Kiira Korpi: Figure skating is like a church: everything is beautiful outside until you find out how everything is arranged inside

Posted on 2019-10-25 • 7 comments


Very interesting interview with Kiira Korpi about training system and coaches.

During Skate America she posted a video of Anna Scherbakova and wondered about human cost of such performances:

Am I the only one having mixed feelings when watching these astonishing young skaters? I’m in
AWE of their incredible skills, but I also can’t stop thinking what’s the human cost of this level of performance at this age?

Kiira Korpi (@kiirakorpi_fi) October 20, 2019

After which she probably faced lots of anger from Russian skating funs. Russian journalist interviewed Kiira about this situation. Here the translation of the interview.

Original interview by Dmitri Kuznetsov for dd. October 24th, 2019

photo by

Kiira, I suppose you have received many messages from the Russians in recent days. Are there more support or hate?

– Unfortunately, I don’t know the Russian alphabet, so I don’t quite understand how to read them. But I would say that public opinion is divided. I think I got strong support. Just the others were louder. I won’t call them haters, these people probably don’t want to ask questions, but prefer to attack me personally. Although I spoke not only about Anna (Shcherbakova), but about the situation as a whole – what is the price of the loss in health of young skaters around the world.

Did you expect such a reaction?

– Oh no. These thoughts didn’t appear yesterday, I have been thinking for years about where our sport is going. Very mixed feelings. On the one hand, a technical breakthrough, I’m not trying to belittle the achievements of the beautiful young skaters, the beauty of their performances, their hard work. But being a former athlete and having trained in a lot of places, I know how brutal the sports regime is. And these thoughts about the human cost don’t allow me to enjoy their performances fully.

When you talk about the human cost, you mean not a lost childhood, but rather human dignity. Do you assume that it’s being infringed in the case of Anna Shcherbakova, Alexandra Trusova, Russian skater-geeks?

– I wouldn’t concentrate here on one coach, one country. The problem exists not only in Russia, it’s global. I was very frank about this topic in Finland, talking about coaches abuses and outdated working methods. Shouting, humiliation, using fear as a motivation and things like that. It turns out that the athlete is just a product of the system.
Unfortunately, in Finland the federation supports this. Obviously, they want to have medals, money. And athletes cannot even ask questions. It becomes common, everyone does it. It took me several years after the end of my career to understand the abnormality of such methods. In the long run, it harms mental and physical health. I even wrote a book in Finland on this topic, after which a discussion arose what is a coach’s work from an ethical perspective and what kind of mindset should be in the 21st century.

It’s clear about Finland. But for example, in the USA, where you live now, isn’t the degree of athlete’s freedom is higher?

– Absolutely not. At 10 years old, they are already trying to pull the child out of school, get him to study at home, he must spend from three to four hours on the ice, then this time grows. And as a result the majority get injured and leaves figure skating, this is a tragedy. There will always be few who can withstand everything. And the illusion is born that the system is working correctly. Let’s just raise the quantity, and the quality will somehow come itself. If you are not bleeding and you don’t cry, you won’t become an athlete. This is the mentality. I’m generalizing a little, but еру overall picture in the USA looks like this. Many parents are worried, but they are ambitious and invest a lot of money. And even if they see their child in tears, they do nothing.

The more you cry, the more you win.

– Exactly. But this is not scientifically proven from the psychology point of view. Can you imagine someone shouting at Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, threatening them with a racket? Or how do you imagine this at school – the teacher stops teaching the child because he is not good enough and humiliates him in front of the class? I think it’s time to modernize our system a bit. Especially when it comes to children and sports such as figure skating and gymnastics. Where the coach’s power is strong, and the child’s self-determination in the world is just begins to form and their consciousness is more fragile.

If yelling at a child is the last century, then how should an ideal coach look like?

– In Finland, we are now moving from a system where the coach is the center to an athlete-oriented approach. That is, an athlete as a human creature goes first, and then goes sports as his profession. We must help children take responsibility. The child must have a say. Now the relationship “coach – athlete” is a monologue, the coach sees in the athletes the continuation of his ambitions, but there should be a dialogue. And in the future, a coach will be the person who creates a positive environment, supports an athlete, helps to reveal his personality. It’s not the coach who makes the athlete, but the athlete himself.

Let’s try an example. There is such a Russian figure skater Evgenia Medvedeva. She moved to Canada and said that coach Brian Orser gives more freedom. At the same time, her results went down. Where is the line between human dignity and sports demands?

– Good question. But I’ll ask: “And how do we measure success in the 21st century?” I look at Medvedeva’s career as an incredible success. Now it is even more successful than in Russia. She is freer, she can do figure skating for many more years. She inspires and touches the audience with her bold decisions. And the decision to leave definitely wasn’t easy. I think that now success is measured not only by the color of your medal. The person who is behind the results is important too. Every athlete is such a story! And it makes the sport charming. Sport is a platform for self-realization. Now it’s also preferred by brands, companies that sponsor athletes with a story.

Have you thought that it’s time for you to head an ISU committee or to establish an organization that protects the rights of child-athletes?

