navka/Kostomarov) Olympic champions. Plus, Zhulin himself was an active senior athlete, and he surely remembers what made him feel good and what hindered him.

Perhaps inner harmony from self-realization is important? A person who is content with themselves, their career, and life is unlikely to want to belittle others, assert themselves at their expense, or establish a strict hierarchical management.

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: That could also influence it. Or he’s just a very attentive person. My morning starts with “Lizonka, hello!” and a smile from ear to ear. He greets the guys, hugs everyone.

Yesterday, I wasn’t feeling well. It was raining, and I’m weather-sensitive. My blood pressure was 90 over 50. I step onto the ice half-dead and see that they’re already smiling at me. Well, that makes things somewhat easier for me. And then they ask me, “Are you okay? How are you feeling?” That’s when I mentally gather myself even more.

This is the first time you’ve been in a group with such strong competition. Is it comfortable?

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: I think we have a very healthy atmosphere in the team. I wouldn’t exclude that this comes from the coaching staff. A couple of weeks ago, a journalist wrote to me, “They say you and Stepanova are already starting to fight over music.” I showed it to Sasha. We laughed and said we should post a video on social media of us fighting.

We’re all grown-up, well-mannered, cool teamamtes. We’re not exactly friends – it’s not necessary for us. We simply work together. Sasha and Vanya are so positive. Vanya is the most cheerful person I’ve ever seen, even when he’s feeling really uncomfortable and unwell. Sasha is always very sweet and positive. We go our separate ways after practice, but on the ice, no one getting into fights. We watch with interest what each other does and comes up with. It’s great when someone does something amazing, and everyone applauds for them.

And what if the entire podium at the Russian Nationals is filled with Zhulin’s skaters?

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: Oh, that would be cool. I really hope for that.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from Zhulin during these few months?

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva:* (back off) from yourself. Don’t touch. Relax. You’re great. Work with that feeling.”

We all need a bit of Zhulin.

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: Oh yes! Egor has changes a lot, to be honest, I fell in love with him as an athlete. I’m proud that he’s my partner. He has become so free! I don’t know what they told him. Probably, also to back off from himself. He relaxed, calmed down, believed in himself. He realized that he’s great.

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Your blond look created a sensation during the off-season. Especially when it became clear that you and Egor were moving to Alexander Zhulin, known for his creative preference for blondes like Tatiana Navka, Ekaterina Bobrova, Victoria Sinitsina…

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: I actually dyed my hair in early March, when the decision to move hadn’t been made yet. But in the comments, of course, they wrote: Zhulin must have made her dye her hair! (laughs)

There was a conspiracy humor version that it was his condition for your move.

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: It was my inner desire for myself. I went to the hairstylist and said, “I can’t take it anymore, I’m ready to shatter myself into pieces, I want to go blonde!” Overall, I was prepared that I’d end up with Ksenia Stolbova’s hairstyle. In other words, my hair would fall out, and I’d have to cut it like a boy’s.

But they didn’t fall out, probably because I hadn’t done anything to them for two and a half years. They were actually in great condition. People say my hair is dry but it’s naturally curly and porous. It’s just more noticeable now. Dear friends, I’m well aware that in my natural color, I’m brighter, more noticeable, and possibly look better. But I like it this way now.

How did the new coaches react to your updated look? This moment doesn’t always go smoothly.

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: They supported me. They said, “You look beautiful no matter what, with dark or light hair.” I said, “What should I be like? Maybe I should ask someone how they think I’ll be received better?” “Who cares how you’re received. Do what you like.”

I like it this way now. Maybe in half a year, I’ll decide to dye my hair brunette again. Or cut a bob. It’s a thing that’s constantly changing.

Last season, there were many talks about your eating disorder condition. There were even claims that you were lying under IV drips, recovering. Let’s clear up the facts.

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: There definitely weren’t any IV drips. Even when it was really necessary, like when I got sick before the Russian Nationals, they didn’t give me IV drips. They’re prohibited by anti-doping rules, so mark that down.

Everything I’m about to say is tough and heavy, but it’s necessary. Many people last season assumed I had issues because not only my body but also my face changed significantly. They said I had plastic surgery, injections, or that I lost a lot of weight.

I had bulimia for seven years, starting from when I was 12. Because of this, people got used to me as a chubby-faced girl. But I was just always swollen. When you have bulimia, you constantly have swelling – in your face, eyes, body.

It was a huge stroke of luck that I apparently had a very strong body to begin with. It somehow managed to function all that time and didn’t suffer too much, because I had a comprehensive medical examination every six months. And everything was fine. My test results showed that everything was normal, and I didn’t tell anyone about it. Because of this, nobody suspected the huge problems I was facing. Many girls – gymnasts, figure skaters with bulimia – quickly developed health issues.

Fortunately, it happened that Kirill (Blagov, journalist and producer) pulled me out of that abyss. For that, I will always be grateful to him. He really saved me from the grave. I was literally killing myself.

Gradually, we accelerated my metabolism, and at some point, I started eating like a normal person. All the swelling went away. My face and body changed. In the Olympic season, I weighed 51 kilograms, and during exhibitions a year ago, when everyone was already saying that I was insanely skinny, I weighed 50. The difference was only a kilogram. But because all the water had left my body, people stopped recognizing me and thought I had significant issues.