– Yes, I understand that I’m becoming an activist.(laughs) Especially in homeland. As for the committees, I see myself more influential in a freelance position, so to speak. There is less freedom in the top echelons of sports organizations. Maybe they would like to protect the children, but they certainly don’t want to lose money and sponsors. I was unpleasantly surprised that in Finland the Olympic Committee and the Federation don’t recognize problems of the system, but talk about individual coaches. And it’s difficult everywhere, because such abusive coaches often succeed. But if we understand what is behind these medals, we will start to demand a different approach.

In figure skating, the training process is quite closed. Can it be made open?

– This, by the way, is a great idea! Many are trying to make my efforts look like undermining of the sport reputation. I imagine how difficult it is to talk about this in Russia. I see, on many grounds, that a certain cult appears in sport. And no one dares criticize coaches. It’s like a church: everything is beautiful outside until you find out how everything is arranged inside.

Have you ever talked with coach Eteri Tutberidze, for example? About this topic or in general?

– No. To be honest, I’m a little afraid of her. (laughs)

Let’s talk about sports directly. Do you think someone will be able to compete with Alexandra Trusova and the Russian mature juniors this season?

– What they do is incredible. They revolutionize our sport and they are very strong in a technical aspect. I don’t want to say that it is impossible to beat them. But it will be extremely difficult.


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7 Responses to “Kiira Korpi: Figure skating is like a church: everything is beautiful outside until you find out how everything is arranged inside”

  1. CC says:

    I agree with everything, these are human beings not robots popping out of a factory to burn themselves out after a couple years. I miss the old days, when skaters could actually have a career that you could follow for more than one Olympic season. I hope the ISU steps in and does something to protect these kids in all countries ( the US is not doing any better by Alyssa Liu compared to Russia). I hope veteran skaters will stick around even if they aren’t currently winning medals, because sadly I fear all of these young girls won’t see the 2022 Olympics due to injury and those veterans will have to step back in.

  2. flanker says:

    Yes, speaking about changing things globally, because she had negative experience. That probably means that everybody must have the same bad experience as well, right? What a stupid way to start a campaign like this. If she means seriously what she says, that she should gain parents and coaches in the first place, not start to blame them immediately without any personal experience with the matters in this particular team.

    Before she made such claim directly related to Anna, she was obliged to speak with her in the first place. She says people don’t like to ask questions, but that she should apply on herself. She didn’t ask question, she proceeded to the conclusion.

    Though, Kiira made some very negative comments about russian girls in the past and she definitely isn’t unbiased in this matter. For instance, this was her answer to a question about Alina:
    “She is super! But I’m not sure that Alina will last long. It is evident that she is often terribly afraid of making a mistake. She should have more freedom in her heart and relaxation, like Carolina! Understanding that she will be supported for any performance, but that might be difficult in her current training environment.”

    She did not say this during the time when Alina had troubles, she said it recently. I’ve never seen Alina happier than she is now, yet for this woman she is just “afraid of making mistakes” and she probably won’t last long in her “current training environment”. In comparison with her saying how Zhenya is happy (yes, her face was truly full of happiness when she totally messed her short program in Canada :). Don’t try to persuade me that her absolutley main motive to move to Canada wasn’t winning and medalling at the first place – that’s not bad, of course, but that’s not what Kiira says it is.) and how her career will be surely longer now. That’s completely biased statement shielded by the talks about children’s interests.

  3. flanker says:

    I just don’t like self-proclaimed protectors of the universe. Not that coaches can’t be a-holes, but then speak about particular cases where you have evidence and what was wrong in this particular case, but not start speaking as the saviour of the world peace. I think that Anna, Alina, Aliona and Sasha (and many other succesful kids from many countries) have very specific opinion about whether they need to be protected precisely by the effort of this woman. The rhetoric used by her is as if every child wouldn’t have its own mind, parents etc., as if she knew what’s best for the kids more then the kids themselves and their closest friends and family. The phrases about “obsolete methods”, “we have 21st century”, that’s a rhetoric people use when they bash opponents but don’t have actual arguments or evidence (and she definitely didn’t, when she started to speak about this as a reaction to Anna), so they want to somehow defame or bellitle the opponents. It is a contrast to Alina’s “listen to parents, to coaches, they know what they are doing, children sometimes don’t.”

    • FS Gossips says:

      Well, I think being a retired athlete who had a pretty long career (especially compared with the careers of recent skating stars) she knows the other side of this coin. She may also know the consequences better than those children and their parents, because she already knows this path from beginning till the end, and they don’t. Plus we also tend to think that all this bad things that happened with others will never happen with us. So I think she has the right to express her opinion.

  4. Veronica says:

    Why speak only of the Russian skaters? What about Alisa Liu, Rika Kihira, and all the female skaters who are attempting to execute the quad jump. I think Kiira Korpi opinions are biased. Only time will prove the consequences in the bodies of this athletes.

    • FS Gossips says:

      But she spoke about other contries too. About Finland and harsh coaching methods, she told that Federation is think about money and not about skaters. About situation in the USA with ambitious parents.

  5. Diane Caldwell says:

    Totally agree with what you say. The human cost is not worth it especially speaking about thosevery young Russian skaters who are paying a very high cost for someone elses ambition.

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