How did this struggle for normal eating happen?

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: In the Olympic season, the problem was critical: It was a breakdown every day. Really every day. Kirill saw all my mess, and even though he didn’t understand it, he accepted me even like that. After the season in spring, he said, “Please, let’s try to deal with this together. I’m begging you. I can’t watch you killing yourself.”

When we decided to start eating, Kirill would ask, for example, what I usually had for breakfast. But my brain couldn’t remember that. “How much do you need to eat?” And I didn’t know because before, anything I ate didn’t stay in me. My body couldn’t digest food properly. I used to live like this: wake up, have coffee, train until 3 p.m., eat something, and everything would come out. And this went on for so many years. I didn’t know how to get out of it. I resigned myself to the fact that in the best case, I’d die in about 15 years from thyroid or throat cancer. Or from a stomach ulcer. Or my heart would fail, or my liver. And I didn’t understand how to deal with it. It’s like being addicted to drugs, like an illness you can’t escape from alive.

At first, I ate one egg a day, but I kept it in and digested it on my own. Slowly, gradually, I started to get better. People didn’t understand why I had so many photos with food on social media. And I just started eating finally. I used to think I’d never in my life be able to go to a restaurant, eat pasta, and… keep it in. I thought it was impossible.

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On social media during your vacation, there was a photo of you in the legendary pizzeria in Naples. How many slices did you allow yourself then?

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: I can’t say for sure because I don’t count them now. I ate as much as I wanted. I do remember that I had a slice of Marinara and I didn’t like it. Margherita was really good, so I kept eating it. I remember I even overindulged a bit. I was walking down the street and thinking how great it felt.

Did eating disorders return to you last season?

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: When problems and mistakes began, psychological pressure, there was a period when I just started eating less because of the overall stress. But then that passed too. Now I can happily confirm that I’m fine.

And what about the poisoning during the Russian Nationals? It seemed like you had the lowest weight in your career.

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: A week before the championship, I got the flu. And three days before it, I was vomiting a lot. Apparently, there was intoxication from antiviral medication, my liver couldn’t cope, and I got poisoned. For three days, I couldn’t eat anything, not due to eating disorders, but simply because I couldn’t. And I arrived at the championship with a weight of 45 kilograms.

I was scared to perform because on the day of the draw, during breakfast, before I even managed to take a sip of water, I started feeling nauseous. A day later was the start, and I couldn’t eat. I was just skin and bones, it was awful.

After the Russian Nationals, the leadership of the federation, represented by Elena Anatolyevna Chaikovskaya, and the doctors from FMBA (Federal Medical-Biological Agency) really helped me recover from the flu and poisoning. There were many issues, even to the point that I would wake up with a pulse of 98 when the normal rate for an athlete is 44. My blood pressure was fluctuating.

An instructive story. It shows that with determination and persistence, you can overcome eating disorders. And that what we see isn’t always the truth.

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: Ironically, when I finally got my relationship with food in order and started to live, people who didn’t know how I looked in a healthy state assumed that I had developed problems. The worst part was that they were writing about it as if it were a fact, things they didn’t know. They started shifting the blame onto my significant and close person. Everyone was saying: she’s so skinny because of her husband. He wants her to be like that. It tore me apart from the feeling of injustice. Kirill is the only person who accepted me as I am, who couldn’t stay silent, suspecting there might be issues, and who pulled me out of that and literally saved my life and my future.

What’s new in your personal life, Liza? I leave it up to you whether to answer this question.

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: Thank you for that choice. Despite being a public figure, I do have the right to a private life. I can share what I want and not share what I don’t want. I find comments like “You have to tell” amusing. I have an obligation to take care of my appearance, treat people kindly, and call my mom and dad. I don’t owe anything more to anyone. Not even to the fans whom I deeply respect. I really hope people will have enough tact not to press me about this and remember that I’ll share when I want to. Or I won’t share.

How do you approach the new season?

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: I used to be very afraid of the start of the season. Now I understand that I’m eager to start as soon as possible. I want to be in the competitive atmosphere, with spectators around, showcasing our new programs and costumes. I want us to enjoy it. It’s like art, not just work. Art might be liked or disliked by someone, but it definitely evokes emotions in people.

Honestly, I don’t think about competitions at all. Of course, I want to become the Russian champion for the second time. And how? It would be deceitful to say that I don’t care. That it doesn’t matter to me whether we’re allowed to international competitions. Like, where to skaate — who cares. No, of course not! I want to go to Europeans, Worlds, and the Olympics. I’ve been skating for this my whole life; of course, I want to be the best, win everything. But that’s not the ultimate goal. It’s a pleasant bonus. Most importantly, I just fell in love with figure skating like never before.

In a previous interview, you mentioned that even at 16, you realized that life is tough. What do you think about it at 20?

Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva: I confirm, it’s not a walk in the park. And, it turns out, things can go off track. But it’s still beautiful, no matter how cliché that sounds. During challenging times and when stability is absent, you find other values. You have your favorite activities, loved ones are alive and well. That already makes things easier.


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